My Anorexia Nervosa
"Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."
THEY SAY IT GOES IN 3'S. GIVE ME 3 REASONS. KNOCK 3 TIMES. 3 BLOWS TO THE HEAD. 3 STRIKES. THE RULE OF 3RDS.
I THINK IT’S BECAUSE BY THE TIME THE FOURTH COMES AROUND, WE’RE NO LONGER AROUND.
I remember after my first incident, my healer said “you’ve had your first blow. don’t wait for the second.” And then after my second incident, “you’ve had two blows, alyonka, stop waiting for the third. there might not be another one.” But you know, for a true addict, a person who is really, really sick, the word death never really wanders into our vernacular, because look! I’m here now and things are fine. Plus, it wouldn’t be me, anyways. I’m Alyonka. Unbreakable. Invincible. Problem-solver extraordinaire! My life looks perfect on the surface. Shiny. Bright. Spotless. Clean.
It never registers as a reality. Until it is.
JUST A WEEK INTO MY GLORIOUS 30’S,
I found myself in the hospital for the 4th time in the span of six months for what I had astutely diagnosed as “severe migraines”. Most times, these migraines were accompanied by partial blindness, extreme nausea and vomiting, dehydration, dizziness, numbness, and my personal fuck me moment, my failing speech + motor skills.
MY CHARTS READ OTHERWISE:
BRADYCARDIA. HYPONATREMIA. OSTEOPENIA. ANEMIA. HYPOGLYCEMIA. HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE. SECONDARY AMENORRHEA.
Add to this sticky, accumulative seven year cocktail, 2 broken ribs, 5 hospital visits, a period went missing for 3 years (which has still yet to return), countless conversations and memories forgotten, and a nervous system so wrecked, half of my face was paralyzed for a month, my ER doctor said, Alyonka, we may need to admit you. You are steps away from kidney failure, seizures, brain damage, and ultimately, death.
My healer was right. Three strikes and you're out.
you can either walk out of here alive, or you can die.
On April 16, 2017 - I chose life.
ANOREXIA NERVOSA IS A MENTAL ILLNESS. THERE ARE FOUR MAJOR CONTRIBUTING FACTORS; BIOLOGICAL, NEUROLOGICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, AND SOCIAL/ENVIRONMENTAL.
If you've followed My Story at all, you will see and will continue seeing, how these various factors came into play in my life, priming me perfectly for my candidacy. At the moment, although I've done quite a bit of research and have worked alongside professionals in the course of my Recovery, I am still learning all of the intricacies of my disease as it pertains to My Story. I plan on sharing these with you.
ANOREXIA IS A VERY COMPLEX ILLNESS.
It affects the mind AND the body, essentially setting up an internal war where the mind is attacking the body. As time progresses, the mind splits into two. When at first there are three at war, there soon becomes two, leading The Anorexic Mind to take over the Logical Mind, until a total dictatorship ensues. The former always wins.
My Anorexic Mind has been in control for nearly a decade. 2010 was when I first received compliments towards my skinny body. That inside voice was flirting with me but it hadn’t become the full-blown “every single decision I make is based on how to avoid food at all costs” Anorexia voice, yet. For a while, I had still allowed cheat days. By 2012, it had completely devoured me.
My Anorexic Mind has been a voice of comfort, a best friend, for a very long time. In a world where nothing is permanent. With all the moves, the new schools, new friends, new cities, new teams, new homes, new jobs, new new new, change change change, my Anorexia was the only thing that remained the same. It became my home, my base. The only thing that never went away. I can't even begin to explain how much it pained me to turn my back on the one consistently constant presence in my life.
In fact, which is common in Recovery, it feels like a death of a loved one. In the early stages of my Recovery, I was deeply grieving a part of me that had been my guiding light for the majority of my adult life. It had been the only presence that I’ve intimately known for nearly a decade.
When I stepped into Recovery, I suddenly found myself naked, vulnerable, afraid and completely lost. It's quite simple: the traits which defined me as a person, are no longer allowed to exist, therefore, I must not exist. In psychological terms, it’s somewhat similar to the feeling of divorce after decades of marriage to a partner. One simply has no idea who they are without the other. I did not know who I was without my Anorexic Mind. I knew I was buried somewhere deep within me, and I knew I’d find me in time, but I had spent so much effort into silencing me, abusing me, destroying me, that the real Alyonka hated me during those moments. Rightfully so. She did not deserve this. I do not deserve this.
IF I AM TO BE HONEST - THAT’S WHAT SPEAKYOURTRUTH IS ALL ABOUT - THERE ARE DAYS WHEN I MISS IT, ALTHOUGH IT DISSIPATES AS THE NUMBER OF RECOVERY DAYS GROW.
I know, it’s fucked up. But think about it: it’s an addiction to control. In a world where I was running around stark naked screaming for life to STOP ALL THE CHANGES, I found the only thing I could control: my body and it's intake of food. When that had to stop it meant I had lost control.
For a type-A personality like mine, the diligence it required to maintain that control was almost too good to be true. The atrophy of desire. The masochistic delight in numbing the hunger. I was Pavlov and his dogs. Conditioning myself to respond appropriately at the sight of food. Salivating at my power to obey restriction.
I felt high and it felt really, really good - trumping the dizziness, the light-headedness, the lack of social life + sexual desire, the low energy, the depression, you name it. Fuck, the control even trumped death.
It pains me to say this but if it weren't for the excruciating pain and paralyzing fear I had been feeling every.single.day. during the first six weeks of my Recovery, I am not sure that I would have stayed on track without running back back back to where I felt I had belonged.
And I’m going to stop right there because it’s really easy to glamorize anorexia. To make it seem like it’s your friend and that it’s cool and that it will always be there for you, and that by attaining that magical thinness - which by the way, you will NEVER attain it because it doesn’t exist - it will provide you with total and complete happiness, and the relationship, and the job, and the body, and the life that you see on social media and TV. That somehow, it will obliterate your loneliness.
IT FUCKING WON’T. IT’S LYING TO YOU.
IT WANTS YOU TO DIE. IN FACT IT'S WAITING FOR YOU TO DIE. BECAUSE IT WANTS THE CONTROL AND IT DOESN’T CARE WHAT IT HAS TO DO TO TAKE IT FROM YOU.
And guess what: IT WILL, because there is a tipping point when it becomes stronger than you. When it becomes you and you’re no longer able to see the right from wrong - you can't really see at all. At that point, you panic and realize, oh fuck, what have I done? But it’s too late. You are one with the Eating Disorder.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT WAS THAT SAVED ME. I NEVER BELIEVED NOR FEARED THAT DEATH MIGHT COME TO TAKE ME.
But some Divine source of power intervened. It hit me for the third time JUST HARD ENOUGH to ensure I didn't crumble completely- there are bigger things in store for you.
In that city. In that hospital. In that room. On that bed. My body shaking uncontrollably from the meds. I heard my doctor for the first time. He saw me. He reached out and grabbed me, believing in me and giving me the chance to feel like I mattered.
Only then, with eyes barely open and my heart beating dangerously slow, did I finally hear my internal Being roar ‘NO MORE’.
i chose life. My healing, first. Healing others, second.
anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness.
the mortality rate IS 12 TIMES HIGHER THAN THE DEATH RATE OF ALL CAUSES OF DEATH FOR FEMALES 15-24 YEARS OLD.
We have to do better. The fact that so many of us are left undiagnosed is unacceptable. The fact that mental illness is a taboo subject is disgraceful. The fact that so many of us walk around, as I have for so many years, zombie-like in our existence, is devastating. We are not doing a good enough job, myself included.
I take full responsibility for promoting a certain body image and quality of life, when for years my body was thin and dying because of an illness. That "quality" of life, was not what it seemed.
In the privacy of my home, I was depressed, destructive, emotionally volatile, self-sabotaging, and abusing alcohol. I’ve ruined countless relationships (the emotionally unavailable human). Ran from people and places. I’ve encountered numerous health scares. Done irrevocable bodily damage. Put my loved ones through hell and back - forcing them to walk around me on eggshells (sorry gool, ma). Watching them cry and beg for me to change. I've taken all the beauty - both internal and external - all the opportunities, the experiences, and personal exchanges...I've taken ALL.OF.IT. for granted. I was never present.
I was a dying wrecking ball. And I didn't care who stood in my way.
Aside from my mastery of my illness, there were only 3 things I did well: Work ’til exhaustion because it aligned with my masochistic tendencies. Make it impossible for people to stick around + to love me (sorry, Di). And, surprisingly, although not shockingly, I was great at giving out really good advice.
During my 30th birthday dinner, my best friend raised a tearful toast to me “Alyon, you give excellent advice. we know this. however, i'm waiting for you to start taking your own”.
That scared me. At my core, there is nothing more that I love than listening to people and trying to find ways to help or advise them. If I am to be the person that I know I can be, and have been to so many, then I have to BE IT. I can’t just preach it.
The fear of not being able to help others, destroyed me in a good way. I HAVE TO STAY ALIVE if I want to help others and I want to make a change.
I THINK MY DECADE-LONG ILLNESS WAS SUBCONSCIOUSLY THE BUILD UP FOR THE UNTITLED FEMALE PROJECT.
THERE'S A REASON FOR WHY I BELIEVE IT'S IMPORTANT TO TELL YOUR STORY, SPEAK YOUR TRUTH, AND TO CHAMPION FLAWS. IT'S BECAUSE STORIES LIKE mine are desperately needed.
I wish I could have read an essay from someone I followed - who seemingly had it all - showcasing the depths of their battle with this illness. It might have pivoted me away from that all-consuming tipping point. I might have found consolation in knowing that I wasn't alone in my illness, constantly fighting with a voice inside of my head.
I mean look at me! Look at my portfolio: TSN, CBC, NBCsports, Brooklyn Nets, VICE.
My family: google my dad or just click here. My friends. My seemingly kind and loving nature. The various Men in my life. A Traveling lifestyle. Mentorship (?!?!) My interest in self-discovery and the human condition. And now, starting THIS platform! Recording podcasts. Writing essays. Managing a new business all on my own! I'm excellent on paper!!!
But here's the truth: I doubt any of you knew that I was very, very sick and that during the beginning stages of this Platform, I was in the depths of my Recovery.
No blame. I'm simply saying, this hiding thing, NEEDS TO CHANGE.
ONE STORY AT A TIME. SO I'LL START WITH MINE.
For your peace of mind (and for my own personal reminder), I want you to know that LIFE LIFE LIFE is all I want and I plan to do everything I can to retain it.
Beyond that, I NEED to know that there is a better way of helping the women and men who deal with any type of eating disorder. I have read countless books and essays. Spoken with experts in the field. Worked with my Doctors and Psychologists. There’s just not enough research on it to truly understand the onset and the outcome when it comes to the psychological part of the illness. I'm determined to continue my education, sharing it with you along the way, and finding ways to make a change.
What has been even more shocking is my Recovery and the process of refeeding. I had no idea that this period would be one of the more excruciatingly painful and debilitating experiences of my life - with the highest risk of heart failure, brain damage, and organ failure. It has only been two weeks that I haven’t had another onset of some kind of a physical ailment, questioning why my body would involuntarily shut down. That is, until this past Wednesday, when I arrived to see Tony Robbins in NYC.
But that is Recovery. It does not discriminate against the natural ebbs and flows of Life. It too can waver. That is a tough pill to swallow for me. Especially when I’ve been trying so fucking hard to come back to Life. But I must persevere. Keep up with my positivity. Take the small wins as big fucking strides. I will keep moving, even thought I fell, and I'm sure, I will fall again in time. Ebbs and Flows.
I wanted to let you know that I am CONSUMED BY FEAR AS I share this. I am afraid of judgement. Of potential repercussions. Of branding and labeling. Of isolation. OF MISUNDERSTANDING. You know, I'm sick. It's a stigma. A bad look.
But I don’t know another option. I cannot keep portraying a version of myself that is inauthentic and that is plagued with an illness. It is dangerous for any mind that comes across my platform. As I interview people for the Podcast or I gather Contributors for the site, I simply cannot ask others to Tell Your Story, Speak Your Truth and Champion Flaws, if I am not.
be it. don't just preach it.
Also, frankly speaking, I am so fucking tired of constantly lying and holding this secret. I just want to be free. I hope you, whoever you are that feels like I do. I hope that you can use my freedom and ride it too. I hope that it may inspire you to ask for help, or to talk with someone, even if that someone is ME. I hope that you may see that there IS a way out. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I am fighting for and with you.
I NEED you to know that YOU MATTER TO ME.
I SEE YOU.
tell your story. speak your truth. champion flaws. i can feel a sense of freedom. i hope you can feel it too.
Please share this with friends, family, loved ones. People in your life that you've seen suffer with a mental illness. Please let them know that I SEE THEM, and that YOU SEE THEM too. Reach out to an acquaintance, turn to the stranger next to you, or call a loved one. Tell them they matter.
Do that for someone today!
I want to thank my family and friends for your continuous support over these very many years, especially now as I navigate through my Recovery. Thank you for reminding me that I am not a burden. I am good enough.
Thank you to all the UF readers, listeners + viewers. We have just begun to scratch the surface.
One story at a time.
x - alyonka