Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Today as I was finishing up a paper, I curiously opened a Word doc on our computer, thinking it was mine.
It was my beautiful sister Krystal’s, and she had written about my eating disorder recently.
Krys, I hope you don’t mind me sharing this. It really opened my eyes and has been truly incredible to read about from my perspective and hearing how this illness impacted you more than you yourself have ever shared with me.
And the ending that you wrote… well, that’s literally the only part that matters, people, so feel free to skip down there. God is good.
My entire life up until this point, I had felt extremely lucky that for the most part, my family had always been healthy and happy, and close to one another. I sometimes thought about what it would be like to love someone who had a chronic or mental illness, because I really could not imagine the pain and stress it would cause.
My sister, Cassie, had been hiding the fact that she had binge eating disorder for over a year. Half of the time she spent hiding it, she did not even know she had an eating disorder. That is how little the truth about eating disorders is discussed in society and the education system. When she was finally diagnosed with binge eating disorder, she did not tell many people, and when she decided to tell her family about it, I am ashamed to say I took it very lightly. The way she described her eating disorder sounded nothing like the way I learned about eating disorders in the media. And she seemed okay, she didn’t ‘look’ sick, so I brushed it off, ignorant to the pain she was feeling inside. Though Cassie had no control over the disorder inside her, she said she felt so ashamed for the longest time. None of us knew the extent of what was going on until after she recovered from binge eating disorder. For over a year, she would wake up in the middle of the night and eat incredibly large amounts of food, with almost inedible combinations, NOT for enjoyment purposes. She could not even understand why she was doing it, but she could not stop, her disorder would not allow her to. She would eat until her body was in pain and she was crying on the floor. It still hurts to think about what she must have gone through without anyone knowing.
After getting therapy for her eating disorder, she began to recover. However, it wasn’t long until another demon, Mia (bulimia), came along. Mia did not stay for long, only long enough to introduce Ana (anorexia). I did notice Cassie lose a significant amount of weight in a very short amount of time, and though I think I knew what she was dealing with, I was definitely in denial that it could be so serious. I was in denial when she was losing weight, even when she was diagnosed with anorexia. I was in denial that I was losing my baby sister until I had already lost her, not physically, but in every other way. Cassie had always been the light in every room she walked into. She was filled with passion about life, about Jesus, about writing, about her friends and family. She loved being alive, and everyone loved being around her. She had always been so encouraging to those feeling down, putting others before herself, and giving out compliments freely. Suddenly, she walked around everywhere as a zombie. She had no awareness of the world around her. She was very quick to anger, and did not care who she hurt. And the part that hurt the most, she did not care that she was dying. THAT is what an eating disorder looks like. Though physical symptoms are part of eating disorders, an eating disorder is NOT a diet, or an extreme form of a diet. A diet is something someone can choose to do. Having an eating disorder is not a choice, and if it were, NO ONE would choose that life. No one. An eating disorder is not romantic or artistically sad. It is cruel, terrifying, and brutally painful. I am ashamed to say that I did not even know what an eating disorder looked like until I saw it. It was the most painful thing I have ever had to witness.
Cassie explains that her disorders had voices. Ana had a sweet voice, which made it much more difficult for Cassie to hear that she was wrong. By the time we were finally able to get Cassie started on recovery, she was never present. She would sleep all day and all night long. And when she did get up to walk, she would faint almost every time. I remember one time she stood up, and I saw her knees buckle, and I reached out to grab her, but not early enough to catch her. She fell head-first directly into the wall, and collapsed on the floor. I ran over and hugged her and held her so close while we both cried.
I wanted to get out of the house every day so I did not have to see Cassie that way. Though I also never wanted to leave the house because I could not bear to think about what might happen while I was gone.
The first night of her recovery, my mom was told to give Cassie a full plate of dinner, and Cassie was to eat it all. I came home from work that first night to see Cassie crying in front of a full plate of food. That was what a large portion of her recovery looked like. She may have been eating again, and gaining some of her strength back, but mentally, she was not doing any better. She would cry at least two or three times a day, have many panic attacks, and constantly talk about the fact that she wanted to die. That part hurt the most. I wanted to be there for her in every way I could, and for a while, I was incredibly patient and understanding. I wanted to be someone she could talk to. Over time, I felt my frustration start to show through more and more. I did not want to be so angry with her, and I desperately wanted Cassie to know that it wasn’t her I was mad at. It was her disorder. I wanted my little sister back so desperately, and when she was diagnosed with anorexia, I did not think the recovery process would take so long.
I soon learned that almost everything was triggering for Cassie. They say living with someone with an eating disorder is like walking on eggshells, and that is one of the only stereotypes that is actually true. Every victim will have different triggers, but for Cassie, I learned quickly that I could not talk about food in any way, unless it was to say that I eat a lot of it, and I could not talk about any form of fitness or being active or being healthy whatsoever. It was not difficult to get rid of those conversations in my house, but avoiding it everywhere else we went was the difficult part. Every time someone would mention watching their weight around Cassie, I would cringe for her, as I had an idea of what her mind was telling her.
We were required to do family-based therapy with Cassie, which did not help her recovery at all. In fact, it seemed to only make her progress worse. The therapists would tell her what to do, and were very strict about sticking to the same plan for every person with an eating disorder. The reality is, every patient is going to require a different treatment method. No two people or two illnesses are the same, though they may have the same name. As soon as Cassie returned to the individual therapist that helped her recover from her binge eating disorder, her recovery began to progress much faster. I began to see her smile again, she gained some of her passions back again, she loved life and had time for friends and family again, and though food still took up a large space in her mind, it was no longer the only thing on her mind.
Watching Cassie become Cassie again was so beautiful. She is still not fully recovered, but I have seen the long and tiring battle she has fought, and am so proud of her for everything she is. She has been scarred, but she refuses to let the enemy back into her life. She is living for God again, and God gives her the strength to fight against the enemy every day. Cassie will forever be one of the strongest people I know. I love her so much, and she inspires me and so many people every day.