By Hannah Glasrud, NAMI-UW Vice President
You have to be smarter. You have to be faster. You have to be kinder. You have to be wittier. You have to be perfect. These are the thoughts that constantly plagued my mind the moment the dim morning light clawed at my eyelids. I would sit on the edge of my bed with my head drooped in my cold hands, staring into nothingness, trying to find a tiny glimpse of motivation to get up and face the monster of a day. I was tired. No, not tired, I was exhausted. I could feel my slow heartbeat, thumping desperately against my paper-thin chest. I felt that soon, life would slip from its delicate grip, and it may stop beating completely. I couldn’t be frightened because my mind was consumed only with thoughts of my disappointments and my failures to reach the unattainable. I am real, living proof that striving for perfection is the equivalent to flirting with death.
Early in life, we are taught to never settle for anything less than our best. The voices of our parents, teachers, coaches, and other important figures vibrate in our ears, telling us we will be successful, go far in life, or make a difference if only we just give it our all. As a young woman preparing to start my high school career, I kept these words near and dear to my heart, carrying them with me wherever I went. I wanted to start my sophomore year off on a fantastic note, being the most studious, organized scholar that I could be. I wanted the teachers to notice and praise me, and my classmates to befriend me. I naively believed that if I tried hard enough, I could make my first year at the high school flawless.
As the school year crept closer and closer, I began restricting my food intake. It began as a pledge to be as healthy as possibly, filling my body only with pure, wholesome food. My friends and relatives praised me when I turned down after-dinner desserts and applauded me when I chose a salad over pizza. I felt so accomplished, like nothing could stop me. I was on the highway to perfection. Or so I thought. But in a matter of months, I was living on watered-down soup and an occasional handful of grapes to quiet my empty stomach, gnawing at my flesh. I was cold. So cold. Not even a mug full of hot water, layers upon layers of blankets, or the crackling fireplace could warm me. I was wasting away into nothingness. Scared, lonely, and weak.
Pretty soon, I dreaded going to school, where I was forced to see people. I just wanted to hide in my room and sleep in complete isolation. I was too fatigued to do anything else. Getting up to sharpen my pencil during class was exhausting, and by the time I reached the top of a staircase, I nearly collapsed. I had been, not so long ago, completely impassioned with the tennis, anxiously waiting to leap across the court, hitting ball after ball. Now, I had to force myself to continue playing until I had no remaining energy to make it through a match. I was relieved when the season finally came to an end.
It wasn’t long before people began to notice I was no longer my bubbly, outgoing self. My parents would question why I wasn’t eating dinner with them, or why I seemed so quiet and withdrawn. My friends would ask why I could never hang out on the weekends anymore, and when I didn’t respond, they stopped inviting me anywhere altogether, figuring that I couldn’t come anyhow. It was because I was consumed with counting calories and weighing myself morning, noon, and night, making sure my weight was “perfect.” But it was never perfect. I was never satisfied. Strangely enough, I still thought I was unstoppable, convincing myself that I had truly mastered the skill of self-control and will-power. In reality, I was the fading away, both physically and emotionally. My once lively, energetic spirit was now a flickering candle, ready to burn out completely. And if it wasn’t for my father’s unconditional love and concern, I would have been lost forever.
That night, the frigid November air cut deep into my bones as my family and I were driving home from a play. Suddenly, my dad’s eyes widened and his mouth released a tiny yelp, barely noticeable. Frightened, I glanced over to where he was staring. The passenger airbag was off. I was no longer heavy enough to activate it. We drove home in silence. After witnessing my dad’s reaction, I, myself, was petrified. Then he broke the chilly silence. “Hannah, I think you have anorexia.” My mind raced with a million different thoughts. I wanted to scream, cry, and run far away. But something deep down told me he was right.
Now, as I look back on that moment five years ago, I feel blessed. No, I would never wish the pain and agony of enduring an eating disorder on anyone, not even my biggest enemy. But I feel grateful to have suffered tremendously through the ups and downs of recovery because it has taught me a very valuable lesson. There is no such thing as perfection. It is an absurd delusion, entirely unachievable. We are imperfect. We make terrible mistakes. We have incredible successes. We are complete and whole just the way we are. Yes, I will still have bad days where I want to shut out the world and return to old patterns of behavior. But I have realized that those behaviors are destructive, inflicting damage on my mind, body, and soul. Instead, I will accept that I am human, I will make mistakes, and it is okay. I choose to live, soaking up every struggle and victory I face, embracing the rollercoaster that is life.