by Britt Kelleher from ANAD

Part One: Raisin Bran and Other Painful Things
Dinner comes late in the Kelleher household. With four children, my mother is a rather busy woman, and, frankly, remembering dinner’s daily occurrence isn’t her forte. This story begins on one of those late-dinner nights, and I was hungry — real hungry. The clock above the stove read seven, a time when one would expect the kitchen to be empty and dinner still stuffed in Whole Foods bags. But on this evening, I concluded that dinner’s nonexistent state was a sign that we were each to prepare our own meal.

And so I reached for a deep red ceramic bowl, poured myself a small serving of Raisin Bran, and walked out of the kitchen, spooning milk and cereal into my mouth.

“What are you doing?” my mother asked from her position on the couch. “We haven’t had dinner yet. I just ordered Thai.”

“Oh,” I responded, turning on my heel and walking back into the kitchen. “Well, I figured we were getting our own dinner. I don’t want any Thai. I already ate cereal,” I called over my shoulder, feeling my anxiety begin to rise.

“That little thing! Don’t be silly. You had two bites. You’re eating dinner.”

“I can’t eat, Mom. I already had dinner. I’m FULL!” I slammed the bowl into the sink, the ceramic shattering as it hit the aluminum surface. In a storm of anger, I flew down the back staircase to the basement, my fury swelling as I replayed the events in my head.

“Stop, Brittany! Stop!” my dad shouted. I turned and glared up in his direction, ready for a pitched battle. But when I looked into his familiar face and saw the concern drawn across it, my anger melted and I was overcome by a flood of emotion. I collapsed, my shoulders shaking as I began to sob silently.

This was wrong. This was all wrong. That girl backed into a tight corner, hugging her knees and burying her tear-soaked face into them was not me. I didn’t know this depressed, lifeless girl whose spirit was gradually fading. My parents, who had cautiously migrated down the staircase, were now standing over me, watching, not knowing what to say. After a period of prolonged silence interspersed with my occasional gasps for air, my dad slid to the floor. “Brittany, do you want to see a doctor?”

Finally, someone asked. Finally, someone acknowledged that I had a serious problem. I nodded my head, buried it back into my knees, and sobbed some more.

I am a recovering anorexic, and this is my story. I’ve thought about it every day since I was 16-years-old. I’ve analyzed it, dug deep for its root, and cried over its reality. I’ve thrown things, books and pens mostly, mad that this stupid, unfair disease ruined an unrecoverable chunk of my life. I’ve told this story many times before, to therapists, to friends, and to my parents and siblings in piecemeal. I’ve shared it as encouragement for others to get help; I’ve nodded to it in an undergraduate speech. I’ve thought about this story and recanted it so many times that, to be frank, I’m tired of it. I desperately did not want to write about it again. But I must, because I have never told it honestly. I have always glossed over those aspects I am most ashamed of and constructed it as if it were a thing of the past.

But I now am healthy enough, mature enough, and, finally, courageous enough to tell this story right. I know it will leave me vulnerable, exposing the raw edges of wounds still healing. At times, it will reveal a hated side of myself that I loathe for anyone to see. But it is the truth. And it is me.

Laying Roots: Perfectionism, Popularity, and the Media
With puberty and hours of training as a dancer, I came to resemble my parents — short but strong, compact and muscular. By the time I was fourteen, I had a wide back, sculpted shoulders, and powerful quads. Rarely did I think of my body, and when I did, it was out of pride. I liked being stronger than my male peers, and I liked resembling my parents’ muscular build. Besides, I was the eater of the family. Whereas my cousins preferred grilled cheese and buttered noodles, I took pride in sharing the “adult” menu with my father, our favorite always being a medium-rare filet. At thirteen, fourteen, even fifteen years old, I was the emblem of healthiness. I was the last person anyone would expect to fall prey to an eating disorder.

In trying to make sense of this all and uncover its roots, I now see the subtle cues that indicated my susceptibility to anorexia. Most obvious is my neurotic perfectionism. At five years old, I was reading to my kindergarten class. At seven, I (privately) declared that I would be the valedictorian of my grammar school, and by ten, I had extended that goal to high school. From fifth grade on, I spent hours studying each night and felt such stress that I feared never graduating from middle school. To look back at that younger version of myself, and all the tea she drank to soothe her worried soul, makes me smile, even chuckle, at the ridiculousness of it all. But it is also saddening, for in that ten-year-old self I see a compulsiveness that would eventually bring about my physical and emotional deterioration.

Such compulsive tendencies weren’t enough to fuel an eating disorder, though. After all, I had lived fifteen years without knowing my weight or giving it much thought. But high school changed me. A desire to fit in a new environment changed me. From that first day, I knew which girls were the cool ones and the ones I hoped to flock down the halls with (slow motion and Mean Girls-like, of course). Their appearance gave away their soon-to-be popularity. They exuded wealth and beauty. They had perfectly straight, typically blonde hair that spilled down their backs. They wore Polo button downs, North Face backpacks, and white knee socks with Sperry Top-Siders. To accessorize, they dotted their ears with the same Tiffany & Co. “Bead” earrings and slipped on matching tennis bracelets. Of course, there were plenty of reasons for why they were popular and I was not, not the least of which was my growing introversion. But my teenage eyes didn’t perceive the social canvas in such clear light. The explanation for my friendship difficulties was obvious — I didn’t look right.

CLICK HERE to read the full article.


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My Story, My Connection Mental Health Treatment and Recovery

Adolescent bipolar disorder. When is it typically diagnosed?

But I Was A Victim, Right? Schizoaffective disorder.

What is bulimia?

What is anorexia?




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External Resources

Eating Disorder Hope website


Support program: Sibling Support Project

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

National Center for PTSD

The Blue Ribbon Project: supporting victims of child abuse and youth in foster care

Faces of PTSD

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