This post is written by a former patient at McCallum Place who shares his perspective on having an eating disorder and going through treatment.
By Phil S
It has been approximately ten years since I first met my target weight goal. This wasn’t a weight loss/diet type challenge. No, it was quite the opposite. Over the summer and into the fall of 2003 I was exercising compulsively and eating sparingly. I would even speed walk when my nose was running and I had a fever. It didn’t matter. If it rained, I simply ran up and down the stairs of my home. It was a need to work out, to be leaner, and to be thin.
By October, I was at a highly dangerous weight, looking like a skeleton. During the summer and into the fall I was also having periods of voluminous vomiting. This wasn’t purging—no, it was completely unintentional. These episodes would be four hours long, featuring constant throwing up, pain in my insides, and total fear of what on earth was happening to me.
I was admitted to Children’s Hospital during a routine final checkup at my pediatrician. I was given an IV as well as a tube up my nose and down into my stomach because I had a very rare condition called superior mesenteric artery syndrome or SMA syndrome. It results in the intestine essentially becoming kinked like a garden hose would. Thus, no food could pass through, resulting in it coming back by the truckloads. The tube in my nose sucked up the bile in my stomach into a large container. By the end, there were two liters of an olive green liquid inside.
I was lucky. SMA syndrome has a mortality rate of 1 in 3. With only 500 reported cases in the English-language medical history, that is still odds I wouldn’t want to face again. It puts in perspective all of those times I’ve cursed my luck for rolling a bad number in Monopoly or losing some money at the casino. I should be able to handle poor luck with such meager, small things in the grand scheme of things when I had luck on my side when things looked their darkest. I’m alive and I’m grateful for that.
Following the hospital, I was admitted into an eating disorder facility known as McCallum Place. I met many fascinating people, many that I wish I kept in touch with, and had many moments I treasure to this day. It was my opportunity to throw caution to the wind, be myself, and make people laugh. That said, our struggles together were anything but a laughing matter. I’m reminded about the classic dramedy M*A*S*H, and how the people there acted off-the-wall crazy at times as a means to stay sane in an otherwise humorless place, Korea. The other clients and I used humor as a blanket to keep ourselves from becoming emotionally exhausted.
As McCallum Place didn’t have residential living for males at the time,1 I went there from 9 am to 7 pm, participating in groups, therapy, eating lunch, dinner, and two snacks. My mom drove me back and forth, which living in West County was a genuine pain in the rear for all parties concerned.
Since leaving McCallum Place the first time, my longest period at the facility, I had regained the weight I lost and then some, graduated on time in 2004 thanks to a correspondence course, went to my prom with one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever had the chance to go out with, and continued my usual hijinks (i.e. jokes, smart aleck comments, and other tomfoolery).
The picture you see is what I looked like after I recovered from my anorexia. I have since gained more weight, to the point where I’m uncomfortable with my body. I don’t like to be seen in public if I don’t have to. It absolutely sucked when clothes that used to be loose on me couldn’t even fit. This piece of information isn’t meant to sour a good story. I just wanted to make note that I’ll never really be “cured” so to speak. I always am self-conscious about myself, always thinking how I could look better, how that would make me more appealing to women, etc. Instead, I need to live one day at a time. The weight will come off when I’m able to regularly workout. I just have to be patient and stay with it.
I continue to see Dr. Kimberli McCallum when I can. We’ve moved through issues like my weight, my body image, my body dysmorphia, and yes, the arrival of my bipolar disorder in 2006. Thankfully, the latter has me on medication that keeps me “normal.”
There’s a stigma surrounding males with eating disorders. It’s a stigma that makes it so males with these issues don’t come forth due to embarrassment, concern of what people will say, and other totally legitimate concerns. For me, I have two stigmas against me– I’m a male who had an eating disorder/still worries about his body, and I have a mental illness. Mom said I was always gifted. She just didn’t know how true that was.
I felt the need to put my story out there because there are so many men who struggle daily and won’t get help out of self-imposed shame. I didn’t get those thoughts with my eating disorder. I just wanted to get better, and when I returned to class (high school of all places, where teens aren’t known for their social kindness), people were receptive of me and my struggle. They were concerned. They cared. There were no whispers or talk behind my back.
It’s important to get help. An eating disorder isn’t an easy contender to fight with support and treatment, much less all alone. It’s a multiple round bout that requires endurance, inner strength, and courage. You’ll want to give up. You’ll want to throw in the towel, but you can’t. However, that’s easier said than done when your brain makes you think while you’re looking in the mirror that you’re worthless, ugly, or any other negative adjective that your ED attaches to you. It’s a twisted fun house mirror that warps your perception of your body. You could be a skeleton like I was and still see yourself as fat. An eating disorder is a vicious, irrational beast that needs to and CAN be slain.
I only want to spread the word that it isn’t impossible. I’m not going to say some cliche line from an infomercial or commercial like, “If I can do it, you can do it!” Instead, I’m going to say that with the proper support in the form of friends, family, and therapy, as well as proper treatment, an eating disorder can be overcome. It might not happen overnight (read: it sure as heck won’t), but finding the courage, strength, and power to do so makes all the difference.
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1 McCallum Place Eating Disorder Centers now offer residential, partial hospital, and intensive outpatient care for males with eating disorders.