Kelsey Hoeper,  Elyssa's Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper,
Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper is an Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer. Kelsey shares her struggles with anorexia and exercise bulimia. Her moving story provides hope and inspiration to those undergoing similar struggles.

When I was first diagnosed with anorexia and exercise bulimia at the age of 19, my depression was at its worst. My days were centered and planned around when I would exercise, how long I would exercise for, and what I would consume—and not consume. My eating disorder had completely taken over my life. I could not go a single hour without obsessively thinking about my weight. If I had to miss a workout, I remember shaking with anxiety; my mind hijacked with thoughts about how I would make up for this lost time. A lost workout. An extra spoonful of dinner my mother made me eat in front of her. I wasn’t able to recognize it at the peak of my diagnosis, but looking back, I had completely forgotten what it was like to enjoy a day. Enjoy the calm, the quiet, the beautiful. I was rattled; I tormented myself on a daily basis. I was dying in front of my family and I could see the pain in their eyes. I wanted it all to be over and I considered taking my own life many times. But at the same time, as sickening as it sounds, I felt compelled to finish what I had started.

The start of it went almost undetected. After losing 15 pounds, many people positively commented on my new physique. My primary physician said I looked great. Then it was 20 pounds. 30 pounds. 40 pounds. You can see the pattern. I was venturing down a destructive path. In a matter of a few weeks I was caught up in a cycle; I was an observer of my own deteriorating body; finding no power within myself to stop. There were many times when I didn’t even want that kind of power. I imagined myself as an entirely different being. I was no longer Kelsey. I was Phantom Kelsey. I was floating. Floating in a trance and a starve-driven high to continue. I was chipping away at myself—a kind of suicide I have yet to create a word for. But the pressure I put on myself to continue with my strict workout and eating regimen may have been the exact reason why I never took a moment or a series of moments to end it all. Here’s why: during the darkest times I convinced myself I had to continue what I started. And the end goal? I still don’t know. Maybe that I would make myself so small, then one day—poof—Phantom Kelsey would become someone new. I didn’t know who I was trying to become.

One afternoon, about 4 months after I started following my strict eating and workout plan, my mother took me to a meeting with a therapist who specialized in treating men and women with eating disorders. I felt I had been basically dragged there, and the therapist could see my apprehension and frustration. She looked at my face, formed a tiny smile while tilting her head to the side and said, “You look exhausted.” The answer, clearly a “yes,” never made it out of my mouth. Yes, I was so tired.  And I cried. I cried harder than I ever had in my life. My sorrow blew out all the remaining candles. I was all smoke; there was no fire left in me. After I cried for a few minutes, my therapist took my hand in hers and told me I would die if I didn’t make a change and start the recovery process. She handed me a granola bar and asked me how I was feeling. Terrified. Angry. Disgusted. She said to me, “Now change that way of thinking and tell yourself this instead: this piece of food will give you the energy to do a cartwheel in the park, or run into the arms of an old friend you haven’t seen in years. Wouldn’t you much rather feel that?”

The chipping away at my own self, the deadly regime I adhered to so religiously, started to fade and lessen over time. Instead of dying by my own hand, I was fueling up. I was relighting the candles that once burned themselves down to a stub. I no longer felt like an observer; a phantom clinging on and tapping away—annoying and scheming. I started to feel present again. I started to feel whole again. The empty spaces in my body started to fill up again.

Five years later and I consider myself to have been one of the lucky ones. There are cases upon cases of men and women struggling with eating disorders who go untreated. Lack of accessible and affordable treatment and fear of talking about their disorders are the strongest reasons why people don’t seek treatment. It’s tragic, because as months and years go by, the cycle only becomes that much harder to escape. I was lucky in that my family encouraged—no, forced—me to get help in the beginning stages of my disease. I thank them every day for standing up to me. I thank them for saving my life. With that strong support from family, friends and teammates, I felt earthbound once again. I could hear the calm.

I also recognize that I was lucky in the kind of support I received. I know there are many men and women out there who aren’t so fortunate. I knew a young woman close to my age who struggled with anorexia for years. She never went to social gatherings. She grew anxious at the thought of going to a restaurant with other people. People would see her at the gym and stare. Only stare. When she would go to the front desk to scan her ID card, I could almost hear the sales associates whispering in their heads, wanting to tell her to go home and rest. To go home and eat. When she wasn’t at the gym, she was either at home or at a weekly group therapy session. She was too sick to hold down a job. I recall her telling me how useless the group therapy sessions were. She admitted she skipped meetings all the time. Her mother never asked, and from what I remember, her parents were distant and they rarely followed up with her. They say attention is the first and final display of love. And this beautiful girl didn’t receive the fierce attention that she wanted and needed. It makes my chest cave in with sadness when I think about her now.

One day, I read something that changed my way of thinking. It was from an advice column. Keep in mind these are not my own words: “Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away, eat it away, or starve it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. Therapists and friends and other people can help you along the way, but the healing—the genuine healing—is entirely and absolutely up to you.”

Support is all around you. Even in strangers. Friendly voices who make it their mission to connect and reach out to others. I cannot stress the importance of being around people who know exactly what you are going through. Your feelings of anxiety, depression and a longing for escape are felt by so many people around you. I can feel you. This connection is vital. But perhaps even more important is the way you can create a self-made plan to heal. It is entirely possible. Nothing about healing is impossible.