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August 4, 2014

It’s Work and It’s Hard and It’s Wonderful

By Cami Applequist, a former client in recovery

Twenty-two years ago I was a 22-year-old high achieving college student who had already studied overseas three times for a total of two and a half years and was fluent in a second language. I worked thirty hours a week and attended college classes full time while maintaining good grades. I managed to keep a large circle of friends well entertained and my nuclear and extended family happy by participating in family events at least ninety percent of the time. I was on the road to a job in marketing and advertising; to a dream life of red suits, nice cars, high pay and what I thought at the time would be happiness.

One year later I took an unintentional and quite unwelcome detour from that road. After a head-on collision with clinical depression, I found myself confined to my parent’s house and missing work, missing classes, missing fun, unable to drive my new car to the bar where my friends’ band was playing or even bathe so people could visit, unable to get out of bed or have a coherent conversation. Everyone was confused. It was very uncharacteristic of me to stay in one place or quiet for more than one hour. My grade point average dropped. I lost friends who were dear to me. My sense of self, power, and control in the world was diminished to the point of wondering if I would need long-term care and constant supervision.

I believe now that the detour saved me from a very sad life. I look at that “road to happiness” I was traveling and I know that I would never have ended up truly happy. I was forced to take that detour and now find myself genuinely and authentically happy. I am not in a red suit, or a fancy car and I do not have a lot of money. But I have me.

I am 44 years old now, so 22 years ago I was only half of who I am now in terms of life experience – but I can promise that if I had not had that bout of depression interrupt my journey and slow me down enough to take a look at myself and begin to learn who I really am, I would still, at 44, be only half of myself.

Depression is the beginning of my eating disorder recovery story. I was toppled and had to work hard to get back on my feet. I went through several months of outpatient treatment for depression that included medication and counseling and was feeling better within a year. I had bouts of depression come and go with difficult life situations for the next few years and found therapists, doctors, and support groups to help me through the challenging road each time.

I have always had an eating disorder, probably since Kindergarten, maybe even before. But since I have never been severely underweight and I have never purged, neither I nor any of my therapists early on ever considered it as a potential issue to be treated and my eating behavior and food issues did not come up.

I was 32 when I finally applied the words eating disorder to myself. I had been riding one of my many diet cycles for a couple of years, this one came in the form of Overeaters Anonymous. A woman in a depression therapy group had mentioned OA a few years prior as a place where she found great support so I had decided to give it a shot. Although I am aware that it has been a great help to many people, I, with my eating disorder, had managed to turn it into yet another obsessive and very disordered way to see food and eating. Although people around me were praising my success (read: weight loss), I felt miserable. I felt as miserable as I had when I was 23 and depressed. I needed help. I wanted help.

There were several people with bulimic behavior in the OA group which I attended and I had heard many of them tell their stories. Much of what they said sounded just like me. I didn’t purge and I wasn’t underweight but it sure sounded like I had exactly what they said they had: an eating disorder. I realized I needed treatment. It was actually quite a great relief to have made this realization. The problem was figuring out where to go. I knew there were treatment centers, I just didn’t know if there were treatment centers for people like me: people who weren’t skinny.

I scoured the internet and found Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I called and signed myself up and left the following week. I followed up my three-month stay there with aftercare at The Emily Program that continues until today. I know mine is not a common beginning to an eating disorder recovery story since no one ever forced or even advised me to go. I went because I knew it would work because treatment had worked for me with depression ten years prior. I knew that if I could trust the therapists and the doctors and honor the hard work people had done to create the process, I would be okay. And that is what I did and I am okay. I am not only okay, I am recovered. It never occurs to me anymore to hate myself or worry about numbers on scales or tags. It never occurs to be concerned about what someone else may think of my size. My relationship with food is friendly and enjoyable – we are kind to each other in a way I never thought possible. Things that used to rule my conscious and unconscious mind are gone.

For the next months, I will be sharing many of the things that I learned along the way that helped me in my recovery. The skills I picked up, the secrets I learned from therapists and other women in my groups, and the tools I keep in my pockets all day every day that keep me moving forward as the whole authentic Cami that I have worked for and allowed myself to become. These will all be things that have worked for me. They may not all work for everyone because we are all individuals and have our own stories and struggles, but I guarantee everything is worth a shot because recovery is possible. And wonderful.

Get help. Find hope.