I remained undetected for years. Or rather I thought I did. I’m sure many people knew but did nothing and that’s fine, it’s not their job and honestly we were just trying to navigate our teens and twenties as best we could. No one confronted me and the one time I spoke out, asking for help, it went unanswered. I just think no one knew what to do at that time.
Teachers pulled me aside to ask if I needed help or money because I was so thin they wanted to make sure I had enough to eat. I took their money and ate and threw up. Yet another mark in the I was a horrible person column I thought. I added ‘cheaper’ to my prayers at night still asking for anorexia to be blessed upon me.
I was being fitted for a costume at school, the costumer measured everything as he was going to build my costume. Shoulder to shoulder, shoulder to hip, shoulder to elbow, waist, head for a hat.
He paused and measure waist and head again. Then again. Stephanie, your waist is smaller than your head! You’re too thin! All I heard was my waist was smaller than my head. Over and over like it was the best compliment I had ever gotten. Like I’d won the gold medal in thin. Shortly thereafter I was called into the head of the school’s office. I was informed that they thought I had a problem and needed help. Help! My waist was smaller than my head! I needed no help! Despite the fact that earlier in the year an ambulance had to be called to take me to the hospital as I passed out in the snack room, a small ‘heart incident’ that I passed off as food poisoning, it was the measurements of my body that both thrilled me-spurring me further but also betraying me and giving me away. My protestations about exams and end of year activities fell on deaf ears. Go to the hospital or don’t come back to school.
My boyfriend at the time drove me. Weeks earlier he had happened to show up at my apartment mid binge. I cried and begged and he left so I could throw up. I can’t imagine what that was like for him to catch me, stomach distended and red, eyes wild and so very, very desperate. He came and quietly collected me and drove me to the Pasadena hospital with a Spanish name and beautiful architecture to match. It had no dedicated eating disorder program, it was too soon for that, and so I was to be in the middle of many different kinds of illness.
He wanted to stay with me, go with me all the way to my room but of course they wouldn’t let him. I got one phone call a day and I promised to call him. I sat in a cold small room with a secretary who asked a million hard questions and stared at the words stamped in red at the top of my chart. BULIMIC MUST BE WATCHED AT ALL TIMES. I felt the panic rising, my mind reeling, being watched meant I had no control- none. Could I still leave? I wanted to scream that I changed my mind. But I sat paralyzed and stuck to that chair answering each question like a robot.
After the intake interview came the physical. The cot was cold and hard and a nurse who placed a cold stethoscope on my chest then took my blood pressure. Low. I placed my hand on my stomach and felt the comforting thump of my pulse there. The deep gully between my hip bones emphasized by the bridge my jean waistband made reassured me. “You’re so cute!” the nurse said. “I love your belly button ring. You’re so tiny” she said “you’ll have to tell me your secret!”
I was 82 pounds and my chart said BULIMIC. I smiled, because I knew then I could outsmart them.
More tomorrow. Thank you for reading and again, if you suffer or know anyone who needs help please contact NEDA you can beat this and you can, and will have a life.
Stephanie Stearns Dulli is alternately confident and riddled with anxiety. Perfect qualifications for the two major careers in her life: once professional actress in LA and now stay at home mom in DC. Since leaving LA and the acting world behind (for now), Stephanie has found other ways to be creative. After starting her blog five years ago, she began working as an on-camera iVoice for iVillage.com. She currently blogs at Stephanie Says about where you will find pop culture, fashion, photography, and is the director of the Washington, D.C. Listen to Your Mother show.