My battle with anorexia nervosa started when I was 12 years old. By the time I was 14, I’d been hospitalized half a dozen times, but it was the 1970’s, and there were no treatment centers for people with eating disorders. The doctors couldn’t figure out why I had dropped from 90 to 68 pounds, so they performed an abdominal exploratory surgery, removed my appendix and sent me home to eat. When I didn’t recover, I was sent to a psychiatrist, but I despised him because he threatened to put me back in the hospital if I didn’t start eating. I ended up running away from home to escape his threats, then gave my mother an ultimatum. I would come home if she would let me figure out on my own how to get “normal” again. She agreed and I returned.
After a few difficult years I got myself back on track and started high school, where I discovered the drama club and found an outlet for my emotions. Loving the theatre motivated me to stay healthy, and I was able to go to college and graduate school. Except for some bulimia and drinking, which I stopped at age 30, I was doing well.
When I was 36 my father was killed suddenly in a car accident, and my anorexia returned with a vengeance. The trauma and stress destroyed me physically and I had to retired from acting. I had no idea what to do with my life at this point. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t an actor. After some soul searching I realized with the help of my dog Gus, that I loved animals. This led me to pursue a second career at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, where I became the coordinator of volunteers. By working with the volunteers, I learned the value of being of service to others. This gave me great comfort, but my anorexia was still breaking me down. I needed to learn to take care of myself if I wanted to continue to take care of others.
This is the genesis of my first book, THE OXYGEN MASK RULE: How My Battle With Anorexia Taught Me How to Survive. Onboard an airplane, passengers are instructed to make sure their masks are on first before assisting other passengers. If I wanted to be healthy I had to apply this rule to my own life and embrace it as the golden rule in my recovery from anorexia nervosa.
MORE ABOUT ANOREXIA
From the Mayo Clinic website:
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of body weight. People with anorexia place a high value on controlling their weight and shape, using extreme efforts that tend to significantly interfere with activities in their lives.
To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia usually severely restrict the amount of food they eat. They may control calorie intake by vomiting after eating or by misusing laxatives, diet aids, diuretics or enemas. They may also try to lose weight by exercising excessively.
Some people with anorexia binge and purge, similar to individuals who have bulimia nervosa. However, people with anorexia generally struggle with an abnormally low body weight, while individuals with bulimia typically are normal to above normal weight. No matter how weight loss is achieved, the person with anorexia has an intense fear of gaining weight.
Anorexia isn’t really about food. It’s an unhealthy way to try to cope with emotional problems. When you have anorexia, you often equate thinness with self-worth.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder, I encourage you to seek help. Here are some great organizations:
FOR ADDICTION, DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE: