“Math test!” My teacher crowed, a grin lighting up his face. “Make sure to study.” I gulped, my mouth as dry as a desert rock, as if all of the spit had been extracted, and only a pile of shriveled vocal cords and nerves remained. I looked down at my trembling hands, felt my pulsing heart, rested my palm against my pounding head. The anxiety had already kicked in. I pored through my lessons, studying, studying, studying. I must get an A. I'll be a failure otherwise. I was teetering on the edge; I just did not know it. How would I? I was not in touch with how I felt about anything, too ashamed to admit my weaknesses even to myself. *** “Hey, Mom.” I wheedled, gulping down a few cups of water as I spoke. “Would you make me a study guide for my math test?” “Again?” she groaned as my eyes beseeched her. “Fine,” she grumbled. “But that's the third one already. No more.” “Okay, okay,” I waved her off, expelling a deep sigh of relief. I had slogged through three more practice quizzes by the time my math test crept up. Even then, I felt unprepared. As the timer taunted me, I rubbed my palms together, trying to soothe the anxiety that threatened to decimate my carefully controlled persona of calm and unconcern. My parched, achingly dry throat begged for relief. I swigged another cup of water. I'm gonna fail. I'll be a complete loser. Each time I answered a question, I crossed my fingers and held my breath, releasing it only when a green “Correct” circle popped up. When the torture finally ceased, I stopped sweating; I could breathe again. No cracks appeared in my facade. *** “Luuuunch!” My mom bellowed from upstairs. “I've got it all ready for you.” “Coming!” My brother yelled back, running up the stairs. I trailed behind. “Thanks,” I sighed. “I'm just not very hungry. I haven't been lately.” “But, Sid, it's really small--just a PB&J with a few grapes. There's hardly anything here.” “I know, I know. I'm just gonna have some more water,” I mumbled. “I'm really thirsty.” As we spoke, my brother wolfed down his lunch. “Theesh esh sho good!” I nibbled at my sandwich, nodding absentmindedly. “Uh-huh.” After a few bites, I surrendered. “I'm just too full.” My mom shot me a puzzled glance, but she let it go. This pattern repeated itself for months--stress, guzzle water, nibble. Stress some more. Eventually my weight plunged by 20 pounds, and I suffered through a series of appointments with myriad specialists. My unusual diagnosis slowly crystallized: anxiety disorder causing excessive thirst. This thirst prevented hunger, which led to weight loss and other maladies. I consulted with a therapist to reduce my water consumption and develop coping skills. In the ensuing weeks, my therapist exposed the roots of my anxiety and urged me to share my fears. I adjusted to admitting “weakness” and seeking help. Attempting to maintain weight redefined futility because my appetite had shrunk to nothing. My body impersonated a skeleton. My vitals plummeted. Admitted to the hospital, I now received treatment for re-feeding and heart monitoring. The hospital stay proved brutal. Each day entailed mind-bending caloric intake, unending bed rest, and constant poking and prodding. I confronted psychological challenges as well. “Let's discuss your eating disorder. Food's not the enemy,” condescended my doctor. “I don't have an eating disorder. It's an anxiety disorder. The weight loss was just a by-product,” I repeated for the fiftieth time. I refrained from rolling my eyes in exasperation. “Right. But admitting you have anorexia is the first step in managing this disease.” “Argh! Look, Doctor,” I pressed. “I know you've seen a million eating disorder cases and that this may look similar, but I promise you that I love food, I love to eat, and the weight loss was just a domino effect. Please believe me. You're wasting your time by going down this road.” The doctor, unaccustomed to pushback, adopted a harsher tone. “If you don't admit your eating disorder, we may have to consider an out-of-state facility. You must accept who you are.” That was it, the last straw. I did accept myself now. “Let me make this very clear. I. DON'T. HAVE. AN. EATING. DISORDER. I MUST GAIN WEIGHT AND CONTINUE ANXIETY THERAPY. I ACCEPT MYSELF FULLY. YOU JUST DON'T KNOW ME.” Wow! I suppressed a smile. I could not believe it. I had defended myself. I had turned a corner. Now, months later, I have regained my health. I manage my anxiety, and I express my feelings. If something concerning happens, my parents will know. This affirmation on my new necklace sums it up best: “Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know.” I recognize this truth, and it resides in me. I am brave; I am strong; I am smart; and I am loved. More than I will ever know. I am Sidney, and I am who I want to be because I am me--flaws and anxieties included.
Subscribe and stay tuned.