“All I wanted to be was normal”

MeredithMeredith Moore of Dallas has spent the better part of her life fighting anorexia. As the 18-year-old faces new challenges — heading off for college, leaving her parents’ home, growing up — she talks about what it’s like, how far she’s come, and what scares her about moving on.

All I wanted was to be “normal.” But I was far from even the outskirts of normal at the height of my illness. Instead of spending Friday nights delighting in cake batter ice cream with girlfriends, whom I once thought of as my best buddies, I bonded with my self-diminishing disease instead.

I went to yoga for all the wrong reasons: to ogle my prickly spine and raggedy spindle-shank bones in the surrounding mirrors of the studio. At the apogee of my anorexic affair, I thought my objective in life was to make my gaunt figure everlasting, to transform weight loss into a staunch conviction, in order to find self worth and purpose.

My parents saw things differently. Two weeks after I was admitted to Children’s Medical Center, my views started to shift. Was I seriously swallowing antipsychotics and in the same unit as bipolar schizophrenics? The inpatient unit was very strict: Even my fluids, both in and out, were monitored. That’s because we anorexics are pretty creative in finding ways to hide the ways we avoid eating. I began to realize that I couldn’t have it both ways in life — keeping both my disease and all the privileges of my impending adulthood.

I had lost my parents’ trust. Due to my disease, I couldn’t hike the ruins of Angkor Wat with my mom (a trip we’d planned for months and had to cancel) because of my brittle bones. I couldn’t bike and bond with my dad because my distortive dieting and dilated aorta threatened our favorite tradition. In short, I couldn’t make my life last and play the role of victim to my inner destructive voice. The doctors, nurses and therapists at Children’s led me, firmly and inevitably, toward health.

Individual, family, and group therapy showed me ways to “normalize” my behavior so I’d make “could” last as opposed to “couldn’t.” Together at Children’s, we found ways for my zealous drive to once be the skinniest and sickest victim to transform into a person who valued straight A’s and real accomplishments instead. This transformation wasn’t easy; I was utterly miserable most of high school.

Finally, last summer, I reached an epiphany: What if all I have to make last is self-acceptance? I realized that normalcy is variegated hues instead of being stark black and white. I decided to trust my intuition to shape my identity rather than conventional wisdom. My eating disorder began to abate.

Nonetheless, the struggle continues to be a daily duel. Some summers are worse than others. Stress, such as my upcoming departure for college, triggers lapses into old, unhealthy habits. Like every therapist said, this sickness must be kicked in the toosh every day. I fall back on the advice and insights I received as a patient at Children’s when I struggle. I can still hear them saying: “Shedding pounds is in turn going to impede your inspirations and aspirations. Malnourished, you can’t think coherently.”

Whenever I shilly-shally over whether to weigh myself or count calories or hover on the edge of deep depression, I remember what Courtney, my favorite milieu therapist (MT), said to me: “How do you want to be remembered? What kind of person do you want to be?” and I feel stronger, better, because I’m more determined to inspire others with my natural talents like photography and writing rather than thinness.

Like me, many girls and, yes, boys, need to take greater care in accepting themselves. And while diet and exercise – physical well-being – are important, they are merely specks among the greater aspects of our values, like faith, hope and love.

Beauty by Hollywood’s standards does not bequeath entitlement. Yet so many men and women misconceive six-pack abs, luscious legs, and hair that shimmies and swerves in the sunlight as empowerment. It can be hard to choose to be fearless over conforming to popular culture. To show how far I’d come, I didn’t wear a drop of makeup my last month of high school and rather than straightening my strands, I sported a coffee-colored beret. The experience gave me confidence. I couldn’t have made such a strong choice without the help of the staff at Children’s.

After struggling with her disease for years, specialists at Children’s Medical Center treated Meredith for anorexia in the comprehensive pediatric eating disorders program before her freshman year of high school. This fall, she is headed off to school at Barnard College in New York. She follows the advice given her by her treatment team at Children’s to take recovery one day at a time.

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