I came to the realization that I needed treatment when I left an appointment with my nutritionist sobbing because I couldn’t eat according to the meal plan she gave me. My body was just paralyzed with fear at the thought of it and I knew my health was declining. My doctor had told me not to long before this that my heart rate was low and that I was losing weight when I could not afford to.
I was still scared to death of treatment – and I made that dreaded phone call to the place my therapist and I had discussed. I knew in my heart that I needed help and that I really had nothing more to lose. After that phone call, I was sent for blood work and some other testing to determine that my health was stable enough to enter into the program. After that was completed, my parents and I made the trip over to the treatment center, where the insurance authorization began.
I remember waiting forever in that tiny waiting room. They designed it to be comfortable – soft music, quiet, low lighting –but nothing could make me comfortable at that point. I remember thinking, How did I end up here? Maybe things are not as bad as I think they are. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. But I also want help. I don’t know what I want.
Finally we were called into the admissions office and I realized that I didn’t have to agonize over the decision whether or not to go forward with treatment – because I was admitted to the residential program. Sure, it was voluntary and I could have said no. But it was honestly a relief to have that decision taken out of my hands (the first of many, actually).
I didn’t even have a bag packed because I wasn’t expecting to be admitted to residential. I was filled with anxiety and overwhelming fear– I would be away from the comforts of home for who knows how long, I didn’t know a single person, and, on top of all that, I would have to eat and abide by a lot of rules that were unfamiliar to me. I said a tearful goodbye to my parents, and then was accompanied by a staff member across the street where the program was housed.
My eating disorder was yelling at me that I was weak for going to this program, that gaining weight would make me ugly and unlovable. It told me that I was nothing without anorexia. When we arrived to the door of the residential program, I had no idea what was ahead of me. I took a deep breath as the door opened, and made the first steps through that door, toward recovery. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, but I'm glad I listened to my intuition and honored the part of me knew, deep down, I had to get help.
If you are debating about whether you need treatment, here are some “red flags” you can look for. I took these from my own experience entering treatment, and adapted some from the EAT-26 (Eating Attitudes Test, 26 questions).
1) You are attending all of your appointments and trying your hardest, but things are getting worse instead of better
2) You are using behaviors despite knowing the risks and consequences of them. Your actions are out of control and that they are impacting those around you
3) You feel that your life has no meaning without your eating disorder
4) You are not participating in daily life (attending school/work/obligations) or you are struggling to keep up with these things. For example, your grades are declining or you call out very frequently from work
5) You are unable to follow the recommendations of your treatment team despite your effort
Many people wonder if they're "sick enough" to go to treatment. Please consult with your doctor if you think you might need to. I am not a clinician and cannot determine if you need to go – but the bottom line is, if you are thinking about it, you probably should.
Alison is a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and recovery. She graduated from Salem State University in 2015 with a bachelor's in psychology, and returns to the school annually to speak about eating disorders and share her recovery story. Learn more about Alison on our Blog Squad page.