Kasey: I deserve happiness

I deserve to be proud of myself. I deserve happiness. The only person who needed to be persuaded of that, to truly believe that, was me.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been goal oriented; if I wasn’t attempting to achieve something at any given point in time, I was at a loss. Once one goal was accomplished, I was quickly off to working on attaining something new. It didn’t matter what I had finished – I rarely allowed myself a break, let alone gave myself time to appreciate and be proud of my accomplishments. The praise others gave me never really registered with me; I was too busy, working, striving, doing…checking off as many things as I could in order to obtain perfection.

Growing up, I was never really accepting of my appearance, especially my weight. By no means was I unhealthy or overweight, but I definitely did not live up to the “thin ideal” that plagues so many magazines and that rears its ugly head throughout various social media sites. Walking the halls of high school and the sidewalks of University of Northern Colorado, I was constantly reminded that I did not have the “perfect body”; self-worth and body image have always been areas of struggle for me. I had always had the goal to get down to my “ideal weight”, but was either too busy with the other things I was trying to accomplish or simply unmotivated to do so.

My sophomore year of college was one of the most stressful times in my life; I will save you all the details, but let’s just say that it sometimes is not smart to live with your best friends. Personalities clash and petty drama erupts. While issues with a few of my roommates were going on, I decided that it would be the perfect time to get down to my ideal weight. I had a goal in mind and would stop at nothing to reach it. With a predisposition to an eating disorder (that I was not aware of at the time) and a driven mindset, you probably see where this story is going.

To keep my focus off of what was going on in my normal life, I used food and exercise as a way of control. If I couldn’t control what was happening externally, I could easily control what I put into my body and the amount of exercise I was putting my body through. At first, these things were not outwardly detrimental. I was not to the point where someone could look at me and say, “Kasey, you don’t look good”. This allowed me to continue on with my choices without being questioned. Something people do not understand about eating disorders is that a person does not need to be extremely thin to be suffering from one. This is one of the reasons an eating disorder is so detrimental – eating disorders thrive in secrecy. At this time, I was still receiving compliments from people on my weight loss. I, however, could not see the results; when I looked in the mirror I saw the person I had always seen- someone unhappy with both her body and appearance. To this day, body dysmorphia continues to be something I struggle with. It was not until that summer that I had reached my goal weight and even then I was not happy or proud of the results. I remember standing on the scale at the gym seeing that I had finally done what I had always aimed to do and feeling no sense of joy or accomplishment. In attempting to finally feel a sense of pride in myself, I continued restricting and over exercising. This time, there was no goal weight in sight; restricting allowed me to feel in control when everything in my life seemed out of control.

My disease led me to the point where I was going outside in at least two coats in 90-degree weather because I was so cold from malnourishment. I had developed lanugo – soft, fine, downy white hair that grows on the body – in my body’s attempt to insulate itself. I had difficulty concentrating and was apathetic towards most things in my life. Despite all of this, I persisted in my attempt to see what everyone else saw in me – both internally and externally. I wanted to be perfect, but more importantly, I wanted to be happy.

It was not until my parents told me I would not be returning to school that following semester that I realized I needed help. School was – and continues to be – one of my favorite things. I love learning and the threat of losing that made me put things into perspective. When the treatment center I went to called to tell me I needed a higher of care, I remember blatantly saying, “I’m not going to treatment, I’m going back up to school.” There was a lot of push-back and crying on my part before I ultimately agreed to receive treatment for anorexia. School would have to wait.

I was in treatment for seven weeks and was in intensive outpatient care for an additional month following my discharge from residential treatment. Treatment, I have learned, was easy in comparison to recovery outside of treatment. In treatment, I had six monitored meals a day and support systems at any time of the day; with recovery outside of treatment, I have to make the conscious effort and decision every day to follow my meal plan and eat. I have been out of treatment for a little over a year and a half now and I am constantly reminded that this is something I will have with me for the rest of my life. Nevertheless, the healthy coping skills I learned in treatment taught me that recovery is not only possible, it is also attainable. I have a loving support system in my family and friends, and know that I can go to them for anything. Thanks to these supports, I was able to return to school after taking one semester off. After a lot of hard work and persistence on my part, I am proud to say that I will be graduating on time in May of this year.

The last time I saw my weight was two weeks before entering treatment. After that I was not made aware of my weight while in treatment; we were weighed every day, but we were not allowed to see the number on the screen. When I see my dietitian and when I go to the doctor, I position my sight away from the scale so I do not see the number. I refuse to be defined by a number that is so meaningless. I leave my weight in the hands of my outpatient treatment team – they know what weight is healthy for me and help me maintain it. I have realized that in always working on the next accomplishment or goal, I never allowed myself the opportunity to reflect on the good I have done. I deserve to be proud of myself. I deserve happiness. The only person who needed to be persuaded of that, to truly believe that, was me.

— Kasey Sparacio