Towards the end of my career, I hated ballet.
I dreaded standing in front of the mirror all day long and having the director pull me aside to discuss my "weight issues" with me on a daily basis. It was hard to even remember that this career choice was something that I had once wanted so badly and had sacrificed everything for.
I thought that after I quit dancing ballet my eating disorder would go away.
It was to my surprise that it actually escalated and intensified. I had blamed my bulimic and anorexic behavior on my life as a ballet dancer and the unrealistic pressures I was under to get and stay thin. I pointed fingers at dancing and at directors who constantly were on my ass to slim down and not "be so muscular" as if it were something that I could make happen overnight.
It was everyone's fault except my own. I was the victim. This was being done to me...So I felt.
So when ballet and those pesky directors were not in the picture, who was to blame? Whose fault was it that I had come to be this pathetic, angry, bulimic person?
It certainly was not my fault...
After spending a majority of my life comparing myself to other dancers both in terms of skill set and physical appearance, I was struggling and failing miserably at finding peace and acceptance of who I was even after I stopped dancing.
I began panicking and felt like I was spiraling down a dark hole from which I would never recover. I did not ever truly believe that I was really sick with a REAL eating disorder. I had always thought that I could stop this silly nonsensical behavior at any time. As if an eating disorder were a choice and I could start and stop a phase of bulimia at any time. It was very concerning to realize that this eating disorder was in control of me and I was along for it's wicked ride.
What did this eating disorder represent and why wouldn't it just go away? I did not understand why this was happening to me and why I felt so powerless and uncharacteristically weak-willed.
After four months of struggling further after I had left the dance world. finally, my therapist and psychiatrist insisted that I checked into a rehabilitation program before I ended up there without my consent.
It was not until I finally was in treatment at Sharp Mesa Vista that I learned what exactly causes an eating disorder. Up until then, I had believed it was the pressures of being a ballet dancer. I had remembered in my health class in high school reading a measly two paragraphs on eating disorders in our textbook and the author only bothered to mention that these behaviors are mainly prevalent in females involved in dance, modeling, and gymnastics due to the stress of their career path. Yikes! How terribly misinformed this author must have been to have written something so shallow and ignorant.
So what are the factors that can cause an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are caused by biological, psychological, social, and interpersonal issues.
Biological issues refers to chemical imbalances within the brain that are responsible for hunger and fullness cues. Current research also shows that genetics play a part in an eating disorder as well. (NEDA)
Psychological issues were a huge factor for me. Feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, and loss of control are among many others that are risk factors to developing an eating disorder. Low self-esteem, loneliness, and anger are also feelings that can trigger an eating disorder.
Our society is another key factor that can drive someone in to an eating disorder. As a culture, we praise thin and muscular bodies as the "perfect body" and glamorize those who are able to obtain such an elite level of so-called beauty. This dramatically narrows the field of those who can actually achieve what is considered to be beautiful in our culture for both men and women and can leave those that fall outside these parameters of the ideal body, feeling extremely inadequate and unworthy.
Those who deal with trauma such as sexual or physical abuse as a child are more prone to encountering an eating disorder later in life. People who were teased a lot or have a history of being isolated with little to no friends are also more likely to end up with an eating disorder.
Notice that not one of the listed four categories above mentions ballet, modeling, or gymnastics, as a direct cause of an eating disorder.
So when I was in treatment my therapist encouraged me to do a little digging on my own to see what I could find. I wanted to know how I ended up here and why? Why the girl who seemed to have so much going for herself, (the straight A's, the track to a professional career as a ballet dancer, the drive and ambition) ended up in a mental ward wearing a gown and being forced to eat food she did not want to consume.
How the HELL did I get here?
I think that for a long time I was very angry that this was happening to me. I did not want to accept that my behavior was wrong and I figured that if nobody said anything, if nobody showed a level of concern, than I must not be that sick and therefore not in any real need of help.
But I was sick.
My hair was falling out, my gums were bleeding, my skin was yellowing, my cheeks were puffy, and I was slowly killing myself.
I believe that I ended up here because I was lonely.
I had left my friends, family, pets, and all sense of "normal" life behind. I missed my prom, my senior year of high school, and my graduation, all in the pursuit of a passion I loved and I do not regret that for a second. I moved 3,000 miles across the country and made "acquaintances" with a few dancers I was living with but, after all, we were all fighting for the same job so how good of friends could we have really been.
There was a distance between all the dancers. An unspoken rule that at any moment we would stab one another in the back to get one step closer to getting our dream jobs. When you are 16 years old, that can leave some ever lasting effects on a person.
I believe I ended up here because food became the only thing I could control.
In a recent conversation with a fellow dancer, Jackie Messina, pointed out that, "In this day and age, it's so hard for a young dancer to get that first job and there are obviously so many factors that go into getting a job that you can't control....weight however you can control...and I think when your 18 and trying to land that first job you will go to extremes to give yourself that 'edge'". Thus, we can see the correlation between someone who is trying to gain a sense of "control" of their life who turns to food since, like in most things in this life regardless of what field of work you are in, food really is the only thing we have any control over.
I believe I ended up here because I hated myself.
When reality came knocking hard on my door, I was furious that all my effort and years of commitment were being put to an end because the size of my body. I knew that bulimia was not the answer to my problems in terms of weight loss, however, I liked the way I felt when I tortured myself with bingeing and purging. In fact, the more a director would harp on me for my weight, the more they drove me to punish myself with an episode.
I believe I ended up here because nobody noticed something was actually wrong.
In the ballet world, thin bodies are worshiped and sought after. So when I was in my anorexic phase, I was rewarded with praise from fellow dancers and directors and given better parts in performances. Therefore, my ups and downs with my weight were viewed as normal and acceptable causing no one to bat an eye or ask any questions about my mental health.
I believe I ended up here because I was mentally unstable.
I thought about food all. the. time. I would plan out my meals religiously and exercise religiously after long days of rehearsals and shows. I was going crazy. I was sad, depressed, anxious, and struggling with severe mood swings and multiple personality disorder.
I believe I ended up here because I had a lesson to learn.
Four years into recovery and I finally can look back at all the Hell I put myself through and say, "Now I get it!" I would not be the person I am writing to you today if I had not been through what I have been through. I remember all the bad times of course. All the trauma and tears. But the months I was in treatment were some of the best months for me because I actually learned about who the real Caleigh is. I learned incredible things about myself in terms of how and why I react to certain situations the way that I do. I learned coping skills for when life gets tough that I believe should be taught in all high schools because they are THAT beneficial. I learned that medication is sometimes necessary and helpful if you are going through a severe chemical imbalance but, I also learned that they are not something that you have to stay on forever, even if your psychiatrist says so.
I learned that I needed to love myself. I needed to appreciate my body for everything that it did and continues to do despite how mean I have been treating it. And I learned that ballet was not the sole cause of my eating disorder. I remember my mom asking me in tears numerous times, "Is this because of ballet?" and stating that she should have, "never let me go to Boston". I hope that now she knows that it is not any one thing that causes such a terrible illness but, a handful of things, often out of a parents control, to cause someone to have an eating disorder.
If you or someone who know is struggling with an eating disorder visit http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
Help and recovery is possible!