“Leila! Everyone in the family says you look SO good and so healthy and SO happy!”
“Mom, I feel like I’m in a prison. I am not happy. I starve myself and it has lost its magic feel. Depriving myself no longer gives me a high-like sensation. I am a prisoner of my mind more than I am a prisoner of my body at this point. I’m obsessed with my weight and it’s anything but healthy. Honestly, I’m a prisoner of myself in totality.”
– Christmas Eve, 2016
This was my response. Can you believe it? This was my response to my mother’s blushing joy on Christmas Eve, when her inner radiance was highlighting her wonderful cheekbones for only a few seconds before my darkness cast a shadow on us. Shit. I knew I had made a mistake, as I was too quick to blurt out my woos and in a public-yet-intimate setting of our extended family’s late holiday dinner. I could already see the family drama to follow, as the past cycles of my shouting out has caused problems in similar situations, and my family reacting how I did not like them to react caused tension and a rot to our peace. But I just couldn’t keep it a secret anymore, and in this little apartment in Los Angeles, I needed to release what had been rotting inside of me for 10 weeks.
My mother and I were sharing a seat in my grandma’s apartment when my word vomit landed in her lap. It was the same apartment she had lived in when she was in high school and in college in Los Angeles. It was a safe space, embracing us with toasty comfort that was always there to tame the moment, no matter when lightness would turn to heaviness, like it always did. The clock read 9 p.m. and our extended family was enjoying my grandma’s slow-churned Persian stews and upside-down butter rice. As they ate up the joy in a lack of family drama and a surplus of love-filled cooking, I picked at the spoonfuls of food drying up on my plate, trying to play with them enough to make them look wanted and partially eaten. I swished the food around and stuffed some cucumbers into my begging mouth in the meantime, to ease the stress of eating, or in my case, pretending to eat, in front of so many people while simultaneously being extremely hungry yet unwilling to nourish myself properly. I was waiting for the conversations to get louder so I could make my way to the kitchen to throw away my plate without notice and indulge in a glass of water or two. This had become my routine.
I was about to get to the trash can when my mother came and sat down with me on a single chair. And this is when she wanted to share some love with me in saying that my aunties noticed that I looked good in more ways than just my physical exterior. I was impulsive when I responded. I didn’t have food in me and I did not have the energy to filter my thoughts in an appropriate way. I spewed my self-shaming prison all over her healing space of family gathering, leaving empathy in my empty stomach to continue sleeping. I told her that my plastered smile didn’t feel like anything anymore, and eating in front of people is always so painful, and I hate hanging out with my friends and family now because it usually involves food and I don’t know how to make my obsession subtle. “I hate it, mom!” I told her in a mini riot.
I should have waited for another time, because my mom didn’t need to hear this overwhelmingly morbid response that night. It was in stark contrast to what she saw in me and what she wanted me to feel, so she couldn’t handle it at that moment and she got up and moved, because like every other family gathering, my problems seemed to find their way back to her. I sat there and thought about all of the pain she must be feeling, and all of the pain I cause those around me by making myself feel pain. I thought about the pain that my mind had created for my body, and what to do with this pain, which had become excruciating yet still needed. I didn’t necessarily want it to stop. I asked myself how it had gotten this bad. I then heard my heart beat at a furious rate as it usually does, and I remembered that this was the time in the night for my comedown from extended release 54 mg Ritalin, in which my heart rate got too quick and my body shook all over, and I would get paranoid about whom would see this transformation. I started to regain my appetite and I felt a loss of self control. I got a little irritable and I didn’t know how I was going to be able to sleep that night. Yeah, this is what my comedowns felt like. But I knew a few weeks earlier what my prison of eating disorder and what Ritalin had in common — they worked together to manifest into bigger, badder, more dangerous things. Reflecting that Christmas break, I knew that since starting Ritalin in the Fall of 2015 and increasing my dosage from 18 mg to 54 mg, I had manifested all of my obsessive thoughts about eating and my obsessive thoughts about losing weight along with my unhealthy habits around my relationship with food into a fully formed eating disorder without any resistance from normal bodily needs and a misguided sense of “self control.” I was finally inside of an eating disorder that I had tried to make happen many times before without ability. I had always failed in manifesting this disorder because of starving myself and then overindulging, not having the motivation to change my eating habits, or not having enough energy to starve myself and do regular things that I needed to do. Now, I was able to starve myself, leave out whole food groups from my diet, and on top of that, take on a vegan diet for three months without much effort (at first). It was the opposite of pretty. It was a volatile, unattractive destruction of the self.
I thought about the pain that my mind had created for my body, and what to do with this pain, which had become excruciating yet still needed.
I lost my appetite a few months ago. Almost all of it. This is the first phase in taking extended release Ritalin when you have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and you are prescribed medication for it. This Fall Quarter was the first time I was able to gulp down a pill to pay attention, and once I found out that I rejected food in disgust as a consequence of this pill, I was more obsessed with its effects on my dietary desires than on my mental matter. Although Ritalin did help me focus in a light that was less strenuous and more clear than ever before, it became a tool to first serve my desperate need to be thinner than a tool to help me accomplish things like school and work. I used my upset stomachs at everything I tried to ingest as the subject of self-administered experiments to test how many hours I could go without eating. I remember that my record was at 12 hours of starvation. I had a sick smile on my face all day long, knowing that not only was I fulfilling a skinny girl fantasy I had wanted to fit into, but that I was also doing it in sickness and in poor health.
Although Ritalin did help me focus in a light that was less strenuous and more clear than ever before, it became a tool to first serve my desperate need to be thinner than a tool to help me accomplish things like school and work.
The second part of my contentment came from the unhealthy nature in keeping food from my body, because starving myself was just another way to self harm and deal with depression, self-hate and overall stress from day-to-day tasks that I did not feel connected to or a master of. I enjoyed punishing myself, because at least this time, I was happy to see something I could stick with. It was all a very disillusioned way of living, and soon enough, the high of feeling strong and thin came crashing down in life-altering ways.
Not surprisingly, the Ritalin started to lose its effect at 18 mg extended release and at 36 mg extended release, so in a panic I increased my dose to 54 mg extended release and on some days where I just felt down, I would take 72 mg extended release Ritalin. I did not tell my psychiatrists or psychologists that I was upping my dose to sustain my weight lose. I told them that I needed to concentrate better. Hell, I actually wasn’t even seeing a psychologist at the time. What happened with this shift was that I started feeling more faint, more exhausted and I had headaches upon waking up every morning. I couldn’t walk without feeling weak, and I started to lose focus in my classes because my stomach would be rumbling too much and I was too embarrassed to stay in my seat or I had to get up and go to the bathroom at least three times during every class to check my stomach and my arms, to see if they had either gotten bigger or smaller since the last time I ran to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat in front of anyone. I was too humiliated to let them see me eat food, as if I were sinning by eating. When this happened, I became aware that there was an eating disorder going on. I was in a twisted game with myself until then, but now, I was telling myself that I didn’t deserve to eat, that I should never allow anyone to see me eat and that I had to be isolated from my friends because eating would always be a central component in our friend dates.
I was scared. I didn’t know how to isolate my friends without being sad. My friends are my life. They are the same as food to me — what keeps me going and what keeps me living in good health. My roommate eventually noticed that I would never eat in front of her, and that I started to ask if she had developed an eating disorder — projecting my observations about myself onto her. I would eat late at night in my room alone and then I wrote a poem about wanting to disappear, and showed it to my roommate. This is when she had an intervention with me. I then realized that taking Ritalin had triggered my already imbedded disordered eating habits and obsession over my weight into a full-fledged eating disorder, because with Ritalin, I was able to lose my appetite genuinely at first, feel nauseous eating food, losing my cravings for food and having manufactured “self-control,” which quickly turned into an exploitation of Ritalin’s potentially positive effects for ADHDr.
After Christmas eve, I couldn’t go on like that. I could not create sorrow for those who loved me and for myself, because Christmas break helped me to remember the path of self-love I am fighting for, and that I deserve. I lowered my dosage of Ritalin. I couldn’t live in so much physical pain from not eating food and so much mental abuse in telling myself that I didn’t deserve nourishment. I didn’t want any of that “self-control” anymore, and I just wanted my appetite back. When I decreased my dosage back to 36 mg, and on some days 18 mg, I was able to regain my appetite and remain more attentive in classes and at work, which became a good balance to follow.
I didn’t want any of that “self-control” anymore, and I just wanted my appetite back.
I want you to consider this if you have ADHD and you are in the process of being prescribed medication for it, or if you do not have ADHD but you take Ritalin and other stimulants for personal reasons. I want you to consider the adverse relationship between a stimulant that suppresses appetite and eating disorders or disordered eating habits that you may have had for a long while or you are only just noticing and manifesting into a more dangerous cycle. In my humble, non-professional opinion, I do not think Ritalin is the drug for you. The hard part in learning about Ritalin and not taking it is when you have an eating disorder, because it may sound all too enticing to learn that Ritalin has these effects on your appetite. Friends, this is the hardest part to fight against. It might sound like your wonder drug for your self-harm, as a potential drug that can help you conserve energy and prolong your eating disorder without much fuss and without much thought, but it is your worst enemy.
I urge you to resist the temptation. Firstly, Ritalin is a medication needed for those with ADHD, and it will not have the same effect on you as it will on someone with the symptoms it was made to treat. If you use it to fuel your eating disorder, it will lead you into a dangerous place, and you do not deserve to ever experience that place, which may be the place you are in without the Ritalin, as well. You deserve self-care and true self-love.
What will happen to you if you exploit this drug to self-harm is that it will make you want to throw up 24/7 without actually throwing up. It will make your stomach churn uncomfortably. It will make you hate food even more so, but it will make you forget any pleasure of food. It will make you eat a lot late at night when the drug wears off. It will make you fixate on your obsessive thoughts more often and in more hating ways. It will make you irritable on the comedown. It will make you feel emotionless. It will make you feel less social. It will isolate you from yourself and your body even more. It will isolate you from your friends. You won’t be able to sleep. You won’t be able to live well. You won’t be able to love yourself. You won’t be able to enjoy things. Please refrain. I hope you are kind to yourself. I hope you are kind to yourself. I hope we are kind to ourselves.
Ritalin is not the drug for you if you have a history of disordered eating or eating disorders. I say it again to emphasize that it will only lead you to a very brail, tired, painful place that might already be a part of your life and that needs to be fought against, not fought for. I had never experienced my obsessive eating habits turned eating disorder in such an intrusive way before. My eating disorder invaded me and it invaded the rest of my life. It invaded the life of my friends. It intruded my peace of mind, and it trespassed on my self-love home of my body, my spirit and my soul. I no longer take enough Ritalin to feel any side effects of loss of appetite. I take it because I have ADHD, and now it is able to help me focus more (in a low dose). I am done with hating my body and telling it to die. I am done using drugs, alcohol and this prescription medication to repeat to my body over and over again that it is not worthy of love. I love my body, and I really hope something in this piece has spoken to your lovely being. Your being is in need of tender nurturance and magic love that will not be found inside a Ritalin pill or any other not so nice treatment.
I am done with hating my body and telling it to die. I am done using drugs, alcohol and this prescription medication to repeat to my body over and over again that it is not worthy of love.
It takes time to heal, and sometimes it takes a lot of time. People have different eating disorders. We may not understand each other’s struggles, but we are able to support each other and love each other into seeking treatment step by step, whatever this may look like to the individual on the journey. I believe in things ending and new things blooming on sturdier soil. Our garden of flowering self-love awaits.
If your doctor does not talk to you about the side effects of Ritalin or any other prescription drug in relation to your eating disorder, it would be helpful to ask them (even though this can be scary to do). It is important to know all of the ways in which one substance may trigger another part of you. This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and it can be a time and a space to come together in healing and in strength. We are empowered and we are on our way to resisting the temptations to self-harm in attempts to self-heal. We will learn self-healing in light of the darkness.
In solidarity, in love, in healing, in thanks,
P.S. Active Minds UCSB is hosting Open Mind, Open Mic: Friday, Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m. at Coffee Collaborative in Isla Vista