Living With Anorexia: Denise Demers

3 min read

By Denise Myers Demers

Weight has always been an issue for me. In my high school yearbook I wrote as my goal, "Stay 105," which is pretty sad when you think of it.

In the summer of 2004, I was about to turn 45, and I decided I wanted to meet that goal. The goal became my focus, because so many other things felt too hard to deal with. There were so many aspects of my life I couldn't control: being a partner with a busy spouse, working full time in a high school, the stress of keeping going, being a mother to three girls.

I'd get up every single morning at 3:30 am, through 20-below Vermont winters, and run for an hour and a half before going to work. At breakfast, I'd allow myself one whole-grain cookie, which I could nibble on and make last an hour. Then I wouldn't eat again until after work, when I'd allow myself another cookie.

At dinner, it would be a challenge to sit at the table and pass the food I liked on to my daughter and not take any of it, eating only vegetables, and leaving the table with that gnaw of hunger in my stomach. Those were highs for me, successes, doable challenges.

My family could see what was going on, but I'm such a strong-willed person that they didn't have the courage to confront me. At work, the school nurse and the social worker, who had become good friends, kept talking to me, trying to get me to realize that the train had run away. At that point I had gotten down to 87 pounds.

It was at a faculty meeting that it finally hit me. The principal was talking about the well-being of our school community, and it felt like she was talking directly to me. I thought, "Here I am a counselor, trying to help adolescents, and wearing my own problems so prominently in my life. I need help."

An eating disorders counselor I had worked with for a short time many years ago told my husband and me, "If it were my daughter, I would want her to go to the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia." I was just so depleted that I said "OK."

I spent two months there, from December 2004 to January 2005. It helped me understand more about the culture and the media and the diet-conscious society we live in.

It's really a fallacy: Dieting is not a healthy way of living, losing weight is not an accomplishment to be proud of. What's more important is the connection that I have with other people, with my family. That's where I can get satisfaction in my life. I'm also on an SSRI antidepressant -- I resisted that, but it's really helped. And I'm still doing regular couples therapy with my husband to help rebuild our relationship.

It's still a daily struggle for me to eat. I feel uncomfortable eating in front of others, at social gatherings. The high that I get from not eating lures me like a seductive phantom, telling me that I'll feel better if I don't eat, but I know the opposite is true. I have more power as a person when I do eat.

Some days are better than others, but I feel like I could never go back to where I was before. I don't want to go back there. I want to keep going toward health.

Published on Aug. 11, 2005.