Healing – A Teen’s Story of Living With an Eating Disorder

Share my story

Every year, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week comes around and, although it means so much to me and I always want to do something important, I can never gather my courage enough, but this year, after years of hiding, I am finally ready to truly share my story.

I, Hayley Hasessian, 17 years old, have an eating disorder, but before this begins to sound like a basement support group, I feel it is important to say that this is not something I am doing for pity or attention.
I have also been in recovery for the past three years or so now, and I finally feel that I have the strength to truly share my story in the hopes that maybe I could even inspire someone else to do the same or even just make the mere first step into recovery.

I don’t really know where to start in terms of “when it all began”, but I know I have had this disordered mindset for too long.
A very distinct memory I have is being maybe 5 years old, looking in the mirror on a summer day and crying at the sight appearing back in my reflection.

I remember being 5 years old, thinking “I’m too fat”.

I then remember years down the line being told I was fat by classmates, I remember being 12 years old and trying to diet and lose weight. Something I do not remember, unfortunately, is having a healthy relationship with food and my own self-esteem.
I was part of the shocking statistic of the “8 year old girls who think they’re too fat”, or the “12 year old girls trying to lose weight”, or the “14 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies”.

Things had eventually spiraled out of control, and my mother took me to see my family doctor. By this point, I was eating merely a few hundred calories a day, and working out for, at least, two hours in the hopes of burning off everything I had eaten that day.
I was harming my body, thinking I’d one day reach my “goal”, although I now know that no matter how much weight I’d lose, I’d never be happy with my body.

I would do things I now realize were so dangerous and unhealthy for my body, but at the time, I didn’t think anything was wrong at all.

My doctor had given me a referral to an eating disorder clinic at a local hospital, where I attended the outpatient program for a year.
First, I had a day full of tests, physical and mental, with about 300 questions about every aspect of my life. I remember the day I was called back to hear about my results, and one of the doctors sat down and said, “well, you have an eating disorder”. Well, no shit, Sherlock (excuse my lack of better language).

I was also diagnosed with other things, such as depression and anxiety, things I’d never even associated with myself.
When I was finally able to accept I had an eating disorder, it was still not something I considered to be serious, and it was certainly not something I was willing to give up on and recover from.

All I could think was that recovery meant I’d just have to gain weight all over again and give up everything I had worked so hard for.

They wanted me to join the in-patient program, which automatically sent me into fear and caused me to just lie my way through until they thought I’d be fine without it. That was my biggest regret, which is interesting, because before I started attending this treatment clinic, I remember my best friend telling me, “Whatever you do, do not lie to them. Be honest and get the help you need”. But guess what I did? I lied, a lot, actually, because, really, which 14 year-old girl wants to spend everyday in a hospital? I certainly didn’t.

Eventually, after spending about a year in the outpatient treatment, I relapsed and was in practically the same mental state I was in when I had started the treatment.
This time, I swallowed my pride and fears and asked about joining the in-patient program as I finally realized that I was sick and had to get better; I couldn’t keep living the way that I was, but I was denied the help I needed, being rejected from the inpatient treatment, told that it was against hospital policy, which I didn’t understand…and they didn’t give me a real reason.

I’d gained the weight I needed to gain, and was already attending that clinic for a year, but felt I needed more. They just told me to return for more regular outpatient appointments, so what did I do? I didn’t go back.
I’m not quite sure the entire reason why I did not return, I suppose I knew I was not only wasting my time, but my family’s time too as part of the appointment was family therapy and they were the ones to drive me there and back every week.
This was my incentive to realize that I wasn’t going to get better by throwing out my meals, avoiding food, and over-exercising in secret all over again.

I’d begun watching every Demi Lovato interview I could, and listened to her music religiously (even more than I already did).
Music was the one thing that didn’t make me feel like I was completely insane. There’s one song, by my favourite band, Marianas Trench, called “Skin and Bones”, where Josh Ramsay sings about his own experience dealing with eating disorders. This song was the only thing that didn’t make me feel alone and so misunderstood.

Throughout the whole experience, I was forced to do a lot of “soul searching”, and I really had to dig deep within myself to find the true roots of the problems. After all, eating disorders are truly psychological problems that are then disguised with physical symptoms.

Eating disorders are not actually about food and weight; those things are just what are used to mask the true problems that are not properly being dealt with.

I believe I suffered with my eating disorder for a bunch of different reasons:

1) I truly believe it was something that was just in me, as I can’t actually remember a time when I was at peace with my body,

2) I think being in a household where health, weight, and food are emphasized and focused-upon certainly creates a trigger. (Although this did serve as a trigger, my family is my biggest support group and has done everything in their power to help me, for which I am forever grateful),

3) As someone who also has facial differences (bilateral microtia and Goldenhar Syndrome), and has needed surgeries all throughout my life, and is constantly in the hospital to fix these things, I believe my eating disorder was also amplified to compensate for the lack of control I had with my body.

I was born with these deformities, and I grew up in hospitals where I’m constantly being told ways I can change myself to be more “normal”, and maybe my eating disorder was my way of trying to finally have some form of control towards my appearance and my body. And hey, having a bunch of snotty kids tell you that you’re fat as a kid certainly does not help with your self-esteem.

Now, years into my recovery, I can truly say I am a much stronger person and I am happy I received help for my problems.
I don’t know if there is such a thing as 100% recovery, at least for myself, I know that these things will be a struggle for the rest of my life. But what I do know is that things get better if YOU make the effort to do so. Recovery is possible, and makes life so much more worth it.

During my journey of recovery, I have used my struggles and experiences to further my art. I’m a photographer, and through my work, I incorporate stories and experiences I’ve been through. My most recent project is part of the portfolio I submitted for Ryerson’s Image Arts: Photography program.

The theme of these images is “the invisible body”, and things I feel are so beautiful about a human body but often go so unnoticed. As through my recovery, I have learned to have a new appreciation for the beauty of the human body.

Below, I’m sharing three of the photos I used and why I used them:

The first photo, entitled “Now You See Me” is very significant among the photos I created for this theme; it’s a photo I took of one of my beautiful friends, Emily.

Photo by Hayley Elizabeth
Now You See Me – by Hayley Elizabeth

What I really love about this photo is that it captures so many different beautiful things on her face. For this photo, I wanted at first for the main focus to be her bold eyebrows, then her bright eyes, then her nose ring.
I then wanted to capture beautiful little things that make her unique and I feel I really captured my vision. The reason it is so important is because of the mere process I had while taking and editing the photo. It almost proved to myself how we often don’t realize so many beautiful things about someone or something until we are forced to notice them.

The second photo, entitled “Cage”, captures quite a few small things as well (I’m the model in this photo).

Cage - by Hayley Elizabeth
Cage – by Hayley Elizabeth

Something I find so beautiful on a body are collarbones, and at first, the goal was just to portray the beauty of this body part, but throughout the process of taking and editing these photos, I made a few decisions that I felt were best for the meaning of the photo.
One decision was to leave my hair a mess as I feel it adds to the raw feel of the photo, but the most important decision was to not Photoshop out the blemishes.
On the lower part of my chest, the skin is discolored and scarred due to one of the surgeries I had this past summer. I felt it was best to leave the scars and imperfections to show how beautiful these things can be.
We all have scars, we all have blemishes and imperfections- why are we encouraged to hide them?

The last photo, labeled, “Fragile”, is also of myself.

Fragile - by Hayley Elizabeth
Fragile – by Hayley Elizabeth

The concept of this photo was something I felt was a necessity to the theme, and so many aspects of the photo contribute to the meaning. Through the pose and vibe given off from this photo, I wanted to portray ideas of being self-conscious, and having the eating disorder mentality.
In the photo, my posture is caved in; my arms are folded against my chest to cover myself. This is to show the frailty and fear one feels when struggling with an eating disorder.

If you or someone you know is or could be struggling with an eating disorder, there are various local and national organizations that can help.

We suggest:

NEDIC – The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) is a Canadian non-profit providing resources on eating disorders & weight preoccupation.

Kids Help Phone – Phone & live-chat for Canadian teens. Chat counselling lets you connect one-on-one, real time, with a Kids Help Phone counsellor, on the web or from a smartphone. Chats are for young people up to age 20.