Welcome to Bloganuary. It’s this thing that WordPress is doing to encourage bloggers to post something every day by providing a regular prompt. I think T was right in saying that “Bloguary” would not only sound better but makes more sense. Maybe they’re saving that for next month. But if they go with Blogebruary I’m dropping out. Anyway, today’s prompt asks the question: What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Advice for my teenage self…
Where do I even begin? Let’s assume it’s the start of 1994. So we’re looking back 28 years? I’d have been just shy of 14 years old and in the 8th grade at Woodrow Wilson Middle School. Middle school was rough, as I’m sure it is for everyone. I mean, that’s the most tumultuous time in a kid’s life, right? On the cusp of adolescence, dealing with puberty, trying to find some place to fit in with all these other hormonally driven/challenged kids. It’s a nightmare.
For me, it was a special kind of nightmare. Because at this point, at age 13, I was struggling with an eating disorder. At the time, I had myself and my family fooled into believing that I had it under control. I was seeing a therapist at least once per week and each weigh-in showed that I was maintaining. This meant that I was not losing weight anymore… but I wasn’t gaining it, either.
I was one of those rare cases where a boy presented with symptoms of anorexia nervosa. It started a couple years prior, when I was an overweight kid in 6th grade. The stress of starting in a new school with kids I hadn’t known on top of being bullied for being the fat kid in class… well, it took its toll. At first I would just pretend to be sick so I could avoid going to school altogether. Eventually, parents, teachers, and administrative staff see through that kind of thing. It wasn’t until the following summer, prior to 7th grade, that the eating disorder truly began.
There was no choice in the matter. I didn’t wake up and decide, “You know what? I’m only 12 years old and I weigh 135 pounds. Time to starve myself so I can lose 50 pounds before the next school year begins!” It just wasn’t like that. Somewhere, deep inside me, I just lost my appetite. For anything. I would sit down to a meal with my family, take two or three bites, then I would declare that I was full. And I really felt full. I just was not hungry.
And I lost 50 pounds before 7th grade began. This led to concern and rampant speculation, none of which touched on the idea that it could be an eating disorder. Simply because such a thing is so rare in teenage boys, no one thought to mention it as a possible diagnosis. Until… eventually… after months of poking, prodding, and just about every medical test available in the mid-90s… “Looks like he may have an eating disorder…”
Thanks, Doc… the check’s in the mail.
So much backstory to get caught up on who this kid was in January of 1994. But here’s what I want to say to that kid…
Middle school is almost over. I desperately wish I could tell you that high school will be better. But I won’t lie. Entering the 9th grade at Patrick Henry High School will make the stress you endured in 6th grade look like a walk in the park. No, you don’t have to worry about being bullied for your weight. Although, there will be a couple of upperclassmen who point out that the elementary school is close by, based on how small you are. I say that because it’s not going to hurt your feelings as much as you’ll think it’s a pretty funny joke.
Look… Your overall high school experience won’t necessarily be a bad one. You’ll never look back on high school with a great deal of fondness, and that’s okay. But prepare yourself because 9th grade will be the worst of it. Your eating disorder is going to rear its ugly head once more. You’re going to start losing weight again, despite your hard work and diligence in forcing yourself to eat, even when you aren’t hungry. Your hair is going to start falling out again. You’re going to be so scared. But it’s going to be okay… eventually.
You’ll have to be hospitalized for a while. It’s going to feel like forever. It’s going to be hell. But you will learn things about yourself in that hospital that you never would have learned otherwise. You’re going to understand how strong you can be. You’re going to understand how intelligent you are. You’re going to realize that the people in charge don’t always deserve to be in charge. It’s going to light a fire in you and you are going to look back someday and know that there has to be a better way of treating patients than the way you were treated.
I’m not going to tell you how to live the rest of your high school years. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have one or two regrets regarding those four years, but the choices you make help to shape you into the man you will eventually become. Make your mistakes. But, more importantly, learn from those mistakes. Life will never be easy… but it won’t always be hard, either. You’re going to do the best with what you’ve been given and that’s all anyone can ask.