A year ago I was dying from an eating disorder — last week I graduated high school
‘I have hope for the future, even if my success takes a little bit longer than others’
by Gail Vivar
18-year-old Laurel Kelly suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was 12, and since has been struggling with an eating disorder that left her fighting for her life.
Throughout the past four years of high school, Laurel has been in and out of hospitals, visited mental institutions, and always expected another medical emergency to arise.
A week ago, Laurel graduated from West Jordan High School in Utah.
This is her story.
When I was 12, I had a traumatic brain injury that made me never want to eat. I also had some pretty bad body issues–I thought I was overweight and ugly. But I don’t think I would have had an eating disorder if I hadn’t had that brain injury.
Fast forward four years, and I was 16, about 5’3, and 90 pounds. For years I had been extremely underweight, so it wasn’t really a huge deal to doctors or my parents, as I never really had a scary drop of my weight.
But then, in February of 2016, my appendix burst. After the surgery, I had lost almost 10 pounds. When they did blood work, they found that my phosphorus levels were almost fatal. They gave me a feeding tube, and monitored my blood levels, but I had this thing called re-feeding syndrome where your body is so used to not eating that it freaks out when you actually eat.
Many people with re-feeding syndrome die from it. I had to go to the hospital about every two days, so they could draw my blood and check that my blood levels were stabilizing. They weren’t.
They also checked my heart and found a blip in my heartbeat, kind of like a heart murmur, but a lot more serious. They didn’t really know what to do about it and still to this day don’t know what happened.
At this time, I was passing out a couple times every day. I actually have a huge scar on my chin, because I once passed out right next to the corner of my counter and hit it full on. After a couple of months like this, my levels started to even out and my weight started to go up. I think in that time I had gained about 20 pounds. I got my feeding tube out last August, and I see a dietitian every month to talk about more ways to eat and gain more weight.
My family was extremely supportive, even though we were all kind of confused, frustrated and scared. But people at my school weren’t the most helpful. There were many rumors that I had cancer, and many people kind of acted like I was some sort of disease they could catch. Or, if they asked why I had a feeding tube in, and I told them, they would say things like ‘Wow, I wish I had that kind of problem!’ I did have a very strong group of friends that, although they didn’t fully understand what was happening, they supported me and were patient while I tried to recover.
Graduating a week ago felt surreal. In my sophomore year, I was in a mental institution for about four months for an attempted suicide. In my junior year, I was in and out of the hospital for my eating disorder. In my senior year, I was kind of preparing myself for some other medical emergency to happen because of everything over the past few years. But I was fairly healthy, other than a month with kidney stones, and I think that health was definitely caused by me eating more and gaining weight.
I’ve learned to be more mindful about what my body is telling me. I still have problems with remembering to eat, but I can usually realize that I haven’t been eating by listening to my body and realizing what it needs. And I think I’ve learned a lot about what eating disorders are.
Eating disorders aren’t always what the media portrays them to be. I used to think that most eating disorders were kind of exactly what the definition states it as. I thought anorexia was when people thought they were fat, so they starved themselves. But now, as I’ve been diagnosed with anorexia, I realize that it’s a lot less concrete than that. Many instances of eating disorders are in the grey areas of the diagnoses.
Looking ahead, my plans are pretty open-ended. Because of the many long hospital stays (also my traumatic brain injury and a learning disability), I didn’t have great grades. I think I had a low C average all throughout high school. I’ve also never had a job, because of hospital stays and physical problems. I’m looking for a job, without much luck.
I know that I am smart, capable and ready to take on whatever happens in my life. For now, I’m just kind of working to build up my resume and trying to be as healthy as I can.
I graduated with no job, no scholarships and no college acceptance, but my memory and reflexes are coming back. I haven’t lost weight in a year, and I have hope for the future, even if my success takes a little bit longer than others.
20 million women, and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder every year. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder you can call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
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