Kate Peoples is a student and eating disorder awareness advocate in Austin, TX. She was 23 when I interviewed her on November 26, 2013.
I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 15. I had an eating disorder for a really long time before that, probably since I was 10, but no one around me caught on, parent-wise, until I dropped a lot of weight my freshman year of high school. So, I was diagnosed and pretty much spent all my high school years in and out of therapy and treatment. During this time, I had a lot of emotional issues. Honestly, talking to my therapist and psychiatrist now, we're still not sure: is it depression or is it bipolar? It's some sort of mood disorder. It was seriously exacerbated when I was in high school, just from starvation in general—malnutrition. Anti-depressants are why we thought I was bipolar. I just did not react well to anti-depressants. For a week or two, maybe, they'd make me seem okay, but it was more they'd make me a little manic and then I'd crash. I went through that cycle for a really long time.
High school was a very lonely existence for me. For a long time, I hadn't had many people to really talk to about what was going on. Technically, I had someone to talk to. I was in therapy every week—my parents had put me in therapy—but I didn't feel like I could talk to them because I felt like they were trying to take my eating disorder away from me, and it was the only way I—at that point—knew how to cope and how to get by and how to survive.
In high school I was never really given tools. All the treatment centers that I went to that said, "This is what you do instead of your eating disorder." It was: eat the food, gain the weight, go home, and just do it over again, pretty much. It gets really exhausting, gaining and losing weight all the time, and spending so much time in my head feeling like life in general is an everyday battle. And just not liking myself at all, seeing no positive qualities about myself.
I had a number of attempts in high school. When I heard about this project, what I thought about was [the attempt] my junior year of high school. I don't necessarily obviously talk about—in-depth—how I tried or anything, but I will say that, in my eating disorder, I had a really big laxative abuse problem for too many years. I couldn't even keep up financially with my own habit. I was stealing them. I was probably going through like 90 a week or something. It was pretty ridiculous. Sometimes I just wonder how I actually survived that. My parents knew that I had a problem with them, but they didn't really think there was anything they could do. Really, there probably was nothing they could do about it until I chose to stop taking them, because I would have found a way.
One day, I don't really remember what necessarily pushed me over the edge with everything, but I ended up just very impulsively deciding that I was going to take my life. I was supposed to be at school early that morning for a test. I was taking it in the counselor's office. There was a crisis counselor at our school who really helped me survive, pretty much. She didn't know anything about eating disorders, but she was a great person. I was pretty much her guinea pig when it came to eating disorders—her learning guinea pig—I was just how she learned about eating disorders.
That weekend, within 24 hours, I had taken upward of 72 laxatives or something, and my body was just all kinds of fucked up. I drove to school and I ended up taking something, I don't even know what, and then I went into school... I couldn't stand straight. The counselor took me down to the nurse's office. The nurse's office!
I passed out in the nurse's office. It was probably around 7 in the morning. I woke up again around 1 in the afternoon.
The nurse was like, "You've been here for a long time," and then I fell back to sleep.
I woke up again and my mom was there. She was there to pick me up and she was like, "Kate, c'mon! We have to go home." She was so mad.
Everyone just thought I had taken too many laxatives. I got home. I honestly don't remember how I got into the car, because I couldn't walk, and I was just in-and-out of consciousness pretty much all day on the couch.
I remember very distinctly, at one point, thinking, "I think this will probably burn a hole through my stomach," and being like, "I guess I want that to happen? But do I want that to happen?"
I remember walking into the kitchen with the intention of getting something to eat, and I just totally collapsed onto the floor. It was total chaos. I ended up getting graham crackers and going back to my room or something.
I remember falling asleep that night and being like, "Alright, so, probably not going to wake up the next morning," which is what I wanted.
At the same time, I was like, "Oh, ummm."
I woke up the next morning and I couldn't hear anything really because I had an infection. I had a bunch of infections or something. I went to the emergency room the and I got treated—they just gave me antibiotics for my infection.
Still, no one knew what had gone on. No one actually knew until a week later—like two weeks later, actually, maybe—I left my journal out. I don't know. I don't think that I really left it out. I think that I just didn’t hide it and my mom read it.
I had written something in it along the lines of, "I tried to kill myself two weeks ago and no one knows."
That's the one that always comes to my mind. With past attempts, I always told someone.
Sometimes I think about that and I wonder, "Well, did I really want anything to happen if I told someone?"
I have a tendency to minimize my own attempts. I think it's what I've been kind of trained to do, I don't know, but I don't think someone who wasn't sick, or feeling that much pain, would do anything in the first place. That's the one where I just, I never asked, I never said anything to anyone. It's a very surreal thing to look back on.
What I remember is, I think, just feeling a little sad at one point because I kind of realized that maybe this would upset some people. Sometimes I wonder if feeling sad is a little bit of perspective, because at the time I don't really remember feeling much anything at all. It was a hard time. That was my last attempt.
I think that would surprise my parents to hear that. I have had instances when I think it [might have looked] like an attempt where I took too much medication, but not really enough to do anything harmful.
I think... I had so many attempts growing up that it became my way of just shutting everyone the fuck up and being like, "Things are not okay with me and I have no idea how to tell you that..."
I was just so unhappy in my life and with myself and upset about my eating disorder. And miserable. So miserable that I just wanted to be done.
This is going to sound really twisted because it is: I realize it now—did not realize it at the time—that growing up, I had a bunch of suicidal thoughts. It just kind of became normal at some point.
The way I kept myself from doing it a lot of the time was, "You can't die at this die at this weight. You have to be thinner before you die, because then you'll just be this fat forever."
When I think about it, I'm like, "Jesus Christ, that's sad." At the same time, it kept me alive in a weird way, so I don't know.
Des: Would you say you're recovered?
Kate: I wouldn't say that I’m totally recovered, but I'm definitely in recovery.
I went to treatment for my eating disorder over a year ago. I've been out for about 15 months now. I was in a residential facility for three months. It was great, it was hard, but it really changed my life... I was going through this same cycle of dropping classes and I wasn't a functional human being, so I went back to treatment. I was able to stay for three months, and it really just changed a lot of things. Over the past year—over a year since being out—I've gotten really into advocacy work for eating disorders. I've lobbied twice with the Eating Disorders Coalition in DC. I want to keep going back to that. I organized some lobby days in Austin.
I think what's been most important is that I've found my voice in my recovery. I wouldn't say I'm fully recovered. I think that's a few years down the line, but I never honestly thought I'd be where I am today and it surprises me. Especially because I just turned 23 because, when I was in high school, I didn’t think I’d make it past the age of 20. I just kind of assumed I’d die before then, somehow. I don't know. I just turned 23 and I’m like. "Yeah, life is really better than it's ever, ever been." I have a life now, and that's just amazing to me. I think that's been a huge component in my recovery—making a life for myself outside of being sick. I didn't have a life outside of being sick for a long time. I think some people get confused because I still do a lot of work with eating disorders, but it's in a different capacity. I realize now that recovery is possible.
I have so many friends that I've met in treatment that I’m just like, "Make the jump. It's scary as hell, but it's so worth it."
I think that there needs to be more people in recovery from their eating disorders actually out there saying that it is possible. I spent so many years thinking I would never recover, and I'm in a really strong recovery. I don't worry about calories anymore, and food and weight don't take up 90% of my thoughts anymore. It's amazing...
I don't obsess over everything. I get hungry, I eat, I move on to the next thing. I can also go out for a meal and enjoy it with friends. My life is so much better now. It's amazing to me, because that has even changed so much over the past six months. Recovery, for a while, felt like an everyday battle with my mind, just having the thoughts of, "You ate too much. You need to throw this up," or being like, "No, you can't do that. Go do something else. Do something productive. Read a book, watch a movie, go to sleep for all I care. Don’t throw it up." Or it's 2:30, I haven't had lunch yet, I need to eat lunch, no, well you already missed it, no you should just wait until dinner, no, I need to eat something, and just like having those thoughts all the time even that has changed to, "Oh, I’m hungry I need to eat something."
It’s not, I don't feel like I’m sitting there having to convince myself to stay in recovery. I don't want to go back now, and around this time of year, around winter, things generally get pretty bad for me around wintertime. It normally happens in October, and we're at the end of November and I’m like, "I'm feeling good!" Normally I start to feel like this ache to be sick again and to like lose weight, like when I say like be sick I mean like lose a lot of weight again, and I feel like my mind kind of gets cloudy (time stamp 22:24) and I don't know that hasn't happened, I feel like my brain is getting a little confused with emotions lately because at least this past week, I've found myself being like, I kind of want to cry, just because I feel a little overwhelmed but it's not like a horrible overwhelmed when I'm like, "Life is the worst." It's just like overwhelmed but I’m generally happy. But I'm not happy all the time and no one is because it's not normal, but I'm pretty content with everything and for a good solid three weeks that made me super nervous. I was like, "Am I just being naive? Am I just really super depressed and I don't know it? Are things going to get really bad and I’m just going to be blindsided? What's going on? And now I'm just, "Yep, whatever! I'll embrace it!" If I start feeling bad, I’ll deal with that when it comes, but right now I’m feeling good and I've never experienced this in the winter and it's just crazy, it's awesome.
I'm just trying to enjoy it. And I'm thinking maybe this is just part of recovery I haven't experienced yet. Because it's, I think recovery is always evolving. Life in general is always evolving.
Kate: My parents used to say to me, very early in my diagnosis when they really knew nothing about eating disorders that they were like, "You want to be like this."
I was like, "I don't want to be like this, but I’m scared to be anything else." I don’t know.
Des: When you're so young, too. You don't know what's going on. You're not realizing you've picked up some abnormal coping mechanisms.
Kate: Right, exactly. It was so tricky because I especially think it's hard with eating disorders if you develop one as an adolescent and it stays with you until adulthood. My eating disorder was my identity for... that's just who I was and it was something I always had, and something I relied on, and it was a part of me that I knew and I knew I was good at.
Des: I'm skilled at not eating!
Kate: Yeah, it was like one of those things where I don’t necessarily I want to say I was good at it, but it was just like, if I fucked up at anything else, that was something I could fall back on.
Kate: It's been very difficult... and I think identity is a tricky thing, anyway, but especially when it's wrapped up in something that's killing you.
It does not have a positive outcome—and it's especially difficult when you finally get to the point where you can see how destructive what you're doing is—but you're sitting there going, "How do I do anything different?"
Suicidal ideation isn't something to be ashamed of. It's scary for the person and people involved, but you can have the urges and not act on it. It feels pretty impossible at the time, and if you can't keep yourself safe, get help to keep yourself safe. I think what I just really want to get across is that you can be doing really shitty for a really long time—I went through so many different treatment centers and doctors and medications, and I had people essentially tell me that I would never recover. I'm in a place that I'm so thankful for, and I've worked fucking hard to get to this place. I had a lot of help, so I feel lucky in that aspect, because I would not have been able to do it alone. But I was in a shitty place for a long time where I never thought I’d get better...
It's amazing to me how much more I have to offer as a person, too. I actually have sustainable relationships. I am able to contribute to relationships because, when you're in an eating disorder, it's a very one-sided relationship. I go to school and go to work, and yeah, it's hard. Some days I don't want to do it and some days I don't do it, but most days I make myself do it. I think life in recovery is not perfect and it's not going to be wonderful all the time, but no one's life, in general, is like that. It's so much more preferable to my life with my eating disorder and spending every waking moment miserable and even having nightmares—nightmares about binging—because I was so hungry that I dreamed about food.
I'd wake up like, "Oh my god, did I eat that?"
It's relentless when you're in an eating disorder. Now I think the most beneficial thing I ever did for myself was taking the leap of faith and just doing what my treatment team told me to do, even when I didn't want to—like gaining the weight. I [finally accepted] that I can't lose weight, it's just not in the cards for me, my body will be where it wants to be. I just have to learn to accept it.
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you don't like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
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