“‘You’re just going to have to accept the fact that you’re never going to get better.’
Those were the exact words spoken to me by the head practitioner at Rintveld, one of the so-called ‘best’ eating disorder clinics in the Netherlands. After spending four long months here, I was deemed ‘a hopeless case’ at the age of 16. But was it my fault that I didn’t improve, and even got SICKER at this clinic? I’ve had a lot of negative experiences with eating disorder treatment in the past, but never in my life had I heard such a discouraging prognosis for my diagnosis.
I was only 11 years old when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder by my favorite nurse at Harvard Pediatrics in Brookline, MA. However, she was no longer my favorite nurse after that appointment. I thought everyone around me was crazy. ‘There’s NO WAY I have an eating disorder!’ I would yell at my parents. All the running, cutting out sweets, and only allowing myself ‘healthy’ foods…I thought I was the definition of health. How could that have ANYTHING to do with the stereotypical person with anorexia that sees themselves as fat while, in reality, they’re a skeleton?
I have never, to this day, seen myself as fat. I was always the smallest girl in every school photo, the smallest girl on the soccer team, and the girl who could eat anything and everything without gaining a pound. Until the age of 11, my diet consisted of macaroni and cheese, cookies, bagels, and Fruit Loops. People didn’t get it, but I never thought twice about my food until one day, I did. I remember sitting at a restaurant with my family when I was in the fifth grade. In school, we were currently learning about puberty and nutrition and I started thinking about myself and how I was different. A lot of my friends were having growth spurts and showing signs of puberty. All my girlfriends would stay inside during recess and chat about things I didn’t deem interesting; boys, gossip, and clothing.
I’ve never really been a chatty type, so I preferred to play soccer outside with all the boys, even if I was the only girl. But deep down, I felt alone and different. I wanted to enjoy all the things my girlfriends talked about, but simply couldn’t. Slowly, my friends and I grew apart. At home, the situation wasn’t great either. My grandma had recently passed away and my parents started fighting. And I’m not talking about the usual, once a month argument, but there were constantly discussing. My dad accused my mom of not being home enough, leaving him to have the ‘role of the wife’ while he didn’t really have another option, seeing as he chose to stay home to take care of us after being laid off from his graphic design job. My mom would defend herself as being the breadwinner of the family, but both parents were never validated by the other.
That night in the restaurant, when my parents had another discussion about something I no longer remember, I told myself I was going to start being ‘healthier.’ I was going to stop eating cookies, white bread, and Fruit Loops for breakfast. On top of that, I told my dad I would be making the lunchboxes for me and my sisters from now on so that he didn’t need to feel responsible. Looking back, I now see I took the responsibility for what should never have been mine; an overwhelmed father and the toxic relationship of my parents.
They may have started having problems with each other, but my parents love for my two sisters and I have and always will be, unconditional. Just like any parents, they did what they thought was right and embarked on a long journey of helping to heal their oldest daughter, Livia.
The first real ‘treatment’ I received for my eating disorder didn’t necessarily come from a desire to heal me, but it was a pure act of needing to SAVE me. Ever since the initial appointment where I was diagnosed with an eating disorder at the age of 11, things only went downhill. Naming the problem almost gave my eating disorder (which I outright DENIED I had) permission to be there, as paradoxical as that seems. It was in the 7th grade that I remember my parents being so worried that they booked an appointment with a so-called ‘eating disorder specialist’ in the Children’s Hospital of Boston.
I thought they were just going to ask me simple questions like, ‘are you afraid of food?’ or, ‘do you fear weight gain?’ all of which I would say ‘no’ and then be free to go home. They did ask me these questions and I did nonchalantly surprise them with not-so-typical-for-an-eating-disorder-patient answers, but the latter part about being free to go home was out of the question. With a weight of only 55 pounds and a heart rate of nearly 40, the only option was to be admitted to the hospital immediately. It was in that office when the doctor gave us that news. I saw my parent’s emotions in unison for the first time in over a year. I hadn’t seen my dad cry like that since the passing away of his father, and I hadn’t seen them agree on a decision so easily in I don’t even remember how long.
Solely because of how sad my parents were, I choose to go to the hospital right away. Not that I had a choice, but the sadness in their eyes made me realize I needed to do this. Not for me, but for them. So, I did. I spent almost 3 weeks laying in a hospital bed, eating myself back to a ‘healthy weight.’ I can still remember my legs feeling like Jell-O when I finally stood up!
The first stop out of the hospital wasn’t home, however. It was Walden Behavioral Care. The psychiatrist urged me to have ‘follow up care’ after my stay to prevent any kind of ‘relapse.’ Although, I now believe relapse is only possible if the initial recovery was also mental recovery. Clearly, she meant relapse in terms of weight.
When we arrived at Walden, my parents were as shocked as I was. We were given a tour of the residence, but it was one of the most depressing sights we had ever seen. All the patients were lifelessly situated on the dark brown couches, hanging around the TV or huddled in a corner, crouched behind a Sudoku book. It was immediately clear to us that Walden was not an option for treatment, so I went back home and proceeded from there.
During the time of being home, you could say things were ‘stable.’ I was going to school, I was eating, and I was at a healthy weight. But mentally, nothing was changing. In fact, I was only declining. I don’t think you can ever blame mental illness on anyone or anything, but the constant meal plans, appointments, and basically FORCING recovery on me wasn’t helping anything. In fact, it just made my eating disorder stronger. My daily goals were to hide as much food as possible, get in as many 1-minute workouts as I could, and simply rebel to the greatest extent within the realm of daily possibilities. It even got so bad that I manipulated my weight at every weigh-in, drinking the perfect amount of water and adding the approximate amount of coins to my pockets that my weight was a perfect upward trend on the chart at the doctor’s office.
But it was all a lie. And with any lie, the truth always comes out. In the middle of my Freshman year of high school, at my weekly doctor’s appointment, I could no longer hold the manipulation and I peed all over the scale. That was the first time I had ever felt true incontinence. It was the most extreme weight manipulation my doctor said she had ever seen, and again I was forced into treatment. I spent the next year in and out of residential, partial, hospital, and outpatient treatment. Yes, I was sick, but I felt even MORE sick of the never-ending treatment that was constantly forced on me. I was so done with everything, until there was an opportunity for a new beginning. In 2015, my mother was offered a job in my home country the Netherlands, and she took it. Was this my chance to start over? My chance to be FREE from all the doctors, meal plans, and therapists? I sure hoped so.
We arrived in our new home in the summer of 2015, only to hear the news that my mother had planned an appointment with the ‘best’ eating disorder specialist in the Netherlands. Great. No one trusted me. It was this mistrust that led me to dismiss all the progress I had made in the past couple of years. It was this mistrust that led me to the conclusion that there really was no point in trying and that I might as well slowly wither away. But handing my power back to my eating disorder only led to a dangerous weight loss, which of course meant back to treatment.
That same year I was admitted to Unit 1 of eating disorder clinic Rintveld. However, to this day, I find it shameful that they dare call themselves an eating disorder clinic. There was no therapy, zero structure, and worst of all, the staff members MADE FUN OF the patients and their fears. My eating disorder got worse in every single way possible, leading me to be discharged after four long months with the news from the head psychiatrist. ‘You’re just going to have to accept the fact that you’re never going to get better.’
It’s no surprise my life only got worse after this. If I wasn’t going to get better anyways, what was the point in trying? In just a few months’ time, I hit my lowest point in terms of weight and overall health. To say every day was a struggle for me is a huge understatement. Each day was ruled by the eating disorder and the only things that took up space in my head had to do with it. When to eat, how much to eat, when to exercise, how many calories I had consumed…I was going to school at the time, but honestly don’t remember anything from those two years because I was so absorbed in other things. The fact that I actually passed blows my mind.
But that is the power of the eating disorder. All your energy is generated by the willpower and the energy that you believe you have, or rather, the energy your eating disorder tricks you into thinking you have, but you really don’t. Precious energy of which you have such a deficit. You could drop dead at any moment. Precious energy that isn’t even enough to support proper brain function. Hence, the panic attacks. Every. Single. Day.
I dare say the panic attacks were probably the most horrid part of my entire disorder. I would throw plates across the kitchen, shatter pottery my family had spent hours on, and cut apart shoes out of pure desperation. When my sister didn’t put milk in her cereal, I chased her around the kitchen table like a wild animal, threatening to hurt her if she didn’t listen to me. I ran away from home on my bare feet in the middle of winter, claiming my mother didn’t love me if she didn’t chase after me. I even cut my left arm open with a piece of glass from a shattered door as a result of me slamming it so hard.
During my panic attacks, Livia was gone. My body was still there. I clearly remember experiencing all the symptoms associated with the attack; I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was dying. Looking back now, I probably wasn’t too far from it. Right after one panic attack, I had been calmed down by my mother and two sisters who were shaking with terror, I laid on my bed, crying, and exclaiming I couldn’t live like this anymore. I said I needed to go to America because all the psychiatrists and therapists here in Holland were too afraid to help me. Too afraid of the ‘complexity’ of my illness, too afraid they would fail at giving me hope. I personally had none at the time either. I was at a complete loss, and so was my family.
It was the beginning of 2017 and I knew I had to get help. I could no longer do this to myself, but I also could no longer do this to everyone around me. No one could really ‘live’ anymore—we were all merely surviving by the means of crisis management. I said I needed something COMPLETELY out of the box. I needed to get help far away, somewhere so new and out of sight that I would have no choice of running home again, putting my hands in the air and giving up. I said I needed to go to ‘one of those’ treatment centers where they embrace you with loving kindness and listen to you and sit at the table with you, cheering you on as you sit there, trembling, with a fear food in front of you. I said I wanted to get better, but really really really couldn’t do it in the Netherlands.
After loads of research and phone calls, we found Carolina House and I knew that was going to be it. It was the ONLY one we found that accepted adults of 17 and older as opposed to 18+ (I would turn 18 in November of 2017), and even crazier, my Aunt & Uncle lived in the next town over. As big as the U.S. is, that could NOT be a coincidence!
There was one slight problem, however: the treatment was expensive and residing in the Netherlands at the time, I had no US insurance. The only way that I could make this Carolina House dream a reality was if we could obtain the money from somewhere. I personally had no idea from where this would be, but luckily my mom had an idea: a fundraising campaign!
We posted the campaign Saving Livia on May 31st of 2017, which was shortly thereafter accompanied by an amazing YouTube video created by my sister, Mae. Fast forward only a couple weeks later, and we had gathered $75,000. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually going to get help.
I flew to Carolina House together with my mom on July 3rd. When I said my goodbyes on the porch of 176 Lassiter Homestead Road, a beautiful yellow house with grand, grassy surroundings. I would spend 13 weeks in Residential Treatment followed by 12 more in PHP and IOP. During this time, I lived with my Aunt and Uncle in Raleigh, for which I have a special place in my heart. Plus, having a U.S. address allowed my mom to successfully arrange insurance for the remainder of treatment. After 6 long and exhausting months, I was ready to go home. I returned back to my family the day before Christmas and have been doing amazing ever since!
Now, being on the other side of my disorder, I often get asked what was the ‘key’ in my recovery, what helped me the most? Personally, I believe recovery can only come from within and cannot be forced in any way, shape, or form. The reason why Carolina House was the only treatment center that actually helped me was because I wanted to be helped. That was the first treatment center in which I was actually motivated to recover. I wasn’t doing it for anyone else but me. Along with my burning desire to get better, I always held hope, hope that there was an end to the horrible hell I was living in and hope that I would be on the other side, even though that Dutch psychiatrist tried to strip me of it. The message I want to give everyone who is struggling with any kind of mental illness is that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. There is always hope for EVERYONE, regardless of how hopeless the situation may seem or what anyone else says!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Livia. You can follow their journey on Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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