Trigger warning: Eating disorders (specifically bulimia), drug abuse, overdose, mental illness
I am a coma survivor.
I wanted to tell my story to prevent other people from falling into the same circumstances.
I went into a coma due to a combination of my battle with bulimia and an overdose on antidepressants.
Though it has been years since I awoke and got physical therapy and a therapist, it wasn’t until the present day, years later, that I began to feel alive and want to prevent others from the same repercussions.
So let me tell my story.
I never knew how to deal with anything. Everything at home and in my mind felt chaotic. Like most eating disorder patients, because I could not control my sadness, my anxiety, my anger, my irritation, or those fleeting happy moments, I turned to food to relieve these emotions.
People mentioned that I was looking great, and I began thinking that I had to stop eating to feel self-love, as my self-loathing was winning. The one thing I wasn’t too aware of was that depression made me lose my appetite. I was sad. Losing weight and focusing on numbers or how my pants fit me was unintentional the first time around. Once I became aware that I thinned out, it became harder to keep up with that look.
It did not start with bulimia, but it was harder and harder to continue limiting my food intake.
Day after day, I grabbed the strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla ice cream and ate it all in one sitting. Realizing I wasn’t full, I grabbed the Flakes cereal and ate the entire box. Upon feeling the weight of the food in me, I would scramble for one of the plastic bags used for my trash and barf until I saw the pink ice cream. It was the indication for me to know that I was through, as it was the first food that touched my lips.
I never saw bulimia as gross, it was simply a necessity.
It is horrifying to think about it now. It makes me panic to know that I purposefully ate despite physically being full, beyond full—it hurts just thinking about. Gosh, to eat so much and waste so much food. To this day, I still can’t eat cereal or ice cream or pasta. I would abuse those foods. These were easiest to go down and easiest to come out.
Afterwards, there was an instantaneous light feeling and everything became calm. Everything was as it should be. Then the horrifying thought hit me. How long would I need to continue this game? Who knew? But in that instant, I knew I started something that I would not be able to control as time went on.
For the next two years, my bulimia spiraled out of control. Bulimia allowed me to “be crazy” because everything around me felt crazy.
I knew I was addicted when I realized I started hiding my vomit in bags or in Pringle chip cans between my clothing in the back of the drawer and wouldn’t throw them out until the middle of the night. I would see eating as a waste if it didn’t surpass my feelings of fullness—that is, if my stomach didn’t hurt. If the acid taste didn’t arise after 30 minutes of push and pull of food out my throat. My bulimia was in control.
I began numbing my existing depression and anxiety with the numbing pain of excess food and the anti-depressants prescribed to me about six months prior. According to The National Eating Disorders Association, “Up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders abused alcohol or illicit drugs, a rate five times higher than the general population.” I was not aware that antidepressants take a few weeks to kick in. I was 14 and my anxiety caused me to sweat and have panic attacks, and a lot of classmates seemed to think I was doing shit on purpose. Sure, Chastity, I want to wait to waste time NOT going to the front and presenting after realizing my armpits had sweated through my black long sleeves.
What I wasn’t aware of was that a lack of eating adequately diminished the drug’s success.
I started to take two, then four, then gradually started filling up on six of 30 mg of Celexa a day, all within a span of about six weeks or so. At first it was a cautious try. I figured two slowed the rush I felt from being too early and having to feel as though I was still missing something. On occasion, I would muster eight Celexa a day. I could feel the pitter patter of my heart trudging along. I can remember every count of one thump to the next.
I wasn’t scared, if I remember correctly—not too much, anyway. I simply didn’t want to “get fat,” but that is a stretch. I sure as hell felt fat, though most bulimics never show signs that they are rail thin. I felt heavy. I was probably thin. I had a “fat face” which was indicative of the rounded cheeks most bulimics get from sticking their entire hand in their mouth. It is also due to dehydration. I just wanted everything to stop feeling so out of my control.
Sometimes when I was really, really frightened because I was seeing black and feeling dizzy, I would make myself take a deep breath and stand in my chair so as to get my heart to wake.
It would work all the time.
On a morning during English class, those movements did nothing.
I was told later of what occurred next. My friends James and Theresa started laughing at me. James saw me fall to the side like a heavy headed spoon. Then panic ensued as the realization hit both James and Theresa that I was not moving and I was quickly turning gray. I was normally more reserved, so seeing me on the ground was an indication that I wasn’t my usual self.
Apparently things transpired fast. Someone called my English teacher from the chalkboard and he began to perform CPR. I think the immediate action he took saved me. He did not stop until paramedics arrived.
It had been closer to 30 minutes before paramedics and an ambulance arrived. I was considered dead.
As all this occurred, phone calls were made to my mother and my sisters. I was placed in a medically induced coma to alleviate the swelling from the lack of oxygen.
“I just want to sleep for like 7 days and come back a new person,” read my journal seven days before falling in class.
I regained consciousness eight days after I was rushed to the hospital and placed in a medically induced coma.
It was a mere eight days, but it was enough to change my personality. I had to learn to walk and write again and even swallow. Swallowing is a learned habit.
Thinking about it now, I giggle, but I really want to know if my sister was embarrassed that I was constantly choking from trying to chew and swallow after returning to school so soon. I was not aware that I regressed tenfold. I could not walk without looking down at my feet. I did not have the capacity to write neatly, but did I really ever?
My memory is crappy. I forget easily. I have to write everything down. I used to be able to listen and write, now I have to listen THEN write. What a nuisance. I was diagnosed with ADHD, but I go back and forth with that diagnosis. I read many books on brain injuries and almost all say that those that survive will need to be on medication for the rest of their lives. This could be due to personality changes that exhibit depression or anger or even attention deficits. Those that witness the survival have said that their person has changed. I can see why a lot of relationships fail or struggle. That person that used to be is no longer. What everyone fails to realize is that this is the coma survivor’s new self.
My younger siblings, it seems, stopped seeing me as their older sibling. I suppose there is relief that your life is not riding on expectation, but I do find myself feeling alone in this brain injury, like I am floating on a planet, required to know the direction of this unknown piece of land despite it being a new me.
It was a lot. It still is a lot. I now live with this invisible injury that I often think people see at face value. They don’t. I’m not sure if that’s worse than having them realize how much I struggle internally.
This is merely a fraction of what has happened. I survived a coma. I am here to tell you that I’ve changed. I beat my eating disorder. I lift heavy, heavy weights. I intake protein and veggies and carbs. All that to achieve the look I know I am naturally shaped as. I am not my eating disorder. There is a difference.