Jackie Johnson Dying to Stay Thin



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Jackie Johnson

Dying to Stay Thin

HMHV 201

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I’m standing in my bathroom. My bare feet are on the cold tile floor about shoulder width apart. This brings me a little closer to the sink so I don’t have to bend over so much. I’m a short 5’ 2” anyways. It comes out easier if I’m standing up rather than bent over a toilet. I let the faucet run a little while to warm up. I’m usually not picky, but I’m at my house with nobody else home. I like this. I don’t have to worry about people hearing me. I can adjust the water temperature to be lukewarm, the way I like to brush my teeth, and I can take my time. I can make sure I get it all out. Still,

I am scared that someone is going to come home and catch me so I have the door locked. Again I tell myself, “No more.” It’s like a plea. Please don’t do this. But actually, I am telling myself that this is the last time. I say this every time I have a chance to think about it. Typically, I try to be as fast as I can. Right now I have time to stare at myself in the mirror. I see a girl with dark olive skin and long voluptuous black hair that hangs down to her elbows. She stares back with her big brown almond shaped eyes. I don’t see the slender senior captain of the Goddard High School Dance Team or the confident girl that Goddard High crowned Miss GHS. I see a lie. I’m ashamed. I pull my hair back into a ponytail. Then I take my pointer and middle fingers of my right hand and carefully go in between the rows of teeth. I do a little running man with my fingers tickling around in the uvula area. That’s that little ball you can see hanging down inside your mouth when the doctors make you open wide with your tongue out and say “ahhhhh.”

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I tickle until I gag. I’ve gotten really good at finding the sweet spot right away. I get the chills. It’s quick. It starts in my chest, my heart is light, and it runs through my arms and simultaneously up through my head causing my eyes to water. Now they’re red. My hand comes out but no food so I quickly try again. The chills rush another time, and I contract my stomach. I feel a full rush up my throat. I quickly take my hand out and clench the edge of the counter top with both hands as I throw up as much as I can in one try. It doesn’t look like enough. I wash it down lifting the stopper open wider for the bigger chunks. I try again and again until I am pulling my hand out, coughing ferociously and nothing more comes out of my mouth. I wash away all the evidence, wipe my face, my eyes are still red, but no one is home anyways. I’m done.
The last time I remember being sick enough that I threw up was in the third grade. It was the last time I missed school from being sick, and it was a field trip day at the carnival for all the third graders. I don’t remember how throwing up finally became a habit. I remember trying it when I was in middle school and thought, “How could people do this?” I didn’t have this thought because I didn’t understand why people put themselves through this horrible suffering. I had this thought because I thought it was hard. I didn’t like throwing up. I didn’t like trying to gag myself. I couldn’t stick my fingers down far enough. I held my breath the entire time, my eyes would turn watery red, and my head felt like it was a volcano about to erupt.
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According to a 10 year study done by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders 7 million people in the United States have an eating disorder. Bulimia is characterized by someone that binges and then purges their food. Binging can be defined by eating an amount of food noticeably larger than most people in a particular amount of time, say, within a two hour period. You can also notice a lack of control in that amount of time. They feel like they can’t stop or control what and how much they eat.

Bulimia is a psychological illness. It is a symptom of an underlying problem. Reasons for the start of the disorder vary from person to person. It can be caused by a traumatic event that has happened in their life, possibly years before an eating disorder is manifested. An example of a traumatic even could be rape or sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical violence, divorce of parents, death or serious illness of a loved one, peer pressure, surgery or ill health as a child, or a traumatic life-threatening event. Though, not everyone who has been raped or whose parents divorced develops an eating disorder.

What happens is that there is some sort of trigger. The trigger could be in this list of traumatic events or it could be unrelated. It could have been a minor event that originally the sufferer could cope with. This trigger then leads to the start of the individuals focus on food and weight. What happened for me is that it started out as a seed. I never intended on becoming bulimic. That seed gradually grew over time.

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I’ve always been a big eater. I was taught that finishing everything on my plate and eating a lot made me a healthy eater. My mom never let me waste my food. She would say in her nagging Asian wicked witch voice, “Dare starbing children all ober da world! You better eat yo food.” She grew up in the Philippines. My cousins and distant cousins were starving children. So I never complained. Sometimes when I was full, instead of disappointing my mom, I would plop a couple pieces of chicken onto my brother’s plate when no one was looking. My dad caught me once. I didn’t think anyone would notice because my mom was having a party. There were a ton of people around, laughing, doing their own thing, and I was worried about finishing my chicken when I already felt like I was going to explode. He saw me, smiled, and went back to his conversation. I got away with it. Mission accomplished.

My mom has been that person in my life that I am always trying please. I know she is proud of me. She is proud of the things I’ve done and the person I’ve grown to be. Though, she has never been satisfied with my appearance. I don’t remember the whole conversation. It was sometime after I moved to live with my dad, but she said I was getting fat. She also says I don’t dress enough like a girl. I should wear dresses more. I should wear heals more. I have oily skin. She absolutely cannot believe that I have pimples. She blames it on my dad’s genes. Of course, she’s always right.

Appearance is very important to my mom. She is a beautiful lady. She is always done up. Her makeup, her hair, the polish on her fingernails; it’s all perfect. She’s always in dress clothes. I don’t think she owns a pair of jeans. If she wears pants they

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are a sleek pair of slacks. She has a purse for every out fit and an outfit for every pair of shoes. It’s so funny she’s always in high heels. She vacuums in heels, walks the dog in heels, and even walks on the tread mill while watching “Days of Our Lives” in heels. She’s short, about five feet tall. She used to weigh around 95 pounds, but she’s gained quite a bit in the past couple years. There were plenty of times when I hoped I would end up nothing like her, but there were also plenty of time when I wished I were more like her.

In high school I was a tiny girl. I was always around 110 pounds, fluctuating easily between 105 and 115. Not only that, but I was so in shape. I could see my abs after a good workout. Still, I thought I was fat. I didn’t see this ridiculously obese girl in the mirror. I just thought I was fat.

Most bulimics are not underweight. The disorder can often go unnoticed longer than anorexia. Some behavioral signs are frequent trips to the bathroom, especially after eating, fluctuations in weight, mood swings, and even trying to avoid eating food for the fear of gaining weight or the unpleasant ritual of throwing it up.

It started becoming a habit my sophomore year. It was off and on the whole year. Some meals I felt like I had to throw up and others I was okay with. If I just ate and no one was around then I would walk to the bathroom, stare at myself in the mirror, turn on the sink and try for a couple minutes until I saw some proof of my meal. I would cry, but I really didn’t put much thought into it. I had this secret and no one knew.

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As the year progressed I slowly went from a couple casual trips to the bathroom a week to at least once a day. I used to be able to throw up within three hours of eating. After that long of my food digesting it got too hard to make it come up, but I was okay with that. Oh well. I would get it next time.

The summer between my sophomore and junior year I became a professional. After every meal I started my covert operation. I was quicker. I didn’t have to spend forever in the bathroom to see a tiny bit of evidence. It would take as long as it would take me to pee and I could do it until I felt most of my food was out. I also learned that it was harder to throw up solid foods like meat and bread without having a drink with it. But not too much, because then I would just throw up my drink. I wanted my meal out of me. It got to the point that I liked my stomach being empty.

It didn’t taste gross. I don’t think. I was more concerned with not getting caught or causing any suspicion. It didn’t always burn, either. It depended on what I just ate. Acidy foods or drinks would hurt, like oranges or orange juice. I hated spicy foods. That would burn. I hated eggs too. They were too slimy.

The weird thing is that I loved to eat. Everyone knew it too. I was always snacking. There was always something. Then if I didn’t have anything I would ask anyone, my entire class, sometimes, if they had any food. Usually someone would and I would eat it. People loved that. They thought it was hilarious that I always ate. I felt like I had a reputation to live up to. I was the dispose-all. I could eat like a horse and stay thin. People would ask me that all the time: “How the heck do you stay so skinny?”

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I had myself and everyone convinced it was because I had a fast metabolism and I danced fifteen to twenty hours a week. I didn’t do it to get any skinnier. I guess I did it to maintain my weight. I didn’t feel like I needed to throw up little snacks. It was the bigger meals that were more important to me that I would completely binge until I was miserably full and nauseated.

By my senior year I was really comfortable making myself puke. I didn’t care where I was. I was so good I could do it anywhere. I used to only be able to do it in my own house. Now I could do it at school even if I had to lock the entire public restroom. Sometimes I would even use the private teacher bathrooms. They had a sink and a door that would lock. I could do it at work, at friend’s houses, and even at restaurants. I always preferred a sink. I hated the toilets. And it used to be that I would stare at myself in the mirror before doing it. Now I had become so numb that I could watch myself in the mirror while I was doing it. My eyes would still turn red. I would dry my mouth and blink with my eyes wide open a couple times and walk out with a smile on my face.


“Pat the sink is clogged again,” I informed my stepmom. I was nervous, but I thought maybe that since I was the one to bring it up she wouldn’t suspect anything from me. “She knows. She has to know,” I still thought to myself. Fifteen minutes later from the bathroom I heard, “Jackie, you need to stop blow drying your hair by the sink. Your hair is getting in there. Then it’s getting washed down and clogging the sink.”
Jackie Johnson

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My parents divorced when I was six. I stayed and lived with my mom in Florida for a while. When I was ten my mom met her best friend’s brother. His name was Rick. They got engaged. So we moved to live in Minnesota where Rick grew up as a kid. Then when I was twelve I moved to live with my dad and Pat to start seventh grade in Roswell, NM after my mom got a second divorce.

My dad is always on a diet. He is a healthy and fit guy. I think he likes to use diets as guidelines to monitor what he eats. I remember when he first started the Atkins diet. I think I was a junior in high school. He always talked about what he could and couldn’t eat. So, I secretly tried to imitate that. I didn’t do it for very long. I didn’t want people to notice. I thought if they noticed that I was trying to cut carbs then they would start to notice my other habbits and find out my secret. My stepmom is always exercising. She is in the gym a lot plus she makes everything into an exercise. She’ll do leg lifts while watching t.v. She’ll park furthest away from the hospital so she can have a nice hike to and from work. Then there was my year and a half younger brother the football star and my twenty-three year old step brother the soccer star. I was the dancer. I had to be skinny.

My problem started to get bad. I was throwing up salads. It was ridiculous. I became paranoid that people knew, but at the same time I knew that no one could. If I was scared my parents would hear me in the bathroom I would do it in a bottle in my room. I liked the Gatorade bottles, because they had a wider mouth compared to regular soda bottles.

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I started judging other people. I knew all the signs. “I bet she’s bulimic,” I would think to myself about two of my best friends Samantha and Kellie. I got suspicious of them. I would listen outside of the bathroom, hoping I had found someone I could talk to. Kellie was so skinny, but she always bragged about how much food she ate. I watched her. She didn’t even eat that much. Then Sam was like me. She was always talking about how fat she was when clearly she really wasn’t fat. I remember when she lost a lot of weight right before our Crystal Ball which was like a debutante ball. It was a formal presentation of a select few of Roswell’s high school seniors introduced to society in white gowns sort of as their “debut.” I approached her, “Sammie, you’ve lost a lot of weight in the past couple weeks.”

“Jack, I have been running my ass off. I have to fit in that damn dress.”

“Dang. Well I was just worried about you. Please just don’t do it in an unhealthy way.”

I started to become obsessed. I wanted to just tell someone, but I didn’t want anyone to know. As far as the world was concerned, I was a normal happy girl. If I was happy I would smile. If I was sad I would smile. It’s a defense mechanism I use. It’s also another way keep the attention off of me. I didn’t want anyone to think differently of me or feel bad for me.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and we just got back to dance practice after our lunch break. Of course I get my own pasta bowl, share Sam’s appetizer with her, and finish the

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other half of my dance coach, Mona’s, bacon burger. It is so good, but again I over stuff myself. Everyone starts to meet back up in the gym while I go to the girl’s bathroom in the new wing. No one will want to go back there, because the hallway is dark and creepy. This bathroom doesn’t have the normal light switches. It takes a special key to turn on the lights. So, I operate in the dark. I feel the chills and I rush my hand out of my mouth. A lot comes out, then more and more with every attempt. I wash up and leave to go back to the gym. I noticed my hand hurt. I had irritated the same spot on my hand as I did the day before. I bit down on my hand a little while I was pulling it out to throw up. I had a small tooth mark scratch right under my pointer knuckle from my fang tooth. I hope no one will question it. I start running to the gym so I can stretch really well before the next half of practice. I feel better.

My problem soon jumped to a different level. I was sitting in my A.P. biology class, last semester of my senior year. I was talking when all of a sudden my throat burned so bad. Stuff was coming up and I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t hide it either. I made a scary sour face like I was about get a shot in the arm and I didn’t want to look. It hurt. Mr. Jones laughed at me and so did Kellie. They had no idea.

Physical symptoms of bulimia include inflammation or rupturing of the esophagus, dehydration, irregular heart rate, heart failure, tooth decay, stomach ulcers, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It is rare, but the rupturing of the esophagus is not unknown for a person to die the first time they purge. Inflammation and raw areas are

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caused by the stomach acid that irritates the esophagus. It can also cause a tear in the membrane and the person can find blood in their vomit.

The healthy functioning of cells and tissues depends on a certain level of water in the body. People are supposed to drink a minimum of 64 oz. of water a day. That is one and a half liters. Long-term dehydration can lead to kidney failure. Throwing up will also lead to salt depletion as well as potassium depletion which can cause problems with the heart. Low blood pressure can occur. The lower the blood pressure and heart rate goes the greater the risk of heart failure.

The stomach acid will also wear the enamel of sufferer’s teeth. Brushing the teeth after throwing up actually increases the rate of tooth decay. Drinking water is gentler and helps replenish lost fluid.

Another effect is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, otherwise known as acid reflux. It is a condition where the liquid content of the stomach regurgitates into the esophagus. There is a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter that controls the opening between the stomach and the esophagus. Normally this opening is closed and only opens when you swallow food. With acid reflux the muscle can’t close the opening properly. That is how the stomach fluids can back up. It can be extremely painful.

I started to get acid reflux. I would throw up in my mouth out of nowhere. I would be laughing and it would come up. I would be dancing and it would come up. I could be doing anything. At first it would come up, barely reaching the top of my throat and I would swallow it back down quickly. Later, there were several times that I had to

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run to a bathroom, the nearest sink or trash can to spit it out. I knew I couldn’t keep doing this. I had to do something.

I tried really hard to stop. I would feel guilty sometimes that I didn’t throw up a meal. Sometime before the summer after my senior year I stopped doing it every day. I was healthy that summer. After I came back from visiting my mom in Minnesota I worked out everyday at the gym with my friend Erika. We were intense. We ran, lifted, did an ab workout, then swam, biked, or rollerbladed every day.

Along with binging and purging food, people with bulimia can also use other inappropriate methods to compensate for calories consumed. A couple examples are fasting and abusing laxatives as well as excessive exercise. I look back now and I realize that I took it a little overboard. I didn’t use laxatives but I would go through stages of fasting and excessive exercise. Then sometimes I would sit in the sauna after exercising for hours. I wasn’t binging and purging so I perceived myself as healthy. One of the diagnostic criteria for bulimia is that the person binge eat or use these examples of inappropriate methods to compensate for calories consumed on average, at least twice a week for three months. I was just glad that I had forgotten about throwing up. I don’t remember specifically thinking about it. I just stopped. Unfortunately, there were relapses when I left for college at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque which is about a three hour drive northwest from Roswell.

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I’m not as good as I was before. This is going to be tricky. I have to be extra careful in the dorms at school. This dorm bathroom has two entrances to watch out for. I still don’t like toilets. That’s why I’m at one of the eight sinks, even though one of the private stalls would probably be a little safer.

I turn on the faucet and I let it run while I stare at myself in the mirror. “Not this again,” I say to myself a sad tone. I take my right hand, the same two fingers, and go through the familiar motions all the while my eyes run back and forth from both entrances. I try really hard to make it fast, but it’s hard. It’s taking me a while to find that sweet spot. I’m wasting a lot of time gagging. I have my hand down my throat. My eyes are watered to the brim, turning red, my neck veins are stressed, and I can’t breathe while I have my hand in my mouth. I’m trying and trying. It looks like I’m about to pass out until my hand is thrown out from my mouth by a forceful cough relieving myself and gasping for air. I try one more time. This time I got some out, but someone is coming! I see her blurred head through the transparent window. “Crap, crap, crap!” I frantically try and rinse the sink out as fast as I can. One of my friends walks in. We exchange smiles. “Hey,” she says bored and exhausted.

“Hey!” I reply happily as I pretend that I just finished going to the bathroom and now I’m washing my hands. Good thing we need a key to get in this bathroom. The bustle to get into the bathroom gave me a little warning and bought me a little time to clean up my mess so that I didn’t look guilty.


Jackie Johnson

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I went into my freshman year of college in okay shape and pretty healthy. It didn’t take long though to pack on the freshman fifteen. I thought I was done with making myself throw up. I guess I wasn’t. The second go around didn’t last very long though. Maybe it was a couple weeks. It was really inconvenient with the dorm bathrooms. I kept telling myself how unacceptable it was for me to do this. So, I stopped, again.
I’m a sophomore in college now, and I weigh twenty-six pounds more than when I was in high school. I think I’m healthy, because I don’t make myself throw up anymore. Although, I still eat pretty crappy. I hang out all day at the very top of the food pyramid with Little Debbie, Nabisco and Hostess snacks. I know I need to take better care of myself. I don’t know if I ever really have. It’s been an entire year now since I’ve actually thrown up my food. It was last year when I almost picked it up again.

I still don’t understand how or why it all started. I never intended on developing an eating disorder. The temptation still comes up every once in a while. I tried it a couple days ago, but I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t work. Everything seemed very foreign to me. I had this secret. I don’t want it anymore.

Now I often worry about the weight I have gained. I was at the doctor’s not too long ago for a checkup. The nurse took my blood pressure. It was higher than usual for me. I don’t remember what it was but she read the result to me and asked, “Is that normal for you?” I shrugged like I didn’t know mainly because it scared me. I didn’t

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want to talk about it with her. I eat a lot of junk food. My dad and my boyfriend are now the ones that are on me all the time about it. My dad told me if I don’t stop I’ll become diabetic. I know the best change for me would be to start eating healthier and exercise more. I don’t do that though. I am still always hungry and I still eat a lot. I wonder now if I ever truly recovered from a eating disorder, or if I just transitioned to another. I overeat often. No one can see except myself, but I eat past the point of being full every time. I think a lot of girls worry about their weight. It’s a scary obsession. I’m tired of it. I keep saying tomorrow. I make that excuse a lot, but I think today’s a good day for change.

I have never told anyone about this until now with whoever this story reaches. I feel so relieved. Truly, I think that this is what I needed to do. I needed this opportunity to get rid of this secret burden and I feel so much lighter because of this. For years I struggled with trying to stay thin. I see now that self esteem and self image go hand in hand. I was perceived as a spunky confident young woman, but I used that to hide my poor perception of myself. If I had only talked to someone earlier like a friend, my parents, or a doctor I think that I could’ve been where I am now a long time ago. I wanted to tell someone so badly, but I think that I wasn’t ready to come to terms with my problem. Now I don’t care who knows because I am ready to accept what has happened and take care of myself now.

I know that eating disorders are more common then people may think. Someone can look completely normal and healthy when they are actually suffering. Today I am a

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pre-med student in the combined BA/MD degree program at UNM. In several years I am going to be a physician. I can help not only my patients but also my own children and friends with this issue. I understand how difficult it is to talk to someone about their struggle with an eating disorder or any self image problems. I know when someone comes to me I can be that person that I wanted to tell for so long. I can help. I can be open and say with confidence, “I used to be bulimic.”

Jackie Johnson

Dying To Stay Thin Preface

HMHV 201


Page 1
My first challenge was picking a topic to write about for my personal essay. The issue I had with writing about suffering from bulimia was that I didn’t want anyone to know. I knew that I have always wanted someone to talk to about my problem. I had this secret bottle up for so long. I thought if I did pick this topic I would have a lot to say. Since it was a personal essay, I couldn’t think of anything else health related that was more personal to me.

My initial conception of the draft evolved greatly over the course of this semester. I thought that I would have so much to say about the five years I would throw up my food. I remember at five pages I felt that I had no where else to go and nothing left to say. I realized that I was just holding back. I was missing a lot of elements like reflection, retrospective voice, persona, setting and atmosphere, characterization, exposition, basic orienting fact, and a turning point with a denoument that follows.

I realized that I was having trouble with reflection because I never really thought about my problem. I knew that I had a problem, but I never, until this essay, took the time to reflect on everything that has happened. Consequently, it was hard for me to explain incorporate reflection. I used the retrospective voice to explain what I remembered and even what I couldn’t remember.

With the progression of my essay my main persona as a young girl struggling with bulimia became more limited as my main focus for the story even amongst the other minor personas that I thought were also important for the story as a whole. Tied in with

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reflection I had to explore reasons for how and why I became bulimic. I am still not 100% sure but there could have been a lot of reasons why connected to the different roles I have in life. So, I included more for the minor personas as a daughter, a sister, a dancer, a friend, and student. I also included that I am going to be a future doctor.

I think I did a good job at creating setting and atmosphere in my scenes. I think that the most ambitious parts of my essay are the descriptive scenes that I used as well as just putting my whole secret out there and on paper. I was nervous about grossing people out so I held back a lot in the beginning drafts. Then I thought I needed to share the details of someone with bulimia because some readers will know nothing about it. I know many people joke about it, but eating disorders should be taken more serious. So I think that my scenes showed the seriousness of it in more detail. I did try to keep my joking personality to try and stay away from self pity. I didn’t want that at all.

For my third draft I decided that I need to characterize my family, more specifically my mom. I wanted to show that of all the possible triggers, my mom had the greatest influence on me. I tried, though, not to make her look like the bad guy. I love and adore her.

Also for my third draft I added a lot of exposition. In my research I learned things about the eating disorder I had that I never knew before. I decided to integrate it throughout my story as it related to that particular part of the story so that there was still a flow in the story. I think that it served my essay very well.

Jackie Johnson

Dying To Stay Thin Preface



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I realized even in my third draft that I still did not have a turning point. I thought I did, but I did not see a clear turning point. I realized that my struggle was still not resolved. I thought that I would use this essay as my turning point and my denoument would be reflection on how I feel now as well as how I can help others in the future.

Reading other essays throughout this semester has greatly influenced my essay. I admired how most of the stories we’ve read like “Lucky Jim” and Stephen King’s “On Impact” were not self-pitying stories. I read about unfortunate events that have happened to people and feel inspired. I also really like the conversational voice that a lot of the stories we read also had much like in Singular Intimacies by Danielle Ofri.


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