This is the first time I have actually written out my entire journey into recovery. Grab a cup of coffee and a blanket because this one is a long one. I hope that my story brings you HOPE, the drive to persevere, and to remember to love yourself. This is a story of eating disorder awareness.
It all started at the age of 13 going on 14.
**TRIGGER WARNING** Let me preface this from someone who is sensitive to triggers, I will not be sharing what I did to become so ill other than saying that I was struggling with Anorexia, Bulimia, or both. I do not want my story to be a trigger for anyone else which is why I have chosen not to expand on the unhealthy habits I had.
Middle School: Late in my 7th-grade year, I was your typical young teenage girl trying to figure out who she was. I was lost in insecurities and body comparison. It plagued my thoughts. I was shamed for having har on my arms, teased and called monkey woman. I didn’t have the most stylish clothes, I had to buy my jeans about 2 sizes too big for my waist because of my muscular legs. The boys would make fun of me saying I borrowed my brother’s jeans. I was the youngest of 4 and started to really battle having my own identity outside of my older siblings shadows. They are amazing people and accomplished so much, I never wanted to disappoint people. A 12-year-old struggling with these thoughts was an intense amount of emotion to handle. This was also the year I decided to try my hand at sports again. I played soccer as a 3rd and 4th grader and LOVED it but gave it up to be able to take piano lessons. I decided in 7th grade to try out for the volleyball team. This was the start of some majoring comparison issues, coaches and young girls can say things without realizing the impact of their words. Let’s just say I had to work HARD to have any athletic skill with volleyball but I tried my heart out. This often times was expressed to me in a way that made me feel ashamed I didn’t have the skill the other girls did. I didn’t realize but I was struggling deeply with anxiety. This was the time in my life I started to hide in my closet when I was having panic attacks except I didn’t know what they were. This continued all the way through college until I was diagnosed.
2005: 15 years old, I was going through a growth spurt meaning I started to have a larger appetite and hold onto extra weight because I was growing. This led me to really start struggling with Anorexia, not to the point that anyone started to notice. I have a VERY different body type then my sisters or mom which as a 15-year-old made me feel abnormal. I hated my muscular legs and arms, hated that I held onto weight on my stomach. When my body was trying to grow, I despised the changes. I wanted to be just like my sisters and mom, I didn’t see the true value in my own body. Freshman year I tried out for the volleyball team and barely made it, it was a tough year for me. My skill wasn’t accelerating like the other girls and I mentally beat myself up over it. I thought I was a lesser person because I couldn’t match their skill level. After that season I decided to quit volleyball, I quit mentally a long time before that. I let comparison rob me of being able to excel. I let my shame of my body rob me from having true joy in this sport. Comparing how the uniform fit me vs. the other girls. Ugh, the heartache I experienced and inflicted on myself as excruciating. Freshman year I also tried out for the tennis team and found my niche. I was not as good as the other girls, I wish I could go back and work on my mental state in sports. MY constant comparison only held me back. At the end of my freshman year, I was at an all-time LOW on my mental state and was in the worst state I had been to this point with struggling with Anorexia. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year only led to an even bigger struggle with it.
2006: 16 years old. I quit volleyball this year which affected me a lot deeper emotionally then I thought at first. I felt like I had failed, that my skills had failed. I started to really tear down myself and the parts of my body I thought should change so that I could be better or fit in. My anxiety grew to new depths in this time of my life. I was left wondering who I was and felt so unstable. Going deeper into my anorexia made me feel like I was in control and relieved myself of some of that anxiety. The relief was always short lived because I wasn’t taking control of the true issues at hand.
During this time of my life, my family was in a state of transition. My dad was changing careers, my older sisters who I am SUPER close to had moved on to college, and my brother was consumed with sports and his senior year of high school. I felt left behind, which looking back was my own perception. I hid my feelings which only made things worse because my family who could help me didn’t know I was struggling.
At 16, I was voted onto Homecoming court and was on cloud 9. I thought I was starting to fit in. You could say that this fed my distorted view of myself. I thought I had to fit a certain part to be someone.
I started the tennis season with new determination to exceed. I pushed myself physically and mentally which was both a good thing and a bad thing. The drive was amazing for my skill set on the court but I was still comparing myself physically to others. This led to me passing out on the court and having little to no energy because I was trying to change myself the incorrect way. The attention I received from losing weight and appearing to be “healthy” only drove me further into my disease.
2007: 17 years old. My junior year of high school, I finally felt like I found me. I had my own style of clothing, how I did my hair, I was confident in my body, confident in my achievements, and confident in my place with my friends. I was confident for ALL the wrong reasons and would find out how easily that could be shattered.
My junior year, I decided to try out for the cross country. I found the running was a great stress reliever for me, the workout was intense, and I found I could push myself mentally. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. During the preseason training, I was diagnosed with asthma, running with an inhaler was so much easier! No wonder I hated the mile in middle school.
This year in my life, I started to see my body change as I went deeper into anorexia. I found inspiration from Thinspiration, this really crippled my mind. I was receiving attention again over my “health” and I truly thought I had found something that I could control and could make me happy. I wish I could go back to 17-year-old Nicholle and show her just how lost she was.
Tennis season started and my uniform fit in a whole new way, I was proud of it but I shouldn’t have been. My friends started to worry about how my clothes were fitting and how I would talk about my body. They could see the damage I was doing.
From the outside looking in, my junior year of high school was the year I excelled at everything and appeared to be really going somewhere. On the inside: I was sick, broken, crying, overwhelmed, stressed to the point of panic attacks, anxiety every day that threw me into spirals I felt I had to hide from the people around me.
2008: 18 years old. My worst year yet. My senior year of high school my world was shaken to the core. I was suffering from a broken heart, from family dysfunction, feeling like I had lost my best friend, and feeling so out of control. I started college classes at Corban University to take me away from the heartache at the high school. 2 classes in college and 4 classes at high school. It was the perfect escape from the reality of what I was experiencing.
Then I was in a huge car accident, I was in a sandwich between two cars. This left me physically wrecked. I had twisted my pelvis backward which made my legs more than 3 inches off in length as well as rotating my lower vertebrae. A long road of recovery was ahead of me, 1.5 years in physical therapy to be exact.
This was the teetering point for me and my depression. I was suffering badly in September of 2008 but then took a bad turn in November 2008 after my accident. I would carry the weight of this depression throughout my senior year of high school.
My anxiety was at an all-time high as well. I would fall asleep and be woken up in the middle of a panic attack. I was living a nightmare. The only way I thought I could control this nightmare was through my anorexia and now bulimia.
December of 2008, I was physically the lowest I had ever been. I was confronted by my parents about my disease. This was the first time It was ever talked about or acknowledged. I either had to change or I had to get help. The thought of leaving my family and my comfort zone was all I needed to know I had to pretend a little better and hide my disease more. Oh, how lost I was!
I walked the halls of that high school lost and broken, I couldn’t wait until I could walk out of there for the last time. They symbolized so much pain, emotional unrest, and terrible memories.
2009: 19 years old. I graduated from high school and walked away from some of the worst years of my life. Friendships that hurt to think about and memories of failure. I was beyond grateful to leave.
I started Corban full time in the Fall. Family dysfunction was still going on, at this point, it really took a turn and broke my heart. The only way I knew how to deal with the stress, pain, and anxiety was through my disease. So there I went, avoiding the cafeteria, and pretending to eat in my room. I had a morning weightlifting class where I would pass out from about once a week from malnutrition. I hit the bottom of the barrel that December.
Then I met Jason. I had someone that was kind and loving towards me at a time I really needed it in my life. He grounded me and helped me become stable with his calm spirit.
2010: 20 years old. This year was full of some of the highest and lowest points of my life. I was in a committed relationship with Jason and we were doing amazing! I was excelling in school. Planning a mission trip to Italy and then would be traveling to Alaska, Idaho, and all over Oregon as a camp counselor. From the outside, it looked as if I had it all together.
Inwardly I was fighting hard. I reached out to my Dr. and was prescribed a medication that would help suppress my appetite and equalize my moods. This was due to my struggle with bulimia. Unfortunately, this made it worse and I felt more displaced in my own body than before.
The Summer of 2010 was a big life-changing time. I was being shaken to the core with the Lord during my time as a camp counselor. Jason and I broke up. I struggled with my disease but in a way, you couldn’t tell on the outside. I was the heaviest I had ever been but also struggling the most with my disease. Appearances can be deceiving. It’s so important to not just look for the warning signs of thinness but also fluctuations in weight on the other side of the spectrum.
October of 2010 I went in for a major pain in my lower back and ended up having surgery that left me in recovery on my stomach for 3 full months. I had to drop out of school and sleep in my living room on a cot for those 3 months. I lost a lot of weight during this time as I had a couple infections in my body and had no appetite. I was scared of not being able to work out and feeling so out of control. As I slowly started to recover from my surgery, I slowly slipped further into my disease. You could see it physically and with my emotions. This was the time I saw I NEEDED treatment.
2011: After I started my first official job at American Eagle I cam down with mono. My surgery left me with a very low immune system. I was home for weeks recovering. I was able to finish my part-time classes at Corban and planned to go to treatment in July. I had a trip to California planned with my dad as well as my friend with Andrea. I decided to go to treatment after those trips as I wasn’t in a life or death situation even though I was severely damaged and sick.
July 5th, I hopped on a plane for Remuda Ranch in Chandler Arizona. I was scared. I knew the steps I would have to take to make sure I was healthy. I knew counseling would be involved, digging up my past to figure out why I struggle so bad. Showing up in a treatment center, knowing no one but also knowing everyone knows your biggest secret.
I was in treatment at Remuda for 6 weeks. At first, I was in the home care, which is actually in a gated neighborhood. I started counseling 3 times a week, was diagnosed with PTSD, OCD, severe depressive disorder, severe anxiety disorder, anorexia, and bulimia. This list was daunting trying to learn about ME and how I needed to help ME. The ups and downs of feeling like a failure, someone who couldn’t find healing, someone who cried each day as they re-lived their past that they had hidden away trying to forget. Each day was filled with about 3 full classes on various subjects to help us girls learn about our disease, what our bodies are experiencing, how to cook, how to portion out our food, psychology, body positivity, etc.
I found some of the truest friendships here. I wish I would have stayed in better contact with them. They were honest and loving in a way I have never found in a friend again. Compassionate and the most nonjudgmental women I have ever been blessed to be around.
I left treatment in August only to come back to Oregon and had a rollover accident that totalled my car. I was tryign to find my path and stability which led me to leave the area I grew up in. This gave me space to try and find my new normal without the watching eyes of my peers. I found a job as a hostess, Jason and I got back together long distance, and I was starting my appointments with my post treatment care. It was about 2 months in of me trying to balance it all that I went back to my Dr. and broke down about not feeling equipped for life.
We found a treatment center in Portland at a Providence Hospital. It was an outpatient program where I lived at home and went to classes each day. This helped me transition into normal life. I had classes and a support group to help me get back on my feet. I was in this program for about 5 weeks.
These two treatments were ESSENTIAL for me to heal. The road to get there was hard. I had to decide for myself that I needed that help. That took years. For others, it can take months. What I learned in both of these treatment programs sticks with me each day. There isn’t a day that I don’t struggle but I have the skill set and the tools to keep myself on track. I wouldn’t have these tools or the skills without seeking treatment and healing.
Fast Forward to 2018: I just turned 27 years old and made a commitment to share my WHY behind Topknots and Pearls.
The biggest reason why I started T&P was to help share my love for style and beauty with other women in hopes that they too would feel beautiful not only from the inside but also on the outside. This passion came from the self-love I discovered while in treatment for my eating disorder.
This blog has helped keep me passionate and creative in times that I have struggled deeply with depression and anxiety. It has been the healthy outlet I needed, I am so blessed to be able to share my voice here.
Recovery is possible! I do have days I struggle, and sometimes even weeks. My mental illness is something I most likely will carry with me all my life. I don’t see that as a challenge, I see it as the ability to constantly make myself a better person. With my mental illness, I can’t afford to get lazy about my health. When I do, I suffer big time from it.
This year I have made a goal for myself to get into better health habits that will help me mentally, emotionally, and physically. The first priority is finding a system for food that I can maintain while working full time out of the house. I have started Clean Simple Eats food plan that is set up very similarly to the food plan I learned at Remuda Ranch. This plan has taken a lot of the thought out and gives me freedom with my food that I couldn’t have if I was pouring over it, more or less, obsessing over it.
Also this year I am committing to finding a healthy activity level for me. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum of working out too much and then becoming sedentary. This year is my year for finding the balance for my body while fueling it properly.
This is the year that my story continues in recovery, THRIVING in recovery.
So, why the cupcakes?
Cupcakes were a scary food for me because I LOVED them. I don’t really like cake but cupcakes and donuts get me to smile. In my eating disorder, I wouldn’t allow myself to eat them. Now they are a food I have not only conquered but allow myself to enjoy. Petunia’s Pies and Pastries is in Portland and is completely vegan! I definitely happily indulged myself with an almond milk latte and double chocolate cupcake.
Conquer the food and environments that leave you scared,
the life you can enjoy is so much better than living in fear.
Places I went for Eating Disorder Treatment:
Remuda Ranch Chandler Arizona
Providence Health in Portland Oregon
Eating Disorder Awareness Week with NEDA
February 27th – March 5th