Perfect. This is a word that I have been in a love/hate relationship with for my entire life. I have spent years trying to attain perfection in every possible way - regardless whether it was attainable or not. The word perfect had two different connotations for me. I had a belief that if I reached perfection that I would be happy and all of my unknown and overwhelming feelings I had been struggling internally with for years would be gone. On the other hand, when people called me ‘perfect’ or told me I had the ‘perfect family’ or ‘perfect life’ I felt a lot of shame. This is something that I have learned and am continuing to learn throughout my journey to recovery. I felt the guilt and shame of being labeled as ‘perfect’ because deep down I have always known that it is unattainable; however, I have continued to strive for it.
I was born 20 years ago to a wonderful, loving, and supportive family. I have two happily married parents, and an older brother. When I was born, the doctors said to my parents “Congratulations! You officially have the million dollar family!”
I have had a very fortunate upbringing. I was able to travel, participate in whatever sports I wanted, and to take up music (piano). Although my life was extremely full with numerous activities from morning until night, there was some sort of unknown void. I am able to reflect back to the young age of 6 and realize that I was not happy. I have always known that something was wrong - something was missing. But as a child, you just don’t think too much of it.
Throughout elementary school, I often compared myself to my surrounding peers. I was the tall girl who just so happened to have a below average stature group of friends. I always felt out of place because I was different from them. They were a group of gymnasts and ballerinas, while I engaged in more of the “jock” sports such as soccer, basketball, volleyball and track. I began to compare myself to my friends in multiple aspects of life: how they dressed, activities they engaged in, foods they ate, and marks they received.
I also struggled with comparison to my mom ever since I can remember. She was a highly active individual who often was praised by her peers for her “fit physique.” I remember crying the day that I tried on a pair of her jeans, to find that they not only fit me but were a bit snug. In that moment I had felt like I had fully failed at everything in my life. I felt as if I had done something wrong - I couldn’t possibly be bigger than my mother. I made it a goal of mine from then on to stay smaller than her. This competition with my mom lasted for years and to this day I am still working through it.
This constant comparison carried over into High School but became vastly more competitive. My daily thoughts consisted of comparing myself to each and every one of my peers. Because everything in life became a competition I fell into a hole of low self-worth, esteem, and confidence. I started setting goals to win things for myself such as things like “Athlete of the year, MVP of sports teams, Honor Roll, and Service Awards.” I began to successfully work towards these achievements, because I wanted so badly to make my parents, teachers, friends, and society proud.
The pressure from everyone to be this certain “perfect” Sierra became too much to bear. I began to restrict in High School throughout the day as I had an intense fear of eating in front of people. Because I wanted to please my parents and coaches I thought that if I could lose a little bit of weight, eat healthier, and exercise more than their exercise plan for me, that I would be loved more, and that I would make them all proud. So became the real start of my Eating Disorder. I would restrict all throughout the day, and then come home and exercise with various sports teams and on my own. I slid my way into the popular group. I started seeing guys. I received good marks and held principal roles of various clubs and teams. Before I knew it I was receiving those compliments from friends about being “so healthy” and that “ my life was perfect and so together”. I felt so good receiving these compliments because, for once, I felt like I was doing something right. Guys started noticing me more, and my family started making comments on how I looked great. I did however begin to feel the pressure to hold onto these labels of “perfect, healthy, jock, and smart” increasing.
Due to the daily restriction, I began to binge eat in secret at nighttime. It was the time that no one saw me and I could eat what I wanted without any judgment. I continued to restrict throughout the day, exercise until the evening, and then finish off some days with a binge. This cycle continued throughout my High School years until grade 11. Midway through grade 11 I began experiencing some pain in my hip. I discovered through multiple MRI’s that I had Avascular Necrosis, aka death of the femoral head of my hip. I had to have immediate surgery. I was pretty devastated. After my surgery, I was out of sports for a good 2 years. Since sports and athletics were such a big part of my life, having them taken away all at once was a complete change for me. I spent much of this time trying diets and then binging in secret. Since I was out of sports and unable to play any time in the near future, the hopes of me going anywhere with sports was crushed. As soon as my coaches knew that I was out of sports for good they removed themselves from me. I felt like I had let my family, my coaches, and my friends down. I felt like a complete failure. Since I couldn’t compete against others in sports, I continued to increasingly compete internally with others about my appearance and grades. And Since I was unable to exercise, I had to figure out a new mechanism of purging the food I was binging on at nighttime. I figured out how to throw up, and quickly slid into the ugly face of Bulimia. I was very good at keeping the bulimic part of myself a secret. In fact, I still continued to have people comment on how healthily I was eating and how I was overall a very healthy person. Little did they know I was greatly damaging my body.
When I went to university, against doctor’s orders, the first thing I did was start running again. I had the independence to do what I wanted so I began to exercise again. Since I had no pain I continued running increasing my distances and lengths dramatically. I began to reduce my binges, but continued exercising compulsively and throwing up anything that I ate, regardless whether it was healthy or not. I began to loose weight, and friends and family became a bit concerned, but all I had to do was assure them that I was just eating healthy and exercising, and I had them fooled. Again, I continued this cycle of compulsive exercise and purging for my time at UVic, until I became too overwhelmed and broke down to my parents. I was no longer going out. I wouldn’t spend time with friends. I couldn’t go out on dates with guys. I couldn’t focus on school. I couldn’t sit still in class. My body was tired and hurt constantly and I was slowly withdrawing myself from everyone around me.
The voice of ED got stronger and stronger and I quickly moved from Bulimia to Anorexia. I restricted severely and continued to exercise compulsively. I will never forget when my dad came to pick me up in Victoria early December to move me home as both he and my mom had pulled me out of university and refused to pay for my school unless I got better.
As I returned home, I began to receive a new sense of acknowledgement from people. My parents, coaches, and friends all made comments about my weight. I began hearing comments such as looking like a “starving Ethiopian African child”. The voice of ED was able to filter this love and concern from my family, and turn it into “ well sierra, see - your family won’t love you if you aren’t skinny, clearly you need to loose more weight so that they will continue to love you more and more.” I continued to restrict more and more at home and exercise. Since I wasn’t in school anymore I didn’t see any purpose to much of my life. My heart rate was low, my skin was green and yellow, and my kidneys were beginning to fail. However, I never felt like I was sick enough. Anorexia had an extremely strong grasp on me.
I spent the next 2 years in and out of hospitals and treatment centers learning why I had developed an Eating Disorder and why it became my coping mechanism. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. Dealing head on with my struggles and learning how to manage my emotions is probably harder than engaging in the Eating Disorder!
I am finally able to see how much I lost due to this illness - friends, family, university, work . . . but most importantly, my health. I have damaged my body in ways that I can’t even fathom. Thankfully, now that I am on the road to recovery, I am able to slowly reverse some of this damage and create a new life and identity. I am extremely passionate about helping others through their struggles, and reducing the stigma associated with mental health and Eating Disorders. It is my dream to help create more resources for people struggling, so that they can access the help they need, and more importantly, deserve.