I started running my freshman year of high school as a way to avoid the shame I felt in physical education. I was mimicked and haunted by my slow, and personally terrible mile time. I did not like being isolated. I did not want to start earlier than everyone else because both my instructor and me unanimously agreed that I would hold up the class otherwise. My shame only produced a need to perfect my skills. I innocently believed that I was doing something for one purpose, when in fact, it morphed into another entity altogether. Within a matter of weeks, I quickly developed a talent for extreme running and abnormal athleticism. My running served as both a means to uniquely identify my level of determination, accomplishment, and desirability, along with reassuring me of my dwindling dignity and my perceived sentiment of worthlessness. When I began purging soon after, these thoughts and feelings became more intense and further solidified. For the longest time, I felt a growing disparity between my personal and public identity. I was extremely confused and discouraged by my inability to agree or accept other people’s compliments with regards to my character traits, accomplishments, or any other positive accolades. My purging, in its entirety, dictated to me that I was not only invulnerable, but also feeble and pathetic. I was pathetic because I continually chose to purge. I knew that I was worthless, and I knew that I was a disgrace. My purging reassured me that this was true, and by doing so, I had a defeatist confidence in my dismal destiny and persona. It became a fatal problem that did not seem to be worth fixing.
I had hoped that I would outgrow this disorder by means of going to Harvard and separating myself from the familiar—my home, my family, etc. I truly believe that at the root of every addiction, whether it is substance or self based, lies an underlying emotional and mental component. I have learned that this resonated more with me as male, in comparison to some of my female peers. My disorder served as an emotional layer of armor stemmed from neglect, shame, overachievement, sexual frustration, and a depressive disposition; all of which I chose to ignore for my first 18 years of life. I used my disorder as a safety net, a virtually indestructible band-aid that never failed to conceal my wounds. In order to cope with my own dissatisfaction and self loathing, coupled with the several consuming and painstaking internal and personal conflicts, I took pride and esteem in the discipline and manipulation brought on by bulimia. On a daily basis, I could depend on myself to run several miles, or punish myself for eating more than I thought was appropriate. I could not depend on anyone else; I yearned for sustenance and self worth in its place.
As I began my freshman year at Harvard, I was able to maintain academic and somewhat social success despite my complex eating disorder and all of its negative, time consuming manifestations. However, as the semester progressed, my academics ceased to be a priority. My bulimia took precedence, with all of its related psychological components, including major depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, and self-injurious tendencies.
Towards the end of October, I was robbed of my agency to divulge my sexuality to my peers, let alone have a chance to personally embrace it. Though it occurred in college, the situation was reminiscent of a high school drama. My unfortunate hookup with another male peer at the beginning of the year evolved into an extremely adverse situation.
Insecure about his own sexuality, this peer chose to pursue some sort of relationship with one of my female friends. Ashamed by my own sexuality, I lacked the conviction to prevent this newfound relationship from lasting nearly two months. I spent the time guilt stricken, and tormented by his numerous inappropriate sexual passes at me behind closed doors. He flaunted his impropriety at a time when I needed the support and validation from another homosexual male.
Eventually, he disclosed our brief, drunken hookup with one of my roommates as a trade for further academic and sexual advancement. Rather than halting his malicious transgression, my roommate proceeded to share this clandestine information with my female friend, exacerbating the situation altogether. Betrayed, overwhelmed, and utterly lost, I sought refuge away from Harvard that weekend in order to rationally process the situation.
Thankfully, the blow was lessened by the unwavering support from my closest friends, and gratefully, the relationship with both my female friend and my roommate prevailed in spite of the unfortunate incident; however, I lacked the support from within. Being gay felt discreditable and dehumanizing. Most of my adolescence was spent compensating for my inner shame and homonegativity by putting on an outgoing façade. I didn’t need to be perfect, but instead, strive for self worth rooted in tangible achievements. Additionally, the conceptualization of gay men heightened by femininity produced the feeling to strive for thinness. As dictated by our society, thinness imprudently encapsulates female success, happiness, and acceptance.
By the end of that month, my academic work had become overwhelming and haunting. While dealing with these difficult issues, I had to focus my attention on continual academic discourse centered on sexuality and the all-too-real struggle of many closeted gay men. Some of the required readings for my classes became all too traumatic, since outside the classroom I was struggling with my sexuality in conjunction with my mental health. I was no longer allowed to distinguish my personal struggles from my academic endeavors; the two seemed to co-exist, further perpetuating my inner turmoil.
Shortly after, my life spiraled out of control—literally. I was no longer able to repress my personal struggles. I tried to abstain from satisfying my eating disorder behaviors, only to find myself even more vulnerable, ultimately turning to other self-destructive behaviors. In the course of a month and a half I was forced to publically confront my sexuality, disclose my bulimia to my friends and family with mixed reactions, engage in minimal counseling, and simultaneously manage my studies. My self destructive, abusive behaviors had evolved into omnipresent coping mechanisms, without which I served as a vulnerable being in a world filled with ubiquitous uncertainties, conflicts, and unacceptable emotions.
My unfortunate descent led to a suicide attempt that winter, prompting an immediate leave of absence. Frustrated by the mishandling of my case with the administration, I felt branded by Harvard, this sophisticated and renowned global institution, as disruptive and undesirable. It seemed hopeless to pursue treatment. My mental acuity and sense of rationale were nonexistent due to severe engrossment in my disorder; therefore it was extremely enlightening when those closest to me provided an impartial lens to better gauge the magnitude physical and mental debilitation. Once I was made privy to their grief and sadness, I understood that even if I didn’t have the dignity or self respect to aspire for holistic betterment, I could not bear to torture and upset those around me any further. They felt these emotions because they loved me. They wanted what was best for me, and they were mad that I did not feel the same way.
I voluntarily entered a treatment facility on April 19th, 2012. The first two weeks were spent grieving and ruminating in uncertainty, adverse feelings, and a total lack of integrity. I did not have faith in myself or in my treatment team. I had no hope for a healthy, better future. I was always going to be a stubborn, worthless destitute. After the first two weeks, I finally took it upon myself to pursue betterment both physiologically and psychologically. I knew that I had the physical strength and capability to stop my behaviors; even for a day. I surprised myself; as I continued to abstain, my emotional and mental acuity began to flourish. My change in actions eventually brought about a more profound and permanent change internally. At that point, I finally committed myself to my recovery.
Recovery is a withstanding, continual process that takes a tremendous amount of internal and external strength, acceptance, motivation, and mindfulness. The modality of recovery is depicted and enforced by the different levels of care. There is never a moment in which treatment has officially surpassed the individual. The continuation of care introduces more and more variables and real life responsibilities, often making transitions to be difficult periods. I am here to declare that though this may be true, recovery is achievable and available to those who seek it.
My specific experience with my eating disorder has left me with a number of recovery focused conclusions. I learned that contrary to the physical manifestations of bulimia, eating disorders are extremely repressive. I do not have the luxury of neglecting my feelings, emotions, or thoughts. Each one is easily correlated to the other, and I am learning to accept them. It is ineffective to judge one from the next, and instead, I try to sort through them. I ask myself, is this helpful to my overall pursuit of happiness and fulfillment? I try to act on behalf of my values, rather than impulsivity.
In the process of it all, I firmly believe I was responsible for obstructing others’ ability to sufficiently provide me with the comfort and sympathy I needed. I deemed my emotions and issues as too reprehensible and burdening for others, or myself, to handle. In spite of it though, I was given the best of friends and support, without which I would not be here today. My sense of shame and embarrassment are not a definitive integral to my future, but rather part of an experience that has passed and can be shifted to yield positive outcomes for others and myself. I continually declare that it is my responsibility to spare others from renouncing their confidence, power, integrity, and identity to this illness. Shame and guilt transpire into isolation and embarrassment. It is our job to vocalize our experiences in order to diminish the silence and transcend belittlement and negativity into positivity and empowerment. I live in the face of distress, and I hope to inspire. I hope that the following lyric does the same for you:
“I won’t go astray, I won’t be afraid, won’t run way; cherish the day.” ~ Sade
Esteban M. Guijarro is a current student at Harvard University. His exact career aspirations remain to be discovered, however he is a charismatic eating disorder advocate and stresses the importance of helping others by means of communication, personal empowerment, and education. He is currently working on a personal memoir centered on issues related to mental health and homosexuality, retrospectively stressing the importance of recovery combined with self-proclaimed identity and liberty. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org for any inquiries or comments.Back to top