Alumna’s life changed by anorexia

Madison Jones, 24, is on the road to recovery after battling anorexia since the age of 16. Jones started her journey in December 2010 when her doctor gave her an ultimatum: Go to inpatient treatment or die. “Life is worth living,” she said. “It’s too short to live in misery, in bondage to your disease.”

Monta Reinfelde

Madison Jones, from Bowling Green, studied at WKU from August 2007 until May 2010. Jones had just finished the first semester of her junior year in the nursing program and was about to get married when she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and an over-exercising disorder.  

In December 2010, Jones hit rock bottom. Every bone and every rib on her 88-pound body was visible. Her hair fell out, she had five cavities and experienced severe chills. For the last couple weeks of December, she had experienced multiple blackouts as well. Jones’ doctor said she would die within two weeks if she didn’t get proper treatment.

“Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss,” the National Eating Disorders Association reports.

The biggest misconception about eating disorders is that it is about food, said Sherry Yurchisin, founder and leader of a Bowling Green eating disorder support group.

“There is always an underlying issue of low self-esteem, control,” Yurchisin said. “If things seem out of control, they control their environment by what they put into their bodies or what they let out of their bodies.”

Regardless of the bad news, Jones, 23, got married in July 2010.

“Everything was ready for the wedding,” Jones said. “I was not going to back out.”

After the wedding, her health got worse. She did not return to WKU in August 2010. She instead started a long journey to get healthy.

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate among all mental illnesses and “it is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents,” a study by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health shows. A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that “5-10 percent of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20 percent of anorexics will be dead in 20 years and only 30-40 percent ever fully recovers.”

During Christmas 2010, Jones took the first step in her journey to recovery by going into inpatient treatment in the Rosewood Ranch in Wickenburg, Ariz., more than a thousand miles away from her home.

“There was nothing in Bowling Green, not even in Nashville,” she said.  

Jones’ mother, Diane Carter, found the eating disorder center. Carter said she spent three days on the phone until the date and time was set and got on a plane with her daughter to go to Arizona.

“When I first saw her body when she undressed in front of me, it physically made me sick,” Carter said. “It was a sight that a mother would never want to see. She has such a low self-esteem, but we do not know why.”  

 Betsy Pierce, Testing and Counseling Center staff counselor and coordinator of Outreach for WKU, said she helps eight to 10 students every semester who struggle with eating disorders, and a little less than a half of them suffer from anorexia nervosa.

“There are a lot of triggers out there that people who are struggling are affected by,” Pierce said. “Magazine covers, TV shows and all the things in media. But also, watching other people eat, comparing themselves to others about weight and appearance, comparing themselves to others about grades and sports performances, as well as a lot of other things.”

For instance, Jones said she was an excellent student in the university but everything in her life was focused on image. She used to run 12 miles every day and eat less than 400 calories a day. When Jones’ parents tried to convince her she had to go in the treatment, she thought differently.

“When an eating disorder is at full swing, it becomes its own personality within you, and it tells you what to do or what not to do,” Yurchisin said. “It becomes hard for a person with an eating disorder to discern that it is the disease talking and not them.”

It took two major reality checks for Jones to understand she had a problem and accept going into the inpatient treatment at the Rosewood Ranch.

The first check was in the store buying jeans when she realized that a kids’ 12 slim size was too big for her.

The second check was her father’s emotional breakdown.

“I have seen my dad cry twice in my life,” Jones said. “A couple of days before I was supposed to go into the treatment, my dad literally picked me up from the couch, carried me in his arms, sat down on the floor and cried, just tears rolling down his face. I think that was finally the breaking point for me when I said, ‘OK, I will go to the treatment.’”

 Pierce said inpatient treatment centers can do a good job. It is a lot cheaper to look for help on WKUs campus or try to find options in the outpatient treatment in the community than seeing a private therapist, Pierce said.

“The only charge we have for students is a $20 one-time fee,” she said. “Any student, regardless of why they are coming here, would pay that one time and they come as much or as little throughout their whole WKU career. It is best to have a lot of people helping and we try to do that here on campus.”

Jones spent almost two months in the inpatient treatment facility. At first it was difficult for her to trust people and comply with treatment. Doctors at the facility threatened to use a feeding tube if she did not start eating. Any kind of physical activity — even stretching — was forbidden in the treatment facility.

Jones said she would do jumping jacks in the shower when no one was around.

In February 2011, Jones got out of the treatment center feeling much better and starting to regain weight. She has been an outpatient ever since and sees a dietician, a nutritionist, a psychologist and a therapist. In October 2011, Jones had a relapse, but she promised she would do anything to avoid a return to the inpatient facility.  

“I started restricting again,” she said. “Me and my husband were having a lot of problems related to my eating disorder. In October 2011, I split from my husband and was back at home with my parents. I ended up following my meal plan. Me and my husband divorced in November 2011.”

Family was Jones’ support through the worst times of her sickness. Jones said she is very thankful to be blessed with such great people around her.

Her sister, Dylan Carter, who attends WKU, got a tattoo of the National Eating Disorder Association on her foot in May 2011 in support of Jones.

“She can always talk to me about anything,” Carter said. “Me and our mom are her best friends.”   

WKU is also raising awareness on campus by participating in the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week every February.

“We hold some type of an event,” Pierce said. “Whether we have a speaker, whether we have a screening. And any time that we are asked to go into classrooms and talk about eating disorders, we do that.”

Even though Jones has already gone a long way to get well, her journey is not over yet.

“I am still in recovery, but I do not want this for the rest of my life,” she said.

Complications that accompany an eating disorder include short-term memory loss and weakening of bones. She needs to gain a couple more pounds to achieve the goal of 122 pounds  for her 5-foot-7-inch frame.

However, her life is slowly going back to normal, and returning to school is an option.

“I am definitely grateful to be here, because I used to wake up every day just wishing I would have not woken up,” Jones said. “I hated myself. I hated my life. I had all those great things going on for me, but I could not see them because I was just so deep in my disorder.

“Now I appreciate people that were there and supported me. I see other people struggling and it breaks my heart. I want to help them because I know what it is like.