Real stories

Twila's Story

Even after a major surgery and $30,000 worth of dental work to repair her body's damage, she still didn't believe her eating disorder was a problem.

As a professional consultant for an insurance company, Twila often speaks publicly and conducts training across Wisconsin. She has a profound talent for putting on a brave face in front of large groups of people. For over 20 years, she kept her bulimia a secret from everyone. She thought she was doing a good job of keeping her life together until October of 2015 when she could no longer hide it.

As part of her disorder, Twila repeatedly vomited any and all food she consumed. If vomiting was not an option, because she was in a public or social setting, she would just choose to not eat at all. Over the course of her disorder, Twila underwent over $30,000 worth of dental work to repair acid erosion.

A long history of using diet pills and laxatives, to keep her calorie intake low, damaged Twila’s large intestine as well. In 2010, due to that damage of the intestinal wall, Twila had to have a colectomy of the large intestine. Surgeons who knew Twila for many years as a strong, healthy person didn’t suspect an eating disorder and diagnosed her with mega colon, a condition that typically affects the elderly.

“I worked with the surgeons that reviewed my case,” she says. “I couldn’t tell them the truth. Instead, I allowed them to be dumbfounded as to how someone so young and healthy could have mega colon.”

Twila was truly engulfed in the mental aspect of the disorder and wholeheartedly believed she was overweight, even though she was dangerously thin. “It’s disturbing how easy it is to hide this disorder,” she says. “So many people think it’s an attention-seeking type of disorder and I’m proof that it isn’t. I didn’t want anyone to know, and I was successful in hiding it from everyone in my life.”

Unfortunately, intestinal surgery wasn’t enough to push Twila to seek treatment. “About a week after the surgery I was cleared to eat solids,” she says. “I thought I’d eaten too much one day—one serving of mashed potatoes—and I tried to make myself vomit. I remember the pain in my abdomen when the wrenching tore my stitches and staples. Even then, it didn’t occur to me that I really needed help.”

A few years later, Twila entered a dark period of depression. “I couldn’t stop crying or get out of bed,” she says. “It really shook me up because that’s not like me. I’m very active in my community, with my work, and in my children’s lives.” It was the push she needed to enroll in the Eating disorder partial hospital program at Rogers Memorial Hospital–Appleton.

As a confident person, Twila went in to her first day of treatment with a strong will to succeed. “I remember completing the survey and telling myself, I’m not that bad,” she says. “I told the staff I was really busy at work and asked if I could complete the program in two and a half weeks, instead of the usual six to eight.”

Staff members smiled at Twila and responded compassionately. “They said, ‘It takes a different amount of time for everybody and time will tell us what you’re going to need,” she says. “But we’re going to do everything we can to get you better in the timeframe your body and mind need.”

After Twila’s treatment team began peeling away the layers of her disorder, she began to see she wasn’t indestructible. “I thought I was doing a good job of using coping skills, like over-exercising, as a way to avoid purging,” she says. “But they were actually denial skills for hiding the disorder. Not only was I not dealing with it, I was making it worse.”

The dietitians and education were particularly helpful for helping Twila see her disorder in a new light. “I was in the medical field for 18 years, and I was almost embarrassed I didn’t know or didn’t want to know the physical and psychological effects this disorder has on a person,” she says. “So many people are lacking education on what food can do for your mind and body. And it doesn’t have to be a terrible relationship.”

According to Twila, the staff members’ diverse personalities made it easy for patients to relate to them. ”No matter the personality, background, depth of their disorder, the staff tried to match patients with staff members who connected with them,” she says. “They do everything they can to accommodate each person and really tune in to individual needs.”

At Rogers, Twila found so much comfort in others who truly knew what she was going through. “I would listen to others who had my disorder and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, they get it!’” she says. “They know what I am feeling! I spent 20 years alone and afraid of the feelings the disorder made me feel. At Rogers, I was no longer alone, no longer ashamed, and I was in a place that truly understood my pain.”

For Twila, some treatment days were more difficult than others. “One day I told my fiancé I didn’t think I could handle one more day of treatment,” she says. “And he said, “Of all days, this is the day you have to go—because if you’re not strong enough mentally you may fall off the course, by going they can guide you to stay on track.”

As she began nourishing her body again, Twila was surprised her deepest fears weren’t coming true. “It was really difficult for me to eat three meals a day,” she says. “I’d never done that in my adult life. But about four weeks into treatment, I realized my pants still fit and I wasn’t gaining weight. It was a profound moment for me.” Staff members taught Twila that her body was finally metabolizing correctly for the first time in a very long time.

Today, Twila has found liberation in finally being able to accept and love herself after eight total weeks of treatment. “I’ve never had such a healthy relationship with my significant other, my children and other family and friends,” she says. “I’ve never been this centered and happy with myself. I finally love myself for who I am and in turn I have found that I am able to accept love from others because of that!”

If you suspect someone is over exercising or has disordered eating habits, Twila urges you to have a conversation with them. “Even though it isn’t anyone’s fault that no one questioned me, I would give anything to have had someone ask me, ‘What’s going on?”” she says. “I lost of lot of years to anger and self-loathing. I missed out on so many enjoyable moments with my children, family, and friends because my eating disorder kept me from living my life.”

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