Beep. Beep. Beep. My alarm went off at 7:08am on January 24, 2004. It was a cold, wintry, Saturday morning in East Lansing, Michigan. With a sigh of relief, I knew the sound of alarm meant it was time to head back home for the remainder of the weekend. The quicker I put on my running clothes, hurried down a flight of steps to the fitness center in my apartment complex, and ran six miles, the sooner I’d load up my car and depart East Lansing; a place I became quite uneasy with over the past several months.
Our Michigan State women’s soccer banquet was scheduled for the prior evening. This required me to sleep on campus, which was something I opted not to do on the weekends as I was trying to get healthy again. Much to my dismay, I had to wait until the morning to leave.
Routinely, I pulled out my scale from the bottom of my bathroom closet. It read 106 pounds. I knew running would only contribute to maintaining this low number; a number I had watched get lower and lower each day over a six month period. Those six months involved intensive psychotherapy, in addition to anti-anxiety medication, and with a goal to reach a healthier weight. On the morning of January 24, I was still traumatized to see the number go up, even by a half pound.
As I shuffled quickly down the steps to arrive at the complex fitness center, I rushed to a treadmill. I watched out the window as the bright sun came up, and robotically entered my weight and age in the settings, and pressed start. Off I went. Another day, another run. Another opportunity to burn more calories. “Almost there, Erin. Only two miles to go,” I said out loud to myself. Not knowing where the energy was coming from, I ran my six miles at an optimal pace. I raced back upstairs to shower, pulled out my scale again, stepped on it, and hoped to see the dial move back, even if just a little bit. “Good, it is 8:45am. If I leave now, I will be home before 10:00am,” I thought quietly as I looked at my microwave clock.
As I unlocked my brand spankin’ new, white 2004 GMC Trailblazer, I gazed at my personalized license plate: “ERIN8” next to a Michigan State Spartan ‘S’. My parents followed through with, yet another, promise. If I received a full-ride scholarship to college, they would buy me any car I desired to bring on campus for my sophomore year. This white trailblazer was exactly what I wanted. Interrupted in my thoughts by my phone ringing, my mom reminded me to drive very carefully; that it’s a “white out” and car accidents have already been reported all over the news. She proceeded to tell me that road visibility is severely reduced due to the snow and sunshine. With a fresh storm the night before, the ground had a beautiful glisten. I reassured my mom that I would drive slowly and carefully.
I opened the driver’s side door, and reached across the middle console to swap my bags for my sunglasses. I inserted my key, turned on the ignition, and was ready to head home.
My mom was right. The visibility was extremely reduced on the roads. It did not help that over the course of the previous 6 months I had reached my lowest weight; a number I had not seen on the scale since I was 13 years old. I was surviving on very little. Somehow. But I assured myself I would be able to drive home.
I was only seven miles in when I passed mile marker 110 on I-96 east. I had 54 miles to go until I would pull up on the driveway to be greeted by my very worried parents. Worried for multiple reasons: my health, my happiness, my driving long distances alone, my consumption of calories, or lack thereof, and much more.
“Come on, Erin. Once you get to exit 133, it opens up to three lanes.” And that is all I remember thinking before I heard a knock on my window. “Hi. I am an off-duty firefighter. I would like to help you. Are you able to open your door?” With my face embedded in airbags, my cellular phone flown under my seat, and my shattered sunglasses across the inside of my windshield, I somehow managed to open my door.
“What have I done now? I have been fighting an illness called, obsessive-compulsive disorder with a control in eating. I have become so underweight that I am emaciated and clinically depressed, and now I have crashed my brand new car.”
He sounded muffled, but I was able to hear the man say he already called 9-1-1. “Do you have your cell phone? I would like to call your mom or dad to let them know,” he asked. Scrambling to reach for my phone, I saw blood dripping from my nose.
“Hi. This is an off-duty firefighter. I am sitting on 96 east with your daughter here waiting for an ambulance. She is ok, but her car is totaled; destroyed to the wheel well, not drive able, and will need to be towed. She will be transported to St. Joseph Mercy hospital in Livingston County… Some blood and she is very out of it… Yes, I would drive there directly,” I heard the man relaying to my father. “She is very lucky she survived this crash.”
I cried even harder. Was it even possible to disappoint my parents any more than I already have over the last several months? How could this have happened? I know I was tired, but how could I have done this? Was I this sick? This weak? This lethargic? What is my dad going to even say when he sees me?
Rock bottom. This was it. At 106 pounds, up six from a month ago, I was a depressed, anorexic appearing college Division I student-athlete with a brand new Trailblazer completely totaled. Bruised from head to toe, possibly with a broken nose, my body ached. My mind ached. I continued to weep harder and harder, and loud enough for the world to hear me.