Caroline Rutland said her biggest goal for her senior year was to have a "normal high school experience." And although Caroline couldn't quite articulate what exactly the "normal high school experience" is, she knows first hand what it's not.
While most high school students are studying and chatting on SnapChat and having fun with their friends, Caroline was fighting for her sanity and, more importantly, her life.
"When I was 11 years old, I went through something very traumatic and I just pushed what happened to me into the back of my mind until my 10th grade year and then I started to develop a lot of anxiety and some depression," she said.
"Then I developed an eating disorder."
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The eating disorder that affected Caroline was anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is commonly associated with weight loss and denying the body calories in an attempt to control their body weight and shape. According to to the Mayo Clinic, anorexia is a "life-threatening way to try to cope with emotional problems. "
If its is not treated, anorexia can be fatal. According to ANAD.org, about 5 percent of those struggling with anorexia will die from the disorder. About one in five of those with anorexia will commit suicide.
"It got to the point with me that I could not go on unless I got some help," she said.
Getting the help
Caroline went to a clinic in New Orleans for a few months of her sophomore year during the end calendar year.
"While I was there, they focused on getting my health together and we really didn't get to spend a lot of time on why I was doing what I was doing and what had happened to me," she said.
So she relapsed.
"I went back to treatment at the beginning of February — I went to a place in Arizona and I decided to come home and stay out of school and focus on my treatment, but I did take summer school," Caroline said. "I was able to start my junior year."
But during the first semester of her junior year, Caroline had another relapse.
"I don't really know what triggered it," she said. "I had overwhelmed myself just trying to be normal and do the things a normal teenage girl does and I wasn't focusing on my therapy and treatment — it was really hard because when you're my age, you're supposed to be focusing on making memories."
With a treatment team and support network in place, Caroline slowly began her rehabilitation. She got her driver's license at the end of her junior year and found her place at St. Patrick.
"What's really helped me is that I've been extremely open about my eating disorder," she said. "You don't have to be ashamed for what happened to you and you don't have to be ashamed for what you've been through— there's a lot more to me than just an eating disorder. I remember when I first realized I had an eating disorder when I was a sophomore and I felt so alone."
The honor graduate
On Friday, May 18, Caroline will walk with the Class of 2018 as an honor graduate.
Although she said it wasn't easy, she was able to keep up with her studies during her battles with anorexia.
"I had my work sent to me while I was in treatment and I would do it and send it back and I also did some summer school," Caroline said. "The staff at St. Patrick has been so supportive and helpful."
She plans to attend William Carey University and major in psychology.
"I just want to help other people," Caroline said. "I want to share my story and experience with others and help them so that they don't have to go through the things I've been through."
The normal teenager
Caroline said throughout her battle with anorexia, her family has been very supportive.
"I remember the first time I went away, I was so worried that my little sister wouldn't remember me," she said. "But my favorite thing I do every day is take my little sister to school in the morning and then pick her up. I love the time that we get to spend together just riding and listening to music."
Like many people in recovery, be it from eating disorders or drugs and alcohol, she said she lives her life as it happens.
"There always going to be some bumps in the road and nothing is perfect, but I'm at a point where I'm able to tell someone and get some help before it spirals out of control," Caroline said.