Boy, Interrupted

Meet Jeremy, a 36-year-old man who weighs 88 pounds. "Manorexia" isn't just a Hollywood illness.

By 14, Jeremy was stealing laxatives from the local pharmacy and taking the round pink pills by the handful. At his worst, he swallowed 30 Correctols at once. "I was throwing up, and turning around and sitting down and going to the bathroom, and throwing up, 'cause I was so sick," Jeremy says. "But sometimes I would lose seven pounds from before-and-after by taking those pills. That's in an hour, and it's all water."

Jeremy learned how to properly purge when he was sent to Station 62—the adult psychiatric ward of the University of Minnesota Hospital. An older patient named Diane had been throwing up so long, she wore dentures though she was only in her late 20s. "She kind of taught me how to do it," Jeremy says. "Taught me to drink a lot of water to get it all up, and to eat certain foods that are easier." Rice, for example, would still be coming up hours after he ate it. "Whereas things that are liquid are obviously easy to throw up—milk, yogurt, what else? Anything that's liquid or meltable. Soup without all the stuff in it."

Jeremy remembers Station 62 as a veritable Tower of London. To ensure he wouldn't puke up his food, he was confined to a geriatric chair for hours after each meal, he says. When he failed to make weight or acted out, he was sent to solitary confinement in the "Quiet Room"—a tiny cell with little more than a bare mattress.

Nick Vlcek
Nick Vlcek

Jeremy took to puking in protest. "People would look at it and they'd be astounded," Jeremy remembers. "But after a while they got used to it and just gave me a rag and disinfectant spray and had me clean it up."

As Jeremy cycled through treatment centers, he devised ever more elaborate ways to hide his vomit from the staff. "I'd do things to get around them, like throw up in big cups and then hide them, both in the day room and in my room. I would throw up in the washing machine and run it through the rinse cycle—I did that once, I shouldn't say I did that regularly. But it's amazing what you'll do."

Eventually, Jeremy's insurance ran out, and in order to continue treatment, he was committed to what was then known as Anoka State Hospital. It was just as restrictive as Station 62, but with a much more volatile clientele. "The first night I was there, a girl who was schizophrenic started her mattress on fire and we were evacuated into a barbed-wire courtyard," Jeremy says. "It's kind of a lot of shit for an 18-year-old to experience."

A psychiatric evaluation prepared around this time reveals the depth of Jeremy's despondence. "During the first few months of hospitalization the patient was obsessed with thoughts of suicide," it reads. "He attempted to choke himself with a towel and again with a belt.... He also states that he has cut his finger tips with razor blades in the past because he felt so numb and needed to know that he could feel something."

After a year at Anoka, Jeremy was discharged, though he wasn't cured, and he moved in with his grandparents. When he grew tired of arranging his binging and purging around their schedule, Jeremy moved into the first apartment of his own.

But try as he might, Jeremy couldn't have a normal life. He hoarded food like a survivalist, his pantries bursting with dozens of boxes of breakfast cereal. When his landlord discovered he was storing food on the patio, Jeremy received a sternly worded letter. "Please don't force me to go to the State Health Department," it said. "You're a nice young man and I don't want this to end in eviction for you."

It couldn't be avoided. Jeremy was kicked out.

Then something amazing happened: Jeremy got better. At 21 years old, he came out of the closet. "It took a couple of years, and it was kind of exploring on my own, and then it was telling a trusted family member, and then another one of them, and then friends, and the next thing you know, you're in drag," Jeremy says with a laugh. Gradually, he stopped binging and purging. The compulsion lifted like a forgotten grudge.

Freed of his symptoms, Jeremy enrolled at the U of M—this time as a student rather than a patient. He pursued his interest in political science, becoming so convinced that he would one day run for office that he had "Jeremy's Campaign for Congress" emblazoned on his checks.

He certainly looked the part. After applying the same rigor to bodybuilding that he'd used in starving himself, the waif sprouted bulging pecs and six-pack abs. He found work as a model and had a few blink-and-you-miss-it cameos in movies—he played a guy holding a cup of soda near an elevator in Mallrats.

"It was a wonderful time of my life," Jeremy says.

In 2004, everything fell apart. Jeremy's relationship with his first and only long-term boyfriend ended in a torrent of jealousy and hurt feelings. Then his mother fell seriously ill. Two car accidents within a month pushed him over the edge. Overwhelmed, Jeremy returned to the comfort of his old routine.

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