Trigger warning: In this article I share details about my eating disorder. If you struggle with an eating disorder, I recommend having someone you trust preview this.
I am always afraid of these posts. I’m afraid of transporting myself back to a miserable time. I’m afraid of triggering someone else. I’m afraid of upsetting my loved ones who read my blogs. I have held back pieces of my story because I am still fearful. It took me many years to have the courage to tell the world about one of my darkest secrets. And even now, I haven’t shared the full story. I probably never will. But it occurred to me today that my “refeeding” was three years ago. I have grown with my eating disorder so much since then, to a point where I feel it’s under control and I’ll never return to such a low point again.
Yesterday in one of my lectures, we were asked to calculate our BMI and report our results. Initially, I felt that same panic return to the pit of my stomach. For the past three years, I have avoided that number as much as possible. That number caused me endless pain and suffering at one point. I didn’t want to calculate it- but I did. I fell under the “healthy weight” category. (This is a good thing.) Immediately, I felt competitive. My thoughts were so destructive. “If I hadn’t let myself go, I could be in the underweight category. That would show how much self-control I have.” I had to talk with my therapist about it later. Although it was a disturbing experience, there is a difference between right now and three years ago. I recognized the trigger and I took action. Did I still feel pretty emotionally messed up last night? Yes. Did I go to the gym even though I didn’t want to? Yes, I did. And I wish I hadn’t, but I can’t be perfect. There will always be triggers, and one bad day doesn’t mean I’ll end up back in an eating disorder clinic. I can avoid BMI and calorie counts and fitness plans as much as possible, but I will never be able to avoid the fact that I do have an eating disorder. It is as much a part of me as my heart or my lungs, and I wouldn’t change that. My eating disorder has given me a voice. It has given me a reason to fight. And it has given me the wisdom to help others.
Make your bets, will I be crying by the time I finish writing this?
In September 2015, I was at my lowest weight. My face and eyes looked sunken and sad. I had recently transferred schools and so I did not do inpatient therapy. I read some good books and blogs that helped me. But what saved my life was the will in myself and my family for me to get better. Looking back, it is nothing short of a miracle that I made it through. Anorexia is the deadliest psychological disorder. Not bipolar disorder, not schizophrenia, not depression. Twenty percent of anorexics who go without treatment will die. With treatment, that number drops to less than five percent. But only forty to sixty percent of anorexics who go through treatment don’t relapse. These statistics are very scary. I am pointing this out because I have an immense amount of gratitude for my recovery. I am lucky to be alive.
That fall, I didn’t sleep much but I stayed in bed a lot. I was still very obsessed with food for months after I started refeeding. My hair fell out a lot and my pants never fit. I hated shopping for clothes and I wanted to hate my body. But I knew that hating my body had put me in that position in the first place. My distorted image of my body was conditioned and it took many weeks to change my perception of myself. My family and friends could tell me I was thin all day, and I still imagined that I wasn’t.
This is going to sound stupid, but my dog helped me get through my recovery. Of course my family knew what was going on and they looked out for me, but there’s something about an animal that’s just different. Ed didn’t know I had an eating disorder and didn’t really care. To him, he was happy when I gave him a treat or threw sticks for him to go chase. He didn’t look at me like he was afraid I was going to just vanish into nothing right in front of him. He had absolutely no predisposed concept of skinny or fat. Like I said- sounds kind of weird, but if it works, it works.
I got attached to my new puppy fast. Waking up early to walk him before school and taking him to Dairy Queen gave my mind someone else to think about.
I also want to mention that playing the violin made a massive difference in my recovery. It was a completely new instrument to me, and it is very challenging to learn. I loved my lessons and they gave me the opportunity to focus. The violin was so hard that my efforts I usually spent worrying about food went elsewhere. I practiced for several hours every day as an escape. As a result, I reached a high level in a short amount of time. It built up my confidence a lot.
After I had been playing violin for a couple of months, I decided to join the yearbook staff at my school. This allowed me to go to school events and take photos. I made some of my best friends and was no longer socially isolated. I realized that they accepted me regardless of my weight.
After years of suffering in silence, I slowly began to see the beauty in being alive again. I was present in the moment instead of deep in my mind counting up calories. I had rebuilt my relationship with my family, I had made new friends, and I had found new interests. I never took any of that for granted again. Never. Because I remembered a time when none of that mattered to me. All that mattered was numbers. My weight, the calories I’d eaten, the amount of time I’d spent exercising. All of that is pretty fruitless, anyway. Yes, diet and exercise are considered sciences. But each person is so different that I don’t think they are exact sciences. None of my obsessions really mattered but they gave me something to do while the rest of my life went up in smoke. And when I finally returned to the ruins, I realized I had a lot of work to do. I was so caught up in my food and my workouts that I forgot about people, my interests, and my future. It is very sad to remember this, but very motivating in that I make those things priorities now.
Did I have a textbook case of “anorexia?” Maybe I did. But I’ve learned that while there are some common threads, no two people are the same. My eating disorder is not comparable to someone else’s, because no one has my body and came from my walk of life and was me in that exact moment. I am the only me, and I don’t think it makes sense to throw myself into a box with other “anorexics” because guess what?? They are unique too! I had an extremely troubled relationship with both food and myself. That caused severe anxiety and depression. I was in a very bad place and I am so fortunate to be in such a good place now. I am healthy, I have the help I need, and I don’t feel like I’m in danger anymore. In addition to all of that, I have found amazing people and pursued my passions in life. I have a lot to be thankful for.
I do not write these blogs because I want us all to come together and cry about my tough times. I wanted to share this story because with the right tools, your life really can come back together again. If you’d have told me three years ago I would be blogging and traveling to New York City and getting ready to move into my own place at eighteen, I’d have spit in your face from my sick bed. I have accomplished some of my dreams, and that means a whole lot considering I remember the moment I felt so weak that I thought I’d never get up and fight again.
I want to end this post by reminding you that if there is ever anything you need to talk about, please, PLEASE come talk to me. I know that God did not provide this insight for me to just shove in my back pocket and keep for myself. My struggle has inspired me to help others with theirs. I want to be here for you because I don’t know where I’d be today if no one had been there for me.
There is a life after ED. And it is absolutely beautiful.
I love you…and I’m crying.