(NB: This post discusses some of my history with an eating disorder. I’ve done my best to eliminate triggers such as specific weights, calories, and sizes–none of which I mention. However, if you are struggling, please check in with yourself to see if you’re ok to hear parts of someone else’s story. <3)
I woke up today and the whole world felt different.
The trees bloomed over night and the tiny buds on the branches began to take shape. The Colorado sun that I’ve missed so much was shining in full force and you could actually feel the heat.
The quad was peppered with students studying, listening to music, throwing footballs and frisbees.
The air conditioning was turned on in some of the classrooms.
Everything just felt lighter, like my whole community thawed over night and I awoke to a vibrant, refreshed sense of existence.
But at the same time, I felt like a bystander tucked behind a gauzy curtain, watching it all unfold.
I felt more contemplative than immersed in the middle of it.
Sometimes the fringes aren’t a bad place to be. In fact, sometimes they’re right where you need to be.
Four years ago this month, I intentionally made myself sick for the very first time. It was the moment that marked my transition into the world of a full-blown eating disorder, though I’d been hovering on the brink of one for many years by that point (as most people who have eating disorders also have).
A month later, I held my grandfather’s hand as he took his last breath and a week after that I spent what would be an intensely miserable summer studying in the south of France while plummeting quickly into the dark depths of anorexia.
By the time I came home that August, I felt dead inside.
I still returned to school that fall thinking that it would be the best year of my life. I had a boyfriend, a great group of close girlfriends, what was probably the single best dorm room on campus (after some bad luck with dorms during previous years), a great class schedule, and the job on campus I’d always wanted that only 2 students get chosen for. And I was only 5 pounds away from my ideal weight (note: in my eating disorder, I was always 5 pounds away, no matter what weight I was at).
What I thought would be the semester of my dreams turned out to be anything but.
My friends became increasingly worried about me as I refused to leave my dorm room for days at a time. The times they did convince me to leave, I stood nervously in the corner of whatever party we were at, staring longingly at the food but not feeling deserving enough to eat it.
My boyfriend constantly worried about my health and was terrified one night when I couldn’t stop shaking. I was cold and shivering, despite having his comforter and several blankets wrapped around me. He pleaded with me to eat anything, offering to get whatever I wanted if only I’d keep it down.
By October, I was so malnourished that I became delusional. I was unable to distinguish reality from the tricks my mind was playing on me. To this day there are things I don’t remember from that time. Parts of it are all a blur, but I didn’t share these darker parts of my illness with anyone, mostly because I truly did not believe I had a problem.
I do remember the day my parents flew out to take me to what would be my first of many treatment intakes. I was scared but more so I was numb. My life was falling apart at the seams. I was out of control and everyone saw it but me. Ironic how the more I tried to gain control of my life, the more it fell apart.
Control in an eating disorder is pure illusion; you’ll feel in control for a while until it’s too late. Before you know it, you’ve been swallowed up and it takes control of you.
Four years later I sit at my desk, in the apartment that really and truly feels like home, marveling at what my life has become, marveling at who I’ve become.
I’m going back to school with the intention of getting a doctorate. I have a job. I’m healthy enough to go to Pure Barre, live on my own, and decide what I want to be and how I want to be. My life is taking shape and morphing into what I never knew I wanted it to be.
This is because at the end of 2011, after spending my second consecutive birthday in residential treatment I made a choice that I was never going to come back. I made the choice that no matter how hard it was to give up my eating disorder, something I both loved and despised almost in equal measure, I was going to do this recovery thing.
I was going to be brave and move forward, because I wanted more out of my life than the threat of a feeding tube, the confinement of a hospital or treatment center, and the daily torture it was to have an illness that dissolves your body and spirit from the inside out.
It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do, but I did it.
I wanted to write this to today because I know there are others out there who are struggling right now, and many of them in silence. Maybe some of them have reached out but also wonder if it’s really going to get any better or if they are destined to struggle forever. I’m also guessing that most feel lonely, even when they’re surrounded by others who they know care about them.
What I want for all my fellow soul sisters who are struggling is to know that you’re not alone.
Know that your presence here isn’t an accident or a mistake. You exist for a reason.
Sometimes asking the “Why” questions just digs you deeper into that hole.
Why me? Why now? Why this?
As hard as it can be, try not to ask why. Maybe you’re not meant to know why, at least not in this moment. Instead, focus on the tangible, actionable steps you can take to make today better.
When you make today better, you’re also making tomorrow better.
Don’t be afraid to give yourself what you need, even if you don’t think you deserve it. Push your self-care boundaries because pushing those boundaries will never hurt or disappoint you.
Reach out for help if you haven’t already. (Check out this post with multiple resources at the end)
Stick to your meal plan. If you don’t have one, see a dietitian. Ask your doctor for resources if financial reasons are preventing you from seeking help. I even know that many churches provide resources or information fairs about groups that can help you find affordable care.
Drink more tea. Take more baths. Get more sleep. Basic self-care is the foundation upon which you build the rest of your skills.
Read more self-care and self-love books.
Take life a day at a time, an hour at a time, or a minute at a time, whatever you need.
Know that you can get through this. It has been done before. Even though it’s difficult, it’s worth it.
And if you’ve been on the path of recovery for a while, but feel yourself slipping, don’t wait until it’s too late. Swallow any pride that prevents you from reaching out and get the support you need. Get a refresher therapy session, nutrition session, or do an IOP program if that’s an option.
Talk to a therapist or a doctor, a friend or a trusted mentor, anyone who can support you.
Sometimes I think many of us superwomen types try to do it all ourselves and have trouble reaching out when we’ve been capable of doing so well for so long.
Even if you can do it alone, it doesn’t mean you should, and if you can’t do it alone, it’s a sign of strength, not weakness to admit it to yourself and reach out.
What makes you deserving of help isn’t how long you’ve suffered or what your “official” diagnosis is. What makes you deserving of help is suffering and wanting help. You deserve support even if you can’t recognize it in this moment. You’re worthy of love and care simply because you exist.
Don’t ever give up on yourself. Life can be pretty wonderful.
With love and hope to all,