Why Asking for Help With My Eating Disorder Was a Sign of Strength — Not Weakness

Perfectionist: an adjective that once held an infinite amount of power in my life. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I always felt the need to be perfect. The pressure I created both inside and outside the four walls of the classroom was unimaginable. At such a young age, I forced expectations and standards upon myself. The intention was not to please my parents or my teachers but rather myself.

Perfectionism carried on into my years in pursuing my degree in Education at McGill University. We all know how important it is to balance everything life throws our way in life – friends, family, work, school, and of course fun. It’s inhumanely impossible to perfectly do this. I once believed it was, in fact, achievable — to live this perfect plan. I was the girl with my academic advisor at the beginning of every single semester ensuring I was on the right track.

Halfway through my third year at McGill, my world began to shatter. The feelings and emotions associated with the realization that I was imperfect starved me of life — literally. Life was simply not going the way I’d planned. The stress and anxiety continued to build and consequently, I developed a severe eating disorder. I was lost, confused and unsure where to turn. Nearly two and a half years ago, I sat in my physician’s office and was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. I thought this was the end; I truly didn’t see a way out of the dark hole.

My first attempt at taking control of my mental illness appeared to be successful — from the exterior. Sure, I was weight-restored and back to my typical 21-year-old life. I was in a healthy body, but I wasn’t healthy-minded. The six months I spent in an intensive inpatient treatment program was not the cure, although I once thought it would be. After spending my summer with friends at cottages and working, I moved back to Montréal to continue working towards my degree. Leaving behind the support of my family and friends was difficult; my team of professionals called it a risk. 

Only a short six months out of the hospital, I relapsed – hard. In December of 2013, I finished my incredible student teaching semester and headed back to Toronto. I knew deep in my heart that I wasn’t OK; I needed more help — and I wanted it. I wanted the life that awaited me more than ever. I wanted to live a full life, and living with an eating disorder robs you of just that.

We often associate needing help with weakness. Seeking further help was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done for myself. My psychiatrist once told me the only thing harder than fighting for your life is being sick, and I can absolutely vouch for that. I admitted myself into the hospital for five weeks; I was there over the holidays and New Years Eve. I knew with every ounce of my being this would be my last time there. The journey I had ahead of me would be the hardest thing I will ever do in my life; I also knew it would be worth it. 

Just over a year has passed since I walked out of the hospital with my head held high as I looked forward and not back. I don’t try to forget where I’ve been, the pain I have suffered or the physical torture my body has endured; it’s made me who I am today. A year dedicated to me, to my well-being, was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself and my future. I sit here writing this on my break in between my 12-hour day of class. Yes, it’s taken me longer to get here than I’d initially planned out. My five years at McGill University turned into six… so what? I’m enrolled in my last semester, and this April, I’ll be a certified Kindergarten and elementary school teacher. Looking back on the day I thought my world was over, I realize it was actually just beginning. It was the beginning of rediscovering myself in a way I never imagined as possible.

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