Nothing screams “there’s so much misogyny and prejudice about mental illness in the world” louder than a good old-fashioned article about “five reasons to date a girl with an eating disorder.” But it’s more than that. Eating disorders are — quite appropriately — considered an illness that can affect people of all ethnicities, genders, ages and socioeconomic statuses. In other words, the presence of an eating disorder is as much a reliable predictor of various socioeconomic, cultural and personality traits in a person as a sprained ankle is: not at all.
The idea of dating someone because their illness makes it easier for you to get what you want is repulsive, if not sadistic, which is why I wanted to challenge that article and the prejudice surrounding mental health.
I could respond by describing what it’s like to have clumps of hair fall out every time you brush it. Or how hard it is to get through a day when your vision is blurred and you’re shaking with weakness. Or what it feels like to be trapped in your own head and tortured by your own thoughts. Or what it is like to have a mind so cloudy that you are unable to construct a sentence or concentrate long enough to hold a conversation. Or what it feels like to have a feeding tube inserted through your nose and down your throat. Or how humiliating a supervised shower is. Or what it is like to have someone else decide when you can see your own family.
But it seems illogical to respond to such a negative article in such a negative way. I chose instead to try to describe what mental illness, such as an eating disorder, feels like. I have only scratched the surface, but I hope I have used that destructive article as an opportunity to show a glimpse of what mental illness is like. From my experience, something good comes from all destructive things.
I have met some of the most beautiful people in my recovery from anorexia. By this, I mean people with so many truly amazing qualities — real beauty. I have written about just five of these qualities.
1. They are strong.
Recovery involves battling with your own mind every single day — facing your most terrifying nightmare on a regular basis. I don’t think there is anything braver than embarking on a journey you cannot rest from, even when you are so scared and so exhausted. To learn to override your thoughts and feelings, realize that your life is worth living, accept yourself, even like yourself, persist with friends and family as they try to understand and face the stigma and misconceptions of mental illness day in and day out takes real strength. There are few situations that take more strength than this to overcome.
2. They understand what it means to be patient.
Patience is such an important virtue — in our relationships with people around us, with our hopes and aspirations and to get through the tougher aspects of life. To recover from an eating disorder takes real patience. Patience with yourself as you try to comprehend why your thoughts are telling you to starve, that you are worthless and that no one could possible tolerate you, let alone love you. Patience when you take a few steps backward even though you want to go forward. Patience in accepting where you are, and patience to get to where you want to be. Patience with your friends and family when they unintentionally say things that hurt you as they try to help you. Patience to accept that everything takes time.
3. They are compassionate.
People recovering from an eating disorder or other mental illness know what it feels like to be hurting on the inside, but hiding behind a smile on the outside. They know what it feels like when the whole world is crashing down on you, and to feel broken at rock-bottom.
Sometimes we can be too wrapped up in life to notice that other people are suffering. But when you know what it is to be hurting, you begin to understand other people, to get a glimpse of their hurt — in fact, you feel it yourself and are compelled to show compassion and be there by their side.
4. They know the value of friendship.
Eating disorders, like other mental illnesses, tell you that everyone hates you. You deserve to be alone. You are not worth friendship. People in recovery know what it is to be terrifyingly lonely, even if you are surrounded by friendly faces — it’s part of being unwell. So recovery involves breaking down these false beliefs and recognizing that you are worth so much to your friends and family. But what’s more, it’s realizing your friends and family are worth so much to you, and to be human is to need other people to laugh and to cry with — to understand that relationships can seem scary and will be hard work, but have so much value.
5. They see how beautiful life can be.
We don’t choose to be alive. But those who are recovering from an eating disorder do.
Eating disorders consume your mind. They consume your feelings about yourself, your value, your worth. They consume your hopes and aspirations. They then consume your friends and family, leading you to believe you deserve this isolation. Finally they consume your body and your life. Eating disorders destroy a person’s whole existence. But to choose to recover is to choose to live. Each day isn’t something you just have to get through, but something you decided you want, and fought so hard to have. Going into life with this mindset, you cannot fail to appreciate how pretty a pink and orange sky looks, or how fun it is to mess around with your friends, or how good a cup of tea is, or how fuzzy a hug from someone you love feels, or how refreshing raindrops feel on your face, or how electric it feels when you make someone else smile. They have chosen to see how beautiful life can be.
In the words of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, beautiful people do not just happen.
Follow this journey on Beautiful People Do Not Just Happen.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.