The Truth About People With Anorexia

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I would like you all to do something for me.

Imagine waking up in the morning feeling so weak it takes you a full 15 minutes to sit up on the edge of your bed, and another 15 minutes to stand up without falling to the floor. Your whole body trembles with weakness as you pull on your leggings which, despite being from the children’s section in Zara, still hang around your knees. You pull your hair into a ponytail, feeling most of it fall out into your dry, flaking hands, and you drown yourself in your winter coat and scarf, despite the fact that it is the middle of August. You use all of your remaining strength to walk slowly out into the street, unsure whether your legs are steady enough to hold you up, only to be pointed out and whispered about from every direction. Whichever way you turn, passersby are shaking their heads at you and making comments that increase your already existent guilt and self-hatred. Strangers telling you how awful you look. How vain you are. How selfish you are. How there are children starving elsewhere in the world.

Since recently reading an article in which a woman described an anorexia sufferer as “selfish,” “dishonest” and “attention seeking,” I’ve been unable to shake it from my mind. After three years of fearing this about myself throughout my own struggles with anorexia, I have finally learned to look at my eating disorder in a different way — I now understand and have been helped to understand it is an illness that I did not choose. Nobody chooses to be sick. Would you approach somebody with crutches in the street and shake your head at them, telling them they only have a bandage on their leg for attention? I could sit here and give you all some spiel about how anorexia isn’t a sly, selfish illness, but I would be lying. I have lost count of how many times I have lied to my family, friends and healthcare professionals over the past three years. How many times I told them I had already eaten dinner elsewhere. How many times I hid my food in my pockets and threw it away. How many times I told them everything was fine and I didn’t need help. I am all too aware that anorexia is a devious illness.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

But I would like to tell you all the truth about the people behind this illness. Last year, I was told by a specialist that those who suffer from anorexia are usually the people who care more about the happiness of others than themselves. They are much more sensitive from a young age, are always very in tune with the feelings of others and have a strong drive to want everyone around them to be happy. So much so, they try to get rid of any negativity, which often leads to perfectionism. When I was given this information I just nodded in false agreement, unable to accept what I had just been told because I could not shake off the guilt of what I was putting my loved ones through, and the crushing belief that I was a terrible, selfish person.

Now, two inpatient admissions and two day patient admissions later I can look back at the people I have met over the past two years, both in London and in Newcastle, and believe every word of what I was told. Never in my life have I met such caring, compassionate and gracious individuals who have looked out for each other every single day, despite being up against so much themselves. I will forever be unable to describe the feeling when someone reaches across the table for your hand as you cry into your cereal, because they can almost hear the screaming inside your head. When the girl in the room next door sits in your bedroom with you until 2 a.m., despite being exhausted herself, because you feel like your whole world is falling apart. When the girl across the corridor pushes a card or a letter under your door, or leaves a bunch of sunflowers on your bed because she knows you’ve had a bad day. When a patient stays at the table with you into the night because you just can’t manage your supper, even though everyone else has finished and gone to bed. When somebody silently stands with you at the window of the ward as you watch your family set off on the 300-mile journey home after spending the weekend with you. I can’t explain the feeling inside. The feeling that you are not alone, and that you are all helping each other to fight the same battle every single day. The feeling of love, of belonging and of acceptance. A mutual understanding, where just one look or one hug can speak more than a thousand words.

It goes without saying it’s impossible to forget two groups of people who have had such a lasting impression on me. Who have been so strong, brave and encouraging to be around, and who have the most amazing ability to make light and find fun in the darkest of days. Who reminded me of how it feels to laugh so much that you cry. Who have been like a family to me over the past two years. Who have been so affectionate, so loving and so accepting. Who have taught me that it’s OK to have feelings and it’s OK to show them. That it’s OK to have fears and its OK to be less than perfect. That it’s OK to struggle sometimes, but its never OK to give up. Spending almost a year in a hospital over 300 miles away from home at the most vulnerable point in your life, and not knowing when you will next see your family, is the most shattering experience. There were times when it felt so unbearable I thought I couldn’t cope. There were times when I spent my entire day crying over cards and photographs. But on both wards I have been on, I have been surrounded by the most wonderful people who have reminded me that life is a beautiful thing, and that it is absolutely worth fighting for.

So, next time you hear of somebody who’s suffering from an eating disorder, remember my words:

We are not selfish, sly and manipulative people who want to look like the models in magazines. We have not chosen to live like this. We try so hard to be faultless and not cause anybody distress or upset, that we end up keeping our problems to ourselves and using dangerous coping mechanisms to deal with them. I can’t tell you the ins and outs of everybody’s eating disorder, and I certainly can’t explain why anorexia is so fussy when choosing the most undeserving people to lure into its trap, but I can tell you that, if the rest of the world looked beyond the tired body and sad eyes of these people, they would see true beauty.

And lastly, if any of you amazing people from Avalon or 31A are reading this, I could never thank you enough for all you have done. I know how it feels to have anorexia strip you of everything in your life, and make you feel that you are only good at starving your body and hurting those around you, but I hope by writing this I have shown you how truly wonderful you all are and how many real qualities you have. Your courage and positivity continues to astound and inspire me. You have brightened up my darkest days and have reminded me of the life I am recovering for, and for that I am eternally grateful.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Today I Met My Goal Weight

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Melancholy? Bittersweet? I don’t have the right word.

Probably because there is no right word.

Today I hit my goal weight. My “minimum safe weight,” as my eating disorder team would say. I remember my psychiatrist sharing the number after a long argument during our first session the second day I went inpatient. Tears filled my eyes, as I sat numb almost in disbelief. It was almost 30 pounds heavier than what I weighed that morning. A weight I had never seen. A weight that seemed daunting.

I made a pact to myself, walking out of that room that day, that I would never, ever come close to hitting that weight. But somehow I did.

I discharged at 90 percent of my goal weight, hovering at the 88-percent mark for over a week before my number finally shot up, all the while drinking four supplements a day.

Driving home, I laughed, believing that I was indeed right. I would never see the infamous number that flashed through my head like a surge of lightening through every sip of caloric beverage or bite of full-fat food.

But entering the real world required strength, and though hesitant, I kept my recovery mantra in my head every day: “Do your best.”

I completed meals and drank supplements. I started eating foods that I’d denied myself of for years. I went on a milkshake kick and was convinced I was eating too much.

I began meeting friends for dinner and completing meals even during times of guilt, shame and remorse. I stopped examining myself in the mirror and kept eating despite the tightness of my jeans and the slits in my tights.

As the number continued to creep up during my weekly visits with my doctor, I began to oblige. It’s as if the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) gods cast a spell over me, and I wholeheartedly “radically accepted” my new weight.  

Today I’m at my goal weight. Am I happy? Not really. Do I love my body? I can’t say I do. Am I proud of my progress? Surprisingly, yes.

Am I cured of anorexia nervosa? Of course not. But today I’m one step closer.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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To My Old Friend Anorexia: It's Time to Let Me Go

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Dear Anorexia,

It’s hard to remember when we first met – so many of my childhood memories revolve around our times together. We were inseparable for many years; people could barely tell where you ended and I began. But it’s been a while. We’d drifted apart; I was wrapped up in my own life for so long – but now, like all very best friends, it’s like we’ve never been apart.

I was surprised by how easy it was to pick up where we left off; how quickly our old ways of being together fell back into place; how old habits reformed and how soon enough we were finishing each other’s sentences, completing each other’s thoughts and prioritizing our time together above everything else.

But the thing is, and it’s really hard to be honest about this, I’m not sure I have time for our friendship any more. It’s just so intense and leaves little time for the friends I’ve made and the family I’ve grown while we’ve been parted. I feel that perhaps you’re resentful of my other relationships because you seem to seek a perverse pleasure in preventing me from spending time with the people I love the most. You seem to want me all to yourself and you work hard to prevent me enjoying time with my children, with my husband and with even my closest friends. I wonder too whether you’re jealous of my achievements? It feels like you’re doing all you can to undermine and sabotage everything I’ve worked so hard for.

And you’re just, well, such hard work to be around. I spend my whole life walking on eggshells when I’m with you. I heed your voice above everyone else’s for fear of what will happen if I don’t. And when I’m with you I seem to lose sight of my senses and I do and say all sorts of things I wouldn’t normally even dream of.

So I’m sorry, but I think perhaps it’s time we parted ways. I won’t ever forget our special times together; I’ve learned a lot from you and much of what I do is inspired by the times we’ve shared – but I just don’t have time, either physically, or emotionally, to continue to make space for you in my life right now. I can’t just get up and walk away. I care too much about you for that and our relationship goes back too far; but I hope that perhaps we can start to find time for other people and other things in our lives…  And I hope we can do that soon, before it’s too late. Do you think we could try that?

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I do hope so because I’m tired, and I’m fed up of letting people down because of you. I’ve come to realize that when we’re together, I’m not the best version of me – so please forgive me and quietly let me go.

Your old friend,
Pooky

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could write a letter to the disability or disease you (or a loved one) face, what would you say to it? 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.

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An Apology to My Body Recovering From an Eating Disorder

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Dear Tummy, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the times I pinched you and poked you and called you fat. I’m sorry for all the times I left you hungry, screaming out to be fed. You’re steady and well-made; you’re firm and stable. I promise you’ll be hungry no more. Never again will I let you suffer. You are perfect, just the way you are.

Dear Shoulders, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything I told you. I said you were too big, too wide, too hefty… But you are broad and muscular, and I like it. You pull me through the water with such grace. You are wonderful. You are perfect, just the way you are.

Dear Hips, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I loathed your flesh. I shunned you curves and wished to see your bones. Back then, I didn’t realize I couldn’t do without you. I love your curves. I love your shapely bulge. You are perfect, just the way you are.

Dear Legs, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the cuts and the bruises. I’m sorry for all the times I punched you and called you chubby. You may jiggle when I walk, but you are strong and able. You hold my hefty weight without a strain. You take me places, such great places, and you stop me from falling down. You let me run and skip and twirl. You are sturdy and capable. You are perfect, just the way you are.

Dear Feet, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the days I spent hating you. I’m sorry I doubted you. You are strange. You are unique. But you are beautiful, funky and magical. You let me dance. You help me climb and you let me be free. You are perfect, just the way you are.

Dear Face, I’m sorry. Do you remember what I said to you? I called you ugly, grotesque and odd. Odd you may be, but you are also enchanting. My eyes, an eerie portal to another world. My nose, weird and wonderful hooked over my bowlike, coral painted lips. Face, you are perfect just the way you are.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Dear Body, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve mistreated you. You are my little piece of this universe, and I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m sorry for not feeding you, for ignoring your pleas for nourishment. I’m sorry for continuing to exercise when you were on the verge of collapse, screaming out at me to stop. I’m sorry. You are amazing. My little vehicle for awakening. A mode of transport I rely on. Thank you for everything you do. Thank you for keeping me alive, even though I mistreated you. Thank you for giving me another chance to live. I won’t mess it up. Body, I’m sorry. You are perfect, just the way you are.

illustration of female body in green dress
Illustration by Danni-Mae Kirkup

This post originally appeared on ohavocado.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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A Letter to Myself When I Was Diagnosed With Anorexia

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Dear Lize,

I know you’re only 14 and you haven’t had it easy in life thus far. I’m sorry to tell you things will get much worse before they get better, but have hope. What feels like it will crush you will actually pass. The darkness will lift, and when it comes again, you will be prepared and know how to handle it. You will have to fight hard, harder than you might be able to imagine right now, but you will break through the depression, the feelings of hopelessness and the self-hate, and will eventually discover all the suffering you experience won’t be in vain.

When the therapist tells you that you have anorexia, you won’t be familiar with the term. Many years after you hear the term for the first time, the word “anorexia” will become established and well-known, but don’t be scared of a diagnosis that isn’t common right now. The obsessions and compulsive behaviors you experience and engage in are part of your eating disorder. You may not realize it now and might feel stubborn and indestructible and even angry at the thought of changing, but those very behaviors could kill you. In fact, you will come very close to death before things turn around.

When you become an outstanding runner in high school and feel like the anorexia is helping you run faster, know that it’s really not. You have talent and you work hard; that’s why you run well. Don’t listen to your coach when he talks about your weight. You will not run more slowly after gaining one pound. That is ridiculous, and you should know your health is more important than trying to please others. Mostly, when you have to back off running, have hope that you will still be OK. It may feel like your dreams were shattered when your running career came to an early end due to injuries and complications related to anorexia, but you can form new dreams. Keep dreaming, because there are many avenues you haven’t yet explored.

No matter what struggles you go through, know that you are not alone. You have friends and family members who will not give up on you. You will make them proud when, against all odds, you go from having seizures and being told you won’t make it to flourishing. It won’t happen overnight. Your journey back to health will take years, but you won’t regret taking that first leap of faith into the unknown territory of recovery. 

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Keep in mind, people who don’t understand your illness will say hurtful and unkind things. Most of the time, they don’t mean it. They just don’t know what can be triggering to someone struggling with anorexia. When your neighbor keeps saying you “look healthy,” don’t take it as something bad. Try to see that he means well and that it’s a sign that you are succeeding. You are fighting your inner demons that he doesn’t realize seem real to you. That negative self-talk in your head will lessen in time as you continue to heal.

As you get older, more and more people will have suggestions on how to overcome eating disorders. Know that everyone who struggles is unique and has his or her own path to travel. There is no secret formula or pill that will cure an eating disorder, but there are key factors to address in recovery. You don’t have to alter who you are in order to recover; you just have to rediscover who that person is, and you will find her, Lize. I promise you will.

Listen to your mom. She is wise, and she loves you.

Though it seems impossible, you will become a mentor to people struggling one day. Make sure you are in a place where you can give back before you do, because recovery takes a lot of energy and effort. You have to be strong and know how to create healthy boundaries when you help others, but giving back is essential and will make you feel better. You don’t have to be cured or 100 percent to start giving back, but make sure you keep taking care of yourself when you do.

One day, you will teach others the following:

The issues you have around food are a red flag that something else is going on in your life. learn to identify real emotions. “I feel fat” sometimes means there’s something else to address that’s unrelated to food and body image.

You are not your eating disorder.

Trying to control your food is a way to cope with uncomfortable or unidentified feelings. You can’t control what happens around you, so it’s tempting to try to control what you do or do not eat.

Your identity is not based on what you do or how thin you are.

Be kind to yourself.

It takes work to reach self-acceptance and self-love when you are recovering from an eating disorder.

Breathe.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself on the day of the diagnosis. 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.

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To the One Friend Who Stuck With Me Through My Eating Disorder

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To my best friend,

I remember the first time you came to visit me in the hospital. I had a NG-tube up my nose, and I was so nervous it would scare you or that you’d see me differently. Of course, it was just my own anxiety — you were hardly taken aback when you walked onto the locked psychiatric ward to find your best friend in one of the worst states of her life.

When I was first diagnosed with anorexia, you were the first person I told. It was a good choice on my part, because you gave me a hug and told me everything was going to be alright. You didn’t judge me. You made me feel safe and like I could talk to you about anything.

Throughout this journey, you’ve time and time again made me feel like I could forget about my problems when I was around you. When I first called you from the hospital, you distracted me with stories from your summer. When I got out, you were there to celebrate with me. When I told you I had to go back into treatment, you took it in a stride and helped me figure out what I was going to pack.

As my illness has progressively gotten worse, I’ve gradually lost contact with the large majority of my friends. You are the only person I held onto, because you are the only person I can truly spill my guts to. I feel wholeheartedly at peace when I am with you. I chose to use the little energy I had to maintain my relationship with you because you are, to put simply, my best friend. You have stuck by me through thick and thin, and you have never once given up on me.

I want you to know I appreciate you. I know I may not always tell you that, but it’s true. You make me feel truly happy, and I love you with all of my heart.

Love,

Katy

Katy and her best friend take a selfie.
MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Katy and her best friend.

The Mighty is for the following: Write a thank you note to someone who helped you through your mental illness. What about that person makes him or her a good ally? What do you want them to know? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [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.

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