To the One Who Made Me Feel Like I Was Worth More Than My Anorexia

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You have heard me say these very words countless times — but thank you. Thank you for being the lifeline I didn’t know I needed, and for reminding me of my worth when I was certain I had nothing to show for it.

The day I sat across from you sharing my unfortunate news, I couldn’t help but think I was getting myself into something I shouldn’t. By this point, I only knew I had an eating disorder for about four days, and you were someone I knew was a strong adult figure I could confide in.

I wasn’t diagnosed, but I knew from one moment the week before I had been starving my body and mind for the last two and a half months. Stress, body image and friend problems — I told you they all landed me in this place. “So, what does this mean for you,” you asked me, and I knew right away the answer was anorexia.

Having daily conversations about my intake and my plans moving forward with you was all I thought I needed to get the job done. However, I learned during Thanksgiving break I couldn’t just make myself eat and be OK with it. It was the sickest cycle I had gotten into yet.

You gave me little choice but to let others know what was going on. I silently hated you for this from time to time, but as the months went on, I knew you only made me tell them to aid in my own recovery. I regretted opening up about my disorder at least once a week, hated myself more often than that and struggled to idealize recovery every single day.

Early on, you could see the fear in my eyes when I talked about my eating disorder. You told me it was OK to be scared, but to just keep breathing and somehow, we would deal with the aftermath. You promised me I was strong enough to recover, reminding me you loved me and needed me to get better. You told me you couldn’t go to my funeral if something happened to me as a result of my disorder, because you had been to too many funerals for kids. I didn’t want to be the thin girl in a coffin, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted recovery for most of the days that passed by.

One day in June you sat across from me, listening to me tell you I couldn’t believe in my own worth, and figured I would succumb to my anorexia eventually. I was convinced I couldn’t do it — couldn’t eat, couldn’t handle myself and couldn’t just recover. This is the day you reminded me of my worth.

I looked you in the eyes, listening to the words pour out telling me I was “pretty f**king amazing,” “pretty OK,” and “f**king phenomenal.” These were words I never associated with myself. I was so used to telling you how much I hated myself, reminding you I wasn’t worth your time and you could walk away at any time.

Like I said, I have thanked you a lot. You’ve been that lifeline, that person to call or text when things just weren’t right anymore. You’ve been the one to engrain in my mind I will not be alone, and the strength I have inside of me is enough to manage the pain. You’ve taught me important lessons, like taking one step (or bite) at a time, forgiving myself and keeping my chin as high as I could.

I used to ask so frequently why you would help me, but as time went on, I realized it wasn’t important. You wanted me to get better, most days more than I wanted it myself. I was often unsure if I truly wanted recovery, and if I did want it, how would I do it? You were the one who told me I needed to do it, whether I wanted it or not. And most recently, telling me to pretend recovery was a Nike commercial, to “just do it.”

I often wondered how to thank you in a way that was more than a simple “thank you” or “I love you” for the magnitude of love, care and help you provided me. You weren’t just a person who told me to “get better.” You weren’t just the one who watched from the sidelines, you stepped in immediately — telling me you would do anything you could to help me. You weren’t just the one who pushed me to get treatment, but the one who sat with me during visitor’s hours, listening to me cry about how hard it was to be an inpatient.

Out of everyone, you were the one who made me feel like I was worth more than my anorexia.

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 the Anorexia That Overtook My Mom

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Dear anorexia,

You probably don’t remember me, but I met you through my mom. I was a teenager when you came into our home and changed everything. You started because she had a medical condition that made her cut back on food, but later you became a full force of control. My mom used you as a way of coping with raising four teenage kids and the stresses from her marriage and her job. I bet you remember her.

I watched as her face and body became more skeletal. I remember after a while it got so terribly bad, I had to beg my mom to eat just one bite a day of anything I could find. Her energy was so low, but when she looked in the mirror she was still too fat for you.

You had your way with her when I went to Florida on a short three day trip with my next door neighbors. I was 16. For three days I wasn’t there to force her to eat so you had field day with her. At times causing her to be so weak she woke up on the living room floor wondering how she got there.

Lucky for you everyone was away so no one knew.

The Sunday morning after I got back, we went to church. After helping mom to the second row where we always sat, my sisters and I went to talk to friends before the sermon started. The preacher’s wife, a grim women who no one would dare mess with, came up to us and asked us to come get our mother. She was apparently so delirious from the lack of food she was acting like a drunk woman. My sisters and I looked at each other with complete confusion because my mother did not drink. We went in and got her, but as we were walking out of the church she passed out and hit her head. Were you laughing then? Three teenagers looking at their mom with absolute fear? But you weren’t done yet.

The hit caused a lot of damage. We had to dress her, feed her and shower her. She began having horrible seizers where only her tips of her fingers and the tips of her toes touched the bed. Were you happy then?

Maybe it made you happy when she forgot my birthday, or when she spoke like a small child. “I’m cold,” she would say to me when I was getting her dressed, putting on whatever warm clothes I could find. Then she would remark in childhood wonderment, “Ooh you don’t know how to match…I’m telling.” Did you know my sisters and I missed over 29 days in school in just a couple of months so we could take care of her? My dad worked more to pay the bills, and possibly to avoid seeing his soulmate in your control.

For years I felt guilty for not being there for her. For going to Florida with my neighbors.

For years, the first thing I would ask my mom was what she ate that day. Not anymore. I’m done playing your game. Guess what? She’s better now. It may have taken longer than we would have liked, but we are through with you. We helped her, but she did the work. Now, you can’t have her. You are not welcome in our home, you are not welcome again in my life. If you show your ugly face again, I will keep fighting you until there’s nothing left.

Get lost,

A child of anorexia

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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.

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.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write the article you wish you’d found the first time you Googled your or a loved one’s 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 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?

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.

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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