My eating disorder was a dark and severely self-destructive journey — one that I am, even now, uncomfortable sharing about in detail. It’s hard to find the words, to be eloquent enough to do it justice. But it is a story worth telling, as are all battles against mental illness. They help spread the awareness our world is in desperate need of. And so I will continue searching for the words to tell my story. But for now, I will just tell you what I am comfortable discussing, and that is my recovery.
Of course, it did not happen overnight. Recovery took years and years; it was a slow process — one full of pain, anger, and the burning desire to understand why I felt this way in the first place. I started with some of the usual courses of treatment: antidepressants and therapy. But they didn’t help much. I still longed for answers.
What I did know was if I was going to live, I wanted to be happy and enjoy my life, not be miserable and struggle, which can be common with eating disorders. I believed I couldn’t be anorexic and live a happy life. I felt I had to choose. Life or death? Happiness or misery? I had chosen life, but happiness?
Finding happiness meant I needed to find my self-worth and learn to love myself. But how? I hated everything about me. How could I learn to love myself? I had to make another choice. The choice to try, as impossible as it seemed. And so began the biggest challenge of my life.
So how did I start? By looking for reasons to exist and be happy. First, I had family who loved me and needed me to recover. Second, I already had this amazing man in my life who loves me to this day. He sees something worthy in me. I love and respect him, so I knew he couldn’t be all wrong. I had to try and see what he saw. Then there was school, where I was an excellent student. And then my career, in which I have been successful. All these things gave me some feelings of worth, some reasons to be proud of myself.
Next and best of all came our babies, these beautiful little human beings who I love so fiercely. And they came from me! I was able to help create such amazing little people. Motherhood has never been easy for me, but regardless, I enjoy it and am good at providing for them.
Over the years, I kept finding these little things in life I was good at, even if I had a hard time admitting them to myself at first. I knew being good at things was not a requirement of loving myself, but it was somewhere to start. I also learned I didn’t have to be the best at something to be good at it or to find joy in doing it. I definitely wasn’t good at loving myself at first. But all I had to do was keep trying. And in time, persistence paid off.
Life, as it often does, has thrown many more stressful situations my way over the years. I have continued to look for different and healthy coping mechanisms. I have tried many things, and some have made a real difference. Like surrounding myself with positive people, and eating and exercising in a healthy way. And even though it has been the challenge of a lifetime for me, I have not relapsed back to anorexia for more than 10 years.
Through more therapy, meditation and lots of soul-search, I’ve finally found the answers to “why.” These answers have helped the most — and through them, the realization that I did not do this to myself. My eating disorder was not intentional. It was not my fault. It was how my young mind coped with the difficulties of life. But I had the power to change it.
This journey has taught me I am not only in control of my actions, but my thoughts as well. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy, but I can retrain my thoughts to be positive instead of negative. In so doing, I learned to change how I feel about myself. I learned to turn my weaknesses into strengths. I now use that perfectionism towards useful and constructive things instead of destructive ones. I’m finding all the things I’m passionate about in life and channeling that energy into them. I am learning to love myself and be happy simply by trying and not giving up.
And I will continue to succeed because I refuse to fail.
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.
A version of this post originally appeared on Mel’s Empty Journal.