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The Kindergarten Lesson That Later Helped in My Eating Disorder Recovery

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I can recall the days I walked to kindergarten with my father, arriving to school early as “the early bird always catches the worm.” I wore my oversized polo shirt, white tennis shoes which would soon turn gray with wear, and navy shorts bearing the name of the school I was attending. The alphabet lessons, simple addition, and minimal strings of foreign language were my classroom lessons, yet, I fondly recollect the more important and seemingly more abstract ideas I carry with me to date.

Robert Fulghum discusses the prospect of true life lessons, including how to live, what to do, and how to be, as lessons with a root in kindergarten. Thirteen years later, at 18 years old, I can honestly say I agree with Fulghum. A lesson I find myself consistently returning to from my childhood is the overall idea of appearance being the least important aspect of what truly makes a person. In some senses, yes, appearance is important, however, my mind wanders to the more abstract and mature idea of our bodies being beautiful when they house a beautiful soul.

Personally, my childhood lesson of focusing less on appearance and more on what each and every one of us have inside, is one that shapes how I live, what I do, and how I want to and choose to be.

Growing up, change is truly inevitable, and when society changes or life throws a curve ball, the way we live may face unexpected alterations. From a young age, I have had a skewed view of who I am, in terms of body image and being able to genuinely like who I am. This view of myself, constructed from as young as kindergarten age, resulted in a battle with an eating disorder beginning intensely my junior year of high school. As someone who wasn’t necessarily content with my body, I still chose to nourish it, never entertaining the idea of starving myself and denying myself the right to eat. However, when life became unbearable with school, family, and friends, I turned to anorexia, which ultimately changed the way I was living. I lost the core of my childhood lesson, living in a disorder that left
me focused on my weight and appearance 99.9 percent of the time.

After struggling with anorexia nervosa for two years, I was finally able to admit myself to treatment to battle my internal and intrusive thoughts that left me struggling on a daily basis. As I became healthier, my childhood lesson began to shine through cracks. I was becoming happier, as my mood was stimulated by the nutrition and medicinal assistance I was providing myself. Gaining weight was not easy, yet, I began to feel at home in my body again, trying to accept it for whatever size it would be at my goal weight.

Simultaneously, I was completing treatment each day and working in my campaign to create awareness of eating disorders and the impact of negative body image on society as a whole. This is how my childhood lesson had an impact on the things I do. For the last four years, I have been a co-presider of a campaign that has reached thousands of individuals, consisting of those who are and are not affected by eating
disorders. My involvement in the campaign has allowed me to be an advocate for
the men and women who are in my old shoes, without an advocate or anyone to
speak up for the help they need. My recovery is shaping each and every day and giving me the opportunity to share my more-than-appearance based childhood lesson.

Fulghum addresses the idea of “how to be,” and I find this to be a difficult one to speak on. Societally, we are seemingly always told to be and act a certain way. This is
the very conception that helped fuel my eating disorder, leaving me with the impression that I had to be thin to be beautiful. However, returning to my lesson from kindergarten, there is no wrong way to look or to have a body. Logically this is a concept I know very well, yet, in the mind of an eating disorder, my body is wrong unless I am a skeleton dying in a hospital bed. In my recovery, I am not only relearning how to eat, but also relearning how to accept myself upon more than my outward appearance.

Through the lesson from my childhood, I am able to recall that I should live according to what my body needs, rather than giving into the standards of society. I am remembering that for me to help other people, I need to be the best me I can, which means maintaining my recovery, speaking the truth, and creating the peaceful acceptance of my body originally learned in my kindergarten past.

Image via Thinkstock.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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The Reality of Meeting My Goal Weight in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Yesterday, I woke up and put on jeans that finally fit me. Yesterday, I ate breakfast and splurged on a coffee because I was so content with the way my clothes were fitting me. Yesterday, my doctor looked at me with a smile on her face. Yesterday, she told me she was impressed with my progress. Yesterday, I looked back at her and jokingly remarked that she was about ready to throw my ass back into the inpatient program about a month ago. Yesterday, I weighed in at my goal weight.

No, it is not the unrealistic number I calculated perfectly to keep me at the body mass index that would validate to me and everyone else that I have an eating disorder. No, it is not something I plastered in the bio section of a “recovery” Instagram account. No, it is not unhealthy for my height.

My goal weight, defined by my treatment team, is the minimum weight considered to be safe for my height. Anything below my minimum safe weight is considered to be underweight, and thus, in my mind, still qualifies me as sick.

It’s a paradoxical phenomenon to be in the brain of someone with an eating disorder. Allow me to paint a picture of words for you:

As someone with an eating disorder, I have attempted to disconnect myself from my body. At the same time, my body is my mode of communication for how I am feeling – when I am happy, I am goofy and smile a lot; however, when I am stressed, I am eating less, looking more glum, and genuinely struggling with minimal life tasks. In the height of my eating disorder, it was evident I was sick in some way, shape or form. That lower weight solidified my feelings; it validated I was indeed “sick enough” to have anorexia-nervosa. Where the paradox comes in is here: as an advocate for those affected by eating disorders, I like to make it very known that there is no look, shape, or size to an eating disorder. There is no defining mark of being “sick enough,” and in fact, many who experience eating disorders never reach the point of being “underweight for their height.”

Now that I have reached my goal weight, I must say, it is a bit off-putting. It’s almost as if I worked so hard at losing the weight just to gain it all and back and be miserable… but I’m not miserable. Someone asked me how I felt about weighing in xxx pounds – I’m not sad about reaching my goal weight. I am the complete opposite.

I am thrilled about reaching a goal that seemed almost impossible a month ago. I am proud of myself for agreeing to renter treatment even though I had to make several sacrifices. I am content with having made weight in treatment and continuing to be successful at a means of saving my own life.

Meeting my goal weight doesn’t mean xxx pounds. It doesn’t make me a failure, which for someone with an eating disorder, is a valid and real feeling after weight gain. It doesn’t always feel good, but when change is inevitable and recovery is worth it, we have to be willing to be uncomfortable.

It doesn’t mean I no longer have an eating disorder. It just means that I am beating it.

Image via Thinkstock.

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The People Behind the Doors of the ‘Mental Hospital'

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The stereotypes of the psychiatric hospital rushed through my head when I heard the words, “You are detained under section two of the Mental Health Act.” I thought the psychiatric hospital was full of “crazy” people who were all abusive. I thought they were aliens who were scary, etc., etc. There was no way I was going to a psychiatric hospital when I only had a fear of food and had to recover from anorexia. I was not actually one of those “scary people in the mental hospital.

I arrived shaking and worrying I might get something chucked at me. I entered and there were 17 girls, aged between 12 through 17. They were all welcoming. We sat down in community group, and I was introduced to them all. I start worrying that maybe all this was an act and there weren’t actually people calmly painting canvases to decorate the walls and playing “Mario Cart” on the Wii.

During my first evening in the psychiatric hospital, I sat crying on the phone to my parents, and a patient came and hugged me. I never thought a patient in a “mental hospital” would be kind enough to hug me. From that moment, I thought maybe the psychiatric hospital was not filled with“crazy people,” an idea that had been derived from all the stereotypes.

I spent four months at the psychiatric hospital and every day I received immense kindness and support from all the people there. I was placed on the eating disorders unit to recover from anorexia. However, I did often have social interaction with the generalized mental health unit in the hospital, too.

I never thought I would be able to make friends with people in the hospital. Yet, to this day, they are some of my closest friends. We all have a group chat where we talk about how well we are doing and about how there is life outside the hospital. I also never thought I would be arranging sleepovers and meeting up with the “crazy people,” but that’s happening, too.

I have received handwritten letters under my hospital bedroom doorstep from the patients who have self-harm scars all up their arms and across their legs. I have received so much love and positivity quotes from people who cannot feed themselves. I have laughed and had dance parties with people who, like me, are sectioned under the Mental Health Act because they cannot take care of themselves. I have gone on outings with people who have to take medication for their mental health conditions. I’ve had people write messages on the mirror, including the words, “You’re beautiful,” and “You have the most amazing body.” These are the same people who cannot even think to associate those words with themselves. I have had the most beautiful, happiest conversations with people who saw people who were invisible to others.

I learned a lot from the psychiatric hospital. I learned more than how to recover from anorexia. I learned people with mental illness care so much for others. I had people stay up with me to help me stop crying about how much I missed my family. I had other patients tutor me in my studies when I was too sad to even open a textbook. I had patients crochet me a blanket and hold my hand and wipe my tears through meal times.

I met the most amazing people in the psychiatric hospital. People with mental health conditions are not scary. They are in fact the kindest people I know. And that is the one thing I wish I knew about people who live with mental health disorders.

Image via Thinkstock.

 

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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What It's Like Having an Eating Disorder the First Week of College

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For my family and friends on Facebook, it comes as no surprise when I tell them I started college this week. They’ve liked and commented on my photos, wishing me well and sending good vibes. But for my new college peers, they may be surprised to find out I have an eating disorder.

I chose my college for the way I felt when I stepped onto campus. The cliché that we always hear from student recruiters is my truth. I feel at home there. Not to mention my scholarship package made it an offer I couldn’t turn down, and I was on my way to committing myself to the university before someone had a chance to ask me if I was sure about my decision. I didn’t have to question whether or not I chose the right university, and I still don’t.

As a freshman, I found myself pondering the typical dilemmas of a college student. What if I gain the “freshman 15”? How am I going to keep all of my classes straight? Can I have a social life and an extra-curricular filled schedule all while maintaining my GPA?

But, I also found myself pondering the typical dilemmas of an individual with anorexia. What if I relapse again? How am I going to keep myself ‘sane’? Can I maintain recovery? These are the “intrusive thoughts” they talked about in treatment.

My university put together a four day program known as “Orientation Adventures,” something I have found to be a huge blessing in terms of starting college. It has allowed me to begin on the first day already having a sweet group of friends. I realized on the first day at the ballpark how much of college is focused on eating as a social event, mac n’ cheese cups because that’s all we can afford and Walter’s cookies from the Marketplace, which are just too hard to say no to. As someone in recovery, I found myself excited for a future of eating intuitively, but wondering, with just a small ounce of fear, how I would ever get there.

Having an eating disorder during the first week of college isn’t a glamorized story told online about a beautiful girl who got so stressed with her workload, peer expectations and college life that she starves herself to feel something. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is comparing myself to every girl I saw each day. It’s the sick jealousy of wanting to change the body that people keep trying to convince me is beautiful. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is eating significantly more than I am used to. All the while, I am trying to brush it off as “eating like a football player” or “loving these cookies so much I can’t stop,” but really I am just trying to keep my cool through each and every meal with peers.

Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is wearing a bathing suit at the amusement park and jumping around in the wave pool with my friends. Yet, I am feeling as if I have to keep myself covered and contained as I have such awful thoughts about my body. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is not all bad, but don’t get the idea that having an eating disorder during college is any kind of good.

Let me explain. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is being willing to explain why I’m eating so much, as my weight rehabilitation plan requires a higher intake. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is being honest about my struggle and telling stories of the stipulations and restraints I was up against during my hospitalizations. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is asking how I can bring my eating disorder awareness campaign to campus to teach both guys and girls about the severity of these disorders and how negative body image can impact each and every one of us.

I have an eating disorder, and I just completed my first week of college orientation. I have an eating disorder, and I am growing. I am healing. I am pushing forward.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

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When You Feel Like You Can’t Escape the Flames of Anorexia

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Editor’s note: This piece contains descriptions of disordered eating that might be triggering for some. 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.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had issues with my body image and the overall picture of myself in my mind. As young as 8 years old, I was referred to as “the ugly kid” and “the anorexic girl” – when we were all too young to really understand what anorexia really was. Being naturally tall and thin placed me as an ideal candidate for the judgmental comments and stares as others always wondered if I did truly did starve myself to be a model or accepted by the peers who never seemed to be interested in legitimate friendships.

Fast forward 10 years later, and I am struggling to recover from my eating disorder for the second time. The disorder I was accused of having as a child entered my life full-fledged two years ago and hasn’t given me a chance to breathe since.

Imagine setting up a fire pit. You start with the burning site, your body. Over the years, you are collecting sticks and firewood – each piece coming from your stressors, judgments, unmet expectations, mistakes, and core beliefs. After a period of time, you strike a match and light the fire. But it’s not enough. With anorexia, it is never enough. The fire starts to dwindle, and one day you find yourself in the grips of the disease – which leads you to the gasoline. You pour the gasoline on the fire, and it goes up in flames – burning, messy flames. That is what it is like to start the fire of anorexia.

Once your fire is left burning for a time, you can feel yourself getting cold, so you move closer. You move closer, and closer, and closer, until you feel the heat too closely and burn yourself. You jump away in pain and angst, but your coolness remains, and you return to the heat of the flames. This is what it feels like to look in the mirror or step on the scale time after time after time. You throw yourself into the fire even though you know how badly it hurts and burns your body.

Being self-conscious of my recovering body feels like it should be normal, but I have tried to disconnect myself from my body so I do not have these feelings. Most days, I am content with making weight and feeling healthier and happier, but nights like tonight I struggle to see through to the positives. It isn’t until I see people in the place I used to be, physically and mentally, that I long for the days I was deep in the fire with a sick sense of jealousy.

I find myself looking around my unit at the hell other women and men have wreaked upon their bodies. I long for the thin, for the depressed, for the scars that line the arms of the other patients. I ask myself, “Why do you want that?” and the only response seems to come back is that there is something about my disease that makes me special, or unique, or that there is a strength associated with the discipline of the behaviors. This is where my cognitive distortions find their burning ground.

The other night, I looked in the mirror and traced the shape of my body with my index finger. The curves of a woman were there, the hips that will help me to carry a child in the future are there. The curves of my legs, indicative of the strength that exists within them to help me move and navigate the world on a daily basis, are there. My two-minute experience with the mirror was gratifying, yet scary, because I didn’t know it was possible to see my reflection and not hate what I was looking at.

I am struggling to accept with a sense of peace my body in the beginning stages of a second shot at recovery. I have not stepped back into the fire by any means, and it is my goal to refrain from returning to the intimacy of the flames. However, some days I find myself comparing my body to others’ bodies, both those with and without an eating disorder. I guess what I am trying to say is if this is where you are, I feel your pain, too. I feel the chill of the disorder, and the heat of the flames begging me to return so I can have the body my disordered thoughts believe I should have.

Even though I am feeling the temptation of the flames, I have felt the warmth of the sun on the other side of this battle, and would rather walk by the sun than the fire any day.

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To the Professor Who Asked My Friend With Anorexia to Drop His Class

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Dear My Best Friend’s Professor,

I wanted to start off by letting you know I think you’re amazing. I don’t know the extent of what you do here at UCLA, but I do know in order to have reached your esteemed position at this university, you have done incredible research and have played a huge part in shaping the minds of tomorrow. For these things, I thank you.

I’m writing to you because I didn’t feel I could adequately express my concerns on the quarterly evaluation form. As you know, your student (my best friend) has been in treatment for her mental health-related difficulties. And as you are well aware, this has taken a toll on her class performance.

My best friend was diagnosed with anorexia this quarter. Her condition steadily worsened to the point that her resting heart rate was measured at 42 beats per minute when it should have been around 60-100. Anorexia was killing her. She should have been hospitalized on the spot.

Through steady support and love, I pushed her to pursue an intensive partial hospitalization treatment program. I wanted to talk to you about what this looks like practically, because, as indicated by your responses to her, I am led to believe you don’t fully know what treatment for her mental illness looks like.

My best friend’s treatment is three days a week, from 8:15 in the morning to 3:15 in the afternoon, and for those seven hours she is asked to confront her greatest fears. She is asked to consume food, something her anorexia screams at her for doing. She is asked to gain back weight that her anorexia stole from her, convincing her of the lie that without the weight maybe she could someday be worthy of love. She is asked to engage fully in the program — mentally, physically and emotionally — when all she wants to do is run out the door and never look back.

When you told her to work harder, she heard you say she wasn’t good enough. When you asked her to drop your class, she heard you say she was a failure. When you brought in her department counselor to convince her again to drop your class, she heard you say she doesn’t deserve to be at UCLA at all. I encourage you to consider that maybe being enrolled in your class is the only thing in her life that makes her feel normal.

Professor, you aren’t the only educator at this school that has said things like this to students struggling with mental illness. I’ve had friends that, in the midst of anxiety attacks, have been told by their professors to sit back down and finish their tests. I’ve heard professors mock mental illness, misuse the words “depressed,” “bipolar” and “psychotic,” and, without realizing it, promote stigma and isolate students with mental health difficulties.

I don’t believe any of these professors intended to hurt their students. I believe these reactions and statements speak more to the culture of stigma than they do of the professors themselves. That being said, even though these professors may not have intended harm, the reality is, they have harmed. I challenge you and your fellow educators not to make a student’s mental health difficulties their problem, but instead to recognize that cultural stigma surrounding mental illness is our problem, and it is vital we take steps to change this paradigm. As a professor, you are in the unique position to do this, starting with the way you treat students like my best friend.

Professor, my best friend is smart, driven and capable. Every single day she walks into the hospital, she has to put aside her anxieties and trust in the hope that this grueling treatment program will afford her some freedom from this debilitating affliction. I urge you to consider this is not just about her class performance, this is about her life and value as a human being. I ask that instead of pouring your energy into kicking her out of the class, pour it into supporting her in the best way you can by offering extensions to her when things get particularly hard, checking in on her feelings and just understanding that she is a human being before she is a student.

Help me celebrate her for fighting this illness. Help me celebrate her for fighting for her education despite this struggle. Help me celebrate the fact that she is still here with us. The way you and I respond to her in this critical time affects the way she will continue to seek treatment for the rest of her life. I urge you to understand and take this responsibility seriously, because it truly is a matter of life and death for her and for so many students.

Sincerely,

Your student’s best friend

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