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What Living With an Eating Disorder Has Taught Me

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It’s big-headed, pretentious, conceited and self-centered. But it’s true, and the reason I know this is because no one can ever understand a person’s life or point of view until they crawl into their skin and walk around in it.

Nobody knows what my life so far has been like. People can empathize, and perhaps draw similarities, but nobody knows how they would react in my situation.

I didn’t want to go back to college after those girls did those horrible things to me. But here I am, 10 months away from graduating. I didn’t want to go to the job interview because I didn’t think I was good enough. But here I am, doing the job. I didn’t want to get up today, or yesterday, or the day before or last week. But here I am, getting up and living.

Living with an eating disorder has taught me a lot.

It has taught me that the years of struggling are often the most beautiful.

The worst, most impossible days are the days where I learn the most about myself.

It has taught me how loved I am by my family.

It has separated my true friends from the toxic people.

It has taught me some people are just nasty and that isn’t my fault.

It has taught me I don’t have to be happily ever after — I just need to be happy right now. One day at a time.

It has taught me that even though I feel damaged and scary, I deserve good things. Just like everybody else.

It has taught me that just because I don’t lift weights every day or follow a macro plan anymore I’m not any less of an amazing person.

It has taught me there is no magic cure or special pill. There are only small forward steps. An easier day. An unexpected laugh. A mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.

It has taught me I am smarter and braver than I could have ever imagined.

Having an eating disorder may feel safe, tranquil, familiar and sheltered. But the truth is, it’s a cage, not a cocoon.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

I have great days. Sometimes even multiple great days. Then I will have a bad week. However, one definite thing is that even my worst days in recovery are better than the best days in my eating disorder.

While rereading Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” I realized what my strength was. In the novel, she talks about how real courage isn’t the man with the gun in his hand, but rather it’s the person who confronts something that they know all too well may cause them to fall flat on their face and see it through no matter what.

This is me. Most days I find it a miracle that I have even managed to get up and make it through the day when my brain and body tell me to give up. But I do it, and before I know it, a week has passed, then a month. And I’m still here. Doing what I can, while I can.

Not everybody is happy all the time — that’s not mental health. That’s rubbish. So stop pretending to be someone you aren’t. Stop thinking that just because you aren’t “thin enough” you drop a level on life’s hierarchy. There is no such thing as thin enough. Not with an eating disorder. So look at how far you have come. You don’t need top grades, run a marathon or donate an organ. You woke up today, and you are breathing. That’s more than enough. You are needed, and you are important.

I am the strongest person I know. Be the strongest person you know. Be your own role model because when you’re alone, your voice is the only one that matters, and it is usually always right.

Image via Thinkstock.

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When the Voice of My Eating Disorder Comes Back Inside My Brain

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Even though I’ve been in recovery for a good amount of time, sometimes my eating disorder voice worms his way inside my brain. He tries to coax me into relapse, sings songs of restriction and weight loss and control. Sometimes, it almost seems tempting. I remember the compliments. I remember the attention. I remember playing the games and cheating the system. I remember feeling invincible.

Then I remember the tears. The tears over mashed potatoes, over bottles of Ensure, the tears at the DMV when I was too out of it from hunger to pass my permit test. I remember forcing myself go to the gym even though I could barely stand, reprimanding myself when I didn’t burn a certain number of calories on the elliptical, those 45 minutes a waste of time. I remember misery and depression.

When that voice sounds so promising and inviting, I remember how, now, I go out with my friends and get French fries and sing along to the radio at 11 p.m. on a Friday night. I remember laying in bed reading on a lazy Sunday morning when I could have been at the gym. I remember letting go of a number and letting go of weight loss. I remember freedom and spontaneity. I remember life.

Every time the voice comes back, I choose to live, and there is no choice I’d rather make.

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Turning Down the Volume of My Eating Disorder's Voice in the Summer

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I set out with a goal in mind: finding a swimsuit. Easy enough, right? No. This can be a dreadful task. Every summer I cringe when I think of having to try on last year’s suit for fear that it may not fit.

This summer was no different. I found myself wanting to go out and play on the new paddle board my husband and I had gotten. But there was one thing holding me back: my drawer set aside just for swimsuits. I opened it, feeling my heart sink and my self-esteem drop even lower. I started sorting through them.

I had suits from my early 20s; hell, I had my first bikini in there. I half-smiled at some of the suits, remembering different places I had worn them. Then the memories took a turn for the worse, and my negative thought process started to turn up in volume.

You were better then.

You really let yourself go.

You are too old to wear that now.

People will cover their eyes when they see you in that.

I started to panic, and I quickly shut the drawer. I sat down and started to cry. I started to believe every single word I was telling myself in that moment. I told my husband I couldn’t go to the river and I needed to stay home. For a brief moment I was going to let this all sink in and start down a terrible path towards self-destruction again.

I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. As much as I wanted to hide, I wouldn’t allow myself. I’ve spent too many years hiding and punishing myself for being who I am. I quickly grabbed a suit and got ready to leave.

We had a great time at the river, although I was still being weighed down by the same negative talk, I made a promise to myself that I was going to ditch the old suits when I got home and go out that following week and look for a suit that felt good on my body, that made me feel comfortable and safe.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

What came first was looking for suits. I tried at least 10 different ones but couldn’t justify buying a suit when I had so many at home. I wrestled with the voice in my head. Don’t waste your money on these, all you have to do is listen to me and I can help you fit back into those old suits in the drawer. I promise if you just do exactly as I say, I can get you there.

That self-talk I like to refer to as “Ed,” my eating disorder’s voice. Ed thrives on moments like these. I left the store with nothing in hand. I went home and didn’t even touch the drawer because I considered what Ed was telling me. For a week I went back and forth between wanting to buy a new suit and start a new journey and also having a hard time letting go of the past. Then it dawned on me. This is a challenge I need to follow through on or else.

Saturday came around. I went back to the store and grabbed a bunch of suits. I went in with a clear mind and what I hoped was a accepting mind. My Ed voice turned up in volume as I finished trying on some that looked good and felt good. The voice said, No, don’t waste money on these, remember what I said, I can help you.

I was determined not to leave empty-handed this time. I grabbed the two I liked the most and pushed myself to the register. When I got home, I went immediately to the drawer I had been trying to avoid and hide from. I started tossing suits that served me no purpose anymore. I tried to remember that the memories didn’t have to be thrown away, just the fabric.

When I finally finished, I felt a sense of sadness, but an even greater sense of relief. I made a promise to my body that I was going to trust it through this process, and as hard and scary as that is, I think today was a win.

Follow this journey on Food Exercise Life…Balance.

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My Body Dysmorphia Doesn't Affect How I See You

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Throughout the 11 years I lived with an eating disorder, not one thought about changing my body or shape had anything to do with anybody but myself. I understand that being around someone with this illness can of course be trying (to say the least!). However, I am writing this because I’m a bit tired of people with this very real illness being blamed or further scrutinized for something they did not choose.

Body dysmorphia is a cruel and often less-talked about aspect of eating disorders. Many people in my life would (and sometimes still do) condemn me for how I treated my body, or spoke about my body. They claimed I must think less of their appearance/body shape/weight due to how I spoke about my body. “If that’s what you think about yourself, I don’t even want to know what you think of me!” — this was the one I encountered most often. I must be clear: I never once thought of anyone else in the same way I thought (and still sometimes think) about myself. My eating disorder ensured the self-hatred I felt for myself was reserved just for me. My eating disorder ensured I was so engaged with it, I would isolate myself from any thoughts to do with anything else.

Eating disorders are incredibly isolating. I would spend hours writing out ways to hide my symptoms, just to reassure my eating disorder voice I would keep them safe. Every time I scrutinized my appearance and felt scared by a thought I had, my eating disorder would remind me to focus on it. This served its purpose in a way – it distracted me from my vicious cycles of anxiety, depression and then-undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. Disassociation and isolation were how I got through each day. Viewing myself through the lens of body dysmorphia just amplified my symptoms. Instead of allowing myself to process and feel, I just cut off feeling with symptoms. Eating disorders are insidious and they lie. A lot.

You see, the way I view(ed) my own body, is not necessarily an accurate depiction of what others see. I stubbornly resisted this idea for ages, insisting that what I saw was the truth. This was until I received life-saving treatment almost two years ago. In this treatment program, I learned that I saw my body in a much different way. In a way that was not accurate. This was a result of body dysmorphia — and was a very real symptom of eating disorders.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

Here I am, almost two years into recovery, and body dysmorphia is something that rears its ugly head now and then. My body looks and feels vastly different than it ever has in my life. My eating disorder “voice” still reminds me of this on particularly vulnerable days. However, I now have a new perspective on said “voice.” I now have a somewhat newfound respect for my body — although this is still a work in progress. I respect that my body requires nourishment and care. I respect that the way my body looks and feels now is integral for my organs to function properly, for my energy level to remain consistent and — for lack of a better phrase — for staying alive. I respect it, but some days I don’t like it. That’s OK, I know I do not need to be doing cartwheels of joy every time I look in the mirror — but the way I see myself is no reason to engage in symptoms. After all, I see myself in a way that is not always accurate.

My disordered thoughts — although much less frequent than they once were — still try to remind me I should punish myself for certain feelings or thoughts I have. This has nothing to do with anybody else in my life. Zero of these dysmorphic thoughts are directed towards anyone but me.

Recovery is a process, and a conscious choice I make every day, especially when the voice gets a little louder than usual. It is a choice only I can make. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a wonderful support team, but nobody else can pop into my brain and choose recovery for me. So when I say my eating disorder was not and still isn’t about anybody else but me, I hope you have a bit more understanding as to why.

 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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The Day I Was Discharged From the Eating Disorder Unit

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I woke up this morning knowing the fate awaiting me, the highly coveted discharge send off, paperwork and surveys. I have been through this process once before, as it was six months ago since I last discharged from the same program at the same hospital. I must say, leaving a place is always bittersweet, but this time, it was more sweet than bitter.

I remember the last time I discharged, part of me was sad to leave the staff, the new illicit friendships I made with the other patients and the excitement over decent therapeutic lunches and winning at Bananagrams. At the time, I was still teetering back and forth between fully embracing recovery and holding onto just enough of my disease to validate to myself I had a problem. In six months time, I found myself back at the starting point of recovery after losing all of the weight I previously gained in treatment and taking too much of my pain out on myself.

I woke up absolutely exhausted this morning. There is still speculation as to whether or not it was a function of nerves, the impact of the refeeding process on my body or the medication that still isn’t high enough to slow my head down. I got out of bed, changed into a T-shirt dress, white vans and a pair of socks that read, “You’re beautiful. Don’t change,” as a small piece of motivation to get through my final day on the unit.

I arrived at the hospital, grabbed my purse from the passenger seat and walked up to the door for the last time. I think somewhere in my head I was trying to remind myself this really was the last time and coming back was not an option to be entertained. The nursing staff always tell us, “If you need to come back, then it’s OK.” This time, it wouldn’t be OK. From what I’ve noticed, frequent flyers of the unit tend to get comfortable, whether that be comfortable with a break from their “real world,” more comfortable with acting on symptoms or as my charge nurse said this morning, “Some people just like us too much.” I refuse, from this moment on, to settle for comfortable when it comes to my eating disorder.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

I changed into my paper-napkin gown, carried my clothes to the treatment room and answered the same questions I get asked every day during processing. No suicidal thoughts? No self-harm? No acting on your eating disorder? For someone who struggles with her confidence, I confidently could answer I didn’t have any issues and was feeling good and ready to discharge. The nurse told me she was looking forward to seeing my doctor’s order for discharge in the computer.

Breakfast came and went, as did supplement and water break.The mental health worker knows my supplement flavor of choice. We were able to share a laugh when she spilled a cup of water, not only all over the floor, but all over her scrub pants. It wasn’t after long that I met with my doctor, someone who had both frustrated me immensely on occasion, but gave me more time off the unit than I ever imagined having in such a short stint of treatment. She told me I didn’t make weight this morning, leaving me horrified for her next statement. Yet, she still went with the original plan of discharging me. She ran through my diagnosis list, one that sometimes feels as though it’s a mile long, without an end in sight. We discussed my follow-up care plans and ended as she did every meeting, “Thank you very much.”

I jumped for joy in my Occupational Therapy Task group, which over time became known to me as the group where I just make bracelets, but my favorite group nonetheless. I constructed three bracelets, but the most meaningful bearing the word, “Be.” After my last discharge and falling into the depths of anorexia again, one of my support figures looked at me and said, “You can’t be the woman you’re going to be if you’re still trying to hold onto the girl you used to be.” This idea stuck with me so much so I used it as my senior quote, forever a reminder of the battle I endured and of the recovery I hoped to maintain.

Groups finished for the day right before lunch, a meal I jokingly referred to as my “last supper.” When the meal came to a close, I signed my discharge paperwork after reading through the diagnoses and medications that the doctor previously discussed with me. Signing the paper this time felt just as good as it did last time.

My doctor put in an order for me to be dismissed from the program at 3:00 p.m., a time I couldn’t wait to lay my eyes on. When the time came, reality did too, as I realized what discharging truly means. Discharging means freedom, freedom from the confinement of the unit, the rules and the sometimes less than sub-par meals. Discharging means flushing my own toilet (as weird as it sounds, it is something I can truly appreciate after being hospitalized), walking around in socks without grips on the bottom and being able to have laces in my shoes. Discharging means leaving, leaving the place that helped to get me healthy but also leaving the disorder that destroyed me from the inside-out at the hospital. Discharging means the physical contact of a hug, the sweet scent of sunflowers and being able to just, be.

Image via Thinkstock.

 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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When You've Reached a Point in Recovery Where You Don't Know What to Do Next

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What happens when you’ve been working hard on you physical and mental health in recovery, and you don’t know what the next step is? I found myself asking this question today right when I woke up. I’m sure everyone will have different opinions. Some will say there is no recovery, and some will say “recovered enough” is OK. I think when it comes down to it, it is up to your personal core beliefs.

An eating disorder is a scary thing. I think we can all agree on that. It’s difficult to recover, or fully commit to recovery, because everything inside of you that has gone along with this disease so far, that little voice in your head telling you that the worst thing you could possibly do is have that cookie, is fighting against your will to live.

So what if you get past that?

What if you consume enough calories to be able to heal some of the damage that has been done, and finally see things through a different perspective?

I’d call this the “healing” perspective. It allows you to see things that you couldn’t when you were in the throes of the eating disorder.

So now that you are sustaining yourself and making new leaps and bounds, things might seem to be going better for you.

But what happens when you don’t know what to do next?

Right now I feel really good, like I am in this lull, all comfy and cozy and wrapped in a cotton blanket. I know I still have work to do on my eating, and I know I still need to work on my positive self-talk, but I also know this stage is probably not the end. It’s not the end of my recovery journey, because I am able to see where more progress can be made, because I do want to heal completely, even if some would argue it’s not possible.

If you are in a place of uncertainty in your life, whether it be healing from an eating disorder and not knowing where to turn next, depression and starting a new medication that might not be working, or any other problem that pops up in life naturally, I want you to ask yourself the question, “what can I do to keep encouraging growth?”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

I am asking myself this question right now, because though I might look normal from the outside, and I am no longer engaging in the behaviors I was before, I
still recognize some issues.

A good tip is keep asking the hard questions, and keep seeking answers. It’s so easy to get frustrated and tired in recovery, so don’t try to work on everything all at once. Be gentle and learn about yourself, like you never have before.

Keep asking “now what?” and search for new ways to cope and bring yourself peace. All the work you are doing now, in this place of rest and questioning, can only benefit you later on. No matter what, keep fighting.

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