a woman taking a picture of her salad with her phone camera

Around a year ago, I got discharged from my fifth (and hopefully final) eating disorder treatment stay. And like many others recovering from anorexia, I decided to join the #edrecovery side of Instagram. I met amazing people. I took pictures of my food. I posted photos of my newly “recovered” body. And I found a community of people who really try to support each other when they fall.

The problem was, I wanted so badly to fit in with the girls on these accounts, sometimes pushing myself to extremes to do so. I wanted to recover while being vegan and only eating out of mason jars. But then the trend changed to people having “pint parties,” where they eat a pint of ice cream every night. And then it became body building. It became almost as obsessive as my eating disorder. It was as if the eating disorder recovery world became its own disorder. Plus, with everything being recorded, it made it so much easier for me to compare my body from before and after. And compare meals. It was a different kind of competition, and this one was on display for anyone who wanted to see.

I eventually stopped really posting on the account because I couldn’t function. But I go on every so often to check out the posts from other people. Because they really are incredible warriors. I recently went on and decided to go back through my posts. It was half an hour later when my friend took my phone and told me to stop torturing myself. To stop comparing me now to me then. She had to remind me to see the light in my eyes and the bounce in my step. And to remember the tears and panic attacks that were happening back then.

I had to remember those photos don’t show everything. They show moments.

For some people, logging there journey on Instagram is really helpful. For me, it just became a different underground world. So if you aren’t recovering how someone else on the internet is… that’s OK. And if you are… that’s OK, too.

Eating disorders aren’t one-size-fits-all, and neither is recovery. Don’t let photos fool you.

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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“Go ahead and step on the scale.”

“…can’t I just tell you how much I weigh?”

Head shake.

“Nope, I need you to get on the scale.”

I always get a funky look when I step on the scales facing the other direction and vehemently demand the doctors do not say my weight out loud or document it on the appointment summary sheet. My old doctor, who has since moved to another state, did all of this regularly without batting an eye. He knew my history because he’d seen me go through all of it. He left, and I was thrown into a whirlwind of adjusting to a new doctor and the unwillingness to explain the last 10 years of my life.

Here’s a little peek because I know for a fact I can’t be the only one with this struggle. I developed an eating disorder pretty much as puberty hit me. It wasn’t pretty. There is nothing “fun” or “glamorous” about anorexia.

It’s an ugly, ugly disorder. From 11 to 18 years old, I was in a constant war with myself. When I was 16, I was basically given the option to go to therapy or go to inpatient. Guess which one I chose?

Fast forward two years, toss in an serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) or two (actually it was four) and a drastic change in my diet and lifestyle, I was declared “weight restored” by my nutritionist. I walked out of the office with a strange sense of confidence like, “Haha! I beat you, anorexia!” as if this declaration had somehow been an exorcism for the disorder I fought against for the last eight years.

I learned quickly this was not the case at all. I still read nutrition labels like my life depended on it (because up until that point it had). I had to force myself to go back to bed in the mornings instead of automatically stepping onto the scale first thing. I still found myself occasionally standing in front of the mirror pinching skin I wasn’t sure whether or not it was actually fat and twisting around to find new angles to judge myself by. You would be surprised about the struggle to find balance between over exercising or not exercising at all!

Basically, it sucked. No one had told me I’d still be struggling even though I was “recovered.” I thought having the status of “recovered” was a cure. I thought my doctor had essentially said, “You’re fixed! Have a nice life!” and it would go on like that.

Long story short? For me, recovery does not equal cured. Really, it should be considered “remission” and not recovery. I say this because an eating disorder doesn’t just magically disappear. Sure, you work your way back up into a healthy weight bracket. You can sit and eat with your friends and family or run on the treadmill for 30 minutes and 30 minutes only. Yet, it still has potential to stick around, like a scab that heals extremely slow.

I’m not saying all this to be a downer. I’m saying this because for some reason, it’s really rare to find people who are real and honest with those who have mental illnesses. It’s so easy to find stories of people’s journeys tailored to what you want to hear. Want someone to tell you recovery is impossible? There’s a person for that. Want someone to tell you it’s a piece of cake? (Oh, the irony). There is also a person for that.

There are these “recovery personalities” people all over the internet to take on, and I got sucked in quickly. The fitness fanatics, the yogini’s, the healthy eaters or the “I don’t give a crap” eaters. You get it. They all paint this pretty picture of a recovery that’s just so simple. Deceivingly simple.

I got sucked into each of these. It was like trying on outfits and none of them fit. I had weeks where I would obsess with the scale or weeks where I would obsess with carbs. All the while, I was trying to fill the shoes of these personalities I’ve seen and feeling like a failure when I couldn’t do it.

It took another couple of years to realize I didn’t have to fill anyone’s shoes other than my own. My recovery is mine. With my recovery, comes the ebb and flow of stability, apparently. I still get triggered if I see my weight without having first prepared myself. Hence, the demands I make every time I go to the doctor’s office. Going clothes shopping can be a nightmare some days. I still randomly get the urge to restrict my intake if things go sideways in my life (even though I am fully aware it isn’t going to fix anything whatsoever). There have been instances where I’ve dropped a lot of weight, and I fight between feeling ecstatic and worried because of it.

However, I go out to eat with my family now. I ate like six cupcakes on Easter, and my only regret was the stomach ache that followed. I don’t create new insults for myself on the days I choose not to work out. I don’t guilt trip myself when I’m craving sweet or savory typically “unhealthy” foods.

I won’t say I feel “free.” To be honest, I find that a bit of a dramatic word. For me, it feels impossible to be “freed” from my mental illness. However, I feel better and stronger, and it feels less impossible to fight those intrusive thoughts.

I think that’s what recovery is really about. Not how much yoga you do, how many reps you do or how many “fear” foods you eat. It’s about how you feel. It’s about knowing bad days don’t always equal relapse, and good days don’t mean you’re cured. It’s about doing what you know is going to be right for you and accepting how that fits into your life.

Recovery isn’t meant to be impressive. It’s meant to save your life, and I really wish I could help more people understand this.

 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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

I once had a therapist tell me I should write a goodbye letter to my eating disorder, telling it exactly how it’s helped me and hurt me and why I’m deciding to part ways.

I really struggled with that idea.

But recently, I’ve come to be extremely grateful toward my eating disorder. It has taught me so much. And it gives me a constant ability to help others stand up. So, I won’t write a passive-aggressive goodbye letter — but rather a thank you letter for what it taught me.

Dear Anorexia,

I feel like this letter has been a work in progress for about a quarter of my life. You first got me into trouble five years ago and haven’t really stopped since. But those trials are not what I am writing to you about. I am writing to say thank you. Thank you for introducing me to some of the strongest and most inspirational people I have ever met. Thank you for teaching me immense empathy for those who struggle. Thank you for allowing me to fall and learn to pick myself back up. Thank you for the life lessons.

However, those aren’t the only things I want to thank you for. Thank you for causing my health problems. Thank you for causing me to lose friends. Thank you for having me cry over cereal and cheese sandwiches. Thank you for all the pain. Because, you see, without those struggles, I wouldn’t have learned so many of the things I need for life.

I now know how to be a good friend and how to let go of toxic ones. I know how hard it is to gain health and strength back and how much to value those things. And I know how to cry and be OK. Most importantly, I know how to sit with myself and work through what you’re telling me. I know how to find me.

So, thanks, Anorexia. But I think I won this battle.

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Image by Slavaleks

Recently, it has been extremely difficult to sit down and write. My mind has been a scrambled mess, and I have avoiding it too much to try and make sense of it all.

Anorexia will do that to you.

From August of 2015 to March of 2016, I have spent countless hours in meetings with six different therapists, five different dieticians and three different psychiatrists, expressing to them all how “I want to get better, but I just can’t.” (I’m sure many can relate to this illogical thought.)

I have spent too many meals watching frightened, anxious women become hysterical because there were a few extra almonds on their plate or because the spaghetti touched the meatballs. I have seen women as young as 13 and as old as 45 crying into their bowls of Raisin Bran cereal at 8 a.m. because they have been telling themselves how “fat,” “disgusting” and “worthless” they have been since age 6.

I have watched as hundreds of Ensures have been chugged, and I have watched as hundreds of Ensures were wasted and thrown into the trash. I have witnessed girls hide food in every way imaginable and through any means possible, regardless of its rationality or effectiveness.

I have seen enough panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flashbacks to know which ones are real. I have seen more temper tantrums from adults than I have from children. I have watched as grown, educated, working women shatter to pieces on the floor, only to recharge and pick themselves up for the third time that day.

I have seen the internal struggle of low self-esteem, body hatred and self-dissatisfaction manifest itself in cuts and cigarette burns on the bodies of highly intelligent and talented individuals. I have watched women leave treatment, only to return three weeks later sicker than they were. I have seen the hands of individuals from every different color, body weight and shape and age shoot up into the air when asked, “Who here feels they are the fattest one in the room?”

I have seen all of these women, and they have seen me, because I too am one of them. I too have frantically counted and separated the food on my plate. I too have cried tears directly into my cereal bowl (not once, not twice but seven times). I have stared at, thrown away and drank enough Ensure for anyone’s lifetime. I have catapulted, smashed, crumbled and hidden food.

I have found myself broken down in the fetal position on cold hospital floors screaming and crying out for mercy. I am the expert of panic attacks. I have entered treatment facilities with old scars on my thighs and have left with new ones on my arms. I too have been in and out of treatment for the past five years.

Just like all of the others, my brain screams at me that I am always the fattest one in the room. I did not ask for this. I did not choose this. None of us who struggle from any eating disorder or mental illness do. However, what we can ask for and what we can choose, is help.

Sitting here at my kitchen table, staring into my half-empty mug of black coffee, I find myself stuck. As I playback the last 10 months over and over again in my head, it’s difficult for me to sit with this overwhelming feeling that not much has changed within me at all. All of the therapy, all of the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) groups haven’t been enough. All of the drama, the tears, the weight gains and the weight drops, fights with insurance companies and financial burden on my family hasn’t appeared to be worth it.

August of 2015 to March of 2016, and I am still struggling. I am still sick.

Those closest to me have grown tired and frustrated with my illness and my constant struggle. What they fail to understand is no one is more tired and more frustrated than I am. Some have been ignorant enough to tell me I don’t want to get better because if I wanted it, I’d do it. Others have said, “You’re not ready to change.”

I don’t take offense to these silly accusations and criticisms, as much as they do irritate me. Ironically, those closest to me have never actually seen me when I am most vulnerable. You know, lying awake at 3 a.m. crying because I’m either too full or too empty, body in agonizing pain from numerous injuries caused by over-exercising, begging and pleading with myself to do better tomorrow.

Want and readiness have absolutely nothing to do with recovery from an eating disorder. If you are waiting for yourself or a loved one to show signs of readiness, I’m sorry to say this, but you or that loved one will die waiting. Please, hear me when I say this. I will never 100 percent want to give up my eating disorder, nor will I ever be 100 percent ready. I am, however, willing.

I am willing to ask for and accept help. I am willing to endure every uncomfortable feeling and obstacle I will be sure to face in surrendering myself to treatment yet again. I am willing to try and accept myself as I am. I am willing to heal.

I don’t know just yet the exact steps I will take toward relinquishing my eating disorder. Writing this was first on my list. Second, will be getting through breakfast. If that’s all I accomplish today, that will be enough.

Do I want to go through the painful and debilitating process that is recovery? No. When the things I have disclosed are of just some of the battles we must all endure during the process, can you really blame me? Will I do it regardless? Yes. I will do it because if I stop fighting the eating disorder, I stop fighting for my life.

Someone once told me I am worth fighting for, and I was smart enough to believe her. My mind has been a scrambled mess, lately. Anorexia will do that to you. Yet, I am not anorexia. I am not my illness, no matter how clouded and crazed it makes me feel.

I will say it again: I am willing to heal, and change cannot come soon enough. My name is Jessica and this is where I stand.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on This Is Where I Stand.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

 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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Editorial note: The following post might be triggering for those who have a history of eating disorders. If you need help, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

May 24, 2016 (first week in the partial hospitalization program)

In a really perverse way, this place lends itself to a quirky, Wes Anderson-type film. Come to think of it, more like John Hughes, except in our “Breakfast Club,” everyone’s a basket case and no one wants breakfast.

May 31, 2016

“You’re so out of your depth that I wish you’d just drown.”

The roar of my stomach is deafening, so much so I can’t even hear what I’m saying to her. The words are cruel and they easily tumble out. When I feel this empty, I don’t understand the gravity of my insults, the harshness of my tone. I can’t imagine I could leave a bruise on anyone.

“You don’t know anything about me, about the eating disorder so don’t even… No, don’t touch me! I’m tired. I don’t want to talk to you, and I’m not eating this.”

I’m surprised she’s still down here when my healthy-self left long ago.

“I’m not eating this. I’m not eating this. I’m not eating this. I’m not eating this.”

I get into a rhythm, chanting over and over while scrolling Facebook on my computer. I’m the picture of detachment. Somewhere in me, something already starts feeling guilty.

“I’m so sick of apologizing when I calm down. I’m so done with this. I don’t care about anything.”

The guilt turns into anger, and the anger turns into resentment. The words came out with such force that I spit on the laptop screen. Mum says I should leave partial hospitalization and more time will do nothing if I continue with this attitude. She says I’m never in a mood to talk, and I won’t go back to college if I’m not healthy.

This weight is healthy. I’m not gaining anymore! I’m not eating that. I’m staying at this weight.”

I mean it. Every cell in my body shouts for emphasis. She whispers this isn’t a healthy weight and hearing that puts me at ease. Oh thank god, I think, I still look sick.

“If I eat this, then I’m just gonna throw it up anyway.”

I don’t even believe it, but I say it just to shock her. I’m thinking about Natalie earlier, saying her bikini bottoms are too big for her now and I’m tracing the fat I’ve gained on my thighs and my stomach. I’m thrashing around in my mind, trying to get away from the dieticians and meal plans. A small part of me is thinking back to last night, when the patients (my friends now) all gathered to watch a movie. My mom threatens to call one of those patients and I finally reach out to grab a piece of the English muffin. I hate myself. I hate my body.

June 6, 2016

Having an eating disorder is like driving a car at 100 miles per hour. You know the law. You know the danger to yourself and to others, but you also know the cold thrill as your foot pushes the gas pedal. You feel the car buckle underneath you as its speed catches up with your mind. Your hands white-knuckle the wheel, squeezing the point between control and unraveling. You put the window down, the air chokes you and your heart beats for the first time in forever.

Then, recovery pulls you out of the car. You still have the pounding need for destruction, the aching compulsion to push yourself to the edge. Yet, instead you’re forced to be still. You’re forced to sit with a raging discomfort and try to convince yourself blood belongs in your body and destruction is not salvation.

You feel empty. Life is dull when the world isn’t blurred around you. Building isn’t nearly as fun as breaking. You wish you had never gotten in the car. You wish you had never tasted the tanginess of acceleration. Because when it comes down to it, a world in black and white is nothing when you’ve experienced color. Someone should have told you that.

June 13, 2016

Spiders. The whispers of contact along my arms, my back, my legs. A faint brush against my skin, crawling ever downward. This is what it feels like to lose my hair. Strands fall out like a breadcrumb trail, caught by various body parts on the descent. Each tickle shoots straight to my stomach, where dread and unwanted food ferment.

The other day I was on a patio with friends, brushing off their stares and my stray hairs. All of a sudden, my hand caught a tangled mass of hair at the back of my head. I pulled ever so slightly and the whole thing came into my palm. I concealed a gasp as I discreetly directed the handful to the ground. It’s almost like I’m molting, shedding the old hair, so damaged and abused. This transition period (recovery) is the worst. There are bald spot with no new growth and not just on my head. I feel as if my entire being is pot-marked, waiting for something as yet undiscovered to fill me.

June 17, 2016

The thought of my sisters going through this stings every nerve ending. So to them I say: Girls, there’s this one quote I always read during therapeutic lunch/dinner. It goes, “You are enough. You are absolutely enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.” Those words seem empty to me, and probably to you, too. Because we’re at a crossroads now, where we’ve grown up on heroin chic and the Victoria’s Secret angels. Yet, we’ve also been exposed to enough self-love to have at least a little respect for our bodies.

Sometimes, that respect isn’t enough though. Sometimes it just provides an awareness that every moment you starve is harmful. I want to finally lend some weight to those words. You are enough. Madeline, your laugh is infectious and your freckles are like tiny stars. You are absolutely enough. Natalie, your eyes flicker with a gorgeous intensity and your hugs leave me breathless. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.

I never want you to stand in front of a mirror, weak from hunger and pinch the places you want to disappear. I never want you to fill your mind with the lowest calorie lunch, instead of thoughts about school, friends and your future. I never want you to have to tell mom about the disorder. I never want you to have to force food through tears, trying hard to recover but failing so completely. I never want you two to think you are anything less than enough. Because actually, you’re everything to me.

June 20, 2016

Let’s say, you have a broken leg. Doctors will order an X-ray to confirm the break, put a cast on the leg and maybe prescribe some pain meds or physical therapy. That’s all. A to B to C. With the proper care, the bone heals and you’re able to walk like before.

Now, let’s say you have a broken mind. There’s the familiar flurry of activity, as for a physical injury. Therapists throw the full gamut of treatment strategies, hoping one will stick. The difference is all the commotion masks a frightening truth, no one really knows how to fix it.

For anorexia, there are a number of societal, familial and individual factors that converge to produce the disorder. Nobody’s mental illness is exactly the same, but there is one thing we have in common — a limitless capacity to survive. The women around me show a blinding strength, marked by the knowledge that they alone are their torment and their salvation. This is our only advantage over a broken bone, the ability to play an active role in healing. We wake up every day and choose ourselves, our life. Some mornings these seem impossible, with a roaring resentment settling in our gut and a dull ache in our heads. Even then, we converge at program, ravaged and wounded but ready to begin again.

I’ve noticed the choice is getting easier. When I open my eyes, it’s no longer a battle, but rather a skirmish. I long for peace ahead, but what will it look like? A world without the disorder is harsher. I can no longer run into its arms as a shield from negative emotions. A world without the disorder means I transfer my sense of self from my body to my being. It seems like a small difference, but it means everything. A world without the disorder means I get myself back. I no longer have to share my mind with the anorexia.

So that’s it. This is the secret to recovery: You’ve always had the power to do it yourself. Therapists can’t fix it. They can only arm you with the weapons to do it on your own. The eating disorder weakens your defenses by weakening your body. Starvation is the key to subjugation. Yet, when you begin treatment and your mind slowly awakens from its stupor, your fight-or-flight instincts kick in.

At first, they’re misdirected. You may want to resist recovery and avoid the meal in front of you. Eventually, you’ll realize the source of your pain is not the food on your plate, but the voice telling you to avoid it. It’s taken six weeks of consistent re-feeding for this revelation to pull me above water. For some, it may come much later. When it does, I promise your head will break through the surface and you’ll breathe for the first time in forever.

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.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Being married is hard work, I think anyone who is married knows that. Marriage is many things, but ultimately it is a relationship.

Anorexia and marriage don’t share very many similarities. I am grateful for that. But I have come to find they do share a few.

Healing from an eating disorder is hard work. It is a day-by-day, minute-by-minute choice that must be made. I’ve found letting one thing go, say a snack or an unhealthy thought, can lead to detrimental scenarios. I could be fine one minute, and the next I could be struggling to drown out my ED — or “Ed” — thoughts.

And that isn’t even the half of it, but I’ll leave you with that example. Living with an active eating disorder is hard work, too. I don’t want to dwell on this aspect, because it’s dark and ugly, but it’s the truth.

When I began down this road, which I hope will ultimately end in recovery, I was essentially in a relationship with “Ed.” I followed “him” wherever he chose to go. I worshiped his opinion. I was willing to go to the ends of the earth for Ed.

Do you see a connection here? Just a little?

I wanted to write a little bit about marriage and my husband, because they have both played roles in my recovery process. Then I realized the connections and how, in some ways, I am giving up Ed for my marriage.

I thought marriage would fix me. I really did, even though I acted like I knew it wouldn’t.

And for a while I stayed at a stable weight, but I was still really uncomfortable around food. I thought maybe a new environment would help, and it did a little bit. But I knew I couldn’t keep it up forever.

I blamed marriage for making me feel unsafe. I blamed the house. The weather. My husband.

I didn’t blame Ed though.

Guess what happened when I finally got Ed behind bars for once…

I began to feel a little safer. I started reaching out to my husband instead of the eating disorder.

Ed always knew what would make me feel better. He always knew just what I needed, without me even having to tell him. We seemed strong together.

My husband is a gentle human. Whereas Ed doesn’t mind seeing me struggle, my husband hates it. Of course, he wouldn’t intrude on my relationship with Ed, because he knew how much it would hurt me.

It took a long time for me to listen to my husband instead of Ed. In fact, I still struggle with it. I know my husband’s love runs so much deeper than Ed’s. I know Ed only loves me for what I give him.

Ed’s whispers of a cure to all my pain are malicious, yet addictive. He knows how difficult it is for me to feel it all. He knows without fuel, I shut down and only talk to him.

Being married has given me so much more than Ed ever could. In fact, in many ways I believe marriage saved me. Marriage and the relationship it holds. The love that isn’t in the terms and conditions. The support and care.

Ed never cared about what happened to me. I’ve found someone who does, and even on my not-so-good days, that is enough.

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.

Follow this journey on Papercuts and Skinned Kness.

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