“Go ahead and step on the scale.”
“…can’t I just tell you how much I weigh?”
“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.
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