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When I Realized It Wasn't Me Who Was Controlling Anorexia

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A woman hiking at a cliff with her arms outstretched Anorexia began to develop in my brain at a young age. To this day, I continue to be caught off guard by its compelling deceit and powerful grip over my thoughts, which lead to frequent relapses.

As a child, I thought I decided to have an eating disorder. Consequently, I spent the majority of the next two decades blaming myself for how sick I’ve been. During preteen and teenage years, I truly believed myself when I said, “I can stop if I want. I just don’t want to…yet.”

Then, anorexia surprised me. I was 15 years old and found myself struggling with a mental illness on the pediatrics floor of the hospital, and soon enough at the Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Program in a larger city.

How could I have let it get so out of hand? How could I be so weak-willed that I could not even make myself eat?

My whole life had been about control. About controlling people, situations, my surrounding environments, and especially myself and my body. Hence, it came as a grotesque shock to realize this disease had complete control over me, not the opposite, as I had convinced myself. This lack of control is the one symptom that shook me to my core.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

Anorexia has never ceased to surprise me. It has the cunning ability to turn my thoughts against reality. It causes me to forcefully ignore every experience I’ve had and instead re-create a fantasy that “this time will be different.”

The sheer monstrous grip it takes on my physical health, pushing me to the limit of life, time and time again. The endless torment in my head, seemingly out of nowhere, and its ability to play fickle rule games. I lose every time.

One can never win with anorexia. By this I mean there is no way to fully satisfy the illness. Winning comes in the form of freedom. This freedom is bought at the high price of years of torture, and at many times, it feels utterly impossible. Yet, without consistently putting in the hard work to break free, I miss out on perhaps the biggest surprise of all: Recovery.

 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 Reality of Rebuilding After an Eating Disorder

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Let’s face it. Life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. Prince charming doesn’t give you a fairytale ending. The friends you thought would always be around suddenly don’t feel so close anymore. The major that was supposed to be your dream job and life calling totally isn’t. You get sick and need help even though you’re an adult. Life turns into something we can’t handle.

We all have plans about how we envision our lives playing out. I’d be lying if I said I’m living the life I had planned. “Everything happens for a reason,” is always said to explain life, but it’s a hard idea to buy into. Sometimes, we don’t know the reason, and sometimes, the things that happen suck. That may sound pessimistic, but over the last three years I feel like I’ve learned more about myself and life in general than I have over the past 20 years of my life.

I never planned on getting my heart broken or losing my closest friends. I never imagined having to drop out of school to focus on my health or changing majors three times. I never planned on having anorexia and all of the awful things that come along with it. I was so withdrawn from my life and so distant from my family. I spent hours laying in bed with the door shut because I was too weak and sad to do anything else.

Nothing else mattered except going to the gym, eating “healthy,” calorie counting and meal planning. I lost myself to my eating disorder. I could blame everything on the fact that I was at a low point in my illness or that I was too sick to help it. Or, on the other hand, I could face the fact that yes, I lost myself. Everyone and everything that truly mattered to me was no longer in my reach, but now I’m learning who I really am and who I want to be.

Recovery has been about so much more than restoring my health. Of course, that is a huge piece of it, but in the process I’ve learned so much about life and what is really important. I’ve learned so much about who will always be there. I’ve become much closer with my family and have realized how important they are in my life. I know what career path is going to be my passion. I’ve realized how important it is to be empathetic for others and how to be a friend.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

I’m not fully recovered, and I still struggle every day. I’m not the same person I was before I got sick, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. My life is far from perfect or back to the way it used to be, but I’m learning there’s nothing wrong with building a new life with new priorities and new people.

Life is unpredictable. There’s no way to change that, but there is no greater freedom than accepting life’s imperfections and finding ways to turn your struggles into personal growth. I’m not sure what my life will be like next month, next year or even tomorrow. Not knowing used to kill me, but now I’m learning to be excited by life’s unpredictability and know that things aren’t always going to be easy. That doesn’t mean you can’t get through it and find something greater than you ever expected.

Broken hearts, lost friendships, hardships, setbacks, they are all undesirable and something we try to avoid. However, if you view them as subtle hints that there’s something out there that’s better for you, they will make you so much happier that will open your eyes to possibilities you’d never even thought of; This is when you begin to look forward to life’s unexpected moments and begin to understand why things happen the way they do. You’ll find the man or woman you’re really meant to be with, friends who are so pure and true and fulfillment in a life you never even knew you wanted. Sometimes we lose ourselves, and the best part is getting to find ourselves all over again.

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I'm Not Anorexic

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I know what you’re thinking.

Of course you’re anorexic, Sarah Beth. Your whole blog is about your journey through anorexia. You didn’t just go to treatment for nothing.

Wow, thanks for reading my mind! But that’s not what I meant.

Yes it’s true. On all my medical forms there’s a diagnosis next to my name.

Anorexia.

But that’s the thing.

have anorexia, but I am not anorexic.

You’re probably wondering what the difference is. You might think I’m being silly. But let me explain.

I really don’t like diagnoses. I know they’re necessary for insurance reasons and whatnot, but I don’t want those labels coming off the papers they’re written on.

I don’t want to put those labels on myself. 

Those labels [anorexia, depression, anxiety, etc] can be so negative and I don’t want to allow those negative words, thoughts and feelings to be extended back to who I am as a person.

As a person, I am kind, compassionate and strong. I like to laugh and I sing a little too loudly (“Annie,” anyone?). I love Jesus and I am just completely in awe of the fact that he loves a sinner like me. I hate cooking but I try to do it anyways (and normally end up with a burnt mess). I don’t like driving with the windows down because it messes up my hair and the wind is too loud. I just turned 19 but I still love getting stuffed animals. And I’m in recovery from an eating disorder.

My eating disorder does not define me. Yes, it has taken up a lot of my life, but it is not who I am as a person. I will not always have the diagnosis of anorexia next to my name on my current medical records. One day it will be in my medical history and on that day I will rejoice.

So yes, I have a diagnosis. And I fully admit to having said diagnosis. But I am not my diagnosis.

I have anorexia, but anorexia does not have me.

So I’m not anorexic. I am Sarah Beth, a girl who is learning to make a life for herself not defined by anorexia.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

There’s a difference.

Follow this journey on Rewriting Her Ending

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How Instagram Helped and Hurt My Eating Disorder Recovery

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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.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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

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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 Feel Like You Need an Eating Disorder 'Recovery Personality'

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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!

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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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A Thank You Letter to Anorexia

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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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