a table set with food and plates for christmas dinner

Christmas Time With Ana — My Anorexia

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Christmas can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, whether it’s based around celebration, religion, spending time with family or those family traditions — but to me, it’s a time of fear, stress, being triggered by the slightest of things, and the yearly tradition of crying during dinner and the family fallout after it as a result.

In my household, we seem to surround ourselves with food at christmas: the advent calendar treats, attempting to sneak chocolates off the tree without anyone noticing (by putting the foil back on), and tucking into those Cadbury selection boxes a family friend always seems brings round (and add to the pole of chocolate).

Then it’s Christmas day itself: the morning treats, tucking into snacks of sweets from our stockings, then it’s the meal itself (the pigs in blankets, the massive helpings of vegetables and other items piled high on our plates). The rest of the day is drinking wine, munching away on whatever is left from the morning, and dinner before sinking into that drunken or overfed slumber in the evening.

But this, to me, is hell. It torments me and haunts my every waking thought throughout December.

As it gets closer and closer, the voice of Ana (anorexia) gets stronger and stronger until it starts to haunt my every moment, dreaming of what I used to eat during this time, what I miss, what will happen if I do go and eat the things I used to enjoy so much, and the shame/guilt of losing that control.

Ana goes into full-blown overdrive during this time. It gains even more of the control it craves so much. Every trip to the shops is an opportunity with shelf after shelf of treats (chocolate, biscuits and cakes) for her to tell me no, I can’t have this or that for fear of losing that control and gaining weight.

The insightful me doesn’t want this battle with myself all the time. I don’t want to be full of anxiety when that box of celebrations comes around while we’re all watching an overplayed Christmas film on the TV. I don’t want to make people wonder why I don’t take any. I don’t want to try and make excuses to avoid dinner. I don’t want to struggle with trying to eat small mouthfuls of vegetables — only to feel guilty, ashamed and like I’ve gained a million pounds as a result.

Some family members and friends say it’s only a day — a day when I can try and be free from anorexia and enjoy the things I used to eat (and crave so much), act without fear around meals or snacks — but it’s not as easy as just flicking a switch to turn the voice off, or the feeling off, or the fear off.

It’s the panic about going away from safe foods, my routine, and the fear of the voice of Ana making me second guess everything, leading me to the wrong conclusion and taking well-meaning comments the wrong way.

I guess with time and progress with my recovery, I can try and enjoy this time of year and eat everything I used to. But for this year, that won’t happen.

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.

A version of this post originally appeared on Blueeyedfoxie.

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To the Tabloid Editor Running Eating Disorder Recovery Cover Stories

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I have been reading your articles about anorexia for a while. You know the ones I mean — they have shocking headlines like “Girl nearly dies after living on just X calories a day.” The first picture is always an emaciated girl or guy. She’ll be dressed in clothes that looks about ready to fall off her. It’s a picture printed to shock the reader and hook them into purchasing a magazine to find out how someone can survive being that thin.

I have read these stories from different places in my life. I read them when I myself was in the throes of anorexia, trying to feel less alone. I read them now, from a place of recovery, wondering when the stigma will disappear. On the surface your articles look like a simple story of eating disorder recovery, a much needed exercise in raising awareness. But every time you focus on weight and calories, I fear you may be telling a more dangerous story.

I wish you would stop showing us before-and-after pictures — displaying his skeletal form just to prove he was really ill, as if the severity of a mental illness is directly linked to the amount a person weighs. Please don’t describe to me her diet and how many calories she ate. I don’t want to know what she allowed herself to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also don’t need to know what he’s eating now that he’s “better.” Please don’t make this about food, as though this is just a diet gone wrong.

Tell me about her. Tell me who she is. Tell me the things he loved to do before he got sick. Tell me the stresses and factors that brought her to this place, where this need for control came from. Help me understand that anorexia does not discriminate, that it happens to anyone for a vast number of reasons. Show your readers that anorexia is not really about food or weight, that deep down it is not about wanting to look like the most fashionable model or celebrity. Don’t paint these people as selfish and narcissistic. This isn’t a diet or a self-obsession. This is a mental illness.

Tell me what it felt like for him — not what it looked like from the outside, but the agony of living through it. The torture of watching yourself fade away and being replaced by someone you do not recognize. To become a person who will lie in a heartbeat as though it’s second nature. Someone who feels utterly powerless to stop the heartache he is causing his family. Tell me what it was like to no longer be able to feel anything but the elation of not eating and the guilt of eating. Tell me how she lives with the contradiction of being absolutely terrified and completely unwilling to stop what she’s doing.

Maybe you think the shocking photos will scare some people into asking for help. But for others your photos become triggers with darker results.

There are people who are reading your article backwards. They start at the recovered picture and believe themselves to be much “bigger” and “fatter” than the man or woman in the photo. And then their eyes move back to the “before” shots. They see that skeletal figure and see how far they can go. They take note of the weight the girl in the picture was and the calories she was consuming and see this as a recipe to follow or a challenge to take up. They may believe they’ll be able to stop before it gets that bad.

By printing weight you are potentially showing your readers how thin they could get without (immediately) dying. Or they may believe that weight is the exact weight a person would have to reach to be “worthy” of a newspaper article. A reader may believe that whatever weight they are now doesn’t qualify them for help. That, by comparison, they aren’t really sick.

These people I’m talking about are likely already in the grips of the eating disorder, so you could say they are not your problem. Leave them to doctors and stretched eating disorder services. But you see, Mr. or Ms. Editor, you do have a chance to draw them in — not with shocking photos and calorie intake, but with hope.

Instead of telling me what dress size or weight your subject is now that they have recovered, tell me what recovery feels like to her. I want to hear about the first time he enjoyed food again with friends, the freedom that brought. I would love to hear more about the things she is able to do now that she couldn’t do when she was sick. The dreams he is now able to chase. Tell me that life in recovery is worth the battle to get there. Show me what inspires her to keep going on the difficult days. Paint a picture of life after anorexia, not just another diet or meal plan, but a fulfilled and rich life. I need to hear that he can and will be so much more than the person who had an eating disorder.

The truly beautiful thing about recovery is that your life can stop being about food or weight. That wonderful moment when you have gone your first hour, day or week without worrying about food. When you realize you can harness those traits and tendencies that made you ill and use them to succeed in life. Recovery means your life can tell a different story — a story that may have had some dark chapters but can continue on into the light.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that you are publishing stories about anorexia and raising awareness. You could be helping to start conversations and end the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

But there is power in how you tell a story.

Is it perhaps time we tell our story differently?

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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6 Tips for Surviving the Holidays in Anorexia Recovery

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This year is odd for me. Last December, I was admitted to Center for Change because I had been battling anorexia for a good part of my life. Since being discharged in April, I have stayed in my recovery. However, as the holidays approach, my stress has become greater and the more I want to relapse. Here are some tips to survive the holidays:

1. Stay occupied.

Whether you are in school, taking a break or working, staying occupied is key. During the holiday season, with winter we tend to stay inside and cover up more, which can lead to self-neglect. Making to-do lists and making plans with loved ones will help you not to fall into a cycle of not caring for yourself.

2. It is OK to skip out on some activities.

Winter can be stressful enough, but when family comes to town that’s a whole new level. Now, you shouldn’t cancel or reject every plan, but distancing yourself for the sake of your mental health is OK. If you need to take a bath rather than go out to a meal with your cousin who you never talk to, then that is OK, as long as you are taking care of yourself.

3. Don’t be worried about the past.

For me, this time of year marks important and stressful dates. My brother (who is out of the country) is turning 19 and the day I was last admitted is the 21st. A few other important dates follow in January. Last New Year’s Eve, I was in an ambulance headed to the ER while my family was thousands of miles away. Yet, this year marks a year in recovery, quite a few years since my eating disorder really took over me and a year since I’ve been in an ER. This year, I’m looking forward to being able to say I have made it to my discharge date, and I’m still in recovery. I look forward to beating anorexia.

4. If you are alone, then you really aren’t.

Last year being, thousands of miles away from my family for the first time was extremely hard. I saw other patients see their friends and family, and they were so caring. Eventually, one basically took me in for the rest of their daughter’s admission. We are alone physically, but staring out the window and wishing for something different won’t change our situation. So many people spend the holidays in hospitals. You aren’t alone. While most of us don’t ever experience the joys of being alone for the holidays, you know someone who is. Invite them in, and if it is you this year, then you are never alone in this world.

5. There is always next year.

I told this to numerous people throughout my life, and this year it counts for me too. No matter how awful this day, week, month or year have been, there most likely will be another day. We all wish we could change something in our past, but we can’t. Why do we not help shape the future? If this year you are alone, then maybe next year you will have everyone you love by your side. So no matter what is happening today or two weeks from now, you’ll always have another chance.

6. For those considering suicide, remember you matter.

The holiday season is either dreaded or yearned for. If you’re dreading the next month, then bear with me. Mariah Carey songs will stop playing. No matter your situation, you matter. Loneliness, financial struggles, personal or family issues, you matter. One thing that is never the answer is suicide. Last year, almost to the date, I was ready to give up. Yet, miracles do happen, even if it doesn’t come right away or in the way you expected. The world will tell you that you are wanted. That’s all we really want, right? To be wanted. If you are seriously considering suicide, the hotlines and hospitals never close. Please, speak up and get help because suicide is permanent. Pain is not.

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.

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When the Path to Anorexia Recovery Is Not Linear

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I’ve received treatment more times than I care to count, for a larger array of issues than I care to admit, namely for anorexia nervosa in a variety of settings, inpatient, residential, outpatient, psychiatry wards and medical wards.

What do I wish I knew before I turned my will and my life over to anorexia nervosa? I wish I knew recovery was not simple. I wish I knew the next 20 years of my life, my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, would be robbed from me and spent instead locked up on various hospital units. I wish I knew of the havoc anorexia would wreak on my body, my psyche and my very life.

As a youngster, anorexia seemed to legitimately offer relief from any straining situation, be it social, academic or familial. Yet, when the issue became the anorexia itself, when my mind and actions became entrenched by such an illness, my judgment was clouded by this self-loathing disease. My personal “perfection” became a letdown as my behaviors left my umbrella of control and took on a life of their own. I felt the catastrophic disappointment as my eating behaviors became more and more scarce and ritualistic.

The idea that I held the upper hand of control became an obvious lie. Anorexia in turn controlled me. Suddenly, my imagined strength weakened. In the blink of an eye, I crumbled into an empty shell of a human being and what was left was a puppet controlled by the demonizing extrinsic illness. At 15 years old, I imagined anorexia would come to a head and that the ensuing hospital stay would provide the final closure on this portion of my life. I was terribly mistaken.

More than 10 years later. I write this from a different hospital bed, nestled into a medical floor, the wits knocked out of me yet again as days draw into lagging months. A nasogastric tube implanted like a dormant snake, up my right nostril and over the curvature at the septum, down the throat into stomach cocoon. Since the first at 15, the total number of hospital stays, emergency room visits and residential treatment programs surpasses my counting ability. I’ve played feeding tube tug-of-war, more definitively a power struggle with nurses and doctors.

In the shadow of anorexia’s monstrous grip, I have to admit defeat. There is not yet such a thing as a pervasive solution, a lasting remedy or a straight-line of recovery. These are fantasies of imaginative play, not figments of realism in my life.

I’ve discovered through years of trial and error: It would be nice, yes, but recovery cannot be summed up in one solid straight line. The path of recovery from anorexia involves detours, potholes, drop-off-cliffs, repetition of previously-traversed terrain, illuminated high peaks and sullen low spots. Ultimately, recovery from anorexia nervosa is not linear. My own path has involved multiple different hospital programs, inpatient stays, outpatient groups and therapies and at many times involuntary commitment to such programs as life-saving precautions.

Recovery, some 20 years later, is by no means a given. My personal painful discovery is how insufficient my own power is at reclaiming my life from this disease’s throes. Recovery from anorexia may often involve a plethora of tools and techniques I need to acquire and put into practice on a continuum. The easiest diversion is to fall victim to some other illness or addiction and replace its time consumption and energy expenditure with new habits. Thus begins the toxic cycle all over again. Thus, recovery is proven incongruent. I have yet to find a seamless path from sickness to health.

I often ponder those early days of falling habit to anorexia nervosa, and I wonder whether could I have proceeded more cautiously. Could I have prevented the ensuing chaos for years to come? Eventually, I can only name such questions as irrelevant, lacking in intensity of power to subdue demonic rituals, placate tantalizing behavior webs and mute disturbing thought trails.

After all these years of working at recovery, only one certainty remains: Anorexia is terribly easy to fall into and extremely difficult to fall out of. What took place in a matter of weeks or months to enmesh my thoughts and actions with the eating disorder? Well, I still rest unsure whether the damage will be fully undone.

The amount and type of such damage is tremendous, and there is no clear-cut path out of the darkness of anorexia. Its remnants linger well beyond the comfort it initially provides. What originated as a comforter, quickly evaporated any comfort. In its stead, it left a hollow and tormenting charade to unveil to those close by.

To this day, I remain stagnant in sickness. In essence, I’ve spent decades trading forms and venues of self-abuse. What began as innocent self-soothing turned ferociously into self-terrorization. Soon enough, I found myself lost in the abyss of demise, unable to tame the grip latched onto my conscience, which suckered all my being into its depths of starvation hell.

This hell has the ability to consume my entirety, enveloping my light with placating darkness. It coddles me with a hushing lullaby, disordered patterns dancing with heavy abundance. Tears weep and my heart sinks into the shallowness of pitiful pain. I am once again enshrouded by dormant death. The chaos has followed me through darkened nights, surpassing the glory days of one decade jumping into the next with no reprieve of the hell enmeshed within the illness of anorexia.

It is in times like these where I wonder: Will I ever recover? Will I ever live in freedom from this demonic disease which engulfs my being in entirety? And finally, what will the recovery path look like? Given the fact that there is no linear path of recovery from anorexia nervosa, no miracle course to everlasting wellness, there remains a vast unknown.

So here I am, after two decades, after all the hospitals, rehabs and therapies, still confounded as to the next step to take. I have tried and tested each preliminary step to no avail. So I inhale deeply and set off once more…

 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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To Myself Before I Was Diagnosed With Anorexia

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Savannah,

I can see that life is hard. I know you are confused, lonely, isolated and have a severe hatred for your body. I know you struggle to get dressed every day because you think you look so bad in everything. I know you haven’t long turned 16. Yet, you still feel like you’re 8 years old and haven’t figured out the world yet.

I’m so sorry life hasn’t been easy, and I’m sad to tell you it will get so much more worse before it starts to get better. I don’t know how long it will take you to truly become happy. Even then, you won’t completely understand the world, but life does get better at times.

You cried so much the night before your 16th birthday because you were so afraid of getting older and becoming an adult. I’m sorry you had to feel this way. I’m sorry you cry yourself to sleep and damage yourself so much in order to feel something other than darkness.

In a couple of weeks, you’ll have to fight so hard. Harder than you’ve ever fought before. Harder than you can imagine right now. I know you don’t see you have a problem, and you think anorexia is making your life so perfect. How wrong you are.

In a couple of weeks, the college tutors, who you’ve grown to disagree with, will sit you down and explain they’ve noticed a problem. They’ll tell you how others have voiced their concerns about your eating habits and how much weight you’ve lost. You’ll plead, cry and have a panic attack when they start to call your family.

When they tell you they think you have an eating disorder, you won’t be shocked. You secretly knew this all along, didn’t you? Yet, all you could do was push it back because restriction and addiction were the only things keeping you happy. I’m so sorry that sitting in that room with so many people against you will bring you immense pain. I wish you didn’t have to go through that, but you will.

When the doctor tells you that you have an eating disorder but that you could “still lose a few pounds” to meet diagnosis, all thoughts of recovery will disappear. You’ll feel defeated, drained and not good enough. You’ll become immensely motivated to stop eating all together, even drinking, and you will go straight home to exercise.

Please, don’t be unmotivated when one person throws you off. There will be people in your recovery way better than that doctor. Please, remember the extreme restrictions and excessive exercising will kill you if you continue. You’ll come so close to death before things even turn around. Also, remember water doesn’t have calories and won’t make you fat. You’ll believe that a couple of times during recovery, but it’s not true — I promise.

Don’t be discouraged. Recovery won’t happen overnight. You’ll relapse a couple of times and refuse to lose Ana’s mindset. You’ll become depressed and severely suicidal. You’ll go on medication and then come off of it. You’ll meet friends and lose friends. People will be judgmental. Life won’t be kind to you. You’ll struggle more than succeed, but you’ll make it each day simply by breathing.

When you start to recover, you’ll realize God put you through this struggle so you can reach out to others. Your anorexia will bring you to meet new people who understand you. You’ll become an advocate for mental health and those you love.

Heck, you’ll even write a book or two! You’ll try so hard to get your voice heard. You will impact so many people by doing so. Use your struggles to plough ahead and reach out to others.

Your life and happiness is not centered on how thin you are. I hope you remember that as you grow and life changes. I hope you learn to honestly express your emotions some day, but, for now, please breathe.

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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What Does Recovery From an Eating Disorder Really Mean?

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It took me a long time to be able to claim the words, “I am a recovered anorexic.” Much longer than it took the world to see me that way,

There are so many measures of recovery. The medical world will look to tangible physical improvements, primarily weight gain. And yes, part of recovery means reaching a healthy weight and struggling with the devastating physical symptoms of anorexia.

But I would argue that recovery is far more than numbers on a scale. It is quite possible to be a healthy weight but still have food rule your life, haunt your dreams, poison your relationships and destroy your sense of self.

I was healthy physically a long time before I was at peace with my illness. I had been judged by my weight for so long that even when the worst aspects of my anorexia had diminished, my shame remained.

Putting on weight wasn’t enough; I wanted so much to be the person I was before I got sick. It was only then, I believed, I could see myself as “better.”

The reality is, I can never again be the carefree young girl I was before I got sick. I can never be the person I was before the ravages of my disease, my brutal medical treatment, the loss of important relationships or the stigma of mental illness.

I hope it is these very things that have made an empathetic person who doesn’t judge anyone, and yet the truth was for many years I felt diminished in a way that made me believe I would never reclaim my essence.

At times I thought I should view my anorexia like other addictions, that it would always be present and I should just learn to manage it on a daily basis. That type of personal responsibility is certainly part of recovery, but somehow it didn’t seem enough. I wanted to be “cured.”

I wished for a miracle cure – to wake up one day and have the burden of my struggle gone. It didn’t happen. But guess what? That didn’t mean I didn’t recover.

It is true I will never have the same relationship with food or with my body that I once had. Even so, I fought against the notion that managing my illness one meal at a time was the best I could hope for.

What I have learned is recovery takes as long as it takes. For a lucky few, that is a quick process. For me it was a long one. There were times – years in fact – when I was so closed off physically, emotionally and socially that it seemed like I was making no progress. But in retrospect I can see I was working toward reclaiming my life even when it appeared I was standing still.

Looking back I can see my recovery gained momentum at a certain indefinable point, reinforced by the pleasures of life that at last I was experiencing. I began to believe I deserved the things my illness had robbed me of.

My recovery is not perfect. I have moments when I find myself in a hard situation, and momentarily it throws me. At these times it is hard not to judge myself.

But I no longer cower. Food doesn’t dictate what I do or how I do it. The fact that I once had anorexia does not define who I am or what I have to offer the world. For me, that is 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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