When a Compassionate Stranger Told Me to 'Take Care of Myself' at the Gym


Take care of yourself.

Those words are said quite often to others, whether it’s an acquaintance, a close friend or a stranger. We thrown them in with our goodbyes and see-you-laters. We say them to our co-workers who are headed out on vacation.

But those words spoken to me that day mean more now than ever before.

Back when I was a freshman in college, I developed an eating disorder that took over my life, day in and day out. It started off as just “trying to get fit,” but soon became something that consumed my every thought. I fluctuated between bulimia and anorexia until I had the dangerous and life-threatening combination of both.

But one of the major problems was I didn’t think anything was wrong.

I didn’t listen to a single thing anyone said to me about my drastic weight loss. I didn’t want to hear someone ask me what was wrong or if I was doing alright. In fact, I don’t think I really listened to anyone about anything.

Until one day.

I frequented the recreation center at my university during this time in my life, often exercising for long periods of time to obsessively “burn off” more calories than I had eaten. I was losing weight — and quickly.

The man who said those four words to me also went to the gym the same time I did on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so I had seen him before. I think we had even spoken a few words to each other, though I didn’t know his name. One day, around the time of my lowest point in my eating disorder, he looked at me and asked me if I had been losing weight, though he already knew the answer. I shrugged and said, “I guess I’ve lost a little bit.”

I tried desperately to hide it, but there was no getting around the fact people were noticing now something was wrong.

I was even noticing something was wrong.

He paused for a moment. I imagined he could see the hurt in my eyes and hear the quiver in my voice. I wished he would just walk away. But instead he said to me, “Take care of yourself.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

His words drilled into my head, but the disordered mindset I had fostered for so long didn’t truly understand why he said this. I decided to brush it off. And I never saw him again.

Looking back, this man’s words really impacted my journey back to health. I had a lot of healing to do: mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence I remember this particular day. I’ve never been able to say thank you to the man who cared about a total stranger, though now I wish I could.

I share this story to tell anyone who is going through something like this to take care of yourself. I’m serious. It may be one person reading this or a thousand, but you need to take care of yourself. There are so many people who truly care about you and what you are going through. Including strangers. Including me.

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.

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Anorexia Nervosa

Woman relaxed

Why Anorexia Recovery Is About More Than Gaining Weight

I may have gained weight, but in reality, I have gained so much more. I have gained happiness, I have gained laughter, I have gained truth. There is no more lying or hiding or running. I would say no more fear, but there is. There is fear. But who isn’t afraid? Life is scary; life [...]
Sketch of girl

What You Should Know Before You Compliment My 'Skinny Body'

It started as a retaliation to my pubescent body changing in ways I could not control. Wider hips, a soft layer of fat on my belly, breasts beginning to develop. Looking in the mirror, all I felt was disdain for the changes happening to me, despite my internal protests. So, I began to restrict my [...]
solemn young woman behind the window with drops.

When Resolutions Turn Into Relapse

Over the Christmas period, people tend to indulge in desserts and nice food because it’s a festive time of the year. This leads to strings of healthy eating, diets, weight loss fads and gym memberships during the New Year. There are weight loss programs starting on TV. People are talking about the new theme of [...]
Teenage girl drinking coffee.

10 Truths About Turning 30 and Recovering From My Eating Disorder

Only a thin white gown covered my body as I shivered ferociously, despite the plush white blanket my mother had brought from home. I couldn’t move, not even to make eye contact with my mother, who, flanked by doctors and nurses, peered over me. “What happened to me?” I wanted to ask, but I was [...]