A crayon drawing of a dove flying out of a cage. The text reads: Enough

To the Therapist Who Called Me a 'Typical 17-Year-Old Anorexic'

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Dear R,

I’ve have been seeing you for over a year and a half, but some things you say to me hurt. They hurt more than I let on. I have been trying to find my place in life. I have tried to differentiate myself from my anorexia, but you still make me feel like I am my anorexia. Although you said I was,“the typical 17-year old-anorexic,” I am here to say I’m not. I am not a statistic! I am an individual who had the misfortune of having an eating disorder. I do not associate myself as my anorexia. I try not to define myself as it, but when you tell me things like that it hurts.

R, we used to have sessions twice a week, then once, then twice, and now once again. I feel as if you do not care. I feel as if you want to bring me down at times just to see what I’ll do. You know me, you know what pushes my buttons, yet you still say hurtful things. You told me I should change my goal of becoming a psychologist. You told me I was not equipped for that goal. You have turned my misfortunes into weaknesses about me as an individual. You never let me live it down. Although you do not let me forget my mistakes, I have people who do.

I am here to tell anyone who has been put in a category due to their mental illness that you need to fight. You need to tell the individual you are not a statistic because you are unique. You are different, every eating disorder was triggered by some different event. You may not have the same recovery pathway as the next person who walks in your therapist’s door, but that is OK! Life would be boring if everyone was the same. You are not typical, you are beautiful in your own way.

So, thank you R. Thank you for all the times you have brought me down and at times brought me up. Thank you for making me realize the only one who knows what upsets them is the person being told the upsetting information. Thank you for calling me “a typical 17-year-old anorexic” because maybe if you kept that to yourself, I would not fight so hard to gain the weight back. Without your help, I would not be able to fight for the life I so desperately want, instead of the life I may get with my eating disorder.

Sincerely,

The patient

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 Makes Anorexia Recovery Different

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At this point in my eating disorder recovery, I often find myself consulting a friend who has been sober for five years. She gets it. She’s experienced addiction. It tore her life apart. She worked hard, and now, she is on the other side. Her insights have been invaluable, and I owe her more recognition than words.

As a special educator, I study human behavior at length. The cyclical patterns of behavior present in anorexia have been a long-standing interest of mine. It’s exciting to see research is beginning to focus on new methods to change the thought patterns and behaviors of individuals living with anorexia.

Psychology Today defines an addiction as a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable, but the continued use or act (of the substance or activity) becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities. While anorexia is not clinically recognized as an addictive disorder, one could argue the symptomology and the level of impairment of people with anorexia equate to a clinically significant obsession or addiction.

The behavioral change process is a growing phenomenon in our society. A common misconception is all behavior change is aimed at decreasing or eliminating a behavior. Cutting out foods, spending less money and reducing bad habits are all examples of decreasing behaviors. Unsurprisingly, the behaviors of people with addictions, alcoholism and bulimia all fall into this category. With each of these addictions, one must eliminate or reduce a targeted behavior.

This is what separates anorexia recovery from recovery of similar illnesses. For individuals with anorexia, rather than focus on the elimination of a behavior, an individual must significantly increase his or her energy. This not only includes consuming a greater quantity, but also a larger variety of foods and nutrients. Herein lies the dichotomy of this mental illness. No other addiction-based illness requires an individual to actively increase a single aversive behavior.

One could argue individuals with anxiety and depressive disorders must engage in non-preferred behaviors to manage their illnesses, too. For example, someone with depression may need to increase his amount of time out of bed, while someone with an anxiety disorder must increase her socialization. While these disorders require the individuals affected to engage in new behaviors, symptomologies associated with these disorders present in various ways with no single solution. No other mental illness requires those in recovery to increase a single, specific behavior without alternative options.

So, what does all this mean? Why does this matter? The treatment of anorexia is different. Individuals impacted must constantly come in contact with their addiction every day. While people recovering from alcoholism, drug use and bulimia can go “cold-turkey” and avoid their addiction, someone with anorexia must actively engage in a non-preferred behavior to cure their illness. This is not to say treating anorexia is easier or more challenging than treating substance abuse or other mental illnesses. It is just different.

In my opinion, this makes anorexia recovery exhausting. Every day, several times a day, I must make an active choice to eat. I must engage in a behavior I despise. I cannot avoid my fear or numb it; I must face it head on. I must learn to tolerate and then accept eating meals and gaining weight.

While it can become easier, the demand never fully goes away. This is an unbelievably terrifying realization. There are no days off or breaks. There is no finish line. I must continue to eat three meals a day for the rest of my life. In these moments when doubt and uncertainty creep in, I look to my sober friend and think: If you can eliminate liquor completely, I can choose to keep eating completely, too.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

 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 Problematic Nature of Eating Disorder Recovery Transformation Photos

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When scrolling through the #edrecovery tag on Instagram, it’s common to see transformation photos juxtaposing an emaciated and healthy body. I understand the purpose of these photos: they document the impressive achievement of weight restoration, and even I admit to posting one of these before and after pictures. But I now fear these images are largely unhealthy to both those who have eating disorders and the general public.

When I posted my transformation photo, I was not in a good place. I examined that before photo constantly, looking for differences and idolizing my most extreme features. The eating disorder loved these photos; they acted as a reminder that I had this body before, and I could get it again. These sick photos were images that I deleted once I began true recovery, for I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to trigger myself in a moment of weakness. Holding onto these photos, even for a transformation picture, seems risky to me.

For others struggling with eating disorders, these images are also problematic. Eating disorders love to compare, and the proliferation of sick photos acts as a direct means of comparisons. I remember looking at before photos of other individuals at my worst, critiquing myself and using them as a motivation to restrict and exercise more. These photos provide similar ammunition to eating disordered individuals that got the #proana and #promia tags reported.

Even though these photos will likely not act as a trigger to the general public, they do perpetuate the oversimplification of eating disorders in society. Eating disorders are mental illnesses and are rooted in issues beyond weight, but these transformation pictures only acknowledge the physical aspects of eating disorders that are already overemphasized in society. In addition, they suggest that weight restoration is the only requirement for eating disorder recovery, which we know is not true. Some may be struggling the most at a healthy weight, and others may not even have to undergo weight restoration in order to recover, but this does not make their struggle less valid.

Instead of physical transformation photos, I want to see the joys of recovery captured on camera. Eating disorder recovery is more about gaining freedom and happiness rather than weight, and I want to see that on Instagram.

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 Those Who Can't See Light at the End of the Anorexia Recovery Tunnel

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I always thought people were lying to me when they said the words “It gets better.” I thought I would wake up and fear the food I would have to eat for every single day of the rest of my life. Yet, I woke up this morning after having a three-course meal with some friends and never felt more joy.

The last few years, anorexia clouded my perception of what the world had to offer me. My life was consumed by thoughts associated with food, weight and calories. I had no enthusiasm for recovery; I felt purely controlled by fear of food. Listening to anorexia led to me being unable to support myself, yet now I am sitting here a year later about to make myself pancakes for breakfast. Everything has changed.

Accepting recovery is one of the greatest choices I have ever made. At first, it felt unnatural and painful. It would involve crying and refusing food, yet five minutes later, picking the fork up and completing the meal. It would involve planning relapse, yet waking up and doing the opposite. And it involved powering through the hardest moments in my journey. Slowly, it got easier. It got easier to say yes to the piece of pizza or the slice of cake, but it wasn’t just food that got better; my gratitude towards life improved. I began to smile more, laugh more, dance more, I started to accept myself and my imperfections more. Since starting my recovery, I have done things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do; I started to live, I opened up more, I went out for meals, I went on holidays, I helped people who were fighting similar battles.

In my darkest hours, people told me to never give up, even if I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for a while I couldn’t see it. However, I am soon celebrating a year since being discharged from the hospital, I have handed in my university application to study psychology in the hope of helping others, I am going traveling for nine months in my gap year, I have a job, and I am soon taking my final exams. Choosing recovery from anorexia has been the hardest thing I have ever done, and it certainly has not been a straight line. There have been relapses and breakdowns, but there have been such beautiful moments, too. And for me, each of those happy moments makes the worst moments worth it.

To those who struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel: In the end, I don’t believe anybody can say they regretted recovery. Choosing recovery can give you infinite opportunities that you may miss out on if you continue to believe what anorexia tells you. I could never imagine myself in the place I am today; however, each day living in recovery, my life keeps improving, and I know every step I take in recovery will lead me to one day being fully recovered.

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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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To the Woman Who Congratulated My Friend on Declining Candy

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Hi,

You probably don’t remember me and my friends. We were the 15 and 16-year-old kids who knocked on your door this Halloween. We were laughing and you guessed our costumes, allowing us a few minutes to return to our childhood. But then you offered candy and we took it thanking you – except for one friend who smiled and said no thank you.

You told her you were impressed by her ability to resist – or something to that effect, I can’t quite remember. It doesn’t matter.

In that moment, you unknowingly validated her eating disorder.

Her smile showed me that she’d been proven right, starving herself was the “strong” choice. You didn’t know that she’s deep in a fight with anorexia nervosa. You didn’t know she had only been allowed to go to summer camp on the condition that she gained weight. You didn’t see the slight argument with her mom about taking a candy bag trick-or-treating. Neither her nor her mom wanted to have the discussion “in front of company,” but her mom just wanted her to take a candy bag. She wouldn’t. As an outsider, I can only imagine this is a normal occurrence in her household.

You don’t know she skips lunch every day to do homework and then goes horseback riding for hours. You don’t know she has spent years criticizing the way her thighs touch. If you’d known all that, I assume you wouldn’t have said what you did. At least I hope you wouldn’t have. So I don’t fault you. You too have been pushed to believe that dieting is strength and weight is weakness. She doesn’t “look” anorexic, unless you know her. You were maybe projecting your desire to lose weight onto an insecure 16-year-old. In that moment the innocence and fun of running around asking for candy was gone. Yes, you were not the first person to make some sort of comment; we’d been told we were too old to be trick-or-treating and our costumes were boring, but nobody had said something with such lasting impact. So if you read this, I just ask next time please think before you speak. I believe you are probably a very nice person and I hope you use this as an opportunity to reflect on the consequences of your words.

Thank you.

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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