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Thank You to the Eating Disorder Treatment Center That Saved My Life

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Editor’s Note: The treatment center name has been changed to protect the identities of those involved. 

I am not who you would expect.

I graduated from college with honors. I moved across the country to follow my dreams. I sang and danced and loved life. I was represented by respected talent agencies. I smiled, always. I helped others. I never had a dangerously low BMI.

I am not who you would expect.

But it was me. I was the girl woken up at 6 a.m. who put on a gown for her morning weigh-in. I was the girl whose vital signs were so irregular she had to drink Gatorade at all hours. I was the girl who spent days and nights hiding under blankets, crying. I was the girl who broke down in front of a bowl of yogurt. I was the girl who broke her parent’s hearts. I was the girl who wanted to end her life.

Was.

As I depart from treatment for what I truly believe to be my last time, my heart is full of gratitude. Cherry Hill Place has served as my lifeline a handful of times now and each time has sent me back into the world feeling stronger than before.

To my primary therapist, thank you. You are the one who fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. You saw through my tears and my attitude, through my lies and deflection – you saw me for me. You fought tirelessly to pull me out of my spiral of self-hatred and sadness. You didn’t give me the option not to continue living. You believed in me wholeheartedly, and made it clear I was going to make it through this. You didn’t give up on me when I admitted again. Instead, you jumped right back in, ready to fight for me and with me. You truly championed my process from start to finish. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

To my expressive art therapist, thank you. You listened to my sadness, empathized and helped me express what my darkness looked like. You encouraged my creativity and helped me remember the healing power of movement. You allowed me to be silly, to be sad, to be happy, to be curious. You hugged me when I came in crying, you processed with me when my heart was broken and you celebrated with me when I found hope. Whenever I move or paint or sing or draw, I will be grateful for you.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

To each and every member of direct care, thank you. You were truly in the trenches with me. You sat with me as tears fell into my pasta. You curled up on the couch with me and played your favorite songs to pull me out of panic. You sat on the edge of my bed as I sobbed, unsure of how to move on. You played games to distract from meals and snacks. You spoke to me about the beauty of life and of what you saw for me. You helped me see the beauty of life and treated me like a friend. Every day, it was you I looked forward to seeing. You never let me give up. It is you who I will miss every day.

To my sisters and brothers in recovery, thank you. First and foremost, I believe in you, just as you believe in me. I could not have fought these demons without you by my side. You kept me going bite by bite. You’re the ones I cried with and laughed with. You’re the ones who saw me at rock bottom and still decided to love me. You’re the ones who pushed me further when I didn’t believe I had the strength. You’re the faces I see when I’m teetering at the top of the rabbit hole. One of you is no longer here and your presence is noticeable and heartbreaking. For you, I keep fighting. You are the reason I continue in the face of sheer terror. I live for you and dance for you, because you no longer can. You all are beautiful, strong beyond belief, talented, loving and capable. We have made the journey together and for you, I will continue fighting. We will do this together.

While discharging from treatment is an exciting time, I will be leaving a small part of my heart in the halls of Cherry Hill. Cherry Hill gave me my life back. They returned the color to my face, the softness to my body, the life to my eyes and the joy to my heart. I will forever be thankful for the place Cherry Hill has in my life. For the beautiful, committed, wise people who treated me and for the incredibly strong men and women who fought by my side.

Thank you, Cherry Hill.

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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Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.

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Goodbye, Eating Disorder

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Dear Ed,

This is goodbye. I’m done with you. For so long, you consumed me. My life revolved around restricting, calorie counting, purging, isolating, working out, perfectionism, body checking, cutting, suicide letters, and hating every inch of myself. I was in so much pain and my life felt so shattered that the only thing I felt in control of was what went into my body. But really, I was the farthest thing from in control. You were controlling me.

My first memory of hating my body was when I was 6 years old. A 6-year-old girl should not be having judgments about her body. She should be out playing on the playground, making friends, and discovering her interests. Not feeling self-conscious that she was bigger or taller than her peers. A 6-year-old girl should be carefree, not careful – about what she wore, about what she looked like, about her body.

When high school came around and my depression developed I didn’t know who or what to turn to. My parents’ marriage turned into a messy divorce, and I felt so much internal pain but didn’t know how to express it. Growing up, no one in my family expressed emotions, especially not “bad” ones. If you cried, you were made fun of. If you were sad, you should suck it up and be happy. So, I would cry in my room alone. I would journal about my sadness and pain instead of expressing it, and I kept so many secrets from everyone I knew.

Throughout high school and my freshman year of college, you were looming in the background, coming more into the foreground when life got tough. In high school, I would try random cleanses and crash diets. In college I explored purging, self-harm, and challenged myself to not eat all day. My sophomore year of college was when you stormed in and took everything away from me, though. It seems fitting that I’m writing this at the start of the New Year because that’s when your involvement washed over me. At first, I just thought I was just being healthy. I cut out desserts, started going to the gym more, and calorie counted what I was eating. From then on, it kept spiraling downward. I started self-harming again, stopped going out with friends because liquid calories were “bad” and scheduled my school classes around when I went to the gym. I felt like a mess. I was lonely, tired, weak, and in denial that I was doing anything wrong. My best friend at the time, who was in recovery herself, would point out how significantly my weight had dropped, and every time it turned it into a fight. I got angry that she thought I had a problem, but at the same time you got secretly happy that my weight loss was that noticeable.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

I thought you were helping me. Although I wasn’t sleeping and my depression was getting bad and resulted in suicide attempts, my emotions were numbed out because of how malnourished I was. Looking back, though, that person wasn’t me. I looked so sick. I avoided my friends because I didn’t want to eat with them, and walking up three flights of stairs to my apartment made me tired. But even that didn’t stop me from exercising. I was living life in accordance to your values – perfectionism, self-punishment, control, shame, rigidity, lying, and repeatedly telling myself I wasn’t good enough and that the world would be better off without me.

At this point, I entered residential treatment and was there for two months. And although it saved my life, I still denied I had an eating disorder. You told me I wasn’t “sick enough,” that I was a failure at my eating disorder for not being the skinniest person there, and that I should just work on my depression because if that got better you’d magically go away. It’s funny how false that is.

Now, one and a half years later, after being in treatment the entire time and stepping up and down repeatedly through partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programming, I’m proudly in recovery. I’ve been outpatient for three months, I’m fighting you, I’m angry with you, and I’m over you. You’ve cost me so much – school, my apartment, friends, my passion for studying film, everything. All that was taken away while I fought so hard to let you go, but you still controlled me so intensely through this recovery process.

woman holding sign about loving your body Although I’m weight restored, slowly learning how to exercise healthily, and working my hardest to follow my meal plan, you still control my horrific body image, and scream at me when I eat a “fear food,” and convince me to compensate later. You tell me I’m overweight when I’m not. You tell me if I let you back in, I won’t be in so much pain from my depression. And you tell me I’m not good enough and never will be. The difference now though is I can hear those demands from you, but that doesn’t mean I have to act on them. When it’s a friends birthday and you tell me I can’t have cake, I fight back saying yes I can, one piece of cake won’t cause me to gain weight, and I mindfully enjoy that dessert I deprived myself of for so long.

So many people don’t understand how you work. Even I don’t sometimes, but the best way I can explain it is having a battle in your mind every second of every day. You are a separate entity. I used to think we were one, fused together, and that’s why I abided by you for so long, but you are a voice in my head, and I also have my own voice. A healthy voice, a hopeful voice, and an assertive voice. When I sit down in front of a meal you say added fats, starches, and proteins are bad, so I should only eat the fruits and vegetables on my plate. At first I listened to you and ate only that. Later on in my recovery I acknowledged that was disordered but stared at my food debating what to do, and you ultimately won and convinced me to restrict. Now, I hear what you say, I debate it, I defuse from the thought, and then I argue back saying that food is fuel, that fats, starches, and proteins keep my body working properly, and that they’re on my meal plan for a reason: to keep me nourished and alive. Of course sometimes I slip up or cut corners, but your control over my life is so much weaker than before.

So, this is goodbye. You hurt me for too long, and I’m ready to start my life. A life without you, a life without losing sight of the real me, and a life without suicide attempts.

Some days are still so hard, I feel so hopeless and scared for the unknowns in my future, and at times ambivalent about recovery, but that’s not an excuse to turn back to you. I want to live my life in accordance to my values, not yours, because my values of passion, connection, trust, balance, hope, learning, and self-acceptance mean so much more to me now. The one I’m fighting the hardest for right now is hope. But that’s what my treatment team, friends, and family are for. They carry me through life and hold the hope for me when I can’t myself. They keep my head above water when I feel like I’m drowning and should just give up. A few months ago my therapist in treatment asked me, “What’s the worst that could happen when you’re fighting for your life?” I acknowledged that I had two choices for my future, and I no longer wanted to follow your path towards death. Instead, I want to fight, and as long as I’m fighting and have hope, nothing as bad as being controlled by you will happen. Even through my hardest, most hopeless days and even when I give into you sometimes still, there’s no longer pure darkness ahead of me. There’s darkness, and there’s a little glimmer of light of hope, even if it’s barely visible. And that makes life worth living.

Goodbye forever.

Emily

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “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.

Image via Instagram/art_by_emily_

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A Letter to My Unbeloved Eating Disorder

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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 “NEDA” to 741-741.

My unbeloved eating disorder,

When I first met you, I thought you were going to be my new best friend. I felt so strong and capable with you by my side. I thought I was completely in control. In a short matter of time we became closer and closer and I started to notice things weren’t as perfect as I had once believed. But you were quick to convince me I was overreacting, that everything was perfect, that everything would be perfect forever — as long as I stayed with you.

But you lied to me. I wasn’t overreacting. I was right. The control I found in you had now been completely taken by you. My original confidence faded as you hurled word after word of insult and hate at my thinning skin. I started to crumble, but I was far too late. You had me right where you wanted me.

All the while you were quick to deceive, somehow appearing immaculate in front of me. I could never get away from you because I felt like I was no one without you. You spoke for me, you acted for me, you became me. As much as I hated you, I also loved you. For all the things I saw you do to hurt, I somehow found many more that were meant to help. However, you took my control. You ruined my relationships. You destroyed my trust. And I couldn’t do anything but watch it all slip away.

But now, I see you for you. All your lies and covers can no longer disguise you. My eyes are cleared from the haze and I no longer want you. Instead, I want what you took. I want my friendships back. I want to be trusted and to trust. I want a life outside of pain, hurt, disgust and you. As cliche as it may sound, I want to love and be loved. I want to run — really run — until I feel my heart beating against my chest. And now I know I can have these. As hard as you tried to keep me down, I broke free and I see. I feel. I know who you really are and I don’t want you. I am leaving you behind. And just so you know, I am much happier without you. I am so much better. I’m more kind, more accepting, more loving. I can laugh and enjoy things. I am better because you no longer control me.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

So I’m leaving you. I’m leaving you for so much more and I could not be more excited to see you off. It’s been too long that I’ve held on to you and admired you, but that time is over and I have a real life to live.

No longer yours,
Hannah

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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Dear Body, I'm Sorry

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For many years, my body has been the main subject of my New Year’s resolutions. For me, this only ever led to disappointment and a sense of failure due to the impossible goals I held in my head and the ridiculous time frames I gave myself to achieve them.

Recently, I had a little personal revolution and decided I was worth more than being reduced to tears while looking in the mirror poking at bits of me that refused to shrink.

My one resolution this year is to continuously try and accept myself just the way I am. Living in a society that makes money from women’s lack of self-worth and insecurities doesn’t make it easy, but it’s a challenge I have accepted!

I decided to write apology letters to my body and here’s what I wrote:

Dear tummy, I am sorry for each time I ignored your empty grumbles and left you hungry. Sorry for prodding and poking you wishing you would shrink and for sucking you in with all the effort I could muster. I love you.

Dear bum, I am sorry for all those times I have hidden you away because I said you were “too big.” I love you.

Dear arms, I am sorry for every time I said I hated you and wished you were different. You give the best hugs. I love you.

Dear feet, I am sorry for ever complaining about how small you are. Sorry for declaring you must be the reason my balance is so appallingly bad. You are small but perfectly formed and you get me cheap shoes in the sale. I love you.

Dear skin, I am sorry for every time I cursed you because of a spot and for hurting you with a number of lotions and potions to try and get rid of said spot. I’m sorry for wishing you wouldn’t make my cheeks turn so red so easily. I love you.

Dear body, I am truly sorry for each and every time I have wished certain parts of you were different. Thank you for housing me regardless of my moaning. You are doing a good job and I don’t give you enough credit. You are perfect just the way you are.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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 Friend Who Saw Me Through My Eating Disorder

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I sat there for the better part of an hour, tears streaming down my face, my eyes fixated on the evil cup of frozen yogurt in front of me: sea salt caramel, my pre-eating disorder favorite. All I could think about were the calories, the sugar and the simple carbohydrates I feared would instantly make me gain weight. I tried to chuck it in the trash, but you wouldn’t let me. “We’re going to sit here until you eat your Froyo,” you said, as you sat there eating the exact same cup of light, airy frozen dessert. And by the look on your face, I knew we’d be sitting there all night if we had to.

Or the time when we went to Target and I bought a box of Kind bars for my evening snack. “You can eat one while I drive, that way you’ll be distracted.” I pretended to eat it, then hid it in my white plastic grocery bag. When you asked to see the wrapper and I paused, my heart beating a mile a minute, you pulled over, turned the car light on and inspected my bag. You drove me home, and together we explained to my mom what happened.

Or when I had to drink four Ensure Plus supplements a day, and you voluntarily chugged them with me so I wouldn’t have to do it alone. 

Or when you visited me in the hospital, even when I didn’t have the decency to tell you I went inpatient yet again, because I was too embarrassed. When you welcomed me with your warm embrace, no explanation was needed: the silence said it all.

For the friend who never gave up on me, when I had all but given up on myself. You knew I wasn’t this cold, statue of a human being my eating disorder had transformed me into. You knew that Audrey was underneath there somewhere: the funny, sweet, caring girl you fell in love with in junior year.

For the friend who was willing to put her own issues aside, and be fully present for my sake. You’ve endured loss, heartbreak, depression, you name it… but you brushed them off so that you could be the friend I needed.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

You loved me at my worst. You had (and still have) hope that I won’t be this way forever. You know I’m in there somewhere.

One day I’ll make it up to you. One day I’ll be able to be the friend I feel you deserve. One day I’ll get you that Frappuccino I promised you, whip and all.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Kosamtu

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17 Songs That Have Saved Me in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Music saved my life. It continues to save my life on a daily basis. No matter how down I’m feeling, how lonely I am, music is always there. Some days I listen to the lyrics, sometimes I just turn it up so loud I can’t hear my own thoughts, and even just for a moment, I forget why I’m feeling so bad. Ever since I first set out on recovery, I’ve been building a playlist of songs that make me feel better or at least a little less sad. These songs have seen me through some of the darkest nights and the loneliest days, and I really hope they will mean as much to other people as they mean to me.

1. “Carry On” — fun.

“If you’re lost and alone or you’re sinking like a stone, carry on. May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground, Carry on.”

This song reminds me that no matter how hard it gets, I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Even when everyone else has given up on me and it seems there is no way out, I have to do this for myself.

2. “Last Hope” — Paramore

“It’s just a spark but it’s enough to keep me going. And when it’s dark out and no one’s around it keeps glowing.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

This is really important because it emphasizes that there is always hope. Hope that one day, maybe not tomorrow or the day after, but one day, it will get better. After all, hope is the only thing stronger than fear.

“And the salt in my wounds isn’t burning anymore than it used to. It’s not that I don’t feel the pain, it’s just I’m not afraid of hurting anymore.”

When I question whether I’m strong enough to get through the day it helps to remember I have been through worse days than this, and I have survived every single one of those bad days. I can survive this too. It has not killed me, it has helped me make myself stronger.

3. “Swim” — Jack’s Mannequin

“You gotta swim for nights that won’t end. Swim for your family, your lovers, your sisters, your brothers, your friends.”

I’m not just doing this for myself. So many people want me to get better, so many people have helped me along the way, and on days when I can’t do it for myself, I do it for them. And yes, sometimes it feels like there is no way out, but carrying on when everything inside you screams not to — that is true strength.

“I swim for brighter days despite the absence of sun — Choking on salt water, I’m not giving in.”

Even without a light at the end of the tunnel, we have to keep moving forward.

4. “Warrior” — Demi Lovato

“Now I’m a warrior, now I’ve got thicker skin. I’m a warrior — I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and my armor is made of steel, you can’t get in. I’m a warrior and you can never hurt me again.”

Every day, we get a bit stronger. I hate the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe surviving mental illness makes you on of the strongest people in the world. I also have a huge amount of respect for Demi Lovato as a person and an artist, and I believe she is a truly great role model. After battling an eating disorder, self-harm and bipolar disorder herself, she speaks out to raise awareness and give hope to those still fighting.

5. “Fight Song” — Rachel Platten

“This is my fight song, take back my life song, prove I’m alright song. My power’s turned on, starting right now I’ll be strong, I’ll play my fight song, and I don’t really care if nobody else believes. ‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.”

This song gives me strength when I am at my weakest; it’s like a battle cry. This is one to blast on full volume, to sing to, to cry to, to fight to.

6. “Never Give Up” Sia

“And I won’t let you get me down. I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground. Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh.”

It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, just make sure you get back up again.

7. “Recovery — Natasha Bedingfield

“Been torn apart, got so many scratches and scars. Maybe they won’t all go away, but they’ll fade. Maybe time can mend us together… again. It’s not what we’ve done but, how far we’ve come.“ 

“We will recover. The worst is over, now. All those fires we’ve been walking through, and still we survive, somehow. We will recover. The worst is behind and it hurts, but in time, I know that we will recover.”

It is so hard to choose my favorite lyrics from this song. Just listen to it all the way through, and you will see what I mean.

8. “Quicksand” — Tom Chaplain

“But if you crash land in the quicksand, I will pick you up, I’ll pull you out. And if the world shakes, your brittle heart breaks, we will patch it up, we’ll work it out.”

No matter how broken you feel or how much you feel that you are beyond help, there is always a way to find yourself again.

9. “Keeping Your Head Up” —Birdy

“Hold tight, you’re slowly coming back to life, I’ll be keeping your head up, darling. Let go of all your haunted dreams tonight, I’ll be keeping your head up.”

“Everyone keeps a darker place to lose control, you’re not alone. And when you come looking for embrace, I know your soul, I’ll be your home. ‘Til you can breathe on your own.”

Some days I am full of fight. Some days, others have to fight for me. Some days, I am not well enough to make my own choices, but I have to trust those around me. And that’s OK. Accepting help is one of the bravest things we can do.

10. “Breathe, 2 a.m. — Anna Nalik

“And breathe, just breathe. Oh, breathe, just breathe.”

“There’s a light at each end of this tunnel, you shout, ‘cause you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out. And these mistakes you’ve made, you’ll just make them again if you only try turning around.”

Everyone is entitled to slip ups, but each time you stand back up stronger. And when you feel like the world is going to end, just breathe.

11. “Gravity — Sara Barellies

“Set me free, leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity.”

I’ve spent far too long letting my illnesses define me. I want to be free. When the eating disorder tries to tell me lies and I believe it is trying to help me in some way, this song reminds me it is lying to me and I’m not going to fall for its false promises.

12. “Keep Your Head Up — Ben Howard

“Keep your head up, keep your heart strong, keep your mind set, keep your hair long.”

“Now I saw a friend of mine, the other day and he told me that my eyes were gleamin’. Oh I said I’d been away, and he knew, oh he knew the depths I was meanin’. And it felt so good to see his face. All the comfort invested in my soul. Oh to feel the warmth, of his smile when he said, ‘I’m happy to have you home.’”

I can relate to this very much. It reminds me of when I came home from inpatient, and I found who my true friend are, the ones willing to look past my imperfections and support me no matter what. It also helps when I remember all the awful things I did to people around me while I was at my sickest by emphasizing that I wasn’t myself, but that now I’m finding my way back to the “real me.”

13. “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” — Jess Glynne

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, no. Learn to forgive, learn to let go. Everyone trips, everyone falls. So don’t be so hard on yourself, no.”

Stop beating yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes; you’re only human. It’s OK. I promise, it’s OK.

14. “The Middle” Jimmy Eat World

“It just takes some time, little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride, everything, everything will be just fine. Everything, everything will be all right.”

Play. Repeat. Play. Repeat.

15. “I Believe” — Christina Perri

“I believe in the lost possibilities you can see and I believe that the darkness reminds us where light can be.”

“‘Cause I have been where you are before, and I have felt the pain of losing who you are. I have died so many times, but I am still alive.”

“I believe that tomorrow is stronger than yesterday, and I believe that your head is the only thing in your way. I wish that you could see your scars turn into beauty, I believe that today it’s OK to not be OK.

“This is not the end of me, this is the beginning.”

One of the most beautiful songs ever written.

16. “Fix You” — Coldplay

“Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you.”

People who care about us want to be able to “fix” us more than anything, and though they may not be able to make everything OK, the fact that they are willing to try is enough.

17. “King of Anything” — Sara Bareilles

“Who cares if you disagree? You are not me. Who made you king of anything? So you dare tell me who to be? Who died and made you king of anything?”

Anorexia, depressionanxiety, whatever else you’re battling. Tell it to f-off and leave you alone. It’s not welcome here.

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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