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What You Don't See About Recovery From Celebrities With Mental Illness

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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.

I recently read an article on yet another celebrity being praised for overcoming mental illness. I recognize that celebrities are people just as susceptible to mental illness as you or I, but unlike the wider population, they are equipped with help that others often do not have access to. My issue is the media too frequently neglects to state this advantage and furthermore, rarely brings to light the details of the journey from “ill” to “recovered.” The lack of attention given to these factors creates a very unrealistic and simplified version of what to expect from the recovery process.

As someone who has had mental illness for most of my adult life, I am no stranger to this topic and know firsthand how unnerving the prospect of recovery can be. Agreeing to take these steps towards a new future means not only delving into an unknown space, but also admitting when I am not OK, which is all too often associated with weakness.

When I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, I had no idea what it all meant. So as anyone in this era would do, I turned to Google to enlighten me on what to expect during recovery and beyond it. The pages of articles that depicted stories of beautiful people who had “overcome” mental illness were falsely comforting. Despite being in a state of denial, I reluctantly worked on convincing myself if I followed my doctor’s orders, I too, could learn to eat while remaining extremely thin. What these articles failed to mention is the biological reaction my body would have to food, the alternative psychological issues that would surface and, more to the point, that celebrities in recovery often have a whole team of professionals on demand to ensure their recovery preserves their public image.

In the space of a short few months, my clothing no longer fit. The little self-esteem I had, diminished. Activities like running and yoga became so much harder as my body hadn’t adjusted to carrying the extra weight. It wasn’t just the physical that broke me though. As a perfectionist, I couldn’t understand why my recovery didn’t reflect the women I had read about. This sense of failure tormented me and often caused me to act in irrational and out-of-character ways. I had an agonizing desire to be back to my former self. It was during this time that I wished I was dead.

With a lot of hard work and the right support, I am learning how to manage my mental health, but I am not, by any means, “cured.” For me, recovery still feels like all my agency has been taken away, and I find my biggest impediment is that I still cling tightly to my mental illness. This is not because I don’t want to be healthy, but because it is so embedded in my personality that I don’t know how to identify without it.

My point is, when you have a mental illness, you can have periods, sometimes years, when you can’t function like the “average” person. When celebrities have a mental health related “breakdown,” but are praised by the media for being back in the public eye only a few months later, it sets an unrealistic standard for how quickly people should recover and what recovery should look like. For some, being “cured” won’t be the absence of their mental illness, but rather learning to manage it and appreciate the progress they make.

As Clare Stephens so rightly stated in an article that appeared on Mamamia, “When we only have privileged, thin, successful and highly functional people sharing their struggles, we end up with a very skewed idea of what mental illness looks like.” While celebrities have done wonders in changing the stigma surrounding all types of mental illness, the media needs to show the whole truth of their recovery process, not just the final product — and furthermore, show the diversity of 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.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Unsplash photo via Luiza Sayfullina.

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

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How I Learned I Needed to Feel Understood, Not Just Heard in Eating Disorder Recovery

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During my eating disorder recovery, I began becoming irate at the idea of not being understood by anyone. I had a thousand people who would listen, and that was great until I felt the need to have someone able to understand, too. I didn’t just want someone to be an ear to listen to my complaints, breakdowns and stories, I wanted someone to show me their emotional scars and say, “Hey, I get it. I’ve been through it, too. Here are some things I did that may help you.” It wasn’t enough for me to be heard, I needed to be understood.

Don’t get me wrong though, I 100 percent appreciate all the people in my life who have just sat there and listened for hours on hours. I appreciate being heard and getting to share myself with people who are more than willing to listen and be there for me. I know how powerful it is to even have someone be there as a dumpster for you to dump all your emotions into. But I came to a point when I needed to share with someone who could not only listen, but understand. Some of my friends just weren’t able to understand my thought process, why I did what I did, why I think this way, etc. It was sometimes frustrating to feel like I constantly had to explain my thoughts, feelings and actions.

Finally, I decided to reach out to a recovery mentor who had first hand experience of what it’s like to struggle with an eating disorder. It was liberating to feel not just heard, but understood. To have someone say, “I understand, I know exactly what that feels like. I know how you came to that conclusion and why you did what you did.” It felt nice, almost as if there was a connection. In a sense, I felt a greater connection to someone who was able to understand my hardships over someone who was just there to listen.

This is what led me to becoming a recovery mentor myself. I wanted someone to know “Hey, I get it. I know what that’s like, and I’m here to understand you, too.” I know behind the need to share is also the need to be understood.

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 Natasha-R-Graham

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When I Realized 'Anorexia' Wasn't a Dirty Word

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“Anorexia” is a word I used to shy away from. It sounded so harsh and shameful coming or of my mouth. I though it was this label that would degrade my worth, but through years of battling it and years in recovery, I have come to a place where I realize anorexia is not a dirty word. I am not defined by my anorexia and it doesn’t make me any less of a person. In fact, I believe it has made me a better person.

My unhealthy relationship with food and my body began when I was 11 and developed into anorexia nervosa when I was 14. I tried to hate my body into becoming something I would love. I measured my worth in numbers: my weight, how many calories I ate or burned, hours spent exercising, the size of my clothes — and I never measured up. I had impossible standards for myself which led to so much hatred and insecurity. My mind became consumed by thoughts of food and weight loss, I was controlled by my need to be perfect. Even as the number on the scale got smaller and smaller, I couldn’t see myself as anything but a failure.

I shut out the people who loved me in order to protect the very thing that was slowly killing me. I thought my eating disorder gave me control and a sense of purpose and identity. I didn’t see the deadly consequences, or I guess I chose to ignore them. I convinced myself the pain, the hair loss, the lack of energy, the depression, the fear, the dizziness, the emptiness — was worth it. It felt like giving up my life was worth it. Thankfully I have a family who saw through my deception and my lies that I was “fine” and just trying to be “healthy.” My incredible parents made the very difficult decision to send me to inpatient treatment in Arizona during my freshman year of college — and it saved my life. I started to learn how to eat again. I learned recovery was possible. I learned tools and steps to face and overcome my biggest fear in order to get my life back.

Anorexia isn’t something I chose, but recovery is something I have to choose every single moment of every single day. I thank God everyday that He never gave up on me and that He gave me a family and friends who never will either. I could not have begun recovery alone. I had to learn how to ask for support and then let those people help me.

I am a Christian and I have anorexia, but the two are not mutually exclusive. I believe God has led me through this terrifying path so I can help other people.

Eating disorders or any mental illness are nothing to be ashamed of. You are an amazing, brave warrior for fighting this battle!

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

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I Keep Choosing Life: A Poem on Recovery from Anorexia

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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.

Written on the ward of an eating disorders unit, this poem is a snapshot of the heartbreak and struggle that goes into every choice and decision I make, many of which mask unseen battles. I chose life when I started fighting my eating disorder because my eating disorder was a death sentence. It was cruel, ruthless and unrelenting: it was not my choice. I continue to choose life with every single mouthful — and the hours of thought, doubt and uncertainty that claw either side of what is essentially a basic human need — because life with an eating disorder is not living and it never will be. I choose life because, as one truly wonderful nurse reminded me one particularly tricky Tuesday afternoon, I want to have a life worth living.

I Keep Choosing Life

I chose life
Whilst breathing close-naïve-pain-heavy hospital air,
With feet clamped still
And tear stained cheeks,
With tissue-clenching fists
And red raw knuckles.

I chose life
And clock-watched,
Number counted, crunched and crumbled.
I didn’t crumble.
Or drop, hide, scrape, squash, mash, mix, dunk…
I drank milky tea.

I chose life
Whilst holding all the colors
And making all the wishes, promises,
And grasping all the “cans,”
Whilst shaking all the “can’ts”
With running nose and dignity lost.

I chose life
With hugged knees
And stroked back
With could bes and could dos
With not dones and not was
With one days and one day.

I chose life
In long days
And no ways
And plenty and plenty of weighs
With silence and compliance
New rules, and no choice.

I chose life
In butterfly needles
And nested cocoons
In flightiness and bruising…
With precision and haste
With needs must and necessity.

I chose life
In uncertainty and I don’t knows,
With spinning head and busy mind
With I don’t knows and no, no lies,
And I’m sorrys and goodbyes
And thank you:

I chose life.
Because life was chosen for me,
Between hospital walls.
I chose life
Because life was mine to choose,
Six times a day and every second in between.

I’m still choosing:
I choose life in my vulnerability,
I choose life in my hope to live.

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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18 Common Misconceptions About Anorexia Nervosa

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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.

Over the past week, Project HEAL took to our social pages to ask about the misconceptions that surround anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that impacts so many males and females every year all across the United States and the world.

Here’s what people had to say.

1. “Weight restored” does not mean “recovered.” You do not have to be underweight to have a problem. I am at a “healthy” weight now after being in treatment, yet I struggle with an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) and my behaviors are stronger than they’ve ever been. I seem to be on a pendulum — one side being heavy restricting, the other being binging and purging (by means of self-induced vomiting and overexercising). I have heart palpitations, my hairs is brittle and falls out, my skin breaks out, my electrolyte levels are off, I have chest pain, my weight fluctuates, I have extreme mood swings… and lately I have been drinking more. I absolutely hate my body and the way I look. Yet, looking at me, you wouldn’t guess I struggle with anything. I struggle every single day with this. Anorexia, or any other type of eating disorder, is not about the food, and definitely not for attention. — Danielle Leigh Fuller

2. It’s more than anorexia, it’s eating disorders in general. Eating disorders do not discriminate. They don’t care if you’re male or female, or care for your ethnicity. They do not care if you’re overweight, underweight or obese. I heard, in a poem, something that rings true for me: “If you develop an eating disorder when you’re already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop and eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story.” — Julie Price

3. When people say things like, “Would you ever treat your best friend the way you treat yourself?” or “You wouldn’t let a friend do that, would you” is beyond unhelpful, and will only trigger the disordered voices worse. No, I wouldn’t ever wish any eating disorder on another human being. But, alternatively, you can’t control the thoughts you have or control your actions. It’s not your choice. — Hazel-Grey Kenny

4. Recovery doesn’t stop when you’re gaining or have gained weight, and eating more is a hell of a lot harder than not eating at all or sticking to your normal restriction routine. As with every eating disorder, every second of every day feels like you’re trapped in a prison and although the prison is your mind, it feels like your body as well. It’s becoming overwhelmingly depressed at your body even slightly changing. It’s fear of letting go, it’s trying your hardest for nine years to recover but not seeing a way out. It’s constantly being bombarded with triggers. It’s being a walking calculator, constantly comparing yourself to everyone else, beating yourself up for not being thinner. It’s not being taken seriously because your weight isn’t as low as others or as low as it once was, it’s constantly questioning everything. It’s like you’re standing in a crowded room, screaming, but no one is listening. It’s losing your soul to an illness no one can see. It’s both destruction and safety. It’s hell. — Lucy Grist

5. Talking about how “bad” you were for eating dessert or “how those calories are gonna straight to your waist” is one of the most triggering things to say in the presence of someone in recovery, even if it isn’t directed at them. It makes eating that ice cream a hundred times harder than it already is. — Emma Greene

6. I want people to understand anorexia isn’t a size. It’s so important to be able to separate someone’s eating disorder from their identity. I am not my eating disorder. I have an eating disorder. My thoughts aren’t “silly,” what I think about myself isn’t “irrational.” This is truly how I see myself and what goes through my head. I cannot just “get over it” or “just eat.“ There’s so much more to this illness than food. — Bri Whitbread

7. Listen. Just listen to what I need. What I don’t say. What I wish for. What I mourn for. Who I need you to be. — Sloane Green

8. I work in healthcare at a nursing home and many times my residents will offer me little snacks like a candy bar or a cookie they would like to share with me. I know I always disappoint them when I don’t accept the offer, but if I were to eat it for them, it would bring along many emotions and behaviors. I’m currently weight-restored and I stick to my prescribed meal plan very strictly, so any little bump or hiccup in it will throw it off and coping with it would be too much for me to handle, especially at work. — Kallie Anderson

9. I’m recovered, but I had someone tell me several weeks ago that “I don’t look sick.” You don’t have to look sick. I also knew a lady say once several years ago she “tried becoming bulimic.” People don’t try or choose to have an eating disorder. — Leah Johns

10. This is not a physical disorder. It is a mental illness with physical symptoms. My weight or shape has absolutely nothing to do with how sick I am at a certain point in time. Most of my sickest days have been spent at a “normal” weight, including when I entered residential and inpatient care. You cannot scan my body and decide whether I’m “healed” either. — Emily Huber

11. It’s not a cool diet you can try on for a week. — Kay Drayton

12. Being weight-restored doesn’t equate to being recovered. A lot of people in my life assumed that once I restored my weight everything was back to normal, when in reality that was when all the hard mental work started. I honestly think I was more sick in the early months of weight maintenance than I was at my lowest weight! — Jimena Portal Torres

13. I wouldn’t do this in a million years if it was to just be thin. I wouldn’t have destroyed years of my life, friendships and family relationships just to be thin. — Erika Kisting

14. I wish people could know how it feels to try to survive day to day. Imagine your worst fear in the entire universe and it comes to get you three to six times a day (mealtimes). But you never get less afraid, it just starts torturing you more. This is why suicide rates are so high, because it is insanely hard to force yourself to get up and live with this every day. — Sofia Hoskins

15. It’s an illness. Don’t tell me to stop starving myself. Don’t tell me I need to eat. I know I need to eat. I know I need to stop exercising five hours a day, seven days a week. I know I need to stop weighing myself every hour. By trying to gain control over my body, I became a prisoner of my mind. — Megayn Lewandowski

16. As a mother who nearly lost her daughter to the genetic and biological brain illness of anorexia nervosa, it is a hellish, pernicious disease, not a stigmatized diet. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Anorexia is a health crisis that affects an entire family. No one chooses to have an eating disorder — not one of the brave children, women and men of all ages we’ve met along this horrific roller coaster of a journey. — Kristin Gibson

17. Anorexia is about so much more than the food. It’s about low self-esteem, control, perfectionism, depression, self-hatred. It’s an attempt to maintain some semblance of sanity amidst a flood of emotions. It’s aiming at a moving target. It’s never being enough. No matter how hard we try, it’s that nagging voice in our ear. — Tricia Morel

18. I wish people knew eating disorder behaviors are side effects of eating disorders. We restrict because we feel worthless, depressed, etc. and getting someone to simply eat is not solving the problem. — Esther Baas

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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Unsplash photo via Chad Madden.

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The Ways My Eating Disorder Made Me a Liar

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Most people are familiar with Carlo Collodi’s Italian novel Pinocchio. In the tale, every time the puppet Pinocchio tells a lie, his nose grows. If humans were faced with the same consequence for lying, I’d like to think they’d be more truthful. They’d likely save themselves many arguments and tears during their lifetimes. Unfortunately, lying doesn’t come with such a incentivizing punishment. If it did, my nose would be the length of a football field with the amount of lies I told while struggling with an eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa is a paradoxical disease. It gives a person a sense of control through strict dietary measures and “rules,” but it takes over the person’s life, stripping them of that very control they crave. I thought I had great willpower, and I thought I was being healthy. Of course, I eventually realized during my freshman year of college it was not healthy to cry over the thought of eating at a restaurant, skipping a workout, or seeing a barista put 2-percent milk instead of nonfat in my plain coffee. At that point, I became aware that I was not longer in control of my eating disorder; it was in control of me. My awareness of this fact didn’t change my disordered behaviors, however. I felt powerless, as if my eating disorder owned me. In fact, my eating disorder only continued to get worse. Even though people around me suspected something was wrong, the lies I told to protect my eating disorder bought me increments of time that only resulted in my condition worsening.

I lied about everything. My friends would invite me to dinner, and I would say I already ate. My mom would call to see if I finally went to the university’s counseling center, and I would say yes, despite having never set foot in that building. I would make my roommate wait for me as I sat on the sidewalk while we walked back from the gym, but I would tell her it was because I had a terrible migraine, not because I was actually about to pass out. I would give away my snacks and groceries to people on my hall, saying I didn’t like the tastes, when I truthfully just didn’t want any food in my dorm. I lied about everything.

I eventually went to treatment for anorexia nervosa at the end of my freshman year, but being in treatment is not synonymous with being truthful. At first, I lied to my therapist and dietitian all the time because I didn’t want to eat, gain weight, or divulge my insecurities. I lied about my food intake, my fear of weight gain, my anxiety, my depression, my continued exercise, and a laundry list of other things. I wanted to be discharged from treatment and go back to living my numbing, addictive life with an eating disorder. But that didn’t happen.

For whatever reason, I eventually stopped lying.

This turn towards honesty didn’t happen overnight, and the only source I can think to attribute it to is the hours of therapy drilled into my brain during my early days in treatment. I realized I missed being honest. During value identification activities, I began to cite honesty as my favorite value. I finally had honest sessions with my therapist and dietitian (usually). I finally started getting better, both physically and mentally.

These days, I try not to lie in any area of my life. It’s easier said than done, but it’s an important practice to help me maintain my recovery. When I feel my eating disorder creeping back into my life, I’m honest with people I know who will help me. After all, without hearing the truth from me, they might never realize I need their support. Though my nose isn’t as long as it would be if I were a puppet in Collodi’s novel, the rock bottom to which my eating disorder led me is an equally successful reminder to live in truth.

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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