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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.

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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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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.

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

Unsplash photo via Chad Madden.

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Why I Sometimes Miss My Anorexia Body

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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.

Even though my life today is the best it has ever been since my eating disorder started, from time to time I still find myself glorifying my body at its most unwell. I get sucked in and look at old pictures of myself, only to feel worse about the body I have today. I reminisce on all the “good” aspects of that body. And when I am in a vulnerable state, I miss how that body got me noticed, how that body let me control it. How that body was there for me when I felt so painfully alone in this world. But when I catch myself longing for the past, I also make an effort to remember the not so glamorous parts of that body. It was a body I was dying in. It was a body that was so weak, tired and broken I could barely get out of bed. It was a body that isolated me and took me away from the people I love. It was a body that was no longer mine but rather anorexia’s.

So when I think about the body I used to have, it is with a mixture of feelings: happiness that my illness no longer dominates my life, a longing for my anorexic body and gratitude for that body. It sounds a little strange to be grateful for something that consumed my life and controlled my every move, but in my darkest moments, when I was faced with overwhelming thoughts of wanting my life to end, the thing which kept me alive was knowing that the number on the scale was going to drop and I did not want to miss seeing it. So even though that body was slowly leading me to death, it also kept me alive long enough to reach the walls of a treatment facility where I could truly begin saving my life. For that reason, I am so thankful for that body and all the fighting it did to keep me alive even when I was not capable of doing so myself.

However, these days, my goals have changed from merely surviving to embracing life and truly living. So no, I no longer want to barely make it by day by day, thanking my body it kept me alive only to deprive it once again. This realization and change of my thought processes occurred through a lot of treatment, therapy, time, self-awareness and trial and error in recovery.

I have learned the importance and value of a healthy body and what that means to me. That does not, however, mean I don’t miss my eating disorder and the body that came with it. It just means I am better able to deal with those thoughts because of how recovery has impacted my life and all the support I have around me. Today, my life is full of love, connection, laughter and peace because of the healthy body I have worked so hard to obtain. The tears I cried over this new body, the hatred I felt towards myself, and all the times I thought I was never going to be able to recover has all been worth it because I no longer need my body to live for me. Recovery has given me the ability to claim my life back and put my body back in its place, as just a body which allows me to do the things I love.

I hope we can all try to be a little bit nicer to our bodies, whether you are struggling with an eating disorder or not. All bodies truly are remarkable and it is time we start believing that.

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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