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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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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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How I'm Learning to Accept Gaining Weight in Eating Disorder Recovery

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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.

Staring at myself in the mirror, sitting cross-legged on the floor trying not to be distracted by my body, I am debilitated by loneliness once again. All I want to do is crawl into a ball, cry myself to sleep and disappear for a while. All I want is to escape the voice inside me calling me fat, ugly, disgusting, worthless and fat, fat, fat. I want to be a “normal” person again who isn’t consumed with thoughts about weight, but instead has thoughts about friends, success and dreams for the future. Yet, as I sit in front of the mirror, all I can think is how gruesome my future may be if I don’t lose weight. All I can think is how weight and food will never stop torturing me.

Even in my process of recovery, the voices of Ana (anorexia) and Mia (bulimia) never seem to quiet themselves. I’m terrified of falling back to Ana once again. It’s as if Ana and Mia cannot quite decide which one should claim their territory over my body. It’s as if my mind and body has become a game board where Ana and Mia are the players and they take turns making their moves until one of them will destroy my soul altogether.

Sitting in front of the mirror, I can’t help but feel completely hopeless. How will I ever love myself if I just keep getting bigger? How could I possibly love myself at my current weight? Worst of all, how am I supposed to continue to make it through life, day by day, just trying to survive and ignore the thoughts of food and weight that are always consuming me? What kind of a life is one only dedicated to eating or not eating, losing weight or hating myself for gaining weight?

I’d be lying if I said that, suddenly, as I stare at myself in the mirror, all of the answers to my questions became clear and I suddenly can accept the idea of gaining weight or intuitively eating. I’d be lying if I said I suddenly discovered how to love myself, regardless of my weight. Trying to decide how to eat and when to eat are still constant thoughts that are always at least in the back of my mind.

Perhaps experiencing weight gain is not a loss, but instead another challenge to stretch our comfort zones and demonstrate the endless amount of strength we have inside of us. Struggling for self-acceptance only grows our ability to reach true recovery. After all, many of us carry the weight of depression and self-hatred every day. Surely, we can destroy the self-hatred and depression. Any amount of weight is healthier than the hatred I subjected my mind to every day. As incredibly hard as it is to accept, I am not my weight — as much as Ana and Mia would like me to believe I am. I have so much more to gain from recovery, even if a few extra pounds has to come with it.

As I write this, I still struggle with the weight that has collected on my body. Yet, I also can’t help but notice the tiny spark of light that exists within my eyes, as if a small part of me is begging for recovery and self-love. No matter how hard, this is the part of myself I need to nourish. Despite what Ana and Mia would like me to believe, I deserve more than they have to offer me. I have to keep fighting in spite of them, even if that means accepting a few extra pounds, because I am more than my weight. The burden of self-hatred and depression are so much heavier than any amount of weight I could possibly gain in 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.

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Anorexia: The Voice of the Monster in My Head

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm or an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click hereFor eating disorders, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

One month in the dark.

I sat in the parking garage outside of the treatment center and cried for an hour when I ate my first meal in a month.

“I don’t think I can do this.”

I hugged my knees to my chest, took a few deep breaths and wiped away a layer of tears with my sleeve.

It had taken everything inside of me just to drive there that morning and this felt like more than I could handle. I still wasn’t even sure I wanted recovery in the first place — what was I doing at a treatment center again? Why had I reached out for help?

Recovery had come to symbolize everything I was most afraid of: it meant becoming solid, giving up being a ghost-girl. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to trade haunting lightness for presence and weight and substance.

I stared at the building in front of me through tear-blurred vision and wondered what part of me thought that going back to treatment was a good idea.

* * *

Relapse is not what I had in mind when I left my last treatment center. I signed recovery contracts, set up aftercare appointments, taped motivational quotes around my apartment and prepared menus each week according to my dietitian-approved meal plan.

But it was always lingering there — the desire to be sick.

It didn’t take long. It was surprisingly simple actually, deciding to dance with the devil again. I let myself be pulled back to the Land of Shadows, to the familiar, terrifying terrain of self-denial and frail non-existence.

When my body survived off of caffeine and adrenaline, I felt invincible. “Look at how powerful I am,” I would say, stepping on the scale to find that the number has gone down again. “I am so powerful I can make myself disappear.”

I would suppress my hunger and reward myself at the end of each day with a small, obsessively-measured allotment of calories.

My body was in agony, but as I entered a foggy haze of starvation again, the Real Pain, the one that never let up, began to thin out. It seemed to shrink in proportion to my shrinking body.

“This is what you wanted,” I would remind myself when my stomach growled too loudly and the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet was the only thing I could focus on. “You want to be numb to the pain.”

And I was right. It was what I had wanted.

But there was always a pause after those words.

A moment.

A breath.

A hesitation.

* * *

One week in the light.

I had survived another day of treatment, showing up even when I didn’t feel like it. I did not want to eat. At every meal, I was faced with a plate full of food and a mind that was resisting.

Emptiness had been a welcome relief. Starvation had felt preferable to the pain of being.

While I might have gone back to treatment, I still didn’t know how to stop wanting The Monster.

* * *

Today, in the shadows.

I cannot tell you for certain if the real Me, with a capital M, still exists somewhere in this ghost-shell of a body.

Most days I cannot hear anything in my head except The Monster.

“Are you even in there?” I whisper to her in the darkness, huddled under layers of blankets in my bed. “Have you managed to survive the war?”

And from some deep, buried corner of my soul, I think I feel her stirring.

Me with a Capital M doesn’t respond. If she were to speak, I don’t know I would even be able to distinguish her voice from The Monster. But it is something, knowing she is still in there after all of this time.

* * *

When I eat, The Monster begins to roar in my head, telling me there is a deep dirtiness swimming in my veins. It rages and screams that the only way I can atone for the “crime” of existing is to starve, purge or bleed these tainted parts out of me.

But I am beginning to feel her in bits in pieces now, “capital M” Me, and she is pushing for something else.

And I begin to wonder: what would happen if the gods did not get their sacrifice this time? What if I were to stop punishing myself endlessly to satiate their bloodthirsty appetites? What if She were allowed to stand and speak more often instead of The Monster?

Would the foundations of the earth shatter? Would the planets collide?

And I am so afraid —

Not of planets colliding or earth-shattering disruptions,

I am afraid of life and happiness and freedom.

I am afraid of change.

I am afraid of losing the ghost-girl I hide beneath and beginning to fill in with Me.

I am afraid of losing my power,

And of gaining it.

I am afraid of the anger of the gods when I stop offering up my body as a sacrifice.

I am afraid of healing when it feels so very much like the last thing I deserve.

I am caught now between wanting to listen to Me, with a capital M, whose words feel more authentic and true and resonate in my bones, and giving in to The Monster, whose abusive voice is set on replay. This is the unholy tension in which I live, and for which I do not yet have an answer.

But there is a weak sliver of light shining in, barely enough to see in front of me, that is keeping the shadows from swallowing me whole. In the light there is a glimmer of “maybe” and “what if” that will keep me getting up in the morning, showing up to treatment, facing that plate of food again and again and listening for when “capital M” Me begins to speak at last.

The truth is, I don’t know how I’m going to get through each meal every day. It gets overwhelming if I think about it for too long. But for whatever reason, that Space In Between, that sacred hesitation after “I want to be numb,” is holding me back from falling headlong into the darkness.

Follow this journey on Recovering Lindsay.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click 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.

Thinkstock photo via djedzura

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