When People Sigh at My Eating Disorder

We’re sitting in the car and there it is. That damn sigh. The sigh I’ve heard out of so many different peoples’ mouths since I was a kid.

When I was going into 1st-grade, I remember asking if I could wear a certain outfit to school — matching shorts and tank top. The answer was “no” because “I didn’t look like the other kids.” I was bigger and the outfit was “too skimpy.” Automatically shutting down, I went and changed when I heard my parents sigh. That was the first time I felt like a “problem child,” the first time I thought I needed to change my body, and unfortunately, the first time I felt completely alone in the world. I noticed that sigh always happened after an altercation in the family. I heard that sigh many more times growing up, and it made me feel the same way every time.

Growing up I never understood what I was doing wrong, but I always felt like something wasn’t right. These feelings followed me everywhere — worried and slightly paranoid. Worried that I was always doing something wrong and disappointing someone, and paranoid that others were secretly upset with me, even if they said they weren’t.

I eventually started coping with my feelings in my own way, which turned out to be an eating disorder (ED). What started out as throwing up to feel a little relief, turned into just not eating at all. After struggling with my eating disorder from 7th-grade to 11th-grade, I was admitted into an inpatient treatment program. I remember the ride to treatment was filled with very little conversation and lots of sighs. I don’t think my family even realized “the sigh” existed.

After struggling and then succeeding in inpatient treatment, I was finally able to make the transition to outpatient treatment, where my mom stayed with me as long as I needed (the treatment center was two hours away from our house). During that time, my mom didn’t sigh once — I felt nothing but love and support. It was phenomenal.

After struggling with senior year, then starting my freshman year of college, I realized I needed to start acting like an adult and work on recovery more on my own. I couldn’t keep blaming my past and everyone around me. I saw a therapist at college and she helped me recognize that I wasn’t mentally equipped to handle school right then, so I took a semester off.

Through all of this, I had my best friend — my boyfriend — my biggest supporter always on the side lines. I didn’t pay him enough attention. Until now.

I started opening up more about what I’m feeling and when I’m feeling it, something I should’ve done a lot sooner. I’ve heard him sigh a couple of times. I assumed this meant that he was getting fed up and he would want to be done with me and this big pot of “crazy.” Instead of letting it eat away at me again, I asked him about it. It turns out it normally doesn’t have anything to do with me at all. It’s usually something he read that doesn’t make sense, or traffic is frustrating him. It doesn’t have anything to do with me opening up to him about how I feel. I have found if he sighs while I’m talking to him about my feelings or distorted thoughts, it’s because he feels bad that he can’t make me feel better right then. He understands I have to work on it on my own, but that doesn’t mean I have to be alone.

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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