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Why Relapsing Into My Eating Disorder Feels Like Drowning


I’ve never learned to swim, at least not well. I like being in the water, but only if I can touch the bottom of the pool.

Swimming lessons were mandatory when I was in 4th grade. They would bus us all to the high school where the high school swim team would teach us how to swim. But I was so scared of the water that they had to assign me a special one-on-one teacher. The first few weeks she could only get me into the water if I had a pool noodle, and she would just have me float and be OK with being in the water. While my peers all progressed to the deep end of the pool, I never did. For me, swimming lessons were just being OK with being in the pool. My poor teacher never got me to really learn how to swim.

My sister-in-law, Ashley, sometimes has family parties at her mom’s house (her childhood home) because there is a pool. The deepest that pool gets is 5.5 feet. But I’m only 5 feet 2 inches. And it’s a small pool. The shallow side of the pool isn’t very big, and the slope down into the deeper side of the pool is steep.

Before my brother’s first deployment, we had a “going away” pool party there.

I was in an area of the pool where I could touch the bottom comfortably, when suddenly someone jumped in the pool and the current shifted. and I found myself unable to touch the bottom of the pool. I’ll never forget the absolute panic. No one noticed I was in trouble (they were all rightfully watching the little kiddos), but I was struggling to keep my mouth and nose above the water and think clearly enough to get myself to safety. It felt like forever, but it was probably only a matter of moments. And I was too embarrassed to call out for help and admit that I couldn’t swim well. I don’t know how I did it, but I eventually got myself to the edge of the pool and clung on for dear life while I caught my breath. It was so scary, I really thought I was going to drown and no one would notice. Those few moments of not being able to keep myself above the water or get to safety were terrifying.

That’s what a lot of this struggle with my eating disorder feels like lately. I feel like I’m back in the pool, unable to find my footing. My PTSD jumped in, the current changed, and now I can’t touch the bottom of the pool. I feel like I’m slowly drowning and I can’t get myself to safety. That I’m trying and failing to find a surface to stand on. I’m drowning and I can’t seem to do what I need to do to keep my face above the water.

And I want out. I want to find the edge of the pool to cling to and catch my breath. I’m so exhausted from trying so hard to keep swimming.

But I will make it out of the water. Because this time, unlike last time, I have a support system that’s looking out for me. I have to trust that they can be the edge I can cling to so I can catch my breath. And that eventually, maybe I’ll learn to swim.

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 Kladyk