What It Means for Me to Be 'Out of the Closet' This National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
I have a confession to make. This is the first year I am not a “closeted” anorexic during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I’m not sure how I am supposed to act.
For the past six years, this week has always been a hard one for me. I would see all the articles and Facebook posts that were being shared to show support, and I was like the shy kid who is always left on the sidelines. I so badly wanted to partake and yet nothing scared me more.
I would see a post I could relate to or felt strongly about but I wouldn’t share it because I was worried if I did, people would know the truth. I was sure that if I even liked a post about eating disorders on Facebook all my Facebook friends would suddenly know my secret.
Sometimes I would fantasize about what my post would say if I were to share with everyone that I too was a recovering anorexic. I would come up with the best things to say, but of course I never shared them.
This year is the first year I can be myself this week. I can post whatever I want, because it’s already out there. I no longer need to be the shy kid watching from the sidelines. And now that I have this freedom, I am not sure what to say. I feel like I should say something big and powerful for all the years I kept silent, but I can’t figure out what that should be.
While I have now opened up about my eating disorder — on camera no less — it is still weird for me to talk openly about it. Sometimes I forget I don’t need to keep it a secret anymore. It isn’t always easy, because having it out there holds me accountable in a way I’m not used to. Now that people know, it’s harder from me to revert back to my old “tricks” when I’m struggling.
What used to seem like weird habits now take on a whole new meaning. It’s no longer just a weird habit, it’s a weird eating disorder thing. And there’s a part of me that sometimes wishes I could make it all go away, and go back to hiding.
It’s scary and hard to have this side of me out there for the world to know. If anyone Googles my name, they can easily find my video and hear my story. People know me from my video before they meet me in person. It’s a part of my public identity now. And that means my days of hiding are gone.
It also means I need to hold myself accountable in a different way. Now that it’s out there, people will notice if I start showing signs of a relapse again. If I start skipping meals or losing weight, people will suspect that my eating disorder is back. And there is no escaping that.
I put my story out there and I can’t take that back. And I still haven’t figured out how to deal with that. There have been days where I have been so proud of myself for putting my story out there, and there have been days where I wished I could take it back. That comes from the fear of being vulnerable. People know my biggest weakness now, and I still haven’t totally figured out how to be OK with that.
Luckily for me, I am surrounded by the most supportive people and that makes it easier. Since sharing my story publicly, I have gotten the most amazing responses, and that has helped. I have been asked to speak about my story, I have received messages of support from people I know, and people I have never met. In the weeks following the release of my video, it was extremely overwhelming, I didn’t know how to deal with it. It was a bit much at times, but it was also really amazing.
One night I went to an audition with my sister, and I was sitting on a bench outside waiting for her. Someone came over to me and told me she had seen my video and how she had an eating disorder when she was younger, and how amazing she thought it was that I was sharing my story. She told me I was brave for speaking up, and in that moment, I felt brave.
Those are the moments that remind me this was worth it. Being open about my eating disorder has been a roller coaster of emotions, but I am still here, thriving, and that is what matters most of all.
So this year in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I get to write this and reflect back on the past few months, and that means a lot to me. I no longer am the shy girl standing on the sidelines watching everyone share their words of support. This year I get to partake in it.
For all of you who are where I was last year — the shy girl on the sidelines — it’s OK. It’s OK not to be ready to share your story publicly. But if you are ready to speak out, don’t let the fear hold you back, because it will be OK.
This year during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I ask one thing of you. If anyone you know struggles or has struggled with an eating disorder, remind them you love them for who they are, and not how they look. Everyone needs to be reminded of that once in a while, especially those who spend their time doubting it.