7 Lessons I Have Learned in Anorexia Recovery
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 741741.
1. I am not alone.
In the depths of my anorexia nervosa, I had never felt more alone. I did not interact with anyone at work or at school. I could never manage to tell my family how I was feeling because I did not want to appear like a “weak failure.” At the time, I believed that if I were to die, no one would miss me or even attend my funeral. Over a year into my recovery, I am incredibly grateful for the amazing support system I have. My Mom, sister, psychologist, art therapist and psychiatrist have shown me that the only thing keeping me isolated was anorexia.
2. Weight gain can be good.
I always thought weight gain meant I had failed on a deeply personal level — that it reflected something terribly wrong with me. I never imagined I would have to intentionally gain weight. Not everyone who struggles with an eating disorder will have to gain weight. But for me, weight restoration returned my physical and cognitive health. While I still struggle with body image, I know that gaining weight was absolutely necessary.
3. I need rest.
I have been unable to exercise for over a year now. Living a rather sedentary lifestyle has been difficult. However, deep down, I know it is for the best. Any kind of movement outside of brief walks is driven by anorexia, a way to purge calories. But rest is not just about exercise; it is also about taking care of myself — mind and body. I am slowly learning to sleep more, stop working when I have a migraine and take time to create art.
4. Food is my medicine.
My psychologist has told me this many times, particularly when I started treatment and resented it. I still have a long way to go when it comes to food. While I am no longer restricting my calorie intake, I still follow very strict food rules and restrict through lack of variety. It has taken countless muffins, candy bars and lattes to get me into a mindset where I can believe food is medicine, and that means all food. Simply, I need food to live.
5. It is OK to get help.
I never believed in therapy. After two lackluster experiences, I decided that I alone could solve my problems. I could fix myself; I did not need anyone else. When I got sick, that was no longer true. I had completely lost my sense of self and was lost in my illness. I believed I was required to fast before weighing myself, that I needed to check how my pants fit every few hours, that a few sips of milk constituted a cup. Support from my psychologist and my mom, in particular, has truly saved my life.
6. Recovery is not easy.
When I started treatment, I believed I would be able to continue losing weight. That was far from the truth. I had to surrender control to various people in my life: my psychologist, mom, nutritionist and psychiatrist. I had to start unlearning everything anorexia had programmed into my body, mind and soul. Sometimes, I wanted nothing more than to give up; the thought of increasing my calories seemed insurmountable. Even at my current maintenance weight, I have had moments where relapse seems like the solution.
7. I have a future.
I am not sure what I am going to do with my life, or where I will be in five or 10 years. But what I do know is that I am worthy of being alive. I am no longer apathetic or empty. I have hope for what the future brings. I am more than my anorexia.
To all my fellow recovery warriors out there, keep hoping and keep fighting. With time, it will get better.
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Getty Images photo via jklr