How I Came to Choose My ‘Person’ Over Ana and Mia
Hurt-filled eyes penetrate my heart as they stare into mine across the table. I have seen this look before but never has it made me feel so guilty.
In 23 years on this earth, I have been blessed with great friendships, but none that would ever hold a candle to ours.
The Yang to my Grey, The Monica to my Rachel, The Paris to my Nicole, and all of the other best friend duos…
She is truly my other half, my roommate, my co-worker, my role model, my hero, my concert sidekick, my partner-in-crime and my best friend.
Unfortunately, this means my “ugly secret” is no longer a secret — at least, not to her.
It has been years since anyone has used “eating disorder” as a term in reference to me. The dreadful disorder that has haunted me for almost a decade has been my own cross to bear for some time now.
The past few years, I have convinced myself time and time again that I no longer have a problem. The individuals who tried and failed to help me during adolescence have long since drifted into the past.
In order to maintain “relationships” with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa — Ana and Mia — I have sacrificed numerous relationships with loved ones.
No one tells you that even as a teenager, people will eventually get tired of your “bullshit” and move on. When your thoughts are preoccupied due to a life-threatening mental illness, it is easy to lose sight of everything else. I may never be able to make up for the pain I have inflicted upon others due to my eating disorder, but I refuse to let it destroy another imperative relationship.
The euphoria experienced from dropping in weight or hearing someone say “Oh, you’ve really lost weight” will never compensate for the tears in the eyes of the person you love most.
Eating disorders may cause individuals to become “self-absorbed,” but the love we have for others is still 100% sincere… or, at least, it is in my case.
The most important advice I could offer to anyone on the outside looking in is to never forget that eating disorders are mental illnesses. There is not one individual in the grips of an eating disorder who woke up one day and decided they wanted to become sick.
For almost 10 years, I have battled the disorder that is trying to kill me. For too long I was in complete denial. I believed adults were making a big deal out of nothing because I didn’t eat lunch in high school. Overnight trips were always a complete disaster that usually resulted in screaming matches between me and my favorite teacher. My role model throughout my high school years was a teacher whom I thought the world of. She helped me through countless situations, and for years tried to get me to seek help for a problem I didn’t think I had. If I would have taken her seriously, perhaps I wouldn’t feel as though all my hours in the guidance office were a complete waste of time.
My high school years are, without a doubt, where my eating disorder developed, but it only got worse from there.
College presented me with a brand new world of independence and freedom. With all of the scrutiny of my high school teacher and guidance counselor removed, I was completely free to do as I pleased.
Five hours away from home, in a college town with no familiar faces. Ah… except for two. Ana and Mia came right along with me on my journey into freshman year. My roommate usually invited me to join her for lunch every day. We never became close friends, but we didn’t have problems either. I think we mostly ate together because she did not want to dine alone, and felt inviting me was the polite thing to do. So usually, once a day, I picked at a plate of food until she was ready to go back to our dorm room.
These were the good days. The bad days were when our schedules would not line up. Frequently, she would be out of town for basketball games or go home to see family and friends. As soon as I knew I was alone, I would begin to binge. I would eat everything I could get my hands on. I never kept food in our dorm, but she did. Sometimes I would have to replace food from her stash because Mia demanded I eat it. It was a very small town, but there were several fast food options. I would go from the combination KFC/Taco Bell, to Wendy’s, to McDonald’s all in one trip. Afterward, I would either purge in the shower with the water running to muffle the sound or in the dorm with the music blaring. I never forgot to take the trash out before my roommate’s return. It was during this year I first realized I may have a problem. I was sitting in line at the combination KFC/Taco Bell waiting on my second dinner when I realized this wasn’t “normal” behavior.
I didn’t purge that night, and came back home after my first year was completed to “get better.” This is what I told myself was going to happen; unfortunately, I didn’t keep my promise to myself.
After coming home, I earned my associates degree from a community college while deciding what degree I wanted to pursue for my bachelors. I have never admitted this, but I decided to get my Bachelor’s in Human Services because I thought I could learn how to cure myself. I thought that, if I became a psychology/eating disorder expert, all of my problems would fade away.
Needless to say, my plan did not work. I now have a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. I spent the last four years of my life learning about mental health and how to help people with mental health struggles. Unfortunately, I have yet to help myself.
It is much easier to hide an eating disorder when you live alone. When I returned home from freshman year up until two years ago, I was able to starve, eat, binge and purge whenever I wanted.
Roughly two years ago, my best friend became my roommate. She has lived with me for the majority of this time period, with a small break in-between. I absolutely love having her here — 98% of the time, our relationship is everything I could ever want it to be. The other 2% is when Ana and Mia push her to her limit. The first summer she was here, she was convinced I was pregnant because of my purging. I have tried to lie low; Ana and Mia do not like being exposed. Apparently, I failed miserably in my attempt. Being confronted was never my intention. I never want to see the look of hurt in her eyes again.
If it were up to me, it would be that simple. I would never cause pain to my loved ones again. My best friend would never have to question the last meal I had. She wouldn’t get nervous every time I went into the bathroom. She would never experience the heartbreak I have unintentionally bestowed upon her.
I am beginning a new chapter in the book of my eating disorder. Even though I am sicker than I have ever been, for the first time I realize I have a problem. This is a confession I would have never made even three months ago.
I have no idea what the recovery process will look like for me, or even if I will be successful in my attempt at recovery. This may be the hardest task I have ever tried to complete. No one deserves to watch someone they love be destroyed by an eating disorder. I wish everyone who lived with an eating disorder was as fortunate to have a best friend like mine. For years, I have let Ana and Mia convince me I wasn’t worth recovery, but they could never hold a candle to the voice of my person. For now, that is more than sufficient. I am just one voice, and my story is far from finished. I can only hope someone will read this and know they are not alone. As much as I love Ana and Mia, the relationship we have is detrimental to my health. When viewing it this way, the choice is simple. The toxic relationship I have with them has to be sacrificed in order to preserve the relationship that only brings me joy and goodness.
I should note I have never been what is considered an unhealthy BMI for my height. Most would consider me thin, but I have never met the criteria for anorexia.
This is not to say I have not restricted and gone to extreme measures to prevent myself from the act of consumption. According to most materials I have read, I do not typically meet the diagnosis for bulimia either. Someone who is not well-versed in eating disorder terminology may interpret this to mean I am simply a girl rambling on who does not actually have a problem.
The reality is that the majority of people with an eating disorder find themselves in the same predicament I am in. They don’t quite make the cut for one of the two big ones, so it can’t be that bad, right? This is probably why it took me so long to realize I actually had a problem. The criteria for anorexia and bulimia is so specific that more than half of people struggling with eating disorders are what is known as EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
Instead of picking one way to cause extreme harm to our bodies, the majority of eating disorder’s victims use multiple. This does not mean these individuals are at a lower risk for health complications, or that they should not seek treatment.
Photo by Nicolas Gras on Unsplash