The Struggle of Coming to Terms With Anorexia Recovery as an Adult
I tally the years — 13, 14, 15. I look up. I was first diagnosed with anorexia over 15 years ago. I was 13 years old. That’s over half my life spent sucked into the trenches of the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. Years spent absorbed by the number on a scale, skipping lunches, counting grams of fat, doing double takes in the mirror.
There have been hospitalizations, ultimatums and friendships lost. Medical complications and medical bills. Therapy, and I mean lots of therapy. Family, group, individual. ACT, CBT, DBT and IPT. Talks of childhood. Challenging core beliefs.
And all for what?
“You are close,” my new therapist says one day. I’m not sure I like her yet. But I know one thing, she doesn’t know my eating disorder’s tricks.
A smile purses across my lips and my eating disorder slithers back. “How close?” Tell me how close you actually think I am? I am dropping weight and have not eaten a full meal in a long time. But I’ll let her believe that. I’ll play this game.
Later I cry in my car, the questions swirl through my brain: “What am I doing? What is wrong with me? Why can I not let this go? When will this end?”
I won’t paint an unrealistic picture of my eating disorder to you: I’ve never been on my deathbed or “fighting for my life” — despite some challenging and emotional hospitalizations. But the voice … the voice has always been here. Sometimes it’s quiet, and I can ignore it for months at a time. But just when I think I’ve found the light at the end of the tunnel, just when I think this could all be over one day, that same voice shows up again, in full force. And I’m back where I started. Staring at a bowl of cereal, wondering how to put a spoonful in my mouth.
“The majority of people with eating disorders do recover,” I hear an old pediatrician say to my mom when we started this process. But what about the people that don’t?
A third of people who have suffered from a severe eating disorder will never fully recover. They may live in a state of mediocrity. Not fully sick, and not fully well. They may be able to sustain a job and have relationships, but they are stuck living a half-life.
“It’s your blessing and your curse,” my psychiatrist concludes. In over 15 years, she’s the only provider who has not given up on me. We’ve been together for five years. “You are high functioning, but are you really living your life, Mary?” she asks. We both know the answer.
She reminds me I can do this. She believes in me. But also — she knows, just because I have a mortgage and a career, doesn’t mean I’m not susceptible to a full relapse or a lifetime consumed by this illness.
“Where do I go from here?” I pour out. I am tired. How much longer do I have to play this game?
She looks at me and smiles, as she always does. And suddenly, I’m reminded of the answer. I sigh, and put my head in my hands. She can’t see me roll my eyes if they are hidden. I thank her, walk out of her office and head to Panera.