When You Are Not as 'Recovered' as You Think You Are in Anorexia Recovery
Editor’s note: 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 741-741.
I don’t want to keep secrets anymore. I’m hoping that by sharing my story of recovery, people struggling will realize recovery is possible and life’s so much better on the other side…
I always exercised, but I think it started to become too obsessive in my early 20s when I lived in Seattle. My life, whether or not I let people know, revolved around running and staying fit. However, things took a turn one day when I was out for a run and something snapped — literally. I think the years of pounding the pavement finally hit me by way of a pretty gnarly knee injury. I scratched from the upcoming half marathon I had scheduled that weekend. I chalked it up to overuse and never went to the doctor (in a few years I learned I actually had actually torn my meniscus). Because of the injury, I took to lower impact exercise like the elliptical machine at the gym. I also took to eating a little less since I was pretty convinced I wasn’t burning as many calories at the gym as I was on the road. I had also recently started a new job which afforded me more down time, so I started reading more news/gossip on the latest diets, tips for healthy eating, etc.
After I noticed the first few pounds come off, I was hooked. Welcome anorexia. I’d tell myself, “I won’t let myself drop below a certain number of pounds — I’ve got this under control.” When my weight dropped below that number, I’d tell myself, “a few more pounds, then I’m done.” And so on and so on. A person without an eating disorder would have just eaten a little more to maintain the “goal” weight. That was an impossible task for me. At the time, I felt the number on the scale had to go down. It could not go up. So down, down, down it went. Along with the weight went what was left of my mental health — I couldn’t do anything unless I had a full look at the day so I could plan my calorie allotment out appropriately. I recorded everything I ate. I didn’t want to look or feel the way I did, but I was in the death grip of an eating disorder. My period had stopped. I was freezing everywhere I went. I couldn’t concentrate on anything but food. I’d both hate and relish the next time I was scheduled to eat. I was exhausted all the time and often had mental breakdowns over the slightest thing.
After a few heart to hearts with my family and friends, I decided I needed to take some time off to get better. I took a leave of absence from work and left Seattle to get help at a facility in Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised. I lived with my parents. I started in intensive outpatient, but wasn’t really getting better. At one point, my heart rate dipped so low I was almost wheeled directly to the emergency room. I entered an inpatient facility. It took everything in me to get out of it, but eventually I got well enough to be released from treatment and returned to my life in Seattle.
On the outside, I was completely better and life had returned to normal. My husband and I had a son. I got a new job, we moved back to Philadelphia to be closer to family and bought a beautiful home. We had another son. My life and career flourished. I had it all. But despite looking “recovered,” I don’t think I ever truly was. It still followed me. On the outside I had it perfect — but something on the inside still wasn’t right. And hardly anybody knew. I went through up and downs.
My weight never returned to the scary point it was, but I started focusing once again on calories and started developing weird eating habits. I also decided I should start exercising again. But I’d keep it simple and safe and stick to yoga and pilates in the house. Well… it took only a few months for the addictive qualities of exercise to start creeping back in. I could tell between the recent food obsessions and new exercise regime, I was starting to spiral downward once again. And I couldn’t — just couldn’t — get to where I was before. I couldn’t do this to my husband again. I couldn’t do it to my kids. I couldn’t do it to myself (notice how I put myself last).
There was a true desire in me to get better that wasn’t there before. So I sought help again from a therapist and nutritionist. I got back on medication. I really tried. Sometime over the course of that year, I started to snap out of it. Like many, I can’t name a specific time or event that changed it, but my head was slowly starting to get back on my shoulders again. I was thinking straight and beginning to appreciate life again. I could finally say “I don’t care, what do you want for dinner?” to my husband. Plans could suddenly change and it wouldn’t throw me into a fit of anxiety. I felt more present with my kids than I had in a long time.
Maybe the reason I kept it so secret before was because I was never truly recovered. I was too afraid of what people would say or think. Not anymore. We can’t continue to keep this disease cloaked in secrecy.
Please friends. If you’re struggling, keep pushing. Love your body. Your eating disorder is keeping you from so many wonderful things. I believe life is meant to lived in the body God gave you. Treat it well.
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 kameshkova.