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I'm Recovering From an Eating Disorder and No One Knows It

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There aren’t many things worse for a 24-year-old perfectionist-young professional than depleting your sick leave, dropping out of a competitive graduate program and leaving your students, all of whom are impacted by significant disabilities, in the middle of a school year.

But that’s what happened when after an 11-year struggle with anorexia, I was admitted into an eating disorder facility. Underweight and malnourished with mineral deficiencies and a range of health complications, I gave in to inpatient care out of fear that the increasing severity of my illness would cost me my job.

Anorexia ruined everything, and the strain during the final months of my illness cost me so many things: the ability to reason, patience, responsibility and my love for teaching

So I left everything I had worked so hard for during high school, undergrad and the first two years as a new teacher where I had earned my spot as an academic life skills teacher, to do the one thing I didn’t want to do. I left the “perfect” life I worked painstakingly to create, to quite simply, learn how to eat.

Google “eating disorder” today and you are bombarded with stereotypes of anorexia: young white girls, over-achievers, perfectionists, control issues, etc. Though I’m embarrassed to admit it, that stereotype is me. Throughout my pivotal years as a teenager and young adult, I had confined myself to simply a non-progressive cliché.

Though I envisioned giving up on my life the day the locked doors of the facility closed behind me, I slowly started eating and confronting the issues I had starved out of my mind for so long. The refeeding process meant gaining, and gaining became my daily struggle. I bawled over puny sandwiches, stared hopelessly at glasses of two percent milk. I dissected granola bars like owl pellets and shot-gunned Butter Pecan Ensure Plus on Friday nights while my friends did the latter with Fireball and Jager at our local dive bar. 

One day, I cried for hours over a quarter of a grilled cheese sandwich, which was “incorrectly” made with an extra slice of yellow cheese. Starring out the window from the dining room table, the beautiful fall leaves and bright sun shinned back at my weak, tired body. Suddenly I thought of hope. There had to be more to life than this torturous struggle. That was the moment things slowly began to change.

Finally, I discharged and returned to work, 20 pounds heavier. I had done the one thing I thought I would never do. I was excited; I was ready for a new beginning. But…I felt like couldn’t tell anyone my secret. The support I had in the hospital was now missing. My new beginning became scary; I was alone and isolated in a world that only knew me by my eating disorder.  

Why is it that our society praises women for losing weight, sympathies with those impacted by broken bones and celebrates the triumph of cancer, but cannot openly discuss eating disorders? Battling an eating disorder should not be an isolating experience. We should educate about eating disorders as we would drug addiction or any other condition.

I did not choose to have an eating disorder, but I choose every day not to surrender to my lifelong illness. I’m proud of my struggle, though seemingly trivial and undisclosed by our society, and it’s time for the world to know: I am brave. I am a survivor.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: February 24, 2016
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