Darcey Pittman

@darcey-pittman | contributor
A twenty-something New Yorker figuring out how to adult while living with mental illness. You can usually find me watching YouTube videos, writing, or out photographing the city.
Community Voices

Perpetually Exhausted #Depression #exhaustion

I can’t seem to find the sweet spot with my depression and sleep — I always sleep either too little or too much, and I’m always exhausted. It’s started to affect work right off the bat this year, we’re 10 days in and I’m on sick day 2/6.

My workplace is great helping out, and has given me more resources for mental health (that are also covered by the benefits from work — thank GOD), and taught me how to ask more for what I need from a doctor. they have great policies for sickness and mental health, that work with doctors, and if I can get a note from one I can actually get an extension of sick days for the year.

But no doctor has wanted to give me that note, I don’t have a family doctor either. I’m on anti-anxieties, but I don’t think that’s enough anymore because it’s depression that is weighing me so far down.

I once slept a whole weekend (aside from bathroom, eating a couple times) and I didn’t mean to, it just happened. every time I woke up I felt just as exhausted as before and I couldn’t keep awake.

I aim for 8hrs one night - too tired, 10 hours the next — still tired. 6 hours? even worse, 7hrs is a nope, 12hrs feels like nothing; I have an alarm to get up at the same time every day throughout the week, even on my days off, while trying to get into a solid sleep rhythm but with how tired I ALWAYS am it’s so hard to even do that. #Depression #exhaustion #sleeping

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Community Voices

Name on thing you’re grateful for

<p>Name on thing you’re grateful for</p>
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Darcey Pittman

Woman in Anorexia Recovery Reviews New Shane Dawson Video

Last Friday afternoon at the office as I took a social-media-filled break, I saw Shane Dawson had released his latest video. For those who are not as YouTube-obsessed as I am, Dawson is a unique filmmaker on the platform who makes long-form content diving into investigative issues. When he comes out with a new video, I automatically watch it the second I can. I came home from work ready to start my weekend and got amped up to watch the video. Then I started watching and the first thing I saw on my screen was an eating disorder trigger warning. What? My life in recovery from anorexia is filled with lots of niche Instagram recovery accounts and blogs on eating disorders, but I was not expecting this on one of the most popular YouTube channels ever. I was enthralled as I watched Dawson, who has struggled with body image and food issues, interview fellow YouTuber Eugenia Cooney. For a long time, people were concerned with Cooney’s ultra-thin body, as seen in her videos and other social media. In early 2019 she took time off from the internet for health reasons. Dawson’s video was her introduction back on YouTube as she was ready to share her eating disorder recovery story. It was brave of Cooney to open up publicly about going to rehab to get help for her mental and physical well-being. I am thrilled Dawson is using his following of 21 million subscribers to talk about the serious, even life-or-death issue of eating disorders. My niche world of eating disorder recovery Instagrams, videos and articles is now spreading to mainstream media, as this video hit #1 on YouTube trending after its release. Dawson’s video is an incredible step in continuing to raise awareness about eating disorders and how they can affect anyone. I loved that Dawson focused on Cooney as a human being with interests and a personality beyond her eating disorder. Before she took a break from the internet, it was almost all anyone talked about in response to her content. This video showed that individuals are more than their eating disorders and should not be defined by them. Dawson treated the subject matter seriously, consulting YouTuber and licensed therapist Kati Morton before interviewing Cooney. Morton brought up the difficulties in talking to someone in recovery, which added to the quality of the video in educating people on eating disorders. Overall, the filmmaking was incredible and Cooney’s story is compelling. I have to say though, while there was indeed a trigger warning, the mass incorporation of videos and photos of Cooney pre-recovery was unnecessary. Yes, it made sense to include images of her given they are public and can represent how seriously ill she was. However, I found myself body checking and comparing myself to her after watching Cooney’s extreme thinness for an hour. I wish the inclusion of photos of Cooney was scaled back. This only perpetuates that you have to be extremely thin to have an eating disorder. Kati Morton was an important element of the work given she did explain that there are many types of eating disorders and you do not have to be underweight to have one. However, this was unbalanced in comparison to the excessive showing of Cooney’s pre-recovery body. I am inspired that Dawson chose to use his platform to talk about the seriousness of eating disorders, educating his audience and raising more awareness through the telling of one individual’s story. But it does raise a question that I continue to ponder given content like Netflix’s “To The Bone” and now this: how do we educate people on eating disorders through digital media without focusing on their looks in a triggering way? I do not know the answer to this given the physical impact of eating disorders and that weight can be a sign of suffering in some cases. But since many people with eating disorders are not underweight, I hope in the future more media content can be created to show the perspective of those with this experience. Minimizing the “before” photos in media can be one good place to start. In this case, Dawson could have decreased the trigger potential of his content by incorporating less pre-recovery video of Cooney. It is important for people to recognize how serious these illnesses are, but we need to move beyond the shock factor of emaciation. I have so much respect for Dawson talking about this on his channel and the potential it has to help many people. I am glad he is supporting Cooney in her recovery journey and making space online to have an open discussion about eating disorders. I hope we can expand this dialogue to explore minimizing the triggering potential and stereotyping of eating disorders in mainstream media going forward.

Autumn Foord

The Reality of Anorexia Recovery

An Instagram snapshot of recovery: a still-very-prominently-thin girl holding a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, a tightly stretched smile with a hashtag-filled caption of #recoverypositivity, #eatittobeatit and #pintparties. The comments will be flooded with praise, well dones, even some subtle envy decoded in “I wish I could eat that.” If you are familiar with the Instagram recovery community, this is a fairly typical portrayal. You will also get the odd #transformationtuesday: on the left, an emaciated body check, on the right, a slightly less emaciated body check with a caption promoting Full Recovery and Full Weight Restoration. Everything is So Full, yet at the same time, everything is lacking. The detail: the reality of what recovering from an eating disorder is actually like, the raw portrayal of re-feeding and re-learning how to live again. Nearly a decade in, recovery becomes less of a novelty and more of a necessity. The “honeymoon period” of rediscovering food, allowing yourself things that you have denied for months, going out for meals and buying A Whole New Wardrobe, soon wears off. When you are trying to pull yourself out of Yet Another Relapse, when you have pushed all your friends and family away, when you have no money to go out for meals or buy new clothes so succumb to the same baggy leggings day in day out – that’s when recovery begins to lose its appeal. And of course, anorexia is there, smirking because she-told-you-so-all-along. The biggest fears of ending up alone, abandoned, alienated – all seem to be becoming true. So you go back, tail between your legs, welcoming anorexia back like an old friend. The cycle is ceaseless: each time your body undergoes more stress, wastes away a little more, gets weaker with each relentless relapse. A disordered pattern of denying then devouring: taking its toll both mentally and physically. The things that you don’t see in a Recovery hashtag: debilitating joint pain from deteriorating osteoporosis, a bloated stomach and fluid-filled ankles, painful mouth ulcers and dry, flaky skin. Agonizing pain from gallstones caused by excessive weight loss, chronic hunger that doesn’t shift, regardless of how much you eat. Bleeding gums, erratic blood pressure, an inability to regulate body temperature: the list is endless. Perhaps that’s why I find it so perplexing when anorexia is glamorized, trivialized even. Referring to it as the “slimmer’s disease” makes it sound like a cushy, celebrity diet with green juices and three personal training sessions a week. The concept of health doesn’t come into a starved mind, it takes a backseat along with the green juices and morning lemon water. The reality: you don’t want to get slim, you want to get sick. Recovery is an ongoing, perpetual process. There is no benchmark where I can take my foot off the accelerator and have a break, without fear of anorexia creeping around the corner ready to drag me back down the same weathered path. Anorexia is not limited to the dinner table, it doesn’t dissipate as soon as lunchtime is over. The looming presence is there, as soon as you open your eyes to the minute you go to bed: even the respite of sleep is often interrupted with dreams of food and nightmares of failure. The notion that recovery automatically heals all is false – it is actually the time when you have to work the hardest, actively go against every ingrained thought that has been established up until this point. It feels alien, impossible, wrong. And yet, it is The Only Way Through. The mountain analogy is overused and like many things associated with recovery, a cliché. Yet it is one I like to think back to in times of doubt. When you begin the long journey up the mountain path, you feel daunted but optimistic. You’ve prepared yourself for this, trained for months, had a million and one pep talks and now feel ready to take on the challenge. The first few miles are a breeze and you wonder what all the fuss was about. Sure, your legs ache a bit and you wouldn’t mind a rest but it’s not that bad, if anything it’s quite exciting being immersed in such beautiful scenery. As the sun begins to set, you start to feel slightly tentative, aware of how isolated you are and how much further you’ve got to go. You can’t see the top anymore; the incline is becoming steeper and you haven’t rested all day. Yet you carry on, terrified of being a failure or worse: letting other people down. The higher you get, the worse you feel. The altitude is sickening; you’re tired, weak, battered by the elements. All you want to do is turn back to the safety of flat ground and shelter. You reminisce over the shade of the mountain, protecting you from the sweltering sun and overwhelming noise from the birds and wind and rain. Yet you know that you must be getting closer, that if you push just-a-little-further you will reach the top and it will All Be Worth It. That’s what you’ve been told isn’t it? From professionals, friends, family. Yet deep down, you don’t believe it. Nothing compares to the safety of shelter, the haven away from life and emotion. So, you inevitably give up, scramble back down the mountain and for a few minutes, you feel safe again. Then reality dawns: you know one day, you have to climb the mountain. And when that day does come, you will have to do it all over again. The initial incline, the rocky terrain, the horrendous altitude. You have to get past all of that, for the second, third, tenth time and then find the strength to continue to the top. When recovery feels impossible, when anorexia convinces you that Things Were Better when you couldn’t feel, couldn’t let the world touch you, remind yourself that this is only sustainable for so long. The shelter is temporary and the longer you stay, the more treacherous the mountain becomes. Stay put: cling onto the cliff face and cry for help. Remind yourself that it is OK to show emotion, that emotion doesn’t make you “ weak.” Hold onto the precious moments: use them to get you through the next couple miles. And when you do eventually reach the top, when you can look over the edge and say You’ve Finally Made It, don’t look back with sadness at the years wasted and times attempted, be proud that despite everything, you persisted. You are resilient. Mountains or metaphors, pint parties or peripheries: the premise is the same. Recovery is hard. It isn’t linear, there is no manual or prototype to the perfect path. It is messy, frustrating and at times, seems more hassle than it’s worth. But then you think of the alternative: more years wasted, more memories lost, continually living under a fabricated shelter that has never, and will never, make you happy. Anorexia propels the illogical into logic, crowns achievement in deception, praise in unreason. Above all, it discards fear, hesitation, empathy. Recovery proposes the opposite: to recognize value in people rather than percentages. To pick meals based on preference rather than numbers. To laugh, cry, feel. To learn and to grow. To venture down a new path, to feel the sun and not retreat into the shade.

Community Voices

Critiques of the Psychotherapy System

Since moving to NYC at the start of 2018 and having to go through the process of finding a new therapist again, I have felt the wrath of the #MentalHealth system come done on me time and time again. I have been dealing with mental health issues for a number of years now (see www.youtube.com/watch for my backstory) and have had my share of experience with the broken mental health system. At times I have heard people reference the idea that our system is broken, but I have never come across someone really engaging with what precisely is wrong. While there are many different topics that could be analyzed when critiquing treatment, I want to focus on the institution of individual psychotherapy in this post. As I write this I made generalizations that will always have exceptions, but these overarching problems are grounded in my experiences working with a multitude of therapists with different training, in various settings, and across three regions of the US. I have spent a lot of time in therapy and I feel I am well qualified to share my opinion on where this system is falling short.Where our treatment process of individual psychotherapy goes wrong:

By far my biggest grievance with the treatment system is the structure we use to pay for services. From the economics classes I have taken in college I have learned that the fundamental force of the economy is that people respond to incentives. In this epoch, most of the incentives that drive people center around money. Many therapists and professionals have wonderful intentions of helping people, but that does not change the fact that this is how they make their living. If you spend time with a provider you are expected to pay them whether you feel better or not, whether they helped you or not, whether you got the service you hoped or not. This system means therapists have no real incentive to give quality service other than being good people. Many therapists try hard out of the goodness of their hearts, but this is not always enough. Another implication of this is that therapists and other providers want to keep their clients in treatment for as long as possible because then they get paid more. This results is  professionals trying to keep clients just sick enough that they need help and can make money off them. This is no joke as it has happened to me. Therapists do not have an incentive to help you get better if you pay them for each session. A better way to address this issue is for therapists to get paid once the client sees results. Many services do not get paid compensation until the service is complete, so I don’t see why could not implement this as well. It would incentivize therapists to do their best for every single client. This solution may not solve everything, but it could at least help address this core structural problem.
The second biggest issue in my mind is something I have noticed because I have moved twice over the course of my treatment process. With each move I have had to say goodbye to a phenomenal therapist who understood me. Because of how licensing is structured this person who you relied on for months or even years is now all of sudden completely cut off from you. It is an unfair system and I don’t see why therapists should not be able to communicate with their patients across states. In no way would it be a breach of confidentiality if it were done in a smart, respectful way. This is not an issue that applies to everyone, but many people encounter having to move at times in their life that may not be ideal. After going through the process of building up trust and understanding with someone it is hard to start over. This issue could be easily resolved if there was a national licensing exam so therapists could freely communicate with clients across state lines via Skype, FaceTime, and phone calls, to continue supporting those who have cultivated a strong relationship with their therapist and want to maintain this.
Therapists aren’t always there for you when you need them. This is partially done on purpose for the nature of therapy to be effective, but this can at times reinforce the feelings of loneliness and lack of support that many struggling with face. To have someone who will only support you for an hour a week is not that effective. There is not enough time in therapy to communicate everything that needs to be said and for you to always have support when you need it. Of course, therapists have a life outside of their job, but at the same time it is their job to support you and it can be frustrating if you cannot get in touch with your therapist when in crisis and get the help you need. I don’t have an easy solution for this one because therapists do need their own space, but something about this harshness of having a short session and no other communication needs to change.
There is a lot to be said for how things go down in a typical therapy session. I cannot speak for others, but I quickly learned how to avoid the hard topics in therapy if I wanted to. The best therapist I have had would push me further, but most therapists do not seem to, which is so odd to me. That should be their job! I am not one to bring up difficult topics easily and so there have been sessions where I have been dealing with something like suicidal thoughts or restricting food and these issues go untouched. One great solution that I once remember reading somewhere (I wish I could remember where!) talked about how clients should fill out a questionnaire as they are in the waiting room of their therapist’s office. These questions would allow the client to reflect on their own how their week was, what concerns they have, how their mood is, etc without having to verbal raise their concerns. The therapist can then look at this questionnaire before engaging with the client so they know the topics they need to cover and how the patient is really doing. This is something that I have rarely encountered in any form and I believe all therapists could benefit from this practice.
Another issues is there is a lack of connection to other resources coming from therapists. I learned this by having one therapist who did an amazing job of using resources such as books, videos, feeling cards, articles, and art prompts to support the work that we were doing. She is the only therapist who has done that in my personal experience, but I wish all therapists did this. It may depend on the client whether they want this, but I found it to be an incredible way to enhance the therapy process. Simply talking has its purpose, but when this can be supported via other resources, that is when a deeper understanding of skills and issues can be reached. It is a serious flaw in the system that connecting clients to other resources is not utilized by most practices.
A frustration that is part of the process, but still deserves to be mentioned, is that finding the right therapist can be hard! Every person is different and needs something specific from their therapist. It can be a real struggle to find a therapist who you connect with. After a while, all the Psychology Today profiles look the same and trying to find someone who really gets you can seem like a huge feat. I got lucky that I have had two therapists in my life who I felt connected to, but that means all the others I have met I could feel the disconnection and I knew they weren’t right for me. There is no quick fix for this one, but the arduous process the mentally ill have to go through to find a therapist is annoying at best and harmful at worst.
I have been privileged enough to be able to afford therapy and find therapists who are of similar background to me as a white woman, but it would be ignorant of me not to acknowledge what is faced by those who are poor and those who are minorities. This is really two separate issues, that can be intersectional when affecting individuals, with both stemming from the needs of the oppressed:

There are serious barriers to those of lower classes who cannot afford therapy as this service easily adds app. Even with health insurance it can get very costly. Those who live in poverty can at times be the ones who need the most help but have no means of getting it. It seems like there should be a better system in place, maybe subsidized by the government or something, that provides treatment for those who cannot afford it.
There also is the issue of minority therapists not being common. There is something to be said for having a therapist who comes from your background because then they understand you on a basic, fundamental level. The lack of therapists from diverse background has potential to make it harder for those who are not white to connect with a therapist. I am not well qualified to speak on this and do not want to wrongly assume anything, but given that I have only really had white therapists I would think for someone of a different race or ethnicity this would be a serious barrier to seeking therapeutic help. This is  an issue in the field, as it is in all industries, that I hope will continue to progress as people realize the value of having diverse people

Finally, this one that I am ending on is also very important, which is that no one should have to educate their therapist. I did not have to do this for the first couple of years that I was in therapy because I did not know all that much and had a lot to learn. But now that I have been part of the community for a while, I have realized there are times I know more than my therapists about what is happening in the world of . Not only this, but when I first started therapy it was focused on anorexia and it wasn’t until later on that I started dealing with existential #Depression. Since struggling with existential depression I have had to deal with many professionals not understanding how I feel and what I deal with. Existential depressions is not a separate diagnosis in the DSM, but more a small subcategory among the general diagnosis of depression. To have to explain what existential is to therapists is ridiculous. It’s not my job to educate therapists, yet at times I have no choice. Those suffering from mental illnesses deal with enough frustration. We don’t need additional frustrations from therapists not being educated about our issues. I completely understand no therapist can be all knowing, but I sure wish they did a better job of continuing their education after school and keeping in the know about issues in the community. This is not so hard as I have been in the community for much less time than these therapists and have a decent grasp on core issues. I still have plenty to learn, but following sites like themighty.com and reading up on important issues has helped me stay in the loop as someone who in theory has less education than therapists do. It should be a basic fact that therapists have a holistic knowledge of diagnoses, such as , that they claim to be able to treat and to have an understanding of news that may arise that is pertinent to this community.

Now that I have let my existential completely come through for the writing of this blog post, I do want to end on a more positive note. For all the awful critiques I have of the system, I stuck with it long enough to find these issues because it did help me. While the system is far from perfect, I have made a dent in my eating disorder recovery and have some skills that help me cope when my gets bad. I only hope the system can be improved upon in the future, so more people can be helped and treatment is always a worthwhile process.

Darcey Pittman

Colleges Need Better Mental Health Care and Suicide Response

I’m just spending a casual Sunday afternoon in my favorite coffee shop, balancing self-care with productivity, when I see a new email in my student inbox. This happens numerous times on the daily, but this email was different. Titled “The Death of a Student Late Last Night,” I had a feeling I knew where this was going as I clicked it open. The giant “Memorandum” label accompanying the school logo already seemed slightly too positive, as if overcompensating in the header for what followed. The email informed the university community of a student death that occurred the following night in a residence hall. And then, there it is: “all indications are that the student died by their own hand.” They couldn’t even say “suicide ” associated with the student’s death. The word was only used once at the very end of the email to describe the “contagion” that can accompany suicides. This makes me mad. In therapy, I’ve been working on allowing myself to sit with my feelings, especially anger, which is my absolute least favorite emotion. So here I am with my chai latte next to me and I’m mad. I’m mad that my university has failed so many times to even acknowledge the student suicides that repeatedly occur here. And that the bar is so low that it’s worth appreciating when they do. I’m mad that, although this time my university acknowledged it, they were afraid to even use the word “suicide.” Fearing discussions of suicide will not help address what is happening. I’m mad that my university says there are mental health resources available when I know from experience how inadequate these are. I’m mad that there are so many levels of bureaucracy that get in the way of students accessing support. I’m mad that when we do access therapists and counselors, they have limited time for us because of how overburdened they are. I’m mad that my school didn’t even say they are working on improving mental health resources, implying the resources available are already enough when clearly they are not. I’m mad therapy outside of school is necessary for me given the lack of support on campus. I’m mad that outside therapy is so expensive and my parents are barely getting by given this additional cost on top of my college tuition, which should be including this resource. I’m mad society sees my generation as “snowflakes” when, in reality, we face so many pressures and suicide rates just seem to keep intensifying. I’m mad our society doesn’t prioritize mental health. College is a stressful time. It can be even more intense when you are struggling with mental health issues. And certainly, college can make taking care of your mental health seem like an inconvenience and a personal indulgence. In a culture where all-night study sessions are seen as acceptable, even glorified, how can we stop these student suicides? I was suicidal at the end of last fall’s semester in November and December of 2018. I was taking a full course load and working an unpaid internship on the side. I had almost no time for my hobbies and self-care. I was in a suicidal place, overburdened by work and losing sight of why I wanted to be alive. I am fortunate to have a therapist who helped me through, but my college barely did. I walked into the health center on a day I was particularly struggling and needed immediate support. I saw a therapist for 20 minutes who was just filling out boxes about my diagnoses and current symptoms. She was in and out in a matter of minutes, not giving me a sense of support or making me feel understood. Where do we even go from here? For starters, we need college administrations to acknowledge this is a major issue in college cultures across the US. The fact I even felt good that my school sent out an email about this suicide (for once) is extremely disheartening because so many times, they simply ignore it. Sweeping these tragedies under the rug for PR reasons is not going to solve these problems or stop people from hearing about them. But if the college could address them adequately, then maybe there could be much more positive PR and no need to hide suicides in the first place. We need more easily accessible mental health professionals who actually have the time to see students and support them regularly. They need to be well-trained and understanding of the college’s environment and culture. College is expensive and I wish schools would use tuition funds to expand mental health support for students over superfluous expensive projects like renovations and expansions. Taking care of students should be their number one priority, not making themselves more appealing to increase applications, decrease acceptance rates to be deemed more competitive and ultimately bring in more money — maybe this is just my school, but I doubt it. And to really address the core issues of why students become so hopeless, we need to change the culture of college campuses that glorifies overworking ourselves to exhaustion. There is pressure from professors, peers and administrators to constantly be working, achieving and striving. This is good to an extent, but from what I have observed and experienced it goes much too far. Everything in moderation is what years of therapy has taught me. We need more emphasis on taking care of ourselves so we can better deal with the many demands that come with college life. I am one of the lucky ones who has mental health support from a good therapist and psychiatrist, but even then, I have many times struggled with suicidal thoughts. So, what about the people who cannot afford the exuberant costs of outside mental health care? Colleges need to make supporting student mental health a priority. I hope in the future there will no longer be a need for me to be angry about this issue, even if it may be good practice for me to feel this uncomfortable emotion and how to cope with it. Mental health care can make a difference and I believe if colleges put more resources and support into it, we could lower student suicide rates and change college culture for the better.

Lisa Michels

What Loved Ones Should Know About My Eating Disorder Recovery

I have been in recovery for nearly 10 years. The people in my life who matter most already know this about me. Many of them are understanding and supportive, but even the most supportive people will still make insensitive remarks simply because they don’t realize what they are saying. I believe they want to be supportive, and if I told them their comment was triggering I believe they would be embarrassed and apologetic, but I do not want to make them uncomfortable any more than they want me to feel uncomfortable. I would rather educate people so these comments could be avoided in the first place. What I wish others could understand about eating disorder recovery: 1. Our brains are different. Everything I want to say could be summed up simply: my brain does not think the same way yours does. When you talk about foods being “healthy” or “unhealthy,” I don’t hear you talking about food; I hear you talking about me and my life choices. I hear judgment. I get defensive. I feel shame. I start to feel fear. I am afraid to put food in my mouth afterward. Intellectually, I understand you may share these remarks in a self-deprecating manner, and most likely you are just as confused as I am with all the information out there about certain foods or ingredients, what is “good for you” and what is “bad for you,” but my eating disorder hears every word as a reminder of my personal “failings.” 2. It wasn’t about beauty for me. Speaking of personal failings, my eating disorder was not about being thin for beauty’s sake; it was driven by intense perfectionism and fear of failure. Not being the “perfect” weight made me not just unattractive; it made me an utter failure, unworthy as a human being. I truly believed other people would think this of me. I believed if I weighed too much, people would think less of me. Growing up, I was the kid who always had the right answer. I aced the tests, I had the highest GPA in the class, I never broke the rules and I did everything right. I took that same standard with my body. I had to be right. I had to be perfect. It wasn’t about being beautiful; it was about not failing. 3. I can’t control my emotions. I have emotional reactions to feeling hungry or feeling like I overate. I have no control over those emotions. Sometimes, I start to cry for no apparent reason, but then I realize I am just hungry. After I nourish myself, the urge to cry is gone. It is different from the “hangry” feeling people talk about. I know that feeling too — when it’s mealtime but things keep happening to delay your access to food, and you get more and more irritated while you wait. These tears come to me before I realize what my body is telling me. My body remembers those days of having an eating disorder. It remembers the pain, the desperation, the feelings of utter worthlessness, and the familiar sensation of hunger is all it takes to trigger those same emotions. On the other end of the spectrum, if I eat a large meal, I do not simply groan and say “I ate too much.” When you overeat, you say you feel miserable and make a joke about starting to work out tomorrow; I go into a near-panic. Years ago, I would have taken drastic measures when I had that feeling. My brain remembers that, and I still have to fight those urges. Please don’t tell me it will be OK or I should, “Go on, have a little more.” I know my limits. 4. You can talk about your weight loss plans, but… You can talk about your diet or your workout if you wish. If you are happy with yourself and your results, I am happy for you. It will only become a problem for me if you start to tell me I should take up this diet too. I cannot consider any diet that means altering my usual eating habits, even for a day. I cannot think about how much weight I might lose. Those are the thoughts that will send me into a tailspin. If the conversation is strictly about you and how you feel, I am OK with that because I want to support you as much as you support me. 5. I’m not trying to control our relationship. I am not trying to set a bunch of rules about what we can or cannot talk about. I do not want the eating disorder to be front and center in my life, and I don’t want anyone to feel they have to walk on eggshells so you do not trigger me. It is only one request I make: when it comes to food or weight, let’s not talk about the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” If we talk about food, let’s only talk about what tastes good or doesn’t taste good. We may have different dietary preferences and needs; let us simply acknowledge them without judging ourselves or anyone else. I would really prefer not to talk about weight at all, but if you must, be equally objective. Your weight, my weight — they do not measure our value as humans. Let us treat our bodies as they deserve and accept our uniqueness. I am working on it with myself every day, and I want you to do the same.

Vanna Winters

3 Things My Eating Disorder Isn't

A rudimentary understanding of what characterizes many eating disorders can be rattled off with ease by most people: restricting intake, bingeing, purging, overexercise, etc. Fielding questions throughout my 20 with an eating disorder, I have often felt the importance of my responsibility to clear up the muddiness of what an eating disorder actually is vs. the abridged description that is taught in school or read about in magazines. The stereotypes that still linger from decades of headlines that either glorify or vilify the disorder seem to only move us in the wrong direction. For every salacious made-for-TV movie, the accuracy about onset and manifestation seems to become more blurred. You’re picturing Tracy Gold in a Lifetime movie now, aren’t you? Take a moment to clear your mind. Go ahead, I’ll wait. As I step into an advocacy role and continue to publicly share my own story, one of my missions is to help others understand the complexities that anorexia and other eating disorders present. A transition is needed from the typecast depiction painted for us by the media to a more accurate scope that can bring real education and awareness to the public. My eating disorder is many things: an isolating mental illness, a serious threat to my health, an outward sign of the pain stored deeply in my mind, and many more. But I’d like to bring the focus to some of the misconceptions about what this disorder is not… 1. It’s not about attention. Before I decided to share my story publicly, few people in my life even knew I had an eating disorder. I spent an inordinate amount of time in my illness protecting its existence with secrecy. I went to great pains to conceal my behaviors and symptoms from the view of others. There was immense shame involved for me. I did as much as I could to appear fine on the outside, no matter how not fine I was on the inside. The insinuation that my eating disorder is merely a way for me to receive attention couldn’t have been further from reality. 2. “Just eat” isn’t a cure. Seeing me eat does not mean I’m “all better.” My anorexia cannot simply be cured by eating and gaining weight. It’s progress and a huge step in recovery, but it is not the solitary solution to this illness. Being able to sit in front of a plate of food and eat it doesn’t mean my battle is over. In fact, for me, that’s when I was struggling the most. Those early moments in recovery where every meal eaten is met with overwhelming anxiety and a pull backwards into the perceived safety of my eating disorder. Eating halts the deterioration of the body, but does not address the mind. The origin of the thoughts that led me to engage in eating disordered behavior do not disappear with re-feeding. What brought me to the point of needing an eating disorder to cope with my life is at the core of where recovery takes place, not to disregard the importance of re-nourishing your body because this must happen in support of treating the dysfunction of the behaviors themselves. 3. It isn’t about vanity. For me, it was never about a specific magic number that I felt this immense pressure to reach in order for everything to be OK again. I never looked in the mirror and degraded myself for not looking like a model. For me, it had little to do with vanity or hunting down bodily perfection. Anorexia, for me, had everything to do with refusing myself the most basic needs to sustain life. Anorexia was the highest level of punishment I could enact on myself. This self-punishment became the false sense of control from the chaos in my life that had stripped it away from me. My eating disorder felt like my only avenue to shout to my parents, who were orchestrating the chaos. They had to watch me disappear as my body screamed out in pain before their eyes, fading away more and more each day. If I was starving, then I was numb. If I was numb, then no one could penetrate my exterior. The flashbacks of the abuse that happened couldn’t resurface through the hunger and I was too lifeless to feel any further damage. Every pound shed was one more layer to protect me from a world that had become too scary to exist in unarmed. I was desperate to withhold the very thing required to hold on. Starving was my white flag, not an overzealous attempt to get a “beach body.” I had to wave that flag for help because I could not scream for it on my own. I could not ask for help from the very people I needed help from. So my body said it for me. My malnourished frame became the billboard for my pain. I realize now that my body became an advertisement for my own inner turmoil bubbling over. It might be difficult to decipher the difference for those watching from the outside, but please don’t confuse over-doing a diet with anorexia. The latter is a mental illness and it goes much deeper and needs to be treated as such to recover. My eating disorder doesn’t fit the lurid story lines passed around by the media because no one’s does. The gossiping and the whispers have only perpetuated an inaccurate picture of what an eating disorder is. Continuing to take any opportunity to spread legitimate education is so important to dispel these myths that hold back those trying to seek treatment and their loved ones trying to support them.

Darcey Pittman

The Reality of Living With 'Anorexia Nostalgia'

Facebook can’t help but bring up old pictures. Three years ago, it says, with an image of who I once was. I can’t help myself, I click on it. Before I realize it, I have scrolled back three years to find more pictures like it. Those pictures of my “perfect” body. I have looked at them so many times I am numb to the effect they should have on me. No matter what I tell myself about being healthier now, my body will never be as “good” as it was then. This is anorexia nostalgia. I have been in recovery for a while now, having a healthy weight for longer than I was ever underweight. Yet, it is that underweight figure that haunts me every day. Every body check feeling what’s bigger. Every glance in the mirror and shop window, not recognizing myself. Every picture someone has taken of me. Is that really what I look like? What do I look like? I know it is never a good idea to look back at those images. I deleted them from my phone and computer, but they cannot be erased from my life. And I don’t want them to be, after all they are a part of my story, my journey. Yet will I ever be able to not idealize that girl I once was? The girl who excelled in all areas of life: school, music, fitness and thinness. How could I not want to be her? Except, she was miserable. The pictures don’t show that. They don’t show my shivering body that no summer heat wave could fix. They don’t show the hunger pains ignored for hours on end. They don’t show the 5 a.m. wake up calls to run every day. They don’t show the obsessive thoughts planning my meals. They don’t show the agony spent over social events that were supposed to be fun. They don’t show how I lost who I was. I have been on a long road towards getting myself back. I still have moments of anorexia nostalgia. Maybe that will always be true. Gradually these moments are less and less frequent. In the beginning stages of recovery, it was all I could think about. Now, I have so many more interests than my eating disorder. I didn’t believe that could happen because my eating disorder had consumed my mind. Since being in recovery, I have found my passion for photography, started my blog and my YouTube channel, moved to NYC, became a journalist — and who knows what else will happen in the future. I will probably still have these nostalgic moments for months and years to come, with potential slip ups and relapses at times. As much as I miss the thinness that we are taught to covet in this society, I have learned so much since then. Thinness keeps women submissive to the patriarchy, allows the diet, fitness, fashion and beauty industries to profit, and privileges and oppresses women based on their bodies. My body does not define me anymore. My mind is a powerful tool that has brought me to my lowest points but has also given me great passions and moments of being alive. Anorexia can never give me what recovery can.