Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Story 1

Shortly after I started looking for people who would want to share their eating disorder stories, I received this story anonymously in an email. As I was reading it, I found so much of myself in this individual's words and experiences--and I hope you can too. 

If you've ever had a secret, you know how hard it is to finally open up and talk about it. The part of you that has been so carefully hidden suddenly exposed is overwhelming and a lot to deal with. That's why it was hard for me to write this. It's something I'm still not totally comfortable talking about, because it's still something I have to deal with every single day. But the point of me sharing is to remind everyone, myself included, is that it's ok to struggle. No matter how hard you try, you will always have bad days. What matters is that you don't let those days win. When you've been in so much darkness and pain for so long, it's hard to believe there is still light out there. So here's the summary of my story. It will probably be really long so hopefully you'll make it to the end ;) If anything, I just hope sharing what I've been through can be at least a small help to somebody. 

"I cannot remember a time where I wasn't overtly aware of my body. Food has always been a weird thing for me, something that was a source of so much pleasure and joy and what family get togethers usually revolved around. Dinner was always the best when I got to pick my favorite, usually spaghetti and garlic bread. Sneaking too many popsicles from the freezer with my best friend when mom wasn't looking was one of the highlights of summer. Yet I always felt in the back of my mind that food was associated with something negative. As a true-born girly girl, I started reading fashion and celebrity gossip magazines before I was at an age I could even pronounce all the words. I just knew the basics: these were all famous, celebrated women, fawned over because of their beauty. I grew up absolutely in love with the Olsen twins, often feeling like I was their third, long lost triplet. As they got older and conversation often turned to their itty bitty size, I was well aware and made sure my body looked like theirs.  When Mary Kate was admitted into rehab for anorexia at the age of 17, I was about the young age of 10. But I still clearly remember the moment I thought, "I need to always look like that. She's what I'll be when I'm finally grown up." As twisted as it sounds, I admired her. Her self-discipline. Her control. I figured she probably had everything together and saw her as success, something to strive toward. That was around the time the subconscious thoughts became obsessive and with a purpose. I never ate one thing without very carefully considering whether or not it was worth the calories. I remember running to the bathroom in between classes during junior high to check if I looked thin enough in the full-length mirror. I was constantly comparing my body to every other girl's and if I felt like they were skinnier than me, I was a failure. Being what in my mind was "perfect" was more important than anything else. I would go between periods of starving myself to losing control and eating everything in sight. Things only got worse once I figured out how easily I could get rid of the food once I felt I had eaten too much. For the next six years, I silently battled inside with an extreme eating disorder. There were times where it wasn't as bad and I could go a few weeks eating regularly without too much guilt, but the majority of the time I was constantly wracked with depression and absolutely unbearable anxiety. I completely lost who I was as a person because the only thing I thought was important was the way I looked. This fixation cost me the ability to focus on anything else, like doing well in school or being a good friend or sister. I felt like I was trapped in this tunnel of trying to appear so perfect that I just became empty on the inside. I didn't care about anything other than being pretty and skinny. My friends and family noticed something was wrong, but I was so deep in my disordered mind that I would deny anything if I was ever confronted. I did pretty well hiding my secret and managed to get through most of my teen years as a fairly happy, normal kid. But this big thing nagging inside of me still managed to ruin friendships, relationships, and opportunities. I felt that the way I looked was the only thing I had to offer or contribute to the world, the only reason I mattered. I was slowly falling further and deeper into this dark web of obsession of pressure. 

The summer before I turned 21, I moved out into my first apartment with a friend. Being on my own gave me even more control of how I ate without anybody watching or judging. This newfound freedom kicked off a downward spiral. My diet basically consisted of Diet Coke and Xanax. With so little mental clarity and so much depression, I began doing things I knew were wrong but just didn't care. I made choices I still regret and was at the absolute lowest point in my life. Within three months, I was down 20 pounds and barely functioning. There were times I couldn't get up off the floor because I was so weak. Looking back now, it's all a huge blur and I can't believe I was living that way. Being moved out, I didn't see my family much but once I started visiting, they noticed the drastic change in my body and mind and only then did they realize how sick I really was. That August, I was admitted into a rehabilitation center and diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, and intense anxiety. I spent what was without a doubt the hardest month of my life in the center, constantly working with nutritionists and therapists and finally accepting that I needed help. It was such a war inside. I knew I couldn't keep living the way I had been but I was still so scared to give up the only thing that I had used to cope and stay in control. The funny thing is, by restricting my entire world into this tiny, unrealistic box, I ended up losing all the control I really had. I had to quit my job, completely surrender myself to recovering, and awkwardly deal with questions of where I had been and what was going on. As far as things have come in our society, there is still a huge stigma surrounding most types of mental illness today. You might be embarrassed or afraid to ask for help, but I can tell you firsthand that it is the ONLY way to start down the path of getting better. Keeping things locked inside and to yourself will do nothing but eat you alive and make your problems 10 times worse. It's taken practically my entire life, but I've finally discovered one of the most therapeutic and beneficial things I can do is just reach out to someone. I've even been able to overcome a lot of my issues simply by saying them out loud. Telling someone else your worries usually helps you put them in perspective and realize how much you had blown it up in your head. It's been almost a year since I've left treatment, and although I still have days filled with hopelessness, loneliness, and despair, I am so incredibly grateful I'm no longer in that horrible place I was for so many years. I still go to therapy and nutrition appointments weekly and I'm still learning to accept myself and a healthier lifestyle, but I have gained so much knowledge and insight in the process. 

Once I really started dedicating my life to change, I started seeing things differently. One of the strongest things that hit me was, I don't judge other people by their weight. I don't think anyone is a better person just because they're thin. I don't know why it was so hard for me to process that it's the same the other way around. Others don't look at me and immediately decide my worth by my the size of my thighs. Being skinny doesn't define me. For a long time I think I didn't want to get better. When you have a disorder, it tends to become your identity. Overcoming my eating disorder would mean losing a part of myself, the only part I really knew. I didn't feel that I was smart, successful, or really worth anything. Who was I if I wasn't The Skinny Girl? It's taken me years to understand, but I am not a body. I am a soul. My Father in Heaven has so wonderfully blessed with me a beautiful, amazing vessel to live in. Because of this body I can walk through the park and feel the sun on my skin. I can run and chase my dog around the yard. I can pick up one of my little crying cousins and hold them in my arms until they feel the comfort coming from my strong, beating heart. And one day, if I am lucky enough to be so blessed, I'll experience that this human body is able to not only create another human body, but carry that sweet little growing soul inside of me. I want to be able to cherish and nourish that baby with everything I can give them. Who are we to nitpick and abuse these bodies when they themselves are precious gifts from our Heavenly Father? There are so many out there who have been given the challenge of a physical illness or ailment where getting up and just walking outside is impossible. Think of those born without limbs, without functioning organs, even without sight. What right do I have to hate my body when I've been so incredibly gifted with receiving one so healthy and strong? Why is it that we don't look at ourselves in amazement and insane appreciate every single day? We all have a subconscious desire to be perfect in some way, which is good because that's what keeps us moving forward. I still struggle with my insecurities every morning. But slowly and surely, I've learned it's not about how flat my stomach is, nor how thin my arms look or how small my waist is, or how others see me. It's the kind heart I have, the caring nature I can use to nurture others, the mind that has the capacity to learn and retain new information constantly. The way my Father in Heaven sees me. No matter how you feel about your body, no matter how much or how little confidence you have, try to see yourself the way God sees you. You are so much greater in His eyes. And no matter how heavy your burdens are, He is there to help us every step of the way.

It should be easy to remember all these things, but we are human. That's why I try to thank God for my life and my health every day. For anyone experiencing depression, anxiety, worthlessness, self-loathing, an eating disorder, or anything along those lines, remember that you're not alone. There's no shame in your trials. We all have them, no matter what they may be. And you are more than that. Try to see things in an eternal perspective. Despite life's difficulties, look at the miracles we experience every day. Life is too wonderful and amazing to go through wasting it. I know positivity isn't just something we can switch on, I only wish it were that easy. But by taking things slowly and focusing on one thing daily that you've been blessed with, it will start to get easier. Have strength, faith, and gratitude. Whether you're getting outside help or simply turning to God, it's never, ever impossible to get out of the dark and into the sunshine that this life has to offer."

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