Do you ever jolt awake from a nightmare so real it takes you a minute to realize it was just a dream? It’s been five years since I’ve been hospitalized, and I still have nightmares about going back. I have a history with anorexia, and I know that it’s very possible that at some point I’ll have a relapse.
When I made the decision to publicly share my story about battling anorexia, there were a few factors. The biggest one being awareness. So many people misunderstand eating disorders, and I wanted to do my part in helping people struggling to feel less alone and misunderstood.
Despite misconceptions, eating disorders are rooted in something that goes much deeper than food and weight. For many, that thing was control. One of the goals I was trying to achieve by starving myself was to change myself. I really thought that if I stopped hating my body then I would stop hating my mind.
I wanted to be a better version of myself, and I would do anything to get there, even if it meant starving myself to death. No price was too high.
It became a contest to me. When I walked into a room, I would check if I was the skinniest.
I was in a contest with myself and everyone around me.
And while it wasn’t intentional, people reinforced that. Our natural instinct is to say what’s on our mind. But we often forget to think about what implications our words can have.
I spent a year living with my grandpa and attending a treatment center near him. When I returned home, I was extremely nervous to see people. The first time I made a public appearance, a girl I knew told me how great I looked. At this point I was just barely maintaining the low end of a healthy weight. While I am sure she didn’t mean it this way all I heard was “skinny looks good on you, you would look better if you lost more weight”.
A few years later I was on the verge of a relapse. I ended up at the doctor, and they sent me to the nurse to get some tests done. The nurse asked me some questions, one being whether I exercise. I told her that I don’t. She gave me a lecture about how unhealthy it is not to exercise. So that night I went home and exercised until I physically couldn’t anymore. Because exercise is healthy, right?
A few months ago I went to try and donate blood. I got there and was told that I didn’t weigh enough to donate. A friend who had gone with me, while trying to be helpful told me that, it was weird that they didn’t let me donate, because I wasn’t that skinny anymore.
If I am skinny, I feel that I am in control of my life.
When people make comments about my weight I don’t feel in control. When I’m very stressed, I need to be careful about my intake and weight to make sure it doesn’t slip. Having the self-awareness to know my weaknesses has been instrumental in keeping me on track the past few years. But I know how easy it is to slip back into it.
And that’s why National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week is so important to me. Many people feel like they are alone, and the smallest comments can accidentally reinforce their thoughts and feelings.
I’m a few years into recovery now, but there are still comments that are extremely triggering for me. People think it’s helpful to tell me that I don’t look sick anymore, that I look healthy now. And while I know they mean it in a good way, it’s extremely triggering for me. One of the biggest challenges of having an eating disorder is that you feel like you’re not good enough, nor perfect, and weight is extremely tied up in that.
I know this may sound irrational, if you haven’t experienced this. But that’s what eating disorders are, they aren’t rational, they don’t make sense. They convince you of things that aren’t there. And while you might not be able to relate, please try to understand. During NEDA week please try to be more aware of how you speak to those around you. Turn to those around you who are struggling and let them know that you are there. Sometimes people just need a reminder that they aren’t alone in this world.