Well hello there! I’m switching things up this month. Instead of doing an interview and featuring an eating disorder warrior, I’ve decided to tell part of my story. If you didn’t already know, the entire month of May is dedicated to Mental Health Awareness. This year’s theme is you are not alone which is fitting considering the 51.5 million people in the United States experiencing a mental illness right now.
If you’ve been reading my content for any decent amount of time then you know I am a huge mental health advocate—and not because my mental health is perfect. I struggle with anxiety daily; racing thoughts, elevated heart rate, shallow breathing, nausea. I overwork myself to try and soothe my anxiousness which most of the time, only makes me more unproductive and trapped.
I’m seeing a therapist weekly to not only improve my anxiety but my self-awareness and self-compassion too. It’s a long process. There are no shortcuts and to remain on the journey, good community and scheduled breaks are crucial.
I first acknowledged my anxiety when recovering from my eating disorder.
I’ve always felt weird claiming my disorder as “mine”, but at one time it was something I clung so tightly to…so tightly that letting go took years. That’s quite normal with mental illnesses I’ve learned. Without meaning for them to, they can and quickly will invade your innermost parts, telling you you’re nothing without them.
At least with my disorder, I became possessive over it when I sacrificed everything for it; my social life, my hobbies, my health, my pleasure. Once it consumed all of my decisions, thoughts, and energy, it was mine! I had finally “succeeded” and become known for the disordered behaviors I excused as healthy lifestyle changes and I wasn’t about to let anyone take that away from me.
I’m a person who, when I say I’m going to do something, I dang well do it. This is a beautiful gift, yet with addictions such as an eating disorder, this all-or-nothing mentality harms you more than it helps you.
When my eating disorder first started, it truly was from an innocent place of, “I want to get in better shape and eat healthier.” I picked up a liking for running, joined the cross country team, and for the first time, had freedom over what I ate. I loved the way I felt exercising and eating better regularly. Summer was approaching and for once, I was excited to wear a swimming suit. I prided myself on the healthy habits I adopted and would share them with others too.
It was when I took innocent and healthy habits too far, that they became dirty little secrets I kept hidden in the closet. The information I was reading on Google may not have come out and yelled, “Starve yourself all day and take laxatives and go running to purge any food you do eat!” but I read between the lines and being the overachiever I am, followed every rule…and some; no food two hours before bed. Chew gum any time you have the urge to snack. Walk laps around the house while you brush your teeth if you have yet to hit your step goal for the day. Count and measure every serving size. Keep a log of what you eat and how much you exercise. Plan when you will eat and what you will eat so you can avoid anything to interfere with those plans…AKA social gatherings or a spontaneous box of donuts in the break room at work.
It was like I was wearing a pair of goggles which only allowed me a clear focus on my body and food—nothing else. Anything not involving these two things and my vision was cloudy. I lacked the mental capacity to give energy to anything outside of the commands of my monsters, telling me to make myself smaller.
What took my disorder to a whole new level was the abandonment I experienced from my father after fleeing the unsafe conditions of his home. I couldn’t deal with the abuse, alcoholism, and unstable environment anymore. I couldn’t think clearly and felt like a ghost—unseen and ignored. It was only when I did something to threaten his narcissistic supply that I was given any attention and that attention was consistently negative; the effects left you walking on eggshells for weeks.
But my eating disorder? It saw me. Oh man, it loved me. And I loved it. When I was afraid, sad, or lonely, it comforted me. It occupied my mind and made me feel seen. To an outsider, this phenomenon most likely seems neurotic, yet seeing your mental illness as a friend is not uncommon. Because at the end of the day mental illnesses are in fact a coping device.
I fought Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, and Exercise Addiction for nearly five years and although most people assume the driving motivation to restrict, binge and purge comes from a desire to be skinny, that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. If that were the case for all victims, eating disorders wouldn’t even be classified as a mental illness; one with the second-highest mortality rate might I add.
I know now my behaviors were neurotic and I’m not denying that. However, I look back and see my younger self in a more compassionate light. My self-hatred before caused me to look at myself in the mirror and say things like, You’re disgusting and, No one will ever love you. I despised myself for continuing to give into my disorder, yet feared being alone if I decided to walk away.
An eating disorder is like a toxic relationship; you know it’s unhealthy but the manipulation keeps you hanging on and convincing yourself things aren’t that bad and will get better with time, Yet, in reality, they only get worse. As the attachment strengthens, you begin to identify with the very thing causing you pain. And to let go of a part of your identity is never easy. There’s a stand of defense that takes place. You dig your heels in afraid to let go and as you do, the faces of people who care about your safety and wellbeing start to disappear.
It’s hard to watch someone you love hurt themselves. I’m still sorry for those who tried to intervene and get me help, but I had to go on this journey. My journey has made me more understanding of my disorder and I truly believe the compassion born in my recovery isn’t something I could’ve gained by coming to terms with my illness in a quick and effortless fashion.
I had to walk through the woods of my heart and mind to understand the petiteness of my body.
Why was making myself small so important to me? What was it about running that gave me satisfaction and pride unlike anything else? How was it one cookie could overnight, make me view myself 20 pounds heavier? Were there deeper traumas and pain my disorder was distracting me from? Were my food fears linked to actual fears?…like the fear of not being good enough, or the fear of being unlovable.
These were the questions I was faced with during the process of recovery, and I’ve come to view that process as perfect. It played out exactly how it was supposed to play out. It allowed for breakthrough moments like burning harmful journal entries, gaining weight, throwing away my scale, adopting a yoga practice, having vulnerable conversations with other eating disorder warriors, and writing a book about my experiences.
I no longer ruthlessly grab to my disorder as my only companion and am grateful to have a sound community of loved ones I’m comfortable being transparent with. It seemed I used to have secrets all around me and now, I have to search for them. I opened my closet and got rid of the shame ridicule, and judgment my monsters covered me in. Just like my too-small clothes, I put them in a garbage bag and said, “Thank you for serving me while you did, but I’m better now and don’t need you anymore.”
Fighting an eating disorder was the hardest fight I’ve ever put up and I hope if you are fighting one now, you keep in mind how strong you are. I know at times it seems giving up is easier, but here’s what I’ve learned: the strength you gain from your recovery will prepare you for the fights you’re faced with the rest of your life.
In admitting you’re not okay and climbing the mountains of recovery, you will reach the most spectacular view; a view to give you perspective over difficult circumstances which make you hurt and hide. Resiliency takes you further than complacency ever will.
Hang in there…I’m rooting for you and you are not alone.
Sending you so much love & light,
P.S. If you liked this post, don’t forget to check out my book Good Enough: Believing Beautiful through Trauma, through Life, through Disorder. In it, I go more in-depth with everything mentioned in today’s post. I want to help you find your “good enough” just as I’ve found mine.