Let’s Talk Eating Disorders.

My experience with eating disorders isn’t something I talk about much, especially not online.  I think that maybe that’s because of the sense of vulnerability that comes with speaking of such a personal, painful thing, along with the mindset of “it’s nobody’s business but my own” that I’ve always had.  And aside from that, I think a part of me is unaccepting and in denial still, despite the fact that I was discharged from treatment about three years ago.  

 

If I could set a Facebook relationship status with food, let’s just say it’d be “it’s complicated”.  One of the things therapists ask is where your disorder or issues stem from; what makes you sick? But that’s the thing – it’s been so ingrained in me I can’t really remember a time I didn’t have unhealthy thoughts and behaviors surrounding food.  Maybe it was triggered by the relentless bullying I went through all the way from second grade to seventh.  Maybe it was triggered by my already existing social anxiety and OCD., or maybe it was the depression that kicked my disordered eating habits into gear.  Either way, it happened, and at age thirteen I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in the office of my first therapist – even though I’d been experiencing symptoms long before then.

 

Mayo Clinic states that “The physical signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa are related to starvation, but the disorder also includes emotional and behavior issues related to an unrealistic perception of body weight and an extremely strong fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.”  Physical symptoms aside, symptoms of anorexia nervosa include (but are are not limited to)*:

  • Severely restricting food intake through dieting or fasting and may include excessive exercise
  • Bingeing and self-induced vomiting to get rid of the food and may include use of laxatives, enemas, diet aids or herbal products
  • Preoccupation with food
  • Refusal to eat
  • Denial of hunger
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Lying about how much food has been eaten
  • Flat mood (lack of emotion)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Reduced interest in sex
  • Depressed mood
  • Thoughts of suicide

*list taken from mayoclinic.org

 

Though there is no exact, direct cause of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders (binge eating disorder (BED), bulimia, EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), etc.), it is most likely a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.  

 

One of my first memories of being unhappy with my body is when I was eight years old.  It was summer, and I was playing at the park, a tooth missing from my grin and my blonde braids blowing in the breeze.  I was wearing an outfit that I quite liked – a green romper with floral details.  I sat down on some sort of playground apparatus and looked down at my thighs – a wave of disappointment rolled over me.  They’re too fat, I thought.  Nevermind that I was a healthy eight year old girl.  Looking back, I realize that this is around the same time my obsessive-compulsive mindset began, and I see how closely those two things are linked.  

 

My negativity towards myself only escalated as time went on.  Maybe it was the bullying at school – the girls who called me fat and treated me as if they owned me.  Or maybe it was my ever-increasing perfectionistic mindset and feelings of not being enough, along with increasingly stressful surroundings and situations.  No matter the cause, I began paying more and more attention to food, weight, diet, and exercise over the years.  

 

When I was about twelve years old, I was introduced to the concept of “pro-ana” (“ana” being short for anorexia) and “pro-mia” (“mia” being short for bulimia).  Suddenly, this whole new world opened up before me and I realized I wasn’t alone in my feelings.  I’d search forums and blogs and browse under the proana hashtag on Tumblr and Instagram.  It was in searches like these that I found the concept of “thinspiration”, which is basically pictures of stick-thin girls to serve as “inspiration” to starve yourself.  Suddenly, my life – health, relationships, etc. – went on a steep and drastic downward spiral that lasted about a year.  Honestly, most of that year is a total fog – I don’t know if it’s because of the malnutrition or simply not wanting to have to recall the dragging, depressing days, but it’s like there’s a wall up in my mind and all I can see beyond it is blurred images of food and exercise and trying to hide my disorder behind smiles and reassuring statements.  I had my meals and allotted calories mapped out for each day, and browsed internet forums on ways to consume less calories and burn more.  Cold showers, constant exercise, and self harm became my daily routine, and eventually all I could do was sleep and lay in my bedroom, trying to hide my misery from everyone else.  I was extremely suicidal, and promised myself that if I wasn’t able to starve myself to death, I’d find other means of suicide.  It was like one long year of self-inflicted torture.

 

However, my plans were completely flipped when I was told I’d be going to treatment.  I didn’t want to go, but to a part of me, it also felt like some sort of “finish line”.  I’d won.  I made it. I was finally sick enough.  Eating disorders are competitive, greedy things.  And so that December, I was admitted to inpatient treatment six hours away from home, where I stayed for two and a half weeks.

 

The first night was hell, to say the least.  I cried hysterically and begged my mom not to leave me there.  I was locked up in the eating disorder wing of a psychiatric hospital, with girls with tubes in their noses ands bones protruding out from under baggy pajama pants.  Some cried, some slept, and some just sat there, consumed by it all.  We started our mornings with cold showers, vitals, pills and vitamins, and blood drawings every other day as early as 5 am.  We could have visitors for two hours each day, and four hours on weekends.  We weren’t allowed to have pens or pencils, so I passed time between groups playing games with the other girls and writing in my journal with a felt tip marker.  I made art in art therapy, and got to know some of the other girls, many of whom I’m still in contact with today.  And it makes me happy to see that they’re thriving and living fulfilling lives.

 

After my time at inpatient was up, I was transferred to a residential treatment center four hours from home, where I stayed for two or three months.  It was hard knowing that I was technically “in recovery”, and I hated seeing the changes in my body.  I got to go on outings and have visiting hours thrice weekly, and made nightly phone calls home.  I spent my days bonding with the lovely girls I shared my time there with, and going to groups and personal therapy sessions.  I adored my therapist, and despite all the blood and tears I shed there, I look back on my memories of residential treatment fondly, given the circumstances.  It was painful and horrible and utter hell, but I met so many lovely people and learned so much about myself and the world.  It was there that I began writing so much poetry, and I even got the group to do Sunday night “poetry slams” that were easily the best part of my week.

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from going through treatment, it’s that everything is so much more bearable when you know you have support.  I couldn’t have done any of it if it weren’t for the girls I spent my time with and our inside jokes, reassuring kindness towards one another, relentless support, and heart-to-hearts.  We bonded through the one thing that brought us all together and helped set one another free; and I think this is exactly how things should be.  It’s been three years, and I still struggle every day with body image and disordered thinking.  In many ways, I feel like I will always struggle.  I still have the diagnosis haunting my medical records and reports, and I’m still not fully recovered physically from the damage I did to my body.  But if it weren’t for the struggle, I may not have begun taking writing so seriously, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.  It’s one of the things that’s made me who I am, and that’s okay.  Now that I’m here and have lived through it, I would like to join the movement in breaking down mental health stigmas and fighting for proper education and treatment opportunities for those in need.  Everyone has their battles, so why don’t we just support one another?

 

For help, insight, and more, visit these lovely websites or call the Eating Disorder Hotline:

 

NEDA (National Eating Disorder Awareness): https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org//

The Emily Program: https://www.emilyprogram.com/

Center for Eating Disorders: http://www.center4ed.org/resources.asp

Eating Disorder Hotline: 1-888-988-9706

 

Please help take part in Eating Disorder Awareness Week by sharing this post and exploring others like it.
Thank you, and stay lovely!xx

5 Things I’d Like To Leave Behind In 2016

With the New Year quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot not just about my goals and intentions for the next year, but also the things that I’d like to leave behind in 2016.  Here, I’ve compiled a list of five things I’m putting in the rearview mirror (in no particular order), and I encourage you to do the same!

  1. My overly-modest and humble attitude: Sure, you don’t want to be a total braggart, but it is completely okay – and even healthy – to acknowledge your accomplishments and celebrate your strengths.  I, just like many other people, am guilty of downplaying and dismissing my accomplishments and positive traits, and I want 2017 to be the year of celebrating myself.
  2. My fear of rejection: Everyone knows that rejection isn’t fun or desirable, but it’s part of life.  I tend to tiptoe around problems and refuse to ask for anything out of fear of rejection, but really, it’s inevitable and part of the process of learning and growing.  In 2017, I’ll learn to ask for what I want and need without fear or guilt.
  3. My fear of letting go: Being uptight isn’t fun or healthy. This year, I’ve begun to allow myself to let go and just live a little, and it feels amazing.  In 2017, I’m going to give myself permission to have fun, make mistakes, and learn in the process.
  4. Extra and misplaced anger: Sometimes, I notice that I’m carrying around a certain anger that isn’t necessarily caused by anything or directed towards anyone or anything, or maybe it’s caused by something that has long been resolved.  It serves no purpose other than weighing me down, and I’m ready to finally drop all that extra baggage and leave it behind in 2016.
  5. Broken and Long-Gone Relationships: Whether it’s a friendship, romantic relationship, etc., we all lose relationships with people – and that’s okay.  Rather than dwelling on lost relationships, I will leave them in the dust and make new ones in 2017 – what better time to start with a clean slate than New Year’s?

 

What Feminism Means To Me

I consider myself a feminist.  I used to hate the term and the stigma surrounding it, and I still sometimes find myself doubting the adjective, as much as I hate to admit it.  It’s not that I don’t feel that women – and everyone else, for that matter – are equal to men. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply because of the social stigma and negative connotations surrounding feminism and feminist beliefs.

When I was younger, it never really occurred to me that women may be inferior to men.  I’ve grown up in a family full of strong, independent, and powerful women, many of whom I’ve watched firsthand go through Hell and back with a smile on their face.  So, even as a young girl, I felt that I, as a woman (or budding woman, I should say), was just as powerful and capable as a man.  However, looking back, I realize that I always felt I should be more of a tomboyish girl, that people won’t like a feminine girl or taker her seriously.  I went through a phase where I didn’t wear earrings (or jewelry at all, for that matter), and dresses and skirts were  completely out of the question, even though I’d often find myself longing for the freedom I felt in a skirt and envying the girls who would wear dresses to school.  As you can probably tell, I’ve always been a jumble of contradictions.

It wasn’t until I was about 13 years old that I began to experiment with fashion (as is evident in my beyond cringe-worthy school photos), which was also when I started educating myself on feminist philosophy.  Coincidence?  Probably not. Learning about feminism was so freeing.  It wasn’t until I began educating myself on the topic that I began to accept the fact that I am, in fact, a female, and that is more than okay to be a woman.  Teen Vogue certainly helped me to find women outside of my family to look up to as role models, along with helping me to find my style and learning how fashion and feminism can work in harmony.  One of my favorite articles, which I have hanging on my bedroom wall right above my workspace, is by Arabelle Sicardi.  It’s called “Hair? Don’t Care”*, and it talks about body hair and the fact that women do have it, and that’s it is your choice as a person to do whatever you want with it.  One of my favorite quotes of hers, which she said while discussing the time she started shaving, reads: “not for my own comfort but so they wouldn’t look at me like I failed girlhood.”  That one really struck home for me, and made me analyze the way I dress and take care of myself hygienically.  Did I do things because I wanted to, or because it was what I was “supposed” to do?

Since reading that article, I wear dresses without shame and am unafraid to rock pink hair. I usually like to shave, but I sure as Hell don’t do it for anyone other than my own personal comfort.  And, I’m not ashamed to say that my signature scent is men’s deodorant and a knock-off version of Viktor & Rolf’s Flower Bomb perfume.  Why? Because there are no rules to being a woman.  And if you take anything at all from this article, let it be just that.

* Sicardi, Arabelle. “Hair? Don’t Care.” Teen Vogue Apr. 2016: 64. Print.