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

Dear Me: An Open Letter To My Younger Self

Dear 12 year old me,

Life sucks for you right now.  Your parents just divorced, the bullying at school has become unbearable.  You have no friends. your anxiety and OCD are out of control, you’re quickly spiralling into a huge depressive episode, and you just want a way out of it.  You hate yourself; don’t even try to deny it anymore.  You don’t think you’ll make it through this year alive, but I’m here to tell you that things will get better.  It will take time and things are going to get one thousand times worse before they get better, but it is so worth it.  Sure, things still get pretty sucky for us now, but we’re happier and healthier than we’ve ever been, and things are only looking up from here.  However, even though I know we get through all this crap, I want to give you some advice and tell you the things I wish someone would’ve told me before.

  1. Separate yourself from toxic people – and yes, I do mean your “friends” and all of those kids at school that find entertainment in making your life miserable.  And most importantly, do not feel guilty about it.  They treat you worse than the dirt under their feet.  I know you don’t have anyone else right now, but it’s better to be alone than to be surrounded by bullies.  You think that they’re there for you, but all they do is bring you up to smash you down harder than ever before.  Leave them and don’t look back.  They abuse you.  And, if it makes you feel better, we now have a couple amazing friends who treat us better than any of your current “friends” ever will.
  2. Take care of yourself.  Right about now, you’re dipping your feet in deadly waters and before you know it, you’ll be drowning.  Take care of your body and mind; don’t hurt yourself.  If you continue down this path, you’ll be living in treatment centers for four months, and those four months are going to be a living nightmare.  You don’t want to be just another skeleton refusing food in the eating disorder ward of a psychiatric hospital six hours from home, your family devastated and scared out of their minds.   You don’t want to sit in the same chair day after day, lying about how you got your scars, rating your suicidal thoughts on a scale of one to seven, crying your way through visiting hours, your only comfort being your faux leather bound journal and the crayola marker you’re forced to write with because pens and pencils are too dangerous.  It’s Hell.
  3. Your feelings are real and valid.  You aren’t overreacting and you sure as Hell aren’t making things up.  You can’t help that you were born with severe anxiety and OCD, or that you developed depression as a child.  You can’t help that you are developing PTSD and that you were diagnosed with anorexia after nearly dying because restricting your food is the only thing that brings you comfort.  It happened as is still happening but things won’t be this bad forever.
  4. It is more than okay to get help.  You aren’t being selfish or needy, and not everyone is out to hurt you.  In fact, there are so many amazing people to support you, but they can’t help you if you don’t accept their help.  You need that help, so don’t be afraid of it or think it’s selfish or unnecessary.   I promise it will be worth the fight.
  5. Finally, I want you to know that you, of all people, know yourself  better than anyone else, so stand up for yourself and do what you need to do rather than what others want you to do.  Don’t let everyone else control you like their puppet.  You are in control of your own life and it needs to stay that way.  Tell everyone what you want to do and do the things that make you happy. Go vegan, take up yoga, learn a new instrument, and most importantly, write.  Writing is what gets you through your toughest times, so never stop doing it.

 

You can do this.  In three more years, you’ll be happier and healthier than ever before.  I know it seems like a long time, but it passes in the blink of an eye, so just hang it there.

 

With great love,

Your Future Self

A Life Led By Us And Only Ourselves: A Poem

There’s a knife in my hands,

and blood in my eyes,

but it’s not death I’m after;

it’s life.

A life without pain,

a life without misery;

a life led by me, and only myself.

 

I’m sick of being told that it can’t be done,

that me and my mental illnesses,

we are all one.

But I’ve realized myself, that I really can live

I can live a meaningful life,

a life that includes happiness,

a life that I love;

a life led by me, and only myself.

 

I’m becoming myself,

and I’m shedding my old skin.

I’m finding my interests, my values, my sins.

It’s nice to meet the person I am,

and say goodbye to all I am not,

to stop pretending and playing a sick game;

to live a life led by me, and only myself.

 

The blood and tears have only just begun,

but I know that the wound inflicted on myself,

is one that can heal.

It will be messy –

don’t get me wrong.

I may scar, but it won’t ruin me – I can finally live;

live a life led by me, and only myself.

 

It won’t be me that dies –

no, it will be my illnesses, my mistakes, and all of my bad memories.

And when they’re on their way to the hospital, fighting to live,

to have one more breath of life,

I will throw at them all I can lift.

So that finally, I can be the one to live;

a life led by me, and only myself.

 

Sometimes, goodbye means opportunities,

it means another chance.

And sometimes, we’re allowed more than a second chance.

Sometimes it takes more than one goodbye to escape,

to escape from the ropes that bound your hands together for so long.

But I have the knife to cut off the ropes, and the tools to make it out of my cell,

to live a life led by me, and only myself.

 

It sure won’t be easy,

and I might lose the key a time or two, or even more.

But that’s okay –

you don’t gain the skills to break out of prison in one day.

It will take logic, and emotions, and sometimes just action.

But it will be worth it to live;

to live a life led by me, and only myself.

 

I may miss the place I once was in –

it provided safety, security, privacy, control, and numbness to life.

But I want to feel,

whatever that may be,

whether it’s good, bad, or anywhere in between.

I’m ready to live;

a life led by me, and only myself.

 

So suit up,

grab your sword.

The only way out is to fight.

It’s okay to lose a battle,

and you might even fall out of the ring.

But in the end, I can live, and so can you,

a life led by you, and only yourself.

 

And when we come out on the other side of this mountain,

the mountain we never thought we could climb,

the mountain we fell down a few times,

the mountain that, in the beginning, didn’t even seem worth it,

we will be strong,

and we will be ready,

to live a life led by us, and only ourselves.