There is no possible way I can touch on every detail of the rollercoaster I rode for years, nor do I want to relive it, but I am ready to write about it because I am no longer ashamed.
I am a recovered anorexic. At only six years old, I noticed my body shape—the squishy parts of my little legs, and the jiggles when I would jump up and down in front of a mirror in my bathing suit. At 10, I created an unrealistic exercise routine (which didn’t last). Years went by, but the downward spiral was unexpected and fast. By age 15, I was close to being admitted if I didn’t begin recovering quickly.
There were warning signs, but that doesn’t mean other people saw them. That doesn’t mean you can recognize the warning signs within yourself, either. For the record, I wasn’t an overweight child. Physicians never reported to my parents that I needed to lose weight. I believe some people are just born with a predisposition to mental illness. I am also a firm believer that certain life events can trigger suppressed mental illnesses. After years of therapy and self-reflection, I believe there were two possible triggers.
- Middle school was a rough time. We were all in the midst of puberty and a lot of physical changes were occurring. We were aware of some changes more than others. My friend at the time was pointing out my hips widening and my butt becoming more prominent. I could see her looking me up and down every day. This immediately caused me to become hyper-aware of how I looked in my newly developing womanly figure.
- Shortly before developing my ED, I lost control of a certain aspect of my life. I went nearly a year with an undiagnosed autonomic nervous system disorder. I was constantly feeling sick and fainting. Physicians simply weren’t believing me. They chalked it up to anxiety. I finally got diagnosed with the real issue and was put on medication to regulate my health, but I was still ill for a long time. I felt as though I lost control of my life so I believe I turned to a different aspect of my body that I could control—what I was eating.
I may never know the reason why I had triggering thoughts as young as the age of six. I may never know what ultimately caused the downward spiral of anorexia. All I know is that it was vicious. It was an addiction like any other.
I could dig up the old photos. I could list the declining numbers I saw on the scale. I could tell you how after nearly 10 years, I can still name the exact calories in a glass of 1% milk versus skim or the exact calories in a medium-sized banana off the top of my head. I actually still see some foods as numbers. I could talk about how I missed half of high school to twice-a-week therapy appointments that were 30 miles away to ensure I got the best help. I could talk about all the times I lied, telling everyone I was leaving school because I felt “sick again.” I could talk about how I couldn’t function in biology or how I was too fatigued to participate in my dance classes. I could talk about how I learned to scam everyone into thinking I ate. I could tell you about the terrible thoughts that went through my head. The severe depression, self-harm, passive suicidal ideation, and worsened anxiety. I could talk about how proud I was when my heart rate was only about 40 beats per minute.
That is my story but that is not my success story. My success story is: fighting my ass off every day until I could eat a full meal without crying, without weighing myself after it, without trying to throw up. Having an incredible support system between my mother, a couple of friends, my psychiatrist, my psychologist, and my nutritionist. My success story is graduating from a vigorous medical imaging program at 20 years old. Moving out and getting my first apartment. Choosing to go for my bachelor’s degree in an accelerated program while working full-time because I knew I could do it. Crawling out from under the debris of a toxic relationship because I was strong enough to stand up again after being knocked down without relapsing. My success story is having the confidence to continue to progress in my career, to learn more every day, and maybe even sit for another board exam.
My success story is listening to what my mind and body need from me.
Being recovered doesn’t mean I am perfect. It doesn’t mean that I never have negative thoughts. As my psychologist taught me early on—even when you recover, you will still face some demons, but you can tell them to go away and keep them on the back burner of the stove instead of having the pot boil over.
That pot is on the back burner. It’s been there for years now. Some old water remains but it is mostly stagnant. I am in control again. I know how to keep it from boiling over.
You are more than a number on a scale or a measuring tape. You are human. Messy and whole, capable of so many good things, regardless of your body’s shape. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].