How “Super Girl” Found Her Voice

By Julie McDiarmidAugust 25, 2016

When I was first hospitalized for anorexia, my doctor said to me, “Julie, you are obviously in a lot of pain. Why don’t you try using your voice instead of your body to tell me that you are hurting, to tell me what you need?” This baffled me at that time—I didn’t need anything. I didn’t need even the basics of food, sleep, or attention. No, I wasn’t hurting—I was Super Girl. I could do unfathomable things that others could not.

I could go for days without food or sleep.

I could still get good grades and do quality work.

I could take care of everything without ever having to ask for help.

It was like having superpowers. Except, instead of making me invincible, these powers almost killed me.

I was first diagnosed with anorexia at 12 years old. Beyond the blurriness of the many years that malnutrition has created, I only recall the origins of the illness in terms of what is written on my medical charts: I had lost my appetite, lost weight, and stopped getting my period only 6 months after I first got it. The social worker at school noticed the change in me physically, as well as the fact that my grades were dropping quickly because I could no longer concentrate. I was taken to the doctor for a check-up, but I figured it would be no big deal. Super Girl can’t die, right?

Wrong. In fact, I almost died several times. Now, constantly chanting like a lyric in my head, is a list conditions I deal with on a daily basis due thanks to almost 13 years of struggling with anorexia and bulimia: poor circulation, dehydration, acid reflux, edema, electrolyte imbalance, chronic lightheaded/dizziness, osteoporosis, anemia, chronic anxiety, panic that resembles actual heart attacks…

The list goes on. Because I could not speak my pain, my body showed it, and this list is the response to my body’s cries.

That’s not all. Running (literally) on empty takes a toll. You feel weak from not eating, weak for giving in to food, weak for and from purging, and, most of all, you feel weak because you are not as invincible as you thought.

You will watch your hair thin, as more of it falls out each day. You will watch the horror on your parents’ faces as they observe you slowly deteriorating. You will listen to them fight over whose fault your eating disorder was and how the hell this ever happened.

There’s more. You will lose the ability to think. You will lose your body slowly, yes, but the scarier part will be when you begin to lose your mind. Words don’t exist to describe the horror I felt when I first realized it was happening. I had been sick for over a decade but was still seeking help; I was sitting in my dietitian’s office trying to explain something to her, and while what I was saying is a blurred memory, the look on her face is vivid in my mind because of how it truly terrified me. It was a look of panic as she slowly said to me, “Julie…you aren’t making any sense.”

What? No, surely she just didn’t understand what I was saying.

This terrified me more than anything—take my body, I remember thinking, but please do not take my mind. I needed my mind. Without it my powers were useless.

My superpowers were failing me, just like my organs were failing my body. Through various forms of treatment I realized that I had been asking for help all along by starving my body. It worked, for a while. It’s easy for people to tell that you are in pain and that you need help when you are starving to death. But that’s the easy part. The difficulty in using your body to tell people that you’re hurting lies in the translation. Using your body to show people your pain becomes a dangerous cycle. What happens if you recover and your body “looks” healthy again? How will you speak then?

It starts small. In the past, starvation was the only way I knew how to avoid and/or express my feelings. Instead of telling, I was showing because I could not find the voice to speak. Now, if I’m angry or scared or sad, I might actually get the courage call someone and say, “I am so angry and here is why. I feel like I don’t deserve to be angry or that I am a bad person for being angry. I feel like my anger is going to consume me, and I want to take it out on myself because I don’t know how else to get rid of it.”

Years later, I look back and realize that my doctor was right. Not only did I have needs, but I also needed my needs to be met. I was hurting, and I needed comfort, understanding, and human connection. Back then, I was terrified of using my voice to ask for ask for anything, or to even admit that I had needs at all. Who did I think I was? How dare I think that I deserve the time or attention from another person? How dare I be large enough to take up space in the world, space that could be for someone else, surely someone more important?

I have a voice for a reason: to speak up for myself and for others when they need help finding theirs. The realization and acceptance that yes, I am important, my needs do matter, and taking care of myself makes me able to better care for others—that’s the real power. I have the opportunity to be a real hero in this life, and I will use not my body, but my voice to do so.

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Comments (14)

  1. Julia

    thank you so much for sharing this. I have followed TWLOHA for over seven years now, buying shirts and sweaters, wearing it deliberately, showing it off, went to vans warped tour when they (finally) came to Berlin in 2013.
    I did that to help people cope. I wanted to help people who struggled. Even though I self harmed, too, it was never my primary problem – as it wasn’t killing me. So, I never saw TWLOHA as directioned towards me. It was always just a tool to help others, again pushing myself into the background.
    And it still, until now, until this post, it never quite hit me, that I too, was worth the love. That starving itself was a way of harming myself. So thank you so much for this post. It talks to me on a way different level. I makes me choose recovery all over again. It inspires me. It makes me feel like I am not alone, like rescue is possible, that I deserve the help I get. Thank you. <3

    Reply  |  
    1. Julie McDiarmid

      You are so welcome; sharing this kind of pain is never fun or easy, but if it helps/encourages one person, I’m more than happy to be as open as needed! My thoughts and prayers are with you on your continued journey to full restoration! Thank you for your kind words <3

      Reply  |  
  2. Marie

    I wish I could tell Julie: thank you so much for sharing this ❤ For once I really believe I’m not alone and other people are like me.
    My disease is real, but so is hope.

    Reply  |  
    1. Julie McDiarmid

      You did tell me, and I can’t thank you enough! This stuff is not easy to put out there, but you are SO not alone! I’ll be thinking of and praying for you on your journey to full healing… and use that voice of yours, girl! Much love <3 ~Julie

      Reply  |  
  3. Amy

    Thank you so much for this text. Although I do not suffer from anorexia, I understand when you start to show your pain on your body (I used to self-harm, still not really over it).
    But this metaphore of being super girl with superpowers really touched my heart.
    Thank you! And stay strong.

    Reply  |  
    1. Julie McDiarmid

      You are so welcome, and thank YOU for your kind words! You’re so right about showing pain physically manifesting in many ways… the more we use our voices, the more others feel the freedom to do so as well. Keep on voicing! <3

      Reply  |  
  4. Bellla

    Wow. This is wonderful.
    It’s funny, the thing I love about superheros, is their ability to teach us about ourselves in spite of the differences between us and them. I don’t have the fights you unfortunately have, but you’ve still taught me about myself. Yes indeed, you’re not only a superhero for this, but for being you.
    God bless

    Reply  |  
    1. Julie McDiarmid

      Such true wisdom in your words; thank you!

      Reply  |  
      1. Bellla

        Right back at ya!
        God bless

        Reply  |  
  5. Jodi

    Wow! Amazing. Thanks for sharing. You are brave.

    Reply  |  
  6. Elizabeth Nicholas

    my daughter is slowly starving her self, she eats one meal a day and that meal is so small. even my 2 year old grandson eats a bigger meal,
    I don’t know how to get through to her I have tried to be stern. angry upset and I have even pleaded with her, I have read your story and I see a lot of Arianne in how you described yourself I think you are very brave and a true inspiration , and you give me hope that she to one day will come out the otherside. Thank you

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      Would you mind emailing us at [email protected] so we can learn more about your daughter? Our team would be honored to offer you and her some support and resources.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  7. Annemarie

    Hi Julie,
    I came across something you wrote because I was looking for new info on ARFID. Something my 23 yr old daughter suffers from and has recently crossed into a danger zone because of ARFID.
    Almost no one knows about it or how to treat it in an adult. As I’m reading your article on, I looked you up elsewhere and saw you mention the Word of God! We are also believers! My daughter was in treatment for 2 1/2 months – full days of out patient – and while it helped give her tools for her anxiety, it did not really address ARFID and it was challenging for the staff to address my daughter’s issues because all of the other girls were struggling with anorexia and bulimia, which are very different that ARFID. My daughter WANTS to gain weight, she NEEDS to count calories –
    She recently lost weight after some emotional upheaval in her life and then from a stomach bug – and her Dr is advising in patient treatment but she has a job with no benefits. She lives in Los Angeles and we are in NY State. It’s very frightening to be so far.
    Anyway, I wondered if you have found good ARFID info and treatment or support programs that are accessible remotely…or if you have heard of any.
    Thank you – blessings!

    Reply  |  
  8. Julia

    I have been on a similar journey…….I grew up in a neglected and unseen home where I became the caregiver at a very young age.
    At different points my body has given out on me in different ways, and it took a long time to see that some of this was my soul saying it needed to be seen and cared for. I just wanted to be taken care of.
    Using my voice and taking care of myself in healthy ways is not always easy, but I am worth it.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply  |  
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