This piece is part of our Mental Health Month blog series, where we highlight and explore eight different mental health struggles. Here’s Jessica’s experience with and perspective on eating disorders.
I’ve been in a relationship with Ed for about nine years now. I used to think our relationship was great. When he first entered my life, he would encourage me to be a better, healthier version of myself. He always wanted the best for me and helped me realize how small changes in my life could make me happier. I used to love Ed; I thought he was someone who really understood me. I used to think he was the best thing to ever happen… I was wrong.
Looking back, I realize that everything I used to love about Ed was a lie. He was exploitive and manipulative, making me believe he was on my side. And he was good at it. Ed snuck his way so deeply into my life that he was able to grab hold of the reins and control everything. I always had to abide by his rules or else I would be punished. He had the final say in who I could hang out with and when I could see them. He monitored my daily activities and only permitted me to feel good about myself on his terms. He convinced me I was to blame for my unhappiness and if I were to ever leave him, I would become a nobody.
I considered seeking help, but I didn’t have scars to show as proof. I never suffered any “visible” damage from Ed or had to go to the hospital. I thought my feelings of grief and hopelessness were invalid because other people suffer far worse. It couldn’t possibly be fair for me to get help when there are so many others in situations much darker than mine. Would people even believe me? And If I were to ask for help, it would prove that Ed was right: I’m weak.
It was a little over a year ago when I first referred to my eating disorder as Ed. My friends and family had finally convinced me to seek help and I started seeing Julie, a therapist specializing in disordered eating. Within the first few visits, Julie gave me a book called Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer. Even though I’ll admit I didn’t read the whole thing, it introduced to me an entirely new perspective on how to think about my eating disorder.
In my experience, one of the toughest challenges about recovering from an eating disorder is finding a way to fight something that often disguises itself as a part of you. How can you possibly fight yourself? It seems impossible. What Life Without Ed and Julie helped me realize is that my eating disorder is not some deep-rooted part of who I am. Personifying this disorder, giving him a name and characteristics, made me see just how badly I needed help. Anyone reading those first three paragraphs can tell that I was in a truly dangerous relationship, and I needed to find a way out.
So who is Ed then? Ed is a collection of insecurities, life experiences, and internalized fears. He feeds off the negative and degrading comments my brain sends to my body and with each disapproving look in the mirror or wave of shame due to surpassing my daily calorie limit, Ed grew stronger. Ed is a reflection of my thoughts, but he is not me.
As soon as I started visualizing Ed as this external being, it became easier to fight my way out. I imagined him occupying my body and taking up space that could otherwise be filled by a thriving social life, more energy, and the happiness I knew I deserved. I wanted Ed to leave so I could have my life back. And after months of squaring up against him in the boxing ring that is my body, something changed—I got angry.
Throughout my recovery, I have experienced quite a collection of emotions: sadness, loneliness, frustration, confusion, pain. But I hadn’t let myself be angry. And I have a lot to be angry about! I’m angry that food has become something that consumes so much of me. I’m angry that Ed convinced me to fear what I need in order to survive. I’m angry that so many of my thoughts and so much of my energy are channeled toward thinking about my next meal. I’m angry that I don’t love myself in the same ways I know so many others love me. And most of all, I’m angry at Ed and this mentally abusive relationship.
I still have a long way to go, but when I look at where I am today compared to a year ago, I know I’ve begun showing Ed how strong I really am. Understanding recovery as a series of daily battles, as opposed to this large, overwhelming war, made finding the will to make little changes easier and encouraged celebration of the little victories. Every time I eat a good meal despite how scary it may be or look in the mirror and find things I like about myself, I imagine Ed falling to the floor. I’m punching back harder than ever, and I’ve built up a support team that is standing strong in my corner. Sometimes Ed will still throw some hard hits that’ll knock me off my feet, but he’s getting weaker, I can feel it.
So, my advice to anyone on a similar journey, to those just starting their recovery process, and to those afraid to take the first step: put Ed in your own boxing ring and show him who you really are. Start building a team made up of friends, family, and doctors; they will become your bandages and ice packs when the fight gets tough. Go follow some recovery-focused social media accounts to increase the number of positive affirmations you’re exposed to; this will become your daily exercise and every time you read something encouraging or feel good about yourself, you will grow stronger and Ed will become weaker. See Ed for what he really is: an invader of your space and your body as opposed to a part of who you are. Do everything you can to get him out. And don’t be afraid to get angry.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. Your journey toward healing and recovery does not have to be navigated alone.