Mental Illness

Let’s talk about Edie.

I met Edie my junior year of high school, although I had seen her around long before that. Let me make one thing clear: Edie is not a good friend. She is mean, pointing out my flaws and my mistakes. She makes me feel less than, like I’m never quite good enough. Because whatever I’ve done, she can surely do better. I’ve tried to get rid of her many times, but she never takes the hint and when she does, she’s not gone for good. She is infuriating, exhausting, and unrelenting.

Edie is my eating disorder. I debated sharing this only because it carries with it a real level of vulnerability and it means that the people in my life may see me a little bit differently than how they did before. But I decided that trying to hide it on this blog would be too big a chore, a heavy burden and it would make it insincere and I don’t want to do that. So I’ll tell you now upfront: I have an eating disorder.

I’m not sharing this as a cry for attention. I’m not sharing this because I want pity or even because I want advice (although I would love to hear any thoughts, ideas or suggestions that people have). I’m sharing this because if it can resonate with even one person, than it is worth it. I’m sharing this because by doing so, by putting it in writing and sharing it with others, it solidifies the commitment that I’ve made to myself to get better, to get healthy. I’m doing this to show all the other people going through the same thing that it won’t last forever.

I won’t rehash every painful detail of it but suffice it to say that it’s been very, very hard. For the first time in over 6 years, I’m getting to a point where I finally feel somewhat comfortable with myself, am gaining weight and don’t analyze every single thing I put in my mouth. From the few people I’ve told, I’ve gotten asked “do you have any idea why?” No. I don’t. I don’t have the slightest idea. I didn’t suffer some terrible trauma, no abuse, I wasn’t bullied, I don’t really remember talking about weight or figure with my friends. I come from a very loving, very supportive family. I had (have) great friends, I did well in school, I was involved. I had no pressure from anyone anywhere to be thin or to change who I was at all.

But I did grow up in a society that views thinness and body weight as a determinant of your character. Where being skinny is falsely equated to being healthy. Where new fad diets are introduced everyday and foods are definitively labeled as “good” and “bad.” I read Us Weekly for four years until I realized just how toxic it is to see image after image of “perfect” bodies. And I am a perfectionist and a people pleaser, my two fatal flaws. Somehow along the way, I associated “perfect” with “thin.” I don’t remember the exact route I took to get there but I thought that to be perfect, I had to be thin and if I was thin, people would like me better.

The thing that made this whole experience both easier and more difficult was that I was never a truly “severe” case. What I mean is that I was never 60 pounds laying in a hospital bed, so it’s easy for people to say that it’s not that bad or that it’s not serious. In some ways, this is, of course, easier. I was never fighting for my life. I never had to be hooked up to a tube to make sure that I was fed. I didn’t have people watching over me every single minute, every single day.

But in many ways, this makes it harder. For one thing, if the people around you aren’t aware, you’re a lot more likely to hear comments about food or weight that negatively affect you. Because as you may have noticed by now, these are things that people talk about a lot. You get a lot of comments like “you have such great self control!” and other comments about your so-called willpower. I’ve had people say “I don’t know how you have the energy to run everyday!” The short answer: I didn’t have the energy. It was also easier to discount it myself. It was easier for me to think “oh, I’m not that thin” or “it’s not a real eating disorder.”

The fact is that all eating disorders are severe. It doesn’t have to do with your weight or your size but with your thoughts. Because it’s not always the girl who weighs 82 pounds or the girl who openly refuses to eat or the one who constantly talks about her desire to be thin. It can be the girl who is terrified to go out to eat with her friends, who secretly fears parties and get togethers because there’s going to be a lot of food there. It can be the girl who advocates so fiercely against discriminating anyone based on size, gender, race, etc but can’t accept herself for who she is. It can be the girl who turns down opportunities to go out with her friends or denies outings because it will interfere with the time she has to exercise. It can be the girl who has a full on anxiety attack when something interferes with her workout. It can be the girl who is watching a movie or doing her work but quietly counting calories in her head. I have been all these girls, hopefully for the last time.

The word anorexia is ugly like the disorder itself. It is the deadliest mental illness. Its incidence rate has been increasing since the 1930s. It does not discriminate against race or gender. And there are times that it will bring you so low, so mentally and physically exhausted that you think it will last forever. But guess what? It won’t and I, like millions of other women and men out there, am proof.

Because if you’re like me, you will get tired. You will be tired of all the time you spend obsessing about your body, tired of being so cold you’re shivering in 90-degree weather, tired of counting calories, of bruising every time you sit down, of looking at your stomach in every mirror you pass. Tired of the obsessive exercise schedule, tired of the routine, tired of it all. And in my (again, limited) experience, it isn’t until you get there that you can make the changes you need to make. Your family and friends can point it out to you but you won’t see it as a problem until you finally do.

I should add this is based off my own experience and is NOT the way it works for everyone. For many people, there are hospitals, inpatient programs, medical teams involved. I’ve dipped my toes into those waters but I never fully plunged in. However, I did not get here on my own- I had therapists and doctors and nurses and the best, most supportive family and friends and boyfriend that I could have had throughout the process.

It’s funny to think about it now. Not ha-ha funny of course, but it is a pretty incredible feeling to be able to recognize the progress I’ve made over the last few years. Even looking back to exactly one year ago- I barely had the energy to get me through my day. I was in a constant mental fog. I was unhappy most of the time. Seeing the pictures of me then and even thinking about the permanent feeling of weariness I had during that time makes me cringe now. Not calorie-counting has become such routine for me, I don’t even think about what an incredible feat that is for me to NOT add up everything I ate in my head when I lay down at night.

Of course, I’m not 100% “over it.” I don’t think I ever will be. One of the medical professionals I’ve been so lucky to work with has told me- it will never be gone. There will always be some place in my brain whose first instinct is to restrict, to run longer, to eat as little as possible, to hate every part of my body. That part will always be there. But the important part is how I respond to it, and I’m sure other people in my situation could tell you the same. I still hear that little part sometimes but most of the time, I kindly tell it to shut the fuck up and it recoils pretty quickly. Every time I do that, I do a victory dance in my head. Because that took a long time.

I wondered for a very long time whether to share this with anyone, let alone the entire internet world. It takes personal to a whole new level and quite recently, my dad reminded me not to post anything too personal on here because it’s out there forever. I’ve decided it’s okay with me if this is out there forever because it’s a topic worth talking about. It’s overlooked and underrated in our society and talking about it is the first step to getting people to admit it and get help.

If this relates to you, please ask for help. Ask anybody. Family, a friend, a doctor, a teacher, a therapist, a stranger for all I care. And if you’re concerned about someone you know, please please say something. And whatever situation you’re in, talk to me! I promise to help in whatever way I can. I don’t want anyone ever to feel the way I did but I know there are millions of people out there who feel that and worse. I want to do everything I can to make anyone out there see that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. The National Eating Disorder website (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) has a lot of information if any of this pertains to you or someone you know. Most therapists are trained at least somewhat to deal with eating disorders and I can tell you from experience that it helps tremendously.

And lastly, because this was a super serious post, SMILE BECAUSE YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL. And here’s this because if Elaine Benes can’t lighten a mood, I don’t know who can.

elaine

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