NEDA Week 2018

**Written on February 25th, 2018**
I was fourteen when I first wanted to die.
People say it all the time.
It’s finals season and you’re overloaded with studying and projects and feel like the world is out to get you. “Ugh, I just want to die” you might wail, exasperated.
You’re sitting in class and your phone begins to ring, screaming over your professor. “Ugh, I just want to die” you might think, embarrassed.
You’re performing, whether it be theater or dance or an instrument or sports. You mess up, big time. “Ugh, I just want to die” you might think, ashamed.
People say it all the time.
But what happens when it’s not the empty, thoughtless collection of words we throw together in fleeting moments of discomfort? What happens when you’re fourteen and you’ve buried yourself in a hole and you can’t climb out? What happens when the words run through a circuit in your mind, “I just want to die I just want to die I just want to die” over and over and over again until you’re clutching your head in your hands and you’re crying so hard the sound is gone and it’s just a pathetic showcase of heaving and escaping air?
I was fourteen when I first wanted to die.
At almost twenty years old, I can confidently say I can live the rest of my life, no matter how long that may be, and know that no challenge, no tragedy, will compare to battling an eating disorder.
Every eating disorder is different. Every person with an eating disorder is different. A person is not their disorder, regardless of how much of themselves they lose to it. That being said, how can we ever define an eating disorder? It’s so much more than a poor relationship with food and exercise. An eating disorder manifests itself in every nook of your life. It takes your vision and casts a grey filter over it, strips you of your rationality, manipulates your actions and locks you away from everyone and everything you love.
When I was fourteen, what began as a harmless pursuit of a “diet” spiraled out of control. All around me, I collected bits and pieces of a socially constructed standard of beauty. My body didn’t look like what I was taught to see as beautiful. While it didn’t feel fair, it also didn’t present itself as impossible to change. Cue the obsession with diet culture. All I had to do was follow a quick-fix diet and beauty, praise, admiration would fall into my lap. Ideal.
It began slowly. A few minutes a day and a quick Google search for “How to Lose Belly Fat” was all it took. I remember printing meal plans from online diet coaches, begging my mom for expedited shipping on a collection of at-home exercise tapes I read about in a magazine. The diet industry had promised me instant gratification, results in ten days. Needless to say, I eventually grew frustrated when the small changes I was implementing were proving fruitless. It’s been a week and I stopped eating bread, why do I look the exact same? Maybe I’m not doing enough. Things will pick up at a faster pace if I just do more, right?
My tolerance increased rapidly in a short time. I needed the measures I took to be more and more drastic. The little changes weren’t enough for me. I had to feel like I was doing more than the next dieter, that I was working harder, that I’d get my results faster.
And there we have it. The beginning of the end.
We live in a society of misinformation. We profit off of the consumer’s ignorance. I was fourteen. I was told what was beautiful and healthy and provided a systematic, cookie-cutter process for achieving these statuses. I was tossed false promises, quick fixes. What I didn’t know then was that these promises were unattainable. I hurled myself faster toward “health”, only to fall short every time.
Every eating disorder is different. Mine began as a diet, and soared into extreme restriction and exercise addiction. Every person with an eating disorder is different. My journey may be different than the next person’s. What began as learning about “healthy foods” and replacing a meal a day with a salad turned into cutting out nearly every food from my intake. I heard about carbs making you fat, so those were off the table (literally). Too much dietary fat obviously translated to bodily fat, so I reduced those to nearly nothing. Protein? I didn’t want to get too bulky, as the standard of beauty I was striving for portrayed girls of a lean, long nature. Left and right, every waking minute, I was obsessively trying to learn more about being “healthy” so I could fit these dominant depictions society thrust in my face.
So I did it all. Restricting to the point of two hundred calories a day, refusing to sit because “standing burned more calories”. In three months’ time, I had lost nearly forty pounds. Forty.
Why couldn’t I stop sooner? My brain was addicted to the life I began to live. That’s what an eating disorder is, what it does. The goals you originally seek out slip out of focus, replaced with an addiction to the behaviors that have proven themselves to you. You spend months eating nothing but steamed vegetables, how are you supposed to stop? No longer are you in the pursuit of health. Now you’re afraid to stop. The behaviors you’ve developed are your crutch.
I saw myself getting worse. I sat down at desks in class and felt my tailbone pierce right through me. I grew irritable at the slightest instances, began avoiding my friends in fear of having to eat with them. Breathing was hard. My head pounded constantly. Pants fell down at the waist, belts needed more holes added.
And yet, I was terrified to do anything about it. The behaviors that got me to this point were the same ones that made me feel safe, in control. If I let myself eat, stopped exercising into oblivion, I was no longer in control. I would be weak; I would be giving up. The thought was painful. Sometimes emotional pain manages to mask physical pain. My crippling fear trumped my physical body as it was slowly dying. Incredible.
I could go into my entire story. The isolation, the loss of my friends. The pale skin and the protruding bones and the hair loss. The headaches and stomach pains and dark rooms and sweatshirts on a summer day. The two consecutive hospitalizations and inpatient stays, the twenty plus therapists, the medications. The constant relapsing.
I could, but I won’t. Every person with an eating disorder is different. It’s important to remember that the person is there, with the disorder. They aren’t the disorder. No matter how deeply they feel they’ve become nothing but a void of obsessive behaviors and irrationality, the person is still in there. That’s what saved me. That’s what will save you.
I was fourteen when I first wanted to die.
I was eighteen when I finally, finally realized I wanted to live.
Four years of fighting against myself. Two years of recovery. A lifetime ahead.
In a month I’ll be twenty. Six years ago I couldn’t see myself waking up to the next day. Had I let myself become my eating disorder, I would have lost myself for good. Eventually, it was the sliver of self hidden deep within me that allowed me to climb out of the dark. I had to realize that I was still there. That the eating disorder wasn’t me, it was just controlling me. And that it didn’t have to be this way forever.
Recovering from an eating disorder is discomfort. It’s pain. It’s fear, it’s anxiety, it’s h a r d.
But all of these elements are temporary. All discomfort is temporary. All pain is temporary. The same goes for fear and anxiety. Nothing in life lasts, good or bad. Realizing this has made each day I live that much more important.
My recovery from my eating disorder taught me love. It taught me hardship and diligence. It taught me the importance of self, of health, and of gratitude. It taught me the value of persistence, the benefit of staying true.
I was fourteen when I first wanted to die.
It pains me to think that the life I lead now would have been lost on me. Eating disorders are manipulative. Mine made me believe there was no good for me in the world. I’d never be happy, or well. I’d never be in love, with learning, with health, with another person. I’d never succeed. I’d never live a life with purpose.
Little did it know, huh?
I could spend a lifetime discussing eating disorders and their wrath. Instead, I’ll leave you with this. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Every eating disorder is different. Every person with an eating disorder is different. The severity is the same for them all; it’s life or death.
I’m the person I am today because of my dance with death. I would never wish an eating disorder on anyone, ever. However, I can’t change my past. I’m not ashamed. I’m not embarrassed. The person I am is simply a collection of my hardships and periods of growth. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life so far, it’s gratitude. I’m grateful for the person I’ve become, for the life I lead now, and for the journey that made it all happen.