What’s the Word #3: Anxiety

**Written May 5th, 2018**

When I was a sophomore in high school, not only was I dying from an eating disorder, I was also diagnosed with social anxiety and major depression. Quite the intro to this post, I know.  Following this diagnosis, I was put on Lexapro, a medication used to treat both anxiety and depression. This was a decision that my parents and I finally came to after grappling with it for months. I was originally resistant to the concept of medication. I didn’t like the thought that a tiny little pill would mess with my brain chemistry. I thought it was a hoax. A money making scheme. A waste of time. I thought it meant I was weak, that I was incapable of picking myself up and dusting myself off. But then I reached rock bottom. I couldn’t make it through the morning without crying at least three times. I was missing school to hide at home. I couldn’t function. I felt defeated. I didn’t know where else to turn. So I finally agreed.

 

I think it’s important for me to be as transparent as possible on this platform. No need to hide anything. This is my story, and I’m here to share it with you all.

Let the word vomit begin.

  • First of all, I’d like to clear up a common myth. You do not need to be FORMALLY DIAGNOSEDfor your struggle to be validated. Whether that be an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, etc., what you’re going through is no LESSserious because a doctor didn’t acknowledge it. Far too often I’ll get a DM where the sender struggles with an eating disorder but “hasn’t been diagnosed”, so they conclude that it’s “not that serious”. This is an incredibly dangerous misconception and the stigma around diagnoses needs to be addressed. If you are struggling with an issue that is impairing your ability to lead a healthy and happy life, that is MORE THAN ENOUGH to get help for it. The situation should not have to get “bad enough” for someone to notice it and give it a name. You do NOT NEED TO BE EXTERNALLY VALIDATEDfor anything, ever.
  • This is not a proven fact or statistic but rather my personal opinion based on experience, but eating disorders tend to be COMORBID(meaning that there is a presence of additional disorders with a primary one). For me, my battle with anorexia left me craving isolation and the dark recess of my empty bedroom. I avoided socializing in fear of having to eat with others, and eventually this tendency led me to develop anxiety in the presence of other people. Totally not ideal for a student at a high school with nearly 4,000 students. I remember going to school everyday and feeling like I was suffocating in the hallway. I would take longer routes to class to avoid running into someone I knew. I hid in the bathroom between classes and during lunch. I wore hats and hoods to avoid being talked to. My anxiety made me want to disappear.
  • Let’s return to my experience with medication. There is a stigma around medicalizing mental health. I’m guilty of it too; thinking that someone who takes “happy pills” is weak, helpless. But being on the other side, I have a totally new perspective and appreciation for this option. Today, I’m passionate about holistic healing and Ayurvedic practices. I prefer herbal remedies over antibiotics, that kind of thing. But when I was fifteen, withering away, skin and bones, struggling to even hold my head up…the circumstances were different. I simply didn’t have the luxury to pursue any other course. Medication stabilized me. I started off with a relatively low dosage and worked my way up. The first couple of weeks I remember feeling a lot more at ease in the face of situations that would normally drive me wild (my eating disorder had this rule that I HADto wait exactly five minutes between bites of a meal…a couple of weeks on the medication and I remember feeling less anxious about breaking that rule). I’d say around two months I began to feel unmotivated to do anything, and sometimes nauseous. I can’t speak to why this was, but I remember crying to my mom that I had so much to worry about (SATs, AP courses, pre-college program applications) yet could not find an ounce of drive within me. It was as if I were dragging through the days. After about six months on a decent dosage, my doctor and I agreed that I could begin lowering my dosage. I found Lexapro to help ease my anxiety but it amplified my depressive nature. EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT.I don’t regret taking this medication one bit. I believe that it created a stable foundation for me to begin challenging the debilitating fears that allowed my eating disorder to thrive. Once I was able to start knocking these down, coupled with coming off of the medication, I began to focus more on my depression. Story for another post. Overall, I was on Lexapro from the end of my sophomore year right up until the month before I left for college. The last two years the dosage was extremely low and I was only taking it every other day. It’s so important to carefully and slowly wean off of medication. Brain chemistry is serious!
  • During my sophomore year of high school, I kept a diary in the Notes app of my iPhone, constantly journaling all of my irrational worries and anxieties. I found this to be a source of comfort and a space to release my pent-up worries. I’d write all throughout the day. In bed each night I’d read through the day’s log. Seeing my irrational fears in words helped me realize they were just that-IRRATIONAL.
  • A lot of what made me anxious was related directly to my eating disorder and fears I had about food, my body, and exercise. That being said, they were pretty irrational and simply WILD. If I didn’t do 200 crunches each morning before school, the anxiety would eat me alive, insisting that I would “get fat” and “lose my progress”. What helped me overcome these fears was VOCALIZINGthem out loud. I remember the first time I did this. I stood in the mirror, took a deep breath, and said, “If I don’t do 200 crunches before school, I’m going to get fat”. Just HEARINGthat, seeing the words leave my mouth…I realized how absurd it was. It made me realize that if I ever heard someone else say it, I’d go crazy. I’d insist it wasn’t true. But why would it be different for me? This conclusion allowed me to work through similar bouts of anxiety as well.
  • My biggest tip for dealing with anxious situations is to be mindful of rationality. I can’t stress this enough. Are you anxious because going to a family party means having to take a day off from the gym? Sit with the discomfort. Why are you anxious about skipping? Is it because you think something catastrophic will happen if you were to give your body rest? Will you really feel happier after another workout over a day spent making memories with loved ones? Are your fears rational? Anxiety, at least from my experience, is based heavily on fears generated by irrational thoughts. Taking the time to recognize what is worth fear and what is not can make all of the difference.

What’s the Word #2: “Health”

**Written April 5th, 2018**

 

“Health”.

Quotes. Why? Because without them, you’re likely to think of the term as defined by the wildly vast expectations society has associated with it. On a daily basis, we’re constantly fed ideas of what health is, what foods are healthy, what diets are not, etc. In the midst of this information whirlwind, we always forget the most important thing about health…it’s relative.

  • What’s healthy for one person isn’t necessarily healthy for the next person
  • Health is more than what you eat and how you move…it’s what you choose to think about, how deeply you love, how accepting you choose to be. It’s how free you are in the body you were given, how open you are to embracing what comes your way, and how passionately you take charge of your life.
  • Whether it’s in real life or over Instagram, I’m constantly being asked “how are you so healthy?” and it makes me want to SCREAM. I know what is being referred to, but I just wish those who ask would realize something. When you comment on my “healthy” lifestyle, you’re referring to dedication to the foods I choose to eat and the way I choose to move my body. However, it’s not these surface level elements that make up health. I’m “healthy” because I eat foods that contribute to the overall well-being of my body, but also to my mental sanity. I enjoy eating plant-based. It just so happens that this choice also benefits the literal health of my body. I’ve been an athlete all my life, so I love to move. It just so happens that this choice also benefits the literal health of my body.
  • Too many of us are consumed with the idea of wanting to be “healthy” but have irrational interpretations of the concept. Smaller is not healthier. Less food is not healthier. More exercise is not healthier.
  • I spent years trying to be “healthy”. It was mentally taxing, to worry about every little thing I ate, trying to make every second at the gym count, etc. When I finally burned out, let go, and shifted my focus toward living my best life, only then was I able to find the peace of mind that to me, is health.
  • We tend to praise people for being “healthy” when we can see outward signs that we attribute to health. Think lean bodies, muscles, etc. What we have to do instead is accept that health is an inward manifestation. It will reveal itself outwardly, but not in superficial ways. When I feel my healthiest, my eyes look different. Brighter, lighter, not as empty. That kind of thing.
  • As long as you’re working toward self-love, body acceptance, and overall peace of mind, you’re pursuing health. Keep going.
  • I’m not healthy because I eat vegetables, I’m healthy because I ENJOY DOING SO.
  • “Health” has emerged in recent years as a trend, and this is both good and bad. It’s amazing to see so many people taking initiative toward fueling their bodies with whole, real foods. It’s incredible to see so many people coming together to move their bodies, to get stronger. However, with the heightened attention around health, there is opportunity for plenty of misinformation to circulate. There are hundreds of trends circulating. Which diet is best? Healthiest? One day carbs are bad, the next day it’s fat. Is Bulletproof coffee actually good for me? Should I only be baking with almond flour? It’s overwhelming to keep track of everything. And trying to do so, while it may seem to be done in the name of health, is actually doing the exact opposite. It’s stressing you out. Stop. Obsessing.
  • So you see your favorite Instagrammer promote a certain diet or trend. Don’t feel pressured to pursue it yourself. They are not healthier than you for doing so. You are not less healthy for choosing not to.
  • Health is impossible to talk about without referring to food. Keto, paleo, vegan…there are copious amounts of diets that you likely feel pressured to explore. Forget labels. Ask yourself what your body needs at the moment. Some days all I crave are high fat foods. Don’t think for a second there aren’t days where I eat two full avocados…my wallet doesn’t forget them 🙂 Other days, all I can think about are carbs. Those days, lots of starchy foods will go down. I can’t tie myself to one label. It’s not in my best interest to do so.
  • Don’t be intimidated by your health journey. Everybody’s path is different. Look to others for ideas, inspiration, and motivation. Then, fall in line as needed. Listen to your body’s needs. You are not that person you admire so deeply. Learn from them, but in respect to your own body, mind, and spirit.
  • Health is eating vegetables but not being afraid of sweets. Health is crushing it at the gym but then taking three days off to rest and be social. Health is a balance, not an extreme.
  • Health. Is. Relative. Don’t forget it!

What’s the Word #1: Recovery

**Written March 31st, 2018**
Today’s word? Recovery.

What I plan to do with these is to simply make a list of anything and everything that pops into my head that’s relevant to the word. Bullets probably won’t flow coherently from one to the next; rather, it’ll read more as a stream of consciousness type of list. Hopefully these can be helpful in getting to cover a larger scope of details about the word as opposed to focusing on one point about it!

  • (I know I’ll get asked this) My eating disorder recovery consisted of two inpatient stays, one php program, three or four completely different outpatient teams, 10+ therapists and nutritionists, an attempt at FBT (family-based treatment), and a whole lot of relapsing. Way to set the vibes for this post. Cool.
  • Recovery is not a one and done deal. My personal opinion is that nobody 100% recovers. Before you label me a pessimist, let me explain. For me, at least, I know that “life after recovery” means living with consistent strength. I can’t unlearn the terrible behaviors and beliefs that are rooted so deeply in my brain. I can’t unlearn what a certain amount of calories looks like, or what it feels like to behave in a specific way. I’ll always know those things. I’m not in recovery anymore. Not in the conventional sense. I’m years past my eating disorder. However, I believe that everyday is a choice, a choice to accept that I know these things, and subsequently choosing to defy their irrationality.
  • If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not in recovery. The defining characteristic of recovery is that you’re experiencing discomfort. Why? Recovery implies that you are taking on a challenge, moving past a time of comfort and familiarity and choosing to leave it behind. That’s scary.
  • Be willing. Every relapse I’ve faced had been the result of me shutting down, rejecting change.
  • It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life. But not a day will pass years later when you’re not flooded with gratitude for it. When the sun bleeds through your window and wakes you up, and you roll over and look out and realize, hey, life is good, it’s worth waking up for, I have a place, I’m capable…do it for those moments.
  • Recovery has to be the most selfish time of your life. Comparison will kill you. This is the hardest part about recovery. You have to watch everyone around you do the things you itch to do, and have to accept that you can’t. Watching my sisters play sports and grab 100 calorie snack packs for breakfast-on-the-go made my ED furious. All I wanted to do was prove that I could do “better” (workout two times as hard, fueled by nothing at all). This is the fine line between relapse and recovery.
  • Positive self-talk saved me. Constantly reminding myself that the discomfort is temporary.
  • Distract yourself! Recovery fails when taken on in the solitude of your room. You’re going to be thinking about food and exercise way too much. You’re going to want to fall back on old habits. Keep busy. Be willing to socialize. Realize that the pain in socializing is far less destructive than the pain of isolation. Especially when in that isolation you are free to relapse.
  • Have fun with it! This is a time where there is so much unexplored territory. Find yourself. When the distractions of food, exercise, and body image are stripped away, what can you dedicate your time towards instead? In my recovery I found that I actually love to color, and read books upon books. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed learning; my time with my disorder left me with brain fog and stripped my appreciation for school. Once I began to recover and leave behind these detrimental behaviors, I found myself again.
  • Don’t focus on “eating healthy” in recovery. Today, I’m a strong advocate for whole foods, but I hate the word healthy. Health is relative; what is healthy for me is not necessarily healthy for you. In recovery, health means something world’s apart from health for a person who is stable in body and mind. Accept that right now, you are not the latter. In recovery, “healthy” means anything that will bring you to the point of stability. I constantly get asked how to gain needed weight “the healthy way” and I want to scream. I restored 50+ pounds and did so by eating whatever I wanted. I saw recovery as a time to finally, finally after four years, honor my body and enjoy the foods I was craving. Was I scared? Like hell. But I decided to see recovery as a time of letting go of responsibility, at least for the time being. Eating disorders are reliant on being in control; passing on the responsibility of food to my doctors, hospital programs, and my parents took off so much pressure. I was finally able to breathe and focus on working through other issues.
  • You’re not better than recovery.
  • You need recovery.
  • You’re not weak for choosing recovery.
  • Stick to it. You’re going to want to give up almost daily in the beginning. Don’t. Talk to someone instead. Reach out. Go downstairs and tell your mom that you’re really uncomfortable in your changing body. Call your best friend and cry and don’t explain why, just get it out. Reach out to ME.
  • What’s scaring you about recovery? Take the time to write these fears out or say them out loud. Getting them out into the open and evaluating them from an outside standpoint allows you to realize how irrational your fears are. I used to always cry to my mom that I was scared to eat more because my body would change. Then I realized, wait, isn’t that the whole damn point of recovery? To improve my relationship with my body? To become more accepting of it? How would I be able to do that if I stayed stagnant?
  • Your recovery will be 100% from the next person’s. Embrace the fact that there’s no blueprint, no set of steps or rules. As long as you are bettering yourself, your health, your mind, your body, you are recovering.
  • It’s crucial to maintain good decision-making throughout your recovery. Every single action and thought impacts how well your recovery goes. At this point in your life, you’re extremely fragile. It won’t be like this forever, but for the time being, it is. So pay attention to that. Make plans accordingly. Will going out with this specific person trigger me right now? That kind of thing.
  • Did I mention how harmful comparison is? Yes? Am I bringing it up again because it’s critical? Major league yes. FOCUS ON YOU.
  • The current state of treatment centers infuriates me. I’ve watched countless people get sent away from inpatient care or released far too early in the name of insurance coverage. I promise you, if this is an issue that is stopping you from getting treatment, you have the ability to fight it. Be persistent. It’s an intimidating hurdle, and unfair, and frustrating, and cold and cruel and impersonal, but you can fight it. As legit as it seems as an obstacle, it can be overcome. For those who aren’t familiar with what I’m referring to, insurance companies will evaluate patients based on a mere set of numbers to see if they still need to be in treatment. This is wrong. Eating disorders are mental manifestations. They fail to be captured in their entirety through a set of numbers. The need to meet a number determined by some stranger in order to be declared “well” is disgusting. I was in treatment for months; I watched those who needed the same be sent home after a week. There’s steam coming out of my ears right now.
  • Accept all the help you can get.
  • It’ll come up, someone will ask, and I’m an open person about all this bullshit. Was I on meds? Yeah. Try staying inpatient for months and not finding yourself on that pharmacy line every morning and night. Even after treatment, I was on low dosages of medication. I’m not a doctor, and definitely not comfortable providing medical advice as I’m not qualified to do so. Do I think these helped me? I was diagnosed with general anxiety and depression, and was taking a medication that worked to alleviate the symptoms of both. I think this definitely helped me in my most vulnerable stage of recovery. Once I was more stable both mentally and physically I was able to slowly come off. A story for another time. But the point is don’t be so adamant to think you’re above any sort of option.
  • Don’t go into recovery expecting anything. Understand that life works in funny ways. Everything happens for a reason. The course of your recovery is unknown. Embrace that. Don’t expect anything other than for it to be hard, but worth it.

Parting With Pity Parties

**Written on March 18th, 2018**

 

Music is a powerful tool.

When I was in the deepest, darkest corners of my eating disorder, music was my lifeline. I remember being fourteen, skin and bones buried under four layers of blankets in the middle of July, hiding in my room to avoid meals. Headphones in. Removed from the world.

I was drawn toward music I could identify with. Music that could fill me up, my empty stomach, my empty soul. For me, Eminem did the trick. The lyrics. The pain. I felt it all. His old albums detailing his addictive ambitions, harmful habits, and repetitive relapses felt all too familiar. Everything he said, I knew. I had felt. I had seen.

I still listen to his older music now. I’m always flooded with memories of sitting alone, always hungry, always tired, always afraid, always listening to him. It’s been a couple of years. They don’t hurt as much, the memories.

But there’s one track I can never bring myself to sit through. Any vintage Shady fans reading? Deja Vu. I can’t do it. Basically, the song begins with EMTs finding him in his bathroom after overdosing on drugs. The song goes on to describe how this is just another relapse, it’s deja vu, he’s done this before.

Here’s the chorus:

Sometimes I feel so alone, I just don’t know
Feels like I been down this road before
So lonely and cold, it’s like something takes over me
As soon as I go home and close the door
Kinda feels like déjà vu
I wanna get away from this place, I do
But I can’t and I won’t, say I try, but I know that’s a lie
‘Cause I don’t and why, I just don’t know

I remember listening to this song in the backseat of my mom’s car, driving to our weekly family dinner on Saturday night. I used to fast all day until we ate dinner. Why? Who cares. Nothing rational. I’d lean my head against the window and blare this track over and over again through my headphones. I’d look out onto the highway and watch the same road signs zoom by with each passing week. Today, I can’t drive down that highway without a pain in my stomach, a sadness. Part of life I guess.

I remember listening to this song on the bus as a sophomore in high school, balled up in a two-seater alone. Wearing two sweatshirts and a North Face in the middle of spring. In my backpack was a brown bag lunch my mom packed. Plans to throw it out before homeroom. The daily routine. Pale as a ghost. Hungry as ever. Foggy brain. Empty eyes. Ears full of Eminem.

Every line in this chorus captures what it felt like to live with an eating disorder. Every eating disorder journey is different. Mine? I relapsed countless times. More than I care to disclose. Recovery was hard. It was scary. Relapsing was so easy. I fell right into it, time and again. I’d do well for a week, a month. I’d eat full meals and not sneak workouts in the middle of the night. And then it would all feel like too much. Watching my body change was too much. Losing “control” was too much. Relapse was a quick fix. It was so easy. I’d just stop doing what was making me uncomfortable (read: stop recovering).

I used to pity myself, and this song both ignitied and shut down this tendency. Let me explain.

Every time I’d feel like reverting, like relapsing, this song made me feel okay about doing so. It was comforting to hear someone else express that, although he didn’t want to relapse, he did it anyway, because it was familiar. If you’re reading this, I sure as hell hope you don’t know what it feels like to relapse. But that’s wishful thinking. A few of you will understand the ambiguity of a relapse. You know it’s irrational, that it will work against you, that it’s the wrong answer. Yet you do it anyway. You’re never one hundred percent sure why. You always say you won’t do it, and as the words leave your mouth, you’re comforted by the realization that you’re lying.

This song, while validating my countless relapses, also instigated pity parties. I remember crying uncontrollably every single day for years on end. I’d shake and scream into my pillow, wishing the pain would stop, that the voice would leave, that I could open my eyes and walk out into the world and see it without the heavy, dark curtain that was always cast over it. I’d listen, and I’d feel Eminem’s pain. I’d feel bad for his struggles, for his sense of confusion and frustration. I’d pity him. And then, I’d realize, I was him. These were my experiences. The very pain he was projecting out into the world was mine. He told my story when I couldn’t. And so, the pity I had for him became pity I had for myself.

Looking back, it’s all so wild to think about. I’d wallow in my sorrow for myself. I refused to fight for my freedom, yet here I was crying in its absence, longing for it to fall into my lap. In the heat of the moment, pity parties are hard to avoid. I was in so much pain, so far into my depression, my anxiety, my eating disorder. The world was dark. Hope? Never heard of it. Every morning I’d wake up and count down the minutes until I could crawl back into my bed and not be seen. I harnessed a deep hatred for what I had become. And yet, I felt bad for myself. I’d cry because I felt helpless, and wanted everyone around me to feel the same way. I wanted others to look to me and feel bad for me. Where’s the logic in that? Ha, cute. Logic and eating disorders simply don’t go together. If I had to guess, I’d assume that feeling this way made my eating disorder feel validated. Each relapse was a pity party. I’d feel bad for myself, and then engage in relapse to alleviate the pain, thinking I was helping myself feel better.

Eventually I had reached the point of ultimate frustration. Relapse after relapse. I was caught in an endless cycle of plateauing, never making progress, never getting better. The lifestyle I was leading wasn’t maintainable. I’d either die, or I’d get better. I wish I could say this shift in mindset was as fast as it sounds here. It wasn’t. It was a gradual progression. Story for another time.

Regardless, there came a point where I began to realize that if I wanted this pain to go away, I had to accept it, acknowledge it, and then ass-kick the shit out of it. My kind of AAA.

At this point, Deja Vu had a different effect on me. What you get out of music is reflective of what you go in looking for. Instead of seeking comfort and validation, I now approached the song in search of a push, a reason. I actually remember hearing the chorus and thinking, “Wait. If he’s here, able to tell his story, he’s better. He’s past it. He made it, and so can I”. Same song, same guy, same pain, same situation. Different approach. Worked wonders.

I stopped throwing pity parties. No ti

 

me for that shit. Once I stopped feeling bad for myself, I was able to step back and see that I had agency, the same agency that allowed Eminem to get well enough to even write a song about his past. I wasn’t a victim of a situation out of my control. Yes, my eating disorder was powerful. Strong doesn’t even begin to cut it. But instead of seeing myself as a victim to it, I saw myself as its opponent. With the ability to put up a fight. And so I did.

When you stop feeling bad for yourself and start rooting for yourself instead, you exercise the agency you never knew you had. Pity parties prevent growth. Are they easy? Extremely. But what else is easy? Relapse. Regression. Comfort zones. The hard shit is facing the feelings that lead to these, and then realizing that you have to ability to do something about them.

I’m not sitting here encouraging you to dismiss your pain. That’s not what this is about. Instead of seeing yourself as helpless, begin to realize that your role in your own life is pretty damn significant. Pitying yourself implies that you’re unable to alter the course of your pain. We all know that’s not true. Recognizing and acknowledging feelings is something I’ve learned to be life-changing. If you’re struggling, if you’re in pain, take a step back. Why am I hurting? This question works wonders. Taking it on and beginning to answer it forces you to put your situation into perspective. You begin to see the causes for your pain and that these causes have solutions, ways of mitigating them. They weren’t just dropped into your life and chained to your ankles and are now stuck here forever. They can be navigated, worked through, and overcome.

Pity is petty. It’s the easy way out. Pitying yourself rids you of the responsibility of fixing your problems. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. What is that accomplishing? Life isn’t going to hear your cries and throw a solution into your lap. You have agency. Use it.

I wrote this entire post with Deja Vu on a loop playing in the background. Did I cry? Duh. This shit’s heavy. But while I’m sad thinking about my past, I don’t pity my old self. Even now, this pity won’t get me anywhere. That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing my story, because instead of using it as an excuse to pity myself and have others do the same, I use it to try and hopefully help even a handful of people who can relate on any level.

Remember that while deja vu is comforting, it also gets old and boring. Choose to grow and to get better with every passing day. When you’re in pain, facing discomfort, or simply lost, don’t forget that there’s a way to alter the course. Self-pity keeps you stagnant; parting with pity sets you free.

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.
Ha!
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.

 

Italy Recap

ating disorders are selfish.
They aren’t welcomed, but they arrive anyway. They aren’t invited, but they long overstay their welcome. They manifest deeply inside of you, absorbing who you once were and, in what seems like one breath, blow any trace of you into dust. Everything you do, you do for your eating disorder. The disorder is loud, and demanding, and needs you. It can’t thrive without you; it needs your body and mind to carry out the actions it so desperately craves. Isn’t that a paradox then? The disorder needs you to succeed, but aren’t you just the disorder?
So when you isolate yourself and stop socializing, you do it for the sake of the disorder. So it feels safe. So it can continue to starve and whittle away without having to face lunches with friends, spontaneity on the weekends, holidays with pie. On the surface, this looks and sounds like a series of missed opportunities for you. YOU’RE the one missing out, right?
Did you ever stop to think that it’s not all about you??
That those friends who invite you to lunch sit with an empty seat where you should have been? That your best friend’s heart drops just a little when you text her back at 11:30 on Friday night and make up a thin-as-ice excuse as to why she can’t come pick you up for a late night movie? That your grandma simply can’t understand why you won’t just have a sliver of her famous pumpkin pie, the same one you two used to make together in her kitchen the night before Thanksgiving, an annual tradition?
How about this; that because of your rigid eating rules, your social anxiety, and your exercise addiction, your family can’t take a vacation? My three young, vibrant, energetic little sisters were deprived of vacations for five years, all the cost of my selfish disorder. We couldn’t possibly go away as a family. My parents knew what would happen. My crippling anxiety would kick in, a result of not having my entire day planned down to the minute. Not knowing when and what I’d be eating. If I’d be able to get my two-hour workout in. My life was structured with immense detail, and a sidestep of even microscopic size would send me off the edge. Missed opportunity for me, yes, but more so for my sisters, my parents, all who worked diligently all year long and deserved a getaway. From work. From life.
From me.

This has been a particular regret that never fails to make my heart heavy. I took this away from my family. I stripped them of any chance to bond all together without a care in the world, of laying on a beach by day and dining together at night. Instead, I acted as a blockade, a brick wall on their journey to relaxation. I forced us to always stay home, and for what? So I could lay on my bed and watch the hours pass between my rice cake for breakfast at 6 AM and my chicken breast for dinner twelve hours later? So I could wait for everyone to fall asleep before slipping off to the basement for a midnight run, clocking in at 6 miles and fueled by nothing but four grapes?
This guilt was what triggered my determination to truly challenge myself on our recent trip to Italy. My sister turned 16 in May, and instead of a party, she asked for this trip. I remember when she came to me months before, looking me in the eyes, asking me if it was okay, if I was okay.
Going to Italy has always been a dream of hers. Her laptop’s screensaver has been a series of Google images of the Amalfi Coast for years. My heart broke when she asked me. At this point, I’d long been recovered and stable. But to know that I would always be a potential roadblock…that stung. It was then that I swore to prove to my sister, and all my sisters, and my entire family, that the health and happiness I preach daily are a true manifestation.
I grabbed her by the shoulders. “When do we leave?”

I’m an intuitive eater. I move my body in ways that I enjoy and I’m long past pushing myself beyond my limits. I fuel myself with wholesome, real foods. I now share my time equally between myself and my friends and family. I have strong relationships, and am fully aware of the importance to contributing to them, not just receiving. I live balanced in every aspect of the word.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been as incredibly shocked as I was when we strolled into the airport on Friday evening, about to board our international flight. Why wasn’t I nervous? Why wasn’t I anxious about not exercising for a week, for sitting in the same seat for ten hours, for pizza and pasta and gelato? Why wasn’t I having a panic attack, or jogging in place just to “squeeze in a little more”, whatever that used to mean? I was expecting a great deal of pain, an internal battle in the face of vacation. But there was no enemy anymore. There was no voice to fight. Whatever remains of the disorder have lingered, that night in the airport they were on mute. And for that I am deeply and forever in awe of how far I’ve come. All I remember feeling as I settled into my plane seat was how damn EXCITED I was. How GOOD and FRESH the food I was going to eat would be. How BEAUTIFUL the scenery would undoubtedly be. How SENTIMENTAL it was going to be to walk around Italy with my parents, both 100% Italian. The rush felt surreal. In that moment, I knew one thing was certain; I was truly at peace with myself.
Provided that I went into the trip with nothing but good intentions, I’m almost at a loss for words to capture how wonderful my time spent in Italy truly was. I’ve long moved past rigid food rules, but one thing that I’m used to at home is having a general idea of when and what I’d eat each meal. Not intentionally, but sort of a subconscious quirk at this point. I’ve gotten used to having a certain schedule and the eating that comes with it. So being in a foreign country, with an itinerary filled to the brim with excursions and events that varied every day, I simply had no way of planning any of this out. And this was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I guess that was the very last eating disorder related element hovering in my life. My attachment to knowing. I put up with spontaneity and surprises here and there, but never for an entire day, every day, for over a week. This trip was the final push I needed.
I knew this going in, and I mentally prepared myself. In the time leading up to the trip, I used a lot of positive self talk and rationalizing to reassure myself that I was strong enough to endure this. And the more I engaged in these actions, the more excited I grew to just dive in head first. By the first day I touched ground in Rome, I was asking my parents for the nearest pizzeria; a shock to us all, considering I haven’t had pizza in six years.
What I was most excited about was not the food, though that was very high up the list, but for the challenge. I was so thrilled to push myself, to see how much I could grow. I’m confident that going into a challenging situation feeling so positive and bright contributes greatly to how it will go. I never ate the same two days in a row. Each day was different. Some days we ate lunch at 12, before our trip of the day, and some days lunch wasn’t scheduled until 2:30. I’d always pack snacks with me, just in case, but never really had to use them. That’s because I was forcing myself to just LIVE. One day we had breakfast at 6:45 in order to begin travelling down the coast at 7:15. We made a pit stop at 10:30, and my sisters, without thinking twice, found a small gelato stand and ordered heaping cones to hold them over until lunch. How intuitive, how real, how NORMAL. Instead of reaching for the RX bar in my bag, I ordered myself a cone as well. We sat on the curb in the Italian morning sun, licking quickly to avoid drinking our creamy snacks. Another day I ordered a personal pizza for lunch, only to go out for dinner later and scan the menu and find that all that sounded good to me was, well, another pizza. So I had it again. Our last night, my pasta dinner was so delicious that I ordered A SECOND ONE. You see where I’m going with this?
Growing up Italian, and I mean VERY Italian, I crave the cuisine all of the time. Being in Italy, where the food is not only wholesome, fresh, and REAL, but also outright DELICIOUS, felt surreal. The food was supposed to be my biggest challenge and yet, instead it emerged as my biggest passion. I wiped out pizza after pizza. I never knew how much I loved paninis until my first bite in Capri. I never knew how soft and creamy gelato was until my first lick danced across my tongue and tickled my taste buds, and then my heart.
My food freedom in Italy was the exact opposite of selfish; it was selfless. Because while I was enjoying myself (and trust me, I was thoroughly doing that), my family was benefitting greatly. I’ll never forget the first night in Rome, where my sister and I shared a room (the other two shared a separate room). I was washing up and getting ready for bed, but she was just sitting on the armchair in the corner, waiting. When I finally realized she wanted to say something, I walked over to her. Here’s how my eating looked that day when we arrived after breakfast: a personal pizza and a pasta dish for lunch, a heaping plate of pasta at dinner (along with three pieces of warm complimentary bread, a habit I never engage in), and three scoops of gelato with whipped cream and a waffle cone for dessert. I looked at her, her eyes glistening. What’s wrong, aren’t you happy to be here? It was her birthday present after all. I couldn’t understand why she was tearing.
“I’m so proud of you, Ang. You did so good tonight. Thank you for getting better.”
I could go the rest of my life without another compliment, another accomplishment, and I would be alright, because that moment shattered my entire world.

Italy is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the world. Home to rich history, breathtaking architecture, intricate artwork and sculpture, physically it is aesthetically pleasing. But to me, its beauty runs deeper than what you can see. Italy is the place where my food freedom finally, FINALLY, blossomed to its fullest extent. The place where my family and I bonded deeply over homemade pasta and fresh pizza straight out of brick ovens. Where we jumped off cliffs together into the Mediterranean Sea. Where we hiked the coast and stood in silence, in awe of the view. Where we laughed until we cried, where we were reminded of our love for each other and for our life as one unit. Where all six of us were in a constant state of gratitude for my recovery. Because eating disorders are selfish. And while I knew all this time that recovery was selfless, it was this family vacation that screamed it from the rooftops.
My sister thanked me for getting better.
I could never thank her, and my parents, enough for making this trip a reality. For giving me the final push.
I’m free and alive and thriving.
And full of pizza…but aren’t those synonymous?