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?

To The Bone Review

Before I begin this review, I want to extend my praise to the cast and crew for bringing the issue of eating disorders into the public eye. In a time where media is by and far the largest platform for reaching youth, the population most at risk for and ignorant to the reality of eating disorders, making a Netflix film about this issue is a daunting task. While I didn’t find this film to be executed properly, I do recognize the tremendous time and effort that went into this project and that was devoted in eating disorders in general.
            As an eating disorder survivor, I eagerly awaited the release of “To The Bone” on Netflix. In the weeks before its arrival, I read up on the production process and how the project came to be. I found out that Lily Collins lost an extreme amount of weight for this role, something I found very unsettling and appalling. Lily Collins has a history with an eating disorder. This, in my opinion, is a vital factor to make note of. If a project about eating disorders, I’d prefer to have a recovered survivor working closely with the staff, even better as the main asset. This ensures a true and honest portrayal. However, producing a visual project (as opposed to a literary piece), is much trickier. I am aware that not all eating disorders leave their mark on the physical body. I understand that eating disorders are a disease of the mind, and that while the body plays a large role, not all eating disorders sufferers are walking around at a deadly weight. But in the case of “To The Bone”, where the main focus was anorexia, the film required a deadly ill body. Having Lily Collins achieve this look is sickening. I don’t know the details as to how she went about obtaining her protruding bones or empty eyes, but I have no doubt that starving herself and under-nourishing her body were important assets to this mission. And while the film does not directly promote this, us survivors know what went on behind closed doors. It’s appalling, to say the least.
            So now we’ve established that the main actress had to fall back into her eating disorder to achieve this role. Triggering. Very. As for the film itself, even more triggering. I’ve been recovered and stable for years; I can confidently assert that triggers are very far and few between for me. But for those young men and women fighting tooth and nail every day for their life, manifesting all of their will into their recoveries, this film is NOT for them. The characters blatantly engage in behaviors. Their conversations, their actions, and their mannerisms all accurately depict various eating disorders. Those struggling to break away from such do not have any need to be exposed to them. Watch at your own, cautious, discretion.
            As for the logistics, I’m pretty disappointed. Full disclosure, I’ve been inpatient twice. I’ve participated in two outpatient programs, have had my fair share of therapists and dieticians, and have spent hours of my life in support groups and group therapy sessions. Just this past summer, I was formally educated by a credible eating disorder staff on the exact procedures concerning treatment placement and the criteria. For those who aren’t familiar, there are essentially three levels of treatment that those with an eating disorder decide between. The first is outpatient care, which is an umbrella term for a treatment team consisting of a dietician, therapist, and psychiatrist (can have other professionals as well), or refers to a partial hospital program (PHP). PHP is structured so that you spend the majority of your days and meals at the hospital in program, but are free to go home at the end of the day and are responsible for remaining meals. The next is residential treatment. This refers to a home setting where those who are admitted are not medically critical but still need support in their recovery. In residential, there is a staff that works with you in groups for therapy and there is support for your meals and exercise habits. The goal of this setting is to help you transition into the real world as a recovered person. The final option is inpatient treatment, which tends to be utilized when the person is in critical medical condition. The main goal here is to restore necessary weight first and then focus on the mental aspect of the illness later, when the person is medically stable.
            In the film, Ellen is shown in a condition that is clearly very dangerous. She could die at any moment, and there are characters that voice this fear. However, despite this factor, Ellen is placed in a residential-like setting. In this particular home, there is very minimal structure. The reason for this, I honestly have no clue. I don’t know what message the writers were possibly trying to convey. Ellen is dying, and what she needs is extreme structure. Where she should be is INPATIENT, where a team of doctors will restore her weight and save her life long enough for her to THEN step down to a house-setting. The fact that Ellen gets to live in a house where there are other house members engaging in such obvious behaviors, with no structure or rules, is appalling. Nobody is REQUIRED to eat; they are just encouraged. Nobody’s language is monitored. In real treatment settings, weight, numbers, food, etc. are OFF LIMITS. Here, everyone speaks freely and only about behaviors and food obsessions. The portrayal of treatment was inaccurate to the extreme.
            There is also no storyline. I felt as if I sat there for almost two hours and nothing happened. I didn’t feel myself attaching to any of the characters. I was by no means moved by Collins’ performance; if anything, I found it distasteful. There are too many plots that begin and then lead nowhere. There are too many details that need to be explained but aren’t. Everything seems half-thought out. I’m left with a surplus of questions. The details of Ellen’s family are far-fetched and while they are plausible, they don’t fit into the story. The writers placed them in there but never fully developed them. Everything seems lost, empty, and pointless. Oh, and there is not one person who makes significant and commendable progress in their recovery. Great.
            Upon finishing the film, I’m not left with anything. I’m not moved, I’m not encouraged, and I’m not proud. I’m disappointed. This was a project that had the potential to do so much, to speak volumes to the importance of breaking the stigma, of showing pro-ana youth what they’re REALLY in for. There is no message. There is barely any character growth. By the end, Ellen undergoes a reality check and is ready to recover.
            But then it ends.
            The writers obviously intended for this to be a ray of hope, to show the viewer that now Ellen will go on and fully recover. However, this is not serving any justice to the reality of relapse and recovery. Speaking from experience, with an eating disorder, a surge of confidence is not enough. I have had countless relapses, some big, some small, but all were the end product of a reality check like Ellen’s. Maybe this is the time that Ellen REALLY does it, really recovers. While it pains me to say this, it’s more likely than not that this is temporary, and the eating disorder will wiggle its way back. The writers don’t disclose this, of course, because that’s not captivating to an audience. They want a happy ending. They want a fantasy.
            Overall, I’m deeply unhappy with this film. It’s inaccurate, filled with false hope and tries too hard to be intriguing and hold an audience. The main goal of such a project should have been to educate, to reveal the depths and truths of life with an eating disorder. If this is thought to be too brutal (which it is), then a film should not have been taken on in the first place. “To The Bone” was a terrible excuse for Lily Collins to fall back into her eating disorder.

 

The Socializing Introvert: Why Relationships Are SO Important

**Written July 13th, 2017**
             Awhile back I came across a photo online that said, “Introverts Unite!”. Underneath that, a rising fist. And even further below, more text that read, “Separately, in your own homes”
            As a self-proclaimed introvert, I have to admit I laughed and saved it, but then it hit me. This is so relatable. This is me.
            I’ve found that the majority of the people in this health-conscious, pro-wellness community are very likeminded. We all loooooove kale, right? Maybe? Probably not. I’ve met plenty of people in this space who identify as introverts. More commonly, as extroverted introverts. I fall into this mouthful of a category.  Alone time? I thrive on that sh*t. I need my solo time to recharge, to collect myself, to evaluate. However, I love spending time with the people I love. I find myself itching for human contact, not constantly, not always, but enough for me to realize that I could never be on my own the way I used to so confidently believe.
            I’m young. I love being by myself, but there’s a time and place for that. I’m healthy, I’m capable, and I should be taking advantage of this time. I should be going out of my way to go on day trips with friends, to spontaneously make plans, to put in the effort to socialize. This is probably the last element of my eating disorder-ridden life that I’m still working towards amending. Eating disorders isolate you. I lost countless amounts of friends. I lost time I’ll never get back. Opportunities passed me by. Grade-wide trips down the shore on the last day of school. Sweet 16’s. Family vacations.
            All because I thought I was “introverted”. I thought this meant my life was destined to be empty, lonely. My eating disorder thrived off of that. No socializing meant no shared meals, no body comparison, no judgement. It also meant no responsibility. To other people, to relationships, to social commitments. Socializing, at a time when standing for more than five minutes was an enormous effort (hello poor physical health!), was out of the question. It exhausted me to the point of physical fatigue. It was best for me to avoid it. I’m better off without them, without the others. Right?
            At the time of my recovery, my  goals looked like this: restore necessary weight, maintain that weight, establish a solid relationship with food, begin incorporating exercise again after a 6-month hiatus. After that point, I considered myself out of recovery. But there are some aspects of your eating disorder lifestyle that carry over into your post-recovery life that aren’t dire, but in time need to be alleviated.
            Like isolation.
            Socializing wasn’t one of my recovery goals. Clearly, I had more urgent needs to attend to. Now that I lead a healthy and happy life, where I’m not on the verge of fatal health crises, I can dedicate more time to bettering myself as a person. As a daughter, sister, friend.
            It wasn’t until I began really, thoroughly, attending to my relationships that I realized I actually loved to connect with other people. I deemed myself an introvert for so long that I was under the impression that I could never love company. To be a normal, functioning, successful person in the real world, I realized I would have to interact with others. I accepted this. But I felt as though I could never go beyond interactions in passing.
            Recently I’ve been pushing myself outside my comfort zone in terms of socializing. I push myself in the gym to lift heavier weights; I push myself in the kitchen to experiment with new flavor combinations and recipes; I push myself in the academic work to learn more and understand more complex subjects. Why was this any different?
            What did this look like for me? Instead of waiting for others to make plans with me (which I knew was not reliable because my friends are used to me rejecting invitations), I reached out to others. My very best friends, and then old high school friends who I wanted to catch up with. I made plans to eat out, to go to the beach, to have groups of friends over swimming. This used to be WAY beyond my comfort zone. Eating out with friends was never an option. What would I possibly eat!? Being seen in a bathing suit was totally a no-go. Spending the day at the beach with an unknown hour-by-hour plan was horrifying.
            I was so fed up with these fears weighing me down. These past few months, I’ve spent time catching up with friends and strengthening my relationships. In that time, here’s what I learned:
  • It’s impossible to truly appreciate life in isolation. When I’m laughing with my friends, sharing my story with them, being supported by their kind words and gestures, making memories together…it’s in THESE moments that I realize how precious life is. How surreal is it that of all of the living creatures roaming the planet, humans are blessed enough to establish such empowering relationships? It’s not until you’re lying on the beach surrounded by your old friends; the very same people who worried for you when you were sick and supported you in your rise to health, that you realize how blessed you are. As your friends push you into the pool and can aggressively play around with you without worrying about breaking you, as you come up for air and hit them back, and then you both double over in laughter…THIS is when you realize that life is not worth living in the absence of connection.
  • There’s no replacement for support.  I would never have reached this strong, stable place that I am in today had I not gathered the support and love of so many wonderful, loving people in my life. My progress, heavily based on my own thoughts and actions, was fueled by the love and care of my family, and later the addition of thousands of strangers coming together to lift me up over the INTERNET. Now that I’ve strengthened and recharged so many old relationships, I see this principle surfacing once more. When I’m with my friends, we’re constantly raising each other up. Even when we’re teasing each other and messing around, it’s all out of genuine love.
  • Everything in life is a team effort. Relationships are a two-way street. At first, I felt that the burden was all on me. That I was the only one reaching out, trying so hard, putting in so much effort. But then I came to my senses. For the four excessively long years I was sick, my friends tried and tried to reach out and include me. Again and again I shut them down. Ignored their calls. Rejected their invitations. Eventually, they stopped. Who could blame them? How could our relationship thrive when I wasn’t even in it? In the past three months that I’ve dedicated to rekindling relationships, I can’t help but realize how important it is to be present. To make the effort, to go the extra step. To run off to your best friend’s house at the last minute because her mom found a random box of old firecrackers and you just “have to come test them out”. To pause your Netflix marathon to pick up your friend from work whose car is in the shop. To agree to dinner with friends at a restaurant with no online menu to scope out beforehand. People never forget the sacrifices you make for them. The kindness you show them. The effort you make. If I want the love and support I cherish from these people, how in the world can I expect them to provide me with it without paying my fair share?
            I’m an introvert. An extroverted introvert. But nonetheless, I’ve grown to realize that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There is way too much stigma out there surrounding introverts. I’m an introvert, but I still recognize and appreciate the value of interaction. Of socializing. In the beginning, it’s terrifying. There’s a fear of exhaustion, of boredom, of anxiety. But here’s the thing. Anything worth having in life won’t come easy. But it will come.
            If you let it.
            So pick up your phone, text your middle school best friend who you haven’t heard from in months. Ask her to go for a hike, to grab lunch, to go to the beach. Suck up your fear, get in your car, and go. Pull up next to her in the parking lot and hug her and apologize for the past. Sit at lunch and laugh over good food as you recollect how the English teacher you both had claimed she was prom queen, and how that was NOT likely. Spend hours after the check comes just lounging back and catching up on your freshmen years of college. Get in your car to head home and just sit in the parking lot and take it all in; the laughs, the love, the connection.
            Then go home and take the next day to yourself. You deserve it.

Having Expectations for Your Body, and How To See Beyond Them

**Written on June 25th, 2017**
Recovery is a lifelong process. This is a reminder I always offer, but one that I’ve only recently TRULY allowed to resonate with me. I’ve been leading a normal, healthy life for over two years now. I’m beyond the stages of recovery. However, throughout the duration of these two glorious years, I’ve always focused on my body’s appearance to an extent.
Only a short while ago was I able to uncover the underlying drive behind my body discomfort. My lifestyle has been through drastic changes; coming out of a rigid, heightened meal plan with no movement to reintroducing exercise to my regimen. This took place the summer going into my senior year. Then during my senior school year, I was working most of the week and had more rest days than I did days in the gym. The summer before college was the same in terms of work, but now I had time to workout most days before my shift. Once I left for school, I was walking ten times the amount I ever had at home. I lived off campus this past year, and was in the city walking around on my days off. I was extremely active. Now I’m home for the summer, and working out most days, but barely walking at all. My point is that my lifestyle has seen all different patterns in recent years, and I’ve always (ignorantly) connected these patterns to my body’s appearance.
For example, if I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, I’d dismiss it as “I’m not walking as much, things will regulate soon”. I guess this is a healthier alternative than jumping to restricting and overexercising. I spent four years of my life implementing this approach, so I know for a fact it’s deadly. Plus, being so far into health and happiness, all past behaviors are simply unappealing to me at this point. I can confidently say that restricting my intake is something I will avoid at all possible costs.
But dismissing my body issues and coming up with excuses that weren’t even valid isn’t healthy either. Yes, it keeps my physical health at bay. But what about mentally? I was just playing mind games. I was refusing to accept my body because I was EXPECTING it to be something else, and pathetically believed that my body would obey such expectations.
Here’s what body expectations looked like in my life: I’m very open about details about my body issues. For me, you probably already know, my midsection always gave me anxiety. I was never lean, with a toned stomach or small waist. I’m built more like a little boy than anything else, and my gut tends to stick out. From the side, I find I’m not lean like so many people I see. This is where expectations came in. When I was extremely active at school, I found that I was most at peace with my midsection. (Keep in mind this was not over exercising, it was simply the conditions of my situation. I was also eating a lot more at school to account for this). So when I returned home and my lifestyle took a turn, I began to notice these changes being projected onto my midsection. Once again, I found myself “puffy”, “swollen”, and “constantly bloated-looking”. For the first month or so, I was lying to myself.  I was telling myself that I know my body is capable of looking better, that it will get there if I just change some things around. This was because I EXPECTED it to look a certain way.
Holding onto expectations for your body is holding you back. If you’re engaging in certain lifestyle habits because you EXPECT them to translate into the body you want, your drive is in the wrong place. I’ll be the first person to admit that I began a higher fat lower (but not low…pasta please??) carb intake in hopes of changing my body. It sounds pathetic and petty but it’s true. When nothing changed, I flip flopped and hoped for results. This left me the same as well. I got so frustrated that I just decided to ditch all regimens and eat how the hell I wanted. And because I wasn’t obsessing over the details of my intake for my appearance’s sake, I began to pay attention to my body less and less.
Every Sunday is my rest day, and I sleep until 12 (at the earliest…). After an unintentional long fast and a lot of sleep, I tend to wake up feeling “lean”. I used to always wake up, change into my bra and underwear, and stagger over to the body mirror and just take in my reflection. I would spend about ten minutes admiring how lean and empty I was. But I’m proud to say I can’t even remember the last time I engaged in this activity. Seriously, it’s probably been 3 months? But on this Sunday morning, I woke up and got dressed with no body mirror to intervene. I came downstairs, made breakfast, and then out of nowhere realized this feat. Then I kept thinking about it; I hadn’t picked my body apart in weeks. I hadn’t given it much thought.
I feel so liberated. Upon analyzing why this shift took place, I traced it all back to body expectations. Once I stopped expecting my body to react to lifestyle habits, to change in response to how I was trying to manipulate it, I was able to find body acceptance. My life has been so damn GOOD lately. I’ve been getting super creative in the kitchen because I have the entire culinary world at my fingertips. I no longer have to use this specific product or that one or exclude ingredients because they don’t align with my new “lifestyle”. I’ve been so social, grabbing meals out with friends and going to parties without worrying about if I can get a “low-carb” meal there. My digestion isn’t giving me the trouble it used to, and I attribute this to the lack of stress surrounding my body and intake.
Is my body where I want it to be? Here’s my answer to that: if my body is allowing me to live my best life, then that’s where I want it to be. Am I “lean” like I used to so desperately obsess over? Nope! But here’s the thing. I realized that nobody FREAKING CARES. I go swimming with my friends and to the beach and I don’t self-detonate because I’m not a little bit leaner. My life doesn’t fall apart if I’m a few pounds more than I expect to be. I’m not a failure because of what I look like. I can’t spend my entire life focused on making changes solely for the purpose of manipulating my body. It becomes exhausting.
Letting go of body expectations is a matter of acknowledging that they’re there. Identify them. And then tell them to screw off. Because in all honesty, the expectations are irrational. Find your best life and let your body look the way it needs to in order to live this way. Not the opposite. Don’t go shaping your life around how it will make your body look. Don’t expect certain diets or exercise routines or whatnot to give you the body you’re after. I’m not saying that changing these things won’t change your body, because they can and everybody is different. What I’m saying is not to execute these changes BECAUSE you expect these changes. Make choices because your heart and your soul are in it. Life is trial and error. See what works for you. But don’t expect. Accept your body where it is and recognize that the life you lead in is better when the body’s appearance is an afterthought.
Sending love!!