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I’ve been asked this question a lot lately, or at least questions similar to it–
What is my fear, how do I handle it, and why the heck am I so afraid?
All fears need contemplation in order to face and deal with them. Half the battle is knowing what you are dealing with–and for me, coming to terms as to why I fear food must be faced. So as I finally make time (notice the word “make,” not “find,” since you will never “find” that time), I can hear myself think.
And that’s when I hear it; it doesn’t come in a roar or in an astounding revelation. It doesn’t change my life in an instant or come as a message from the gods. It comes in increments, entering either slowly or suddenly as I allow my mind to wander and drift among my thoughts to the deepest emotion.
I am afraid of my body–of the potential it has to escape my mind’s control. I was afraid even at my thinnest of the potential I had to possibly win a national NAIA cross country meet–maybe because success came too fast, maybe because the way of reaching running “success” was not the way I had previously anticipated. Along with the success came a dark secret of restriction and pain, and I never imagined I would reach national status through something like that.I was afraid of the power my mind had over my body to sink the weight lower, but also of the power my body had over my mind as the weight gain took over my life.
So I come to this conclusion: anything my body feels without my “consent”–hunger, emotion–scares me. I am afraid of what my body is capable of. I am afraid of the potential I have within because changing, letting go, and believing in myself can be scary. It requires trust and faith in a feeling that is not easy to see or define.
How right Maryanne Williamson is when she states, “Our deepest fear is that we are not inadequate; Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most.”
I recently had an interesting reaction to a new profile picture I posted on Facebook–many expressions of care and concern, while some basically insisted I not post such sad photos and resort back to one of me smiling.
I love to smile–I love it! I love to laugh, and my life is wonderful. But there are painful sides of life, too–for all of us. My profile picture is just a photo showing a different part of me–and as a self-proclaimed “selfie artist” (i.e., I like to take selfies because I get inspired by different lighting and yes, emotion), I felt prompted to post the photo that I did for the “artistry,” the vulnerability, and the emotion I wanted to convey.
One commenter said I looked like I had “eaten something yucky” (I couldn’t help but laugh because I kind of agree), but another commenter suggested that this new profile picture was “not [me] at all.” I say that forcing a smile all the time is the real “not me at all.” Embracing emotion is part of being human, even in photos. I have plenty of great photos of me smiling, and every photo is me no matter what emotion I’m showing.
But comments like this reveal an interesting way to see how we view showing pain in society. I understand Facebook–and profile pictures specifically–are a window into how we present ourselves and our life, and that the ideal thing to do is post a beautiful picture of us smiling (or duck face, peace signs, whatever floats your boat). But it’s also a social media circle for revealing who we are and what we stand for–I mean, look at all the opinions and controversies littering Facebook!
I would not put profile picture like this on a business account, but I feel that Facebook is broadening our awareness of what it means to be human and share so much of ourselves. We don’t need to do it to the point that we share every little thing in our world, but I like Facebook in the way that it allows us to bring out our voices more (as long as we are not on it 24/7 and actually have a social life outside of the internet).
Life is not perfect. Facebook is not perfect. Our profiles can’t be perfect. And this doesn’t mean we need all these pictures of people crying in their profile pictures, but I know there is discomfort in seeing someone else’s pain because sometimes it prompts us to look at our own–and doing so can be scary.
I get it–smiling is so much more pleasing to the eye. But we are human. We are full of frowns and tears and laughs and smiles. I am in a tough spot in my life right now, but I know I am working to take the best of the challenges to make me a better person. My profile picture is not a cry for sympathy, but a reminder that it’s okay to be vulnerable and that we are beautiful even in our tears.
“Just be happy with what you have.”
“At least you don’t have cancer.”
“Don’t look so grim.”
What all of these phrases are really saying: Your feelings are trivial.
I know most people mean well when they say things like this. The problem is, these people don’t realize that such phrases do more harm than good to help those who are suffering emotionally or physically. I often smile and nod when faced with these careless phrases, but everything inside of me screams, You don’t get it, do you!?
Assuring someone that another person always “has it worse” or that they should appreciate what they have does not ease the pain; it makes the person feel guilty for feeling what they feel, and often people push the pain down further instead of acknowledging that it’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to feel emotional because then you can deal with it. If you keep pushing your emotion and feelings aside, then you are just fooling yourself—and for many of us here, taking it out on food (or other modes of self-harm).
Yes, “things could be worse.” If your mom died, you could say the same thing. Both your parents could be dead, right? So why be sad if “just” your mom passed? You silly girl, you have so much more to life! Perk up a little!
“DON’T LOOK SO GRIM.”
I always want to encourage positivity, so this is not a plea to complain about the woes of your life all over Facebook or bombard your friends with every little thing that goes wrong in your life. But we should acknowledge our feelings and be okay with letting someone know we are struggling.
I feel that many people don’t understand the crux of a difficult circumstance lies not in comparison to a worse circumstance, but in recognizing the emotion someone feels. There’s a difference between being negative and being real. It’s not as easy as changing the frown to a smile. That’s putting a Band-Aid over the situation. How many times have people said they wear a mask to hide the true feelings beneath? It’s because our society perpetuates this! By telling someone that they shouldn’t feel the way they do by comparing their situation to something “worse” tells them that their feelings are not justifiable.
I find this struggle very similar to the emotional complexities of racing. Telling someone who is depressed to “just be positive” or telling someone with an eating disorder to “just eat right and exercise more” is much like telling someone to “just run faster” to win a race. These phrases don’t often do much for the situation at hand.
We need to look at the psychological component, to help and support someone to handle the stress and difficultly of a race. Coach them. Give them a hug after the tough days and tell them they are allowed to feel upset and frustrated. We can’t tell them to improve without giving them a chance to vent and learn from their frustrations. My mom always gave me solid advice that it is okay to wallow in self pity and pain after a bad race for a day or two, but once that time passes, you have to pick yourself back up and move on. And I agree—because once you face your emotions and let yourself think and ask for help, you can move on.
We need people who can listen and hug and cry with and for each other, because that is how we break down the walls to rebuild again rather than trying to build on a rocky, unstable surface—
The pain beneath.
Don’t hide your pain. Feel it, embrace it, talk about it, and then yes, when you’re ready, leave it for good at last.
I often think about one of my high school cross country teammates who may have dealt with an eating disorder. I couldn’t understand it at all back then and tried to encourage her to eat foods like cheese (“It has calcium for strong bones!”) but our discussions never went much beyond that. I didn’t know how to help her, and she never fully confessed to me about her possible eating disorder anyway. I only know from mutterings here and there that she had some nutritional issues and couldn’t race a few times because of it. I can only guess that if we had talked about it more, I would still have been at a loss as to what to do for her. Thus I believe it takes a very special person to have sympathy and patience for someone with an eating disorder. This post hopefully not only gives insight into what it takes to be a supportive friend, but it is also a thank-you to the amazing people in my life who have been there for me with my own experiences with the eating disorder.
The Blunt Supporter
Rachel was with me from the very beginning. She not only watched as I ate plates high with vegetables, but she defended me in my mono-meal-banana eating frenzies and lived with me over the summer of 2011 as I struggled to stay raw. It was difficult for me to tell her about what was really going on with my obsession because I was worried about what she would think about me, but once we did talk more she certainly tried to be there for me. The two of us got in some arguments over where I was coming from and why (to be explained in detail in the book), and it wasn’t until months after our disagreements and frustrations that I had begun to see what she was talking about and that she addressed these issues because she cared. Even now when she says how proud she is of me and continually supports this blog, I can’t express how much that means to me because I value her thoughts and support.
The Silent Supporters
Sometimes the smallest of friends come with the biggest of hearts. It wasn’t until further along in my ED recovery that two younger teammates (each probably a foot shorter than me, haha) came along and gave me a sense of belonging, peace, and confidence. I think we actually thrive a lot off of each other (sometimes I feel like a motherly figure for them, and they are constantly supporting and encouraging me). We haven’t talk much about my eating disorder but it is their actions that speak louder than words. They came to my reading about my eating disorder at school, they often invite me to the cafeteria when it still feels embarrassing for me to express that I am hungry, and they even congratulated me on eating pasta for the first time in years and understood WHAT A BIG DEAL that was for me.
Ashlee and Kathy—thank you.
The Soul Supporter
And then there’s Alina—the one who was always there to listen, always there to talk when I needed it. She has gone above and beyond what anyone would ask from a friend, and she was there to bring everything out of me. Alina probably understands me more than anyone because we are alike in our perfectionist tendencies. I think we have learned a lot from each other just by talking, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for being there for me no matter what. She told me the other day that some younger kids accidentally called her “Angelina.” I think that “Angel” part fits perfectly. ;)
Of course there are many more people in my life who have supported from afar, and I thank those of you for that. Every little bit of encouragement, understanding, and support helps, and I thank you for the comments, messages, etc that I have received over the past few years.
Most of you who read this blog already should know by now that I deal with an eating disorder, but it has taken me so long to completely come to terms with it. I have gone through denial and back-and-forth internal dialogue for so long, trying to understand and place a meaning beyond my thoughts, actions, and feelings around food. It wasn’t until now that I realized that only when I admit my demons will I completely release them.
I know, I know, I have the “eating disorder” phrase all over my website and I have basically admitted to the eating disorder for some time now, but it has taken me a long time to own up to it. I began to notice how shy and tentative I was about bringing it up with friends and family. People have asked me these past few months what my book is about, and I’d start talking about how it detailed experiences in college with racing and learning about myself—always skirting around the big “eating disorder” phrase. Heck, when I first started this blog I felt mortified to post about it on my Facebook page. Seeing the phrase “eating disorder” next to my name to announce to the world what my blog would be about scared me to no end. I didn’t want to seem like I was showcasing it or trying to make people feel bad for me. But I realized recently how feeling shy and tentative about the eating disorder makes me powerless to it.
Many of us who struggle with food see the topic of eating shameful and difficult to bring up (heck, I couldn’t even say the word “calories” out loud in my anorexia athletica stage), but we DO need to talk, and I know I am fine talking about it now once we get the conversation rolling.
So yes, I HAVE AN EATING DISORDER. It sucks, and it’s a struggle, but no one goes through life without a struggle. We can either let it destroy us, or turn it around and make it work for us—to make us into the best, strongest people we can be.
I am continually healing and growing. I have made good use out of the life lessons the eating disorder has given me and will continue to use it to help others as well as to help myself.
So—I guess this is directed especially toward the people who know me personally—ask me about my eating disorder. Share your thoughts. I will talk. I will speak. I will be open—because I want to, need to, and I am fully willing to.
I have an eating disorder.
No matter where you are in your journey, I encourage you to get help. The best decision I made was emailing my mom about everything I was going through. As difficult and scary as it was, it opened communication between us that has created a stronger relationship today as a result. And of course, it helped me to get help sooner, which I think has made the recovery process easier.
I realize how lucky I am to have pulled myself out soon enough. In fact, if I hadn’t gained the weight from bingeing, I don’t think I would have had the guts to admit that I had a bad relationship with food. It took weight gain for me to fess up, because by that point it had become physically dramatic. I had to tell someone–because the thing stuck in my head was taking over my life.
I was lucky to have the support from my parents. The best thing my mom did was ask if I would like professional help. The worst thing I did was tell her “no” at first, thinking I wasn’t “sick enough” and that I was making a bigger deal out of it than I should have.
Everything about this eating disorder was embarrassing to me – but less so when I realized how many others were hiding their fears and bad relationships with food just as I had. I was not so different after all, and that’s what helped me to accept that getting help didn’t need to wait until it was “bad enough.”
Going to a support group for eating disorders (you’ll read it about it when I get the book published) was the first big step. It took me a long time to get there, though – to realize that just because I wasn’t 85 pounds, I still had a problem that needed to be fixed. And I couldn’t fix it myself. That was evident after a summer of “no mom, I don’t need professional help” and realizing how dark and deep I was falling into this eating disorder. No diet was going to save me, but it took me months to figure that out.
As I worked with my therapist and eventually my dietician, I slowly gained more and more power over the relationship food and I had together. We began to understand each other. I didn’t see the changes immediately, and even months into it I wasn’t sure if I was really even getting anywhere, but when we sat down to look at what changes I made, I realized what huge leaps and bounds I had made.
Once I understood my weaknesses better, I had to plan out goals for myself. I worked on a goal per week last summer, actually, as the journey continued. One of the biggest realizations I had was that each meal couldn’t be “perfect,” and that even if one meal hadn’t gone as well as I would have hoped, I still had another chance later to improve things. As long as we keep living, we keep getting second chances.
I came across Brittany’s blog about a year ago and found her eating disorder struggle similar to my own. I have certainly not gone through the same intensity, but as in with any eating disorder or disordered eating, the disorder should be treated with the same care, love, and importance. Eating disorders are not petty, adolescent “stages” we go through, but intense, unhealthy, and growing problems that must be addressed at any and all stages of intensity. Certainly Brittany’s drastic weight fluctuation in a small amount of time is relatable to me as well as many more of us, and shows that the problem lies not in appearance, but in our attitude toward food.
Just like me, Brittany is also in the process of getting a memoir published about her eating disorder experiences. I’m so glad Brittany was willing to share her journey as well as the struggles she still encounters on a daily basis, as I believe eating disorders should be monitored even in recovery.
My name is Brittany and I want to let you all know no matter what you are struggling with that there is always hope for a better life. For me, my major life struggle was with my weight and appearance. Growing up I was constantly bullied and teased and I never had a close friend; only acquaintances to say hi to so I didn’t seem like a complete and utter loser. I was always a great student and a very talented tennis player and horseback rider to top it off, but that didn’t matter. My self-esteem was nonexistent and every day I wondered what was so wrong with me that I didn’t fit in like everyone else. Instead of realizing there was nothing wrong with me other than I was shy and insecure, I turned my anger and sadness inward.
When I was 13 I fell victim to anorexia and exercise addiction. I was never overweight to begin with, but this new found coping skill to deal with my loneliness and disgust for myself soon took over my life. I couldn’t control other’s behaviors towards me, nor could I control whether I became a professional tennis player or not, but what I did believe I could control was my weight and that led me down a road more lonely than anything I had ever imagined. I spent the next 7 years in and out of the top treatment centers and hospitals only to have doctors and therapists come to the same conclusion: “She’s hopeless. We’ve never seen such a tragic case.”
In the beginning of 2009 it looked as if I had finally lost my battle. I became so sick that I got asked to leave my freshman year of college by the university. I wasn’t allowed back until I achieved certain health requirements. So began my next 6 months in a hospital on the brink of death. With my weight dropping to a low of 56lbs I lost all my hair, faced liver failure, had to relearn how to walk, couldn’t think or recognize people, went bald and was given almost no chance to survive. The Universe must have had other plans for me because miraculously I pulled through.
The night of August 15, 2009 would change my life forever. I binged. After 8 years of controlling, resisting, and depriving myself of food, I gave in. It was the most exhilarating, wonderful, and scariest sensation I’ve ever experienced and I didn’t know how to stop. I was now 75lbs and climbing. What I didn’t realize was that I had traded bingeing for anorexia. My disease took on an entirely new appearance even though it was the same inner demons driving it from the inside. As my body changed quicker than I could comprehend I found myself in a trance of disbelief. I shut myself in my house; embarrassed that someone I knew might see me looking so drastically different. I would only leave to buy food so that I could binge. By the middle of 2010, I had hit rock bottom again, but this time on the opposite side of the scale. A stranger is all the mirror would ever reveal to my eyes, but the scale confirmed my illusion and worst nightmare as the digital number 221 flashed before me.
It took many difficult years of patience, hard work and a little hope, but I have now completely turned my life around. I’m healthy, I’m happy, I have good friends and I’m learning to love who I am flaws and all. My eating disorder was an outward expression of how I felt about myself on the inside. It was never about weight. It was about walking a self-destructive path based on a false belief that I was never good enough, loveable, or acceptable… but I am.
Recovery has been the hardest thing I have and ever will do in my life. There was a while where I questioned my life over and over wondering why me? How could something so awful rob so many years of my life and then spit me back out? I wanted to make sense of the madness, but the more I looked back the more stuck I became. There came a point where I had to learn to let go in order to let in what was meant to be all along.
After many years filled with restricting, over exercising, bingeing, laxatives, colonics, hospitals, treatment centers, fat camps, depression and loneliness I have written a book composed of mainly journal entries I kept. Safety In Numbers: From 56 to 221 Pounds, My Battle with Eating Disorders offers a chaotic, humorous, tear jerking; suspenseful and frightfully honest first hand look into the unthinkable. Ultimately it brings hope and the courage to never give up. I hope it will be published within the next year.
I am currently finishing my psychology degree at Cal Poly and am back to training competitively for tennis. Please know you are never alone, there are good people out there and you can build the most beautiful life no matter how many odds are stacked against you. Feel free to stay in touch and connect with me. I believe in you all.
I can’t help but think of Lord of the Rings when I think of the relationship we have with an eating disorder–or for anyone with any addiction, for that matter.
I was never a huge, nerdy (the cool nerdy! No hatin’ here against the die-hard fans) Lord of the Rings fan, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the books and the movies. It’s fascinating for me to see the way the characters become entranced by the ring–some more strongly than others if they become vulnerable to its power–and how similar dabbling in eating-disordered habits allows people to become consumed with their own ring of supposed “power.” Funny, too, how the circular nature of a ring is not unlike a metaphor for the cyclical pattern of addiction–especially with eating disorders.
Most recently I watched one of the final scenes of movie three of the trilogy where Frodo and Sam reach the pinnacle of the fiery pit to destroy the ring at last. Frodo stands at the edge, holding the ring over the lava, still contemplating whether he truly wants to destroy it or not. It calls to him. It reminds him of the power he can still have in their relationship. And many of us face that nearly every day with our eating disorders.
Do we really want recovery? It’s a battle with wanting to get rid of the eating disorder but not knowing how to live life without it. We don’t want to completely throw away the ring of power, because when we put it on–when we fall hard into the eating disorder–we can become invisible, can sneak around and deny that we have a problem, that we need help.
And then Gollum creeps into this scene. In that moment, I can’t help but think that perhaps this is the picture of what can happen–and does happen–to many who fall too hard and long into addiction, and are too consumed with the power we think it gives us. Gollum is the picture of the animal we become when we become lost from our true selves, when the identity of the ring/power takes over our lives, and thus our bodies. And as Gollum eventually tumbles into the fiery pit– even as his body disintegrates in the lava–he holds his hand up to his idol, his addiction, giving it the final say in his life.
We can’t let the eating disorder do that to us, too.
But the most poignant scene in this intense struggle? Frodo, hanging off the side of the cliff, surely about to face the similar fate of Gollum. The ring still calls to him as it sits above the lava, not yet disintegrated, and Frodo has a choice to make–grab the hand of his best friend Sam and be pulled to safety, or let the ring win in its final moments.
And then something happens. Frodo hears a voice, and it is not pleading, but stern and empowering–
“Don’t you let go,” Sam tells him.
Don’t you let go.
I couldn’t help but feel moved to tears at hearing this, feeling that Sam is not only speaking to Frodo, but to all of us–that we must keep holding on, and that even in our darkest moments when it seems all is lost, when we think that we cannot fight back any longer, we must accept those who want to help us and make the decision to keep fighting for ourselves.
Don’t you let go.