We Must Speak

I want to tell you that it is okay to ask for help. That even now I still struggle to do it myself. That just the other day, when I finally admitted to myself that the eating disorder was worsening again, that it was okay to say something.
That I must.

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I want to tell you that no problem is too small to keep to yourself. That you deserve to speak for your body, and that perhaps those of us who suffer from eating disorders or other modes of self-harm have some of the toughest times asking for help because we have learned to speak with our body instead of our tongues. That we do speak, but in a language of silence when we leave the dinner table too soon, when we skip lunch, when we creep to the kitchen at midnight to fill our bodies too quickly and too guiltily, when we stow away to the bathroom after every meal–because doesn’t it feel like your eating disorder will always be there for you? That it will keep you company when you feel your worst, and no one else will get hurt but you? That you don’t have to “wear anyone down” but yourself when you feel stressed and hurt and angry and frustrated?
I am sad. I am hurt. I am frustrated. I also know I have a fantastic life, that I live day-to-day with a smile on my face, that I have so many good things going for me. But there is still that girl who needs to be listened to–the girl deep inside of me screaming and shaking the bars of a prison she feels she can never escape because I keep ignoring her, because I keep telling her to shut her mouth.
I want to tell you that you deserve to speak–because when I tell you this, I have to say it to myself, too. Because not but a day ago did I think, I shouldn’t bother people with this, I shouldn’t let them worry, I shouldn’t seem like I am trying to seek attention.
But when I awake each morning to peaceful silence while everything inside of my head screams, I drown the Rachael inside of me as I go about the day, as I hear her pounding to get out, as I carry on with my chores and work and crawl back into bed, where my chest tightens and aches and it is not until then–when I close my eyes and face myself again–that the tears emerge. Sometimes I tell myself I shouldn’t worry, that I shouldn’t feel concerned when I take it out on my own body, because I know I am not alone in my feelings. Someone, somewhere in the world may “have it worse” than me, people say. But how many times have I stressed to others–and to myself–that it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to speak!

WE DESERVE TO SPEAK.

As I returned home from a day of errands the other day thinking I didn’t need to tell anyone I was hurting, I realized I would never want you to do the same.
We must speak.
We must speak.
WE. MUST. SPEAK.
It is the best tool we have.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.
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16 Responses to We Must Speak

  1. Rachel says:

    What do you suggest others do when they notice restrictive/or other self-destructive behavior in someone who has an ED?

    • rachael says:

      That’s an awesome question.

      I’ve found with my own experience that it’s easier to admit something is wrong if someone sits down with me and asks if I’m okay (which I think everyone needs from someone in their life at one time or another). It may take more than just asking though, too, because usually our first response is “yes, everything is fine.” As with any difficult time someone may be going through, it may take some probing. Denial is a large problem with eating disorders, so a person suffering may not admit that they have a problem right away. Simply being there as a listening ear and telling them that you are available to talk if they need it is sometimes the best you can do. My mom encouraged me to get help the moment I told her what was going on, but I refused and actually did just need time to sort through my thoughts and admit that I needed help months later. As much as you may want to help someone, and as much as the eating disorder may be harming their body, they do have to WANT to get better before they can GET better.

      The tough part is waiting. I had a friend with an eating disorder and the moment I found out, I offered her a place to go to get help and told her that I would always be there as a listening ear, but I had to let it go at that and wait until she was ready to come to me or someone else close to her. It wasn’t until a year later that she finally wanted to take action, and even though I felt like it was late, at least she courageously shared her struggles to later get to this point where she wanted to do something about it. I think that the sooner you admit something is wrong and talk to someone about it, the sooner you will get help (even if it’s months or years later). That’s why I emphasize speaking, because that really is the first step to getting help. You don’t have to do something right away (although it will certainly help the process), but the person suffering has to be ready to change.

      The tough part about eating disorders is that they are like an addiction—you don’t want the eating disorder but you also don’t want to live without it.

  2. Dean says:

    I wish I felt better when I speak, but I feel like I have just burdened my listener with more issues. I am doing this to myself, no one else is doing it. I never feel like anything good is coming from my speaking to anyone. In this case I believe I have a chance of helping someone else by commenting these things here, but otherwise it’s of no benefit.

    I hope for others the experience is MUCH different.

    • rachael says:

      Dean, I am so sorry to hear that. Perhaps you need to find just one person you feel can provide a listening ear? Sometimes they are hard to find–I get that. I can email you and be at least one person you can email for help if you need to chat.

      • Dean says:

        Rachel,
        Thanks so much for your offer. I am completely unsure of what I need, although I know I don’t have it yet. My spouse tries, but is far too self-absorbed. I tried a counselor, and that opened other doors without resolutions.
        I was diagnosed as anorexic, but fall more into the binge purge (eat at night, run 7-9 miles in the morning and 6-8 miles after dinner… 90-100+ per week). Never comfortable doing one without the other. Legs and feet in pain through the day unless I am running.
        As an example (5’10” 157 lbs), I ran 9.75 miles in about 75 minutes this morning and can say I have had about 500 calories thus far (calculators state I have burned over 1000) and I am uncomfortable. Can’t seem to get out of the loop, even though I really want out.
        Thanks everyone for “listening”.

  3. Angie says:

    Hi Rachael,
    I just recently admitted to having an Eating Disorder. ACK, NOT ME! I’ve always been thin this is normal. NOT for my height and my level of activity I should weight at least 125. No I weight at the moment 110. I run, I love to RUN! I run anywhere from 6 to 10 or more miles a day with one or two off days. I also have two boys 5 and 2.5, BUT my 5 year old has Epilepsy a severe form of it (which stresses me to the max at times), however doing very good at the moment. I also am married to a man who likes to verablly abuse me and does not like me doing anything for myself so I sneak out for runs if he is in a mood or if he is happy then I get to go run. BUT recently (though I don’t think I’ve hit rock bottom) my running has suffered from my not eating. I wish I could break this cycle but I’m finding it very very difficult this time. I’ve opened up to friends, family, co-workers but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference and most of them where not surprised and I find this to be very annoying. I stubbled across you blog and am so thankful I have. I love your title running in silence. I trying, I ate ok yesterday and I haven’t ran in 3 days but I’m itching to get out on the trails. Thank you for your posts and your honestly.

  4. Tamara Steil says:

    Angie, please please please seek professional eating disorder counseling. You are in a battle that is nearly impossible to win by yourself. You must speak out and ask for the help. Most insurance programs cover these sessions. Most eating disorder counseling centers also have free group sessions. Please begin now. Google an eating disorder center. Contact them asap. Today. Now. There are many things in your comment that are sending up flares. You sound like a wonderful person who is trapped in a place that will beat you up and hold you down. You are worth rescue! You get to choose how you are treated and the professionals can show you the tools you already possess to take good care of yourself and make sure you are treated well as you so deserve!

  5. Tamara Steil says:

    Rachael, never give up. Keep fighting the fight. You can do this. I am sorry you are so lonely in this. I know it is awfully hard. Keep reaching out. Keep building yourself up. And keep talking!

  6. Justin Reamer says:

    I think it’s great that you encourage people to talk about their problems, but not only that, but to encourage themselves and to receive encouragement from others. Only through positivity will we ever truly overcome our obstacles in life, whether they be eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, or anything like that. If we can encourage each other, then we can help each other convalesce much faster. Especially in eating disorders, we shouldn’t be insulting each other’s weight; we should try to encourage and compliment each other instead. It’s a much better thing to do, and I think it’s a great idea. Good job, Rachel, and may God bless you in all that you do!

  7. Peter Triezenberg says:

    Once again, I find myself empathetic towards your message and relating it back to my own experiences. No matter what somebody is dealing with, they should never feel like they have to hide who they are or feel like nobody is willing to hear their words.

  8. Taryn Streasick says:

    This post reminded me of a friend of mine who had an eating disorder in high school. I noticed how much weight she had lost, but I wasn’t sure what to say or do. Luckily she sought help without me intervening. She sat down at our lunch table one day and said, “I have an eating disorder.” Although all of us had suspected as much, we were all incredibly proud of her. It was definitely a breakthrough moment for her when she finally decided to speak up and tell us about what was happening. She became very open about her eating disorder, and she answered any questions people had about her struggle. I think it was through being so open and talking about it that she was able to find recovery. When everyone knew what was going on, she was more comfortable talking about the moments when it was hard.

  9. Kelli Burns says:

    I find myself relating to your posts, not because I have an eating disorder, but because I have struggled with my own ways of self harm. I understand how difficult it is to ask for help. You actually mentioned the reason why I generally don’t speak up, because I don’t want to seem like I’m seeking attention. Your blog has been enough to cheer me up and make me feel hopeful for the days ahead and I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way. Your voice is powerful and I do hope everyone can hear it someday.

  10. MARIAH PERKINS says:

    This is one of my favorite posts that you have made. It is so encouraging. It is a great message to hear to anyone who is struggling. Telling someone is a huge step in lifting an incredible burden. I completed related to this post and it is a great thing to read multiple times and continue to remember to keep speaking. It is also good to hear that everyone deserves to be listened to. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  11. Ryanne James says:

    I do not how I skimmed this entry over when I first started reading your blogs, this is perfect. I think the way you address the issue of, ‘someone having it worse’ is not a justification to keep quite or to ignore others issues. It is true that someone may have it worse, but what is happening to you is your worse and people should be able to feel comfortable enough to speak and not feel judged for the extremes of their issues.

  12. Katie says:

    Rachel, I discovered your blog tonight, and I relate so much and was so moved by what you have shared. I am 24 and have been struggling with bulimia since I was 13. I also ran cross country and track in middle school and high school and started running half marathons and marathons in college and just finished my seventh marathon last Sunday at NYC. I did not tell anyone about my struggles at first, even though all of my friends could tell something was up, but that was just me, I was “weird about food.” Throughout high school, I repeatedly endured stress fractures from overtraining, and now, I learn, from having incredibly low bone density. Finally, my senior year, when I was 17, I was overheard purging at school repeatedly by several teachers, who told the school counselor, and my secrets were forced into the light. I tried to manage the issue outpatient but ended up going into residential treatment over the summer and then moving 800 miles away to college in the fall and relapsing in full force. I was suicidal, drove my roommate to move out after a month, and spoke to no one except my team of therapists and doctors and left my dorm only to binge and purge/ buy food, run, and go to class and appointments. My sophomore year, I was forced by the school to take medical leave and obtain doctor’s clearance before I came back, and I spent six months in a treatment center. They declared that I was addicted to running and must never run again, which left me heartbroken. I continued through cycles of relapse and inpatient treatment for several more years and lived in shame, with crippling social anxiety that prevented me from socializing at all, lest people discover what a horrible person I really was, even as I continued to run marathons and maintain my full academic scholarship to a top-20 college. Today, I have moved home, completely changed my career path, and am going for a more moderate approach. Now, very few people in my life know about my eating disorder, other than my family and friends from treatment. The people who were friends with me before, I avoid bringing it up and allow them to assume I am recovered. I am a nurse in the intensive care unit, which I love beyond words, but I have been so shaken by living in the eating disordered identity that I cringe with the thought of anyone at work knowing what I struggle with. I still fight with bulimia, and sometimes I have a good week and sometimes every single day I stand up only to fall down. I, too, sat in an inpatient treatment center many times telling myself and all of my therapists that I was not sick enough, not thin enough, not worthy enough, to be there, that I was wasting valuable time and resources that should have been spent on people who needed help, who were “really” sick, who were “really” suffering. I constantly struggled with the fear of coming off as attention-seeking, exaggerating what others might perceive as a minor issue so that I made it seem like it was a big deal, like I deserved help. It has taken me years to come to terms with the idea that I don’t need to be the sickest person on the planet to deserve to live differently, to fell joy, to tell my story without fearing that I am wasting time or asking for pity or sucking up care from people who are more deserving than me. I matter, and my story matters. I still cringe at the thought of people here finding out about my past because I feel so incredibly “different” from others my age that I am an impostor living my work life and then my train wreck of a home life. But increasingly, I reconcile these with each other. I share with people who really understand me, and I continue with therapy and express my fears, frustrations, and victories. I realize it is not my fault for having an eating disorder, and it doesn’t make me a bad person. But it is my responsibility to get up every freaking day and fight the demon. Some days I will fail, some days I will feel completely hopeless and lost, but there is a tomorrow after every today, and nothing NOTHING lasts forever. In rediscovering myself, I have been blessed beyond measure to find family and new friends who support me so much, to find a healthier balance with running, to find the courage to switch from engineering which I hated to a career as a nurse which I am madly in love with, a better sense of spirituality, and the knowledge that nothing is impossible and that what seems like the worst collapse ever can be, as a mentor of mine in recovery told me, “the breakdown before the breakthrough.” Thank you for sharing your story, and I apologize for my incredibly long train of thought, but you are an inspiration in dispelling the shame and secrecy that plagues those of us with eating disorders!

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