I have trouble admitting that I suffer from an eating disorder. No, not for the reasons you are probably thinking. Yes it bothers me that after admitting I have a disordered relationship with food people automatically watch me eat, judge my portions and feel that it is socially acceptable to critic my choices or body weight, but that’s not the reason that I was thinking of. Ultimately, it’s because of the stigma associated with eating disorders.
Like many, it took my family doctor a while to diagnose me with Anorexia Nervosa. While my weight was enough of an indicator, my mind was in complete denial so even I didn’t see the signs that I was struggling from a mental illness. When I was first diagnosed, I just thought of myself as “different”. I thought I was flawed, I was embarrassed and I still thought that mental illnesses were personal choices. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that we all have mental health. Even if it doesn’t necessarily affect us in a way that it inhibits our productivity or well being, it is still very much present.
It’s much easier for me to express my anxiety about schoolwork than it is to talk about my food rituals or fear foods. People can sympathize with nervousness before a test or speech, and depression is relatable since individuals go through moments of sadness, but unless you have experienced an eating disorder, it’s hard for you to imagine why individuals in recovery can’t just eat. I’ve never been vain, shallow or crazy, but those are the assumptions one often has about an “anorexic” which is why many never thought I was susceptible for developing an eating disorder. No in fact, in the eyes of most I was much too logical to stop eating because that could kill me and I valued good health more than my appearance. Looking back I can acknowledge that I possessed all of the characteristics that many with eating disorders typically have; I was, and still am, Type-A personality and I will always strive to be the best version of myself (but now in moderation). The fact of the matter is though; eating disorders aren’t about food nor are they a conscious choice. I did not care about the size of my thighs or the number of calories in every single food item.
My restriction did not happen overnight and at the beginning of it all, I didn’t have body dysmorphic disorder and knew my appearance was much too ‘hollow’. It’s important to remember that eating disorders are just a coping mechanism for dealing with life. It was my distraction – I couldn’t think about life’s problems when I was too busy concentrating on keeping track of my dietary intake. See, I didn’t stop eating because I didn’t like food and I can’t say that I purposefully restricted my intake as a means to gain control.
The eating disorder had convinced me that I would be unsuccessful, unintelligent and unmotivated without it, which is why it took numerous years before I decided I wanted to re-find myself and break free of the cycle of doctors appointments, therapy sessions and hospitalizations. It’s not as though I enjoyed being placed on a psychiatric ward, but for some reason the unit felt “safe” because it was a place where my mind was actually at rest. The support I received reminded me that I was loved, and it was only when I was “sick” that I felt deserving of that.
While I wish there had been a “magical pill” to cure me, I grew stronger each day by fighting my demons head on. Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, EDNOS are all addictions, and mental health illnesses, just like alcoholism or gambling. The only difference between most addictions and eating disorders is that you can eliminate playing poker (cards, slot machines, race horses), alcohol or drugs permanently from your life, but you need food to survive. That isn’t to say one is easier or harder to recover from.
In 2012, I made a conscious decision to change my life, and I worked at it. Now I can’t say I am fully recovered today, but what I now have are hopes and dreams. When I look in the mirror I try not to criticize my flaws, and I don’t let the reflection dictate my self worth. I truly believe it’s not who you are that holds you back, its who you think you’re not.
My wisdom, is nothing more than healed pain. I share my story in the hope that others who are suffering in silence, will hear it, and reach out for help. Accepting help is brave no matter what illness you have been diagnosed with. It is not easy to change habits when they’ve become a routine. Recovery is scary, but it's also worth it.
There is so much stigma attached to mental health, which used to make me feel shameful or weak. That stigma paralyzed me from admitting I was struggling, which prevented me from getting help early on in my diagnosis. But deep down, even if others tell you differently, always remember you are not your mental illness. Just because I struggled from anorexia, does not make me “anorexic”. I am Molly, a daughter, a little sister, a proud auntie, a trustworthy friend, an avid baker, a lover of science and a work in progress.
- Molly, @mollyschoo