Since I’ve got a full day of Mardi Gras celebration, I scheduled to have this post today. It’s a bit heavy but really important especially given that last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness week.
Despite everything I was feeling and fighting during my eating disorder, once of my biggest emotions was guilt. I felt so terrible that my parents were spending money every week on my nutritionist and counseling visits all because I couldn’t manage to eat enough food. Honestly, what kind of self-centered person was I? They worked hard to save up for retirement, education, and emergency needs, not to blow it on therapy sessions for their messed up daughter. I sucked.
The guilt made me want to get better, but it also didn’t change my behaviors. What needed to change was my understanding of my disease. Did you catch that? An eating disorder is a disease, not a lifestyle one chooses. And understanding that was crucial in my recovery and acceptance of my past.
According to the medical dictionary, a disorder is “a derangement or abnormality of function; a morbid physical or mental state.”
Sounds pretty drastic, right? That’s because it is. When you have an eating disorder your mind isn’t functioning properly. You aren’t making the same decisions you would if you were healthy. You may be aware of the harm you are causing yourself and know what you need to do to fix it, but your brain won’t allow you to do those things. An Eating Disorder isn’t a choice.
I didn’t really understand that when I started my recovery and it completely held me back. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself that I refused to talk to other people about my problems. Sure I had a counselor at school, but I never opened up to my friends about what I was going through. Instead I convinced myself I could cover it up and act like nothing was wrong. But something tells me emaciated frame, my intense mood swings, and my anxiety around meal time made it pretty obvious.
A few things happened during the Spring of my freshman year of college that changed my mindset. First, I attended Notre Dame’s Eating Disorders Conference where I saw the movie Thin and met my best friend LB. Thin exposed me to girls with even more severe disorders and the intense medical care they were receiving helped me to realize that an eating disorder was not something to be taken lightly. LB was the first person I could talk to about my eating disorder. She listened and didn’t make me feel stupid. Suddenly I didn’t need to be afraid of what I was feeling and it was liberating.
Second, I went on medication for depression and anxiety. The immediate improvement in my moods and eating behaviors convinced me that there was truly something wrong going on in my brain. It wasn’t just me being selfish and incompetent. I was suffering from a disease just like so many others, mine just happened to be one that much of our society views as a character flaw.
Once I had gained enough weight and was living more normally I started being more open about my past. To me, hiding in shame only made it seem like I chose that lifestyle. Willingly telling people that I had an eating disorder meant I knew that it was nothing to feel guilty about. And sharing my story with others helped spread the message.
While I certainly am not proud of my past and still internally struggle with some disordered thought, I have come to terms with my eating disorder and try to appreciate the positives that have come from it. I learned so much about myself, how I deal with stress, and how to keep myself happy and sane. I educated myself on health and nutrition and have made so many friends and “blends” through shared passions. And I hope that I can help others either with an eating disorder or that know someone with an eating disorder understand more about what they are going through.