Someone once asked me if I regret my eating disorder. My response to that question? No. No, I do not regret my eating disorder.
I do not regret my eating disorder because my eating disorder was not a choice. Like anyone who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, am I sad I had an eating disorder? Yes, of course. But I cannot regret something that was beyond my control.
Yes, anorexia is not cancer. But it is a deadly illness, and it can be brutal. The stigma associated with mental health is something I am fighting to break down. In my first few years of recovery, I hid my past like a skeleton in the closet. Even today, almost 6 years later, I find myself self-conscious about my history, being careful not to mention it in the workplace or in certain social circles (such as in my graduate program, for example). I want people to take me seriously at work, and for some reason having a history of a physical and mental illness might hinder my success.
I’m sick of brushing who I am, and what I have experienced, under the rug ashamedly. My own husband doesn’t even know much about this dark time in my life, mostly because it is understood between us that it’s over, in the past, and is not often spoken about.
I’m not saying I want to talk about it all the time, or even often at all. In fact, I quite like being “normal” (whatever that even means) and feeling like I am finally in a good place with my health and my body. However, I am tired of feeling like if I slip at work or at school and say something that might hint of my past, something horrible will happen or people will think lesser of me. When I hear women I know complain about calories and love handles and expect me to commiserate with them, part of me is flattered that they think I’m “one of them”, but moments like these make me uncomfortable—not because I am unhappy with my body, but because I respect my body and what it has been through, and I don’t want to participate in negative self-talk with women I respect.
I honestly don’t know what the true purpose of this post is, other than to say that I’m tired of hiding who I am. I don’t regret my eating disorder. Not for one second. I know that may seem inconceivable to some, but what I went through 6 years ago made me into the strong, capable, successful woman I am today.
Don’t get me wrong, those months (years, really, with mini-relapses in between) were the most excruciating times both physically and mentally. I was so skinny and weak I couldn’t sit on a chair without my tailbone bruising. I denied myself of all nourishment and forced myself to run 5 miles on the treadmill until I felt like I might faint. When I finally allowed myself to be admitted into the hospital, my heart rate was so low that I was told I might not make it through the night. And the sad thing is, I hated myself so deeply and viscerally in that moment, and I was so exhausted by life itself, that I didn’t WANT to wake up.
But I did. I woke up that next morning. And the next, and the next. And I thank God, and my family, for believing in me and pulling me through, even when I failed to believe in myself. Without hitting absolute rock bottom both physically and mentally, I wouldn’t be able to truly appreciate where I am today. I wouldn’t have the relationship I have with my parents if they hadn’t quite literally saved my life.
Now, when my husband tells me I am beautiful, and looks at me with such sincerity and tenderness, I can BELIEVE him. I wouldn’t be married today—to such a fantastic human being—if I hadn’t first been able to love and accept myself.
Am I perfect now? No, of course not. I still have days (lots of them, actually) when I find the negative self-talk creeping in. Days when I feel bloated, or I have a pimple on my chin, or my legs look a little thicker than I’d like. But even the worst of my days now is a million times better than my best day was when my life was consumed by my eating disorder.
I now use exercise as an aid to health, not a hindrance to it. I run because I love the feel of the air on my face, the sunshine on my back, and the strength of my muscular legs moving me forward. I no longer feel the “need” to work out every day, and I don’t need to go run a mile to negate every slice of cake or pizza I have when I’m out with friends.
I still consider myself to be “in recovery”. I don’t know if I will ever be truly “recovered”, only because I feel it is important to be aware of my past, and my relapses, and stay on top of my health and weight just in case.
But I will say that I am the heaviest weight I have ever been (in fact, I am a solid 45 pounds heavier than I was at my darkest hour), but I am also the healthiest and happiest I have ever been. I have a husband who loves me as I am, through the good days and bad. I have friends who care about me, both new and old. To the friends who were there when I was destroying myself—you know who you are—THANK YOU. Thank you to my college roommates who emailed my mom their concern for me—that truly was the start on the path to recovery.
Thank you also to the treatment team who pushed me harder than I thought I could go. Without the professional treatment I received, both inpatient and outpatient, I wouldn’t have the happy, full life I have today. And thank you, first and foremost, to my parents. Mom and Dad – you are the two most treasured people in my life, and I thank God every single day for the honor it is to be your daughter.
My hope is that someday, the stigma surrounding mental illness will be completely removed. We won’t judge each other or think of others as “weak” because they needed professional help. People won’t be afraid to speak openly about the experiences, both good and bad, that define them.