Hellooo, welcome. I wasn’t going to make my first post so personal but it happened to correspond with NEDA week so like, why not?(okay fine, it’s next week but I didn’t realize that until after I wrote this and I wanted to post it now soooo too bad). This years theme is “Let’s Get Real”. So, I’m about to go waaaaay out of my comfort zone and it’s about to get super uncomfy (probably just for me, but hey I don’t know, maybe for you too??) so let’s just dive in.
For those of you who don’t know, (I guess you haven’t seen my angry posts about diet culture??) I’m in recovery from an eating disorder. Real quick, lemme just say that I am not writing this for any sort of sympathy. I HATE that kind of thing. I’m writing this because there’s not enough awareness about eating disorders and everyone seems to think that unless you’re emaciated and on your death bed, you don’t have an eating disorder and I’m here to tell ya that’s DEFINITELY not the case.
ANYWAY, everyones first question when you mention having an eating disorder is always, oh which one? I don’t really understand the question– why does it matter? Regardless of which eating disorder you have, you’re suffering from the same inner turmoil and inability to properly cope with whatever it is you’re dealing with in life. The only difference is the manifestation of symptom use. And to be honest, in the 10 or so years that I had (have??? idk??) an eating disorder, I’ve pretty much run the gamut of symptoms. All suck equally, so I promise, it does not make a difference which one I had.
My eating disorder was like a toxic on again, off again relationship. When I think about it, it’s like we started to get to know each other in 8th grade, but things weren’t so serious. Then freshman year of high school, I got reeled in. It was very much the honeymoon phase. I did not see anything wrong with what I was doing and anyone who caught on, even a little bit, and voiced their concern was just going to get cut out of my life. We never got too serious during high school, but I kept ending it and then going back. I felt guilty for eating normally on the “off” months and so I’d return. Like I said, toxic relationship. Essentially:
*If you don’t like dark humor and memes, you can get off my blog.
The first few years of college were very much the same, still on/off again. I went into college telling myself that I wanted to enjoy my time and that I couldn’t let this thing ruin it for me. My high school grades were not up to my normal standards, and that was because all I was focused on was how much I was eating, when I was eating, how hungry I was, if I was going to work out, for how long, etc. I didn’t want to follow the same pattern in college. The problem is, you can only bury an issue for so long. Eventually, it’s going to resurface if you don’t face it.
So, fast-forward to my junior year of college. I was not in a good place (i.e. depression), for a bunch of reasons that need not be mentioned in a blog. An eating disorder is a coping mechanism. Something I feel like a lot of eating disorder awareness posts don’t mention is that they’re often (if not always?) accompanied by depression and anxiety. Which one comes first is unique to each person, but to be honest, I’m not sure that I know of someone with an eating disorder that does not suffer from depression and anxiety as well.
Anyway, a bunch of things going wrong in life plus a chemical imbalance in your brain (thanks genetics!) does not make for a good mix. And when your go-to coping mechanism since the start of puberty has been an eating disorder, and ya haven’t dealt with the underlying reasons for that, it’s inevitable that you’re going to return to it.
I had honestly thought that I was done with that stage of my life. Little did I know, it was about to take off at full speed. Towards the end of my fall semester of junior year, I just couldn’t deal anymore. Symptom use seemed like the only solution. It was pretty casual at first. Relationship wasn’t committed yet, we were just seeing each other again. But obviously, I got attached.
This brings me to spring semester of my junior. Lemme preface this with a HUGE shoutout to my roommates and family for dealing with me. Those were some dark times. And let me tell ya, my 21st birthday corresponding with a relapse did not make for a good mix. 0/10 do not recommend.
To continue my super lame analogy, essentially went head first into this relationship, probably got engaged. It wasn’t good. How I got through the semester is still unclear. I don’t want to go into too much detail because that might contain some unnecessary potential triggers, but let’s just say that I was not having a fun time, I drank too much for the little amount that I was consuming, and it’s still shocking that I had friends at the end of it.
I was trying to handle it on my own, but that wasn’t exactly working. I had tried all semester to get a grip on things and it just continued to get worse instead (shocker!). I should have known that I couldn’t handle it on my own considering how long this had been going on, but I’m stubborn and therapy sounded like my version of hell. By April, I was at the end of my rope and finally ready to concede and admit that I needed some help. I contacted an eating disorder treatment center and scheduled an intake.
In spite of all of that, I honestly still did not think that this was *that* big of a problem. This is something about eating disorders that a lot of people don’t understand. It’s very easy to minimize what’s going on. Especially with diet culture and everything in the media. You’re always going to think, “I’m not skinny enough”, “I’m not sick enough for treatment”, “This is just a diet”, etc. When I called for my phone intake, I honestly expected that they would tell me that I needed some form of outpatient treatment–probably just regular outpatient but *maybe* IOP if anything. (For those of you don’t know IOP= intensive outpatient. You go to treatment 3x a week and eat one meal and have group therapy). I was beyond shocked when they told me I needed residential treatment. I think I asked the intake person at LEAST 6 times if I’d be the fattest person there. Yay body dysmorphia!
Here’s the thing. A lot of people with eating disorders are desperately trying to be in control of their lives. When you’re in the eating disorder, it feels like you’re in control of it, but once you reach a certain point, the eating disorder is in control. Even then, it’s SO easy to convince yourself that you can fix this on your own if you wanted to. When you think you’re in control, even if you logically know that you have a problem, it’s so easy to downplay. Even on my way to residential treatment I was thinking to myself, “This is ridiculous. I bet I’ll get there and be able to eat completely fine and they’ll wonder why I’m even there.”
***Also, quick side note, I felt completely insane for having to go to a residential facility for treatment. I was super embarrassed by it and to be honest, I still am a little bit, but it shouldn’t be embarrassing to receive the help that you need, which is why I’m talking about it.***
Here’s the short form of my first stint in treatment: I was not ready for it, I did not want to be there, and I was angry at everyone. People often think you can just go to treatment and be cured, but that’s not the case. Spoiler alert: Three weeks in a treatment center won’t cure 10 years of an eating disorder.
I mentioned before that I’m stubborn and that’s a huge factor throughout this whole ordeal. I’m stubborn and I had an internship setup for June. I told every member of my treatment team that no matter what, I would be out of this place in time to start my internship. They all gave me the cliche line, “Whatever you put in front of your recovery you will lose.” That wasn’t what I wanted to hear and so I stopped listening. On top of that, they assigned me a therapist who was leaving for a new job a week into my stay, so really, I wasn’t being set up for success.
I recently read some Facebook messages I sent to friends while I was in there, and it’s insane to see what my frame of mind was. I was not thinking clearly, I truly still thought I didn’t have a problem, and that the only thing they were doing at residential was making me “fat”. Quick visual representation of me reading those messages after I got past how cringe-y they were:
So, I left after 3 weeks, even though the suggested stay is usually 4. I did a week and a half of day treatment, started my internship, and did IOP at night. Looking back, I wasn’t really in recovery. I maintained my weight because they were monitoring me in IOP, but I wasn’t ready to let go. Needless to say, the day after I discharged and returned to school for the fall semester of my senior year, I started to relapse.
I tried to convince myself to stay in recovery using the same logic I’d used during my freshman year– you don’t want to ruin your last year of college. The problem was that it wasn’t in my control. Recovery felt too hard and I couldn’t handle my weight restored body. I’d gone through the motions of treatment, gained the weight, ate the food, but I didn’t really put my all into therapy.
I thought I’d be able to just relapse a little bit. I told myself that if I only lost a little weight, or used symptoms a little bit, I could make it to graduation without issue. But a little is never enough when it comes to eating disorders and I wasn’t in control.
So, I spiraled pretty quickly. I was the most miserable that I’d ever been in my life. I wanted to eat more, but I couldn’t do it. People often ask, “Why don’t you just eat more?” But, if it was that simple I obviously would. The doctor at Quinnipiac said that to me many times and it took a lot for me not to go off on him. Speaking of which, Quinnipiac is not equipped to handle eating disorders, which is not okay considering that they’re highly prevalent in college-aged students. It’s really not acceptable.
I couldn’t focus on school, or really anything other than how many calories I was eating, when I’d allow myself to eat them, and all of that BS. I had no idea how I was going to make it through the semester AND pass. I figured I’d just push through, like I had the semester before. But this time was even worse, which just goes to show, if you think you’ve reached rock bottom, you can always dig yourself a little deeper. So, I left campus on November 6th (after harassing administration and all of my professors and making them guarantee that I could still graduate on time, because again, I am stubborn AF) and admitted to Renfrew Philadelphia for the second time that year on November 10th (might write another blog on this place because I got some STORIES from my time there).
I was not happy to be there, but I was so worn down and so sick of myself and my eating disorder that I decided to give it an actual shot this time. I stayed for 5 weeks, and even though I had my ups and downs while there, I got a lot more out of it than I did the first time. I then did a month of day treatment, which was super helpful and something I definitely should’ve done the first time around instead of the 2 weeks I actually did. Followed that up with like 3 months of IOP, which was a little unnecessary, but it was good to have that as a check when I returned to school for spring semester.
It’s now been 2 years since that time and I would say that I’m in recovery. Definitely have bad days from time to time but it’s pretty good for the most part. I use staying in law school as my motivation because let’s be real, I could not do this with an eating disorder.
If you’re starting recovery, my advice would be to take it one day at a time. It does get easier, even though it doesn’t feel that way. Also, I’m always down to talk so never hesitate to reach out.
NEDA Hotline: 1-800-931-2237
P.S. Can we all promise to keep the theme from last years NEDA week going and not post before photos? Because C’MON, we all know that they’re triggering AF.