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TW: ED, anorexia
When I was 17 years old, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. In the span of 4 months, I’d lost 20% of my body weight. What started as me trying to eat more healthfully resulted in a compulsive obsession with caloric intake and staying small. Though most noticed a physical change in me, anorexia lived entirely in my mind.
After 5 years of working toward recovery and relapsing twice, I decided I’d had enough. If I’m being honest, it was probably a number of factors that made me decide to kiss my eating disorder goodbye: feeling sad that I’d wasted so much of my college career on my weight, watching a devastating documentary about Amy Winehouse, or wanting to be a better example for my younger sisters… I don’t know. But I worked toward a better relationship with food. And that wasn’t the hardest part.
The hardest part, in fact, was learning who I was without my eating disorder. For so long I was identified as the small one, the one with will power, or sometimes even “the sick one.” And I liked those identities, because none of them showed anyone who I really was: deeply flawed, but amazingly human. So much of us hide behind our mental illness. That’s not at all to say that those illnesses aren’t real or that we can control them. What I mean is that so many of us use our illnesses as our identifiers, because getting to the root of our disorders is far scarier than just going along with them.
Why did I want to be small? It was probably because I felt I didn’t deserve to take up space. Why did I want to control what I ate? It was probably because my family life felt out of control. Why did I enjoy being “the sick one?” It was probably because it meant people would care about me and give me the attention I’d always wanted.
So when I started to put weight back on, it was like dealing with two issues at once: my anorexia and my sense of self. I’m still learning who I am. I decided on choosing real health over my illness, because I knew I had so much potential. Yes, it’d be easy to live within my toxic habits instead of confronting my own demons. But I’m confronting them now, and my life at times feels harder, but it is so much fuller.