A lot of people wonder what it’s like to have anorexia, but I know all too well. My eating disorder and I coexisted for five years (age 11-16). I can’t separate the beginning or the end in my head but I recovered eventually. There were also a lot of pharmaceuticals, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners, and psychiatric nurses. I did outpatient and day treatment. I was able to get myself up to a maintenance weight before I was discharged and became a productive, working adult. Now that I’m well, I take every opportunity I can to educate people about eating disorders because there are a lot of misconceptions.
Not just a numbers game
The absence of visible symptoms is not the most accurate measure of someone’s recovery from this disease. Weight is a physical thing, but anorexia also resides firmly in the psyche.
Anorexia is like having the person who hates you the most, the most irrational tyrant you can imagine, living in your head rent-free, trying to burn down your physical foundation from the inside out. It’s an interminable abusive relationship that’s nearly impossible to leave because it transpires in your own mind. Those voices can cause problems before the weight loss starts to show.
There is no magic number on the scale that can insulate you from the risk of getting behind the wheel of a car when your blood sugar is low from hunger and you’re exhausted from an exercise binge. It’s precarious at all points. My disease manifested before I was at risk of this, but it’s something I keep in mind in terms of why I absolutely cannot relapse. I protect myself by participating in a support group and maintaining open dialogue with professionals who now what I went through. The misery of active illness is that it feels like nobody really understands the battle in which you are an unwilling participant.
You’re So Vain (and must be secretly judging me too)
There is a misconception that Anorexia is always about improving one’s physical appearance and that it’s a vanity disease. That might be the case for some other women, I can only speak to my own journey. I don’t think starvation made me more attractive. Even when I feel “fat,” it’s with a recognition that “fat” is a stand-in word for a feeling I can’t name appropriately. Anorexia for me was about how much space I gave myself permission to occupy, and a desire to disappear. I was experiencing a trauma response paired with a form of dysmorphia. I couldn’t see myself.
I still have trouble looking in the mirror and seeing where my body ends. This makes buying clothing challenging. I can see myself in photos for some reason and I rely on people in my life to point out changes in my body because I lack that spatial awareness. It’s like parallel parking blindfolded. I remember an exercise we did where we had to draw our bodies full size and then we were traced on the same paper and I was shocked at the disparity. As much as Anorexia skewed my self perception, it did not affect how I saw others.
People think the self imposed judgments of anorexia are standards we hold other people to, which is simply not the case. I don’t know how many times I have heard “If you think you’re fat, you must think I’m huge.” Nothing could be further from the truth, because it’s not about you. It’s about me and how I feel about me. I remember even when I was sick I wouldn’t wish my condition on my worst enemy.
“Why don’t you just eat something?”
If only it was that simple. At no point would just eating something make me better but I made a choice to participate in my own recovery. Without that will, doctors could sustain life but I was not able to thrive until I gave myself permission to move on.
Moving on is on a sliding scale. The reality is that there is long term damage from this disease. I get to explain to every new dentist why my enamel is gone (co-morbid bulimia). As much as I would like to forget about it all, there are things that remind me of that time. I don’t always notice growing hunger so I have to map and plan my food. I’m either not hungry or excruciatingly starving and must eat immediately. I’m also still learning to love myself.
The cornerstone in my recovery is love. It is the love of my little boy that motivates me to stay healthy, learn and model good habits, and keep myself safe so I can keep him safe. This post is my 15-year marker since I decided to give life another chance and I’m blessed by the life I was able to bring into this world, my son who inspires me to a be a better, healthier mommy.
If you would like information on treatment options available, consult the NEDICwebsite.
This post originally appeared on Sparkly Shoes and Sweat Drops.
About the author: Alison Tedford is a data analyst and freelance writer. She volunteers as an eating disorder support group facilitator. She blogs on Sparkly Shoes and Sweat Drops.