One month ago, was the first time I publicly wrote about my experience with an eating disorder. (It’s on Lane 9 if you want to check it out.) I was incredibly nervous about it. What are people who have known me for years, but didn’t know this, going to think? Will people treat me differently? What if it prevents me from getting a job?
The nagging worries were relentless during the entire writing, editing and posting process. About 10 minutes after I posted it on Facebook (and I got my first couple comments) I realized, these thoughts are exactly why I needed to write this. People needed to understand what living with an eating disorder is like: the constant hiding, the relentless thoughts about food, the inability to get dressed in the morning, how you dread mirrors, the way too many times you have to explain your history to doctors, the feeling that this is something to be ashamed of, the shear fear of normal, everyday things.
So I published it, I responded to dozens of comments, texts and messages and a month later I decided I had more work to be done. Each month a post on this blog will be dedicated to exploring what life with an eating disorder is like. Some stories will be mine, but eating disorders affect all of us differently and I’d love to hear your stories. If you have your own experience that you would like to share please let me know via email or submitting a comment on the contact page.
So here goes…
First off I want to apologize to anyone named ED. I promise I don’t hate you, I don’t even hate your name…it’s just your name happens to be the acronym for eating disorder (so I maybe hate your name a little).
Anyway, four years ago, when I first began the process of recovery, a friend suggested I give my eating disorder (all the feelings, thoughts, actions, etc. that normal me wouldn’t do) a name. That way I could separate myself from the eating disorder more easily. I agreed, and in one of my least creative moments I chose to name my E.D., ED.
By the time I was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, ED and I had spent a good two years becoming acquainted. Unlike a friend (or even a normal enemy), however, he rarely left me alone. He was like a roommate that also happened to go to the bathroom, dining hall, class, grocery store and sometimes he even stuck around for the first few miles of a run with me (he’s never made it to 26.2 though). He would go on vacation if I managed to give him a big boot, but he always seemed to sneak back at the most inopportune times, like when I was trying to get dressed for class…
Shirts and shorts lay scattered across my shared, 10X12 ft room. A mixture of socks and ill-fitting underwear covered the desk in front of me. The time was 8:58, class started at 9:05, and I was currently wearing white ankle socks, boat shoes, a very large, light blue T-shirt and nothing else. Good to go, right?
I hadn’t woken up late and this situation wasn’t new. In the past hour I had tried on dozens of combinations of clothes. I had yanked on too-tight collars, wrestled with restricting waist-bands, felt exposed in summer time dresses, only to land on this: a t-shirt and pair of shoes.
“Nothing fits,” I told my shoes, the only article of clothing that felt right. “Can I just go to class like this?:
Without waiting for a response (probably a good thing since I had 7 minutes and shoes don’t typically talk back) I sank down on to the cool, tiled floor and put my head between my knees, frustration steaming from all my edges.
“I’m too fat for clothes,” I told my shoes in a cracked voice.
Despite whatever reality might be to an outsider, the statement for me was pure fact. If a shirt touched my stomach, then it felt too small and pants…pants were too much to think about. Were they supposed to be tight? baggy? have a belt? reach my ankles? Dresses and skirts were normally good, but I’d given up on those with the prospect of biking to class ahead of me.
Unfortunately this scene was not unusual. Throughout the first year of attempting to leave ED behind, my body had changed dramatically. I had grown taller and filled out in places I didn’t know needed filling. I could only barely see the outline of my ribs now and my neck was no longer swollen (although it was still my least favorite body part). My shoulders felt even broader and my legs always seemed to be asking for just a little bit more space inside my pants. I might not look that different to an outsider, but between my clothes and I, everything had changed.
The time was now 8:59. Six minutes to go. If you hadn’t eaten breakfast, you would fit into all these clothes, was the sound logic ED provided in times like these. I tried to shake it off. No matter what shape you are, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I told myself, eyes pressed tightly shut. (This conversation alone could go on for hours, my only saving grace was my determination never to miss a class.)
“That’s it,” I said aloud as my eyes opened wide, “I don’t care if I smell.”
Jumping to my feet, I reached toward my laundry basket an my roommates bottle of febreeze.
When people get stressed they gravitate toward familiar comforts. For many it’s a certain food or a favorite sweater. For me, when ED comes back, it was a very specific pair of very baggy, extra stretchy gray jeans and a dark blue striped shirt that I had owned since 7th grade and had somehow grown with me. It had tiny holes in the hem and deodorant had hardened the sleeves, but I love it still.
With just five minutes to go I pulled on my trusty outfit, pulled my bushy hair into a pony tail and took one long, deep breath while deliberately not looking in the mirror.
With my room left in shambles, ED and I were off to class. For the record, he was the one who smelled, not I.
Come back next month for more stories of Life with ED and submit your own via the contact page.
Q&A Show Question
A guest of yours said eating disorders are caused by anxiety. I understand that a nutritionist is needed to help with the damage caused by disordered eating but shouldn’t the root issue of anxiety be the focus of treatment, not the eating disorder itself? How is treatment of ED different from how another anxiety disorder like obsessive compulsive behavior or panic attacks?