National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016

Today marks the 6th day of NEDAW this year, and I’ve been silently watching all of the posts of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Thankfully, I have seen this link about how low weight pictures don’t help to raise awareness for eating disorders going around more than I have seen any “before and after” pictures.

Most years, I’ve been right in the thick of it too, changing my profile picture of Facebook, tweeting statistics about how eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and how research and treatment for eating disorders are severely underfunded. This year, however, I’ve kept quiet.

I have been afraid to say what I want to say, but right now, seeing as I have the worst case of laryngitis that I’ve had in a long time and feel very silenced, it feels appropriate (and necessary) for me to share this.

In the Fall, my health got pretty bad. I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism, and I was referred to a gastoenterologist to deal with the gastro symptoms. I was gaining weight and having migraines all the time. My class attendance was pitiful, and I nearly failed a class because of it. My depression came back and hit me like a freight train, and I was very isolated. I wasn’t eating much – primarily because I didn’t feel good and before my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I would often get physically sick when I would eat. As the semester progressed, my health started to improve little by little, but my eating stayed the same. I started using being sick as an excuse for restricting, and I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing until I went home for Christmas break and my eating got even worse. I convinced myself that I still just wasn’t feeling very good, and once I got back for my last semester of classes, things would be much better.

Shortly after I got back, I realized that I was fooling myself, and that I was trapped in a downward spiral and I needed more help than I was getting. I found myself sitting back in the living room of Monte Nido at Laurel Hill admitting that I had been out of residential for almost two years, and I was struggling. It was an incredibly humbling experience, because the last time I had sat in that room, I’d announced that I thought I could safely call myself Recovered. As I looked around the room, I saw the faces of girls who’s worlds had shrunk so small, and I remembered that’s where I was two years ago too.

I thought to myself, “I might be struggling right now, but it’s so much different than this.” I realized that I was living into a pattern that had been developed over the years. Every two years for the past decade of my life, I would end up in treatment of some sort.

2006 was the year of experimental medications, crisis counseling, and Children’s Aid referrals.

2008 was the year I was referred to the Eating Disorders Program at my local hospital.

2010 was Mercy Ministries.

2012 was Credit Valley Hospital Day Program.

2014 was Monte Nido, Cambridge Eating Disorder Center, and Eating Disorder Center of Andover.

2016…is the year I’m graduating from college with my Bachelor’s in Social Work.

So…after I realized this, I realized I had to reach out for more support. I had to use my voice and actively choose to break that pattern. I spoke with my wonderful dietitian with whom I had broken up last May, and I’ve now been seeing her again for a short time. She’s providing me with just a little bit of external accountability and a lot of ass-kicking. She downright refuses to call my slip a relapse. According to her, I stubbed my toe and I just have to remember that I can walk again without it hurting.

And I remember now. I remember why I am doing this. I remember why I chose to fight so hard two years ago.

I’ve got a life to live. On behalf of the (probably more than) 7% of eating disorder sufferers who die from their illnesses, of the families who lose loved ones, of the 60% of people with eating disorders who don’t have access to treatment.

I’ve got a life to live. Because of Kelly, and Amanda, and Rachel, and Moriah, and Alyson, and Sandra, and Karl, and all of the other friends and family members I’ve lost to their mental illnesses.

I’ve got a life to live. For my future clients, for the people who will hear my story and find hope.

I’ve got a life to live. For all the people who love me and have supported me all the way through this process. For all the people I’ve hurt along the way, and all the ones who gave up on me and told me I’d never make it out alive.

Most importantly, I’ve got a life to live. For me. Because I deserve to live. I deserve a life filled with joy, freedom, laughter, and hope. I deserve to live to feel the pain of heartbreak and to put the pieces back together again. I deserve love and be loved, and to one day, hold my children in my arms and rock them to sleep.

The theme for this NEDA Week is  “3 Minutes Can Save A Life”, and it’s true. The first step to getting to where I am today is recognizing the issue and reaching out for help. No one deserves to live through the hell that I did before I finally got adequate treatment. So if you think you, or anyone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, click here. Get screened. It’s worth 3 minutes of your time.

Choosing recovery was the hardest choice I ever had to make, and sometimes I still need small reminders of why I chose it in the first place, but I am here to say that my life is so much bigger than I ever could have imagined.

I am living the future that I dreamed of for my whole life, but never believed I would actually attain.

And if I can do it, so can you.

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At the Ice Castle in Lincoln, NH yesterday afternoon! So much fun!

**Feel free to contact me if you would like additional resources or just a listening ear. I would love to hear from you!**

Sometimes you look back, and everything is different.

I’ve been trying for a week now to reflect on the school year through the lens of eating disorder recovery, and I haven’t been able to write anything cohesive. At first, I got so frustrated by that, but I just realized that is actually huge progress.

I have no desire to associate myself, my life, or my current experiences with an eating disorder. It actually makes me really sad, and sometimes angry, to hear people talk about their eating disorders. In the thick of it, I didn’t realize how small my world was, and to have to shrink my experiences this year down to the size of an eating disorder feels excrutiating.

It amazes me exactly how much can change in a single year when you finally commit to doing the real work. A year ago, I was basing my identity in my eating disorder, in the amount of days insurance approved me for in treatment each time, in how many people checked up on how I was doing or if I was struggling with any disordered thoughts or behaviours. Now, none of that matters to me. Today, what matters is the quality of the relationships that I am choosing to maintain, my physical health, how actively I am practicing self-care, my education, snuggly babies and puppies, and whether the choices I am making are alligning myself with my future goals.

I still remember, of course. I remember life with my eating disorder, and I will admit that I sometimes romanticize it a bit. I sometimes get urges, but I never consider actually acting on them. I don’t know that I could ever forget, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.

This Monday marks the beginning of finals week at my school. This is a significant milestone for me, because for the first time in my Gordon College career, I am completing a full school year, and I am not taking incompletes for the first semester ever. I am two presentations and two exams away from my first completed school year. I used to believe that I couldn’t succeed in school unless I was sick, and this disproves that belief. I am well, and I am doing well.

I hesitate to call myself recovered because I haven’t even been out of treatment for a full year, but I cannot fathom ever returning to the depths of chaos and despair that is an eating disorder. I’m too busy living my life now. I don’t have time for that.

Now, I’m going to go grocery shopping for a picnic at the beach tomorrow. That, my friends, is how I know that I am well.

Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, MA (where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow! Heck yes!) (photo credit: pinterest.com)