2017 has been a long year for you, hasn’t it? It’s been a lot at once, which is what you normally tell people in order to keep yourself out of the pity pit. It’s not hard necessarily, but it has been a lot.
First came the tidal wave of depression; you were let go from a job unexpectedly, after only working there for a month, and in the same week were emotionally blindsided by a personal decision that hurt more than you thought it would. You didn’t want to get out of bed, your mind either in the twilight zone or going completely blank. You knew it was bad when you didn’t even want to write, but forced yourself to in order to keep track of what was or wasn’t going on inside your head so that you’d be taken seriously.
Then came the diagnosis: a combination of clinical depression and anxiety, which you were given medication for by a caring and helpful psychiatrist. Simultaneously, you got real with your counselor and admitted that you’ve been battling an eating disorder since college (or perhaps even longer than that). Definitely bulimia, and you’re not sure if it’s anorexia or something called Restrictive Avoidant Food Intake Disorder. Labels aside, you haven’t been healthy for a long time, although I know you’re hesitant about calling yourself “sick” or saying that you have a disease. You’re afraid to refer to it as “my eating disorder” because you don’t want it to become your identity, even though you might struggle with this for the rest of your life.
Saying it out loud was more than a relief. It was comforting to finally know the exact nature of the battle you’ve been fighting, though admitting that you wanted and needed help was only half of it. A lot of people don’t realize that properly addressing mental health struggles isn’t just about overcoming stigma. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking medicine, getting counseling, or going into a treatment program, because it’s no one else’s business how you choose to take care of yourself. But what happens if you get evaluated, only to be told that no hospital or recovery center in the state will take your insurance? How should you respond when the initial hospital tells you “oh, we don’t do charity” when inquiring about scholarships? What if heaven forbid, you just can’t afford certain things financially, but aren’t sure how to make the most of the resources that you do have?
It takes one hell of a person to keep fighting when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and you did just that. You went to, and continue going to meetings despite being terrified of the judgement you might face because of the unconventional way you go about the recovery journey. You asked for guidance, but trusted your intuition enough to set boundaries when you sensed that people were either trying to oversimplify what you’re going through (“just eat more and you’ll be fine!”) or trying to fix you to the extreme (unprofessionally diagnosing, imparting shame instead of grace, and insinuating that their way of recovery is the only way). You’ve grown in your relationship with God because of how you’ve had to lean on Him in the tough moments: crying out during a coughing/gagging fit, learning how to breathe and meditate after a large meal when your stomach feels weird, and allowing yourself to rest when your body is tired, rather than force it to work out.
Asking for support is challenging because you’re not entirely sure what that looks like. Six months ago you asked friends and family to be patient with you, allowing you to be human and imperfect as you navigate this path. Sometimes you need to vent and get your feelings off your chest so you’re not isolating yourself emotionally. Sometimes you just want a hug or a hand on your shoulder while your grit your teeth through the urge to engage in behaviors. But it’s also nice when people take the initiative and offer to attend a meeting with you or ask questions in order to learn more about eating disorders, anxiety, and so on. Education over ignorance always, even if it starts with, “I have no idea what this is and I want to learn more.”
Honey, I am so unbelievably proud of you, both for who you’ve become and who you’re growing into. You might have been through hell (and sometimes it still feels that way), but at the same time you’ve embraced who you are and feel more like yourself than ever before. You’ve learned that it’s not just about loving your body and the amazing things it can do, but recognizing you’re more than that. You have a big heart, filled with compassion and love and kindness. You have a curious mind and a sense of adventure, always wanting to explore new places and create new memories. You’re deep, genuine, and real, willing to talk about life in a way that is actually a gift. And you have so much to give beyond what you’ve been told or taught.
It’s hard for me not to get emotional as a write this; you’ve spent most of your life not wanting to believe these things for the sake of being humble, but there’s a big difference between humility and not giving yourself enough credit. Doing the best you can doesn’t mean that you’ll always do the right thing, but give yourself permission to make mistakes, and then you do the next right thing. One at a time, one foot in front of the other.
You might think you’re not justified in sharing your story because it’s not typical, but that’s actually the opposite. Not only do you have every right to talk about it so that you don’t go it alone, but the world needs to know that eating disorders can and do tend to have many layers. They can develop regardless of gender, ethnicity, or size. They can stem from trauma and anxiety, where everything builds up and nearly consumes you. And the root is often perfectionism, or the fear of not being enough. For you it was never about gaining or losing weight, but feeling like your body (and mind) had to be perfect because it was the sole focus of your life. And that’s why recovery is just as much about the emotional and psychological as it is about the physical.
But know that you can talk about it as little as much as you want, and you don’t have to do it until you’re ready.
Alyxandra Rose, know that you are LOVED. So loved more than you can even comprehend. You’ve got this, darling. Even on the days when you think you don’t, you’re strong and tough and capable. We’re in this together, you and me and everybody who has stepped up to root for you and support you.
With all that I am,
Alyx (the you on a good day)