Content Warning: eating disorder, recovery, anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, suicidal thoughts/tendencies, self-harm.
When I was in 5th grade, I remember seeing a picture of me and my teacher up in class. I looked at it and for the first time, I picked apart my appearance. I thought and felt so many negative things at once: my stomach was sticking out, I didn’t like my hair, I looked chubby. I remember taking the photo home with me and storing it in my room. I would look back at it periodically and analyze myself more each time.
I can’t recall where I learned this behavior at such a young age. Maybe it was watching my mom body check in the mirror or seeing countless skinny white girls on the TV shows I watched. Whatever it was, something in me told me I could fix it, I just had to not eat. I began to gradually restrict what I ate. During dinner with my family, I would say my head or stomach hurt as an excuse to leave and not touch my food. At lunch, I would give the lunches my mom made for me to my friends and tell her I ate it all. No one suspected that the little girl who was not even in middle school yet was capable of intentionally starving herself.
Around Christmas was when my family finally started to notice. I had lost a significant amount of weight by this point, but my parents brushed it off, assuming it was me losing ‘baby fat’. On Christmas evening, I said I didn’t feel good and excused myself from the table full of food that frankly horrified me to even look at. This time, however, I really did not feel good. I was shaky and dizzy and could barely stand. My parents checked on me a few hours later and saw me laying down pale and barely moving and rushed me to the ER. The doctor told them I was showing signs of anorexia, and they eventually took me to see a therapist.
One issue with going to therapy is that if you are not willing to help yourself, it will not work. I refused to talk to the therapist. I told her I just lost baby fat, and I was not “scared” of food like everyone thought. I would eat normally in front of my parents and would run around in my room and do excessive crunches in the middle of the night after to try to burn off what I ate. At this point, I didn’t just care about losing weight. I felt a rush from feeling hungry and not giving in, and I felt in-control of my body and how it looked for the first time. I thought of it as something I should be proud of, especially when everyone commented on how skinny I looked. Little did I know, I was just killing myself more and more each day.
Somehow, I managed to hide that I still had an eating disorder from my family until freshman year of high school. When you develop an eating disorder, you can also develop other issues with it. For me, I developed depression and anxiety. Once these started to affect my moods and day-to-day functioning, my parents knew something was up again. This time, I wanted help. The constant state of overthinking and obsessing about my body was weighing on me. I was exhausted mentally and physically. At a certain point, I didn’t even care if I lived anymore, and I honestly thought about ending my life more frequently than I should have. I started to criticize myself verbally out loud every single day in front of my family and have constant mood swings that strained my relationships with the people I loved. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without body checking and feeling like I could do with just losing a little more weight.
My parents sat me down and told me they wanted to put me in an eating recovery center. After a little meltdown, I thought it through and agreed. The treatment center was one of the best things I could have done for myself. I met other girls and boys from elementary to college who had the same issues I did. I didn’t feel alone anymore. My doctors put me on a diet to help me gain weight until I was healthy again. It wasn’t easy. There were times I had panic attacks from simply staring at a milkshake, or I would sob with the other patients about how much we hated our bodies. It took months before I could eat a piece of pizza without crying afterward. Recovery is not a straight uphill battle, and ups and downs are expected. But that is what makes having a mental illness and seeking help so amazing. Having the courage to face your own mind and being strong enough to keep going despite any issues along the way develops your confidence and mental health in a way no one can describe. I am an incredibly strong person because of what I had to go through; and even though it terrified me to do so, getting myself help let me finally develop into a person I can look at in the mirror and love unconditionally.