The fourth Thursday of every November is a time to give thanks. It is a day where we spend time with our friends and family and give thanks for what we are extremely blessed to have. It is a time when people gorge themselves on food and stuff their faces full of turkey, corn bread, stuffing, pies and any other family recipes. People are full, they are satisfied and happy. Thanksgiving is my worst nightmare.
I have been living with an eating disorder for as long as I can remember. I have a vivid memory of standing in my ballet class at the ripe old age of four and thinking to myself that my stomach was too big. Four years old. Most four year olds do not even know what they are eating, much less how much they are eating. As I grew up and went off to high school and college, I was mentally and physically very ill. For me, my body defined who I was and what I was worthy of. My body image was the end all, be all. I did not think I was worthy of eating and if I did eat, I felt immense shame and guilt. These feelings led me to force myself to throw up, resulting in an ever-lasting cycle of Anorexia and Bulimia.
My world came crashing down during my senior year of high school. I refused to admit that I needed help. I felt strong and powerful. The less I ate and the more I threw up, the more love I had for myself. If I could make Ed happy (my eating disorder) that was all that mattered. I got a high from harming myself and putting my body in so much danger. The more weight I lost, the happier Ed was with me. You know when your parents say, “We’re not mad, we’re disappointed,” and you instantly feel terrible? If I ate something, Ed would be extremely disappointed and I would feel terrible. It was worse than letting down my parents. I had let a controlling voice in my head take over my entire life. I alienated myself from my friends and family. I never attended outings where I knew food would be present, and most of all, I continued to kill myself. Numerous doctors told me my heart would stop beating and I would die. The more times I heard that, the more I felt accomplished. I was impressing Ed and that was all that mattered.
After numerous fainting spells, months of harming myself and years of an internal struggle, I was forced to go to an in-patient rehabilitation facility. I was furious. I hated my parents and most of all, I hated myself for letting down Ed. I like to describe it as the hell that saved my life. I was pushed to my mental, physical and emotional breaking point each and every day. I was forced to talk about my feelings rather than hide them with food. This was extremely scary to me, as I had been hiding behind food for the past 13 years of my life. I was ashamed of myself and felt as though no one would understand. I was so ashamed to admit that I was weak enough to give into something so powerful and so controlling. I was ashamed that I had wasted 13 precious years trying to be something that I was not.
I would be lying to everyone reading this if I had said that I eat enough each day and have not thrown up since being released from rehab almost three years ago. I would be lying if I said that I feel so much hope and courage in each and every day. Most of all, I would be lying if I said that I am still ashamed of myself. I still struggle with my eating disorder every single day; I still find it hard to grasp the hope and courage to get through the day knowing that I am good enough. However, I am not ashamed of myself. I no longer go through the day embarrassed about my struggles because I know they do not define who I am as a person. That annoying, controlling, manipulative, pessimistic and selfish voice in my head will NEVER control me again.
I never imagined I would be able to share my story. I never imagined that I would come out of these struggles and this hell as a better and stronger person. That is the funny thing about mental health. It changes you. It gives you a new perspective on life and forces you to dig deeper, to find more meanings of life and to know that each and every day holds something new. People who struggle with mental health are not crazy, they are not scary and they are sure not bad people. They are people who know the hell, the suffocation, the frustration and the ever-lasting feelings of guilt, shame and remorse.
This past Thanksgiving, I remember sitting down at the table and taking a deep breath. A few moments before, I had cried in my bathroom, fearing that the huge dinner I would eat would make me feel guilt and shame. As my family and I cleared off the table hours later, Ed was nowhere in sight or in my mind.