An Open Letter to an Eating Disorder Survivor

An Open Letter to an Eating Disorder Survivor

From an Eating Disorder Survivor
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To all eating disorder survivors,

The physical pain is over. The days, months, or years of torment and mutilation you put your body through are over. Your strength was more powerful than your fears and you fought a fight so scary, it almost seems impossible to win. You did it, but that doesn't mean there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Though your physical state might be intact, your mental and emotional state may never be the same. There are certain aspects of your life that your eating disorder has changed forever and you might not know what those are, how they'll make you feel, or how you'll react to them. This letter is to recognize what some of those changes are, but more importantly, how they do not have to undermine the progress you have made.

*Disclosure: Not all of these are guaranteed. Some people might face all of them, some might face none, and some might face some not listed. None of this is scientific research, but based on my personal experience*

You might never forget how many calories, carbs, or fat are in certain foods, because you've memorized menus, recipes, and ingredient's nutritional information.

Your teeth might be stained slightly from the torture you put yourself through. Whenever you see your smile, it acts as a reminder of what you did to yourself, and there aren't enough whitening kits or filters in the world to change that.

You might not be able to step on a scale or use anything that associates weight with numbers. You might have to turn away and ask your doctor to not read the numbers out loud during annual visits.

You notice things in pictures that other people don't realize. When your Instagram feed floods with endearing comments from family and friends, you can't help but question if the picture was worth posting, or see the tiniest imperfection too small for anyone else to notice.

You might be embarrassed to admit you're still in therapy. Though you might not be physically harming yourself anymore, the emotional and mental toll the disease took on you in still relevant and you need that extra support… but you don’t want anyone to know.

You could have a difficult time accepting the weight you might have recently gained. The weight seemed like it took forever to come off, but is coming back quicker than expected… and that terrifies you.

Depending how long you've been a survivor, you might be scared to diet again. A lot of eating disorders start by attempting to better yourself, before it took a drastic turn. Gaining weight was scary, but losing weight could be even scarier.

There might be some foods you can't eat anymore because the taste of it reminds you of being sick.

You might associate memories with the damage your disease brought on or have flashbacks on certain holidays to the times you were sick and couldn’t enjoy those occasions.

All of these things are very possible, I know this because I face them, but this letter is to tell you that you are not alone.

I will always know that there are 150 calories in a bowl of Vanilla Almond Special K. My teeth are a tinted slightly yellow no matter how much I've tried to whiten them, and I hate having to defend why my teeth are my biggest insecurity. I have no idea what my weight is because I haven't been able to step on a scale since 2014, and I do ask my doctors to keep that information to themselves. I always criticize my photos before and after posting them. It's not that I don't like what I see entirely, it's that I see how round my face can look at my jaw line, or how my jeans hug my hips differently than they do to other girls. It's still difficult for me to talk about my days in therapy, but I know if I didn't have that support or gain the self-confidence therapy brought on I wouldn't be able to be so vocal about my story. When I first got better I was terrified at how quickly I was able to gain weight, but now 4 years into being a survivor I get scared to when I try to lose it. I cannot eat or even smell apple cider vinegar without being uncomfortable because it reminds me of when I used to take multiple shots of it daily because I read it could burn fat off faster. Every Easter is a reminder of the year I missed half of dinner because I locked myself in my aunt's bathroom, and every time I see a picture from my junior prom I remember my mom having to tape my dress to my body because I was too frail to support it.

Every survivor out there has a different story, but your story is important. It does not define you, but it did help shape you into who you are today. It does not make you weak, or fragile, and it does not have to fit into a mold of what society recognizes as an eating disorder. Whatever your struggles were and whatever they still could be you are not alone in this journey. If you share your story that's fine, if you prefer to keep it yourself that's fine. However you need to heal, you have to power to choose and control how that happens. So many eating disorders occur because we feel as though we've lost control of our lives in some dramatic way, but we can control the pain we inflict on ourselves and what we eat (or don't eat). But once you've beaten it, you'll realize that you are in control of your own destiny, and your life is one worth living.

I just hope that my story acts as a reminder that even though we might still have ghosts that haunt us, all eating disorder survivors are strong, are powerful, and are beautiful.

With all my love and support,

A bulimia survivor since 2014

Cover Image Credit: Google

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To All The Nurses In The Making

We tell ourselves that one day it'll all pay off, but will it actually?
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I bet you’re taking a break from studying right now just to read this, aren’t you? Either at the library with friends or in your dorm room. Wherever you may be, you never get the chance to put your books down, at least that’s how it feels to most of us. It sucks feeling like you’ve chosen the hardest major in the world, especially when you see other students barely spending any time studying or doing school work. The exclamation “You’re still here!” is an all too frequent expression from fellow students after recognizing that you’ve spent 10-plus hours in the library. At first it didn’t seem so bad and you told yourself, “This isn’t so difficult, I can handle it,” but fast-forward a few months and you’re questioning if this is really what you want to do with your life.

You can’t keep track of the amount of mental breakdowns you’ve had, how much coffee you’ve consumed, or how many times you’ve called your mom to tell her that you’re dropping out. Nursing is no joke. Half the time it makes you want to go back and change your major, and the other half reminds you why you want to do this, and that is what gets you through it. The thing about being a nursing major is that despite all the difficult exams, labs and overwhelming hours of studying you do, you know that someday you might be the reason someone lives, and you can’t give up on that purpose. We all have our own reasons why we chose nursing -- everyone in your family is a nurse, it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, you’re good at it, or like me, you want to give back to what was given to you. Regardless of what your reasoning is, we all take the same classes, deal with the same professors, and we all have our moments.

I’ve found that groups of students in the same nursing program are like a big family who are unconditionally supportive of each other and offer advice when it’s needed the most. We think that every other college student around us has it so easy, but we know that is not necessarily true. Every major can prove difficult; we’re just a little harder on ourselves. Whenever you feel overwhelmed with your school work and you want to give up, give yourself a minute to imagine where you’ll be in five years -- somewhere in a hospital, taking vitals, and explaining to a patient that everything will be OK. Everything will be worth what we are going through to get to that exact moment.

Remember that the stress and worry about not getting at least a B+ on your anatomy exam is just a small blip of time in our journey; the hours and dedication suck, and it’s those moments that weed us out. Even our advisors tell us that it’s not easy, and they remind us to come up with a back-up plan. Well, I say that if you truly want to be a nurse one day, you must put in your dedication and hard work, study your ass off, stay organized, and you WILL become the nurse you’ve always wanted to be. Don’t let someone discourage you when they relent about how hard nursing is. Take it as motivation to show them that yeah, it is hard, but you know what, I made it through.

With everything you do, give 110 percent and never give up on yourself. If nursing is something that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life, stick with it and remember the lives you will be impacting someday.

SEE ALSO: Why Nursing School Is Different Than Any Other Major

Cover Image Credit: Kaylee O'Neal

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12 Lessons Being The 'Sick Kid' Has Taught Me

It can be pretty awful at times, but the life lessons you learn are invaluable.

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Every school has that one person who looks completely fine, but suddenly misses 3 weeks in the middle of the semester because they've come down with some weird illness. Or maybe they were suddenly diagnosed with a new autoimmune disorder... Every. Single. Semester. Then they suddenly come back, maybe looking a little worse for wear, pushing through finals week only to spend the summer getting better.

It's definitely an interesting process for the people around them, but it's miserable for the person going through it. Your social life comes crashing down, some days you're in just too much pain to move, and yet you're expected to move through all of it so that you look "normal" to everyone around you. One or two of these episodes or illnesses may not be too bad, but once you've hit five or more, it goes from "wow this sucks" to "why does my body hate me so much? I've done absolutely nothing to cause this."

That being said, I wouldn't change my experiences with my health for the world. Sure, at least two of my health conditions could kill me if I wasn't careful and a third one causes absolutely horrific pain every now and again, but the lessons I've learned by being the"sick kid" have made me a better person.

1. No matter what a person looks like, they may be struggling—and being there to support them is vital

An Invisible disability can be anything from a food allergy to cancer, but as a general rule you would never be able to tell that they had health issues by just looking at them. Offering your support to those around you, even your acquaintances, can make a world of difference.

2. Pain is not a laughing matter

For the average person, pain fades quickly and doesn't occur too regularly; this means that when your friend is complaining about something like an upset stomach or a headache, you just tell them to take some ibuprofen and move on with your day. I was the exact same way until I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a rare nerve disorder where the pain exceeds childbirth according to the McGill University Pain Scale. Acknowledging that pain is real and important, regardless of its severity, is incredibly important to anyone hurting.

3. The smartest kid in the room may still need help with their academics

I've always excelled in school, so you would never guess that my grades tend to slip whenever I'm stressed, sick, or in pain. When a friendly acquaintance who sat in front of me in ethics took notes for me a week that I was sick, it truly helped more than anyone could have imagined. Even if someone doesn't look like they need it, offering them more resources will never hurt.

4. Fear isn't always rational, and that's okay

I've used needles for for my medical care. I have blood work every three months, poke myself with a big needle every seven days, and poke myself with a pretty small one every three. Thing is, after 18 years, I still almost pass out every time I see a needle coming my direction. So your fear of cats may be completely irrational, but so is my fear of needles—and that is completely fine.

5. Don't ever compare your struggles

I've been told more than once that I have too many diagnoses for someone who's only 21. I've been told by doctors that I've been dealt a bad hand, by nurses that they didn't usually see a medical list as long as mine at my age, by medical assistants that my medication list is complex... but I don't have cancer, right? I can still walk, too, so I shouldn't be complaining. Thing is, two problems can exist at once. My friend's sadness over her botched haircut is as equally valid as me crying over a new diagnosis. And that's okay.

6. What's easy for me may be hard for someone else

I can walk most of the times. I can hear very clearly. Unfortunately, I cannot regulate my body temperature very well. That's easy for most people, but I need to take extra precautions in certain weather conditions because of this. Just like I have problems with something that people tend to consider simple, other people may struggle with reading, gardening, or playing certain video games. Rather than getting frustrated, it's better to offer them help and understand that it may take them a little longer.

7. Just listening can go a long way

Let's be honest here: unless you've lived through it, you'll never understand it. This goes for anything. Rather than talking about you're grandmother's second-cousin's uncle's step-son who herded cattle and went through something vaguely similar, just letting the person know you're there can work wonders. If you feel as if the problem is too much for you an your friend to tackle alone, suggesting classroom accommodations, mental health specialists, nonprofit support groups, or even Facebook groups can help show that you're listening and invested in their well being.

8. Ask before touching

Physical touch can be very painful for me some days. As much as I would love to hug you and congratulate you on your promotion, I need to watch out for my health and safety. I don't know what someone's been through, if they may have any medical implants that hurt when I press on them, or if they may have allodynia; even if I've been friends with them for years, asking if I can touch them is a way to avoid hurting both them and our friendship.

9. The smallest actions make the biggest impacts

When I'm stuck in bed, at another specialist's office, or waiting to hear back about imaging, getting a silly little GIF or a phone call from a friend makes all the difference in the world. It can make me smile while crying, get me engaged when I'm otherwise horribly upset, and remind me that someone's thinking about me when I feel otherwise alone. By taking 30 seconds out of my day to touch in with those I care about, I can help them feel loved as well.

10. Not everyone is going to be understanding or helpful—but I should always be

Ever since middle school, I've personally faced incidences where doctors, teachers, and peers have shrugged off my health concerns. Even when I had a doctor's note stating that I needed to be on bed rest for several weeks after surgery, many of the people around me were unwilling to acknowledge that I needed help or even that the bed rest was necessary. Even if I don't necessarily understand the circumstances, offering a helping hand is the right thing to do in any circumstance.

11. The "real world" WILL help you

In high school, my teachers would always say that the "real world" wouldn't help you if you couldn't keep up. Well, surprise, it did. The real world is more strict with deadlines, but there are also more people willing to offer you their support if you're looking in the right spots. When people have a shared goal, they won't let you fall behind.

12. You can never hold me (or anyone else) back just because I'm "disabled"

I will succeed in life, no matter what. It may take a little bit more time and energy to get things done, but I can make it through as long as I keep moving.

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