This is part two of a three part series about my personal eating disorder story, my reflection of it as well as a look into the reality and truth of eating disorders.
I should disclaim that every eating disorder is different and every person with an eating disorder has a different reflection of it. So, I am not, by any means generalizing myself as a prototype, for lack of a better word, for everyone who has fallen into the grasp of a life-sucking eat disorder. Also, there is some triggering content and what I describe is very straightforward. But my goal here is to expose the demon that is an ED, kill the stigma, to educate and show people the truth behind this brutal disease.
In part one, 'What it Looks Like to Have an Eating Disorder', I described mostly the lifespan and behaviors of my ED. In part two, I aim to focus on the main workings i.e. the mental mindset of my eating disorder. Hence the title, 'What it Feels Like to Have an Eating Disorder'.
Many people see an eating disorder and think about the physical behaviors without understanding that they are only a symptom of the internal distress and pain that is really the underlying cause of it all. In other words, people see the underweight or overweight person and assume the disordered eating. But, there are two very big problems with that; (1) not everyone who is under or overweight has an eating disorder and, (2) some men and woman are normal or 'healthy' weights, but suffer from eating issues and disordered thoughts.
For me personally, for the majority of my ED I was a normal, so-called, healthy weight and even at my lowest weight, I was never severely underweight. But, I was starving myself regularly, taking laxatives and weight loss supplements, and binging and/or throwing up multiple times a day. And if someone didn't know any better, they couldn't tell just by my physique. It is toxic to see eating disorders as a body type, rather than the mental disorder that they are.
In the midst of my eating disorder, I would have denied it if you told me that my eating and body-image issues were about the hurt, confusion, and rejection I felt and not my weight or body. But, now that I am past it, it is clear as day how correlated my mental state and my eating behaviors were. I was completely convinced that my bad body-image was because I had a 'bad body' and was fat. I thought my negative feelings about myself were because I was not physically perfect. But, I refused to believe that my bad emotions towards myself we're about something internal.
I remember thinking: "If I could just get get rid of my fat and get skinny, then I'll stop feeling this way." So, It's not like I didn't know I had these strong emotions. I just didn't let myself feel them as emotions of pain or sadness - simply because they hurt so much. I sort of identified my body as the problem rather than my emotions.
I would think:
"They don't want to be my friend anymore because I'm too sensitive and insecure about the relationship. I'm annoying and a burden."
"I am not a fast enough runner. I need to be faster. All the fast girls on the team are skinny and muscular. I'm fat and slow."
"I am not smart. I am actually stupid and I'm treated that way. I can't read well at all. I won't succeed. I'll never be an all A student. There's no way I'll make it through college. I'm going to fail at life and never get a job."
Often followed by:
"Why do I think like this? I'm so immature and petty. Get over it. Nobody likes s pity party. Just shut up and suck it up"
And this is where my eating disorder would come in and tell me:
"They don't like you because you're fat and ugly. If you lose weight, you'll be beautiful and desirable."
"Get skinny and you won't have as much weight to carry and you'll be fast. Than you will be happy with yourself."
"If you can't be smart, you can at least be thin."
"You are ugly, fat and unworthy of nourishment. You can eat when your underweight. Only than will you not be burdened by these thoughts."
I know it sounds so pessimistic and quite dramatic. But, I felt this way, wholeheartedly. I had no reason to believe otherwise. All I saw (and felt) was constant disappointment and defeat when it came to my (perfectionist) goals - I was never good enough, so I considered myself a failure. And these strong feelings haunted me. I couldn't separate my ED voice from my own - I saw my ED as an identity.
It was frustrating to feel so sad, angry and hurt inside but not have the words to express it without sounding completely irrational. I really hated myself for these feelings - I thought I was being immature, dramatic and selfish. I didn't believe my emotions were valid. But, just because these feelings weren't necessarily rational, doesn't mean they were not valid - something that took me so long to truly understand, let alone believe.
When I came to college, and my mindset worsened and eating disordered behaviors became extreme, all those years of self-ridicule and frustration with my feelings only amplified and embedded themselves into this deep-rooted self hate. College was just the straw that broke the camels back.
I didn't know how to handle the stress and misplaced feelings I had in college. While my attitude showed composure, confidence and organization, my mind was plagued with anxiety. I was already slow in school and university set these higher standards that seemed way beyond my capabilities. While I did manage, and I am now doing well in school, I was riddled with fear of failure for such a long time.
I struggled with friends and finding my 'place' at university. I found myself surrounded by unauthentic people and struggled to feel truly 'at home' in any friend groups or even clubs and organizations. I felt undesirable because I wasn't the pretty skinny girl that boys (appeared to) like. I eventually got over the desire for attention from guys. And while I found good friends, they were limited and I still found myself holding them at arms length. My eating disorder never aloud me to let anyone to come too close in fear of it being taken away from me. Because sometimes, my ED was all I felt I had.
These stressors ultimately fueled my disordered eating behaviors. But, starving myself, stuffing myself or making myself throw up was never a stress relief or a means of comfort. It was more a measure of worth and a shift of focus. I felt so worthless and like I was failing all the time and those feelings were uncomfortable, hurtful and felt out of control. So, I used my body to shift my attention to what I could control i.e my eating, or ED behaviors.
I would fixate on the body. I would try to starve and manipulate it, but struggled to 'control' myself enough and end up eating, hating myself, than purging. I would pick myself apart in the mirror; I would pinch 'fat', and squeeze and suck in to see bones. I would look at thinpso, or 'thinspiration', I even would go as far as looking at 'bonespo' blogs. I would compare myself to incredibly skinny girls and desire to be them. I felt I needed to fit into this narrow box (literally and figuratively) in which society views beauty. I truly believed I needed to be sickly thin to feel worthy or beautiful, but it was never good enough because it was never the problem in the first place.
Now, this rationale is all in hindsight - something I started to see as I recovered. Only when I separated myself from my ED, did I see the body as a scapegoat and my eating issues as symptom, rather then the problem itself. And that's just it, you can't fix a symptom and expect the whole problem to go away, you have to fix the underlying issues. With mental illnesses like eating disorders, those are things you can't necessarily see.
When I decided to recover (for real), I was in a low mental state - I was depressed and suicidal, physically weak, unhealthy and my motivation was incredibly low. Not to mention my eating disorder was 'loud' and its thoughts were intrusive. I was still terrified of weight gain, my feelings and losing the 'companion' (ED) that had 'comforted' (I say hesitantly) me for so long.
I remember trying so hard at the beginning of recovery, just to have a normal meal without turning it into a binge and later purge or without restricting myself or obsessing over every calorie and macro-nutrient I put into my body. And for weeks I could not do it. I was addressing the need to eat and not partake in behaviors (which is important), but I failed to face and take care of the horrible mindset I had.
I tried therapy, but hated it. I tried reaching out to friends, but I felt misunderstood and uncomfortable. And finally I tried letting myself just feel the feelings I had rather then avoid them. The vulnerability was such a difficult and foreign thing to me so took a while to do, but I did it, and it worked.
I learned that ED was just a avoidance mechanism - I didn't hate myself or my body, I hated my feelings. I found that recovery couldn't be successful through 'just doing what I had to' (eating and not purging), like it was a chore. It had to be a choice I made every minute of everyday to actively address the emotions behind it all.
So, I understood what I needed to do and address to recover and I just worked at it. I didn't find recovery through anyone else, or even through the grace of God, I didn't go from 'thinspo' to 'fitspo', I just faced one fear at a time and did what I had to in order to free myself.
To be continued... (part 3)