01.02.18 // The Story So Far (Here's to the Good Stuff)
Here’s the thing, the last four(ish) years, have been some of the best and worst of my life.
The end of grade twelve was when I officially got diagnosed with anorexia, and I remember thinking that it was something so shameful and something that I never wanted anyone to find out about me. I lied about all my therapist appointments to my friends, never told anyone that I was sick, but it was so painfully obvious that they all kind of knew anyway.
The first “treatment” I received was a family-based therapy at Toronto General Hospital, it was just a couple of sessions during the week with a therapist but every time we went to them I would go completely mute. I still didn’t think I had a problem; my heart rate dropped to 38 BPM, I wasn’t even allowed to walk my dog around the block because I was so malnourished, and I had pushed away pretty much all of my friends and family because I was so consumed by my eating disorder - but nah, I wasn’t sick.
During the end of high school, I remember I started to get episodes of extreme sadness and moodiness. I didn’t like any single thing about myself, I felt absolutely no motivation to do anything, I had to constantly lie about being at appointments to my friends, and I was trying to put on a huge smile every day to convince people that I was normal and okay. The first time I actually opened up to someone was to my philosophy teacher; I remember we were going on a field trip and I broke down in front of him and told him I couldn’t go because I just felt too sad, something I thought was a pathetic excuse. I told him I had just been diagnosed with anorexia and didn’t know what to do. What he said stuck with me forever, he told me that it was okay. It’s okay and I didn’t have to go, take the day off. It was so obviously simple, the concept that it’s okay that I was upset and struggling, that I wasn’t constantly perfect. It made me feel a little normal, and in those days, that was something I never felt. Now if the whole problem ended there and I got better instantly because I *believed* in myself that would have been very after school special and fantastic, but no. I still didn’t think I was sick.
That’s the really, excuse my french, fucked thing about mental illness and especially about eating disorders, even when you’re on your deathbed you’re disorder could pop into your head and be like, nah you’re all good, you’re not that sick anyways.
The idea that I wasn’t sick enough is something that, surprise, keeps me very very very sick. No matter how bad I got, I was always comparing myself to the stereotypical image of someone with anorexia, stick thin rich white girl eating celery in the corner. I was living though! I was running! I had friends! I ate (sure highly restrictive and tons of rules but still eating)! I compared myself to this ideal when I went into my first day patient program during the summer after grade twelve, even though I was in the program some part of me didn’t think I needed to be. I used that comparison to convince myself I was fine and to convince my parents I could leave the program and go to University. I didn’t want to be a “failure” and have to take a year off to “take care of myself” (which is something that I now know is insanely brave and such a good thing to do but I was so used to the idea that you had to go to school, go to university, and get a job instantly to become successful). I went to Dalhousie, lasted a solid three weeks before I realized that I was way too sick to be there. It’s funny but even then I didn’t accept that I should go into inpatient, I was so stuck on this idea that I had to do it “by myself” if I wanted to be strong. Of course things don’t work out the way you want them too, and after about of month of working in a diner, lying to my therapist about how great I was doing, and becoming more and more isolated and sick - I did the bravest thing I have ever done and accepted that I needed help. I went into inpatient treatment in Guelph for 105 days. It was the most terrifying and liberating thing I have ever done. I have never been more scared or challenged in my entire life, the entire time you are there you are doing the exact opposite of the things your brain is saying you have to do to survive. You are working every single day to rewire your brain to learn how to cope in healthy ways. I was in a unit with 22 other amazing women, one guy. They were from all different background, all different ages (17-60) had so many amazing stories, and we’re the complete opposite of the stereotypical eating disorder image. These people are my family to this day. Going into Homewood was the first time that I really felt accepted by a group of people because they knew exactly how I was feeling, and with eating disorders and mental illness in general, I always thought I was the only one who was having the thoughts I was having. I spent Christmas Eve with these people, I spent new years watching fireworks with them outside our ward, I bawled with these people, and they made me laugh in a place I never thought I would. I came out after 105 days, ate a cake that said Fuck Anorexia, blasted all I do is win and went on in the world.
Though there are many bad things about recovery one of the worst is that people think that it’s linear. When really it just looks like what can only be described as a “fucked up mountain range that a giant rolled over”. It’s up, down, around, left, right, 5 steps forward and then gut-punched all the way back. I looked “healthy” when I left Homewood, but I was still sick. I still used my eating disorder to cope with different stressors in my life. I still felt guilty for eating things. And once I got back into exercise, I used it as a way of control and stress management instead of the healthy coping mechanisms I learned in treatment. Was I not strong enough? It’s not that at all, it’s that the eating disorder was just way stronger and is, plainly, a bitch.
I ended up slipping again, in a huge way. But because I went through treatment I thought that I was okay, I thought I was recovered. And other people did too, they congratulated me on getting out of treatment and being so strong, which I was, and they said they were happy I was healthy again, which I was definitely not. I ended up starting school at Queen’s University, and all through first year I only got sicker. The summer after first year I ended up in a day patient program at TGH, really only because my parents wanted me too, I had the fabulous notion that I wasn’t actually sick and didn’t need it but would do it to “prove I was healthy”. End of the summer rolls around and my treatment team tells me that I should probably take the semester off and continue treatment, to which my eating disorder responded, fuck you I’m going to school. So I did, and by the beginning of second semester I was exceptionally isolated, extremely sick, and exercising against my doctor's orders. It was February 2nd when I called my Mom crying on my bedroom floor, I couldn’t move because I was so sad, it literally took me an hour just to get outside. February 3rd is when I left school again, and by March, I was back in inpatient at Homewood.
The second round of inpatient was probably the first time I felt I actually wanted to recover. It was when I realized how much my eating disorder was a coping mechanisms for other things in my life. It was also the first time that I had decided to go into treatment, it wasn’t just my parents or doctors decisions. By this time my eating disorder had been in my life for way too long, and I saw what a shit show it actually was. I could go on and on about what a bitch the eating disorder made me but it did so much more than that; an eating disorder distances you from every single relationship you have. It ruins birthdays, holidays, and events. It leaves you feeling so empowered one second and then completely hopeless the next. It takes away little joys in life like going to grab dinner with friends, or even relaxing all morning with your family. It makes you exceptionally isolated and alone, and one of the worst things is that people still don’t think it’s something that we should talk about. It’s still seen as a choice. But if you think I chose any of this I would love to kindly slap you in the brain, I mean that in the nicest way, but really, who would choose fighting your brain every single day. It’s not about the food, it’s about what you do every single day, it’s about the things you wear and where you go and what you do - everything become so rigid and hard and isolating. So nah, for sure did not voluntarily sign up for this life.
I’m not writing all this for pity, I’m writing because I thought that for the longest time I was alone in my journey. I thought that no one had ever experienced anything like this, and though everyone’s journey is different, there are so many more people going through mental illness then is really even imaginable. I share my story so that people know that they are not, and will not be alone in their fight because I’m going through it with you. The things that have happened to me are the things that have shaped me, and in no way am I saying that the past four years have been all bad, I’ve still been living and there have been so many amazing moments.
And I think that’s the beautiful thing about recovery, is that even with all the shitty things that I have been through, recovery lets me see that there is a life possible where it’s just the good moments. It’s moments when I’m with University with my friends that I feel better, it’s moments when I meet people who I’m not only lucky to call my friends but really my chosen family that I feel the happiest. 2018 is here and there’s so much pressure to make resolutions about being a better you (which usually comes with gym memberships and diets but I can tell you that really doesn’t help). This year all I want is to keep having those good moments. I know I’m not recovered, and it scares the shit out of me that I still have eating disorder thoughts and behaviors knowing what it did/does to my life, but those good moments are there. It’s not about being happy 24/7, but about being comfortable with the moments of sadness/stress without the eating disorder diving in and taking over. The good moments include those times where you accept that it okay not to be okay sometimes, they include speaking out against stigma and remembering that you’re actually insanely strong on the days you think you’re the weakest simply because you’re still living.
So here’s to 2018 being the year that the good moments overtake the bad, and that life comes before the disorder.