Opening Up About My Eating Disorder

Until now, I’ve only made vague references and comments about this on my blog. Part of me was hesitant even to do that. There are a lot of reasons that I still feel somewhat uncomfortable sharing this story. Not only am I ashamed of the behaviors themselves and the seemingly benign catalyst to this downward spiral, but I’m also ashamed to label myself as someone recovering from an eating disorder.

Even though I definitely suffered from extremely disordered eating for months if not an entire year, I never felt like it was “that bad.” I know a lot of people internally minimize their own mental health issues especially when eating disorders are involved, but even knowing that, I didn’t feel able to consider myself one of those people. I’ve watched so many documentaries and series about anorexia and other eating disorders. I know how bad it can get. I know it can be life-threatening at times, especially in the cases that persist for years and years. I was comparing myself to those extreme cases and disregarding the suffering and severity of where I was physically and mentally for those months. I felt, like a lot of people do, that I wasn’t “that sick.” I wasn’t extreme enough in my behaviors. I wasn’t thin enough to have an eating disorder. It hadn’t been going on long enough.

It is easy for me to recognize these excuses and minimizing attempts in others, but only recently have I been able to accept that things really had gotten bad for me. And that I’m still struggling to regain healthy eating habits and not fall back into toxic self-talk. I wanted to write about my experiences today for all of those who may be reading that are like me. There is no “sick enough” threshold that you have to meet before you can get help. If you feel there is a problem, there is. You don’t have to reach rock bottom or suffer for a certain length of time before you can decide to love yourself, before you decide you are worthy of recovery. You are worthy of recovery right now. You are always worthy of love. Your suffering matters, regardless of whether or not someone else may “have it worse.”

My eating disorder began at the end of 2019. One of the parts I’m embarrassed by is the “reason” it seemed to have been triggered. I’m sure there were a lot of other underlying issues going on, and the isolation of the pandemic really made it a lot worse, but the day I recall that switch happening in my mind was a day I was pulled over. I am no stranger to speeding tickets, but this one really got to me for some reason. I was so ashamed and humiliated for getting yet another ticket and having to spend over $100 on something so stupid right before the holidays. As I cried big ugly tears on the rest of my drive home, my thoughts were swirling with negativity.

I’m never pretty enough to get out of a ticket I thought. A thought I have basically every time I’ve been pulled over. But that day it stung particularly badly. “I don’t deserve to eat tonight.” That was the thought that played on repeat. And I didn’t eat that night. Or the next. To my surprise, fasting made me feel a lot better. I felt powerful and strong. I felt sleek and beautiful. My mind felt sharp. I felt in control. I woke up more easily. I felt lighter during my morning workout. “This is great,” I told myself.

After those first two days without eating, fasts became a normal part of my weekly routine. At first I was fasting for one or two days every week. Then three days a week. Then it started to become more than just fasting. On the four days a week I allowed myself to eat, I had a very strict diet. I didn’t eat until 6 or 7 in the evening, and then I would basically eat things that had virtually no calories so that I could eat for hours straight without feeling guilty. Each and every day I ate, I would eat the same exact things, in the same exact order. First I would eat four whole cans of green beans with copious amounts of salt and onion powder. Then I would eat roasted zucchini. Then I would eat cabbage soup. Then lima beans. Sometimes these super low-calorie spring rolls. Then I would finish it off by gorging myself on vegan halotop ice cream, or banana nice cream.

Not long after that, I also starting binging and purging two of the four days I did eat. So I basically wasn’t getting any calories besides the few I would keep down two days a week. I continued to workout for an hour every day like always during this period, mind you. If for some reason I ended up eating with family or friends, that would inevitably be thrown up later. I was worried about the purging, but not much else. And even that was about my looks. I didn’t want my teeth to fall out. I knew that wasn’t going to be something I could do forever, but at the time, I still didn’t want to stop.

In the beginning, I felt amazing. I was losing more weight, more quickly than I ever had my entire life. Every week I was meeting new personal goals. I was elated each and every time I took out the scale to see a smaller number. Even so, it didn’t seem to be perceivable in the reflection I saw in the mirror. Even though I reached my lifelong personal goal for the first time ever, I still hated who I saw staring back at me. I still felt the same, worse even. I felt disgusting, fat, like my belly was grotesque, like I’d never be thin enough.

At a certain point a month or more in, my family and friends started to express their concerns. They were not hesitant at all about asking me point blank if I had an eating disorder. Of course I lied and said I was just being very careful not to eat as much as I used to, but that I was completely fine and healthy. They didn’t seem to believe me, but they didn’t push the issue either. Their concern only made me hate myself more. I felt guilty and embarrassed that they knew I wasn’t okay. I felt like a failure that the comments I received were concerned instead of impressed. I also felt immense pressure at that point to keep the weight off. I was horrified at the idea I may gain it back and people would notice that too.

I had always dreamed of being thin. Ever since I was a little girl in elementary school. I still remember that when I found out about eating disorders, I genuinely wished that I could have one. I felt like that was the only way I’d ever be able to get skinny. Sadly, I made that wish come true through years and years of exposing myself to “thinspo” on Instagram and Tumbr. It always felt like the horrible mental side effects of these disorders just wouldn’t happen to me, or that they were an okay price to pay for beauty. After experiencing the mental and emotional agony I went through, I can say with absolute certainty that isn’t true.

I had sold myself the lie that being skinny would make me happy for my entire life. It was absolutely devastating to confront that lie. During these months, my mental health plummeted lower than ever before. I absolutely hated myself. I was utterly disgusted by every part of myself. I hated my reflection even more than I did before I lost the weight. Each and every moment of the day was consumed by thoughts of food and outrageous levels of anxiety. This was supposed to be how I found happiness, but I found only misery. It felt like happiness didn’t even exist anymore, or at least I’d never find it.

I honestly don’t know how I found the strength within me to finally work on more healthy eating habits again, but somehow I did. It was a slow process, and I still haven’t made it back to “normal” yet. But I am so proud of myself for deciding that I was worthy of my own love. Even though my eating is still a bit haywire, I feel like I have a healthier relationship with my body than I ever thought I would. Now when those toxic thoughts about my body come up, I remind myself that being skinny isn’t going to solve all my problems. It didn’t solve them. It just made life a living Hell. I remind myself that I get to choose whether to be happy or not, and it is in no way correlated to my appearance. In fact, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.

If you’re reading this right now and see yourself in any of what I’ve written today. Please get help. Even if that’s just deciding to try to help yourself. Don’t wait until things are unbearable to change course. Because the sooner you are able to turn around, the easier it will be to reclaim some sense of normalcy. And trust me, if I was able to do it, anyone can. You are beautiful for who you are, not what you look like. You are enough. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of happiness. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re struggling. I would be honored to answer any questions anyone might have or offer my support to anyone who needs it. Thank you for letting me finally share my story.

Eating Disorder Awareness: Spread the Word - Bayridge Counselling Centres

Letters to Past Selves (Part 1)

Teenage Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I know that life may seem like more trouble than it’s worth right now. But I promise you, in a few years you will be so glad that you stuck around to find out. You’ll probably roll your eyes at everything that I have to say, but I’m here to say it anyway. I know you worry a lot about the future. Primarily you worry about being alone. I know how many nights you cried yourself to sleep, imagining an elderly version of you wandering through a dark, empty house. I know the desperation you feel at times. Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it will pass. You don’t have to be afraid. You may not believe it, but one day you won’t even care if you spend your life alone or not. Some days you’ll even wonder if maybe you’d prefer it that way.

I know you are experiencing a lot of confusion and strong emotions right now. I’m here to reassure you that that is normal. Unfortunately all of the annoying things the adults are always saying are actually true. “It’s just a phase.” “You’ll grow out of it.” “Teenagers.” I hope to not sound as patronizing. I know that only exacerbates your sense of isolation and being misunderstood. Please believe me. Even if no one else does, I understand you. And I hope that it can bring you some form of comfort to know that things won’t always feel so intense. I can’t promise you that life won’t always be as hard. Life is a cycle made up of many smaller cycles. You are going to find yourself suffering again and again. Life doesn’t get easier. You simply become stronger. And it is a beautiful process.

Remember all of the times that you cried and mentally went back to visit all of the other sad crying selves in the past? You held them in your arms and cried together. You thought that was an embarrassing form of self pity, but actually without realizing it you were developing your own lovely form of self-care. I am here to tell you that through all of this distance, through time and space, I am here to hold you now. It’s going to be okay.

Even though I can’t really be there to help, know that you already have all the support that you need. You have absolutely amazing friends. Be grateful for that. Cherish them, and try to hold on to them for as long as you can, especially Ally. She may get under your skin now, but she is the truest friend you’ve got. She’s your brother. Try to be nicer to her, even when you don’t understand her. I know you don’t want to hear it, but you should also be kinder to your family, particularly your mother. Right now it may seem like she’s to blame for all of the struggles you are facing, but I assure you, you’d be facing much more serious troubles were it not for her. She is an incredible woman. She has always been patient and kind to you. She certainly wasn’t perfect, but no one is. She does the best she can for you every day and that is what counts. She loves you. She loves you like no one else in the world will ever love you, unconditionally. So don’t close your heart to her just yet. Give it time and you will see.

I hope that at least some of these loving words of reassurance and advice will be able to reach you. I may not be able to take away your suffering, but know that someday you will even be grateful for these painful years. You will look back on them fondly, tenderly. You will learn so much in the years to come. You’ll even learn to love yourself more than you ever thought you could. You’ll learn how to be soft, but also strong. You’ll learn how to appreciate the little things so much that they become the big things. You’re going to be alright. You can do this. You already have.

Love,

Your Future Self

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Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

A few days ago, my new boyfriend had to move over five hours away from me for a new job. When I first found out he’d be moving, I thought there was no way things could work between us. Then after we started dating and I began liking him more and more, I started to think it might not be so bad after all. Now that he’s actually gone, I’m back to wondering if this long distance relationship is even possible. My mind and heart keep oscillating back and forth between these opposing thoughts.

Once I considered the fact that I haven’t dated anyone in around five years, I thought maybe it would be good for me to have a long distance relationship at first. I have developed quite a few embarrassing bad habits in my time living alone, especially during quarantine. It would end up being quite stressful having him coming over all the time and possibly moving in. After becoming accustomed to being alone, I’m not sure I’m ready to have someone constantly by my side and in my business. With him being far away now, I figured I’d get a lot of the emotional benefits of having a boyfriend without having to worry about the close proximity. Now I’ll have some time to get my shit together a little bit before things get more serious between us.

Despite these benefits, I’m starting to worry once again. You see, neither one of us is very good at texting. We’re both busy with our own things and only end up sending a couple of messages back and forth each day. We’ve already talked over Facetime once and we do plan on writing each other letters, but I worry that won’t be enough. I already miss him so much. And that’s me, someone who wasn’t sure they could ever even love again. I can’t imagine how he must be feeling given that he is a very affectionate, relationship focused person.

I’m terrified I am going to lose him already. I’m definitely willing to wait for as long as it takes and do everything I can to make this long distance relationship work, but I’m worried he’ll change his mind about that. I wouldn’t blame him. He seems like he’s much more capable of finding partners than I am. I’m sure there are plenty of new vegan girls that he’ll find closer to him. I keep feeling my heart contract with fear, dreading the day when he texts me that he can’t do this anymore. I’m afraid I won’t even have the opportunity to hold him again before that happens.

Even though I’m open to polyamory, I’m not sure if he is or if that would ultimately help or hurt the situation. I’ve thought about breeching the subject with him, but am too afraid of scaring him off. Especially considering that he was cheated on by his fiance a few years ago. The proposal for an open relationship might send him running for the hills. It wouldn’t even be for my benefit though. I doubt I’d even utilize the opportunity were our relationship to be open. I would just hope that should he find someone else, he wouldn’t completely abandon and forget about me. He would be able to be with both of us. The new girl wouldn’t feel threatened because I’m so far away, and I would have the peace of mind of knowing that my baby is happy and being taken care of by someone. Maybe I would even fancy this girl and we could all become a happy little thruple someday.

Although, in that scenario, would we even really still be dating? He would have even less time to talk to me and would easily grow much closer to his new girlfriend while our relationship withers away in the background. I think I’ll stay quiet about that option for now and just hope he is able to manage the distance as well as me. Not that I’m fairing super well at the moment either though. There has always been a constant push and pull inside my heart. One moment I want to never leave his side and the next I’m relieved I won’t have to make time to hangout. At least there are those moments when the distance suits me.

I know that everything is about perspective in the end. I will just have to focus on all the good aspects of having a long distance relationship. At times it does seem rather perfect for someone like me. Although part of me still holds out hope that he’ll absolutely hate this new job and decide to come back home. I know that’s cruel and selfish, but I can’t help it. Maybe I’ll start writing my first letter to him tomorrow. Hopefully that will let me feel closer to him again. It’s so strange to think that only a few months ago I had no idea who this person was. I was even still pathetically pining over my ex. Now I actually haven’t given him a single thought in quite a while. Finally I’ve found someone who is truly a much better, healthier match for me. I hope that despite this distance, we will continue to grow and improve together and find ways to feel close to one another. I’m terrified of getting hurt again and I find myself struggling with it already, but he is more than worth all of the fear and the effort.

10 Useful Tips for Lesbian Long Distance Relationships – Sesame But  Different

Do We Know What Will Make Us Happy?

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I remember reading once that when put to the test, what we think will make us happy usually doesn’t end up actually making us all that happier when we get it. I’ve noticed this in my own life, especially recently thanks to this pandemic. One of the things I’m always longing for is more free time. I’ve always wished that I didn’t have to work so I could spend my days any way I choose, with no obligations or responsibilities. Yet after just a short time “working from home” (I don’t find myself having much actual work), I was even less happy than I was when I was waking up early and spending eight full hours every weekday at my job.

Now this could be just because I have an exceptionally amazing job with coworkers that I consider dear friends, but even when I lost the job I hated and got to spend a summer on unemployment, I was miserable. Back then I attributed it to having to fret about finding another job, but now I think it was more than just that. What I always imagined would make me happy, even what I thought I needed in order to be calm and happy, turned out to be completely wrong.

Why is that? It’s impossible for me to wrap my head around it for very long. After a few weeks back in the office full time, I was already back to daydreaming about having more free-time. Even though I just saw that it would do me no good! I’d just spend it being anxious and depressed rather than doing all the productive things I’d pictured myself doing with it. It could have something to do with another interesting tidbit from Time Warped, the time perception book I’ve mentioned.

Apparently we often put things off or make plans we can’t ultimately follow through with because for some reason we imagine ourselves having more time in the future. Yet if we imagined ourselves moving up the date to tomorrow or next week, we’d find our plans ridiculous and out of the question. I definitely think this mindset contributes to my procrastination. It does often seem like things will be easier in the future. I’ll have more time. I’ll be in a better place mentally. I’ll have fixed all the problems I’m struggling with by then. Etc, etc. Humans always have a tendency to be over-optimistic about the future. I always though I was the exception to that rule, given I fear the end of society is just on the horizon. But when it comes to smaller things in my personal life, I fall into the same flawed thinking.

This may seem like depressing news, to find out you actually won’t have more free time or be happier in some imagined future where everything has gone your way. But there is a silver lining. We no longer have to feel like we’re waiting for something before we can be happy. Chances are we wouldn’t be happy when we reached that idyllic future anyway. It’s a useful lesson. We should just learn to enjoy where we are now. We can be happy where we are with what we already have.

Not only do we not need to wait for a distant future to find happiness, we also don’t need to be so afraid of things that may happen in the future either. We may overestimate how happy something will make us, but we also overestimate how detrimental something will be in our lives. Both lottery winners and holocaust survivors both end up pretty close to everyone else in the end when it comes to happiness and a sense of well-being. We will eventually adjust to anything, no matter how amazing or horrific.

With this knowledge we can learn to relax. We can ease into the life that unravels before us each moment. There is no need to become attached, try to avoid/resist, or get upset when something doesn’t go the way we think it should have gone. After all, what do we know? Once we give up our obsession with trying to control every little aspect of our lives, we may find that we are able to live with much more ease. Have faith that this universe is playing out exactly as it should be. Have faith in yourself, in your ability to handle whatever life presents you with. Let go of expectations. They always seems to let us down or prevent us from seeing life for the incredible, beautiful thing it really is.

I know that all the happiness I will ever find is already here inside of me. I’ve been struggling to arrange my world to my whims, when in the end I don’t even really know what will turn out to be best for me. So instead I will try to let go. I will try to take each day for what it is with curiosity and a grateful heart.