Hi everybody! So…my name is Laura, and I am quite a lot of things. I’m a Disney expert, for starters. I’m also an enthusiastic coffee-lover. I’m a self-declared writer, a huge fan of Harry Potter…and I’m also a recovered anorexic.
There was a time when I never thought I’d be able to say that: “recovered anorexic.” A time when I didn’t think there was anything else for me aside from the harsh realities of my eating disorder…a time when I wouldn’t speak, write, or even (if I could help it) THINK the phrase “eating disorder.” As you can see, those days are long gone.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s hop in a time machine and go back to when I was 14 years old. There I was, young Laura. I was a bubbly, optimistic, and energetic kid…I always had been. Yes, this odd, aching, itchy sadness had begun to pull at the edges of my optimism…but I brushed it aside, and it was fine.
I’d just started high school, though, and things were super stressful. I started the year abandoned by the people I called friends in the years prior. I still don’t know why. Something about me being “uncool.” Being an inherently outgoing person, I made new friends quickly. But I was wounded inside, somehow afraid to let myself get too close to my new and amazing friends. Regardless, I got through ninth grade.
That’s when things got really tricky. That summer was crazy. Between my grandpa getting diagnosed with cancer, my sister, my best friend, leaving me to go to college, and this really random, really annoying, STUPID sensation I had that “something isn’t right,” I kinda lost my appetite. When school started, my AP classes were more than I could handle, and my other classes were stressful too, and everything was all piling up, and there was no time to do anything, and oh god, oh crap, what what WHAT am I going to do because I have to get good grades to get into a good college and have a good future and…
Somewhere in the midst of all that, my brain told me to skip lunch. Just so I could study more, just so I could check one thing off my to-do list, so I could stop panicking. I won’t get into details (I will leave that to the professionals, and besides, I am certain you all unfortunately know what comes next), but suffice it to say that I soon became addicted to the control not eating made me feel like I had. I don’t know why I listened to my brain. I don’t know why my brain told me to do the things it made me do. I have no clue where those weird “quirks,” as I called them, came from. I didn’t even know until later on that when put together, those quirks made up what was called anorexia nervosa, a seriously deadly disease.
Over the next years, things went from “really tricky” to “unspeakably complicated” to “oh SHIT.”
When I was sixteen years old, I’d about had enough of it. I knew the word by then (that terrible word “anorexia” that I dared not speak aloud), I knew I had it, and I knew I wanted to NOT have it. I struggled for months, miserably and desperately trying to do the impossible, to defeat… myself? My brain? My…disorder? How on earth was I going to do that?
Then I hit rock bottom, the ultimate low of my teenage life. Things were BAD. The dark clouds looming above my head that hadn’t let me see the sun for three years, they weren’t going anywhere. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t fix myself. I’d almost resigned myself to defeat when the most amazing thing happened: people offered me help…and I accepted.
You see, we’re never as alone as we think we are. So although I felt scared and isolated, that didn’t stop people from caring about me and loving me. It happened all at once; the people who knew me (my friends, my family, my teachers at school) began to voice concern. They were worried, they had been all along. I could see it in their faces, in the way their eyes echoed my pain.
Eventually, those concerned people who wanted me happy and healthy made it so I went to a doctor’s appointment that changed my life. I remember it so vividly. I sat there in the office, nervous beyond words, but somehow talking OPENLY about my problems and quirks and feelings for like, the very first time. I remember I had the distinct sensation that something was about to change. And I wanted that change. I was ready for that change.
I talked with a doctor whose true kindness and compassion had a way of calming me down. She told me in no uncertain terms that I needed help. And I told her I wanted it.
“Let’s talk about your options,” she said. “You can go home, and try, honestly try, to eat and do what we tell you you must do. But I don’t like that option. I don’t want to regret giving you that option.”
Tentatively I asked, “what’s option two?”
“Well, we can keep you here, admit you to the hospital.”
Then, suddenly, we’d decided on option two. The reality of my decision sunk into my scattered brain, and I felt tears threaten to drip from my eyes. The nice doctor looked at me and confidently told me “you’ll be okay.” Just like that, as if she was certain that I would be. Something inside me shouted loudly at me to trust her. And this time, listening to my insides was a good thing. I believed her. I let her confidence in me reverberate in my soul until I said to myself “alright let’s do this.” Thus began my recovery.
It was… a long and winding road. I actually don’t even think words can truly capture just how long and winding it was. It was an incredibly intense experience, particularly in the beginning. The whirlwind that was my life got whirlier and windier, and at times, I didn’t think I could go on. Life was tough as I worked on my recovery in the hospital. I’d spent years consumed by nothing but those “quirks” that morphed into the eating disorder I was trying to battle.
But I was lucky. I was in recovery. Which meant I had a team of people trying to help me. A whole “army” of people who believed in me, just like that doctor who admitted me. My family was behind me, my friends were unbelievably supportive. My teachers sent me homework and inspirational letters and cards. The outpouring of love made me realize that I (like each of you) am special, and worthy of life and health and happiness…it also made me realize that recovery was gonna be pretty cool, if I let it.
So yeah. It was HARD. But hard work pays off, and I can tell you that the magnitude of how incredible it is to be recovered is like FIVE BILLION times the magnitude of how difficult the road to recovery was.
Because guess what? After recovery, you get to be RECOVERED. To me, that word has meant a lot of different things over the years. It is more than simply “eating,” we all know that, and it’s more than just weight restoration and ceasing behaviors, etc. To me, it’s meant freedom. It’s meant the ability to pursue my passions and my happiness, to live my life. It’s meant being proud of myself. It’s meant that when things get hard, and my instinct is to fall back on disordered behavior, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don’t HAVE to. And that I don’t want to. Being recovered means having a choice, and being glad to choose to shine. It means loving my body, consciously and deliberately (on a bad day), but also inherently and naturally…because this body does amazing things. It has survived and conquered the deadliest of all mental disorders, and so much more. Recovery means being positive and optimistic. It means being who I am deep down, not obscured by bitter hunger, bitter cold, and a bitter attitude.
But, remember when I first started rambling? Talking about things that I am? I put “recovered anorexic” last for a reason, and it wasn’t just for dramatic effect. You guys, my eating disorder is part of who I was, and being recovered is a huge part of who I am. It always will be. I will always be proud of my huge accomplishment, of choosing life when I could have been a statistic. But I am SO much more than the eating disorder part of my story. And so are you. Even if right now kicking your disorder’s butt needs to be top on your list, you’re going to do amazing things in your life. Because you can choose recovery. You can trust the people who care about you, trust the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals even when it’s sucky. You can eat when it’s hard to bring the fork to your mouth, you can nourish yourself when you’re confused and mixed up and you don’t know what you want. You can do it.
At the end of the day, we really don’t have a choice. It’s either recover or succumb to the disorder. I realized that at the appointment that changed my life, talking to the doctor. She said simply, “you can’t just stay like this…you know that, don’t you, Laura?” I hadn’t previously known that. I hadn’t previously known that recovery was a thing that I could achieve. No one had ever told me that before.
So, I am telling all of you. You can recover. I promise.
Stay strong, guys.