It sometimes still hurts to think back to when my eating disorder started and on the subsequently dark, cold, painful years that followed. It was a time I didn’t think there was anything else for me besides the harsh realities of anorexia. A time I wouldn’t speak, write, or if I could help it THINK that word.
What began as school-related stress and a perfectionistic personality grew into innocently skipping meals so I could study longer and not have to worry as much. Which then grew into obsessively skipping meals and getting the scale involved because I wasn’t eating anyway, so why not keep track of something that felt oddly like success? Which morphed into a paralyzing fear of food and entry into an inescapable contest with myself to see how well I could make myself less, less, less. I was angry. Angry that my schoolwork was unceasing. Angry that I couldn’t for the life of me shake the bitter cold that had settled deep within my bones. Angry that I couldn’t eat –no, strike that, I didn’t WANT to eat. Except I also did, I just really really couldn’t.
As I approached rock bottom, unable to extricate myself from what I’d somehow gotten myself into, unable to feel joy, unable to live life, the most amazing thing happened: the people around me offered their help. With loved ones around me now on my side, I was hospitalized and officially began down the path to recovery.
Now, I realize my experience is only my own. I fully acknowledge that no matter how a person gets sucked into the depths of an eating disorder and no matter how they get out, their experience is valid. But I thank my lucky stars daily that my journey played out the way that it did. It took crashing into the lowest of my lows for me to come to a point where I was ready to accept help and make a change. And for me, that was phenomenally helpful.
In the hospital, I was given language that matched the things I was doing and feeling. As a writer, this was tremendous. Medical words and psychological terms gave me power over my disorder and helped me sort through three years worth of unprocessed emotions. I also made friends with other people who got it. We supported each other and grew to love each other. They filled the empty shell I’d become back up with the essence of who I am as a person. They helped me find myself again, or rather, reinvent myself (because to go back to “who you were” after recovering is tricky, since you’ve lived through and experienced things that have changed your perspective dramatically). We pushed each other to stay strong and keep fighting –bite after bite, meal after meal, day after day.
The specifics of what it actually means to keep fighting are subjective, so I doubt giving every detail of what it means to me will be helpful to anyone reading this. But suffice it to say it involved a lot of effort, a ton of self-awareness, a huge amount of “fake it til you make it,” and the continued love and support of everyone around me.
I’d say I reached full recovery about six years later. I didn’t have much chance to celebrate, though, because that’s around the time I was diagnosed bipolar.
Bad timing, I know. But it actually explained so many things: my messed up sleep patterns, my cycling agitation and irritability, my dozens of returns back into abysmal depression, my fiery intensity, my anxiety that literally made me forget to breathe.
Actually, it took years to figure out all the things that related to my being bipolar. Years. As in, I finally figured some of this out like, a few months ago.
Because for a while, the episodes were getting stronger, more dramatic, and more frequent. I would ascend into frenetic activity, moving and speaking and thinking a million miles a minute. Energy would swell precariously inside me, expanding until it burst into frazzled and incomprehensible distress. And then I’d plummet into a debilitating depression that knocked me off my feet and sent me sobbing to my bed and the comfort of its pillows and blankets. And then I’d use every ounce of my remaining strength to pick myself up, dust myself off, steady myself on even ground to take a shaky step toward normalcy. Only to have the process repeat. And repeat. And…
It’s been thirteen years since taking my first steps in eating disorder recovery and nine years since my bipolar diagnosis, and I’m finally in a place where I feel like I’m good. Wait wait, let me say that again. Things are good. I’m good. Wow, I really enjoy typing that.
Looking back on my journey, I’m realizing resilience is everything in regards to my mental health. I’ve been given these circumstances and this brain and this body and this life, and yeah, when I ruminate on negatives all that can seem pretty, uh, daunting. But while my circumstances are tricky, they also challenge me so I grow. And it’s true that my brain is disordered, and that it needs some help from a cocktail of meds to keep me stable. But thanks to it, I’m wildly creative and endlessly compassionate and I feel things intensely and completely. And my body may have been put through the ringer, and maybe I’ve still gotta work to treat it the way it deserves, but as I’m sitting here typing, I feel so wonderfully proud of it. I’ve got smooth skin, the beginnings of a summery glow, and a head of killer (dyed) teal hair. Not to mention the artwork I’ve added to my body in tattoo form, for some extra fun and inspiration. Life is forever up and down, particularly with my mental illness, and yes those grand fluctuations are exhausting. I’ve learned that after every rise is a fall and after that another rise and so on and so on and so on. But after sunshine, there will eventually be rain and then at some point, sunny days will be here again. Resilience is key. And rainbows are always waiting to be found.