The Non-Linear Nature of Eating Disorder Recovery
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
It’s fog that frosts your windshield; only the wipers are never quick enough. Soon as some of the windows are cleared, more snow falls. To everyone else, your windows are clear, have perfect visibility. They can’t understand why you either refuse to drive or struggle to stay in your delineated lane.
There are things that help, of course.
A conversation with a friend.
Cuddling with your cat.
A warm cup of tea.
The problem is, it doesn’t last.
The conversation ends and your friend has their busy life to get back to. Your cat tires of you, decides to play with a spare headband instead. The cup of tea grows cold or you drain it, or you grow cold.
And you can warm up more and more cups of tea, but somehow, it’s never enough. The chill isn’t about the goosebumps prickling your skin (which hasn’t seen sun for quite some time). It’s a chill that settles, deep in your chest, an unwanted tenant that throws inky paint over the love and the passion and excitement you once had, or imagine you could have.
I was one of the lucky ones.
My depression began my sophomore year of high school. My best friend decided I was no longer worth hanging out with. My cross country and track times were slower than expected. I was getting worse grades in English than I had before—and writing was the one thing I was supposed to be good at. I became increasingly isolated. I decided something must be wrong with me.
So I made changes.
I worked harder than ever on my courses. I studied more. I did more workouts. I saw an article in Runner’s World that said you could shave off minutes if you shaved off pounds.
I counted calories with the same devotion I once reserved for hunting and studying insects in my backyard as a child.
I wasn’t thrust into therapy because my mind was clouded. I wasn’t hospitalized because I dreamt of sleeping forever. I was told to stop thinking about sad things, to be happy. I was told I needed to be strong.
Counting calories was my anchor. I was good at losing weight, the way I’d once believed I could be good at writing, the way I once believed I could be a good friend.
I was lucky—if only that my physical deterioration meant that I was forced into an environment where my body would not be allowed to follow my mind to those dark corners. Stopped before I killed myself.
It is a silent disease. Some of us shut down, hide away; stop attending school or work.
Others, like me, work themselves harder and harder. Some of us smile when we are at our most vulnerable.
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My other diagnosis, anorexia nervosa, is known for, of course, its jarring physical impact. Many conjure up the image of someone whose ribs are protruding. The truth is, I have been at my most desperate when I looked healthy on the outside.
While many deaths from eating disorders are connected to physical impacts—such as cardiac arrest—this can happen at any weight. And a large portion of people with eating disorders die instead by suicide.
Quick repairs—swipes of a windshield wiper—are not enough.
I am alive today not because someone told me to get better, not because I was told to think of happy things, not because I was told anything.
I am alive today because of my faith, my friends, and my family.
But also because, sadly, it took physical deterioration for my problems to be treated with gravity. Because we still as a society demand physical evidence for the deep wounds we carry.
It takes time to heal; and it’s a process, not one easy destination.
I tried outpatient therapists and dietitians. The problem was, I never was doing it for myself. I did it because my mental health became an imposition—or so it felt—to my family. I went to appointments not because I believed in recovery for myself, but because I felt the burden of my family’s expectations.
Eventually, it took going away to residential treatment a few months half way across the country. Getting on that plane, against even my mother’s wishes, was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. In those months, I confronted my anxiety and depression and eating problems in ways I never had.
I was far from family and, this time. I had to fully try to heal not for others, but for myself.
Depression comes in many forms, each insidious, each a burden that is impossible to articulate. No words are adequate to describe the weight of living with severe mental illness on a daily basis.
In 2023, my hope is that we continue to advocate for change, both to push against stigma and access problems.
One does not need physical signs to prove that their illness, and their hardship, is real and devastating.
If you or someone you know may be in crisis or considering suicide, please call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.