“I Became Someone Unrecognizable — Even to Myself”
In this stirring and honest essay, a teen girl shares her story of reckoning and recovery, explains how her self-destruction was halted, and reflects on the meaning and purpose of recovery one year later.
How My Eating Disorder Consumed Me
It was the Friday before homecoming. I was ecstatic to be going to the dance with my boyfriend at the time, and I was impatiently watching the clock during my last period of the day, which happened to be math. That was when my teacher’s phone rang, and everything came crashing down.
The evening before, I had seen my doctor for a routine check-up. I left the appointment knowing that my family and medical professionals were concerned about my weight, and perhaps about my mental health. I could not hide that I had lost 45 pounds in just 3 months, but I thought — or maybe just hoped — that I was in the clear. I was not.
Within two hours of that phone call, I was sobbing and begging not to be admitted to the hospital. It felt like everything in my world would cease to exist if I were hospitalized. How would I hang out with my friends? How would I keep up with my schoolwork? How would I see my family?
The truth was, I never did any of that anyway.
When my eating disorder was at its strongest, I never saw my friends. I did not talk to my family. I secluded myself, hiding away like a hermit in my room, consumed by everything negative swarming my mind. At school, my usually vibrant and positive personality vanished; I never spoke, stared endlessly at something on my phone (this turned out to be non-stop videos of food), and became someone unrecognizable — even to myself.
I might have said I was thrilled by the weight loss, and maybe I did feel that way deep down, but I was so weak mentally and physically that I could not feel any emotions besides exhaustion and hunger. As my health was depleting, I found it harder to wake up every morning at my usual time, sleeping in for as long as possible before school. In class, I struggled to keep my eyes open, and watched helplessly as my work ethic worsened. I had always put my everything into school work, but now my mind was so preoccupied that I absolutely did not care anymore about grades or learning.
How I Am Approaching Recovery
My stay at the hospital exactly one year ago forced me to think deeply. Without my phone, I was alone in a white room for 24 hours a day, for 5 days straight. It was excruciating, though I was taken care of very well by the hospital staff, and I am forever grateful for my stay there.
In that time, I was able to recognize what I had been doing to myself, and just how in denial I had been since middle school, when my disordered eating began. These were hard lessons to learn, but the day I got released and could go home I was happier than ever. I began to appreciate my life, seeing it in a new light and feeling my family was there right behind me with support.
My progress was not always linear. Recovery almost never is. I have had many faults, slip-ups, and arguments leading to yelling and crying. But I’ve also had something else: an awakening of sorts.
The most valuable lesson I have learned is how to treat myself with respect.
Respect is the pre-requisite to forgiveness and healing. Instead of looking in a mirror and naming all my faults, I force myself to offer a compliment. I reject the impulse to compare myself to others, and I honor that my triggers are real by, for example, barely keeping any photos of my body on my phone.
I have been trying new foods, which was hard at first, but grew easier as I made it a new habit. I have also genuinely tried to see life from a different perspective. It felt strange, and rather uncomfortable, at first to express thankfulness and extend grace to myself when my first impulse was historically shame or self-loathing. But over the last 12 months, this deliberate change in perspective has started to make a difference in my life.
I want everyone reading this to know that you are not alone. Your eating disorder does not define you. You are more than just a disorder. You are a human being who deserves to be treated with that same kindness and respect you give to your best friends.
Recovery is extremely terrifying, and it might feel overwhelming at first, but it is also so necessary. Not just because it helps us cease and heal from self-destruction. But because it gives us the time and space to see clearly the positive things in our lives, and how much they mean to us. Every day, I’m allowing myself to say out loud that one of the most positive things in my life is me. I am learning to love myself, not for who I could be, but for exactly who I am.
Eating Disorders in Adolescents: Next Steps
- Webinar: Eating Disorders and ADHD – How Body Image Impacts Mental Health
- Read: Eating Disorders – Bulimia in Teens with ADHD
- Read: ADHD Related Body Dysmorphic Disorder
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