Which came first? The chicken or the egg? For me the question was between anorexia and depression. Did depression cause my downward spiral into anorexia? Or did the sharp turn into starvation-mode wreak havoc on my brain chemicals? Perhaps in someway, it was both.
I was in college when the anorexia (that little she-devil with her perma-grin) started. I had never even tried to lose weight before. I was actually (get this) pretty content with my body. Nope, it wasn’t about weight-loss at all. A common misconception. I had been primed for an eating disorder since childhood. The perfectionism, the obsessive rituals, the need-to-please, the social anxiety, the low self-esteem, the just-chaotic-enough family life…looking back, they all played a part in my almost-demise.
My good friend was raped one October evening, after I had pleaded with and begged for her to come out with me. “This is all my fault”, I told myself. I was distraught, and holding it all inside. I told myself that she was the one truly hurting, I had to be strong. The next weekend my Dad informed me that my Mom had nearly died on the operating table after a heart-attack. “I wasn’t there for her”, was all I heard in my head. My appetite was all but gone from the grief I’d been experiencing, and I didn’t really notice . But what I did notice was that the less food there was inside of me, the less I thought about life. Things were hazy. I began to distract myself with numbers. I started consistently weighing myself for the first time in my life. Counting calories just for the sake of having something routine and safe to do. Within a matter of a month or two, the body that I had lived in, and been friends with for years was suddenly my worst enemy. I was losing weight and I didn’t care to stop. I was good at it. It was mine. It was a slippery slope, descending into the madness of anorexia, and for me, it was an extremely quick one.
The next six years or so were a blur. Literally. Looking back, I can’t believe how much time I lost to this disease. Depression followed me around like my shadow. It engulfed me, day in and day out. I was cutting and drinking myself into oblivion because starving myself didn’t feel like punishment anymore. I didn’t care if I died. In fact, I very much wanted to die. Starving had become my world. My sad, lonely, little world. It was the way I dealt with and also expressed anger, fear, hurt, frustration, disappointment, and every other even slightly uncomfortable feeling. I managed my weight to manage my life. Anorexia was my control, my way of communicating, and my way of avoiding.
Of course, I lost a lot more than just time and weight. I lost relationships, trust, hope, happiness, and a good deal of sanity. Had it continued, I guarantee I would have lost my life as well. I gave recovery what I thought was “my all” several times over. “Rock bottom” came and went more times than I care to count. Through the years of intensive therapy and hospitalizations the light at the end of the tunnel looked rather dim, if even there at all. I was convinced I was going to spend the rest of my life hating my body and fearing food. I accepted that anorexia would always be my “Achilles’s heel.” I did not know otherwise.
But then something shifted. The next “rock bottom” really did become my last. I remember the day I was struck with the crippling realization that as long as there was anorexia, I was going to remain utterly alone, until death. My husband had filed for divorce a few weeks earlier and I was sprawled across my bed, lost in a brain full of suicidal daydreams. Eating disorders don’t like to share you, and more terrifying to me than death was loneliness, sheer loneliness. It’s the kind of loneliness that permeates your soul even when surrounded by loved ones. But I wasn’t surrounded anymore. I was finally alone, physically, as I had been experiencing mentally and emotionally for years. And I knew I couldn’t live like that any longer. I started, that day, to choose the harder road. I would do whatever it took, regardless of how miserable it made me in the moment, to heal and to recover.
Looking back on those hellish years, I’m filled with awe at how different my life is today. After my first episode of depression, post anorexia, it became clear to me that I really was recovered, because I didn’t have the desire to use any eating disorder or other self-harming behaviors to cope. It just wasn’t an option for me anymore. I knew I couldn’t even tempt myself with the ideas. This was partially why the depression was so bad, because I was feeling everything, for probably the first time in my life. When the depression lifted, I wanted to tell everyone who would listen just how amazing it was that I made it through on my own. I wasn’t sure if anybody could even understand the magnitude of my triumph, but I told them anyway. (And then I started a Tumblr!)
I have reached a place in my recovery that is beyond what I ever thought was possible. I love myself. I love my body. I love food. And I want to share this love with others because I believe full recovery is possible for EVERYBODY. Of course there are days when I’m feeling not so great in my clothes, or a little too stressed, but I’m not longer willing to risk my health, or anything else,in a misguided effort to change these things. I am balanced.
Someone once explained this state to me as “reaching a place of discovery rather than recovery” because the word recovery denotes “a return to a previous state”, and this is something so much better. ♥
Persons struggling with EDNOS can range from ‘less-extreme’ behaviors like common dieting, frequent concern about body size, and/or occasional overeating, to more extreme behaviors including frequent purging, obsessive dieting, obsessive exercising and more.
Just because a person doesn’t fit the criteria for anorexia or bulimia does not mean they don’t have an eating disorder requiring attention. And don’t be fooled by appearances; most disordered eaters are normal weight or overweight, not skinny. But they can still struggle as seriously as an anorexic or underweight bulimic.
In fact, many who struggle in the EDNOS category are at risk for the same dangers as those who meet criteria for other disorders, including the risk of heart attacks, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and even death.
REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOU FALL ON THE EATING CONTINUUM, if your motivations regarding food and exercise are based on ‘psychic’ rather than ‘physical’ needs, you need to know that your struggle is important, and worthy of seeking out appropriate medical and/or therapeutic assistance.