By: Danielle Sherman-Lazar
Wouldn’t it be easier if we could all remain truth tellers? If words could easily spew from our lips. If we could all be completely transparent.
We wouldn’t lie …
If people’s words back to us didn’t cut us sharply like swords. And it always shocks me how easily those words are said—without a second thought of how much hurt they can cause.
If we didn’t feel the glaring eyes of others constantly hovering over our backs like a hovercraft.
Those words, those looks, that judgment—gives us shame.
Yet, we sit there and judge each other in whispers and sometimes in screams.
But what if…
If we weren’t afraid. If we didn’t have shame.
If we didn’t have to hide any part of ourselves.
If we didn’t have to get to the age and maturity where we don’t care anymore.
Why is it that we are so hard on each other? We know how hard this life is. We have each driven on the bumpy, winding roads of life—different highways and intersections but they all have challenges. We have learned how to drive on these roads, from years of practice. But of course, there are accidents, traffic, and roadblocks along the way. The potholes can be deep– sometimes you can get stuck– get a flat tire, the engine blew— and while you are waiting for help you can find yourself waiting for hours, days, maybe even years thinking about your next move. Sometimes it’s hard to make that call to ask for help.
To the person that is stuck deep in the pothole trying to claw her/his way out, I see you.
I see you trying to get through the day.
I see you going through the motions.
I see you functioning on auto-pilot.
I’ve been there.
To that person, please speak your truth. I hope courage finds its way into your tank. You can make any car model stronger. It starts by making the call to get repairs.
Then you must take action—make sure you know how to deal with future potholes. This is the hard part. This is the dirty work. You have to work to make a change. Change doesn’t miraculously happen—this life isn’t that easy. There is no magic fix, no abracadabra and you get a sweet bunny out of a top hat.
And after some time, your car will be back on the road–running smoothly, oil changed, gassed-up and ready to cruise again. Yes, there will be bad days once again, but you can deal with roadblocks better when you know how to be your own mechanic.
You will accept the judgment because it’s inevitable and you will be more understanding of other car model’s track marks—a small dent in the hood, a nail in the tire, and a crack in the windshield. You have been there.
And like me, you will see others and understand. You will give them a nod instead of a whispering hover.
You will wear these dents with pride–they made you, YOU.
Dani Sherman-Lazar is an eating disorder advocate, Vice President of a transportation company, and a mother to two daughters. Follow her on her blog: Living a Full Life After ED
By: Amanda Bacon
I’ve been struggling with an eating disorder for 23 years and not once have I felt “sick enough”.
As I’ve gotten to know others with eating disorders, I have found that I am not alone in my thinking. Over the years, I have experienced major issues with my health, my relationships, my independence and my well-being, but it never felt like I was “doing my eating disorder correctly”. Others seemed to have it figured out and I felt jealous. “Why can’t I get to that weight?” “How can they engage in their behaviors and still function?” I must be doing something wrong. I didn’t even know I had an eating disorder until three years ago because I have always minimized my struggle and compared myself to others.
This thought process has kept me stuck and away from receiving help because I have felt I didn’t deserve it or need it. Even at my lowest weight, I felt I could have done better, I could have gotten lower. The truth is that I would have likely died trying to reach a lower weight.
About a month ago I entered inpatient treatment as recommended by my therapist and dietitian. I was very angry and hesitant to go because I was at a healthy weight according to the BMI chart. I felt humiliated to walk through those doors knowing I’d likely feel out of place there. The truth was that my eating disorder behaviors were keeping me very sick and causing medical issues even at a healthy weight. While there, I was encouraged by my therapist to read Sick Enough by Dr. Gaudiani. I felt I didn’t deserve to be there because I wasn’t underweight and that I was taking up a spot for someone who was way sicker than me and needed the help more than I did.
Even though I qualified for inpatient treatment, I still didn’t believe I needed to be there. I have always based my illness on how I physically look or how much I weigh. After reading this book I realized that I was sick enough to be there and deserved the help.
Sick enough is not a size, a weight or a medical condition. Every body handles an eating disorder differently and there isn’t one way to measure the level of someone’s illness.
If you have an eating disorder, you’re sick enough. Don’t hesitate to get help--your life depends on it.
We are so excited to be partnering with The Gaudiani Clinic to host a giveaway of Dr. Gaudiani's newest book, Sick Enough: A Guide to the Medical Complications of Eating Disorders. Head over to our Instagram to enter and check out what Dr. Gaudiani has to say about the medical complications of eating disorders and read an excerpt from her new book below.
Why Medical Complications Matter in Eating Disorders
Despite jaw-dropping statistics, the tragic and nearly universal reality for those with eating disorders is that they often believe they aren’t sick enough to warrant changing their behaviors or seeking help. This is true for patients who come to my outpatient clinic, and it was true for the patients I saw at ACUTE. Denial of disease severity is one of the hallmarks of these mental illnesses. Patients may think their bloodwork isn’t “that bad,” or their weight isn’t “that low,” or they may point to the fact that they are still high achievers in school or at work.
In writing this book, I hope to establish that anyone with an eating disorder is sick enough to seek help. If you have even one of the medical issues detailed in the book, you are sick enough. If you have never had an eating disorder, but you have a disordered relationship with food and your body, you are at risk for the medical problems I describe. Sometimes it takes medical truths, challenging the false narrative of “I’m just being healthy,” to make patients realize they are engaging in behaviors that are anything but healthy. Everyone has the potential for full recovery, and most medical problems will resolve with recovery.
Using metaphor and patient-centered language, Dr. Gaudiani aims to improve medical diagnosis and treatment, motivate recovery, and validate the lived experiences of individuals of all body shapes and sizes, while firmly rejecting dieting culture. One of Dr. Gaudiani’s most helpful metaphors is “The House on Fire.”
The House on Fire, a.k.a. Combatting “I’m Fine”
Very often, patients will try and convince me that they are actually fine. (I view the word “fine” as the four-letter f-word of our field.) They feel they are not sick enough for a higher level of care, to eat the full meal plan their dietitian has prescribed them, to warrant my concern, or to change anything they are doing in their disorder, etc. They say, “But Dr. G, I get a 4.0/I’m a star employee/I can still run every day/I’m a good mom/my potassium is normal/my weight is normal. I’m fine!” This line of reasoning can sound convincing.
An eating disorder will passionately defend itself. Like an abusive partner, it can push all other close connections away. When anything threatens it, it will lash out and become remarkably cruel to the person threatening it (the therapist, the parent, the partner) and even meaner to the patient. Eating disorders scathingly whisper that patients are nothing without their eating disorder.
What’s so hard about eating disorders is that patients retain their intellectual capacity and many aspects of their emotional capacity. We would never urge someone with schizophrenia, in the midst of a psychotic episode, “Use your inner wisdom here. Are there really little green men in the room?” The psychotic person can’t access the real world. The little green men are their reality.
We all have to keep in mind that for someone with anorexia nervosa, the beliefs that food and rest will cause devastating harm to their bodies, and their perception that their bodies are wretchedly inadequate and revolting, are their reality as well. And yet reminding patients to access their inner wisdom is a key element nearly every practitioner uses in their treatment of anorexia nervosa. Where the person with schizophrenia is fully incapacitated during a psychotic episode, the patient with anorexia nervosa can competently navigate the rest of the world, at least initially. This bizarre fact easily leads family members and friends to misjudge the severity and cruelty of this mental illness.
To combat the delusion that a patient is fine, I use a metaphorical story called “The House on Fire.” Imagine that a young woman is standing outside her burning house, and the fire department rushes up. The firefighter jumps out and says, “We’re here to put out your fire!” She says, “What fire?” He looks concerned and says, “Well, your fire. I smell the smoke. I feel the heat. I see the flames.” She smiles and says, “Oh no. If my house were on fire, it would be so hot that my sidewalk would be bubbling. And because my sidewalk isn’t bubbling, I couldn’t possibly have a house fire.” The firefighters understand her to be mentally ill, and they go put out her fire.
I go on to remind my patients that there is no single marker of illness that I look at to determine whether they are sick enough to proceed with recovery efforts. Saying, “My blood work is fine” is like saying, “My sidewalk’s not bubbling.” This is an extremely important point because someone who is fine can comfortably reject what all these people are telling them about how concerned they are and can proceed with restricting and exercising. The concept of “fine” stalls recoveries.
I try to introduce these concepts the first time I hear my patient trying to convince me how fine they are, so that the next time it happens, I can simply say in shorthand and with kindness, “House on fire.” I remind them of all the objective evidence of hibernation physiology they possess, medical signs that they aren’t fine at all.
Today is my precious momma’s birthday. During my six year struggle with an eating disorder, my relationship with my mom was so strained, she had to go through things no parent should have to go through. I am beyond thankful that my mom is now my biggest cheerleader and best friend. In honor of her birthday, I wanted to write a letter to all of the mothers who have children struggling with an eating disorder.
Dear warrior moms,
I see you. I see that you are hurting, broken and tired. I see that you are trying anything and everything you can right now to save your child. Keep fighting. Your child may not be able to fight for themselves right now, so fight for them.
Listen to me say this: This is not your fault. This. Is. Not. Your. Fault. You did not cause your child’s eating disorder. In my case, it was just the perfect storm, but not a storm that my mom created, nor one my dad created. It just happened.
Your momma’s intuition is almost always spot on. Every time I would approach my mom to tell her I was struggling yet again, fearful of her reaction, she almost always responded with, “I know.” She sometimes could tell I was struggling even before I could. Listen to your intuition, you know your child better than anyone.
The best thing you can do for your child is love them unconditionally. I know I took my anger out on my mom. I yelled, I screamed, I said hateful things, I lied, I cussed her out, because end of day, I knew she wouldn’t leave me, and she didn’t. Instead of leaving, she loved me.
Being a mother of a child with an eating disorder is a club that no one wants to be a part of. Be sure to set time aside to take care of yourself and your needs. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
You can’t “fix” your child, but you can love them. You can be their shoulder to cry on. You can be their cheerleader. You can sit with them in the pain. If I can tell you one thing it would be this, don’t ever give up, recovery is possible. I never thought it was, and I know my parents never thought recovery was possible either, but two and half years later and my purpose in life is now spreading the hope that recovery is possible. Hold onto that hope forever.
A daughter of the best mom in the world
Amy Sullivan is the Program Director for Southern Smash, but more importantly is proudly in recovery from an eating disorder. She is currently in grad school to become a counselor. Amy is a dog mom to the worst behaved dog in the world, and an aunt to the most adorable little girl.
By: Mariah Harris
During the beginning of eating disorder treatment, I kept hearing eating disorders being referred to as ED. I thought this was just an acronym but realized it was more of a nickname for the inner voice/personality that is our eating disorder. After feeling like I needed to find a name better-suited to where I was in life, I named my eating disorder EDNA. This was a better name for my eating disorder than boring old ED which sounded like an old man to me. I also felt my eating disorder was feminine for whatever reason, so I chose a feminine name.
During treatment, we were asked so many different things about ED/EDNA regarding what it looks like, how it acts, and how much of a hold it has on us right now. Realizing how much EDNA had a personality and identity of her own was scary. During a group session one day, the leader went around the room and asked us about our personal identities. I froze and had no idea what to say. Before treatment, all of my energy had gone to graduating from nursing school and becoming an intensive care nurse, so I talked about how being a nurse was my identity. I was quickly told that’s not my identity--it’s my career. So I pondered this question. I couldn’t help but think, who am I? This was very discouraging to me! How did I forget who I was? After a while, I realized that my eating disorder had taken so much time, effort, and energy away from me. It had become its own identity. My personal being was so exhausted, and every ounce that EDNA could take from me, she would. HOW SELFISH?! After many long conversations, journal entries, and prayers, I finally started figuring out who I was once again, slowly but surely. After all of this soul-searching, I realized that yes, I have an eating disorder that I named EDNA, but she doesn’t have a hold on me. My life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, but I do have a few qualities I have started to cherish about myself. Learning who I really am has been a process and a challenge, and has come with some harsh reality checks.
After I left treatment and went back to work as an intensive care nurse, reality hit me. I wasn’t in the “bubble” of treatment anymore. Nurses around me were talking about the latest diets, shakes, and exercise programs. My mind was in a healthier, different place, but I felt so alone. My eating disorder prior to treatment had consumed so much of my time and energy that I didn’t know where to begin finding myself. All I knew is I didn’t want EDNA to be an identity thief again. As I struggled as an ICU nurse, feeling like no one understood what I’d been through, I slowly started blogging. I blogged for myself. Being asked if you're pregnant by co-workers because you have some extra weight from re-feeding is embarrassing and I needed an outlet! During my blogging journey, I have come across some amazing people and know that my journey through recovery will continue as long as I live, so I hope to learn more about myself each day.
Mariah Harris is a wife, dog momma, nurse, and mental health advocate from Oklahoma. She has struggled with mental health issues including an eating disorder since a young age. She understands the struggle and thinks it's time for her voice be heard! Learn and grow with her at www.mariahharris.org.
When I first met my dear friend McCall on February 2nd, 2011, I never imagined I would be writing an entry for her blog seven and a half years later. This was at one of the lowest points in my life, when I was admitted into Carolina House, a residential treatment center for eating disorders. At that time, I was a terrified and frail 17 year old young woman. Fear was such a part of my life that I did not think about the future much, unless it was pondering what I thought would be my inevitable young death.
Looking back on this time, I also never imagined that I would eventually write for a recovery blog about my journey transitioning into manhood. I am so honored to share a bit of my transition story from female to male, and how my transition has played a critical role in my recovery from a once life-threatening eating disorder.
While the intricacies of eating disorders are too vast to cover in a single blog post, I want to focus on one key component to my eating disorder: my motivation to engage in unhealthy behaviors. To the survivor, disordered behaviors have met a need, or provided relief to the individual in efforts to cope something that may otherwise seem intolerable. Eventually, these turn into patterns, and can spiral out of control quickly.
I spent years fighting an internal battle to find the answer to why I was acting on these urges that now controlled my life. I knew that there was a sense of safety and comfort in these practices, but I also knew that they had taken over my life and posed an immediate threat to my mental and emotional health.
When I dove into the depths of “why”, I quickly became overwhelmed and found a myriad of reasons that partially answered how and why I had gotten to this place. However, for many, many years I still felt as if there was a missing piece to the puzzle.
It was not until I faced the fact that I was not a woman, although I was born with the anatomy of one, that I felt as if i had found the missing piece. This revelation was not an easy one to grasp, and at first it felt devastating. I knew this journey would come with loss, grief, and complex layers of oppression and discrimination. While all of this proved to be true, I simultaneously felt a freeing sense of relief and comfort in my identity. I was finally able to enter into a loving relationship with myself and my body.
Medically transitioning (through hormone replacement therapy and top surgery, the removal of breast tissue and reconstruction of the chest area) has saved my life and has been a necessary catalyst in entering true recovery. While I still struggle with insecurities about my body, I never imagined that I would feel as safe and at peace in this body as I do now. This carrier of my soul finally feels like home, and I am proud to be a transgender man in long-term recovery from my eating disorder.
Note: I can only speak on my experience through recovery and transition. This blog is not to suggest that if you are struggling with an eating disorder, that means you are transgender. My transition has been a long thoughtful process guided by medical and mental health professionals. If you are questioning your gender identity, please seek support from your therapist, doctor, and support system.
By: Tracy Bagnato
I struggled with anorexia and bulimia for ten years before seeking treatment. I had lost myself over the course of that ten years to an inanimate object. I wasn’t living for Tracy, I was living for something I would never achieve…perfection, or what I thought was perfection. My struggles continued through college and into my marriage.
I do not know what changed in the winter of 2016, but I do know I recognized that I needed help. I sat on the couch crying hysterically and called my husband to tell him how badly I was struggling. Within weeks, I was on a plane to a treatment center to get my life back.
I spent 57 days in treatment at Remuda Ranch, and I could not be more thankful. During my time in treatment I dealt with my trauma, learned how to love myself and how to nourish my body - recognizing that food is not the enemy. I was finally able to reconnect with Tracy and who I am as a person.
Treatment was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life. I truly learned a lot about myself and about my relationship with food. I told myself that it would be the one and only time I would go to treatment, which still stands true to this day.
I certainly had many ups and downs. Upon leaving treatment, I had some slips and a relapse, but each time I picked myself back up and continued on my journey. I was able to do this with a strong support system: my husband, dietician and therapist.
Last July, I got my first real period in years - I never knew I’d be so happy to have it! Even when I was on the pill to regulate my periods, I wasn’t getting it because of my eating disorder.
My husband and I had talked about having a family for a while, and I wavered back and forth between wanting kids and not being so sure. My ghosts were haunting me. I didn’t know if I would be able to have children so I covered it by saying I didn’t know if I wanted any.
Well, all it took was that one period, and the next month I was pregnant! We welcomed our baby girl on May 14th, 2018 (just shy of a Mother’s Day baby). The months leading up to her birth were the most amazing months.
While in treatment, I tried to utilize the skill of loving my body for what it did and not what it looked like. This tactic worked on occasion, but I finally embraced my body for what it could do during my pregnancy. The road to recovery is not linear, but I do know that after experiencing one of life’s most cherished gifts, relapse is not on my agenda.
The body of a woman is an amazing thing. Our bodies were made to carry and grow a human life. For nine months, only I could nourish and grow her, and now that she is here, not only do I need to stay in recovery to have the energy to care for her, I want to be the role model she deserves.
When I start to have any self-doubt, body image struggles, or feelings of relapse, I will remember how amazing I am, how amazing my body is, and that I was born with a purpose.
Tracy has been happily married for six years to her husband Stefan. She is a new mom to a little girl, Giuliana, and a mom to two cats and a rabbit! Tracy is a Youth Services Librarian in North Carolina and loves reading, coffee and the color pink.
By: Maura Hawfield
I remember being 9 or 10, and my friend and I were about to go swimming at the neighborhood pool. We had matching swimsuits that were laid out on her bed. I remember her picking up the bottoms, and saying “Oh, these are medium and I’m not that big, mine are size small”. I was young, so I remember thinking, “huh, weird...okay well let’s go do flips in the pool and go on our merry way.” It didn’t consume me.
Fast forward a year or two, and my negative body image started to form. I was taller than most girls and all of the boys. On top of that, I developed fairly early. I realized I was a little different.
Then the teenage years came. That’s when I really started to notice how different my body was. What a sweet set up for high school, right? Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed high school and made great friends, but I had my struggles. Not only did I feel that my body was different, I was starting to notice how uncomfortable I was in my body. I looked at all the other girls I was surrounded by daily and started to compare. “Her legs are smaller than mine. I definitely don’t wear the same size dress as that girl. She has smaller arms than I do, that must be why she has a boyfriend and I don’t.” It was a tape that played in my head. I wanted to be in basically anyone else’s body but my own.
Around this time of budding teenage angst, I realized I had some “binge eating” behaviors. I was about 16 or 17, and I remember coming home feeling anxious. I reached into the pantry and before I knew it, I had eaten a whole box of Cheez Its. This didn’t happen every day, but that moment shifted the way I saw food. I started habits of hiding when I ate, so no one could see how much or what I ate. I started to eat when I felt anxious. When I was 18 and about to go to college, I knew something was a little off, but I couldn’t really figure out what it was.
College arrived in a fast and furious manner. I turned to food even more than I did in high school. I saw food as a way to heal or solve any unwanted or unsettling emotions. I saw food as an escape from my body. I also was introduced to shame. Shame went basically everywhere I went. I felt shame almost every time I got dressed in “going out” clothes, every time I ate something “unhealthy” and every time I didn’t do something perfectly right. It would constantly tell me, “you’re fat. You don’t deserve to wear shorts. You are not smart. You are not worthy.” So as you can imagine, I was constantly disappointing myself. This ever-present disappointment turned into depression. I didn’t want to get out bed. I didn’t want to be seen or go out with my friends. I made excuses for almost everything, and I missed out on a lot.
As the years went on, I continued to use food to numb the fact that I was so uncomfortable in my own skin. It got the point that I would look in the mirror and be completely dissatisfied with what I saw. Not only did I use food but sometimes alcohol too. It took a lot of trial and error to get to a healthier place with alcohol.
As these behaviors and unsettling emotions started to form, it became the perfect storm. I was using food as anything but nourishment. Honestly, anything. Anxious? Eat. Sad? Eat. Happy? Eat. Mad? Eat. I had no healthy coping skills for any of these emotions.
Food and a negative body image truly took control over my life by the time I was 21. I started to really isolate and hide myself. I missed out on so many things. I didn’t go out because I felt like I wasn’t worthy of getting dressed up, missing out on fun sorority events. I didn’t feel like I was worthy to be seen. I felt paranoid every single time I went out and someone looked at me because I though they were looking at my body in disgust. I can look back on some of my college experience with fondness, but it’s mostly consumed with shame. For those years in particular, I felt extremely disconnected. I had no true connection to myself and didn’t feel like I had a true identity. I was completely and utterly lost.
The few years after college were ‘okay’. I like to refer to them as the between years. I had a job. I went on a few diets, exercised on and off and felt fairly “happy”. But even after going on diets, losing weight, and getting compliments that I so badly craved, I realized that I still wasn’t happy. I was never satisfied with what I saw in the mirror.
So here I am, 25, trying to understand why can I not get this problem under control. Am I crazy? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just go on a diet? I’ll lose weight and finally be happy! Everyone seems to be so normal and I have all these problems. What am I doing wrong?
I entered treatment on June 26 of this year. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I have binge eating disorder, and even though it’s not the most well known eating disorder, it’s the most common. Binge eating disorder is frequently overeating due to distress or lack of control. It goes beyond the feeling of stuffed or eating a lot just on occasion and it’s usually followed by more distress, shame and embarrassment.
The thing that I have realized by being in treatment is how rooted in secrecy and shame eating disorders are. I’ve been pretending everything’s ok when it’s not just for the sake of others, and for the sake of not truly feeling those uncomfortable emotions. Quite honestly, I’m pretty done being secretive and harboring intense shame.
It’s so exhausting to go through life like that. I’ve done it for seven years. As I go through the recovery process, I’m realizing how important authenticity is and that I be open with my struggles. By being open, it helps people understand me more.
I hope that after reading this, people not only have a better understanding of binge eating disorder, but a better understanding of me. I know now that it’s important for you to be kind to yourself, to trust yourself, and to know that you’re worth fighting for...no matter what.
Maura Hawfield is 25 years old currently living in Houston, TX. She graduated from LSU in 2015 with a communications degree. Maura loves being on the beach, taking road trips, being with friends and family and traveling. She has a new found passion for raising awareness of body image and binge eating disorder.
My twenties were a whirlwind of amazing highs, and some terrible lows. I accomplished things I once only dreamed of doing. I smiled, cried, laughed and screamed. I graduated with two degrees. I moved to a different state, not once, but twice. I got married, had two beautiful children. I found a job I was truly passionate about. I also developed an eating disorder.
Recovered. Relapsed. Recovered. Relapsed. I just wanted to be happy and healthy.
Although I am not fully engulfed and controlled by my eating disorder at this very moment, I still very much have an eating disorder.
Am I at a healthy weight for my body? Nope.
Do I let my eating disorder control everything little thing about my life? Nope.
I am working towards recovery, striving to be happy and healthy.
I try to better myself every day and to make myself the best, healthiest person I can be. Not only for me, but for my family. I know that close loved ones feel the pain of an eating disorder. Which is why I am making recovery my number one priority. I do not want my children fall into grips of an eating disorder. I want my children to happy and healthy.
I recently turned thirty, never imagining that I would have gone through so much in my twenties. I am determined to make my next thirty years healthier. I have learned so much and gained so much wisdom. With the help of my family, I finally sought treatment and therapy.
I suffered for so long by myself, and in denial, never admitting my eating disorder to anyone. My family, of course, knew better. I always thought if I didn’t talk about it then it wasn’t true.
I was so wrong.
I felt somewhat relieved when I finally began therapy. It sounds so cliché, but talking about it, definitely helped. Once I began opening up, I was able to learn so much more about myself and how to help myself.
I want to use my journey to help people going through the same thing. I don’t want anyone to ever suffer in silence for as long as I did because they feel ashamed, scared, or embarrassed. Life is way too short.
Will I have bad days? Of course.
I hope that the good will outweigh the bad. I want to learn and grow more; so I can be an advocate for anyone needing someone to help them find their voice. I wish I didn’t go through what I did, but in doing so, I feel I ended up exactly where I needed to be. I want to live out the rest of my life being happy and healthy.
So, here is to growing older, embracing, cherishing, and loving everything that comes along with it. Here is to lending a helping hand and a listening ear to what others have to say. Here is to agreeing to disagree. Here is to being happy and healthy. Here is to 30.
By: Vanna Winters
“I have anorexia.”
I managed to say with an exasperated breath as they wheel me into the emergency room.
“You don’t look sick to me,” the nurse sweetly replies after she lifts up the thin white blanket draped over my body as if she’s hunting for evidence.
These are the moments that shrink me in size.
These are the moments that give my eating disorder even more power.
These are the moments that remind me my work using my story to educate is not done yet.
I know throughout the past two decades of living with an eating disorder, I’ve never met the vision most people have in their minds of what someone with anorexia should look like. I’ve been overweight and I’ve been underweight. I’ve been muscular and I’ve been atrophied. The severity of my eating disorder and the suffering it has brought me did not diminish because others would not legitimize it. The lack of validation from those around me merely kept me from feeling worthy of seeking treatment.
I spent years staring at the reflection in the mirror asking myself if I looked sick enough yet. I wasted so much time waiting for society to give me the final affirming nod, that I was now thin enough to own my diagnosis.
But “sick” has no one look or exact specifications. “Sick enough” too often became a trap that kept me away from the treatment I so desperately needed. No matter what I weighed, my pain was real. My outward appearance was not an accurate gauge of the battle I was waging on the inside.
The societal pressure that I needed to be a gaunt, walking skeleton to be considered ill needs to shift because eating disorders present in a spectrum of symptoms. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum a person is still worthy and in need of validation and support. If I had only realized 20 years ago that “sick enough” rarely presents itself on anything but a tombstone.
I wish I could have told myself as a teenager that my worth and my pursuit of recovery were not dependent on a physical level of severity of my eating disorder. That at all points of this illness, recovery was possible and in my grasp, no asterisks or exceptions necessary.
If I could go back and tell my fourteen year old self that I didn't have to disappear to be seen, I would, that no number on the scale would ever bring me the feeling of worthiness I was hopelessly hunting down. There are no prerequisites for receiving treatment, I would tell that girl as I tried to shake the insecurities out of her. I wish I could save her from the years of pain as she suffered in silence, but I can't. I can't change what has already happened. I can only hope speaking to my pain and the time I lost waiting to feel worthy enough will bring someone else closer to realizing they deserve help. Every battle fought will leave its scars. Don't wait until they're too deep to heal.
Vanna Winters: Writer. Advocate. Survivor. My profound desire to bring awareness to the public and a sense of unwavering support to those forging their way through recovery from mental illness continues to push me through recovery. I've spent twenty years living both in the dark corners of mental illness and in recovery, as a child and as an adult and mother. These experiences have cultivated a strong insight into eating disorders and their manifestation that propels me forward to be a voice in the mental health community.
By: Elly Bringaze
In light of recent headlines, I wanted to share my story of survival, but specifically to address the prevalence of suicide among those who suffer from eating disorders. Anorexia is the deadliest mental disease and suicide accounts for one in five anorexic deaths. I wrote this journal entry last weekend in response to the news and hope that it provides anyone suffering – from eating disorders, depression or anxiety – with the comfort of knowing that you are not alone. More importantly, I hope that it inspires you to not be afraid to ask for help.
Just like McCall, I grew up in Baton Rouge, surrounded by a loving family and incredible friends. I was a straight-A student, graduating salutatorian of my high school and went on to the University of Virginia. In college, I continued to excel academically, volunteered in my free time and served as President of my sorority. After graduation, I moved to New York City and took a prestigious job at a big Wall Street bank. That’s when my rapid decline began as a “one-time” graduation diet continued into a downward spiral that I couldn’t escape; and for two years, I suffered in silence from debilitating anorexia. I starved myself and exercised to the point of exhaustion, all while working long days in the office and maintaining a busy social life.
I could sense that something was wrong – I didn’t feel like myself. The ambitious, joyful and loving Elly was replaced with a skeleton who could think of nothing but food and exercise. Yet, I was terrified to talk to anyone about my suffering out of fear of judgment, of disappointing my loved ones, of no longer being perfect. It wasn’t until my closest friends and family reached out in support that I was even willing to admit out loud how much I was suffering. They deserve all the credit in the world for making me feel comfortable enough to enter recovery.
Reaching out for help is petrifying in the moment, but it’s also the best decision you will ever make. I can’t even begin to describe the relief that I felt when I stepped off the plane from NYC straight into the arms of my mom. I was 24 years old but I felt like a child who just needed a hug.
I’ll admit – there were some casualties. I had to put my career on hold, I lost touch with friends and I left an exciting life in the big city. However, I didn’t lose the most important things: my life (luckily) and the love of the people who truly matter. The ones who love you will stand by your side - no questions asked – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the people who will step-up to fight with you. Most importantly, the peace, the joy and the life that you will regain in recovery is priceless.
Unlike so many, I was lucky enough to survive and make a full recovery. My mind is now free from the dark cloud of obsessive thoughts about food, exercise, dieting, calories and body fat. I am able to experience joy and smile and laugh in ways that I never thought would be possible again. I feel comfortable and at peace with myself for the first time in years; and not just in my body, but with who I am as an individual on an emotional and spiritual level. My eating disorder and recovery are not something to be ashamed of, they are a part of my journey and will be forever. The struggle is lifelong and I still experience challenging moments, but I have gained an unprecedented sense of hope and resilience that I’ll never relinquish.
After my time in recovery, I was ready to move back to the East Coast, my favorite part of the country; but I found myself unable to return to New York, a city that I knew would haunt me with painful memories. I ended up landing in Boston to begin an exciting job for on organization that I am incredibly passionate about. Instead of returning to a traditional finance role, I took a position at a non-profit that invests in underrepresented, marginalized communities. I had just become part of a stigmatized group for the first time in my life (we all know how harshly the world can judge those with ED), and I wanted to use my financial skills to help those whom society has abandoned. I also want to share my voice as an advocate for those who are paralyzed by fear and unable to speak for themselves.
I know that God has big plans for my life – that’s what kept me from ending it too soon those nights on the Bridge. I thank Him every day for the incredible individuals – friends, family members, doctors and angels like McCall – who made that possible. I will be eternally grateful to them for sitting with me through the frustration, the tears and the anger of recovery and most importantly, for celebrating the small victories. I owe them my life and it is to them that I dedicate this post. Publishing my journal entry below is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m paying it forward one word at a time...
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Last week, the world was rocked by news of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s suicides. The public was shocked that two individuals so successful, wealthy and optically “happy” could experience such unimaginable suffering. Well frankly, I am not shocked. I am not shocked because I was in the same exact place a little over a year ago.
I too was living a seemingly successful and glamorous life in NYC. I had a prestigious job as an investment analyst at a big Wall Street bank. I was financially successful and lived in a quaint NYC apartment in a fabulous neighborhood. I wore trendy clothes and had a buzzing social life filled with exciting visits to restaurants, bars and parties. I had a wonderful family who visited me often and a boyfriend who was equally as driven and successful as I was. From the outside, my life was perfect. On the inside, I was suffering silently from an illness so painful and severe that it cannot be articulated.
I considered suicide many times during my years in New York. There is no way to describe the inescapable despondency that accompanies a severe eating disorder. You feel so helplessly trapped by your own mind: by the eating and exercise “rules”, the irrational thoughts and the self-hate. You convince yourself that you’ll be happier if you lose five more pounds, but you cannot escape the hopeless feeling that the painful cycle will never end. For some, unfortunately, it never does. Anorexia is the deadliest mental disorder and one in five of anorexic deaths are from suicide.
I was right there, ready to take my own life just to put myself out of my misery. On a regular basis, I was tormented all night by anxious thoughts about food and exercising, ultimately succumbing to a feeling of pure despondency. On more than one occasion in the dead of New York winter, I took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the night. I would walk to the center of the bridge, shivering from the wind and peer over the edge into the water. I would imagine step-by-step how I would climb the barricade and jump. Thankfully, my paralyzing fear of heights made me chicken out every time and return to my apartment to shiver all night from the cold and the fear.
Yet, I would wake up at the crack of the dawn the next morning, undergo my daily brutal exercise routine and head to work as if nothing happened. I would smile and chat with my co-workers, sit in meetings all day and construct perfect presentations and excel spreadsheets. On the outside, I was doing everything exactly as I was supposed to, constantly masking the unbearable suffering that I was experiencing. I was an expert in “putting on the face” and pretending that everything was ok at work, to my friends, to my family. The memory of the Bridge would fade into the background until another sleepless night of anxiety and sadness would force me out of my bed into the frigid air once again to peer over the edge.
This excruciating cycle went on for months. I came very close to jumping many times. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of my loved ones at home in Baton Rouge. I would picture my family – my loving parents, my lively sister and my goofy brother – all sitting around our house on Christmas morning. I had just been home for the holidays so their images were powerful. I couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning them or the inevitable guilt that they would feel for not being able to help me. As I stood there shivering, I was often reminded of something that my mother had said me to when she sensed I was struggling: “God gives his hardest battles to his toughest soldiers. He wouldn’t give you a cross that you cannot bear.” I guess it was their love and His that held me back every single time.
People claim that suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. I hope my story helps to shed some light on the fact that it is not selfish – it is an act of pure desperation, a symptom of an illness that is crippling beyond all comprehension. All capacity for rational thought disappears and the dark, despondent feelings create the ultimate tunnel vision. Your mind is consumed with desperate attempts to find relief from the anxiety that prevents you from experiencing any joy and torments every moment of your existence. The only temporary reprieve comes with sleep but even that is short-lived when the sun rises and you are forced to face the reality of your existence. In the mind of those who truly suffer, there is no way out but to jump.
I resent the way that society judges the mentally ill. It is a disease, a chemical imbalance just like cancer or diabetes. Not to mention, eating disorders are genetic, a fact that most people seem to be oblivious to. Mental health issues can happen to anyone – they do not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status or age. I was doing everything right – perfect grades, prestigious college, great job, fabulous city and social life – but I was hit by an unexpected tidal wave. To the world I was perfect yet I was drowning on the inside.
I’ll carry those memories of shivering on the Brooklyn Bridge with me forever. To me, it is not an iconic landmark but symbol of the torture that I underwent. To this day, when I see the Bridge in movies and TV shows, a shiver runs down my spine and I often have to look away. Even sometimes when I walk or drive over other bridges, the memories reverberate and I feel sick to my stomach.
Looking back one year later, I am so lucky to be alive. My survival is entirely due to the unconditional love and dedication of my closest friends and family. They pulled me out of unimaginable darkness and brought me back to life. Never again will I take for granted this amazing life that I have. I am one of the lucky ones – many are not so fortunate. Now it’s time to go out and bask in the Boston sunshine and thank God for every moment that I am alive.
Elly Bringaze is 25 years old, an anorexia survivor, Southern Smash Ambassador and recovery warrior. She grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and attended the University of Virginia where she majored in Finance and Economics. She now lives and works in Boston at an impact investment non-profit that serves underrepresented and marginalized communities. She is a voracious reader and enjoys traveling, scuba diving, skiing and spending time with friends and family. She is in the process of becoming certified as a facilitator for NEDA's Body Project and an advocate for ED recovery and mental health.