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.