So this week (1-7 Feb) is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and the primary aim of it involves raising awareness and understanding of eating disorders. I initially thought of writing a piece to raise awareness about eating disorders for the purpose of education with a “coming-out” piece. Or rather, the “ED story” in which I tell you all the details about my eating disorder, starting from what I believed started it, to the disordered eating patterns I engaged in, to how I am faring during recovery. But I decided not to because (a) I still don’t feel fully comfortable with that and (b) I thought of providing a different perspective to help raise awareness and understanding by providing but brief snippets of what I personally went through. The questions below are, again, taken from the 30 Day We Bite Back Challenge organized by @webiteback on social media that I think paint a picture of what my journey was like since recovery. As I mentioned before, this post doesn’t speak for every other person struggling with an eating disorder, going through recovery or have recovered. This is but my way to help raise awareness about eating disorders by showing you a brief snippet about the experiences of a 24 year old girl to hopefully, help you understand what people who are going through/have gone through an eating disorder and the recovery journey a little better.
What motivates you to recover?
Reflecting on the life I had during the height of my ED days. I was depressed and shit-miserable and incredibly obsessive. I was jumping from counting calories to cutting out food groups to just fasting the entire day then bingeing at the end of the day, followed hours of running. I once ran for 3 hours nonstop after what I believed to be a binge and it was perhaps the best and worst feeling in my entire life. I remember crying in bed after that. Trust me, you don’t want to be doing that. It takes time and energy away from other things you could be doing, like dancing and going out with friends and doing all the fun stuff you should be doing when you’re 20.
Does your family support your recovery? How do they help or hurt your efforts to recover?
The only people in my family who know about my eating disorder are my mum and maternal aunt. In fact, the first relative I told to was my aunt who isn’t even living in Singapore, but in the UK and she was the one who offered to tell my mother on my behalf. My mum then told me she would bring me to see the clinic for help via text message. Yeah you heard me right. A friggin’ text message. But that’s actually how my family works. We’re not that close. We don’t talk. We text. My mum wasn’t very supportive of me in the early phase of recovery actually. She believed me to be seeking attention and after our first argument, I truly believed her to be disappointed that I turned out to be like my big sister, who also was sent to a therapist for her anorexic-tendencies. I think she was hoping that I would turn out to be the “better” daughter. It kind of sucks to keep your recovery and ED a secret from your family but I’m used to not relying on my parents when it comes to such personal matters. They didn’t know I was depressed, didn’t know I was cutting, nor did they suspect that I might have an eating disorder because I managed to hide it so well. I went to my first consultation with the psychiatrist with my mum but she left even before I got to see her because she had to go pick up my brother from school. So…yeah.
Do you have a turning point or a certain moment that made you decide to want to recover? Or was it a decision that happened over a long period of time?
Being suicidal. I was at the lowest point in my life and really believed that if I didn’t end this on my own terms, then my ED would. My weight was fluctuating like crazy, I stopped indulging in my favorite hobbies, I had mouth ulcers, I was depressed, my hair was falling, I was losing muscle mass, my concentration was badly affected and I feared my grades would be affected and I no longer knew being hungry felt like anymore. When I realized I didn’t have the courage to take the next step, I decided that it was either going forward with my plan or getting better and since I had already backed out the former, the only option left was to go for choose the latter.
What part of your eating disorder is hardest for you to overcome or let go of right now?
Still wanting to be thin instead of being healthy. Its not as intense as before, but its definetely a significant factor in my ED that affects the recovery process. I admit that there’s still a tiny part of me that still wants me to be a certain body shape and body size, that there are times when I feel too big for my skin and start thinking that I need to eat less and exercise more. Am I the only one in recovery still holding on to this kind of thought?
What are some things your eating disorder has taken away from you?
- Dance. With the amount of time I spent starving and bingeing, I would sometimes skip dance lessons just so I could go jogging to burn off whatever I ate. Yes, dance is a form of cardio, but I didn’t want people to see me in the body I had. During dance practice and lessons I had to look at myself in the mirror and all I could see what a big lump of mass moving very ungraciously on the floor. I hated my physical appearance so much, and the fact that there were so many other dancers who were skinnier and leaner than me made me so self-conscious and made me feel unworthy of being a dancer. I felt like I didn’t have the right body to dance hip hop and street jazz and so I gave up dancing for 2 years at the age of 20. I did go back to dancing when I was 22 when I was in New York, but it was Latin dance instead of street dance since the school didn’t offer street dance. No regrets and its given me a new perspective on dance and I am fully intending to try and go back to the street jazz scene again this month.
- My confidence. I was still a big girl even before I developed my ED, and some of them immature bratty boys made fun of how I wasn’t skinny like the other girls in my class. Here’s thing. It didn’t bother me at all. Not one friggin time did it bother me. It didn’t affect me and I honestly just let their comments slide. I wore whatever clothes I wanted without a heck in the world; I threw on sleeveless tops and shorts skirts and I didn’t even think about how my arms or calves looked like. I can’t begin to explain to you just how I did not care at all. All that came crashing down with my ED. I started hiding my body and crumbled at comments about my body. Even the slightest things like “you’ve got a curvier body” made me hate myself more because I wanted a thin body. I equated curvy with big, and that was something my mind refused to accept. I hated shopping for clothes and moped at how I couldn’t wear whatever I wanted without feeling like a big lump of mass and ended up living in jeans, shorts and dark colors. I wanted the world to notice me, but I wanted to disappear at the same time because I was ashamed of how I looked.
What do you want your life to look like when you’ve recovered?
- Not obsessing about my body parts
- “You look so beautiful!” instead of thinking “I wish I looked as beautiful as her”.
- No longer be afraid of eating
- Accept compliments without rejecting them and thinking that the person who said them is lying.
- Not getting anxious should I miss a workout.
- Eat that extra cup of Ben and Jerry’s and saying “f*** it” instead “no more ice cream for 2 weeks”
- “My ass looks good in these jeans” instead of “I wish I had a bigger booty”
- Smile and truly mean it
- Like what I see in the mirror instead of avoiding it.
What is something you learned about yourself in recovery?
- That what is killing me isn’t just my disordered eating patterns, but my desire for acceptance and approval from others & my desire to live up to a certain beauty standard.
- That whatever negative thoughts that consume my mind will control me and therefore, I need to learn to change my thought processes – something which I never did before.
- That my strength did not emerge from a particular conspicuous instant, but during repeated trials and failures during which a pattern emerged that revealed my determination and refusal to give up.
- Putting myself first isn’t egotistical. Its necessary.
- That I am a f****** fighter.
Eating disorders claim the lives of many and its a disorder that isn’t just about wanting to be thin and pretty, but more about fighting inner demons everyday that tell us we aren’t beautiful. Yeah, everyone wants to be beautiful, but to have a voice in your head telling you that you are ugly and that you need to go on a diet for the rest of your life by counting calories and exercising hours and hours a day all day every day is definitely not what everybody goes through.