Nearly eight years ago I was admitted to a treatment center for the first time. I had been battling anorexia nervosa and clinical depression, and after months of having been given these diagnoses, months of denial and pretending, I finally admitted to myself and to my parents that I had a problem and needed help.
I entered treatment fearful and not entirely willing to let go of the disorder. What I did know was that I was unhappy and did not want to live the rest of my life as a slave to a maladaptive coping mechanism. I didn’t want to continue on with my life the way I was living it, damaging my mind and body. While recovery doesn’t happen overnight, I knew that I wanted to be on the road to recovery, and not stuck in the ditch of the disorder. And yet, I felt as if I was hopeless and that the experience in treatment would not be effective. It was at this time that my parents and siblings, and boyfriend at the time, held onto hope for me. They were scared—just as I was—but they believed that I had a future, one without mental illness calling the shots and running my life.
When I think about my life back then, the life of going to the nurses’ station every morning for my medicine, being weighed at 4 a.m., having my days and nights surround refeeding, managing my emotional and mental state, talking about the hard subjects and oh, so many tears, I think of the young woman who was paralyzed by the losses she experienced; I think of my irrational disorder that dictated that by restricting, I would somehow feel better. I think of the pain that my anorexia attempted to avoid, the manner in which it served as a communication device, as a tool for dealing with the fact that I was growing up and would inevitably, one day, die.
I think of the years that it took to begin to have a semblance of a healthy life. I think of all the support I received, of the moments of doubt and the moments of strength and how it was a combination of motivation, commitment, hope, supports, action and engagement in therapy that all propelled me forward toward full recovery. Recovery toward the woman that I am, years later, who no longer suffers.
I made a decision, years ago, to tell my story. To be a face—one among many—of the truth around eating disorders and mental illness. I recall actively making the decision to share my story and to speak about my experience. Originally it had been about using my story to inspire others and perhaps show someone else—even one person—that full recovery is possible. Now my choice has morphed into somewhat of a mission. A life’s purpose. It is no longer about me and what I went through. My experience is only a vehicle to allow others to feel less alone. To show that while I went through hell, I also came out on the other side. I hold no special inner strength; if I could do, so could others.
I came forward because our community is so ready and willing to help one another. Let us use these efforts to provide support for those struggling with eating disorders. Let us learn the truth about eating disorders and be able to help one another. Let us learn preventative measures for both disordered eating and eating disorders so that we can create a supportive, normal, healthy relationship with food for ourselves and those around us.
I willingly discuss my journey with you, the readers, because I want you to know that I am one of many. It breaks my heart that eating disorder statistics are on the rise, but it is time to wake up to this reality. I happen to be someone who openly talks about my history and my work. We don’t know who else is struggling in our lives.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDA). This year the theme is “Recovery Heroes” to shed light on the fact that recovery “does not happen in a vacuum” and it is important to acknowledge how important one’s support network can be. The tag line is also, “It’s Time to Talk About It.” Think of how impactful it would be for us to work together as a community, and commit to learning more about how we can collectively help. This can be done through research and learning more about eating disorders, by sharing an article on social media or by checking out the NEDA website, among other ways. Or perhaps, you can take on one personal challenge; notice how you talk about yourself, what type of value weight/appearance holds in your life. How can you remind yourself that your soul is what matters above all else?
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this piece, and any other pieces you may have come across. Your understanding is the first step. Now, how you can we work together to make a difference?
By Temimah Zucker, LMSW