I went public about my eating disorder on this site (and to many friends/family) during NEDAwareness week a year ago. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It was a hard decision, I often feel that it would be better received if I said that I was addicted to prescription pain killers or if I said I fell asleep every night cradling a recently drained bottle of wine. Eating disorders have such a stigma surrounding them and they are very misunderstood. They are joked about in the media, friends say they wish they could “be anorexic” for a day after they’ve “been bad”, and people often think it’s a “choice”.
Believe me… I would never have done this to myself as a conscious choice.
For me, the ED was a combination of nature & nurture… like a lot of things in life. (And by nurture, I don’t necessarily mean how I was brought up, but more about events in the world around me.) So over the course of this next week, I’m going to share a little more about my struggle and what triggered me. Plus I’d like to share some things about how I feel that everyone can help the problem… as eating disorders are fairly prevalent.
I am naturally a high-strung person. From the time I was an infant I had very particular ideas about things. If I was put in a dress I wouldn’t crawl because I hated the way it got caught under my knees, causing me to fall. The first time I walked, I just walked steadily for quite a ways. (I guess I came out of the womb a perfectionist?) I have stressed over homework and class assignments my whole life, even in preschool. It is hard for me to not care deeply about things, especially when it comes to other people. I’m the “champion of the underdog”… if someone else is wronged I will do what I can to help them. The kids that nobody else would befriend and were mocked I was their pal. Yet when I am treated with the same disrespect I brush it off because for some reason I look at everyone else as more important than myself.
When I was 10 I was in an accident that cut-off my nose, requiring pretty serious plastic surgery. That was kind of the beginning of my skewed perception of self. I was acutely affected by taunts of other kids. I was never mocked a lot by other kids either, but every single wrong-doing has cut me to the core and in some ways I carry those around with me to this day. When I was 17 my dad took a new job in another state, without consulting with the family. It wasn’t really an option of the family making a move, he was just leaving us to take a new job. Then he came back later on… that kind of messed with my head some. My mom is one of my best friends in the world, but that also means I’ve been the confidante on things that maybe I shouldn’t have had to shoulder. My parents divorce a year and a half ago was one of those things, it was a long time coming and I carried that stress around for years. Telecommuting for my job has not helped anything in my life, as it gives me long hours of solitude. Being alone can mess you up!
My diet-pill flirtation in college came around the time my dad left. And when I moved to Las Vegas and had to deal with being alone in a strange new city with no reason to leave the house to meet new people because I was working full-time in the house and dealing with my parents impending divorce, that’s the point that some of my smaller body image/disordered eating issues blew up.
I suspect my hypothyroid diagnosis played a part in all this… some of the big symptoms of hypothyroidism are depression and brain fog. Since I had an essential body chemical out of wack, my brain was not able to function as well and it was easier to use the ED as my coping mechanism when everything else felt out of control.
As my weight dropped lower and lower, I considered that I may have a problem but I always brushed it off by saying, “My period hasn’t stopped, that means I don’t have a problem.” But the only reason my period was still showing up, very lightly, was because of birth control pills. It was all a chemical reaction to a foreign substance I was taking as opposed to my body functioning as nature intended, giving me vital indications of health.
I did reach a number on the scale that scared me one day and decided that should probably be the end of it. But then I reached a couple more lower numbers, each time it scared me but it was also powerful and motivating.
When my mom and I decided to train for a marathon to celebrate her beating cancer for a second time, that’s when I finally started to feel more connected to living in Las Vegas. I was covering lots of miles and exploring the area I lived on foot, that deepened my understanding of where I lived and the surrounding community. But truthfully, I was in a fog. I don’t remember as many details of that first race as I wish I did… I just kind of moved through 26.2 miles in a trance. But I do remember the feeling as I crossed the finish… like I had accomplished something that was significant. And I knew I wanted to do it again!
That required that I take care of myself a little more, but in my mind it was only physical changes that needed to happen… i.e. I needed to eat more so I weighed more. And by “eating more” it was really a “scant bit more food”. I tried to gain weight, but my “goal” weight was still far below what is healthy, just an arbitrary number that the ED voice picked out for me. And by ignoring any of the emotional/mental battles associated with the ED, I wasn’t doing myself a lot of service.
The point where I spiraled back out of control was after my DNF. The gloom I felt was insurmountable. Yet I somehow had the strength to get help. (Not without the support of good people in my life: my husband, my mom and Alissa helped me so much with this.) I am glad that I got the help and made the call myself, my family was ready to send me to treatment and it makes a difference when you go in willingly as opposed to being forced. (I’ve seen the forced side in others and it’s harder.)
I’ve made a lot of progress… but I still have struggles. Every Sunday is a depression day for me, since I dread having to face my work week. Today I’m feeling kind of sad as this past week I’ve been reminded of just how fragile life can be. But I do have tools at my disposal to help me get past these feelings, several of these tools are people that I can reach out to. I’m getting better all the time. And I’m finally at a point where I’m FEELING all of my emotions and being much more in tune with my body. That is a huge accomplishment that I need to give myself credit for, since there is a large period of my life that was kind of a void.
I’m a work in progress, constantly evolving and figuring out the masterpiece that is me.
“I often feel that it would be better received if I said that I was addicted to prescription pain killers or if I said I fell asleep every night cradling a recently drained bottle of wine. Eating disorders have such a stigma surrounding them and they are very misunderstood.”
This is so true–and so unfortunate. No one should be ashamed of having an eating disorder, and yet the misunderstanding of the disease makes it hard NOT to be ashamed. On one very rare occasion in which I admitted to a friend (after much questioning) that yes, I had an eating disorder, I was greeted with, “So…you know you’re not fat, right? You’d look better if you gained weight. You should stop.” And that’s exactly why I choose to keep it as private as possible.
Thanks for sharing your story, and I hope you’ve come a long way in the past year! All the best.
You know how you and I tend to “cycle” together in writing about the same sort of thing, at the same time?! Well, we’re back at it again. 🙂
Jill, I remember reading your blog posts when you were training for that marathon – I think that’s when we first met online. I remember reading your post after the DNF. And I really remember the post where you talked about ED openly. You have been such a role model to me. You gave me courage I didn’t have before. I remember thinking ‘how did I not see this?” And I remember thinking “how amazingly strong that Jill is. She is so strong, but she doesn’t always see it in herself.”
Oh, and to add to Scarlet’s comment above, you have come a long way, Jill. You really have. Today is one of those days I wish I could be with you in person and hug you so hard, I’d squeeze the life out of you! (But in a good way….) 🙂
You’re so wonderful, Jill. I was and remain so proud and in awe of you.
I think it’s so important that posts like this get reason, and for the exact reason that you mention: EDs come with a lot of stigma and very little understanding. When I was restricting and losing weight, people were always saying, “You don’t look *too* skinny, though” or “I wish I had your discipline!” Being honest and open about what the experience really entails can only help to change people’s ideas about what’s going on in the mind of someone struggling with an ED. I am so glad that you feel like you can open up about these things.
I’m sorry Sundays are so hard for you. I feel very lonely a lot, too, and I work in an office! It’s difficult, though, to have very little meaningful interaction throughout the week. It puts strain on the people who provide that interaction, and of course it is just hard to be in that position. Of course you know this, but I’m always around if you want a mid-day gchat or email exchange, even if it’s just to remind you that there’s someone out there who cares about you! Big hugs ❤
Thanks for your candidness and courage! May you continue to overcome.!
You’re a brave girl, Jill. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there and speak the truths that got you to the place you are today. I admire your courage to fight these battles, and I’m honored to be your friend.
Each time I read one of your ED blogs, I wonder what I could have done to help you earlier in your battle. I hope you know that now that I know, I am behind you all the way and appreciate the hard work you have gone through and are still going through. I do know I provided you with a good man who is loving and supporting you all the way. We pray for you two just as we do all of our kids and their wonderful spouses. A few extra prayers for you and a couple of others this past week.