On September 10, 2016, I crawled out of bed at 1pm, face splotchy and swollen from crying for hours. I shuffled into the bathroom, where I saw the framed postcard proclaiming “Be Kind To Yourself” displayed next to the sink. I calmly took the frame off the wall, walked back into my hallway and hurtled the frame against the opposite wall with all the power I could muster. I watched as glass and pieces of wood settled into a pile on the floor. That was the day I started packing up my things and called my parents to tell them that I was leaving LA as soon as my job was over in November. That was the day when I finally realized I had a problem that couldn’t be solved by pushing through, by staying strong, or my personal favorite, by just “sucking it up.”
If I’m being honest, I’ve known that I’ve had an eating disorder for at least ten years. I decided to skip meals and start running compulsively when I was 14 because I was tired of being a “big girl.” Over the past decade, I’ve gone through phases of extreme dieting, extreme binging and differing levels of exercise addiction. I used food and exercise as a way to cope with the stress that comes with never meeting your own expectations. I’d stop eating when men would show interest in me, convinced that they’d change their mind as soon as they realized how much I weighed. And then when I did get dumped, I turned to binge eating. I knew this behavior was an illness, but in my mind, an eating disorder was just another thing that couldn’t possibly apply to me because I wasn’t thin enough. For years, I blamed all of my shortcomings and all of my failures on the fact that I wasn’t thin enough. Couldn’t get a date to prom? Too fat. Got injured training for a marathon? Too fat. Couldn’t find a job that I loved? Too fat.
My idea of self-worth and my level of happiness were in direct correlation to the number on the scale. I was obsessed with checking my weight. I never walked by a mirror without examining my figure, silently making a list of all the things I hated about my body. If I stepped on the scale and it showed a higher number than the day before, I spent twice as much time in the gym that day. If I went shopping and couldn’t squeeze into a size 4, I’d stop eating for the rest of the day. But then the next day, I would get upset with myself, tell myself I’d never be attractive no matter how many meals I skipped, and the other side of my eating disorder would come to life. I’d start overeating. I wouldn’t stop until I felt sick.
When I decided it was time to get help in September, I was nervous. My eating disorder was something I dealt with privately (and not very well, obviously). I was still in denial that I was facing a real problem. Other people had problems that were much more serious than mine. I just needed to cut back on my calories, stop eating carbs and sugar, and everything would be fine. Regardless, I booked myself an appointment with a nutritionist who specialized in working with people with eating disorders. And then I made an appointment with a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. And then I made an appointment with my doctor to speak to her about depression and what options I had for medication. I accepted that this was my battle to face and after 10 years of dealing with it on my own, it was finally time to let somebody in.
The first few sessions with my therapist were hard. I wasn’t opening up. I wasn’t getting to the root of the problem. One night, she asked me to switch seats with her. I was supposed to talk to her as if I was talking to myself. And she was responding as my eating disorder. I ended up in tears hearing how cruelly I was speaking to myself. The endless diatribe of insults, how I would never let myself off the hook if I wanted to skip the gym, how I refused to forgive myself for running 3 miles instead of 5, 5 miles instead of 10. I was exhausted. I was tired of fighting with myself. And most of all, I was so damn tired of hating the person I’d become.
After I made the decision to accept help, I felt an incredible weight lifted off my shoulders (no pun intended). I opened up about my struggle to a few of my closest friends and felt liberated knowing that I had their support and their kindness. I started journaling every time I wanted to be cruel to myself about my appearance. Keeping track of how frequently I was berating and insulting myself, both privately and to others, was eye-opening. I was shocked to find out how much of my energy I funneled into putting myself down. I was sabotaging my own chances at being happy, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to be miserable any more. I wanted to be happy.
And it’s a hell of a lot more work to choose to be happy than it is to be miserable. First, I had to rewrite years of habitual behavior. I stopped weighing myself. I stopped tracking my food intake. Every time I wanted to say something negative about my body, I replaced it with acceptance, choosing to say something positive instead. I chose to say goodbye to a man that I could have loved who had no intention of loving me in return. I started choosing to love myself, selfishly and necessarily putting my feelings first always. That’s really all being happy is, a series of consistent choices, made day after day, that will propel you toward a better place, mentally.
Some mornings I wake up in my Chicago bedroom and I have no idea where the hell I am. I open my eyes and I expect to see the dark gray walls of my one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. I expect to open my phone to a flood of email that will make me feel both grossly overwhelmed and incredibly inadequate at my job. I may have an Illinois license, but most days I forgot that I don’t live in California anymore. And when I remember where I live, I’m overwhelmed by the gratitude I feel for this fresh start, the opportunity to get well in a new city.
On February 13, 2017, I was going for a run in an unseasonably warm temperature for Chicago winter and I started sobbing. Maybe it was my hormones because I was on my period or maybe it was the fact that the sun was shining after days and days of gray skies. Maybe it was the endorphins. Or maybe, just maybe, I felt something else that I hadn’t let into my life in over a year: happiness.