I’ve always been aware of my weight. I was a very small child and it always seemed like adults were proud of how small I was. It was a constant thing that was brought up, so I think I knew that it was good to be small. When I finally weighed over 100 pounds at 12 years old, I started sobbing because I thought I did something wrong. I didn’t actually start to restrict myself from eating until I was 16 though.
Well, I’m sure it was an underlying issue based on what I talked about above, but what finally caused me to snap was this boy I was dating. He was a really awful guy and loved to put me down, whether it be for my intelligence or my looks. He would always make a comment about whatever I was eating. If I grabbed a cookie he would ask me if I really needed it. Or if I had a ton of food on my plate he would tell me I ate a disgusting amount of food. Things like that. Then in my biology class we had this assignment where we had to eat down what we ate for an entire week and calculate out the calories, so I severely restricted myself and would show this boy how little I was eating and he would either be uninterested or still tell me I was fat. I wanted to do anything that I could to impress him or make him. I also had a very terrible life with my family, which contributed to the problems as well. I was eventually diagnosed with a lot of underlying mental health issues, which were fed by my family and their mistreatment of me. My anorexia was one of them.
About a year after I had started restricting food, I purged for the first time because I found out that my father was addicted to a synthetic kind of marijuana that is unfortunately very legal for anyone to buy. The chemicals in the drug made it extremely addictive and very terrible in terms of the side affects experienced, but because it was legal my dad didn’t think it was an issue. It turned out that he had been making withdrawals from my bank to help pay for it and that he had been using up all the money in his own account, so my stepmother started asking me for money to buy groceries or for gas to drive my siblings around. The day I found out about all of this was the first time I purged. I went to my work and ate a ton of food on my break and then threw it up around back. From that point forward if I wasn’t severely restricting, I would binge on thousands of calories and then throw it all up. The bathroom was right next to the living room and you could hear everything in my house, but somehow my parents still had no idea what was going on.
Overall, I had an incredibly negative self-image, and I hated myself. I don’t just mean that I didn’t like certain aspects of myself, I hated myself to the core, so my eating disorder was both a way to punish myself for being someone that I hated and also forming myself into this skinny person that I thought I could like and that other people could like. When it came to restricting, I simultaneously wanted to starve myself into non-existence while also proving to everyone around me that I was good enough to exist. It sounds so silly now, but in my mind those were enough of a reason to keep going. If I was having a bad day or I did something wrong or I let others or myself down, I didn’t eat. If I was having a great day, then not eating was a way to remind myself that I could be even better. I could be skinnier, prettier, and enough to change the world that I lived in. I had no control over my parents and their abuse, but I could control not eating. Pretty much anything I could use to justify not eating was good enough for me in my head.
The most formal treatment I received was eating disorder counseling through my university, RIT. I never went to a place dedicated for that treatment or anything like that, but I sat down with a couple of experts at RIT and told them about my issues, and that is where I was formally diagnosed with an eating disorder. At the same time that I met with these experts, I started seeing a counselor in the RIT counseling office. She was actually the person who encouraged that I get help for my eating disorder to begin with while she was helping me with my manic depression and extreme anxiety disorder. It turned out that the counseling for those two disorders was what ended up giving me the tools that I needed to get over my eating disorder too. She just taught me a lot about calming myself down in extremely stressful situations so that I wouldn’t resort to something like restricting.
What also helped was I started to be more selective of who I let into my life. I cut out a lot of friends and people who contributed to my stress, anxiety and overall negative self-image. I also cut my dad and stepmom out of my life completely. It was a very freeing feeling. Thanks to my boyfriend, I just realized how tired I was of dealing with it all. It turned out that I was tired of not eating, I was sick of being sad and numb all the time, and I was over hating myself. It’s exhausting not liking yourself, but when you hate yourself to the point of wanting to punish yourself or even wanting to die it becomes so much more than exhausting. It was difficult on my relationships with the good friends that I did have, and it was difficult on my relationship with my boyfriend. One day I finally realized that I needed to get help or I was going to die. Getting help was my last ditch effort at living, and I’m really thankful it worked because I don’t think I would have made it this far if it happened.
This is going to sound very cliché and un-feminist like of me, but my boyfriend is a major contributor to the success I’ve had in my recovery. Being with me through my darkest days definitely trained him to deal with the bumps in the road that I have now, and I’m eternally grateful for that. He’s very good at calming me down when I’m freaking out and reminding me that it’s okay when I think my entire world is falling apart. He’s the one person that I can be honest with if I’m having a bad week and he knows just what to say or do to encourage me to eat without pushing me. Plus he’s always been someone that I’ve been comfortable around when it comes to eating, and he’s the only person in the world I’ve ever had that with.
I also think I’ve grown a lot since I started to get better. I’m someone that believes my eating disorder will never go away. I’ll always get nervous about eating in social settings; I’ll always have bad days, even if those days are fewer and fewer. Thin and pretty girls will always make me feel bad about myself and I’ll always have that tiny voice in my head, waiting for me to stumble so that it can swoop in and take control again. It’s something that I’ve struggled with for a long long time and I don’t think I’ll never not struggle with it, but I’m much stronger now. I know my worth and I know that I’m going to be great. I’ve proven to myself that I can make it on my own, and not just survive but thrive, and I think that helps me be a lot more bold in facing life in general, including my eating disorder. I’ve stopped letting people push me around no matter who it is and I’ve grown much thicker skin so I know that I can stare my eating disorder down and come out on the other side okay. Knowing that and knowing that I have a solid support system for when I’m not bold enough keeps me going.
Copyright 2016 © Colleen Mann. All content can only be used with permission from the artist.