I started having eating disorder symptoms during a pivotal point in any person’s life- adolescence. I was transitioning from middle school to high school so around 13-15 years old when I became really self aware of what I was feeling and how that portrayed through my eating habits.
I think the cause of my eating disorder boils down to two main reasons; pressure & stress. I fell into the stereotypical mess- I felt the pressure to be “skinny” and “look like the girls in magazines”. There was all this pressure from society to be tiny, and beautiful, to have the best hair and make-up and clothes and it was all too much for me to handle. That then led to the next issue, stress. They were like a dynamic duo. The pressure was stressing me out and the stress I was feeling was coming from all the pressure. Not eating was lightening the load I was carrying. I never realized this until talking with Colleen, but she said that her nutritionist said, “You feel so full of emotion, that you have no room to eat”. That hit the nail on the head so hard. If I could sum of my issues with food and emotion into one sentence, that would be it.
When I moved to college things got a little bit better- I think it was the whole “new place, new people, new environment” thing. But then I hit another hurtle, realizing I was gay. It’s something that never crossed my mind in high school so it was different for me when I had my first relationship with a girl in college. It was great, but after we broke up, the stress and pressure to be fitting into the norm (heterosexual) was again too much for me. At first I thought maybe I was “just gay for her”, but when the reality set in that I wasn’t and that this is who I am, it triggered another feeling in me, not being in control. I went home, basically disappeared for a summer, didn’t talk to friends and came back 40 pounds lighter the following school year. From then on it’s been a battle, but not as heavy a load as I carried in early high school.
I have never received any formal treatment for my battle with anorexia. My friend’s sister was a social worker and so I found myself feeling comfortable talking with her about issues I was facing. Writing became an important outlet for me when it came to issues I’d been dealing with as well and I still write about everything and anything that I’m going through to this day. I think that was the most helpful for me. I never really talked about it out loud, but I could write it down and that was very therapeutic for me.
An “ex” of mine was also very helpful. We never officially dated per say, but we were “seeing” each other for a few months in college. I would open up to her about issues with my eating and how I felt and she would just listen. She never put pressure on me to eat, and she never stressed me out about not wanting to eat. She was just there for me, and cared about me and now that I look back, she played a large role in helping me to overcome the main struggles I battled with anorexia. She may not know it, but her friendship really helped change me into the person I am today, and how I view my past and mold it into a future I’m proud of.
I think what helps me cope is the fact that I want to be the best person I can be- now that I am out of college, had several serious relationships, am comfortable in my own skin, have an adult job and that I’m feeling like an adult. I was at my worst with anorexia 10 years ago, that’s a decade, that’s a long time. I am a different person now. I have found myself and grown up in the process. It’s weird to say it was a decade ago because sometimes it feels like last week, and other times it definitely feels like 10 years ago. I wish that I could go back in time and tell my young high school self not to stress from the pressure so much. I’m not saying that I wish I never battled an eating disorder, I just wish I could have given my younger self some comfort in knowing that you’ll figure yourself out eventually. Another thing that helped me cope was art. I think that’s why I decided to major in photography in college, because I wanted to tell a story through a photograph, I wanted to make people feel the things I was feeling, but was too scared to put into words. Another thing that has helped me cope is my new love for being vegan. When I went to college I became a vegetarian but it was less of a health or animal rights thing and more of wanting to be in control of what I was eating. Now that I have been vegan on and off for over a year, and fully committed to being vegan since this summer I have this new light inside me. It’s a complete 180 from high school. I used to hate food, be disgusted by it, avoided it like the plague. And now I’m excited to get out of bed and make a smoothie, devour a half a watermelon by myself, and eat as much green vegetables as I want.
I know that I am further progressed with my battle with anorexia that most people, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have bad days. I wouldn’t say that I am 100% cured because I feel like any rough patch that people go through is always going to be in their system some how, whether it’s depression, PTSD, or an eating disorder. Sure there are a handful of times where I don’t want to eat anything when I am out with friends, or social gatherings around food make me feel uncomfortable. This is a journey. Yes I am going to have bad days, but now that I am older and more self aware, the good days outweigh the bad ten fold.
Copyright 2016 © Colleen Mann. All content can only be used with permission from the artist.