#MyBodyStory is a series of reader submitted pieces about what it’s like to live in your body. Because every body has a story, and every story deserves to be heard.
Do you have a #MyBodyStory to share? Send it to Story@DoTheHotpants.com
And now, here is Leah’s Body Story:
The opinions expressed in #MyBodyStory are the writer’s own.
Trigger Warning: Eating Disorder / Self HarmI was just weeks past my 13th birthday when an infamous novel convinced my impressionable adolescent self that if I wanted to calm my anxiety, why didn’t I just start cutting myself? The teenage figure skater in the novel cut herself when she was struggling, and I saw those images as my awakening…my completely dysfunctional “aha” moment. Finally! A way to channel the immense anxiety and paranoia I was feeling! I soon began scratching and cutting myself with whatever I could find. Not long after that I found another way to turn my anxiety into a tangible, fixable feeling: starvation.
At the time, and for years afterwards, I couldn’t figure out how I slowly slipped into a restrictive “diet” that eventually became a clinical eating disorder. But now I see it for what it was: another way I dealt with my overwhelming anxiety that a 13 year old 8th grader simply had no capacity to handle. The years I was eating disordered blend into one another like a painting, a really warped and painful painting.
Because I was doing community theater at the time, I’m able to track my weight by what show my company was putting on. During the off hours of the run of Hair, my parents would encourage me to drink milkshakes and eat cheesecakes that my mother picked up on the way home from work. I yelled, I screamed, I refused. There was little conversation in my house regarding what was really happening. I was drowning in an eating disorder with not nearly enough support from my loved ones.
When you’re in the throws of an eating disorder, it’s incredibly easy to descend into competitive madness with your fellow sufferers. You can compare yourself daily to the symptoms of your friends. Eating disorders are competitive beasts and yet there are no winners. No one is “stronger,” no one is “better.” You are all sick. We. We are all sick. Eventually though, I got tired of being sick, and by that time I was no longer a 13 year old anxious mess. I was a 23 year old college graduate who could not keep living this way.
I didn’t want to spend all my time agonizing over food choices, what my weight was at 7AM, 12PM, and 8PM, how much exercise I needed to do, or what size my jeans were. I set out on my own path to recover from an illness that I had once considered my entire identity. I didn’t know if I could do it. I thought my eating disorder was all I was “good at” and all I was.
That 23 year old college graduate who was completely fed up with the eating disorder life, is now a 31 year old graduate student working her ass off to try and change the world, starting with myself, day by day and moment by moment. I will never lie and say that eating disorder recovery is sunshine, rainbows, and donuts. It’s thunderstorms, and sunshowers, and yes- the occasional donut or two. Recovery is one of those issues that I wish more people understood or talked about or discussed openly. It’s a different process for everyone and that’s why it can be so tricky to navigate. It’s different for me everyday.
Managing your mental health is all about finding unique strategies that help you to cope and make sense of the world. For example, one of my friends who lives in Florida uses cannabis to help manage her anxiety and depression. There are a variety of medical marijuana dispensaries in florida which makes it a little easier for her to get access to the products she needs to feel better.
As for me, my relationship with my body is constantly evolving to say the very least. Sometimes I fall into a hole of looking at old pictures on Photobucket and all I want to do is then spend the next two hours sobbing about what a mistake I’ve made by being in recovery. I’ve gained considerable weight and currently live in a body that I still, even almost 8 years into this journey, automatically call “the new body.” Sometimes I actively hate my body. Sometimes I don’t.
However, admitting these things lets the world and myself know that recovery is a process and that there are great strengths to be garnered in talking about your struggles and being open and honest about your feelings. To say my relationship with my body is complex would be an understatement, but just like eating disorder recovery, finding acceptance, joy, respect and love for my body, is a journey that I’m happy to be on.
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