If anything, I’m probably the person that over-shares.
I’ve been accused of that once or twice. Or a lot.
Everyone’s comfort level with sharing personal things or difficult moments is different. Our tolerance for reading them is different, too. One person’s TMI is another person’s ability to see themselves in someone else and find comfort there.
As I’m writing this post, I’m unsure yet whether I’ll hit publish. If you’re reading, I guess I did. But you’ll know that I wondered whether I should, mostly because I know there are a few people that cringe at this kind of thing. But to be frank, I’m kind of tired of hiding behind things because it makes other people uncomfortable.
I finally saw a doctor and contacted a therapist this week for a condition that’s been affecting me pretty much my entire adult life. I’ve often denied it was there, hoping that it would go away on its own, believing that if I were just smart enough or strong enough or in a different place that I would overcome it alone, never telling anyone and wending my way through the thorns with naught but a few personal scratches to show for it.
But this year, I’ve surrendered to a lot of things. I’ve been spending a lot (a LOT) of time and effort on making peace with myself, and this was the last piece that had to fall into place if I was ever truly going to look in the mirror, embrace who I am, and take steps to be the person I know I can be.
Many of you saw or watched my TEDx talk a few years ago on living with anxiety disorder and depression. There was a part that I left out then, because, well, see above. I don’t think I’d accepted the entire truth of it yet and it’s only through a bunch of soul searching and therapy for the last few years that I’m finally ready to talk about it openly.
So here goes. :: deep breath ::
I have an eating disorder.
More specifically, I have Binge Eating Disorder.
I have struggled mightily with my body image since adolescence. I was blessed young with a very adult body, curves in places other girls didn’t have and a figure that now I appreciate so much (Dear 16-year-old me, those girls in that clique were wrong, your body was SLAMMIN’).
I won’t belabor here all the reasons why young women struggle with body image. My parents didn’t berate or insult me. Other kids did, but not in any way that wasn’t par for the preteen course. I think very simply I made comparisons, over and over again, to what I saw and heard. I have never been built like the girls everyone admired, which meant fundamentally I believed something was wrong with me.
[There’s also most certainly a factor of my predisposition to mental health struggles thanks, in part, to genetics. I’m not discounting that, but it’s not something I can control, either.]
Starting in late high school, I think, I developed a deep sense of shame around eating. Because I believed that eating made me fat. Therefore, eating was something to be ashamed of.
So I’ve spent 20 years pretty much associating food with being fat. With being terribly anxious when I eat in front of others, to the point that when I do, I’ll either eat little and then eat again privately later to sate my hunger, or I’ll overeat and indulge so much that the shame I feel later drives me to tears and will ensure that I eat absolutely nothing for an extended period of time after that.
I can’t explain why it doesn’t feel like the food I would consume to excess — not unlike a drug — didn’t register as contributing to the very problem I was trying to solve. But mental illness is an insidious, illogical thing. And it is, apparently, quite textbook for this kind of disorder.
If you want to understand more about Binge Eating Disorder, you can start here or here. They give you a good overview, so you don’t need all the gory details from me. Though if you have questions, I am MORE than happy to answer them, either in the comments or privately. I am not concerned about sharing, simply with dragging out a bunch of minute details that might not be pertinent or interesting to you. But ask away, should you want to know.
So, how did I get here?
The conversation started with my Mayo Clinic doctors when I was solving the Stupid Bird Feather Fiasco. During the myriad tests I had, we discovered that my liver enzymes were alarmingly and dangerously elevated, and it’s no secret that I could stand to lose some weight (my eternal struggle that I’ve never quite vanquished).
So we talked about the usual – diet, exercise, blah blah blah. I worked on it, adjusted eating habits — and adjusted them again, and again, and again. I joined CrossFit (which I’m still doing, and love!). I walked more. I drank more water and less wine (ish).
For some reasons, when I had a follow up conversation with my personal doctor recently, I collapsed into a pile of tears and confessed all sorts of things wrong with my eating habits, the way I feel when I eat (and don’t), how I eat in secret or binge eat when I’m feeling anxious or depressed or scared. It just all came pouring out, unbidden, like an emotionflood of epic proportions that left my doctor — to his immense credit — hugging me while I stopped crying. And then he told me it would be okay.
I always thought this stuff was just, you know, what someone who is chubby must think and feel all the time. I mean, we curvy girls are all bent out of shape about food, right?
Isn’t it normal to sit and eat until you cry, and then keep eating? Isn’t it normal to eat dinner with friends and then excuse yourself to cry in the bathroom because you’re embarrassed about having eaten the whole plate full? Isn’t it normal to feel anxiety over people seeing you anywhere you eat because surely they’re wondering why on earth the “fat girl” is eating anything but a salad? Is it normal to eat something perfectly healthy and balanced and nutritious and STILL feel horrific, physically painful shame? Is guilt an emotion you should carry with you at all times when it comes to any kind of food whatsoever?
I guess it’s not normal.
And I have to confess, I feel really really really unburdened having put a name or an identity to this demon that has lived in me for so very long.
As with depression, people have a tendency to downplay this kind of thing. Depressed people should just stop being sad, so people with a binge eating problem should just eat less, right?
I am now starting to understand the parallels (what on earth took me so long?). I think because I’ve been so open to change this year, so intent on exploring and understanding myself and giving myself grace for all the things I am and have been, I was finally able to let go and give in and own this enough to fix it. And to accept that something’s broken, it’s not just me not having the “discipline” to put down the cheese or the chips.
I’m going to address it and hopefully fix it. With help. I’m on the search for a therapist that’s close to me that deals specifically with these sorts of issues, and someone that can help me come up with a plan as well as gain some understanding about why I feel and do the things I do.
The reason I’m writing publicly about this is not because I need all sorts of “atta girl”s.
When I write something and publish it, it becomes real. When I expose it to air, to the oxygen it needs to breathe and be alive, I can’t stuff it away again and pretend it isn’t there. It’s part of me now, like all my other strengths and faults, and this is something that I can and will overcome.
And as always, there’s a part of my heart that hopes I connect with someone out there who has been through this, or who reads this silently and simply knows that he or she is not alone. There is comfort in solidarity, in understanding that you are not a freak or an alien or hopelessly unfixable because you have something wrong with you.
People bitch and moan about the need for validation. I think we need validation. It’s what turns a single human into pluralized humanity and binds us together in ways that we can hardly understand. Call it whatever you like and pick on me if you care to, but I maintain that the single thing that will save our collective souls is knowing that we might find comfort and strength in others when ours wants to waver.
I said in my talk that I wanted people with depression or anxiety to speak. To end stigma by speaking their truth, because stigma and misunderstanding feed on shadows and silence. I still believe that. So I’m writing, yet again, even if my voice is shaking and my heart is fearful of judgment and shame all over again.
But this is me. I am hurting now, but I will not hurt always.
I can weave this into the part of me that is strength and triumph, not defeat.
Thank you for giving me your eyes and ears so that I can put this plainly out and own it as part of me. There’s no turning back now, and I feel stronger and more at ease than I have in years.
My love and strength to all of you, too, whatever your demons may bring you. You can, and you will.