I can vividly recall the first time I became aware of my weight and physicality as a concept. I was twelve years old and up until that point, I had been happily basking in the raw oblivion that was the blessing of my childhood. My body had been nothing more than an enabling exterior, a mere vessel in which I played and danced and experienced the world.
It started out as just a thought on an otherwise ordinary day. “You best start watching what you eat,” my mind mused.
This was a caveat no doubt cast by the minds of many young people navigating the vulnerabilities of life as an emerging adult. The thought lingered only briefly and was so innocuous, it was in implication — impelled little by way of concern.
It wasn’t long however until the thought reappeared. This time a little less swift to dissipate; a little more jarring in its tone.
As the days went by, the thought — escalating in both frequency and strength — became something of intimate acquaintance. Now beyond a mere cognition, it had assumed a force of its own and was asserting its authority over every fiber of my being.
What could have once been rationalized as typical teenage angst was now aggressively forging new neural pathways in my young and malleable brain, giving life to something much greater and more destructive than I ever could have imagined. See, it was this very thought that represents my first memory of what would ultimately become a long and enduring battle with an eating disorder.
It was this thought, existing within a hostile fusion of psychological risk factors, environmental influences and biological predispositions, that comprised my unique composition. It would ultimately give rise to anorexia nervosa, an illness that would span and define much of my teenage life, and more recently, a portion of my adult experience.
I am currently recovering from an anorexia nervosa relapse.
It was a descent into illness that, after several glorious anorexia nervosa-free years, was as insidious as it was unwelcome.
Emerging from the depths of this relapse, I am safely on its latter periphery — a recovery journey that has taken over a year.
The ordeal in its entirety has been one of vast learning, harvesting a level of insight and wisdom I feel often only affords itself to those who have negotiated a particular path firsthand.
As anyone touched by a restrictive eating disorder can attest, it is a journey of inexplicable gravity. And whilst the devastation imposed by the illness trajectory itself is harrowing, its realities do not offset or cushion the palpable suffering of recovery.
Indeed, opposing our acutely attuned abilities to restrict — the ones through which we experience joy, control, purpose, life — means the difficult complexities presented by our illness extend themselves well into the recovery phase.
For me, it seemed that many of the adversities inherent to anorexia‘s pathological profile were illuminated in the very act of trying not to have the illness.
They were, in fact – and as would become fast apparent – in the savagery that was recovery.
They were in the dizzying sense the foundation upon which my life was hinged and crumbling from under me.
They were in the vulnerability I felt in having to entrust a process not grounded in the security of specifics, certainties and control.
They were in the fragility of my faith that I could find joy in anything other than the pursuit of energy deficit, and the shame I felt that this was something even compelling my contemplation.
They were in the profound abhorrence I felt for my body’s expanding parameters, and the swelling disconnect between its rapid rate of restoration relative to the well-protracted crawl of my mind’s.
They were reflecting on life’s beautiful, precious moments, already so finite and fleeting, that my illness had reduced to nothing more than opportunity to earn, evade or expend caloric intake.
They were being at the mercy of my emotions which, no longer safely suppressed through restriction, were awakening with an intensity and ferocity that demanded they be felt to their fullest, most penetrating breadth.
They were living as a fractured entity, my mind and body conversing in conflicting expressions, their inconsistent dialogue amassing into a confusion that prevailed with disorienting force.
They were in the clothes that no longer fit and the perverse, and no less unnerving, power of their oppressive dimensions. And they were in the overwhelming guilt and shame I felt for being so emotionally tethered to my wardrobe when I could very rationally recognize the blessings and privilege that made up the fabric of my life.
Yes the illness, while not a journey embellished with ease, was only half the battle. Merely there a contender, it was in the recovery I was called upon to become champion.
Seeking solace through written word, I started journaling during this relapse. It is now, in honor of the captivating, inspirational and luminous souls of the recovery community, that I choose to share my musings and contribute to the curation of eating disorder rhetoric — reflective of integrity and hope. It is through their generosity of love, support and vulnerability, and that of whom I’ve traversed this journey alongside, that I find the courage to use my voice — helping cast an enlightening and compassionate hue on the harrowing physical, emotional and spiritual devastation these illnesses represent. I also seek to expand upon the eating disorder support sphere so others may delight in its glorious glow.
To those brave warriors immersed in the realm of recovery right now, I implore you take heart: the journey, whilst fraught with seemingly unrelenting cruelty, IS surmountable. Your distress will yield, mercifully giving way to joy, health, freedom and life.
That which falls between the boundaries of ill and recovered is both inherent and fundamentally key to the process: it is where recovery happens. Please, please stick with it. Dig deep. Call on your reserves.
Believe that the journey is worth it, and — more importantly — that you are worthy of the journey.
A previous version of this story was published at agirlastory.com.