*Trigger warning (eating disorder, self-harm, suicidality)
I’d like to introduce you to someone. His name is Ed.
Ed’s full name is Eating Disorder, but I don’t call him that. To me, he’s just Ed. Ed shows himself to people in many shapes and forms, but I’m going to tell you about how I know him.
Ed seemed nice at first. He made me feel better about myself, let me have control over something for once, and gave me purpose. Since I had just recently been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, I felt like my world was spinning out of control. But soon, Ed showed up and greeted me gently, seductively. “Exercise is good for you, it’s self-care,” he told me. “Cutting out unhealthy foods from your diet is a good thing too.” So what if I lost a little weight? No big deal. This would be good for me. So I exercised, and I cut out “unhealthy foods” and calories.
Then I exercised more, and I cut out more foods and more calories.
“You’re doing great!” said Ed. “Look at all this control you have over your life, and how productive you are! The fact that you’re still depressed and self-harming isn’t important, just keep going.” I told Ed I was starting to become unsure of this, that something about it didn’t seem right. “No,” replied Ed, “You need this. This is okay.”
So I exercised more, and I cut out more foods and more calories.
Soon I was exercising for hours each day, often going for multiple runs daily. I was barely eating anything, usually not equivalent to a full meal each day. I was terrified of losing what I had worked so hard to gain, and my pal Ed continually reminded me that I could always be doing more, that I could be thinner and could work harder. He whispered in my ear that I was more when I was less, that the less I weighed, the happier I would be. And having few friends at the time due to how much I isolated myself because of my disorders, I listened to Ed, I wanted to please him. Even though the doctors and online charts said I was underweight and not healthy, I felt that I could only trust Ed and that he was revealing to me my true self.
The restriction and exercise became addictive.
Enough was simply never enough. No matter how long I spent on the elliptical, I never burned enough calories. No matter how few calories I ate, there were always too many. No matter how much I weighed, it was always too much.
“That’s right,” said Ed. “It’s not enough yet. You’re getting there.”
The physical effects of over-exercising with too little nutritional intake set in. The effects of too little nutrition in general set in. The effects of depression and anxiety were amplified by the effects of Ed.
“You’re weak,”, Ed began to sneer. “You’re not enough.”
So naturally, I had to prove Ed wrong. I kept pushing. After all, he must be right; I wasn’t enough.
Eventually, an episode of suicidal ideation put me in the hospital. While there, I was switched from a medication that had apparently been causing weight gain to another that would supposedly not have the same effects. Also during this time I was fed regularly and was pressured to eat. At first it was literally and metaphorically painful, but eventually I was reminded of just how much I like actual food. I started to eat real meals for the first time in a long time, and I actually found that I didn’t gain weight – indeed, if anything I lost some because my metabolism was finally kicked into action. Plus, switching out that medication revealed that the old one might have been causing weight gain out of my control, leading me to engage in more dangerous behaviors because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Something clicked for me during that time, and since being let out of the hospital I haven’t struggled with Ed as much as I did before.
When I first befriended Ed I was thankful for him. He gave me an identity, he showed me where my worth was – in the size and appearance of my body, in the numbers that defined who I was. Ed was always there, even when it felt like no one else was. Ed felt like a savior of sorts that arrived during my darkest time.
It wasn’t until it was too late that I understood that he only made my world darker.
Now, Ed still comes to visit every now and then. When I’m at my lowest is when he likes to jump in and give his two cents about how I am not enough. Though I am clean and sober from my eating disorder addiction – yes, that is what it felt like – he sometimes tries to tempt me by twisting my perceptions and thoughts.
I’ve since then learned that those things Ed taught me are not my identity; in fact, neither are my other disorders or illnesses. The secrets Ed whispers in my ears are lies and attention from him is not a sign of love. No one who truly loved me would ever make me go through anything like that or tell me those things. No, my worth is found in how I treat others, the words I say, my actions and their intentions. My value lies in who I am as a person and my status as a child of God. Those who truly love me say I am beautiful, kind, funny, and smart. I don’t need Ed to feel whole or worthy, because I am whole and worthy all on my own.
This post is dedicated to Alex K., the superhero big sister I wish I had, my inspiration and role model, and my friend who was by my side every step of my Ed battle.