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Why did I wait?

| Monday, January 24, 2022

Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of eating disorders and self harm. A list of resources can be found on the National Eating Disorder Association website or through their helpline. Mental health resources can be found on the Notre DameSaint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.

I’ve written a thousand versions of this column in my head. Every time, it comes out preachy, trite or redundant.

I’ve also considered not writing this because I whole-heartedly believe the silliest inside columns are the best inside columns, and because I could unintentionally write something so specific that it’s triggering or so general that it’s inauthentic. Yet, I hate that there’s so much stigma around mental illness, and silence contributes to stigma. I’ve had a mental illness, so not writing this piece doesn’t solve a whole lot.

Ultimately, I’ve landed on a more relaxed approach, and I’m sure it’ll still come out a bit jumbled and imperfect. Conveniently, being more relaxed and okay with imperfection are some of my goals. Maybe this will earn me therapy points.

To be more specific, I struggled with a primarily restrictive eating disorder last school year, and I’ve been working on recovery since May-ish of 2021. Here are some of my semi-recovered thoughts since then.

1. “Well, are you hungry?” – Mom, May 2021.

“I don’t know. Should I be hungry? Do you think I’m hungry? Maybe ask Dad and see if he thinks I’m hungry. Or maybe Daisy will know.” – Me.

(Daisy is our family’s dog.)

2. What if I love food too much? Aren’t I supposed to hate food if I have an eating disorder?

3. Oh! That’s like this time in therapy when … Wait, should I tell them I’m in therapy? Will they think I don’t have any boundaries? But shouldn’t I not care that I’m in therapy? Lots of people are! (Honestly, there’s then a 50/50 chance whether I bring it up.)

4. “How’s your support system?” – Doctor.

“Oh, my friends? They’re great. They urged me to get the help I needed, even when I didn’t want to listen. And now that I’m in recovery, I can tell they’re careful not to make unhelpful comments. I know they’d listen if I asked, but they mostly just give me the space I need.” – Me.

5. Wait, that tasted really good. Wait, I feel really satisfied. Weird. Yay? (Yay!)

6. Should I do five more squats or ten more squats? 5 more, no 10, no 5, wait definitely 2, okay maybe 7… I am still crazy.

7. What do you want?

A sandwich. Definitely.

I will get better.

8. If my professor hadn’t let me Zoom into our Friday class, I wouldn’t have gone home for that weekend in April. Going home that weekend was the first time I got help. I didn’t even realize I needed help then, and I never would’ve been able to express it to a professor.

9. It’s not about my body. It is about my body. Is it about my body? (Partly.)

10. It’s about control. It’s definitely about control.

11. I hear the sound of my own laugh. Ah, I thought I lost her.

There are a lot of things society gets wrong about mental illness, but, in my opinion, one thing we get right is the whole “I battled [insert mental illness]” language. At the risk of sounding overdramatic or self-pitying, for me, it does often feel like I’m waging a war in my own head. I’ve never been diagnosed with another mental illness, but I’d imagine that feeling of a battle remains the same. I’d also imagine the deeply frightening isolation remains the same. And if I — someone whose family and friends are actively supportive, someone who actually has other friends battling eating disorders — am to this day often frightened by my sense of isolation, then I can’t imagine the experiences of the other nearly 30% of 18-24 year olds with mental illness.

While I now identify with weighty words like “battle” or “isolation,” that certainly wasn’t always the case. I first vaguely considered going to the UCC for help in August of 2020, but another 10 months passed before I actually got into consistent care. Here’s the thing, though: I might not have actually met the criteria for an eating disorder in August of 2020. I was in purgatory. Some sort of in-between space that I imagine exists for any illness. But why did I believe I needed an eating disorder before I could improve my relationship with food? To get really sick before I could get better?

Lastly, if I would’ve read this a year ago, I would have twisted it to prove that I didn’t actually need help. So not the point, you guys.

Here are some resources that continue to help me:

The UCC, especially drop-in services and group counseling

Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things podcast

Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer (ED specific)

And other great ones:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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