National Eating Disorders Association
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How I Overcame My Eating Disorder and Came Out As Bisexual

Gracie Mandel

From an early age, I knew that I loved deeply. I loved people in a way that felt like too much at times. I had names for every single one of my stuffed animals and I'd always buy them used because I felt like I had to save all of the orphans that were being given away. Growing up in a big family, I never felt alone. My three brothers and two sisters would keep me company and I always had someone to play with. It wasn't until the end of 5th grade when I learned how to play by myself—not because I didn't have friends, but because I felt safer being by myself. I felt a love for people that was too much. I learned early on in life that feeling like I could be myself was more important than adhering to someone else's idea of you. 

By 15, I knew that I started having feelings for girls, but I didn’t understand them, I didn’t know that it was okay to feel that way and so I pushed those emotions down the second they started to come up. I pushed those emotions down, along with every other emotion I had. It was at the beginning of freshman year of high school when my dad’s cancer had progressed severely and he passed away Christmas Day of 2012. 

Without my dad, and without the ability to feel, I turned to the vicious cycle of restricting and purging to numb my emotions. I consumed food because I thought that maybe I did deserve to feel, and then reject that love and nourishment. I’d accept myself a little bit, decide to date guys, and then break up with them because the eating disorder's lies made me believe I was meant to be alone. All through high school, the eating disorder that was once just a game became Russian roulette. My heart strings retreated like vines falling off an old abandoned building, and my fears and anxieties took over my need for acceptance. 

It wasn’t until I went to a residential treatment facility that I learned that feeling all of my emotions was the only way to be human. It was my senior year of high school and my body, my soul, my mind had finally had enough. “Leaning in” is a phrase that we had there and it is a reminder that to feel, to recover, to live; it means to lean in to every part of life. When I was officially diagnosed with OSFED (otherwise specified feeding or eating disorder), purging type, I was terrified. 

Without my eating disorder to numb me, I felt all these emotions coming to the surface of my heart and my mind--it was overwhelming to say the least. The 27 days spent there felt like forever, but it also felt like a blink of the eye. In the long car ride home from treatment, the words were itching their way out of my mouth. The music was quiet, and my mom and I were talking as the words, “I think I'm bisexual...actually, I know that I'm bisexual,” came out. All I felt was freedom unfolding in the very center of my heart; the heaviness that had controlled me for so long was emptied, and I could finally breathe. She replied with love and confusion and terror; my mom thought that she knew me, yet this secret nudged itself between me and everyone I loved for so long. 

With a lot of hard work, I felt. I felt the deafening depression and paralyzing anxiety, I felt love for both guys and girls, and I soon felt a love for myself. Leaning in to my emotions allowed me to deal with them, to cope with them, and to breathe through them, and I wasn’t as scared anymore. The shame and secrecy I had from being bisexual is what stopped me from recovering for so long, but I finally can say that I am starting to become full. 

I am now over one year purge free, I am in love with a beautiful supportive girlfriend, and I am still leaning in. Yes, I am leaning into the sadness and the anxiety, but I’m also leaning into the pride of loving who I want to love. I’m leaning in to the sunshine in rain droplets, the shadows of her eyelashes, the tears in the dead of night, and the hope in the morning sunrise. I am leaning in to a life out of the closet and out of the darkness of my eating disorder.

Let me tell you: it is so, so beautiful.

Gracie Mandel is an education major at Eastern University, studying to be an emotional support teacher. After struggling with OSFED, depression, and anxiety through high school, she entered treatment and found a love for writing and art therapy. She writes various topics on mental health for The Odyssey, Recovery Warriors, and other websites/blogs.