Growing up with anorexia, I came close to losing my life. Several times. I remember the first time my eating disordered thoughts began. I was seven.
I am blessed with an amazingly loving family. But even so, something in my brain told these me thoughts shouldn’t be shared. That they were true, they were mine, and I needed to deal with them on my own. Little did I know that that is the nature of the disease: shame, secrecy, silence.
As I got older, the thoughts became more pervasive. They became my life. A constant obsession. There is a notion that eating disorders are a choice, one made by girls who just want to be thin. Of course that is anything but true, and we now know otherwise.
I was so much luckier than most in that my family ensured I had the best care. I had parents who recognized that this wasn’t just about my jeans size, that it was a disorder that required action and medical intervention like any other life-threatening disease. So they called in doctors, specialists, and nutritionists.
I had an army, and yet I still felt alone. Again, the nature of the beast.
I spent my teenage years in and out of hospitals and treatment centers. These years were a whirlwind of vital scans and IVs. Though the care was top-notch, at times it felt so cold.
But there were touch points that saved me. People. Moments. Things.
During one hospital stay, a real low point, one of nurses I had grown to love came and sat next to me. She looked at me with so much compassion in her eyes when I told her I couldn’t do it; I was exhausted, in physical pain, and couldn’t possibly recover. She said, “Well, you could try.”
She said, “We both know what the alternative is. So what if you kept trying? We have no idea what that path looks like, but it might just be worth it.” She was being so kind, even lighthearted. But we both knew that if I didn’t sign on with her sweetly presented idea, I’d be out of time. I stared at her like she had just asked me to do the impossible. I felt like I had nothing left to give.
Some people believe you cannot begin recovery until you truly want it for yourself. I disagree. Eating disorders trick the mind into not wanting different for yourself. You’re in hell, yet it’s somehow the hell you know, and on some level you believe it’s the truth. So you keep at it, even if everyone around you tells you otherwise.
When I decided to keep trying, I was exhausted and confused. I was done. But I kept going because I couldn’t bear the thought of hurting the people I loved. So no, don’t wait until you want to change. If disordered eating is your battle, you must battle it. Go through the motions to get to wellness. Take actionable steps. Listen to those that know better and do better. Trust. Try.
Shortly after that conversation with my nurse, a really special doctor came into my life. I knew she was different right from our very first session together. I sat in her office, waiting for the inevitable questions I had grown to dread and expect, but they didn’t come. Instead she pulled out a basket of essential oils, lotions, even supplies for a manicure. She made me a cup of tea, and let me physically and mentally be.
I felt like a shell of a person. But these small gestures flipped a switch in my mind, and then in my body. I grew to love creature comforts. Weekly manicure dates with my mom after treatments. Aromatherapy. Snuggling into a soft cashmere shawl my sister sent to me for one of my hospital stays, which I’d wrap myself in when the IVs came.
And while all of these things are lovely, they were also really symbolic. They were a sign of accepting the intentions behind them, the notion that I should want to care for myself as much as everyone around me wanted to care for me.
Most of my favorite moments in recovery have been in the smallest details. Waking up on a Saturday morning, feeling the sun coming through the window, knowing that I didn’t have a set schedule ahead of me and feeling nothing but calm. Walking home to my apartment on a snowy New York night and climbing into a steamy eucalyptus bath. Baking desserts with my nieces and nephews. Or right now, sitting in my cozy San Francisco apartment writing this post; one that if you had told my younger self I would be writing, I would have never believed it.
What I have grown to learn over the past 10 years is that recovery is a process with setbacks and wins. Nothing is perfect. Some days it takes every part of me to stay the course that I know I need to follow to be well. But I can now say with total confidence and faith that no matter what, I always do and I always will.
I’ve found that people with eating disorders more often than not have brilliant and creative minds. Their drive is strong, their persistence unmatchable, and their commitment to meeting goals can be mind-blowing. Unfortunately, eating disorders take those incredible qualities and use them to fuel the disease. But the amazing thing about recovery is that those traits, flipped the other way, can just as powerfully fuel incredible things.
And so today, my own journey and recovery has inspired me to launch my greatest passion, The Cashmere Foundation. Our mission at Cashmere is ease the patient experience. We infuse soothing spa elements into the treatment process. We have mobile spas that visit patients in their hospital rooms providing mini massages, essential oils, and what we’ve deemed “necessary luxuries.” The science is there. The mind body connection is more powerful than there are words for. We are indeed affected by our surroundings. By touch. We know that wellness treatments reduce pain, promote relaxation, boost mood and decrease anxiety, particularly for those in the throes of illness. We couldn’t be more excited and honored to be an official sponsor of the NEDAwareness Walk in LA on March 4 where we will speaking and hosting a Cashmere Spa Pop-Up.
It will be our honor to touch and to soothe those who attend that day, because many wonderful people touched and soothed me all the way to recovery. It’s with a grateful heart and so much hope that I get to pay forward the love and the little luxuries that helped me heal.
Rachel Happ is an eating disorder survivor, advocate, and Founder of The Cashmere Foundation. She received her degree from Parsons School of Design, where she created a program focused on healthcare innovation strategy and environments for wellness.