Three out of my 16 years of life were spent in my eating disorder. It was a silent battle—I appeared as smiley as ever, even through the weeks of being too nauseated to eat, let alone function properly. It wasn’t that I was unloved; I’ve always had a loving, supportive family and solid friends around me. It was for this very reason that I couldn’t share my struggles. I loved and cared for them so deeply that I was willing to keep my pain to myself instead of bringing pain to them. I hurt myself in order to spare the ones I was closest to, even though deep down I knew that was the exact thing they wouldn’t want me to do.
I felt like a living, breathing burden. Hell, I still do at times. This guilt and shame that encompasses me surrounding my periods of debilitating depression and anxiety, and how it negatively impacts the people around me, is always going to be a part of me. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand how I can feel so unloved and unworthy when I have people telling me otherwise every day.
The wall that my disorder caused me to build between myself and the rest of the world, that I had become so accustomed to at such a young age, prevented me from not only asking for help but also not fully taking advantage of it when I received this help. I held back from being completely vulnerable at times in treatment because I was worried I would be a burden on my therapists. Yes, you heard me: I was too concerned about disappointing experienced and dedicated professionals to truly state what I needed and the deep pain that I was feeling.
It wasn’t that I had never mentioned it to anyone though the years; however, no one, including myself, truly understood the severity of this debilitating anxiety. When a seemingly healthy, happy girl tells someone they can’t eat, they aren’t taken seriously. People would tell me to “just eat,” or give me other suggestions that only fueled my confusion.
While I knew it was so much more than simply needing to eat, I didn’t want to burden them by explaining further since they’d already brushed it off so easily. This had even happened with some of the doctors I had seen for the anxiety and the hunger-induced migraines that I was experiencing. I showed every sign of an eating disorder, yet even when I told a holistic doctor that I was seeing that I hadn’t been able to eat for days, he completely brushed it off. It only confused me and frustrated me more to feel like this huge issue of mine was only a figment of my imagination.
All of my fears were proven wrong once I was able to seriously express to my family how much I was struggling. They were willing to do anything they needed to do for me to get better, even though they didn’t fully understand what that would be. I was taken to a new doctor who understood how serious an eating disorder truly is and she helped me get into a treatment program. I slowly told people in my life about my decision to get help and go to treatment for my eating disorder.
I found that the more people I shared this with, the less pressure I would feel. I was finally able to speak up and use my voice. I turned the very thing that oppressed me for so many years into my main source of empowerment. I let my loved ones care for me and I was vulnerable with my therapists and my close friends. I took the power back. I turned overcoming this struggle into my passion.
Two-and-a-half years later, I’ve used the body I’ve spent so much of my life hurting for something so much bigger than myself. I ran a half marathon to bring clean water to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Being able to use my healing process to change the lives of others helped put everything in perspective. The joy and empowerment that this experience has brought me is beyond words.
This struggle will always be a part of me. I will always feel some sort of shame about the ways I’ve hurt myself and those around me. One of the things I’ve learned through this is the power of choice. I have a choice to focus on my recovery. I have a choice to use my struggles to better myself and those around me. I have a choice to take the power back and not let this guilt have control over my life, and I have chosen to do so.
For recovery resources and treatment options, please visit our help and support page. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call ANAD’s Helpline at: (888) 375-7767 or the National Alliance of Eating Disorders Helpline at: (866) 662-1235.
If you are thinking about suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. In crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer from the Crisis Text Line.
Lauren West is a junior in high school and is an advocate for eating disorders, mental health, and body positivity. She enjoys making YouTube videos, DIY projects, and spending time with babies. Check out her YouTube channel here.