By CHRIS HILLIARD
Published: February 20, 2014
To complement the previous interview, we have another. This time from a 30-something year old woman who we will refer to as “Marie” who was receiving treatment for anorexia nervosa at the time of the interview. To reiterate, our hope is that each of us can learn something from her perspective and experience. The bold text is the question. Marie’s answers in her words are below each question. We’ve removed some references to numbers (such as weight) to protect readers who might find that difficult to read. Please monitor your response as you read. If you find the story valuable, by all means read on. If not, maybe come back another day, or pass on this particular post. We are deeply grateful to Marie for sharing her story with us.
- How long have you been in treatment?
Since I was 13 years old, inconsistently, and at times more focused than others. I’ve been in three residential programs and an outpatient program prior to UNC. I’ve been meeting with therapists, dietitians, and various groups since 2009
- How is it going?
- What is the most helpful part for you?
Support, clinical expertise, learning tools, strategies, being reminded that there is not a quick fix and that I’m not alone in this.
- Least helpful?
Nothing external. My roadblocks are internal. Resistance, difficulty breaking very established thought patterns and behaviors, as well as depression and anxiety in addition to the eating disorder (ED). So, I would say my mind and how the negative messages I am constantly receiving affect me are what hinder me the most.
- How did the ED start?
I’m not really sure. There was not a specific moment in time where everything suddenly changed and I began to be consumed by food, body image, exercising or obsessive thoughts. I’d say it was more likely due to gradual environmental influences such as family, and some personality, and personal developmental.
- When did it start?
Around 11-12 years old
- Did you recognize it as an eating disorder?
- Were you aware of eating disorders at the time?
- When did you first become aware of eating disorders as a serious condition?
When I was hospitalized at 13, the impact of my health and weight became more real. This was not just a phase in my life, but something I would begin to struggle with on a daily basis. Around 16-17 years old, the mental health and life complications became more serious. In my early 20s, the ED really began to interfere with my daily life and functioning.
- How did you feel when you realized other people have similar experiences?
Not as alone, more understood. I felt hope, a sense of connection, but also sadness, fear, comparisons with others, and judgments about myself.
- What sorts of things in your daily life exacerbate the difficulty of dealing with the ED?
Mainly my thoughts and well-established patterns of behavior. Work, unexpected changes, emotions (especially loneliness), social situations, food, exercise, and many other things.
- What helps you?
Therapy, using supports when I can. But, to be honest, at the moment I don’t feel like much is working. I feel like I’m going through cycles in life of more ups and downs and then back again, like a roller coaster.
- Does the eating disorder affect your sense of self?
- If so, how?
Yes. This is what ED is about. It affects all areas. I never feel my existence is enough, that nothing I do is good enough. I experience constant doubt, self-hatred, judgment, comparisons with others. I seek external validation and approval, but lack trust in myself or in my abilities. I become easily overwhelmed and discouraged, and I have thoughts of hopelessness.
- How has your life changed since you’ve been dealing with the ED?
This is hard to answer as this (my ED) seems like my “normal” life. I don’t really remember a time when I felt confident, worthy, good enough, willing to take chances, allow myself to try new things, have fun, have a normal relationship with food, exercise or anything else. I feel like I live life in the extremes with no middle ground or balance in anything I do. Negative thoughts have taken over most of the thoughts I now have. It is difficult to find joy in life and see the many blessings in my life. Again, I feel trapped in an endless cycle of ups and downs. And I feel like I’m constantly waiting for the bottom to drop.
- What in your mind would represent “recovery” from the ED?
Balance, moderation, more flexibility, having interests outside of work, having fun. Being more social, being able to view food and exercise as something that I can have a healthy relationship with and not be so self-punishing and negative. Be able to see possibilities rather than absolutes. Having relationships with other people. Be able to accept myself where I am. Being more mindful and present in life. Not feeling regret and shame for what I have done or not done and not thinking ahead with anxiety to future.
- If you could tell your younger self something, be it advice or encouragement or anything, what would it be?
You are worthy just as you are. You don’t have to do anything to prove your worthiness. You are not perfect and that is okay. Pleasing others will not bring you happiness. All emotions are okay- even the yucky ones.
- What about to other sufferers in the community?
You are not alone. Be patient, it takes time to heal and recover. Use supports. You are loved just as you are. There are all things I need to constantly remind myself!
- What about to the researchers or treatment teams?
Please continue to try to determine any genetic factors that contribute to EDs, and continue to educate the public. Thank you for your support. There have been many times when I would have given up if I knew I didn’t have someone I could talk to or who was not giving up on me even though I felt like I wanted to.
- If there were one thing that you would want other people to understand about eating disorders, what would it be?
EDs are not necessarily a choice, and it is more than just the food, weight or appearance. Someone can have an ED and not be skinny. EDs are about thoughts and feelings of being inadequate, not enough, needing to prove worth, never feeling accepted or in control in life. Also, no matter how much you love someone you can’t force recovery. It has to be an individual decision. Be patient. That can be challenging when you see someone you love suffering and not living the life you know they are meant to live.