This story is part of a blog series called, “Your Story: a conversation on mental and emotional health and disabilities.” Please read with a heart open and understanding – free of judgement.
Please be aware within this interview: ADHD, anxiety, depression, PTSD, sexual assault, restrictive eating, purging aka throwing up, suicidal thoughts, and self harm are brought up. If these topics affect you in any way please stop reading, talk with a someone you trust, or contact a mental health professional immediately. You may also call the Suicide Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255).
A Note On Editing
Minor changes were made to help make the interview easier to read. I have also made a few remarks within the interview that are clearly noted in italics.
This story is shared by the beautiful Jen. I am so grateful to her for allowing herself to share her story about using an eating disorder to cope with trauma. Both are battles too great to handle on their own let alone together.
2 Thoughts on Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating
Firstly, I want to remind everyone who reads this post that eating disorders do not just affect skinny white girls. They affect everyone!
In previous blog post “I Love You, Dad” from the Your Story: a conversation on emotional and mental health and disabilities blog series, I shared this thought: “Mental and emotional health struggles and disabilities do not discriminate between age, gender, sexual orientation, race, spirituality, family history, financial independence, level of education, or anything else.” I wish to share it again in the context of eating disorders.
Eating Disorders do not discriminate between age, gender, sexual orientation, race, spirituality, family history, financial independence, level of education, or anything else.
I believe and know this is true with all of my heart!
Secondly, I think eating disorders and disordered eating are, more often than not, also associated with other mental and emotional health issues. (If you disagree, I would love to know why, and hope you will share your opinion with me in the comments. Please understand though that I don’t wish to argue and fight about who is right and who is wrong.)
From personal experience, I know that when I “lose control” of a situation, no matter if it is external or inside my head, I tend to gravitate towards more disordered eating patterns. I also know that, when I am in deep emotional turmoil – stressed, anxious, depressed, or feel any threat of danger to my self real or imagined, I lose my appetite and quickly become sick to my stomach.
Eating disorders and disordered eating are REAL mental health concerns that should not be taken lightly. If you are struggling, please reach out for help. Ask someone you love or trust to help you eat or keep you accountable to eat, reach out to a therapist or dietitian for counseling, or call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline (800) 931-2237.
Now, let’s continue to the interview…
When did you realize there was something mentally or emotionally wrong? And what did you do about it?
I was about 9 or 10 when I got diagnosed with ADHD. I started at a new school, and my anxiety was so bad I’d throw up every morning. I started to not eat certain meals, and foods. (I’ve since learned I don’t have ADHD.) I have Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD.
When I was 16 or 17, I knew something was wrong. I moved from Kentucky to Utah. By myself. I lived with a friend and her siblings. About 4 months after living there, I began restricting food again. (This had been going on for so many years.) I made a comment about wanting to go vegetarian. I had before but had stopped a little before my move. I made the comment more so as a joke to see if they’d support it. My friend knew; I don’t know how, but she knew. She has always been very open with me and called me out. And then, we got into an argument. The next day she helped me find my first dietitian. It wasn’t until that summer that the conclusion came that I needed more help than her dietician friend (living a state away) could give. I felt abandoned. I didn’t know how to get help. So, at that point in my life, I didn’t get help.
Not even a year later, I was sexually assaulted…again. The same friend and her husband got me out of that relationship. They left on a trip a month or two later. And, I turned to my eating disorder for comfort.
I didn’t know how to get help – let alone where to go for help. The thought of asking for help left me feeling paralyzed. That summer, I finally went to counseling; however, after 10weeks, I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t click with my therapist, so I stopped going.
Four years later, I went back to therapy and saw a dietician at Center for Change. It was there that I was able to get the help I needed.
Are there/were there moments in your life where this mental/emotional struggle becomes more present and you’re more aware of its existence?
Yes, stress, anger, fear, grief are all constant triggers.
One of the most embarrassing times was the first week of the fourth grade. I would get so anxious that I threw up multiple times a day. Sadly, I didn’t always make it to the restroom or a trash can.
How has this experience affected your relationships with others?
I get very emotional pretty easily. It’s made it very difficult. Also, it’s awful being the girl throwing up nearly every day. My eating disorder causes me to shut people out. For a long time, I wouldn’t go to social events or on dates because I feared eating in front of someone, or because I’d been restricting, I was afraid that I’d eat too fast, and in my mind, eating fast = fat.
What methods have you found are beneficial for your treatment and healing?
Planning, List Making, Journaling, Runs, Nature Walks.
Therapy has been helpful too; it’s just not always affordable.
I am grateful to Jen for mentioning Journaling as one of the methods she has found most beneficial for healing in her mental health journey. Journaling is such an incredible place to share your unedited, imperfect, and vulnerable thoughts. And the beauty of it all is that journaling is not limited to writing. You can blog, vlog, photograph, scrapbook, make lists, write emails to yourself, record a voice memo, create art…ultimately, anything collected could be considered a journal. So, if you have been floundering trying to find something to try that might help you in your mental health journey, I recommend giving Journaling a try.
What keeps you from receiving or accepting treatment and healing?
For a long time, the trauma I had experienced stopped me from getting help. Me getting help meant admitting something happened to begin with. And admitting it was going to change my whole world. As a child, I wasn’t ready to admit it.
Fear of judgment – not feeling worthy enough or deserving of help.
Not being able to afford help. No one wants to ask loved ones to help pay, and treatment isn’t free.
What symptoms or behaviors of your mental/emotional health experience are the most difficult for you to handle? For example: self harm, disordered eating and sleeping, suicidal thoughts, loss of motivation.
I get so anxious, at times, that I throw up. This makes big functions, change, and stress very difficult. At times, these triggers have brought up suicidal thoughts, and thoughts of self harming.
Have you shared your struggles with family and friends? If yes, what have their reactions been? Are they supportive, or do they wish to keep your struggles hidden?
When I was 16, I told a church leader I had been self harming, but the only way I could get referred to a therapist from the church was if I told my parents. When I went to tell my mom, I said something about how so and so said I needed to go to therapy. Her reply was, “Out of all my kids you are the last one who needs it.” I never got the support I needed from my parents.
My husband has been my biggest supporter. When we were just dating, he even sat in with me during a few of my appointments just to see how he could help me.
Some other friends and one of my siblings have also supported me. Most of which have experienced something similar.
What inspires you to stay hopeful through this experience? Or how do you find hope during this experience?
My loved ones and the support they give keep me pushing forward.
If you could travel back in time and visit yourself just before or just after recognizing there was something amiss, what would you tell yourself?
I would hug the younger me. I’d tell her she is strong and beautiful just how she is. And she doesn’t deserve to feel the way she feels. I’d advise her to be brave and speak out until someone listened. I’d tell her, even if right then she doesn’t feel loved, she is. She is loved by many; some, she hasn’t even met yet. I’d tell her I love her. I’d tell her to keep pushing forward.
If you met someone else going through a similar experience as yourself, what advice and words of courage would you give them?
I’m here for you – even if you just need to sit silently. If you want or need to talk, I will listen. You are loved and don’t have to suffer alone.
Is there any final part of your story or thoughts of encouragement you wish to share with the readers?
It’s okay to speak out and get help. It’s taken me years, and it’s still not easy. But it is worth it. My life hasn’t been easy. But it has gotten better.
Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Continuing The Conversation
The final question I asked as part of this interview was whether she was willing to connect with others about her story. She agreed and said that she would be willing to talk with those interested on Instagram To continue to protect her privacy though, I will not disclose her Instagram handle in this post. If you are interested in connecting with her, please send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will forward your message to her directly.
Feel free to continue the conversation on mental and emotional health in the comments below. But please understand that your comments are being moderated and will be deleted if they are hurtful, hateful, or inappropriate in any way. This is a safe space to share your story about mental and emotional health and disabilities. Please do what you can to keep it as such.
A Note For Readers
If Jen’s story has inspired you to share your own story, please click here to be taken to the introductory post where you will learn where the inspiration for this blog series came from as well as how to participate.