Reprinted from the Recovery: Living Your Bestish Life issue of Visions Journal, 2022, 17 (4), pp. 14-15
I am a 41-year-old woman, a mother, a wife. I am in recovery from anorexia nervosa.
I was always an anxious child struggling to fit in, often overwhelmed by the world. My family moved every two to four years, usually to a new country. I tried to integrate into each new community and school, but I was shy and felt my happiest when I was alone with a book.
As I grew up, my changing body attracted attention I didn't know how to navigate, and I was not always successful in pushing approaches away. By age 13 I was critical of, and frustrated by my developing physique. I think some family members thought it ridiculous that such a young and healthy girl would complain about her thighs suddenly touching, or folds of skin appearing in her armpits. “Fat Thighs" was my nickname at home in those early teenage years. It didn’t help that I was sometimes compared to my petite mother, whose clothes from her youth, preciously saved for her daughter, were too narrow to fit across my shoulders.
With very little thought at first, I started using the scale in my parents’ bathroom, adding laps to my swims and riding my dad’s stationary bike. It didn’t take long for the numbers on the scale to inch down, and I was thrilled by the control I had over my body.
Later I began pushing my exercising efforts further and further, and turning my attention to food. My weight plummeted, and along with it went my ability to engage actively in life. I became dangerously thin and, at age 15, experienced my first frightening heart palpitations, which left me collapsed in a stairwell at school.
My collapse was a wake-up call. I needed help. My parents took me to a doctor, who diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa, and I was admitted to an in-patient treatment program. Entering a facility allowed me to step out of my regular life and its pressures and begin to heal my body and mind. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely hated the program at the time. It was a series of scheduled meals, weigh-ins, vitals taken and medication prescribed. The control I had wielded over my body was taken away.
After my first two weeks in treatment my eating-disorder brain was screaming at me to get out. I rebelled…by doing everything that was asked of me. My weight and vitals stabilized and I was soon discharged to an outpatient program. Of course, my apparent recovery was not real. Less than a month later I was back in the hospital program—this time, hooked up to a heart monitor and threatened with feeding tubes.
On my second attempt at treatment a doctor asked if I was trying to end my life. I was so very lost but I knew I did not want to die. There, freezing under a stack of blankets in a hospital bed, I made a conscious decision to “flip the switch.” I made a commitment to myself to really fight the eating disorder. I closed my mind to the idea of getting out and set aside plans, then started opening up to my psychiatrist and treatment team and taking in food as medicine.
I also exchanged letters with an older woman who was an acquaintance of my mother. Learning about my condition, she had asked if she could write to me because anorexia was part of her experience too. Feeling seen and understood by someone who had seemingly come out the other side was a balm to my tired heart. As I moved forward into recovery for the first time, I carried her advice with me: “An eating disorder is an addiction and it will always be with you.” For me, that means relapse is always possible if I let my guard down and take recovery for granted. That lesson was really driven home in the years that followed.
I went on to finish high school at the top of my class, though it meant a significant amount of anxiety. Throughout, I continued seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants, even if sometimes my family still had to encourage me to eat.
Balancing on the edge of my recovery, I moved to a new city to attend university. Stress hit hard as I struggled to keep a hard-earned academic scholarship while maintaining my relationship with a boyfriend. I stopped taking my medication and felt I didn’t have time for counselling. I soon slipped. Thankfully, with the encouragement of my then-partner, I found a student eating support group that helped me regain my footing.
After completing my degree I moved again—across the country. It was a wild time that left me broke and far away from any support system. At one point I slept on a floor without even a mattress, spending what money I had on coffee, cigarettes and alcohol. The balance was off and I relapsed. This time, however, I continued to more-or-less function, maintaining a semblance of health, for about three years. Until, of course, I pushed my body too far working two jobs, often seven days per week. Seeing my body shaking at work every day, a friend encouraged me to seek medical help. I was prescribed antidepressants once again and began working on my recovery as an adult.
I would never suggest that medication is the solution for everyone, but it has been a necessary tool for me to find and maintain health and clarity. After my relapse I took my medication diligently. I also started practising yoga to ease anxiety and clear my mind. Though I have had to stop yoga due to a back injury, I have since found that jogging or walking outside, as close to nature as I can get, alongside regular meditation sessions, helps me stay focused and clear.
In my 30s I got married and later became a mother to my amazing son. Having a child is a true blessing, but it is also a gargantuan source of stress and worry. Sometimes I have held on to my recovery with white knuckles. But I never hesitate to seek support and new coping mechanisms. Today I still see a clinical counsellor regularly, I take my medication daily, I jog, I meditate, I get acupuncture, I paint pictures with my son, I watch movies with my husband. And sometimes I just lie in bed and cuddle my blind pet chihuahua until my chest loosens.
My recovery story doesn’t end here, it just evolves. As it does, I gather more tools, techniques and gratitude for my life.
About the author
Beatrice is a performing arts and event producer who lives on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish peoples. She shares her life with her loving husband, her magical son and her very bossy and lazy chihuahua