0116: Runner's Guilt


Content warning: The following story makes references to a survivor's experiences with an eating disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Runner's Guilt," Craig Bidiman

A very common phrase I utter is some variation on, "I'm gonna have to run a lot if I eat this." Sometimes it can refer to a large meal with lots of sodium, a dessert, some fast food, or a massive brunch. 

I run so that I don't feel guilty about eating. Anything. Almost any time I eat, my brain tells me, "you need to run now. You need to burn off whatever you just dumped into your body. You need to go now. Leave. Run! NOW!"

That sort of internal narrative can be pretty frustrating to live with on a daily basis. This has been my reality for the last eight years or so, when I really started to develop a distorted vision of my body, a condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Essentially, I don't view my body the others may view my body. I am hypercritical of every perceived curve, roll, stretch mark, even if they aren't really there. My mind often exaggerates these aspects of my body, and it makes me overcompensate by running. Or by under-eating, fasting, or harming myself when I don't feel good about my body.

My history with fasting is long, and certainly connected to how I was medicated as a child. It fucked me up. I was (and still am) a typical case of ADHD. Always running around, lots of energy, mind going a mile-a-minute, and lots of projects to keep me busy. Being medicated gave me a weird relationship with food—I hated it. I was scrawny until college, when I realized that food was great! So I started to eat a lot. And I began to gain weight for the first time in my life.

Me, after a recent 14 mile run.

Me, after a recent 14 mile run.

Slowly, I began to notice that I wasn’t really taking care of myself—I wasn’t eating food that was necessarily “good” for me. It was a lot of meat, fast food (Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr.), sugar (candy, soda), and sunflower seeds (which are just drenched in salt). I tried to balance a lot of my crappy eating habits with running. I ran a lot. I was able to consistently run about 35 miles/week, with an average long run of 10 miles.

I have a love/hate relationship with running.
I don’t actually like running that much.
But the endorphins I get from running have always helped with my depression and anxiety—some of which is caused by my eating habits.

Thus, I’ve also used running to make up for the way I eat/ate. I also use running to "allow" myself to eat certain foods or certain amounts of food. And the constant mental gymnastics I put myself through can be incredibly exhausting.
Which means I also use guilt to motivate myself to run.
And that sucks.

However, my early complicated relationship with running doesn’t mean I changed the way I ate in college. The complicated relationship led to me hating how stubborn I was being with food. I would do all of this running—great exercise, wonderful for my heart and mind—but ultimately, I wasn’t returning the love to myself. It sucked. I wasn’t losing weight; I wasn’t necessarily “fit.” I was just going through motions of somewhat self-destructive behaviors, and the running became how I masked my insecurities. 

One day, I had just come returned from a run, and a very good friend of mine said, “with all the running you do, I figured you would be in much better shape.” One of the worst things I could’ve ever heard. It sent me directly to food. And I ate a lot.

Those words have echoed in my brain.

During college, it got to the point where I would start fasting intermittently—sometimes for a day here and there, sometimes for multiple days, often for a week at a time. Fasting does have some benefits—restarting your system, flushing out crap from your body. But I wasn’t doing it for necessarily the best reasons.

I did it because I genuinely thought I was fat. And it hurt a lot.
It hurt my body, and it hurt my mind.

I don't like sharing images of myself without a shirt on, but this happens from time to time after I run.

I don't like sharing images of myself without a shirt on, but this happens from time to time after I run.

I know I’ve never been “fat,” but my anxiety about my body kept convincing my brain otherwise. It was an endless cycle of comparing myself to my other male friends, not feeling “fit” enough, not feeling JACKED enough. I’ve never really been a huge person, or one to pack on muscle, but I kept convincing myself that I was a complete mess.

I know much of this critique is due to a severe concern for my health, but it's also very much influenced by the way I interact with other men. Growing up in a hypermasculine society has been pretty detrimental to my mental health—constantly being in locker rooms with muscular dudes checking themselves out in the mirror. Me, wondering why muscles won’t appear on my body, resenting them as they flex and brag about their delts or tris or whatever muscle group they were working on that day. While I repress the urge to yell in their bro faces for being more attractive, stronger, and cooler than me.

Only within the last few years have I figured out what’s been going on with my brain and body—it’s all about insecurity.

I am, and perhaps, always have been pretty insecure about my body. Either I felt I was too skinny (especially when medicated, and during high school), or I was “too fat.” Again, my brain had a wonderful way of tricking me into believing both were the end of the world. I don’t feel there are many times where I’ve held a “comfort” weight. But I know where it is, and finding that level has been a constant struggle for me.

These insecurities have led me to unnecessarily project onto others—friends, colleagues, my partners. When I don’t feel comfortable about my body, I find myself being hypercritical and judgmental of those around me. And I think/say terrible things that I know are only my own projections of issues that I feel about myself. Hell, I say them to myself all the time as well.

Emotional self-harm is still self-harm.

The only true way I’ve found to cope with my body image issues, outside of running, is to get tattooed. I have many tattoos—a full sleeve, and another in progress. But I consciously and unconsciously use these tattoos to give me SOMETHING to appreciate about my body. It sucks that it needs to be tattoos, but there aren't many days when I feel good about my body

And on the days I do feel good about myself, my confidence is unfuckwithable. And when I look in the mirror, I think to myself, “I’m a badass.” The tattoos help me feel that. The tattoos help me feel anything. Even the action of being tattooed is enjoyable to me. The pain, the reality of it all, the experience—it’s all to capture a moment in my life and to add something new to my imperfect canvas.

I recently ran a half marathon in a snow storm. Very fun, but very stupid.

I recently ran a half marathon in a snow storm. Very fun, but very stupid.

A year ago today, I weighed the most I have ever weighed—after a year-long job search, months of depression, soda, sugar, and anger led me away from taking care of myself as I should have been. 

Today, I eat much better. I pay attention to virtually everything I put into my body. Now that I am a health educator, I have really doubled-down on my wellness. I haven’t eaten meat in over four years, I’ve cut caffeine almost completely from my diet, I avoid unnecessary processed sugars—fruits are always gonna be my jam. I’m even back down to my goal “comfort” weight, and I feel great.

Yet, recently while visiting home, another friend of mine uttered virtually the exact same words that stung me a few years ago—with all the running you do, I figured you would be in much better shape. It sucked because I know I am doing great right now.

So I chose to not care this time and I didn’t dive into food.

I am the healthiest I have ever been, and I still don’t really like running (even though I’m marathon training again), but I do it to keep myself sane. I use running as motivation to keep myself on the right path of mental and emotional wellness, as well as physical. Granted, I still find myself justifying the things I eat with how much I will need to run, but at least I am giving some sort of consideration to how what I put into my body these days.

I’m not sure I will ever conquer this disorder, but I have plans to start seeing a therapist about it and I cannot wait to see how and if it helps me. So here goes nothing!


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About the art:

NOTE: I chose to use the art that Katy made for my self-love post in September 2016, click here to check that out! As such, I chose to use their same "about the art" because it is still fitting for this story.

Craig had me read his story, and work on this piece while he was gone at a concert. I wasn't really able to brainstorm with him, which gave me some silly creative freedom. Since we live together, I get to see the struggles Craig deals with on a daily basis.

I know he really struggles with his body image, and it was great to hear him talk a bit about what he does to stay positive when it comes to looking at himself in the mirror. I wanted to do something happy, cute and simple. I researched some self-love art pieces, and found something similar to this that inspired me to create a version of Craig giving himself positive affirmations.

His tattoos were a little too complicated to fit the aesthetic, so I just lightly drew some of them. I sent it to him, and his immediate response was laughter. I'm glad it was something that could make him smile and put something else positive in the force against his struggles.

- Katy

0115: Don't Forget to Bloom


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experience with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Don't Forget to Bloom," Sarah Cantu

The first time I remember realizing that I was fat (and that that’s a “bad thing”) was when I was 5 years old. I was on the playground with my cousin and one of her friends, and they wanted to role play the Little Mermaid. I think I volunteered to play one of Ariel’s sisters or maybe even Sebastian, but my cousin’s friend said I could only play if I was going to be Ursula because I was fat. Instead of saying “no, I won’t play Ursula” I burst into tears and refused to play at all. Although this encounter may sound fairly insignificant, most of my memories from elementary and middle school are a blur of similar interactions that ended with me crying or choosing to count myself out. 

My mom put me on my first diet when I was 8 years old. After that, diets became a staple, a cycle, and a marker for the passing of time in my life. 4th grade was a nutritionist-curated meal plan, 7th grade was low-carb, 10th grade was Weight Watchers, 11th grade was Jenny Craig, 12th grade was the juice cleanse. Every time I started a new diet, I’d lose 10-20 pounds or so, but eventually, I’d get lazy or bored and gain back the weight and then some. I also endured a seemingly endless list of exercise classes on top of that (swimming, tap dancing, hip hop dancing, Folklorico, cheerleading camp, etc.), but I never felt at home in any of them. I just wanted to be reading books or memorizing Fall Out Boy lyrics or hanging out with kids who didn’t whisper about me behind my back. I just wanted to feel like I wasn’t taking up so much space. 

When I was 16, things got even fuzzier. I started throwing up my meals. At first it was only when I’d eaten something “bad.” But it eventually became once or twice a day, and I started to associate the act of vomiting with a strange sense of control. I’d get headaches and almost regularly end up in tears on the bathroom floor. I didn’t just not lose weight, I also found myself feeling more out of control in other areas of my life. I was increasingly jealous of my thin friends and would say things I didn’t really mean. I wasn’t dealing well with stress or sleeping enough and I would sometimes find myself unable to hold back tears in the middle of class.

Maybe most disturbingly, I attributed most everything negative in my life to my body and my size. Boys didn’t like me? It’s because I was too fat. I didn’t get invited to do something? It’s because people are embarrassed to be seen with me. Friends haven’t answered my call or text? They’d rather talk to their prettier, thinner friends. My thoughts and self-image were a strange and bitter web of things I projected onto others and their interactions with me, but thankfully it didn’t last forever. 

Although it may sound silly, I think the internet saved me. I’ve always loved to write, so I found something of a home in Tumblr. Even though I wasted a lot of time scrolling through my dashboard, it was also through Tumblr that I first discovered plus-size bloggers and body positivity. I remember being in awe of bloggers like Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason who seemed to take up space so beautifully and unapologetically.

When I discovered the body-positivity community, it was a genuine revelation in my life. It was the first time I’d ever heard someone say that being fat is not a bad thing, your body is not a bad thing. It was the first time I realized being pretty and being fat are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps more importantly, it was the first time that I realized that prettiness isn’t something anyone has to aspire to. 

It took me a long time to realize that I had put years of time and energy into trying to cut myself into smaller versions of me, instead of letting myself bloom. Taking up space, literally and figuratively, is a difficult thing for women to do. Especially for a queer, fat, woman of color like myself, it takes so much time and energy to be okay with just being. But the thing is, even if we don’t have complete control over how much and what kind of space we take up, we do have control over how we choose to occupy it and navigate the world.

The thing is, being fat, I felt like I never had the option to hide. That frightened me and it still frightens me most days. But as I get older, I draw more and more strength from that thought. On top of that or maybe even because of that, I’ve come to terms with the fact that many of my identities or attributes are not “supposed” to coexist, and yet they do. I’m not supposed to be fat and not trying to change my body. I’m not supposed to be decidedly feminine and interested in dating other women. I’m not supposed to be a woman of color forging my own professional path, and yet here I am. It’s not perfect, and it’s not always fun, and it’s definitely not always easy, but here I am. I think of the many people whose visibility and whose stories have impacted me, and I take comfort in knowing that there are others like me and unlike me, who have forged homes for themselves in a world that tells them they don’t belong.

To anyone who worries that they’re too fat, too thin, too ugly, too broken, too loud, too much, I wish I had the answer for you. I wish I could give you detailed instructions for loving yourself and for uplifting others. I wish I could pull you out of the way that you see yourself, buy you a cup of coffee, and make you snort-laugh or ugly cry until you feel better. 

But until I find a way to do that, I’ll leave you with a quiet intention that helps guide me. As often as you can, seek, show, and surrender to grace. It really is all around, and it never quite looks the same way. Sometimes it’s a pillow fight with your friend while “I’m Not Okay” plays in the background. Sometimes it’s gently pushing back when someone you love engages in negative self-talk. Sometimes it’s admitting to yourself that you look hella cute today. Whatever it is for you, and however it is you need it in your life, surrender to grace, and don’t forget to bloom.


About the Art:

Sarah's story resonated with me tremendously, as someone with body image issues/body dysmorphia. It's hard to view yourself in any sort of good light when your brain is fighting you constantly about your appearance. So, I wanted to create a piece that would make Sarah feel valued and enough.

This is a quote she supplied me, as one she looks to for inspiration, and I think it perfectly fit this story. The colors were tangentially suggested by Sarah, but I went with this scheme because I found it both aesthetically pleasing and different from the palette I usually use. The lines were a fun addition and I think it gives the piece a real pop!

Thanks to Sarah for sharing this story! I hope it inspires others to share theirs as well.

- Craig

0114: Comfort Food


Content warning: The following story makes reference to a survivor's experience with binge eating disorder, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Comfort Food," Kayla Lemay

People talk a lot about comfort food. Go on Buzzfeed and you’ll find lists upon lists about comfort food. I bet you some form of mac and cheese is on every single one.

And sure, comfort food is great. There’s nothing like a bowl of mac and cheese, fresh and warm, when you’re feeling a little weird or just in the mood for some cheesy goodness.

But that’s the thing about comfort food – you probably don’t eat it all the time.

That’s the difference, between you and me.

I do. Comfort food is just food, for me. I always need comfort.

Binge Eating Disorder is so weird. It manifests a bit differently for everyone, but when I think back, I’ve had it for as long as I could remember.

A lot of times, people say eating disorders are about control. And maybe that’s how it started, for me. Like most kids, I had a pretty structured time that I could eat. My nightly snack was at 7:30 p.m. – no earlier. 

When my parents got divorced when I was 8, they tried to maintain my general schedule, but obviously it got hard. As I got older, I got more involved in things and timing got weird. I was moving between houses on weekends, I had to stay in after-school programs, etc. etc. etc. 

And being a growing kid, I got hungry. I also don’t know if it was really hunger, or something else. It’s too long ago now to be able to examine it. But I do remember, as early as age 9 and 10, wanting to sneak food after I was supposed to be in bed. And I did, pretty frequently. At my mom’s, it always seemed to be grapes. I have no idea why. At my dad’s was a different story.

For some reason, I was always afraid at my dad’s house. I couldn’t sleep – I’d have these terrible existential crises. I was constantly afraid I would die in my sleep, and I had no idea why. So I’d put on Harry Potter and I’d sneak out to the kitchen and get some food. I’d hide the dishes under my bed or in a drawer until I could sneak back out to the kitchen to wash them and put them away. I thought I was being sneaky, but I have no idea if it was ever noticed. Chips, bagel bites, soda… I drank a lot of soda at my dad’s. For a while, my stepmom worked for Coca Cola so that meant we had a lot of coke products in the house. Sure, during the day I was all about that vitamin water, but the cold can of coke at night… to this day, my binges always taste better with a bottle of coke.

I was always bordering on overweight. I wasn’t in the best shape, but I wasn’t fat, not really. Being a growing girl in this society, I obviously thought I was. 

I remember at 14, when I stopped growing in height, being around 130 pounds. I thought I was fat. At 5’1, if you go by body mass index, I was still in the normal range, just nudging the line to “overweight.” But I was active – I played ice hockey almost year-round at that point, and when the season really got going I was on the ice seven days a week. I walked to and from school and spent time outside with my friends walking around town. I was active. The amount I ate wasn’t out of the ordinary, because it didn’t really show. And when I was out with friends, I ate just like they did. Nobody knew I was eating more at home, and I figured they probably were too. 

My junior year of high school, I quit playing hockey. I had never been a good player, so during games I passed the time on the bench, watching my teammates play. I decided I didn’t want to play the sport, because I wasn’t really playing it. 

The amount that I ate started to show. 

By the end of my senior year of high school, I had gained 40 pounds – almost without even realizing it. Now my claims of fat were actually sort of valid. My eating habits didn’t catch up with my lack of activity.

When college came, the stress, the anxiety, the depression that I was also dealing with, really hit me hard. I gained more weight. By the time I graduated undergrad, I was 205 pounds. Over a period of six years, I had gained 75 pounds. Seventy-five. I didn’t grow a centimeter in height in that time, either. I was done growing in every way but width.

That comfort food I talked about earlier? That was what I ate, daily. Every time I was stressed, every time I was sad, I turned to food. I made more trips to the off-campus CVS than I can even remember. I snuck more food into my dorm room, hid more food from my roommates, than I care to admit. When I moved into an off-campus apartment with my now-fiancé my senior year, I even hid food from him. Often.

Now? It’s so hard to get this monster under control. Any time I feel a powerful emotion – sadness, stress, anger, joy, celebration – I crave food. My binges are small – it’s not like I’m eating the entire McDonald’s menu – but when they happen multiple times a week, it’s a problem.

It’s all I can do to not gain weight.

Since this is a “newer” eating disorder, and since I’m fat, I don’t exactly have much support, either. 

Recently, I experienced some knee pain. It was so bad that one morning, I woke up being unable to even walk. After going to the doctor, I found out it was something called bursitis, and I was just having a flare-up that, with some care and stretching, would go down. It was manageable. I looked it up afterwards, and what the doctor didn’t tell me was that the kind of knee bursitis I had was most commonly found in those who are obese. That was hard.

This part was harder. I enjoy the idea of transparency, especially on social media. Where others like to tailor their posts so it looks like they lead perfect lives, I will occasionally post some funny things that happen that show that I’m NOT perfect. I enjoy it – I am a human and I think that we need to normalize the negative experiences of our lives, too. Not to mention the stigma that mental illness carries. I’m comfortable talking about my mental illness because I know so many other people are not. I’m vocal about my struggles, because I want others to know they aren’t alone.

When I posted about my knee bursitis, I found out through the grapevine that one family member of mine said to another “Why doesn’t she stop bitching about her knee pain and learn how to eat instead?”

Well. If you’ve made it this far into my story, you can imagine what I did after that comment.
And what’s most painful is that I can’t even get it under control. I look at myself and I think “What is going to be the so-called straw that breaks the camel’s back? When will I get my act together? How much weight do I have to gain, how many comments do I have to hear, to finally get my ass in gear and be healthy?”

I truly can’t figure it out. Every time I think “This is it, this is enough” it turns out it isn’t because I slide back into those same habits.

Regular counseling helps, but it doesn’t appear to be enough.
I just don’t know what will be.

I’d like to end this story on a happy note, but the best I can give you right now is that I’m in the process of finding a dietitian specializing in eating disorders (because apparently regular dietitians can’t help someone with an ED) and I’m changing my outlook on my body.
It isn’t about weight anymore. It isn’t about clothing fit. It isn’t about inches. It’s about general health. If my doctor says that I’m healthy, and I’m at the point where I’m not bingeing anymore (or heck, even as often) – that’s my goal. I’ve accepted that I’m probably always going to be overweight. I probably will never be what society deems “thin.” I’m going to be fat, probably for the rest of my life.

But does fat define health? I’m starting to learn that, no, it doesn’t always. If I can find activities I enjoy, and food I enjoy, and also be getting the vitamins and whatever else I need to be healthy – that’s what is most important.

You can’t live your life on someone else’s terms. Just because other people say “you’re too fat, you should lose weight” doesn’t mean they’re right. Unless they are your doctor, and your doctor is providing you with help and support, you should do your best to ignore them.

As for me… I guess that’s the goal for 2017. Focus on me, and what I want out of my life. Learn how to eat again, without sacrificing what I enjoy. Find new activities, new ways to get my body moving and my blood flowing. And overall, look at the world in a new way so I can enjoy the life I’m living.
 


About the art:

I've been lucky to work with Kayla when she did an internship in my office at Lesley University. During this time she worked with our student-led diversity retreat, which caused a ripple of very deep conversations between us, including her body image struggles. I learned a lot about Kayla, which gave me a good perspective of where to begin with this piece.

She loves Disney, so I wanted to create a representation of her of what I believed she would look like as a Disney princess with a message that summarized a message from her story: learn to love your body. I hope it can be a reminder for her that as long as she is taking care of herself mentally and physically - her body is beautiful the way it is.

-Katy

0113: 70x7


Content warning: the following story contains references to a survivor's experience with an eating disorder, which may be triggering for some readers.

"70x7," anonymous

I have struggled with disordered eating and poor self-image off and for years. For me, nature loaded the gun, nurture took the safety off, and a series of unfortunate circumstances pulled the trigger.  My goal in telling you these stories about a particularly odious part of my life isn’t for sympathy. I’m telling you how I forgave myself seventy times seven times over to find the my road to recovery– the most important part of recovery is giving yourself the space, grace and forgiveness to do so. 

— 

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the loneliest moment of someone’s life is when their world is falling apart and all they can do is stare blankly. I didn’t stare blankly, I was internally screaming like Ruby Rhod in Fifth Element.  On the outside looking in, I’d made it out unscathed like Luke Skywalker shooting the Death Star– I took a new job and immediately managed two internationally recognized projects. I had people who loved me. I was grieving the death of someone close, sure, but I seemed to be coping. I dealt with rejection swiftly and to the best of my ability given the circumstances. Me: 1, everything else: 0

But the reality was that I was silently falling apart. I refused to be a “crybaby”– I pushed myself to the limit, by trying to get in shape and pretend that I was okay. I decided to eat nothing but meat, fruit and vegetables and eggs. I ran every day too. I couldn’t push my emotions down forever. 

The more I felt, the more I restricted.  Every time I made a “food mistake” I could feel the emotions coming to the surface before I purged: 

There’s nothing about you that’s of value. You could risk or give anything up for someone and it isn’t worth a damn thing. You can work as hard as you want, you deserve the way your bosses treat you. Your family doesn’t even care about you. You’re just fat and totally pointless– you deserved everything that happened to you. Maybe you should eat what you should be eating and you wouldn’t have these issues. 

By mid-summer, my eating disorder was at full tilt. I purged nearly every meal. My skin was ghost white, with dark circles under my eyes. My lips were so chafed from stomach acid I had chemical burns on my lips that still haven’t healed.  I nearly fainted on a 1 mile trail walk in July. My friends, family and coworkers expressed concern. I still didn’t think that I was sick. Sure, a little messed up, but not sick. 

In December, I accidentally overdosed on laxatives. I took a few before I went to bed on a Tuesday night and woke up around 5 a.m. needing to use the restroom. When I stood up, I was weak. Everything started to spin during the 10 foot walk from my bed to the master bathroom. I immediately started cold-sweating. I collapsed on the floor of my bathroom, heart racing. I’d forgotten my phone on my nightstand, I tried to scream for someone, anyone to help me. Both of my cats laid down by my head, meowing their tiny heads off. Then nothing, then black. 

I woke up around 7:45, and somehow made it to work on time by 8:30. I was too weak to walk the 15 feet from my workstation to my boss’ office for most of the day. I got lightheaded driving back from a meeting with a client, and stopped at a dingy gas station to get a gatorade. It took  me days to feel better.

I needed more than physical strength, I needed a way out of the rabbit hole I was in. I knew then I was fighting for my life. I was either going to get better or die.

— 

Recovery is a bumpy road. It’s not a fluffy bathrobe at a posh rehab facility. There’s no Dr. Drew, no tell-all biography with a wan, thin portrait of you on the front. I was lucky to have a family practice doctor who set up a medical and psychological plan in one visit. 

Recovery is setting boundaries with friends, with coworkers, with family. It’s in recognizing that moving from a victim to a survivor is a series of small decisions empower you to do so. I accepted better job in terms of pay, benefits, and environment.  I eat most meals at home so I’m able to make healthy decisions. I am training for a half marathon– to raise money for one of my parents’ health conditions, to ensure I’m fueling my body properly, and to have stress relief.  I indulge in joys that I’d forgotten about: from deer hunting to getting my nails done. 

Much like Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 18, I had to forgive myself seventy times seven times over– and that’s been the hardest part of all, but at the core of every recovery. 


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About the art:

My inspiration for this piece came from the survivor sharing with me her lowest moment, when she felt a turning point inside her.  Looking up at the stars, she felt overwhelmed and empty. The background of the painting is blue freckled by stars. 

The quote, I chose for them because I want them to feel hope when they read it. The quote is "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new". I hope the survivor can benefit by looking at her change positively instead of holding onto the negatives and trying to fight it.

I chose the colors blue, red, and yellow because they are primary colors. Primary colors are the building blocks for all other color and represents how the survivor has rebuilt herself and her character by going back to her core self and rebuilding from there.

You'll notice that the words in yellow read "secret: focus on new". Again a subtle reminder to focus on the positive change in self.

I hope whenever the survivor is feeling down, they can gain strength whenever they look at their painting.

- Emily

0112: Feel Peace


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experiences with anorexia nervosa, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Feel Peace," Becca Meyers

During my first year of college I developed an eating disorder. I had no idea that's what it was for the first few months, until I was finally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the end of the school year. I was destroying myself in order to attempt to have control and fit into a mold that I felt was forced upon me. But attempting to have control over my body and food only made me lose myself. I was put into a partial hospitalization treatment program at the end of the summer, and that was where I took the first baby steps in my journey to healing.


I took a year off from school, once I admitted I needed the time to focus on myself and my recovery. That year had its ups and downs, and my personal relationships were tested as well because of the changes I was trying to make and the struggles I encountered. Luckily I had a nutritionist and a therapist helping me along the way, and I learned so much about myself and the nature of my eating disorder.


The following year I transferred to Lesley University in Cambridge, MA to study art therapy, which I had first discovered through eating disorder treatment the previous year. I struggled with body image and self-esteem on and off throughout that year. At the beginning things were rocky; I was treated poorly by my first roommate and felt personally attacked and unable to maintain my recovery, which led to an overnight hospitalization due to suicidal ideation. I was able to get back on my feet thanks to my family and the friends I had made, and got a roommate switch which was a much safer and more fun environment.

However, I still had many demons inside that continued to haunt me and make me feel worthless. That winter, I made myself throw up for the first time, and started self-harming as well. Once again I felt like I had no control over anything, and the only way to cope was by controlling what went in and out of my body. I developed bulimia, and I lied about it and hid it from everyone. I was lying to my therapist, and to the school's health services nurses about all the eating disorder behaviors I was using. I was ashamed, but I couldn't stop. What I remember most is the feeling of hating my body so much, all the time, no matter what I did to try and control it. When I finally confessed to a few close friends a couple months later they helped me get rid of my self-harm materials, and continued to support me in trying to seek help. But right before the end of the school year I reached my breaking point. The eating disorder was out of control, and contributed to my depression and worsening suicidal ideation.

I felt hopeless and full of only self-hatred. I was brought to a psychiatric unit briefly, before being transferred to an inpatient treatment center. I was there for a week, and one of only 3 people on the unit with an eating disorder. My mental health was focused on and treated, but the eating disorder side of things was barely addressed. I could have gotten away with a lot of behaviors while I was there, but I resisted. Some part of me was determined to fight the eating disorder.


After being at the inpatient unit for a week I stepped down to the partial hospitalization program back where I had been in treatment the very first time. However, this time felt different than before - I think I was more determined to recover, and I was stronger mentally.

This time I was ready to really fight back. I still had a difficult time at first, and struggled to stop using behaviors for a couple weeks, and gave into the urge sometimes - until I used a behavior for the last time shortly after I had gotten out of treatment. I was so mad at myself that day for making myself throw up, after all my hard work. But I didn't let it take me spiraling downwards that time. After that last bout of treatment and that last behavior, I worked each day to just make it through just one day at a time without using an eating disorder behavior. I treated each day as a new opportunity, I reached out for help, I surrounded myself with the help and positivity I needed to combat the negative body image and eating disorder. I got farther and farther from that dark and miserable place, and the further I got, the more I realized that speaking about my experiences and being an advocate was another way to fight the eating disorder and make me stronger in recovery. 


It has now been more than 2 1/2 years since I have engaged in an eating disorder behavior, and I have gained many more skills in my tool belt for a healthy and happy life. For some time now, the eating disorder part of my life has felt less relevant, and far less inhibiting. Food really isn't an issue for me anymore, and my triggers around food and body image have decreased significantly. I started a graduate program this fall for art therapy and counseling, and in one class I chose to do a project surrounding how I treat myself and my body, and worked on ways to be more loving and gentle with myself. I actually have noticed more positive outcomes than I thought possible. Even though I have been in recovery for a few years, I am still growing and learning how to be kind to myself and love myself as I am. I have worked hard to get to where I am now, and that hard work and determination has helped me stay in recovery. I have had some wonderful professionals work with me, and incredible friends and family who share my values and keep me motivated and supported. 


I am really proud and happy to be where I am now, and to finally have a more loving relationship with my body and with myself. The hard work and the struggles have been worth it, because my life is so much richer and I am stronger because of those struggles; and having known those difficulties, I believe I can better help others struggling with similar issues.


Now I can say to myself with confidence that I am enough, I am worthy, and I am more than my looks or my eating disorder. I am beautiful and healthy and strong, and worthy of my own love and the love of others.


If you are struggling, I encourage you to seek help, because you deserve it; if you are in the helping profession, you play an important role in many peoples' lives and I hope you continue to make a difference; for everyone out there, you matter and you are beautiful and valuable exactly as you are.


May we all be happy,
May we all be safe, 
May we all feel peace.


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About the art:

I was really excited that one of our artists, Becca, was willing to open up about her experiences with an eating disorder this month. I wanted to create a peace that had lots of warm colors, to mirror my experiences with Becca while she was at Lesley. She's such a warm, loving human, so I wanted to capture that in the colors. Juxtaposing this, I wanted lots of white to mirror the chaos of living with the anxiety of an eating disorder. Having one, myself, I sort of understand to a degree how Becca may have felt, or does feel about living with theirs.

I chose the quote, "May we all feel peace," because it seemed to fit most as a piece of standalone art AND because it captures the essence of what Becca was portraying throughout this story. The black creeping from the right side is to symbolize the ever-present existence of our insecurities that may still pop in and out of our lives while we seek this peace, while we seek some form of comfort. It's a tough balance, but I applaud Becca for working hard to accomplish it.

- Craig.