Why I Stopped Writing About My Eating Disorder

When I was a sophomore in high school, I developed anorexia. It started out as a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and then snowballed into something unhealthy. I restricted my calories intensely, panicked whenever I was presented with food for which I could not find the calorie count, and lost weight until I was too underweight to menstruate. The way I looked and the way I acted around friends and family drew concern until, eventually, I was pushed to get help by a close friend after almost a year of extremely restrictive dieting. I got help. I forced myself through the incredibly difficult months of gaining the weight back. I went to therapy. I got better. 

That period of my life is a significant part of my past. I’m lucky that those habits haven’t haunted me, but almost everyone in my life knows about my experience. Whether or not I confided in them about my eating disorder, people could look at me and know what was going on. All of my friends, family, and even acquaintances saw me get sick and then eventually get better. I’m grateful for the people I was close to that supported me during that time, but it was a very vulnerable experience to have my eating disorder become a part of my public identity, at least among the people I knew in high school.   

In college, though, all of that changed. From the time I arrived at Kenyon I haven’t been sick, nor have I looked or acted sick. A few friends know that I used to have an eating disorder, but I only made them aware if I felt comfortable with them and it came up in conversation somehow. They could not tell just by looking at me or ask anyone they thought knew me well what was going on. In high school, I was the person people went to if they were struggling with something similar, and I felt comfortable addressing the issue in passing or in occasional assignments for my creative writing classes. 

At Kenyon, however, when I wrote an assignment that referenced my eating disorder for a creative writing class, I had a vastly different experience. I felt so terrified when I realized that everyone in my class had read that piece, and even though I got positive and helpful feedback, I was shocked at how incredibly uncomfortable I was. It wasn’t the fault of the writers I was working with—I just felt so overexposed that I had addressed something that I used to simply assume people knew about me. I felt embarrassed and guilty, but most of all confused. I didn’t know why I suddenly did not want to tell my story anymore.   

Something that I hadn’t realized when I got to Kenyon was that, for the first time since I got sick years ago, I had a choice as to whether people I met knew my history with eating disorders. Even after I got better in high school, people remembered that I went through anorexia and recovery. Less than a year ago, somebody from my high school texted me because they were struggling with a similar problem, and they knew I had been in recovery for years. But at Kenyon, I had a say in whether or not people knew that very personal information about me, and for the first time, I could say no. I didn’t have to just accept and participate in that very public vulnerability, and I could still form meaningful relationships with people without them knowing about the most difficult things I’ve gone through. I don’t owe anyone my story here, and, while I’m open to talking about my history and about eating disorders in general, it’s important for me to be able to set a boundary about when I do and don’t want to talk about something that is attached to traumatic memories. Choosing not to write about my experience is part of setting that boundary.   

Now, it is important to point out that I am, in fact, currently writing about my eating disorder, which may seem to kind of defeat the entire point of this article. I did choose to publish this anonymously for all the reasons I previously discussed, but I thought that this article needed to be written because other writers might be feeling the same worry that I initially felt about not wanting to share my story in my pieces.

There is a narrative that surrounds eating disorder recovery, and that narrative very often portrays recovery as a triumphant process, with which I have always had some issues. Now, recovering from an eating disorder (especially those first few months waiting for access to a therapist) is undoubtedly the most badass thing I’ve ever done, but the process is not a triumphant or joyful one. It’s slow, it’s complicated, and it’s painful in an incredibly unglamorous way. Sharing stories of recovery is very important, but it’s okay if not everyone is the body-positive icon that is shown in recovery Instagram accounts, who knows how to handle triggering thoughts gracefully and perfectly. It’s okay for recovery to be imperfect, and it’s also okay not to wear recovery like a badge of honor. I am so grateful for where I am now, and I am proud of the body that I fought for. The fact that I don’t want to write about my struggles with eating and weight gain does not minimize my recovery at all. Just because sharing my story isn’t something that I am comfortable with, it doesn’t mean that I’m not fully recovered or that I’m not in a good place. I’m proud of myself and grateful for my body, even though most of the people currently in my life don’t know that I used to starve myself. 

I am so different from the scared, sick version of myself that entered recovery all those years ago. I’m healthy, I try hard to be confident in myself, and the way I think about food and my diet has completely changed. When I realized how uncomfortable I was owning my experience in my new college life, I felt guilty; I was worried that I had regressed. At first, I was scared that wanting to be reserved in telling my story meant that I was embarrassed about who I was, or that I wasn’t willing to do the work of breaking down the stigmatization of eating disorders. But, I’ve moved on from the version of myself that was struggling through recovery. A big reason I don’t feel the need to write about my eating disorder is that it doesn’t plague my thoughts all day every day and fill my creative mind—and that’s a good thing. 

This new, recovered version of myself doesn’t need the validation of others. I’m not embarrassed about what I’ve been through, and growing through this new life I have at Kenyon has taught me that owning my story doesn’t mean sharing it, it means that my experience belongs to me. I can share it if I want to, or I can keep my past to myself if I don’t want to talk about it, but the most important thing is that I know where I’ve been, and the place I’m going is better, healthier, and happier.   

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