As I sat around two years ago in an eating disorder facility waiting to hear the results of my intake, I just had one thought: please let it be anorexia. Sad, but true. After struggling with over-eating and being overweight, I longed to have statistics prove that I was too thin. To my horror, I was diagnosed EDNOS or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified because of my normal weight. Turns out I had not starved myself enough.
Now, I have come to understand how eating disorders destroy numerous peoples’ lives regardless of shape, race, gender, or age. I do not judge a single one of the people that I have met based on their diagnosis. Each of them touched my life with their unique inspiring stories and hearts. Never would I tell one of them that they are not good enough or anyone else for that matter. Certainly not based on their weight or what type of eating disorder that they have!
However, I still hold myself to that standard of needing to be as sick as possible. Fortunately for my disordered mind but negatively for my health, I later was re-diagnosed with Anorexia Nervousa. Although I thought this label would make me finally see the severity of the problem, I still longed for more. Then I realized that it would never be enough – never. If I lost ten pounds, I needed to lose twenty more. If I skipped one meal, I needed to fast for a day. If I went to the all-day treatment, I needed to end up in the hospital. The cycle never ends. Thus, I earned the “Badge of Anorexia” but I still craved more.
This metaphorical badge that I earned is a strange thing. On one hand, I feared anyone discovering my secret. Shame crept in whenever I needed to be honest about my condition. Lies about eating healthier or not being hungry slipped out of my mouth. Even now, I cringe saying the word “Anorexia” because I fear judgement and misunderstanding. Having this illness- or any type of eating disorder – is a lonely deceptive burden.
Yet at the same time, I took pride in this label. Although I am ashamed to honestly admit it, I often felt that my restricting was the only thing that I did right and the only good thing about me. I work so hard to punish and starve myself. After years of not being able to, I finally got it right. A wild but deadly joy filled me as I destroyed my body.
However I am now in a weird place internally. Yes, I am working toward recovery. Trying to pry off my eating disorder’s grip, I strive to fuel and care for my body. However, part of me still desires to restrict. As much as I push the Anorexia away, this disease whispers lies in my brain throughout the day. Conflicted inside, I worry about being open about my struggles or hiding the pain. What if people think I am too fat? Will others agree with my disorder? How will I face them the next time that we meet?
Yesterday, I gave a speech at my Toastmasters club about eating disorders. Finally, I opened up honestly about my past and present struggles. The relief and fear were both immense as I spoke to my group. Afterward, I contemplated my “Badge of Anorexia.” Did I want to keep it or was it time to leave it behind? What would be most helpful in recovery?
Then a realization struck me. I want to be open and honest about my past while still moving into the future with hope. I cannot give up my badge without losing part of me; I worked hard and long at my eating disorder. Although not proud of it, I realize the impact it has had upon me. However, if I cling to the badge, I will end up relapsing and not healing. There must be something in-between the two extremes.
Suddenly the compromise became clear; I am keeping the badge but modifying it. Now I will confidently wear the “Badge of Recovered Anorexia.” Instead of fearing my past, I open up about it so as to help others. Yet, I will take joy in my recovery not in my disorder. Although this realization took my months to think up, I feel completely confident in it. At last, I understand how to blend my story, desires, anxieties, and wisdom gained.
As the years go by, I hope to continue to help others who are struggling. I know that this badge will help me to do so. Every person with an illness or disorder of any sort has the ability to make their own badge. Some of you might want to keep it secret while others might struggle with flaunting it. Whatever you choose to do, I hope it helps in your recovery. These badges can be burdens but they do not define us; we define our badges.