I recently posted one of the most authentic things I’ve ever written.
It’s one of those pieces of writing that feels like it’s been pulled straight out of a diary, and then published for the world to see. I wrote it off the cuff, sitting at the desk of Just Be after class when I was supposed to be at home. It started out as “I’ll just get a paragraph or two out so I remember what I’m feeling” and rolled into a steady stream of “Well now I can’t stop”.
The words were vulnerable and personal, and they came out more naturally than anything I’ve ever written. That’s the whole point, really- the things we don’t want to talk about are the things we think about most and feel on the most visceral level. They bubble to the surface when we’re least prepared to address them, and when we need to most. But these words are unusual in the sense that I dealt with them in a very public way. The post garnered 2,000 unique views in less than 24 hours, many of whom are people I’m either closely or tangentially connected to in real life.
It feels like I’ve published my diary, and I couldn’t care less.
The support I received in response to the article was overwhelming. I received both public and private message overflowing with love and connection. I received personal confessions, generous compliments, and countless amounts of people who all said the same thing:
“Thank you for talking about the shit you don’t want to talk about.”
Which leads to the question- if everyone wants to hear about it, why don’t we want to talk about it?
Everyone has a story, a past, and we oftentimes find ourselves shoving it inside until even we lose sight of it. As humans, we value a pristine public image, one that reflects only our best and brightest. We like to showcase our abilities and our accomplishments, but you’ll rarely find us seeking help or detailing our struggles. But the human race isn’t perfect, it is in fact deeply flawed, and our biggest flaw is perhaps this false sense of censorship we have over ourselves. The more we try to cover up our past the more impossible it becomes for us to understand who we are today. It becomes harder and harder to digest and processes injustices and struggles as we desperately attempt to distance ourselves from who we are.
It’s a delusion to believe that our struggles do not define us.
I’ve heard it over, and over, and over. “Your disorder does not define you.” “You are not your disorder.” “X, Y, Z doesn’t make you who you are.”
But here’s the truth: That struggle, that hardship, that battle? It happened to me. It was something I lived through and experienced and soaked in moment by moment. To suggest that I didn’t absorb some aspect of that is, in my opinion, a glowy way to make a dark situation seem light.
What truly defines us, however, is who we became on the other side. My eating disorder does define me, but only as its victor.
To truly understand who I am and why I do what I do, you have to know where I came from. And for me to understand you, I have to know where you came from, too. Everyone goes through something, and no story is less important or valid than another. For the longest time I felt that sharing my story was invalidated because it’s “just another anorexia story”. You see them everywhere- girls detailing their spiral downwards, and slow climb back up to reality where food is nothing more than a passing occasion throughout the day. There’s books and novels and articles and movies, all with what appears to be the same story. But it only ends one of two ways: they make it to the other side, or they die trying.
My story isn’t “just another eating disorder story”. It’s my story. It’s the life I lived through, for better or for worse. It’s unique in every aspect, from how it began to how it has progressed. Where I’ve taken it is unique from every other girl in the world suffering at this very moment, and I know that thousands of incredible people will be created through the journey of their healing.
My hardship was not the end-all be-all, but it did change the direction of my life. It brought me face to face with the reality of how fragile our existence is on this planet, it showed me that I can shape who I want to be, and it doesn’t have to be in the pursuit of being less. That’s what an eating disorder boils down to: being less. Taking up less space. Attracting less attention. But I’m worth so much more than that, and have so much more to offer when I’m not struggling to hide in plain sight.
It did define who I am. I proved to the world and to myself that I can rise from a dark time a better, more whole person. With my whole heart, I believe that my disorder didn’t rob me of anything. It provided me with perspective, with a new frame of life.
That’s why the shit we don’t want to talk about is the shit we need to talk about.
I wish I could be in the ear of every girl throwing her lunch out at school, every boy baring a razor blade, every person who feels like life has become too heavy of a weight to bare. I wish they could hear more than what we tell them on the regular- more than the classic “We will miss you.” or “We need you.” or “You’ll get through this.”
Because it’s so much more than that.
It’s that shit is going to suck. It’s going to get so much harder before it gets better. It’s not a linear upward progression. It’s not like one day you’re at the bottom and the next you’re a success story. You’re not going to like it, you’re not going to bravely take on every day as a new challenge toward recovery. You’ll be second guessing yourself the whole way up, and never quite know if you’ve resurfaced again.
And that is so, incredibly, wholly okay.
We need to stop with the before and afters. We need to stop we the frown in the first picture and the smile in the next, like a whole chunk of time has been glossed over. We need to peel back the curtains and show the whole process. We need to stop waiting until we’re “good enough” to show the world our progress.
For every recovered drug addict, there’s another one who has only gone to two AA meetings, and is still struggling to drive himself back.
For every person weaning their way off depression medication, there’s another who has just allowed themselves to accept help.
For every person getting to schedule doctor’s appointments less and less frequently, there’s someone who’s just grateful they’re allowed to go home sometimes.
And that’s what we need to start talking about.
Where you are on your journey, at this very moment, is an incredibly powerful story to tell. It’s a snapshot in time that’s worlds away from even a moment before. Share your small victories. For some, that’s eating goddamn breakfast this morning. Hell, it can be getting out of bed.
And that is just as valid as the person who can say they feel reborn and recovered.