Content Warning: body image issues, eating disorders, internalized ableism.
I am enough. That’s a sentence I’m trying so hard to embrace and to believe. I’ve felt glimpses of it in the past. I’ve had good weeks and sometimes even months where I could say those words and they felt like truth. But something happened along the way, over the course of the last several years, that made it feel like those words weren’t meant for me anymore.
I would tell others – and truly believe it for them – that their productivity does not define their worth. That all bodies are good bodies. That how their bodies look or move is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. That their weight is not how they should measure happiness or success. That they are enough, period. All very true statements, for everyone else.
But I stopped believing all of that when I would look in the mirror and try to comfort myself with those same words. Those were truths for other people, not for me.
Instead, I obsessed over my weight. I obsessed over my food. I said the most hurtful, hateful things to myself when my body didn’t look how I wanted it to, didn’t fit in the same clothes anymore, or didn’t move how I expected it to. I called myself lazy when I wasn’t being productive, even though I hate that word and I know I need rest when I’m sick.
There were so many days when I felt like a shell of a person. So many days when I didn’t actively participate in my life the way I wanted to, because I was busy being stuck in my head, worrying about how my body looked instead of how it felt to be in it experiencing those moments.
I was such a bully to myself.
It took a long time for me to recognize that the disordered eating I had lived with for years that stemmed from a lengthy list of dietary restrictions and health conditions had in fact evolved into an Eating Disorder. It also took me nearly that long to really recognize that the negative thoughts I was having about my body were from body dysmorphia.
It’s scary sharing all of this. It’s so personal and something I still can’t talk about in depth. But I didn’t often come across eating disorder or body image experiences from the lens of disability, which made it more difficult to recognize it in myself. So even though it’s kind of terrifying to sit here typing this, I decided I will share what I can for that reason. In case someone else might recognize themselves in this, too.
It turns out that years of losing control over different parts of my body and years of weight fluctuation from illness and disability (including praise from others when I was thin from sickness) really took their toll on me.
Earlier this summer I was in a particularly bad place. The negative thoughts were outweighing the positive and I had a lot of unhealthy eating habits and anxiety/fear around food. Thankfully my brain started telling me that I didn’t have to do it alone anymore, that there were loved ones beside me who could help me wade through the dark. So I reached out for support and we decided it was time for me to seek more consistent, professional help.
So a little over a month ago I started actively looking for mental healthcare. And the timing worked out so perfectly (which sadly is not the case for so many others) and in the same week I was scheduled to meet with a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorder recovery and body image. And at the same time I signed myself up for the consistent care and support of an eating disorder recovery coach – one who is also disabled and understands the intersection of disability, disordered eating and body image.
For a long time I didn’t think what I was experiencing was an “actual” eating disorder because the foundation for it came from allergies and physical illness that affected my diet. And I kept staunchly believing that, even as my fear around eating grew and the anxiety around whether or not that food would make me sick took a stronger hold over me to the point where I had developed lots of unhealthy eating habits. At my first therapy session I told my therapist that I spend a lot of time in my head about eating, but it just doesn’t feel safe to put my guard down as I still have allergies and other dietary concerns. Because of that, I just didn’t think it made sense to seek help for an eating disorder. That was help that other people could use, not me. But I have since learned that the mental hold that food has over me can still be improved. How I think about eating and the impact it has on my life can change, even if we can’t cure my body’s need for certain food restrictions. That realization was such a huge, positive shift for me.
Getting to the root of trauma, unpacking why I feel the way I feel about my body and food, and unravelling how wearisome it has felt to live in a disabled and sick body has been hard work so far. But it already feels rewarding, too. Ups and downs. Some days I barely think about my body and others I have to text my recovery coach because I’m having a breakdown about my body image. Some days I’m excited to dive in and uncover more, while other days I just want to stay under the covers in bed and avoid it all.
But I keep doing the homework, attending the sessions, learning the language that explains my lived experiences, and working to get back to a place where I can be more gentle with myself. I’m learning to reframe negative thoughts and to be kinder to my body. And when the bad moments or days come, which they still do, I try to find grace for myself and comfort myself until it passes. And sometimes, like just earlier today, I still have to reach out to my loved ones when I can’t seem to find that kindness on my own, and they help me get there.
So far all of it has felt transformative.
My therapist recommended a book to me called “Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (And Quiet that Critical Voice)” by Connie Sobczak, the co-founder of The Body Positive. There is one line in the intro of the book that made me stop in my tracks. It’s a pretty simple line, just explaining one of the goals of The Body Positive:
“Find the courage to leave body hatred behind and turn [your] attention to fully inhabiting [your] lives.”
When I read that line I knew that all of these years of hating my body, of obsessing over food and letting it hold so much power over me (sometimes necessarily so, sometimes not) was legitimately stopping me from existing in the moment and living my life to the fullest. I’ve already lost too much precious time to these negative thoughts. I am committed to ending that cycle. I want to be a fuller version of me, not only for myself but for my loved ones.
I assume this will be a lifelong process for me. And right now it’s just a lot of little baby steps. But each step makes me feel like I’m that much closer to coming home to myself.
I have hope that someday soon I can look in the mirror and say “I am enough” and really mean it again.
I really do believe I’m getting there.