Over the course of my recovery from an eating disorder, the following question has been asked numerous times: "If you could turn back the clock and not have an eating disorder, would you?" To which I respond, "Duh." I do not know anyone who willingly chooses to develop and endure an illness that tears through life like an F-5 tornado, destroying everything and everyone in its path. An eating disorder is so terribly miserable, I would not even wish it on my worst enemy's cousin's tarantula (and I'm arachnophobic). But over half of my life has been defined and ruled by this insidious illness, and as devastating as it has been, it has ultimately changed my life in a way for which I can only be thankful.
This illness has taken a lot from me, and it has had its fair share of time in the limelight. I could express how frustrating it was at times to feel so misunderstood by others thinking I had willingly chosen this affliction, as if it were something I could simply elect to have or not have. I could speak at great length about each treatment stay in numerous facilities. I could share how deeply anorexia destroyed my body, and the many medical consequences I sustained as a result. But there is so much I have learned from this illness, and from the very sick girl I once was. Now, I can look at myself during that time from a third-person perspective as I morphed into a creature that stared out through my eyes and spoke with my voice, but with whom to this day I do not identify, know, or recognize. She gave me much more in life than a hefty medical file and a story to tell. She helped me come into my own, and made me who I am.
She gave me endurance.
I cannot begin to count how many times I have experienced a challenging or difficult situation where I have said to myself, "Christina, you can do this. If you can endure all that you have, and survive three months without coffee (inpatient treatment + weak heart = no caffeine) you can do anything." As someone whose zest for a cup of joe (or eight) rivals that of Danny Tanner's, this was no easy feat, leading me to believe my capabilities are endless.
She gave me compassion.
Thanks to my parents and upbringing, I have grown up with very strong values and a big heart. But it wasn't until I started to regain my health that I began to really feel alive for the first time in years. Maybe it was the self-love from which I was deprived so long, or maybe it was that my heart was just growing back to normal size after shrinking from years of malnutrition, but being alive just makes me to reach out and hug everyone. No matter how pristine one's life may appear, absolutely no one is immune to human struggle, and a simple kind word or thoughtful gesture can truly make a difference. Nothing gives me more joy than being the one to pass it on.
She gave me maturity beyond my years.
I recently turned 25, and while that is neither a particularly green age nor ripe age, I feel like I should be getting my AARP card, like, tomorrow. I am fully engaged in the culture that is typical of a millennial 20-something, and am by no means lining up for the Early Bird Special at Denny's just yet, but anymore I rarely sweat the small stuff. (Thank goodness. Pit stains are the last thing I need.) I can usually see the bigger picture, and that is a perspective for which I am incredibly grateful.
She gave me a vibrant sense of humor.
Starvation kills brain cells. During the depths of my illness, all of my "funny-making cells" that make me who I am were dead as a doorknob. Luckily, they have risen from the dead, because I sure do enjoy some harmless mischief once in a while, and good humor, always. Some people have private drivers; I have a private drummer that thumps out a beat to which only I can march.
She gave me deep and lasting friendships.
Although my eating disorder strained many friendships, recovery blessed me with many new ones. In treatment, I have gotten to know so many inspiring individuals from the inside out. Walls come crashing down in a room full of mere strangers and it quickly forges powerful bonds unlike any other. One of my closest friends is someone with whom I went through treatment four years ago. She has played such a huge role in my recovery and is one of the greatest people I have ever known.
She gave me a platform upon which I can help others.
Throughout my recovery, I have, independently and through Project HEAL, had the opportunity to speak to large audiences of all kinds and mentor others who struggle with an eating disorder. Openly speaking about battling an eating disorder is still, unfortunately, kind of a taboo topic. Even though up to 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States alone battle an eating disorder, these illnesses have a way of shoving a sufferer on their own little island. (A deserted island sure does sound enticing. This one, however, is not.) Funny as it sounds, I am very grateful to have gone through all that I have. I know how meaningful it is to have someone as an ally in the war who has been there, done that, and learned the hard way that the only way to survive is to jump off that island and learn how to swim.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.