Why I Created a Series About People With Depression

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By: Shawna

It’s been a while since I have visited this page. It’s been a bit longer that I have been interested in continuing this project. I fell into a pretty dark and deep depression in the midst of this project. I struggled listening to people explain about the confidence they have in themselves or just they way that handle their day to day life. I would sit and absorb the interviews and start to think “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be like that?”

I have dealt with depression before in my life but this one felt different. It wasn’t set off by an event or a loss. This one crept up and swallowed me whole. It was scary. I woke up one morning not too long ago not wanting to get out of bed. Not the, “Oh this is so comfy and I want to just lay in bed” but more like “I never want to get out and live life anymore.”

I didn’t feel suicidal, I just didn’t want to be a part of life anymore. I know that doesn’t make sense to some, but to others, I bet it makes perfect sense. I had been spending my time helping my kids through some tough times in their lives that I neglected my own. I was so wrapped up in keeping things status quo on their side that I didn’t recognize right away that I was slipping….and fast. I started neglecting things in every aspect of my life.

I stopped photographing, I stopped writing, I stopped caring. I just didn’t have the energy to go on with anything anymore. Thankfully, I began to recognize what was going on and knew it wasn’t going to get better until I did something to help myself. I got a psychologist and started the hard work of getting to a better place. I started seeing a psychiatrist when I recognized that I needed more help in the form of medication. I started to reach out to friends that I pushed away during my darkest days. I started to pick up the camera and reach out in my grief and depression and express what I was feeling. Some I have shared, others I have deleted because they were dark. Today, I can say that I am feeling the light. I am starting to laugh again. I am starting to sing, dance, and joke again. I am wanting to go outside and taste the daylight again. It’s getting better. And so it is time to continue to spread the beauty of these men and women that I have interviewed in hopes that someone recognizes themselves in these stories. I hope that everyone sees their own beauty. We all deserve to feel that love.



Why I am Grateful For My Relapses

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By: Lily

Over my near-decade long struggle with an eating disorder, I have relapsed a countless number of times. Some of these relapses were large enough to lead to returns to treatment centers while others were smaller, yet still significant. For a long time, I looked at these relapses as nothing other than moments where I had failed. I always compared myself to others I had met through treatment, measuring how quickly they seemed to get better to the length of my struggle.

Recently, I hit a milestone in my recovery journey as it has now been three years since I first began recovery. In these three years, I have spent the vast majority of the time in and out of treatment centers, with little time between stays, up until this most recent stretch of time where I have managed to be treatment free for the longest time since first entering it.

I remember that two years ago I felt frustrated that after several years in recovery I still was not where I wanted to be. I found myself focusing on my perceived failings and being discouraged by how much I was still struggling. I am happy to say that this year was much different. This year I looked back at all the times I returned to treatment, and I felt proud of knowing that more than once I have made the brave choice to continue fighting.

Each relapse and slow build back towards recovery taught me valuable lessons about resiliency, bravery, and my personal strength. I have decided to look at those times in a new perspective with gratitude for the chances I received to forge ahead. I learned something new about myself with each relapse, and I can now look at those times and see just how many times I have chosen not to let anorexia defeat me. The relapses gave me a chance to pause, look at what has brought me to a place of increased struggle, and then move forward with new insights.

I am learning that recovery is not about never struggling or having a rough day. Recovery is about being able to pick yourself up and keep going. All of my demons have not disappeared from my life because I have chosen to recover. However, I am learning to handle them differently. I am learning that there are other solutions to deal with the pain besides self-destruction. It is far from easy, and my fight is not over, but I now know that I do not have to do recovery perfectly. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Years ago, the words “bite by bite, I will fight” became a motto and anthem for me, one that reminds me every step forwards matters no matter if it is a leap or a tiny step. I just have to keep moving.

About the Author: Lily is a twenty-something year old with a passion for advocacy in mental health. She has been in recovery from an eating disorder and other mental illnesses for several years. She uses her own recovery story to help bring these issues out of the shadows in an attempt to lessen the stigma through her personal blog “Life and Recovery” about her recovery journey. Her hope is to return to school and enter into the field of Social Work where she can use her struggles to help others find freedom.

There is Always Hope

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When I was a toddler and preschooler, my life was idealistic.  I had a younger sister, two parents, living in middle class America. My father worked at a papermill and owned his own locksmithing business.  We lived in a white house with a white picket fence- the American Dream.

When I was five, my uncle, who was just six months younger than me, came to live with us.  My grandmother died unexpectedly at the age of 42.  My grandfather was an alcoholic and it was felt my uncle would be better cared for in our home.

Then when I was eleven, my life changed dramatically.  My father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  He stopped working and my parents’ roles changed.  My mother began working at the papermill where my father had worked and my father stayed home and took care of us kids.  At that same time, my father’s best friend died of cancer.   My dad’s personality changed dramatically.  He became controlling and abusive – this was directed toward my uncle and me.  Somehow, my sister was spared.  No matter what I did, it was never good enough.  I’d come home with an “A”, he’d berate me for not getting an A+; my friends were “hayseeds” because they lived in the country, my clothes were ridiculous, yet they were purchased by my mother.  He’d tell my sister over and over, “I hope you never grow up to be like your sister”.  He would send my uncle and I to church on Sundays while my sister stayed home and watched cartoons.  We were told we needed to ask for forgiveness for everything we’ve done wrong.  He also told me, “When you die, you better bring a shopping bag this wide and this big to fill all your sins because you are bad- not even God loves you”.

By the age of 13, I began to believe I wasn’t good enough. I attempted suicide, something that was never talked about in our family to the point where all family members covered up the circumstances of my grandmother’s death.  They didn’t have the intervention programs back then as they do now, and once I was medically cleared I was returned home.  Back at home my sister told me, “You can’t do anything right, you can’t even kill yourself”.  I don’t blame her: she was merely mimicking my father.

At the age of fifteen, I thought I was in love.  One night I skipped gymnastics practice where I was the manager and went to my crush’s house.  I can still recall the gold and green colors of bathroom carpet as I was raped and sodomized repeatedly by his friends.  Again, I told no one.

Also at the age of fifteen, although I had issues with food and body images way before then, I developed an eating disorder. I never knew it was an illness, I figured it would be my secret and if my friends overate, they could deal with the ramifications of getting fat.

Eighteen.  All my friends were choosing colleges based on their career choices and programs.  My only criteria was that my dorm room have its own bathroom.

By second semester of my freshman year, my eating disorder was way out of control.   I choose my class schedule to accommodate the eating disorder.  During spring break things came to a head when my friends intervened and took me the hospital where I was treated for dehydration, low blood pressure, and an irregular heartbeat.  During the next three years I was hospitalized multiple times.  My last hospitalization occurred in 1988- the year I started dating my husband.

I went into recovery, making the necessary changes- I got rid of my scale, stopped comparing myself to others, and continued with counseling… Life was good.

I got married, had two wonderful boys, finally graduated from college and started working in mental health.  I also had a successful side business called Starlight Images where I performed decorative painting.

One day, my youngest son came home from school and told me his class was studying poetry.  He asked me what my favorite poem was.  I told him “When I’m an Old Woman” by Jenny Joseph.  I told Devon the poem was basically about living your life without regrets.  He looked at me and said, “But mom, you are an old woman!”  Well, that got me thinking.  There were plenty of things I wanted to try to accomplish.  I didn’t want to reach to the age of 80 and look back on my life with regrets.  I wanted to make a name for myself.  So, I excelled at my job, joined many coalitions and serviced the community and pursued a music career- at one point I was even on the same label as Collin Raye and met many influential people in the music industry!

Then in 2009, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  I was devastated.  During the previous years, she acknowledged the abuse I suffered as a child and became my best friend, my confidant.

I didn’t know how to handle it.  My world was going out of control.  So, I once again began to control the only thing I could- my weight.  I initially started dieting, but after a twenty-year hiatus, the eating disorder took its grip on me. I lost a considerable amount of weight.  I was hospitalized again.

After my mother died in March of 2012, I continued to struggle. In October, I went to the ER for a migraine.  I woke up in the ICU 40 miles away where I was hooked up to heart monitors, feeling tubes, and a central line.  I was dying.

The day I returned to work in December, I returned to a new director.  A Director who believed anyone with a mental illness should not be working in the mental health field.  For four days, I was harassed as I was told I could no longer see clients, I was placed on a 90-day probationary period, and I was told I could be fired at any time so I better watch myself.

I immediately began to relapse.  My doctor’s suggested I file for disability.  I quit my job of 17 years and filed a complaint with the EEOC.

In October I was shopping at a department store when I saw a “help wanted” sign.  I was feeling like a worthless loser, hoping that maybe getting a job would help me structure my time and give me a sense of purpose – help me gain some confidence back. But the size numbers on the clothes and my constant comparisons got the best of me and I started using behaviors again.

In May 2014, my sons were evicted from the apartment they were sharing due to not paying their rent.  Against my husband’s wishes, I allowed them to move back home.  The stress was unbelievable.  I was still “flirting” with the eating disorder and working 20 hours a week at the department store.  I felt like I had no future.

Then June 17, 2014.  Anything that could go wrong did.  A customer at the department store asked me, “Didn’t you use to be somebody?” When I returned home, I received another job rejection letter, my husband and I got into a fight and then my youngest son came home high on something.  He had already destroyed our garage under the influence of something and the basement where he was living was trashed.  I asked him to pick up his clothes and he went off on me, gathered his things, and left.  I never felt so alone in my life.  I was missing my mom, thinking about what an awful wife, mother, person I was.  There I was- on disability, making minimum wage- I felt like a failure.  I was a failure.  In that dark moment, I attempted suicide and was hospitalized again by one of the same deputies only 1.5 years before I had been working with on crisis intervention calls.

So, there I was in a psych ward, on disability in a dead-end job making minimum wage-wondering what the hell happened.  I decided life can only get better.

Just as a business develops a mission statement to develop the scope of an organizations purpose, I developed a mission statement or motto for my life:

KEEP MOVING FORWARD and my goal was to get my life back!

Which brings us to what I believe is the most important factor in recovery:


I lost my hope the night of June 17, 2014.  I couldn’t see beyond the darkness that consumed my life.  However, my hope was slowly renewed.  So how do you obtain hope?

  • Set (obtainable goals) and go after them.  My goal was to “get my life back” and to me that meant being healthy and working in the mental health field again.  However, there were steps or mini goals I needed to achieve along the way.  I needed more education and needed to become a certified social worker.  Which leads to…
  • Utilize supports and resources. I continued with therapy, sought out the services of DVR (Division of Vocational Rehabilitation) and surrounded myself with POSITIVE people.  I had my own team of “supports” cheering me on.
  • This also ties in with step 1.  With setting goals, I found a new-found purpose for my life.  I settled out of court regarding my harassment suit, and as I was attending school I obtained a substitute teacher license and started using my first degree.  That sense of purpose gave my life back its meaning.
  • Don’t Strive for perfection.  Instead, strive for Happiness.  Perfection is what probably got you in trouble- or at least stuck- to begin with.  Striving for happiness allows us to enjoy all the imperfections of life.  We can be successful without having a perfect GPA.  We can be beautiful without having the perfect body.  (Besides, who defines perfection??- Others).  When you strive for happiness, we’re the ones defining what makes us happy.  This empowers us, also giving us Hope.
  • Believe in Yourself. It’s like a chain reaction.  The more we believe in ourselves, the more confidence we obtain, the more we accomplish, the more we believe in ourselves…And if you don’t yet believe in yourself-FAKE IT- and follow the steps.  From there, Hope is born, nurtured, until you truly do believe in yourself.

It has been said, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait, watch and work; You don’t give up”-  Anne Lamott

My friends, Don’t give up on yourself.  There is always hope.  – Debbie

Defeating ED: Recognizing Inner Beauty

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By: Rachel Sheidler

In middle school I was the quiet girl in the corner. Naturally, because I was moving on to high school I didn’t want to be known as that girl anymore, so I turned to something I could be in control of: losing weight.

Little did I know that it would lead me down a path of anorexia. I can’t pinpoint the exact cause of my disease but I would venture to say it was the media bombarding young girls with pictures of beautiful, skinny women. I felt in order to be accepted by others I needed to be beautiful, meaning thin, but somehow when I looked into the mirror that wasn’t what I saw. I saw fat and ugly. I began to starve myself and exercise to the point of exhaustion. I was obsessed with counting calories. Social situations were hard for me. I wouldn’t go out to eat and would avoid going to parties because of the junk food I knew would be there. People would beg me to eat, if only it were that simple. I didn’t choose anorexia; it chose me. A little voice inside my head ruled my life. I even gave him a name, Ed (for eating disorder). I wasn’t myself because I was influenced by everything Ed told me: “You’re so fat” or “Don’t eat that, you’ll gain twenty pounds.” He controlled me similar to the way the devil manipulates people. He became so real I could physically hear him inside of me. He became my kryptonite to my superpower, controlling food.

By eighth grade, I had hit my lowest point, my rock bottom. I was a skeleton, I was cold all the time, I grew fine hair on my body, had no energy, and if not turned around quickly, my organs would start failing. I knew this, but Ed was so strong that I didn’t care. I wanted, no needed, to be thinner. Needless to say it was obvious I was anorexic, my family, teachers, and friends were concerned and I was dragged to countless doctors, counselors, and dietitians. I wanted to get better; I was tired of being known as the anorexic girl.

On August 6, 2010, right before my sophomore year of high school, I went to a doctor’s appointment for a regular weigh in. The doctor listened to my heart and found some irregularities in my heartbeat. They did an EKG and sent me to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital emergency room for further evaluation. I hated the doctor for making that decision but when I look back I realize that I wasn’t my own superhero, she was my superhero. She saved my life. When I arrived at the emergency room I was hooked up to machines for what seemed like hours. I remember gripping my mom’s hand, looking her in the eyes and asking, “Am I going to die?” I will never forget her three worded response that turned my world upside-down. “I don’t know.” Her uncertainty scared me more than anything, and at that moment I realized how serious this had gotten.

Later that day I was admitted to the hospital for what they said would only be a few days. Being my first time in a hospital, I was petrified, but my struggle was just beginning. The rules were endless. I had to be watched every minute of every day by a nurse, even when I slept, and had to eat everything on my plate in under half an hour or else they would resort to tube feedings. The bathroom door had to stay open at all times and showers were to be five minutes long. I was on complete bed rest. I cried myself to sleep feeling isolated and frustrated. The bed was uncomfortable and I was jerked awake every few hours by a nurse or beeping machine. Throughout the day I would either read, watch TV, or awkwardly chat with whatever nurse was sitting in my room at the time. Everyday a group of medical students would make their rounds to observe the patients and ask questions. They would gather around me and ask me personal questions and observe my condition like I was some type of science experiment, it was dehumanizing to say the least. I missed my family and friends more than anything, sometimes my parents would spend the night, but of course my brother had to be taken care of and my parents had their jobs. Everyday I asked when I would go home but the doctors just said they didn’t know.

After a while I learned to accept defeat. I’ve never been so angry and I took it out on anyone and everyone around me, which I regret more than anything. They were trying to help me; they didn’t deserve to be treated that way. My prayer life suffered. My mom told me to give my struggles up to God but how could God let something like this happen? Two of my best friends at the time were able to visit me, it meant so much knowing they cared enough to spend a summer day with me. Through their prayers they showed me the power of love and support. I was finally released on the 20th, thrilled that God gave me a second chance at life. Leaving the hospital gave me confidence because I know in my heart if I could make it through those two weeks I could make it through anything and I’m thankful to God for helping me realize that. My parents told me later that when they went to mass back at home, parishioners and acquaintances would come up to them and tell them they were praying for me while I was in the hospital. To this day I don’t know how those people knew. Perhaps a friend told them, but I like to believe it was the Holy Spirit working within them because I needed those prayers. When I left the hospital I felt free, taking that first breath of fresh air was exhilarating. Since my activity was greatly limited in the hospital being able to walk took some getting used to but being back at home with my family was priceless. I still had to travel to Cincinnati once a month to see the team of doctors, counselors, and dietitians and had to continue to eat on a meal plan, meaning my dietitian would tell me what to eat, when, and the amount. My weight has been fluctuating over the past few years but I’m healthy and food is no longer the enemy. I now eat what I want, how much I want, and when I want, and am more in tune with my body and have learned to appreciate it rather than criticize it. I haven’t seen my weight since then. I imagine that for the rest of my life when I go to doctor’s appointments I’ll step on the scale backwards, not because I have to, but because I want to. Why should a number on a scale matter? A number on a scale can’t determine your worth, your skills, your accomplishments, your dreams. All that matters is that I’m healthy, I’m happy, and that I’m myself again.

Looking back I’m angry at Ed for all of the years he stole from me. I wonder how I would have spent those years if anorexia had not consumed me. How would I be different? What could I have accomplished over those four years? What wonderful memories could I have made? Even though this thought crosses my mind from time to time, I wouldn’t change my experience because it made me who I am, a happy young woman who is content and proud of her body, which is something I never thought I’d be able to say. If only the team of doctors could see me now. When people ask me how I made it through recovery I tell them it was because of God. There isn’t any other explanation. I don’t know how I recovered so it must have been the work of God because His works don’t need explaining. You may be wondering to yourself “what does this story have to do with me?” Well, close your eyes and quiet your mind. Now place a hand over your heart. Do you feel that beating? It’s called a purpose. Throughout my journey I realized everyone has one because I believe I wouldn’t be here today if that wasn’t true. We are made in God’s image and He has a plan for everyone so I hope you realize that what you look like doesn’t matter to Him so it shouldn’t matter to others.

Psalm 193:14 says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

As humans we try to squeeze ourselves into what society thinks is the perfect standard but that won’t get you into heaven, fulfilling your purpose will. The time to start fulfilling the purpose God has for you is now. We can start by enlarging our heart, widening our soul, and strengthening our spirit.

I would like to end with a quote by Kailee Favaro. This is hanging on my bulletin board at home and gives me inspiration to continue on, “Living in perfection isn’t really living at all. To enjoy life and to take in happiness around you, you need to let go of the perfection and hold on to what really matters. Maybe then, the pain will subside and the constant thoughts of weight and food won’t always be with you. Maybe you can be happy.”

I sincerely hope and pray that all men and women struggling with an eating disorder come to this realization some day. People have asked me why I’m so open with my struggle. I realize that people may stigmatize me because of my past but if I’m silent I’m letting the disorder win. If I’m silent how can others be helped?

In the words of Jon Acuff, “sometimes God redeems your story by surrounding you with people who need to hear your past so it doesn’t become their future.”

I want to be an inspiration to others. Please know that there is hope. Recovery is possible. Beauty, after all, is a feeling, not something that can be seen. YOU are and can feel beautiful. YOU can take back control of your life. YOU have a purpose. YOU can rise above and recover.

How Challenging My Perfectionism Is Helping Me Recover From My Eating Disorder

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By: Colleen Werner

I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. From afar, perfectionism can seem positive because it often leads to productivity, however, being productive is not the same thing as being effective.

I am doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) as part of my recovery from an eating disorder and an anxiety disorder, and one of the major concepts of DBT is being effective. Being effective is about accomplishing things in a healthy, mindful way. It is about doing just what is necessary in a given situation, not creating extra work for yourself, or stressing yourself out about tiny details. Being effective does mean getting things done, however it is not just being productive. It’s choosing to do what actually works in a situation instead of what might be “right” or “wrong.” “Right” and “wrong” are extremely subjective, and don’t lead to accomplishing much. Instead, when we focus on doing what works for us, we are able to complete tasks AND prioritize our mental health.

One of the biggest ways that I’ve been challenging my perfectionism is by learning new skills. For a long time, I convinced myself that aside from being a dancer and singer, I couldn’t be artistic. However, I recently started learning the art of hand lettering after being inspired by several friends who do it. It was really challenging for me to learn something completely new to me because I knew there was no way I was going to be perfect at it. I knew that it was going to take time for me to learn the technique and that it was going to be messy and imperfect at first. I got very frustrated in the beginning (and honestly still do) when I would mess up a piece I was working on, or when I struggled to learn a new font. I could have easily given up and decided that hand lettering wasn’t for me, however, I didn’t want to let my pesky perfectionism win. I decided to embrace the imperfection that comes along with learning something new, and chose to accept that imperfection doesn’t mean failure — imperfection means you are trying, and trying means you are living.

Perfectionism is robotic. Perfectionism is stifling. When I give into my perfectionism, I give into the idea that if it’s not done impeccably, it’s not worth it, and that’s complete BS.

By challenging my perfectionism, I’m also strengthening my recovery from my eating disorder. Like many eating disorder sufferers, my disorder thrives off of my perfectionism. Whether it’s in regards to what I’m eating, how I look, or the temptation of engaging in unhealthy behaviors to gain a false sense of control, my perfectionism is deeply intertwined with my eating disorder.

I’ve learned that when I choose to fight perfection in one area of my life, it helps me fight it in all areas. When I decide that it doesn’t really matter that much if I mess up one letter when I’m hand lettering, it helps me decide that it doesn’t really matter if my body lines up with society’s standards. When I decide that it doesn’t really matter if I get a B on a paper, it helps me decide that it doesn’t really matter if my food intake matches that of an unqualified “wellness blogger.” When I decide that it’s okay to ask for an extension on a deadline, it helps me decide that it’s okay to post a photo of me that doesn’t fit the “aesthetic” standards of Instagram.

I’m finding the freedom that lies in imperfection — the freedom that my eating disorder told me I could only find in perfection. I’m learning that every time I fight perfection, I’m furthering my recovery, and allowing myself to truly live. I’m realizing that real life isn’t meant to be perfect because perfection is boring and mechanical. I’m accepting that imperfection is the most effective option for me, and imperfection is pretty damn beautiful.

About the Author: Colleen Werner is a professional dancer, singer, writer, and mental health/body-positivity/self-love advocate who was born and raised in NY. She is a member of Long2 Dance Company in NYC, and teaches dance on Long Island, NY. Colleen is also a YPAD (Youth Protection Advocates in Dance) Certified Dance Professional, as well as a member of their Advisory Panel. Colleen is currently studying Psychology at SUNY Old Westbury, and she plans on going to graduate school to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in Eating Disorders. She also aspires to start an eating disorder treatment program created specifically for dancers. Her Instagram account/blog, @leenahlovesherself, which centers around body-positivity, self-love, and mental health, has deeply inspired thousands, and after creating the hashtag #BopoBallerina, Colleen was featured by Yahoo, National Eating Disorders Association, Dailymotion, A Plus, Dance.com, and by several international news outlets. Her experiences with her eating disorder and anxiety disorder have inspired her to share her story in an effort to help others. Colleen is devoted to using dance to make a difference. In her free time, Colleen enjoys playing with her two yorkies Tidbit and Zen, coloring, journaling, writing, reading, and watching Food Network.

When You Go From ‘Underweight’ to ‘Overweight’ While in Treatment for Anorexia

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By: Lizzie Janniello

This is a topic that I don’t think is discussed as much as it should be. I also know that this is a very touchy topic. I will tread lightly and only explain things from my perspective and my personal journal towards recovery.

When I started treatment for anorexia 17 months ago, I was in a really bad place. I was depressed, suicidal, and very underweight. My eating disorder had a full grasp on my otherwise happy and successful life. But it tormented me and convinced me that I needed to lose weight in order to be happy, successful, and pretty. And I listened to it. With the weight loss that I so desired, I lost everything that was important to me. My relationships were strained, I couldn’t succeed at my job, and I fell into a deep depression.

Fast forward 17 months, to today. I am still in treatment. But only this time, according to my BMI, I am considered overweight. I don’t feel like myself and I’m embarrassed. All I want to do is hide. I am embarrassed and sad. So I texted a two close friends and my therapist for some support, and they gave me a few interesting things to think about.

My therapist said that the BMI doesn’t actually measure anything important.

So true. But oh, so hard to believe. How am I supposed to be confident in my recovery when I look like this? When I am, literally, overweight. I’ve struggled my whole life, always being underweight yet feeling obese and fat. But now the problem is that I actually am overweight. I’m sure some of you can understand what that feels like. I feel like a balloon, like all my clothes are busting at the seems. My friend described it as feeling like a Telly tubbie. It’s so true. I feel disproportionate, pudgey, and whalelike. This is not me. I entered treatment to help me with body image, but how is this helping me? How is taking me from one extreme to another going to help?! I simply did not understand.

My therapist said I needed to work on “radical acceptance”. I know, I know, DBT is the key. But it’s so hard. I so desperately want to look like all those models in magazines- my friend describes them as “clothes hangers” because of their lack of curves and skeletal structure. I don’t know who’s to blame, maybe it’s the media, maybe it’s how I was raised. But no matter the reason, that’s what I want to look like. And so I took my body through the extremes of restricting, and managed to change the way I looked, so that I would resemble the ideal image I had in my head. But yet my body image still told me I was fat and overweight and that I should just keep losing a little more. Even when extremely underweight, I would body check and grab and pinch all the areas where I thought I was “too fat.” I was very sick.

Well I tried to do the right thing- three times in the past year and a half, I have entered treatment. And now, I am overweight because of it. It makes me wonder what I’ve gained, besides weight. Did I make the right decision, entering treatment? According to my values, yes. According to my eating disorder, no. Is this all my eating disorder getting louder and louder? Telling me I need to lose weight? Or is that the normal voice of a girl, any girl, just striving to feel confident in her own skin?

What I’ve learned, is that no matter what size I’ve been, I’ve yet to be confident. So what does that mean? I think that means that confidence has nothing to do with our appearance. I think it’s all about the way we perceive ourself. Our smiles. Our laugh. I want to feel confident. But I know that weight loss isn’t the answer anymore (even though that means I have to fight every urge, everyday, not to lose weight). It’s about learning to love yourself and truly embracing health at every size. I know that my body needs time to heal… lots and lots of time. I’ve put it through a lot, and overshooting is just it’s way of healing. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s hard, especially during summer. If you are in this situation, or can relate to anything I’m going through, go follow some body positive models on Facebook and instagram. Find people who are confident in themselves and try to emulate that in yourself. Embrace your curves! Love your body! Treat it with kindness and respect- after all, we will only ever have one body. But I can tell you one thing that I’ve learned- our appearance is the least interesting thing about us. This quote always sticks with me:

“We get so worried about being pretty. Let’s be pretty kind. Pretty funny. Pretty smart. Pretty strong.”

Go on that date, take the adventure, live life. And stop apologizing for taking up space. Stop hiding because you are embarrassed of your appearance. I can guarantee that you are beautiful. You are loved. You are worthy of happiness, confidence (no matter what your size), and joy. Don’t miss out on life because you’re too worried about what others think about you. Love yourself and that will draw people to you! I know you can do this. I’m trying my best, and I hope that you are too.

About the Author: Lizzie studied psychology at Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan. She currently works as a research assistant in Washington, D.C. She is in recovery and hopes to one day use her experiences to help others struggling with eating disorders. Lots of love and please stay strong! You’ve got this.

Community Makes Recovery Possible

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By Grace Patterson, Director, Communities of HEALing

When I got to college for my fourth year, I dragged my bags into my dorm room expecting to find my new roommate, Sara. Instead, I found a tall brunette napping in one of the beds. When she woke up, she introduced herself as Nada, a “friend of Sara’s from a summer program.” Sara was out for the day, but Nada and I made friends, and she came along for all of the first day friend making between our suitemates.

As she did, I started to notice things. I saw her inexplicable exhaustion. I watched a flash of anxiety cross her eyes when we decided to go get dumplings nearby. I remembered the “summer program” where she met Sara, remembered how small Sara looked in her Facebook pictures and how thin Nada was. Something clicked in my mind and I really saw Nada, because I saw myself in her.

On the way back from the dumplings we walked a bit behind the rest, and I said something like “I kind of have issues with food. Something as stupid as dumplings can feel really hard, but they don’t for me today.” She looked relieved, and on the way back to the dorm we talked about this thing we have in common, about the different shapes it took for each of us. Later I’d learn that she texted Sara almost immediately: “Your new roommate is one of us.”

Over the course of that year, Sara and I became very close. We lovingly held each other accountable for nourishing ourselves emotionally and physically, and it felt like support rather than regulation. Today, Sara lives only a few blocks away from me, and though we’re both doing really well, we still keep each other in check with a delicate mix of humor and tough love. It’s a balance that only we can strike, having been where the other is. (And being the objectively hilarious humans that we are.)

Before Sara, my experience of other ana girls was on blogs and in between high school classes, where they motivated me to double down on my disorder rather than to heal.  Those girls, too, made me feel seen.

CommunityBeing in community with other people who struggle with eating disorders has tremendous power, to harm or to heal. I believe that we need more of these spaces that support our community to take care of ourselves and each other, and that’s why I am so invested in growing Communities of HEALing.

Through open support groups and 1:1 mentorship, Communities of HEALing (COH) connects folks in recovery to incredible support. COH mentors aren’t another person on your treatment team, and COH groups aren’t a replacement for therapy. They’re something else–an extra boost of support, a different kind of place to bring your experience, a community of people invested in recovery.

I know from experience that community can make all the difference in recovery, but Project HEAL isn’t taking my word for it. As we build this program, we are committed to rigorously evaluating it to make sure it makes a difference.

That’s why in this phase of the program, we’ve partnered with a team of researchers to conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to help us learn whether different types of support are helpful to individuals seeking to recover from an eating disorder. All of the mentees in this phase will be participants in the study, sharing information with our research team to help us understand what works and what doesn’t.

We’re very excited about the potential of COH to make an impact on the way we understand and support eating disorder recovery, and my bet is you are too. To find out more about about the program and how you can be involved, click here. We’d love to have you as a part of our communities of healing.

Note: Names and details have been changed to protect individual’s privacy.

About the Author: Grace Patterson, Director, Communities of HEALing

GracePattersonPhotoSquareGrace Patterson is an accomplished trainer, organizer and strategist driven by a desire to help others to join, create, and act in service of a better world. To that end, she has supported hundreds of leaders in more than 15 countries, helping to develop their skills in intercultural engagement, strengthen their theories of impact, and effectively communicate their visions.

Grace’s background touches on interfaith engagement, conflict resolution, international development, and strategic communications. As the Director of Global Programs for World Faith, she supported religiously diverse teams of young people around the world who are working to end religious violence and global poverty. As the Director of Strategy for Mean Communications, she worked with social good startups to help craft and execute communications strategies. She has designed and facilitated workshops and trainings for adult learners on topics ranging from effective storytelling to religious literacy, to building effective community online. She has written about all this and more for Mic.com and State of Formation.

Grace comes to Project HEAL excited to bring both her professional experience in program management and training, as well as her personal experience of the transformative power of being in community with those working toward active recovery from eating disorder.

Closet Cleanse

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By: Marlee

I purged my wardrobe. Literally, I had clothes scattered across my bed and floor. Why you may ask? Well I was running sprints one morning, and I noticed how my shorts were bunching up on my thighs. I had been noticing it a lot lately and I was kinda beating myself up about it. Why? Because my shorts fit just fine in the summer. All my shorts fit. I knew that I had gained weight but the fact that stuff that was fitting over the summer wasn’t fitting now was making me self conscious.

But before that self discriminating voice got louder I thought “Why am I trying to wear clothes that don’t make me feel comfortable and confident?”

Some of my clothes were ones that I got back in high school or during my first two years of college. As I thought about it more, I wondered if I was trying to hold on to some old part of me. Why was I trying to hold on to a person that I no longer am?

As soon as I got back to my apartment, I started tearing my closet and dresser apart. I created two piles of clothes: one for clothes to sell and one for clothes to donate. I didn’t hold back. I didn’t think twice about getting rid of something that was cute but no longer fits me.

Its still a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. Most people don’t realize, that ED survivors may recover, but we still deal with the side effects on a daily basis. Becoming comfortable with yourself is a process and a struggle. I felt like these clothes were holding me back from embracing my body even more than I already have. We should wear clothes that make us feel comfortable and confident. We shouldn’t be wearing clothes that make us feel insecure or uncomfortable.

I don’t want to wear shorts that bunch up on my thighs. I want shorts that hug my thighs and show off their strength. I don’t want shirts that make me feel self conscious about my ab-less belly. I want shirts that flaunt my curves and make me feel confident. I want dresses that make me want to twirl (an indication that I like something btw) and a swim suit that makes me want to do a cannon ball into a pool (I promise I’m 21 years old).

I’m not the size I was during my ED. I’ve gained weight since last year. I realized though that a number is so meaningless in defining my self worth. Some stores I wear one certain size in jeans, and in others I wear a different one. But you know what? WHO GIVES A DAMN?! It’s a stupid number and sizing in the clothing industry is SO screwed up. I’m gonna pick clothes that fit me and make me feel confident. And I’m sure as hell not gonna stress over the size, because really what does a number or letter mean? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Purging my closet and dresser was refreshing and invigorating. You should have seen me. It was like something out of a movie. I had music blasting in my room, throwing clothes out on the floor, singing and dancing the whole time. Doing that instantly made my day SO much better.

So the moral of this whole story: meaningless material objects should not define you. If something makes you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, DON’T WEAR IT. Hell, GET RID OF IT. It’s not worth it to keep wearing something that makes you feel horrible about yourself. You deserve to feel confident, strong, and beautiful in whatever you’re wearing. And when you feel good about yourself, that confidence radiates around you. And that is the most important thing you can wear.

This post originally appeared on lifteatlife.wordpress.com

About the Author: 21, going on 22-year-old recent college graduate. Loves lifting heavy weights, blogging, french bulldogs, dancing, singing, and peanut butter. Aspires to help people find their inner fighter and embrace every part of themselves.

A Letter to my Scale

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By: Kayla Hopper

Dear Scale,

You have ruined my life. I have given you power to control every aspect of my day. You tell me when to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, and when to drink. You tell me where I can go, who I can go with, and always make sure I feel worse about myself; so that I can strive to make you happier. You make me believe that the lower your number; the higher my worth is, and the safer I am. You tell me a set point and promise that you won’t demand more; until it’s not enough, I can always be better. Each day I run to you, sometimes multiple times a day, just to get your approval. To see if I am living up to the standards I allowed you to set.

But there is one thing I have now realized, I handed you the power, and I can take it back. That number doesn’t tell me my worth; I am made in the image of God, created with the utmost love and respect. I am worthy of love and compassion that you are unable to give. The number doesn’t reflect my accomplishments. I am a proud mother of four children and a wonderful wife and friend. I have allowed my body to go through tremendous pain and change just in the power of love. I am not an object, I live and breathe. I deserve to have grace on my hard days, and celebrate my victories.

I am a woman, I am valued, I am needed, I am wanted, and I am deserving. I am everything you tell me I’m not. I don’t have to be a certain size to be accepted. I don’t have to be a certain number to love myself. Loving myself is not conditional, and it is not a weakness. I have allowed you to have control for too long. I have let you wreck my body, my self-esteem, my family, and my relationships. You have caused more pain than I can fathom, all in the quest for an unfulfilling happiness. You have nothing to offer me but lies and pain.

Without you I can soar. I can be who I am created to be. Without your demands… I am free.

About the Author: I am a 30-year-old wife and mother of four. A survivor of anorexia, ptsd, and bipolar disorder.

You Don’t REALLY Believe That?

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By: Erin Parks, PhD

Having appreciated the humor that comedians have poked at“awareness” campaigns, I wanted to be very intentional about what, exactly, I wanted to make people aware of during Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#EDAW). And then the answer hit me in the face.  I was interviewing a clinician—she was kind, funny, had an excellent resume—and I was telling her about the culture and theoretical orientation of our center.  I told her that our research uses neuroimaging and genetics to look at the neurobiological underpinnings of eating disorders and that our three clinics take an agnostic approach, consistent with Family Based/Maudsley therapy, in that we truly believe that parents do not cause eating disorders and they are not to be blamed.  The applicant smiled, met my gaze, raised her eyebrows, and leaned in as though we were about to share a secret…

“I understand why you tell the parents that, but surely you don’t really believe that.”

really do believe that parents do NOT cause eating disorders.  I share that belief with our directors, our researchers, our clinicians, our office managers, our dietitians, our cooks, and every last member of our staff.  We believe, that like cancer and epilepsy and schizophrenia and autism, there are neurobiological and genetic causes to eating disorders.  But it is easy for US to believe this—we spend our days working with wonderful parents. These parents remind us of ourselves; they’ve been trying their very best to raise happy and caring children. These parents are shocked that their child has become so ill, because similar to the interviewing clinician, they too had previously believed that poor parenting caused eating disorders.

I wish I could say that was the first time in an interview that someone had asked me if I secretly blamed the parents, but there are many intelligent and caring people—clinicians, teachers, neighbors, friends—who believe the common myth that parents cause eating disorders.  This myth of parental causation has existed for many illnesses and most mental health disorders: schizophrenia, ADHD, autism, depression.  But it feels particularly pervasive for eating disorders—why is that?

Eating disorders have the highest mortality of any mental illness—rates that many studies suggest may be comparable to common pediatric cancers.  And yet, when we hear of a child getting diagnosed with cancer, friends and neighbors spend very little time wondering what caused the cancer and instead energy is focused on treating the cancer and supporting the family. The same is not true when a child is diagnosed with an eating disorder. When I asked a group of caring, intelligent parents what thoughts came into their minds when hearing of a 13-year-old being hospitalized for an eating disorder, they confided that they wondered about the parents: did they diet in front of their children, did they pressure them to succeed, what messages did they give about body image? There is this cultural sense that there is a right way and a wrong way to raise a child, and doing it incorrectly can cause problems—including eating disorders.  So what is the right way?

There is a prolific stream of (conflicting) parenting articles offering the latest opinion/theory/research on how to approach feeding your family.

Don’t feed your kids sugar: they’ll become addicted.  Feed your kids sugar: depriving them will make them binge later.  Make your kids try new foods: if not, they’ll never develop a healthy pallet.  Don’t worry if your kids are picky eaters: they will have disordered eating if you make food a battle.  Don’t bribe your kids with food: food shouldn’t be a reward. You can bribe your kids with food if it helps them eat their vegetables.  Hide vegetables in your kids’ foods. Don’t lie to your kids about what’s in their food.  Let your kids eat as much or as little as they want: follow their lead so they become intuitive eaters.  Your kids should be on a schedule, including meals: structure is good for kids. Gluten is bad.  All food is good.  Kids have to eat meat.  No kids should eat meat.  Dieting is bad: teach kids to love their bodies at all shapes.  Model healthy eating: we have an obesity epidemic.  If you put your kid on a diet they will develop an eating disorder.  If you don’t put your kid on a diet they will become obese and get diabetes.  Confused yet?

The conflicting advice continues when the parenting articles discuss achievement.  Parents should teach their children art and music and sports and STEM skills and foreign languages.  Parents enroll their children in way too many activities.  Parents should let their children choose their activities. Tiger Moms vs Free Range Kids. Kumon vs Montesorri.  It’s your fault if your children get hurt—you should have been watching them.  Don’t be a helicopter parent and let your children play unsupervised.  Challenge your kids, they need frustration and failure—they need grit.  Don’t push your kids—they’ll develop eating disorders.

Parenting is an unyielding stream of decisions, creating infinite iterations of parenting.

Our clinic has worked with hundreds of families and while their home cultures slightly differ, most are just typical families, trying to find moderation amid the sea of conflicting internet advice when it comes to feeding and raising their kids.  No matter what food and parenting choices they made for their families, somewhere there is an expert saying that they made the wrong choice and that is why their child has disordered eating.

A confession: I have two toddlers and I consume the endless stream of conflicting parenting articles that fill my Facebook feed and the Huffington Post. Sometimes I WANT parents to be the cause of language delays and college dropouts and cancer and bullying and ADHD and eating disorders. Then I could just parent correctly and guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to the two children I love most in this world.  But that is not our reality.  In reality there are pros and cons to all decisions and there are complex causes to complex issues.  The reality is that parents everywhere are trying their very best, doing a very good job, and are parenting in ways that may look very similar to how each of us parent—and their children are struggling with difficult and scary things—including eating disorders.

Many articles this week will talk about hypothesized causes of eating disorders—food culture, focus on achievement, the media—and while it can be important to think about the negative consequences of some aspects of our culture, this search for a singular cause can feed into the culture of blaming the parents.  The majority of parents will diet, the majority of women will feel bad about their bodies, the majority of teens will feel pressure to succeed, and the majority of images of women in the media will be distorted and unhealthy—and yet the majority of children will NOT get eating disorders.

I hope we can turn the conversation to the successful evidence-based treatments that now exist for eating disorders and how we can improve upon them so that they are effective, accessible, and affordable for everyone.  I hope we can discuss how parents know their children best and can be the most wonderful treatment allies in helping their children fully recover from an eating disorder.  I hope everyone can now believe that parents are truly, really, not to blame.

This post originally appeared on ucsdeatingdisorders.tumblr.com

About the Author: Dr. Erin Parks is a clinical psychologist and the Director of Outreach and Admissions for the UC San Diego Eating Disorders Center for Treatment & Research . She is passionate about educating clinicians, parents, and the community about the neurobiological basis of eating disorders and the evidence-based treatments that are now available. Dr. Parks wants to help society view mental illness as brain illness–narrowing the funding and resource gap between physical and mental disorders.