by Lizzie Janniello
This is all very new, so please bear with me. As I sit here writing my first ever blog post, I can’t help but think about the past few years; how much I’ve struggled, how much I’ve overcome, and how much I’ve grown.
You see, I’ve been struggling with an eating disorder and depression for most of my life, roughly sixteen years. This isn’t something I’ve ever talked openly about, except to my boyfriend and a few close friends. I’ve never felt comfortable sharing my struggles with the world, but I recently decided that I want to share my story, even if it helps just one person on their path to recovery.
I want you to know that I’ve been there, I understand, and that, most importantly, recovery is possible.
Almost one year ago, I entered intensive treatment for my eating disorder for the first time. I had previously been hospitalized for depression and self-harm, but that is a story for another post. In regards to my eating disorder, I spent nearly fifteen years silently struggling.
In the beginning, I didn’t really know what an eating disorder was, but I knew that I did not have a normal relationship with food. I remember the first time I heard the term “eating disorder”; I was in the fifth grade. I remember thinking “I don’t know what an eating disorder is, but I think I have it.” Even though deep down I knew I had a problem, I just couldn’t admit it to myself or to others. I lived in denial for many years.
In college I was finally able to admit to my boyfriend, and then to a trusted professor, that I had an “ED” (I still can’t say it out loud- the “a” word, that is). I spent the past few years thinking that recovery might be possible for some people, like Liana and Kristina, but not for me.
I thought that I would be a chronic case; that I will always struggle; and that I will never know recovery. There were a few months here and there where I saw glimpses of recovery, but it quickly slipped away each time I relapsed. And one year ago, I gave up on trying. I went to appointment after appointment, only to be told by my healthcare provider that “you’re okay” or “the lab work is coming back normal, so you must be fine”.
Sitting in their offices, at the weight of a middle schooler, I was repeatedly told that I was not sick enough to need help. And you know what, I listened to them.
They’re the medical professionals, right? This only reinforced everything my eating disorder voice was telling me- that I was fine. But trust me, if you think you are struggling from an eating disorder, you are not fine.
Unfortunately, eating disorders are an incredibly misunderstood mental illness. We are judged by our size, not by our thoughts and behaviors. If we don’t look “sick enough”, it is incredibly hard to get treatment. And, if we are the lucky ones who, even at our weakest moments, somehow manage to fight for treatment, we are often kicked out too soon.
This is why I am incredibly grateful for Project HEAL. On my 24th birthday, just four months ago, I was awarded a treatment grant to cover one-year of outpatient treatment. This meant that I could see specialists who understand and treat eating disorders. This meant, maybe, just maybe, I had a chance at full recovery.
And trust me, if I have a chance at full recovery, then so do you. And please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
My mantra for meals lately has been “the first bite is the hardest”. I used to stare at my food hoping that if maybe I just looked at it long enough, it would just disappear. That if I just kept the conversation going and moved my food around my plate, no one would notice. I was never that lucky. I know that if I want recovery, I have to face every meal. I have to eat every meal. And trust me, it’s not easy. Every day is a struggle. But you know what? I’m doing it. And so can you.
So go ahead, the first bite is always the hardest.
About the author:
Lizzie Janniello 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 those struggling with eating disorders. She will post once a month, so if you have any topics you are interested in hearing about, please comment below! Lots of love, and please be strong. You’ve got this.