By Christina Grasso
During my senior year of college, I agreed to speak publicly for the first time during Eating Disorders Awareness Week about my personal experience battling an eating disorder. I cannot remember what possessed me to say ‘yes’ being the private, often anxious, usually self-conscious, and always snarky human I am, and frankly thought it would turn out to be an experience I would deeply regret. What if people mock me? What if I lose friends over this? What if nobody will hire me after college? What if I relapse and end up looking like a recovery fraud? What makes me special enough to tell my story? What if I throw up all over the tuba while speaking à la Mia Thermopolis? Cover the tuba!
Thankfully, there was no tuba in the audience. Although I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little nauseous, because at that time, giving personal witness to something like mental illness was not a super trendy thing to do. This is not to say people these days are taking numbers to do so, but we have come a long way. At that point, I didn’t know anyone speaking openly about his or her recovery, so there really wasn’t any sort of beaten path or manual of how, or why, or why not to tell one’s story. It seemed like a matter of right and wrong, and because I felt so ashamed I initially thought it was the wrong decision. So getting on stage that evening and speaking to hundreds of people about something that felt so personal and raw was undeniably one of the single most terrifying moments of my life. And you know what? I don’t regret it – nope, not for a second. Those terrifying moments came and went, but they wound up entirely transforming my life.
A year or so later, I was presented with the opportunity to be profiled for my advocacy work on Teen Vogue. I nearly chickened out because I was so afraid of what people would think of me. But then I thought, So what? If by sacrificing my preference for privacy I could potentially help someone else, it was worth it to me. In her book Carry On, Warrior, author Glennon Doyle Melton, who is a favorite of mine, said, “I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness and my emptiness.” And this, right here, is why I have made the choice to continue to share, mentor, and speak aka go beyond my comfort zone. Because in a digital and often broken world, there is nothing better than real human connection with people who get it.
Glennon, who also speaks openly about her own recovery from an eating disorder, goes on to say [of her decision to disclose], “I don’t want to take anything to the grave. I want to die used up and emptied out. I don’t want to carry around anything that I don’t have to. I want to travel light.”
Writing and speaking about my experiences certainly helps me stay committed to my own recovery process, sure. But that’s really just a bonus. Because as I am getting older I am realizing how much my body is merely a vehicle for my heart and soul, and for doing things that can make a difference. Not to get all touchy-feely, but it’s true. In being vulnerable, we give others permission to do the same.
Occasionally, I think about how my life might have gone on to be easier, simpler, and considerably less awkward had I remained in my cozy little hermit crab shell and stayed mum about the whole experience. I certainly had the right to do so. But as I have grown up, I have come to realize that at the end of my lifetime, like Glennon, I want to be completely used up and rung dry in the most positive of ways.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses and up to 20 percent will die. I don’t know if I will ever have the capacity to really grasp just how fortunate I am to have escaped those bleak statistics, but what I do know is that I want to spend the rest of my life paying it forward.
Between my senior year of college and now, perhaps I’ve been mocked, but I try not to let those bad seeds plant negativity up in here. I’ve lost false friends, sure, although I try to look at it in such a way that time, instead, has revealed my true friends and united me with the ‘right’ people. The job market can suck, but it has also sucked just as much for my non-eating disordered peers. I have relapsed, and of course, that’s discouraging and messy and can feel like a failure in more ways than one. But ultimately, over the years, I have learned that like it or not, nobody is perfect, and one’s acknowledgment of this very human flaw we all have in common is precisely what qualifies a person to tell his or her story. What makes us “special enough” to do so is everything and nothing; what matters is only our bravery in starting a conversation that matters.
Christina Grasso is a writer, activist, and social media consultant. In addition to her work in fashion and beauty, she serves on Project HEAL’s Advisory Board and founded its New York City chapter in 2012. She lives in Manhattan.