How I got over the fear of owning up to an eating disorder
I think everyone has heard the Franklin Delano Roosevelt quote “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I hate to admit this, but on top of finally giving the phrase some consideration beyond the superficial, I found it applied deeply to something I’ve been dealing with for a good portion of my life.
Fear. It’s what caged my mind for what seemed like an eternity. Fear made me say no to food, crippling my body in some kind of punishment for fear of what I was. Fear kept me in the depths of despair, afraid to face why I was sad in the moments when any “normal” person would feel content. Fear kept me from speaking up, until it didn’t.
Recently, I raised $500 for the National Eating Disorders Association. Every time someone donated to my fund, I felt less afraid to admit my past struggle of anorexia — a current struggle for so many. In raising money and sharing my fundraiser to my social media platforms, I was faced with the questions: “Aren’t you afraid people will judge you?” or “Aren’t you afraid people will think you’re an anorexic?” or, even further, “Don’t you think people might not share that post because they think it’s something that shouldn’t be talked about?”
In hearing these questions, I realized that I wasn’t afraid of judgment, people knowing my former struggle, or not getting a lot of “likes” and “shares” on my post any longer. I was doing this for myself, and for all of those who felt like they couldn’t speak up or receive life-changing help. I was doing it to look fear dead in the face and roll my big green eyes at it. It was quite liberating, actually, that metaphorical eye roll.
Why did I finally get over this fear of judgement? Why did I finally feel like sharing what I had been through instead of pretending my life was constantly perfect? It was because I realized that the times in my life which I have been the most honest and vulnerable about my mental health disorders (and yes, there’s an “s” on the end of that word, because there is more than one and that’s also something I don’t feel is worthy of hiding), were the times I felt the least lonely in carrying what felt like massive burdens.
Being honest shrunk the fear because I realized that my vulnerability led me to connecting with others who had similar problems and it bonded me to the idea that I wasn’t some anomaly. Factually, I know I’m not an anomaly (for that reason anyway). As many of 10% of college-aged women suffer from an eating disorder. Major depressive disorder affects about 14.8 million people in America. Over 3 million cases of anxiety are reported in this country each and every year, and 50% of those cases are in people between the ages of 14 and 40.
You can’t argue with facts, right? It looks good on paper, but there’s still stigma littering most aspects of the discussion of mental health. But facts don’t speak louder than words, and they can’t forge a human connection. Talking about it does.
So no, I don’t care if you know I have some or several forms of a mental disorder. I want to talk about it, I want to make it something that is talked about amongst people my age and older people and young kids who aren’t educated about their mind being a muscle that they need to keep healthy just like any other. We all need to keep that muscle as strong as the resilience it takes to fight our demons, and the stigma surrounding them.