One of the hardest things about letting go of my eating disorder is saying “goodbye” to a part of me. Having the illness be in my life for nine long years really impacts the way I view myself. It’s almost as if, when introducing myself to others, I feel compelled to say: “Hi, I’m Meghan, and I suffer from anorexia”. Regardless of how others perceive me, and whether I was underweight or at a healthy weight, I always feel like a major part of who I am as a person is linked to the eating disorder.
Have you ever done those pie charts, in school or therapy or at work, for example? You know, the circles that you have to divide into pieces representing what constitutes your life at the moment? I never drew one before I was sick, but I can imagine that it was filled with things like school, relationships with family, relationships with friends, adventures, hobbies, sports, etc. The structure of my pie chart changed dramatically after the development of my eating disorder. I remember sitting in a therapy session, pencil in hand, ready to segment the pieces of my “pie” into what was representative of my life at the time. However, the only piece of the pie I could draw was the eating disorder. The illness consumed my life in its entirety. Every slice that used to comprise my pie was now overshadowed and tainted by the eating disorder.
The eating disorder started to become part of my identity. It wasn’t just the way I perceived myself, either. It became frustrating because the eating disorder was the way that others saw me too. Family and friends would constantly ask my parents and my sister how I was doing, once they found out about my diagnosis. My illness wasn’t a secret in my community, and I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed; but it almost became a kind of “label” for me. And whether or not my weight loss was apparent, the label wouldn’t wash off.
Suddenly, I didn’t know who I was without anorexia. And I had so many questions.
“Would people still care about me if I wasn’t sick?”
“I can’t remember my interests… what are they?”
“How am I supposed to live my life without the illness?”
“Is it even possible to let go?”
"What is my purpose in life?"
There was so much doubt and uncertainty in my life, so I held on to the eating disorder. I held on tight. Even when things were going well, I just couldn’t bring myself to let go completely. I had all the support in the world, but I was scared. What would happen if I let go? Who would I become? It’s a weird and complicated situation to be in; to not know who you are. I guess many young adults my age face this uncertainty as they navigate the many twists and turns of life. But I used my eating disorder to escape this uncertainty; I used it to retreat from the world and put a pause on life.
I remember one therapy session I had many, many years ago, at the start of all this. I confided in my therapist about my fears of “letting go”, wondering who I would be without the eating disorder. I still remember his words to this day. He said, “That’s the fun part! You can be whoever you want to be”. I think I was too young at the time to really grasp what he meant, and too naïve to apply it. I am still trying to incorporate what he said during that session into the way I am going about "living".
Today, I am attempting to live the life that I want and become the person I want to be. Letting go of the eating disorder completely is still difficult. I have let go of most of it, but I still have moments or challenging times where I panic and get scared, and crawl back into the safety of my illness. But I am busy, now. Busy creating a life for myself. I am focusing on my job and my relationships and my goals, both short-term and long-term. It still feels like the eating disorder is a part of my identity at times, but those thoughts are gradually diminishing. I can’t wait to create a life for myself; a life I can be proud of, and a life without anorexia. I am ready to find myself in this complicated mess called life.