I'm so honored to have my client turned friend Emily sharing her amazing story with you all today while I'm in Israel. I feel so fortunate to have this platform to share inspirational messages like Emily's with the world. I hope you're as inspired by her courage, honesty and vulnerability as I am. Emily, you brought me to tears with this one. I admire you more than you know!
My whole life I have strived for perfection.
I’d spend over an hour in the morning before grade school putting together the PERFECT outfit, making the PERFECT peanut butter sandwich for lunch, doing every single homework problem to make sure I got the PERFECT score and was perceived as the smartest in the class. I’d push myself at every soccer practice and to join a club team, just to make sure I was the best of the best. I did not settle for anything less, until I was forced to.
My freshman year of high school I tried out for the high school soccer team. I had it in my head that I was going to do everything I could to be on the Varsity roster. I attended every practice, every run, every meeting, making sure I pushed myself to my breaking point to be the stand out. What did this mean to me? That I was good enough.
My sophomore year I met with my guidance counselor to discuss my upcoming classes and schedule when he informed me I was fourth in my class out of 250 students. At that moment, it was ingrained in my mind that I was going to be in the top ten my entire high school career. I would not let myself settle for the A- or the B; I would continue to get ONLY A’s in every class I took, no matter how many hours a night I’d spend on homework. People would finally notice me as the smart girl. They WOULD notice me.
My junior year, I decided I was going to take charge of my health and get a gym membership. Yes, I played soccer, but I really wanted those picture-perfect abs that everyone was posting on Instagram. Even though I was small, I knew I could eat healthier and get myself to run. I was always a runner; this would be easy! Pizza, pop, candy, and chips were no longer in my diet. I took charge of my health and bought the “healthy” protein bars, nutrition drinks, and fruit. I would head to the gym and run my daily three miles until I finally lost those couple pounds I gained and started to see my abs.
Now, I had the perfect recipe for success my senior year of high school. I had it all---the position on the Varsity team, the perfect grade point, the thin body with picturesque abs, the acceptance to the college of my dreams. I was perfect, my life was perfect. Don’t you agree?
WRONG. So wrong.
By the end of my senior year, I found myself in the depths of what I would eventually find out to be the biggest obstacle I had ever faced: my eating disorder. I remember my doctor sitting across from me, tearing my perfectionism to pieces. I was told I was not perfect, that I needed help and lots of it, fast, because my life was on the line. My heart was failing, my clothes weren’t fitting, and peach fuzz hair lined my spine that protruded from my skin.
But, because of my type A personality, I had a plan. I was told I needed to eat more and to stop working out for a while in order to gain weight and minimize the stress on my heart. So, in my mind, if I was going to be eating more, it needed to be extremely “healthy”. Long gone were the days of bread, pasta, cheese, sweets, and fun drinks. If I was going to solve this problem, I was going to do it the right way, or so I thought. I was solving one problem by masking it with another. I used my anorexia as fuel for orthorexia.
My orthorexia (the obsession with healthy food) and exercise addiction consumed every waking minute. I’d spent my entire freshman year of college a slave to this mental illness. While my floor mates and friends were out at night dancing, eating, and drinking, I was in my bed asleep by 10pm. I fell into a spiral of depression and anxiety through my battle with anorexia that left me literally hanging on for dear life. I’ll never forget the night I called my mom at 2am, lying on the floor of the dorm bathrooms in shambles, begging her to give me a reason for why all of this was happening to me. I couldn’t live. I was exercising twice a day, running myself literally to the bone, barely consuming enough to fuel my addiction because I was so particular about every bite of food that I ate. I finally got to a point where I realized I could not live like this any longer. I needed to let go of my perfectionism, let go of my control, to ask for help and live again.
Asking for help literally saved my life.
My recovery is still happening, and probably will for a long time, but each time I meet with Alexis, I get one step closer to freeing myself of the rules I’ve known my entire life. As she always says, it's a journey, not a destination.
My first accomplishment came when I finally decided to stop running, freeing myself from the treadmill and the strict rules I set for myself on the machine. I never thought I'd be able to take a day off, and then one day, I did.
I then decided to try bread again for the first time in probably two years, and it was nothing short of amazing but incredibly average at the same time. I then decided to re-introduce certain fear foods such as pastries and incredibly delicious egg sandwiches into my routine.
My recent huge accomplishment was freeing myself from my rigid exercise rules. In 2017, I took a total of three rest days. Yes, you read that correctly. THREE. In 2018, I took more rest days in the first month than I did all last year.
I still have a long way to go, but the steps I have made that were uncomfortable, fearful, terrifying, and nothing close to perfect, were everything I needed. Long gone are my days of hiding behind my disorder to maintain the idealistic, unrealistic expectations I have set for myself. Lying about being okay is not normal. Lying about what you eat is not normal. Lying to your family members and friends is not normal. Living a life in constant fear of food and exercise is NOT NORMAL. But it takes A LOT to realize that’s not how life should be. Know that no one expects you to just flip a switch and get rid of a mental illness. I know I may suffer from pieces of my eating disorder for the rest of my life, but how I choose to live with it, is up to me.
I choose to let go, to take days off, to eat the croissant, to stay out way too late with my friends, to realize it’s OKAY to get a B, and to have a messy room. I choose spontaneity, and I hope you do too.