Written by Step Above Stigma's Treasurer, Laura Pickering.
Growing up I was always skinny and was told this hundreds of times. People would grab my wrist to measure how small it was or put their forearm against my thigh to show how small it was. These acts made me so uncomfortable and I quickly became aware of how much smaller I was than everyone else. I was constantly told that I was too skinny and that I needed to just "eat a burger". By some I was praised for being so small and by others I was told I needed to gain weight to look better. After my weight being pointed out so many times, being skinny became a huge part of my identity. Having other people engage in checking behaviours on me since as early as I can remember later developed into my own checking habits. As I got older I would place my hands around my waist to ensure it was small enough and measure the size of my wrists, legs, and arms with my hands to ensure they were all still "small enough".
My doctors couldn’t figure out why I struggled to gain weight until I finally got the diagnosis of celiac disease. I was not prepared for the weight gain that came with going gluten free and my sense of self came crumbling down as I no longer knew who I was without being skinny. I began hating this change which led to food restriction and overexercising.
I did not have the typical eating disorder story because I didn’t lose a large amount of weight like most others do. Since I was always skinny no one knew I was suffering from an ED (eating disorder). I began restricting my food intake and working out for 3 hours a day. Soon I lost 5lbs and became obsessed with losing more. I just wanted to be skinnier. I would run my hand over my collar bone and feel my ribs to make sure they stuck out enough. I was obsessed with seeing my bones pop out and if they didn't pop out enough I restricted even more. Since I was already underweight to begin with, losing those 5 pounds was enough for my body to start shutting down. My heart was working so incredibly hard trying to keep me alive but it was struggling. My body fought hard and it came very close but didn’t give up on me. I had given up on me but my body kept going.
I just wanted to be "skinny enough" but that never came. I was 80lbs, body shutting down, and I still wasn’t skinny enough. The funny thing about eating disorders is we become obsessed with getting skinnier and having that perfect body yet even if/when we reach that body it’s not good enough. It is the constant pursuit of something better when actually we are making ourselves sicker and sicker.
It wasn’t until later when I realized how close to death I actually was that my whole world changed. Everything changes inside of you when you’re told you were about a month away from death with no medical intervention. It’s crazy how I was so close to losing it all. Anorexia so easily could’ve taken my life away. Had it won I wouldn’t have graduated high school or gone to university or met all the amazing people who have come into my life in the last two years.
I also suffered from anxiety for my whole life. As a young child I was rarely able to attend friend’s birthday parties or go on playdates without my mom. I was riddled with anxiety but was terrified by this feeling because I didn't know what it was or why it was happening. It progressively got worse as the years went on until it peaked in grade 9. At this time, I couldn’t keep food down, I was in a constant state of panic and was constantly terrified that something bad was going to happen. My panic attacks began in grade 9 as well after a traumatic event. In high school, my anxiety got so out of control that I was having daily panic attacks, could barely leave the house and had an extremely high level of anxiety for no reason. The thought of stepping out of my front door was enough to send me into a full blown panic attack.
For years I had a constant battle going on inside my head. I never felt safe, everything gave me debilitating anxiety and I just wanted to jump out of my skin to have one minute of true relaxation. My OCD was also incredibly debilitating and I would spend hours every day checking all the doors and windows in my house, checking under my bed and behind the shower curtain to make sure no one was hiding there. This checking routine lasted at least 2 hours a day and continued for years.
I finally began on the road to recovery and I was able to overcome suicidal depression, debilitating anxiety disorders that made me unable to leave the house, and crippling OCD and panic attacks that made me feel like I just wanted to end it all. When anorexia came along I knew it was just one more thing I had to battle.
All this to say I went from that to where I am now. My mental illnesses used to consume my thoughts 24/7. All I could think about was how I was going to survive another minute. Now I’m at the place where I don't have to take it one day at a time and I'm no longer just trying to survive. I’m enjoying life and getting the most out of it because I now realize I could have lost that chance. I have a duty to live a happy and fulfilling life to prove to myself and everyone else that you can make it through anything and be happy. No matter what you go through you can turn it around and that’s not to say you won’t still struggle every day because I definitely do but the struggle is so worth it with everything else I now get out of my life.
I will never stop fighting for myself and for everyone else struggling with an eating disorder or any other mental illness. I went from a suicidal girl who was so afraid of the world that I couldn’t leave the house or interact with anyone to a strong and confident woman who went away for university, made amazing friends and now is a functioning person living a semi-normal life. With determination I survived. Everything that’s happened to me has made me the person I am today and for that I am so grateful. I wouldn’t trade my life for the world. I had so many opportunities to give up but if I had I wouldn’t be here living my life that is now so worth living. It’s still a daily battle but I choose to wake up every day and fight. I am stronger than any diagnosis or person who traumatized me and I am going to win in spite of all this.
In life you always have two options: to keep going or give up. Giving up always seems like the easiest option but you MUST keep going. Keep fighting every single day and eventually it will get better.
I know it feels like anything could break you but nothing in life will break you if you don’t let it. The second you let yourself break you have chosen to give up on yourself. I know it’s so hard but waking up every day and choosing to keep on fighting no matter how hard it is WILL allow you to begin creating the life you want and deserve. At the end of the day you can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you respond to it. You can choose to feel sorry for yourself and be miserable or you can work through it and live a fulfilling life.