I am currently writing to you from the airport, on my way to Los Angeles on a trip gifted to me by my own independence and freedom— independence and freedom that was not in my realm of thinking at this time exactly one year ago. This time last year, the only freedom familiar to me was the one wheelchair outing I had each day, when I could explore the one narrow hallway of the Eating Disorder Assessment unit at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. At eighteen years old, an age of newfound self-determination, I traded in my life at the University of Vermont to make my health a priority. This would be a journey of pain, grief, and fear. But it would also be a story of grit, determination, overcoming, and the discovery of my voice. My journey to recovery, over the course of this past year, is a story celebrating life. Today marks the day of my re-birthday— the day I decided to start living again.
This time last year, I woke up to my first morning at the hospital— a morning filled with complete unknown. Despite this unsettling feeling, a wave of relief blanketed me. I no longer had to suffer silently from an illness that controlled me for six years of my life. For the first time in years, I felt comfort in admitting that I was in need of help. I could no longer deny the reality that this disorder was consuming me. I was desperate to know how it felt to be alive again.
With each passing day during my two week hospital stay, I had to make the decision to fight for my life or succumb to an illness that had overpowered me for years. This disorder convinced me that ignoring the food on my plate and exercising to oblivion would be a source of control in an ever-changing, unpredictable world. Each day, I had to confront the domineering voice of my eating disorder and decide to either allow it to govern my existence or combat its stringent, unrealistic rules: only eat foods with nutritional value, leanness is success, the same foods must be eaten everyday to ensure stability, subside cravings with your will to maintain absolute control in your life. This disorder had a sealed grip on my mind for years, always lulling me back if I strayed away from its dictation for a moment. And I was tired. I was tired by the rules I had to abide by everyday without failure. I was exhausted because I had not slept during my six week stay at the University of Vermont—I could not sleep out of the fear that I would not wake up the next morning. This was the moment I reached rock bottom. Sleep should be a time rest, not anxiety and fear. I was willing to fight for the beautiful simplicities of life: being able to sleep soundly, walking up a flight of stairs without a risk for dizziness, enjoying a meal with my loved ones without argument, making a decision that did not require having to consider my health beforehand, grabbing dinner with friends without crippling worry or extensive preplanning, or numbing my emotions to preserve my seemingly perfect image.
Each day, every hazard in my brain sounded, alerting me to revert to the comfort of my habits, and everyday, I had to search within the deepest trenches of myself to find the strength to resist these thoughts. Although the amount food continued to pile onto my plates each day, my hope for a more fulfilling life beyond the hospital walls persisted. Each day I had to confront the frightening question, “Who will I be once I conquer this disorder?” For years, having this illness constituted my identity, and now, with a body that was unrecognizable to me and a disheartening amount of confidence, I had to discover the aspects of myself that defined me as me.
To my loved ones, my closest friends, the family that I met during my stay at CHOP, and the incredible medical team that has guided me throughout my recovery inside and outside of the hospital walls: thank you for reintroducing me to the beauty of life. Without your persistent faith in my ability to conquer this all-consuming disorder, I would have never experienced the unparalleled feeling of having a restful night of sleep. I would have never been able to climb a flight of stairs without a foggy head, or sit down to an enjoyable dinner with my family. I would have never allowed myself to savor the taste of a meal, or grab dinner with a friend without being burdened by guilt. I would have never been introduced to strength training, which has allowed me to accept my newfound strength rather than suppress it. I would have never confidently returned to college. I would have never started my college career at Temple University with an open-mind. The voice that governed me since I was just twelve years old was strong, but with your help, I proved to be stronger.
To those who have followed my journey to recovery through my words: thank you for giving me a voice. Thank you for reading about a disorder shrouded in the dark that is in desperate need of recognition. Thank you for holding space for me and recognizing my recovery journey as something to be commended rather than dismissed. Thank you for recognizing that enduring an eating disorder has contributed to the grand story of my life, but does not constitute the entirety of my story. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for celebrating my victories and acknowledging my setbacks. This is a story that will continue as I embrace every new adventure of life.
From this moment forward, October fifth of every year will mark my re-birthday, the day I made the decision to make myself a priority, accept the challenges accompanied with recovery, and move forward with tenacity. This time last year, I admitted to needing help, I confessed to needing support, and a life of self-sufficiency followed. Today I am happiest I have ever been. I am healthy. I am living a life of abundance rather than living in a deficit. Today, I have never felt more alive.