Dear 10-year-old Emi,
I wish you could see yourself the way I see you now in pictures: This happy little girl who outwardly didn’t care what other people thought, who wore what she wanted, who got the haircut she liked, and who listened to music that wasn’t necessarily “cool." I wish I could protect you from the years ahead and the hurdles you’re going to climb. I wish I could read you the last chapter of your narrative now, letting you know there’s a happy ending to the story.
You’re going to develop anorexia when you’re 14 years old.
You’re going to have a closet full of clothes, but only feel comfortable in the same five shirts. You’re going to suck your stomach in while walking down the hallway and adjust how you stand during rehearsals for your middle school musical because you want your friends to think you’re skinny; to you, skinny people are the best people.
You’re going to be weighed your freshman year of high school and the number on the scale will read “113.” You’ll become obsessed with that number and force your body into a weight you’ll soon outgrow. You’ll notice new attention at school: You’ll gain friends, guys will start to notice you, and you’ll feel like you fit in. You won’t attribute any of this to your personality, or who you are as a person; you’ll attribute this back to the size sewn into your jeans.
You’re going to stop eating normal meals. Breakfast and lunch will slowly be replaced with a stick of gum on the school bus. You’re going to drink water to convince yourself you’re full. You’re going to cherish the moments when your mom hugs you and tells you she can feel your ribs.
You’re going to love the disorder. You’re going to become addicted to the feeling of an empty stomach and get a high every time someone says, “Em, you look so skinny.” You’re going to stop living your life and start letting anorexia live it instead.
You’re going to fight with your parents about your eating. You’re going to cry at the table. You’re going to stare at a plate of food and not eat anything. You’re going to stop coming to the table for meals at all.
You’re going to start punishing yourself for being “too fat” your junior year of high school. You’ll leave marks on your body and have to cover them up. You’ll lie on the floor, crying, repeating “I hate myself” over and over and over. You’ll feel so lost, but one day you’ll be found; I promise.
You’re going to reach your senior year and begin spiraling out of control. You’ll starve yourself to the point where you’ll feel faint; you’ll realize a size 00 will start to feel too big.
You’re going to start calling the “problem” by its name at the beginning of 2011. You’re going to tell loved ones “I have an eating disorder” and they’ll say “We knew all along.” You’ll get blood work done and the results will tell you there has been no major damage done to your body. You’ll interpret that as a “go ahead” to starve yourself further.
You’ll get to college and stop eating altogether. You’ll stop going to the dining hall in October and binge eat in your dorm, when you think no one is watching. You’ll discover new ways to lose weight and lay awake at night, from the pain these methods will cause you.
You’ll start losing your vision one day during your freshman year. This will shake you from the nightmare you’ve lived every day for five years and make you realize you need to recover. You won’t think twice, you won’t know why you’re thinking it at all, but you’ll choose recovery.
You’ll fight to recover. You’ll learn you have body dysmorphic disorder; all those times you convinced yourself to look a certain way wasn’t “just a phase” but a medical condition. You’ll learn how to eat again, you’ll talk through your darkest thoughts, and you’ll try every day to improve. But recovery won’t be as easy as you hope.
You’ll contemplate suicide at times. You’ll think there’s no reason to continue living. You’ll have lost your thin body, your dream career, your dream school, your friends, and will believe things will never improve. You’ll want to give up so many times. But you don’t; you keep going.
You’ll transfer to a different school; you’ll change your major. You’ll start completely from scratch. You’ll make new friends, you’ll still get to perform, and you’ll begin to blog about your experiences. You’ll make your life’s goal to break the stigma associated with eating disorders and mental illness.
You’ll speak out about your experiences every year during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. You’ll break the silence. You’ll fight back with words. You’ll speak for those who’ve been silenced.
You’ll graduate from college with honors. You’ll move to the city you always dreamed of living in. You’ll have a boyfriend you love. You’ll find strength in your friends and family. You’ll work for your dream network. You’ll learn to eat without feeling guilt. You’ll begin living your life “for you.”
No matter what, always remember: No matter how far gone you think you are, there’s always hope.
Recovery is always possible because you’ll always be worth it.
A 23-year-old Emi
If you or someone you know is dealing with mental illness, there are ways to get help. Find resources, tips, and immediate help at Half of Us, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
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