My name is Josefina, I’m a first year doing English, German and History of Art, and I used to have an eating disorder. The first thing I want to make you aware of is that no eating disorder starts out of a diet gone wrong. You accumulate negative feelings along the way, possibly from a very early age – fear, loneliness, and a lack of sense of worth – and one day you will start trying to fix these feelings by eating differently or not at all.
For me, the eating disorder was multi-functional. It seemed like the obvious attack strategy to get rid of everything that made me unhappy. My sense of worth was virtually non-existent, so I sought to become important, to myself and to the others, by putting myself into a dangerous state. My eating disorder was also a way through which I chose to become “the best” at something. Sadly, the educational system in Chile doesn’t praise different types of intelligences besides the kind that makes you get full marks and fancy school distinctions, and it wasn’t until I came to university that I realised I was actually good at what I truly enjoyed. Before then, I was considered creative, but a bit of a slacker, and I grew up thinking I was bad at everything. With the eating disorder, I could be the best at getting thin. A nasogastric tube would have been my equivalent of a first-place medal. And for some reason that only my poor thirteen year old brain shall know, I equalled thinness with everything that was good: being loved, being talented, being intelligent, being beautiful – all of which were things I felt were absent in my life. I was bullied relentlessly, I had no friends, I didn’t stand out, and my family situation was not great either. This, plus a growing sense of discomfort about my own body, was a recipe for disaster, and in February of 2009, I felt eating disordered thoughts creep up for the first time.
Naturally, the eating disorder didn’t work as I’d intended, because it’s an illness that doesn’t allow you to eat yet it eats your insides. It eats at your muscles, your bones, your organs, but it also leaves you bereft of essence, of joy, of identity, and of the ability to find enjoyment in everyday things. You let it in because you think there is nothing to lose, but only when it is too late you realise there used to be so much that made you who you are. A bookworm ever since I learnt to read, I couldn’t read then because I couldn’t concentrate on nor enjoy anything I picked up. Instead, I wasted my time exercising like a maniac –something that I’ve never really enjoyed—because I had the obsessive thought that I was fat at the back of my mind fuelling this compulsion. Even when I sat down, I would shake my legs frantically hoping I would burn some fat. I showered in the dark because I couldn’t bear to look at myself. I hid food in my wardrobe until it rotted. I’d cover my nose around food-scented bath products, or really just anything that smelt remotely of food, in case the smell itself was somewhat calorific. Now I can look back and think… just what kind of way of life was that?
As there was nothing I could do to improve my current situation, the only thing I could do was dream. It sounds cheesy, but it worked! I could not avoid meal times, but I could avoid my negative thoughts with flights of fancy. Sometimes, selfish but somewhat realistic thoughts would help. If I ate, I could be strong enough to travel, to read, to go to concerts, and my hair would look nicer. Not eating wasn’t an option, but I found that it really did get easier to cope as long as I kept these goals in mind. Slowly but surely, they came true: I went to Europe with my dad for the first time and saw my favourite band in concert on the same year I started mindfully recovering. Having accomplished these dreams gave me the motivation to keep working on improving my physical and mental health.
While the eating itself became less disordered within a couple of years, eating disordered thoughts continued to pester me on the last year of high school. It was hard to accept that I was about to leave my childhood behind and probably transition into an unhappy adult that nobody would love. However, again, I had no option but to keep going forwards. If there was nothing worth fighting for at times where my depression worsened, I’d escape into books – whether it were alternate realities, mythological realms or centuries past, I was always happy when I read. Sometimes the things I read would help me accept parts of myself that I was not otherwise happy with: I distinctly remember looking at paintings of voluptuous, feminine Greek goddesses, and wanting so badly to let go of the fear of gaining a little weight in order to appropriate some of that timeless classical beauty.
And…here I am now. Truth be told, I’ve encountered some difficulties in my one and a half years here that have made me doubt whether I’m fully recovered, but I know for sure that I’m a much better place now and that I have what it takes to not become eating disordered again. The things I used to cope with have become my academic interests – what could be better than that? I am doing what I love, but most importantly, I have found strengths and virtues in myself that have helped me combat those negative thoughts and become comfortable in my own skin. My weight no longer dictates my worth. As you begin loving yourself, there will be other people who will be interested in learning about you too, and I thank all my friends at university for making my life wonderful.
My advice? Keep your feet in the ground but your head in the clouds. Find what you love and obsess over; let it become part of you. Shut yourself from any negative influences in your life and surround yourself by people who are nothing but loving. And be kind to yourself, because you deserve to be happy.
We would like to thank Josefina for being so open. If anyone has any concerns, then use the information below.
BEAT: 0845 634 1414
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