Today was International Women's Day, two days ago it was my 31st birthday, and last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I celebrated my birthday, and acknowledged International Women's Day on Instagram with my "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" cookie. But National Eating Disorder Awareness Week came and went and I completely ignored it - but why? I'm a woman and I addressed International Women's Day, I'm also a former sufferer of eating disorders, but I didn't address it at all. I have 38,000+ followers on Instagram, and I should use that platform to talk about important things - even if they make me a bit uncomfortable. So I'm going to address it here, for the first time outside of my immediate family and closest friend group.
From the ages of 21-25 I was plagued by disordered eating habits. I swung between extreme phases of raging bulimia, anorexia, and obsessive exercising. I was clinically depressed, had terrible body dysmorphia, and severe anxiety which occasionally bordered on panic disorder. I would be up every night until 2am binging and purging, then go to bed, and wake up at 5am so I could run 10 kilometres before I had to be at work or school. I WAS A MESS and I looked it too. I constantly had open cuts across my knuckles from where they repetitively hit my teeth, my cheeks were always puffy, and my hair became very thin and brittle. I also developed terrible Irritable Bowel Disorder (it does run in my family, and that's what I'd tell people), although the actual reason I developed it was because of my binging and purging - I had literally destroyed all the healthy bacteria in my digestive system. Every time I ate, I'd get terrible abdominal pain and bloating, which in turn would encourage more purging. It's a very vicious, disgusting cycle of shame, and it took me years to recover from the IBS. So many people think eating disorders are all about vanity and physical appearance, and that's definitely a factor. But more often, it's a physical manifestation of a mental illness, such as depression, severe stress or anxiety, in an attempt to gain control over an aspect of your life. Amazingly, it didn't affect my school work - that was something else I was able to keep control over.
(The areas I did not have control over was my personal and family life. I went through a very bad breakup at 21, and there was extreme dysfunction within my household that had yet to become even more painful. I literally had panic attacks trying to get out of my car to go inside after coming home from work/school. But that's a story for another time!)
After nearly a year of dealing with this on my own and only getting worse, I sought help. I went to therapy, and spoke candidly with my doctor. My therapist was not very encouraging of me taking anti-depressants, but let me tell you - they literally saved my life. They got me to a stable place mentally, where I could then begin to deal with the issues I had been going though. The stigma that revolves around taking anti-depressants is similar to the stigma of mental illness (aka it's bad). And they certainly didn't numb my brain or anything like that, in fact, everyday became a sun-shiny wonderful day and I was so genuinely happy again.
I was also lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive, insightful mom holding my hand through my absolute worst years (2012 was by far the sickest, worst year of my life). By the time I was 25 (2014), I was pretty much completely recovered physically. The full mental recovery was much more difficult, but for the last few years, I've been in a really excellent place - I met my now-fiancé, we bought and renovated a house together, and now we're getting married in December.
I was told by a professional that eating disorders on average have a lifespan of 11 years (from the first manifestation of it, until full recovery is achieved); it's now been 10 years since I began my struggle, and it's really shaped who I've become. I'm much more confident, happy, emotionally mature, but also a bit more unforgiving (I take my relationships very seriously, if it's not a two way street, I'm not going to travel on it - or I'm at least going to travel on it extremely cautiously). The last few years of baking has really helped reshape my relationship with food, and was incredibly effective in helping me channel my energy in a productive and creative way.
I posted my "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" cookie this morning for International Women's Day because it was one of my favourite shows growing up and she was one of the first strong feminist role models on TV at the time. Buffy fearlessly fought and defeated vampires and demons in a literal sense, and that's an encouraging metaphor for so many women who have their own demons to fight.
So thank you for reading along! If you're going through something similar, please don't hesitate to reach out if you wanna chat :)