21 Questions is a series of interviews with people who currently have an eating disorder or have recovered from one. The same 21 questions are asked of each person. Each interview sketches a picture of someone who has been in the depths of the reality of an eating disorder and is either still working on blazing a path out of it or has gone on to recover. Some of the names used have been changed at the request of the interviewee. If you would like to be interviewed for this series, please contact us.
Interview with Darcy:
Q: How old are you?
Q: Male or female?
Q. How long have/did you have an eating disorder?
A: 21 years
Q: Which one do/did you have, or has it been more than one (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, EDNOS, compulsive exercising)?
A: I started with anorexia for 2 years then graduated to bulimia. For many years I vacillated between the two; I starved all day and binged/purged all night. I have also been a compulsive exerciser for most of my life and am currently EDNOS (I still purge). I abused laxatives, diet pills and diuretics for years.
Q: Who in your life knows about it?
A: Only a couple of close friends know the whole truth. My family, other friends and colleagues know some things from what they have observed or the few times I have alluded to an eating disorder.
Q: What person in your life was the most helpful and supportive during both sickness and recovery?
A: The couple of close friends that know the whole truth have been there for me whenever I needed them. It is hard for people to support you when they do not know you are suffering.
Q: What person that you might have wanted or expected more from was the least helpful and supportive?
A: My mum. When I was younger, she was just so angry about my eating disorder. I felt like I couldn’t talk to her about it. As I got older and lived away from home, I hid so much from her because I know that that anger stemmed from hurt and despair. She didn’t know how to help me, and no one gave her the tools back then. I still wish I could sit down and tell her everything, but I know it would upset her. We are so close that it seems wrong to have such a big “secret” from her.
Q: Do you or have you ever sought professional help, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, nutritionist, doctor, support group or inpatient treatment? Specify which kind of help you had.
A: I was forced to go to a doctor when I was younger by my parents. As an adult I have sought professional help from my doctor who referred me to a nutritionist. I found the nutritionist didn’t help much and I could never follow a meal plan. I was also referred to a therapist. I found the therapist very helpful. She didn’t help my eating disorder to improve, but talking to someone was therapeutic and gave me a clearer understanding of myself. I have been to Overeaters Anonymous, and also did Freedom Sessions (a Christian 12-step program), which I did not complete because I found the food at the meetings too triggering. I am currently awaiting a referral to an out-patient program.
Q: What was most helpful to you about that help?
A: I think the things that were hardest and that hurt – like digging up painful memories from my past – were most helpful. It was freeing to identify the things that contributed to my eating disorder from childhood, and to confront the pain that I have been numbing with an eating disorder for so long. I found doing inventories in the 12-step program was upsetting but necessary in identifying the hurt that I have buried for so long.
Q: What issue(s) do you feel affected or influenced developing an eating disorder?
A: My home environment when I was young: I needed control and being a perfectionist was encouraged. I always had a sense that nothing was ever good enough. I used my eating disorder to numb the anxiety I felt living with a controlling father and dealing with my parents’ unhappy marriage.
Ballet: my chosen profession is a breeding ground for eating disorders, especially the aesthetic look that is hard to attain. My ballet teacher told me from the time I was ten that I needed to eat less and be thinner.
My genetics: I am not naturally thin, which was hard when I was so obsessed with being a ballerina. Even now as a ballet teacher, I long to look a certain way that I can only achieve through extreme starvation. I have always had a naturally curvy body and thick legs. I hate it.
Q: Besides yourself, who in your life do you think is/was most affected by how your eating disorder hurt you?
A: Definitely my family, especially when I was younger and lived at home. Now I hide so much of it from them. Back then I know that it caused a lot of worry and hurt and I regret that. They had no idea what to do for me, and any efforts they made to help me were rebuffed because I didn’t want help. I was so selfish and didn’t think about how it was affecting them. It was all consuming. There was no room for worrying about other people and how it might hurt the people that loved me.
Q: What was the first major breakthrough you had in recovery?
A: The realization that recovery was actually possible. For years I had told myself that recovery was not attainable for me. I believed that I would always live with an eating disorder, just to a lesser extent. I had never believed it was possible to be 100% free of it. I think it was a form of denial so that I could justify continuing to be sick. I still believe it is possible to be healed even though I do not consider myself recovered right now.
Q: What is/was the hardest truth to accept about what you have to do in order to recover?
A: I have to give up my eating disorder. It is a choice I have to make.
Q: If you could be eating disorder free for a day, what things would you do?/If you are recovered, what things do you do now that were very difficult when you were still sick?
A: I would not count calories. I would eat whatever I felt like and exercise if I wanted to rather than because I had too. I would enjoy more quality time with family and friends around meals without anxiety over what I was eating. I would use the time I spend binging, purging, starving, exercising, food prepping, calorie tracking, shopping for food and thinking about food to be more creative. I am often too tired to do things like be social or write more because I am suffering the side effects of my eating disorder. I have no energy to do the things I would like to do. I would read more books instead of reading eating disorder memoirs or watching eating disorder movies or reading eating disorder blogs. The list of things to do in a life free of an eating disorder seems endless to me. I would enjoy the taste of pasta with my family instead of eating rice cakes all alone. I would enjoy the pleasure of a piece of cake with a friend instead of the taste of guilt and the desperation to go purge rather than sit and enjoy myself.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to someone new to admitting they have an eating disorder?
A: It is a long, painful road ahead but you are worth it. You will relapse, I am almost certain of that. You will want to give up trying. It will almost definitely get worse before you get better. Do not quit. You deserve recovery. You deserve freedom. Life is too short to let your eating disorder steal one more day from you. Give it up. Let it go. Live.
Q: What one suggestion would you give to a loved one trying to support someone with an eating disorder?
A: You will never understand what someone with an eating disorder is feeling or what the voice in their head sounds like. You need to educate yourself in order to help them. Logic and reason will never prevail. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t tell them to “just eat something”. They need love because they cannot love themselves. Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all.
Q: Do/did you seek support online? If so, what kind of support and did it help you?
A: Yes. Mostly I have found support in a community of bloggers who suffer the same. There is solidarity in reaching out to others, even though we cannot help ourselves.
Q: If you are sure you will not go back to your eating disorder, what gives you that confidence?/If you are scared you will relapse, what is your biggest trigger?
A: Stress is a trigger, whether it is in a relationship or at work. I have a lot of anxiety and use my eating disorder to feel control when it seems that my life is not under control. Weight is my biggest trigger. Eventually I return to the eating disorder because I cannot stand myself.
Q: If you have children or plan to in the future, are you concerned about how your eating disorder may affect them? If you recovered before you had kids, do you think your experience with the eating disorder will help you to better guide your child away from developing one?
A: My biggest fear is having a daughter who gets an eating disorder because of me. I would hope that I would be able to prevent it because of my own experience. I would hope that I was well enough to be a mother that could raise a daughter who loved herself and her body and had a healthy relationship with food. I fear being pregnant because I cannot deal with weight gain, and I am certain that after having a baby I would relapse because of it.
Q: Did you read books or workbooks to help with your recovery? If so, are there any specific ones you recommend?
A: I have read every memoir that I can get my hands on. I found books like “Sensing The Self”, “Why Women Want,” and “Lying The Weight” to be helpful. I have tried a couple of workbooks, too, and they are good for creating awareness of moods, feelings, etc., and being able to map out patterns that trigger eating disorder behaviours. I enjoy workbooks because of the level of awareness that they create. I find it helpful to write things out.
Q: What song, album or musical artist comes to mind when you think of good music to listen to while trying to make positive changes in your life?
A: As a Christian, God is my only hope for recovering from this. I listen to a lot of Christian music. It is inspirational and uplifting. I enjoy artists like Selah, Downhere, Hillsong and myriad other contemporary Christian artists. One of my favourite things to listen to is old hymns. “It Is Well With My Soul” is my anthem.
Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery:
Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account of Okiave