Allowing myself to struggle

A student shares her journey with an eating disorder and her hope for the future.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been scared of doing the wrong thing. If I did something wrong, even the smallest thing like talking in line in elementary school, I would beat myself up about it. I’d be upset for the rest of the day. I found myself feeling a similar way last semester, when I was experiencing a relapse of my eating disorder.

Symptoms of my eating disorder started when I was 13 years old. At that time, I was binging and purging three to four times a day — sometimes even up to five or six times. I received eating disorder treatment for the first time when I was 17 years old.

During Summer 2015, when I was 20 years old, I was admitted into residential treatment at the Renfrew Center of Philadelphia for the first time. I was diagnosed with OSFED — Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder. My symptoms at the time were purging anything I ate and restricting my food intake.

Having OSFED  basically means that I had an eating disorder, but it didn’t fit the anorexia or bulimia categories completely because my symptoms would change.

Being diagnosed with OSFED made me feel like I didn’t have an eating disorder at all. I felt like I wasn’t sick enough for it to really matter. So I took advantage of that. I thought that since I wasn’t sick enough, it wasn’t a problem at all.

I learned later on this wasn’t the case. I did have a problem: a disorder just as dangerous as anorexia or bulimia.

I didn’t know what to expect during my first admission into residential. I was admitted into residential treatment the first time after I took too many trips to the emergency room for getting dizzy and being dehydrated. I cried my first week there, but the support I received from the staff and fellow patients helped me along the way. I didn’t relapse during my stay.

We would spend hours before dinner just laughing, having heart-to-heart conversations and playing Scattergories. After 30 days, I was discharged — and I promised myself I wouldn’t be back.


But that was a mistake.

During my first attempt at recovery, I made sure I didn’t relapse. I didn’t purge or restrict, because I set strict rules for myself.

But soon I broke my own rules, which led me to punish myself with self-harming in the form of cutting or not allowing myself to eat.  For a bit, I did feel better about using my symptoms because I thought they helped me stay focused. I thought they kept me in a straight line.

I realize now that I missed the point of real recovery. It is supposed to happen slowly but surely.

After my first semester at Temple in Fall 2016, I was in the midst of a full relapse.

I was restricting, purging, having episodes of binge eating and using laxatives. All these actions followed me into my second semester. Dealing with OSFED — along with the stresses of my part-time job, schoolwork and looking for an internship — caused me to become depressed. I was having suicidal thoughts out of the blue.

I felt unworthy, useless, hopeless and not good enough. I didn’t think I was doing the things I was supposed to be doing, like getting an internship or achieving a high GPA.

To cope with all this stress and my depression, I turned back to my eating disorder.

The numbness and emptiness I experienced from OSFED were only temporary, but it let me avoid feeling emotions like sadness and anger. I was actually glad the eating disorder was back in my life, keeping me in line.

At the end of the semester, I was admitted to the Renfrew Center for the second time — this time was harder than the last. It consisted of more crying and more panic attacks. But more importantly, during this stay, I finally learned that recovery is not an easy path.

I had to let myself make mistakes so I could keep moving.

Now I’m a senior media studies and production major, and things still haven’t been easy. I didn’t get an internship for next spring like I had wanted, but I am trying to remain hopeful.

I’ve relapsed a few times, but I’m glad I did because I’m letting myself struggle. Treatment taught me I get to start over anew every day.

I also learned recovery isn’t easy, but it’s not meant to be easy. My hope is to recover but also realize that my eating disorder will not help me achieve what I want to do in my future. One day, I hope to work as a camera person and editor for TV news, a multimedia storyteller or a music photographer.

I can’t achieve those things if I’m sick. So I’ll just take it day by day. That is easier said than done, but I know it’s possible.

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