***potential trigger warning: eating disorders, low body weight**

Oh man has it been a trying couple of months.

I know I have spoken at length about my past with anorexia, my struggles with mental health and all the stress I have been under since I started school in the fall. I’ve waxed poetical about the benefits of self-care and the ways in which I had committed to doing better for myself. I have written about how I work to be okay.

But the truth?

I am not okay.

Let me be clear here, I wasn’t intentionally lying to you. I sincerely believed that I was okay. Or that I would be. See, the quarantine was a rough time for everyone, but especially for people with mental health disorders and people who suffer from addictions. And though eating disorders and substance use disorders aren’t exactly the same, the symptomology and triggers are very similar. And one of those triggers is loneliness. Another is stress. Cue an international pandemic.

I started noticing things going downhill about a year ago. But it wasn’t drastic. It was like a gently sloping hill. Part of me knew I was slanted toward disaster, but the naïve part of my brain believed that I could catch myself whenever it got really bad. I could stop whenever I wanted to, but normal people were exercising all the time and I was more sedentary than normal so I needed less food to avoid weight gain (I know, my internal fat phobia has been raging recently, it’s something I’m reckoning with and working on and a topic for another time for sure). So I cut back. I exercised a bit more. If normal people could do it, so could I, right?

The decline was gradual. I had meetings with my therapist and nutritionist. They seemed concerned. My partner seemed concerned. I was not concerned. Sloping hill, remember? I didn’t see the ways in which my body was changing. I noticed a change in affect but attributed it to pandemic stress that everyone was under, or stress from grad school, or whatever felt convenient. I didn’t see it as eating disorder-related. Even as tensions between my partner and I grew, even as I shrunk more and more both physically and into myself, I didn’t see it. I refused.

The decline was gradual. Until it wasn’t.

Cue a two-day stomach bug that ravaged my body. I could barely keep water down. I stayed in bed all day, which is a true testament to how sick I actually was. My already depleted body couldn’t handle the complete depletion. Suddenly that gentle slope became a cliff. I lost an inordinate amount of weight during those two days, placing me in a dangerous position from a health perspective. My treatment team was alarmed. And, for the first time, I was too.

I had kept saying throughout this whole year that I could stop when I wanted to, that I was ready. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t too far gone. I had ignored the warning signs as the eating disorder brain took hold of my rational, healthy one. But I couldn’t do that any longer. My heart was in danger. I was exhausted. My muscles hurt. And yet at the same time, my brain was screaming at me that this weight loss wasn’t enough. That I wasn’t enough. I mean, how fucked up is that?

The past month or so has been me trying to get myself back to some semblance of health. But it’s hard. Though I’m nowhere near the low weight I was when I was first diagnosed, I’m also considerably older and my body can’t bounce back the way it used to. My mind still fights me every time I try to ingest fear foods, reminding me of caloric intakes that I wish weren’t still ingrained in my memory as if branded there with a hot iron. I’ve been on an exercise restriction, which is throwing me off of my game, making me antsy and irritable. I know that I need to consume more, increase my fat intake, and let my body rest, but my eating disorder is screaming at me while I do so. It doesn’t like that it’s losing control. And being screamed out day in and day out is frankly exhausting.

I wasn’t doing well. I was not okay. I’m still not okay. But I’m getting there. I’m trying. The first step for me was being honest to myself. The second step is being honest to everyone else. Eating disorders are sneaky, steeped in lies and half-truths. No more. I can’t live like this, huddled under a rock pretending it isn’t happening. I have to face it, head on. I like to tell my team that I need to just put my head down and power through, but I don’t think that I have truly embraced that mantra. Not really.

I’m not okay. But I’m going to be okay. I have to be. Because there’s more to life than calorie counts and six-pack abs. And there’s so much more I need to share with the world, and I can’t do that in a body that’s constantly shrinking.

Time to take up space and take on the world.

Kristy Cloetingh is a Philadelphia native who is currently trying to figure out her place in the world. Her passions include reading, singing, dancing, nature, yoga, chicken fingers, and puppies. An anorexia survivor and mental health warrior, Kristy has made it her life’s mission to remind every single person that their bodies and minds are worthy of unconditional love and respect, regardless of size, shape, or whatever “normal” is.

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