I was 11 years old the first time I noticed my thighs. Not to appreciate them for their tender pale flesh, their dancer muscles, their silky, unshaven territory. Instead, I fixated on their size, the way they squished together when I walked. I loathed them.
By the time I graduated from high school, I had also graduated to a full on eating disorder. I spent my days obsessing over each morsel I ate, over-exercising as compensation, and congratulating myself on days I ate under 700 calories. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I remember sitting in a fitting room with my mom, heartbroken by what I saw in the mirror. My mom begged me to find one thing I liked about myself. I couldn’t do it. I kept staring at my hands, desperate to humor her, and thinking: “I don’t even like my fucking cuticles.”
It was with my family’s reluctant blessing that I went to off to college that fall, with the condition that I would be watched closely (and weighed regularly) by the university health center. I both loved and hated that first semester; I was finally taking my first steps into adulthood, enjoying my freedom and embracing my long-caged independence. And yet, my self-hatred flourished there. My depression deepened, my confidence hit rock bottom, and my unsupervised eating disorder flew out of control.
It was only when I began seeing specialists that I realized the gravity of the situation. Yes, my body was deteriorating, but more concerning were my ingrained behavioral patterns. I made strange and particular rules about what I was and wasn’t allowed to eat and when. My energy had plummeted. I could hardly keep up with school and extracurriculars. I had shut myself out of social situations that included food. My brain was quite literally shutting down. I learned how frighteningly common and LETHAL this disease is for people like me.
It took a team of therapists, nutritionists, and ceaseless support from friends and family. It took TIME.
When I graduated five years later, I was happy, healthy, and excited to move to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of working in entertainment. Living in L.A. was like a rush of blood to the head. A thrill. It was nothing like Boston, the only place I really knew, and I loved it for that. Stepping into the real world was a scary adventure that I was ready for.
It was hard to not immediately take notice of how beautiful everyone here was. Duh. I’m not the first person who has felt strangely threatened by every single person I passed on the street. Mentally, I was strong. I had grown so much since my ED days, but I’d be lying if the temptations didn’t creep back in. How else could I keep up with the goddamn supermodels around me?
That’s when I realized: Even when an eating disorder is defeated, it may never fully disappear. Maybe it was naïve of me, but it simply never occurred to me that this problem could rear its ugly head again.
The ED monster I had reduced and captured had grown back a little bit. Regained some of its power. The anxiety and obsessing over food started to work it’s way back inside. And this time, I was literally on the opposite end of the country from my entire support system.
I slipped in and out of ruts and bouts of depression, but I knew it was up to me if I wanted to fix this, to stay in L.A. and make things work for myself. This was the real world. You’re responsible for your own happiness.
Slowly, I built a new team of support. I enlisted a therapist and a local internist, a step I had been putting off because of how daunting it was. I made a concerted effort to plan things, to reach out to people, to avoid the black hole that was sitting at home alone and feeling down about myself. I clung to the facts, the things that had terrified me about eating disorders. That your heart can STOP BEATING one day if you’re not careful. I reached out to my closest friends more. I talked to my mom daily about my struggles. I could tell she was worried for me but trusted in my ability to handle this. I worked hard to re-focus myself. I had new life now: a new apartment, a new job, and the excitement of following my dreams. I put in the work. Again.
In three weeks, I will celebrate four years in LA. I can hardly believe how the time has flown, and I’m proud of myself for making it this far. There are still days I get down on myself. I’ve learned that this is NORMAL, at least for me. Absolutely no one is immune to these feelings, especially in this city. The important thing is to keep track of whether those days start to outnumber the good ones. Surround yourself with love and support and SPEAK UP when you feel like things are spiraling out of your control. Yes, everyone here is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a competition. There’s room for everyone in that category. Find what makes you feel your best and hold onto it like hell.