‘There’s Gavan, the HEALTHY one!’ I did ANYTHING to be popular. But I was suffering silently.’: Young man shares struggle with eating disorder,’ ‘Helping others brings me pure joy’

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Disclaimer: There are mentions of eating disorders in this story and may be triggering to some.

“I had heard the term ‘eating disorder‘ before, but I had never made a true connection with it. By hearing it, I could make conclusions of what it was. However, it was not something I frequently thought about growing up. Coming from a small town tucked away in the rolling hills of southern Indiana, it was never a part of our education curriculum. Eating disorders weren’t taught about, let alone males falling victim to them. I guess that’s why there was no real concern from teachers and staff. Only the occasional, blatant remarks from a teacher I had not seen since the previous school year.

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

That was the definition of my years in high school. I was the boy who was suffering silently. I was the kid who walked around the halls with a smile on his face. I was the kid who did everything they could to be like the popular kids. Little did I know, that is not what life is about. But try telling that to a sixteen-year-old with huge intentions for the future. All I ever wanted was to gain the approval of others. I yearned to be liked, but not liked enough to where all attention was on me. That’s something you should also know about: I am nowhere near to being a social butterfly. I hate crowds. If I am able, I keep to myself. However, I did want to be liked enough to be at least seen by others. I craved the feeling of being noticed by the ‘cool kids,’ girls, and even my friends. I started making some changes. Maybe that would work, I thought.

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

It didn’t, so here I am telling my story. Let’s keep it going, shall we?

All they taught us in health class was the difference between good foods and bad foods. The nutritional pyramid was plastered everywhere: in the classroom, cafeteria, and even the hallways. It was like some sort of law we had to abide by, and whatever foods were not included on the pyramid were ‘immoral’ for a lack of better words. We were also taught in health class that for sixty minutes out of your day, you should be moving. There are a few more things I won’t mention, but they should not be included in any education system, period. With all this added up, it was a recipe for disaster.

I remember how it started like it was yesterday. It’s funny, though. I only remember it now more while I am recovering than I did then. At the time, food wasn’t an issue. Getting in shape was my priority, but I had to get there first. I did. Unfortunately, exercise can become not only obsessive, but an addiction. Day in and day out, I needed to have moved in some form or fashion. But I didn’t see it as an obsession. I saw it as normal. It was a way of life; a way to make me feel good throughout the day, even if it was far from good for my body.

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

I guess you can figure out by now what happened next. I will refrain from talking about it. However, here is what I will say. I felt as if I was the epitome of ‘fine.’ I acted fine. Every day I wore that upside-down frown on my face. I wasn’t concerned for myself, so others weren’t either. That is, everyone except my mother. It was a constant battle between me and her. But it wasn’t me. It was my eating disorder. I heard what she told me. I heard her pleas and her begging me to eat more. It all went in one ear and out the other. I was fine, I thought. This was normal.

I was naive. There was a dark bubble encompassing me, and I was floating in it. Even if I didn’t see it and the sun still seemed to shine through, it was there. Each day was the same for me. I had this routine that I could not get rid of. My mind was seamlessly off in a faraway land. I was often embarrassed to order a salad during school field trips out of worry my friends would remark, ‘Oh, there’s Gavan, the healthy one.’ I hated it, but my eating disorder wanted nothing else. That bubble seemed to get smaller and smaller, trapping me in, while each day I pretended to be better and better. The scale became an issue. Everything became an issue, but I was blindsided by the high I felt at the time. Just thinking about it makes me tear up. No one should have to go through this, let alone a child who is still in grade school. But there I was. Pretending that I was okay and that if this was the life I was going to live, it was going to be the life I lived. However long that would be.

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

Each day, numbers rolled through my head. I could no longer keep my attention during a class lesson. They were arbitrary numbers, but ones my eating disorder worshipped, nonetheless. From the time everything began in health class, I was a different person. I didn’t keep track of how long it went on. Two years, perhaps? Well, time goes on, and it’s the holiday season of 2019. Holidays meant food, but they also meant time spent with family; family who don’t understand what goes through your mind but will make obscene comments anyway. That was treacherous. I think more so for me than for my illness. Somehow, someway, my eyes were opened during those holidays. I, Gavan, could see again. I could see the concern on their faces. I could hear the concern in their voices. That concerned me, yet it wasn’t enough. For some previous weeks, I had found a recovery account on Instagram and began exploring their page. I was intrigued, and at the time wanted it for myself. I just wasn’t completely convinced yet.

Flash forward to the new year, and a new Gavan was about to rise from the dust. My mother became very concerned for my health, more so than ever. It was to the point that I was scared, too. We went on a short weekend trip to a conference in Tennessee. During one night of that trip, my life was changed. I felt it. There was this serene feeling that I can’t quite describe. Something clicked inside of me and that was when I chose to recover. I should add here, it wasn’t until I found the recovery account on Instagram until I fully believed I might have had an eating disorder. But I finally saw it and chose to believe it. There are so many factors that can cause someone to feel invalidated. Being male was one of my causes. Another was the fact that I was the only one in my family who truly labeled it as one. To everyone else, I was just obsessed with being healthy. To anyone who knows more about eating disorders than just ‘someone who doesn’t eat,’ my particular illness would have been orthorexia. I was never diagnosed professionally, but that doesn’t invalidate my suffering or recovery.

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

Those first few weeks were hard. Eating more wasn’t a challenge because I had deprived myself for so long. It was like I had now attained that permission or excuse to eat more. The physical feelings, however, were painful and uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick with this whole recovery thing if that was the way it was going to make me feel. Two or three weeks later the feelings subsided, but I still had a long way to go. It was an uncertain path but one I knew was necessary. What’s more, we found ourselves entrapped with uncertainty amid a global pandemic. I was recovering at home under the attention of family, so there was no harm there. However, that was the end of my senior year of high school. We were no longer able to attend school due to the quarantine. I was still here. I wanted to keep going and experience what was always talked about by high school alumni. There I was, at home, recovering from an eating disorder, away from most friends and only around my immediate family. March and April were difficult months to get through.

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

One of the things to get past while recovering from an eating disorder is to discover who you are without a rhythm. What I mean is, letting go of that past routine that kept you feeling secure and in control. I thought I was in control, but soon found I was about 90% controlled by the eating disorder and 10% aware of my daily surroundings. For those two months I tried my best at it. Keeping my naturally gazing eyes from constantly gazing at the clock was a pain. Regaining my hunger cues and learning there was no rule saying I had to eat at ‘x,y,z’ hour was tough. Keeping yourself rested while simultaneously hearing a voice in your head scream at you, telling you to get up and exercise is menacing. All this aside, I persisted, because the only way out is through. The only way to defeat the eating disorder is to not grant its wishes. So many wishes it has, and so many times I had to be the louder voice and scream, ‘No!’

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

Since I wasn’t officially diagnosed, there were no real tasks I had to achieve in order to recover. I watched people on Instagram on their journeys and mimicked the best I could. Facing the fear of food wasn’t terrible. Teaching myself that I actually was allowed to eat the whole banana was quite amazing. You really don’t understand how irrational some of your fears are until you look at them from a recovery standpoint. My mother gave me a ‘goal’ weight that I was to achieve. I would later realize that once I accomplished that task, I would not reign victorious. This was a mental illness and healing my mind would take much longer.

I had only ever had a personal Instagram account. I wasn’t intrigued with the other social media platforms as I was with this. Looking at the recovery accounts on a daily basis led me to realize there is the existing stigma around males and eating disorders. It isn’t talked about. Treatment isn’t always available for them, and most times they aren’t taken seriously. Societal standards mixed with toxic masculinity leaves them quiet and alone. I was feeling that, but at the same time wanted there to be a voice for them. I wanted to speak up about eating disorders among males, and to break down this stigma facing them. If you have started putting the puzzle pieces together, you’ll realize I created my own Instagram account, sharing my journey and promoting recovery. Somehow, people cared about it and wanted to learn more from it. It grew, and I began connecting with individuals from all over the world and all walks of life. It was life changing for me. It still is. Every day is a new day where I can experience something new, but also share my story and be an aid in someone’s recovery. That brings me the purest of joys just thinking about it.

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

Well, here I am now, typing out my story and sharing my journey with you. An amazing yet whirlwind of a journey it has been. The most important thing I want to include with all of this is the fact that eating disorders do not have a look. The world tries to create the stereotypes but there is more to it people don’t look at. I could go on and on about how valid someone is even when they don’t feel like it at all. If you think you or someone else may be concerned, seek help. Never wait until it is too late, or it feels right. In fact, recovery may never feel right. But it is worth the process, no matter how hard it is or how long it may take. Keep going and gain freedom from the grips of the eating disorder. If you are reading this and want to reach out, please don’t hesitate.”

Courtesy of Gavan Doane

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Gavan Doane from Salem, Indiana. You can follow his journey on  Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more about eating disorder recovery:

‘I lay in the hotel bed in tears. ‘Play with me!’ I snapped at him as I plugged calories into my app. ‘I can’t live like this anymore.’: Woman overcomes 10 years of eating disorders, ‘I’m always enough’

‘Our beautiful, once vibrant Sarah is now a shell of a human.’ I was spiraling out of control. A monster was being born.’: Young woman overcomes eating disorder, ‘struggling is not a character flaw. You are worthy of help.’

‘You better stop, or we’ll haul you off to the loony bin with the REAL crazy people.’ My father was in a drunken rage.’: Woman overcomes eating disorder from childhood trauma, ‘I’ve found strength to set that baggage down’

‘If you keep eating, we’ll have to buy you maternity clothes.’ I felt disgusted. Everything I hated about myself was because of food.’: Woman raises eating disorder awareness, ‘Don’t turn a blind eye’

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