‘You look amazing. You’ve definitely lost weight.’ If he didn’t text me back, I’d assume the worst. I was extremely controlling.’: Woman suffers from eating disorder, mental illness, loss of grandfather taught her ‘to get the help I needed’

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled loving my body. As someone who’s been what the mainstream would consider ‘overweight’ for the majority of my life, it became part of my identity. It was my life.

I developed an eating disorder when I approached my twenties. I counted calories like a mathematician and took any opportunity I could to exercise. I was obsessed with becoming what I thought was the definition of ‘perfect.’ To me, the definition meant thin. As the number on the scale went down, the compliments came rolling in, and further fueled my unhealthy and dangerous disorder. ‘You look so good,’ they’d say. Or, ‘You look amazing. You’ve definitely lost weight.’ I used to lift cans of soup in my living room between walks or gym visits. I’d go on obsessive power walks pushing myself to extreme fatigue. ‘If I’m not tired or in pain, it’s not working,’ I would tell myself.

A lot of my body struggles were made all the more difficult to cope with as I simultaneously battled what I thought at the time was anxiety and depression (I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II.) I was dealing with what seemed like constant, extreme anxiety. It was to the point where it left me sick and bedridden most days. I couldn’t turn my mind off. It was like a movie which was playing on repeat in my mind over and over. A blanket which held me down and left me unable to control my thoughts.

Courtesy of Danielle Catton

When I was deep into eating disorder territory, I fell in love. Bill and I met on a pub crawl in 2007. I remember when I first walked onto the school bus he was sitting at the back and I was immediately drawn to him. We fell in love quickly despite being a long-distance couple for the first year of our relationship. While it might sound wonderful and all, I soon became dependent on him to give me the love I couldn’t give myself. The first year was very difficult and became the beginning of my deep struggles. I needed him to be there with me almost 24/7 as a reassurance he still loved me. If he didn’t text me back right away, I would assume the worst. I isolated him from his friends, and I was extremely controlling. If I didn’t have constant feedback of his love and commitment, I assumed he was going to leave me. I couldn’t travel without him and could barely go to work without him coming to meet me on a break.

As the months went on, my insecurities grew and grew and my mental illness worsened. I became housebound, almost dropped out of school, and my relationship was hanging on by a thread. I only felt comfortable at home. I was constantly too tired to get out of bed, and the thought of facing people felt impossible. My bed was my safe space, a sanctuary where I could  feel whatever I needed to feel in order to get through the day. Bill and I started fighting often. My mental illness caused me to become abusive when things felt out of my control.

Courtesy of Danielle Catton

Determined to get better, I began medication therapy for my mental illness. At the time, I thought my medication would work like Advil; I’d take a pill and everything would be ok. But the days went on and I wasn’t getting better. In fact, I gained weight. A lot of weight. Apparently, it was a side effect of my medication. I remember once someone said, ‘I looked at old photos of you on Facebook and saw you wore jeans a lot back then. You looked so good in those photos and you were so small!’ Those photos were less than a year old. I’ll never forget the conversation.

I was convinced the only way to get better was to ditch the medication and lose the weight I had gained, so I did. I started a popular weight maintenance program and the weight began to fall off, further fueling my eating disorder. Again, I received the same kind of comments like, ‘You look so good!’ or how “You’ve gotten so skinny!’

See, in my mind, it was better to be sick and not taking medication than to gain weight. Being fat was the ultimate sin, the worst thing that could possibly happen. And so I made the choice to push my mental illness to the side, and let my eating disorder take over.

For years, I managed to get by. I fixated on my eating disorder which allowed me to suppress what was going on in my head. I was constantly on some form of a diet, and at least once a month I’d succumb to my disorder and binge eat to the point of sickness. Binge sessions are clouded in my memory. They happened so fast, as if I need to consume as much food as possible as quickly as possible, and as if calories wouldn’t count if I ate quickly. Food was my comfort and a way I could control something in a world which was spiraling out of control. I would have cravings for multiple foods and grab them all at once, sometimes driving to multiple fast food locations, and isolate myself alone to eat so nobody could see me. After that, even though I wouldn’t feel well, I’d find more food and eat as much as I could to the point of sickness, pain and vomiting.

Courtesy of Danielle Catton

This pattern, which I thought was normal, continued for years. Then one February day in 2018, my grandfather, Pup, got terminally sick. That’s when everything changed. For one year, I watched as Pup succumbed to liver cancer. Suddenly, I couldn’t suppress my mental illness anymore. I was isolating myself daily. I refused to leave my house except to work. I had emotional breakdowns almost daily. Dealing with the inevitable goodbye which was bound to happen at any moment, coupled with years of suppressed mental illness slapped me in the face and rendered me practically unable to function.

Simultaneously, my fiancé Bill and I were in the middle of planning a destination wedding. What was supposed to be some of the happiest days of my life were clouded with mental illness, grief and impending loss.

While we had originally planned to elope in Scotland, we decided to change plans to a wedding in four short weeks so Pup could attend before he passed. In my mind, Pup would still be around in four weeks…he had to be. A month didn’t seem like a lot of time compared to his struggle with cancer, so him not being able to come wasn’t even a thought in my mind.

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I’ll never forget when I told him we decided to have our wedding at home so he could be there. He was so happy. I was so happy. It felt right. I remember his smiling face saying, ‘That’s so wonderful, dear.’ It wasn’t even so much what he said but the look on his face. He made a joke about having to buy a new outfit for the wedding because he didn’t have anything to wear. I remember saying to my mom afterwards, ‘I could tell how happy Pup is he can come to the wedding.’

Courtesy of Cassidy Cooper

One snowy, Thursday evening in mid-February of 2019, we got a call Pup wasn’t doing well. My mom went down to see him and soon enough, I was told we needed to go down as well, so the next day, we did. It wasn’t good and soon, it became reality: Pup was going to pass away. It was real.

As my grandfather lay in bed unable to move during what would inevitably be his last few hours, I held his hand and held back tears. It was less than a week before my wedding, but it became clear he wasn’t going to make it. Taking all the strength I had, I said to him, ‘Pup, it’s ok if you can’t make it to the wedding.’ It took all his strength, but he responded, ‘Thank you, dear.’ In the early hours of the next morning, a mere handful of hours after we had the conversation, Pup passed away. It was only five days before our wedding.

With each happy thought of our wedding, thoughts of him missing started to take over. I’d think to myself, ‘I’ll never have a photo of me and Pup in my wedding dress. I’ll never have the opportunity to eat my wedding dinner with him at the table. He’ll never meet my children.’ I hit the lowest low I ever had all while trying to smile and be happy for my wedding. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through.

Courtesy of Cassidy Cooper

Before we walked down the aisle, I couldn’t help but feel like Pup was there. I said to my now husband, ‘He’s here. I can feel it.’ And my husband, grabbing my hand said, ‘I know.’ On my wedding day, I wore a black ribbon pin which said ‘GRIEVING’ on it. I wasn’t ashamed I was struggling. It was important for me people know I was carrying the grief of losing Pup with me.

2019 was a year which forced me to come face to face with my mental illness, eating disorder, and overwhelming grief of losing my grandfather. I was sick from work a lot. I cried daily. I had suicidal thoughts. I didn’t know how to carry on. But I did.

As much as I am still grieving the loss of my grandfather, I look at the gift in disguise his death gave me. It forced me to really step back and evaluate my life and get the help I needed and had been putting off for so many years before. I went to counseling regularly, stopped the pattern of binge eating and found a new mental illness diagnosis and a medicinal treatment plan which works for me.

I made a decision to embark on a journey to self love. It meant completely ditching diets of all kinds and focusing on intuitive eating. I began seeing a psychiatrist and have finally found what works for me. I take antidepressants and antipsychotics, and they have saved my life. Before I used to count good days on one hand. Now, I count bad days on one hand, and even those bad days aren’t like the ones I used to have.

Courtesy of Danielle Catton

I still think of Pup daily as we approach our first year anniversary of both his death and our marriage, and know while the days have been hard, they are what prepared me to get through anything else which will be thrown at me.

If someone is going through something similar, I want to tell you it’s going to be ok. Your feelings are valid. Everyone grieves and heals differently. I was very affected by my grandfather’s sickness and passing, and had a hard time keeping my emotions in, when others are very guarded and keep them close. I thought expressing feelings made me weak, but I’ve learned through the process I’m not weak at all. It’s healthy and normal to feel and allow yourself to feel when you are experiencing such life changing things like grief and loss. Take it day by day.”

Courtesy of Danielle Catton
Courtesy of Danielle Catton

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Danielle Catton. Follow her on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube  for our best videos.

Read more helpful stories of battling eating disorders and anxiety here:

‘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.’

‘Your body is my worst nightmare. Make your account private, you trigger me.’: Young woman describes ‘feelings of doubt’ while recovering publicly from anorexia

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