Disclaimer: This story contains details of eating disorders and suicidal thoughts that may be triggering to some.
“Growing up, especially in school, no one really gave me any positive attention. I didn’t have much to make me stand out from the crowd or to make me feel valued in any way. Until my freshman year of high school, when I started dating one of the popular guys, Jim. He was junior and the school’s golf star. Given, those things don’t mean anything if his personality sucks, but I still thought this was the highest honor ever at the time. I started to get more positive attention drawn to myself for dating him. I finally felt like things were looking up a bit for me, like I had something to give me value. Jim was my first boyfriend, so I didn’t really have anything to compare him to. Our relationship was definitely more one-sided than it was equal, but this seemed normal to me given my lack of experience in relationships. I was always readily available for him and willing to sacrifice whatever I had for him. I fell in love for the first time.
Time went on and I felt so much cooler and more important than I ever did before dating Jim—I didn’t feel like a nobody anymore. We dated for about three months, and this is when I discovered I am a highly emotional/sensitive person and feel all of my emotions strongly. Until one day, Jim dumped me. This caught me off guard and destroyed me. We were doing so good, we got along so well—or so I thought. My relationship with Jim was the only reason I felt the tiniest bit of validation, the tiniest bit of a purpose in my life. My other friends were good at sports, or certain classes, or belonged to clubs—but I had nothing without him. This brought me very low for months. Getting out of bed became a challenge. Going to school was even worse. It was bad enough I had to get up and participate in every day life, but to pass these people in the hallway who I knew had just been talking about me…to see Jim’s friends—to see Jim himself, was painful. Every time I saw him, or even heard his name, my stomach would instantly be in knots.
This was when I realized I had anxiety. It constantly told me things I knew weren’t true: ‘You’re not enough.’ ‘He was always too attractive for you.’ ‘You’re embarrassing to be seen with.’ ‘You bring nothing to this world.’ When my anxiety told me these things, I believed them. It won too often—it constantly beat me out for months, until I met Sean. When I met Sean, I had this void to fill. I felt so much emptiness and unhappiness. I had nothing to look forward to, no reason to really go forward until I met him. Sean gave me a purpose. He became my boyfriend, my best friend, my support system, someone I could support, and everything in between. I made him my one source of happiness. There is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t have done for him. I saw a real future with him and I grasped onto it so tightly—the concept of a meaningful future. This relationship validated my existence, and I actually began to question if I even existed without it. Little did I know, I was masking these underlying self-image problems with this relationship. When it was fiercely taken away from me, these problems came up to the surface.
Eight months with Sean, and I opened myself up and gave my entire heart to him. I put my complete trust and faith into him. Until one week, he started to act a bit strange. He started to express boredom and disinterest with our relationship, which began to put me on edge. At the end of the week, he broke up with me. He told me he was bored with us, and I had changed. I defined myself through this feedback. My whole world I had built in the last eight months, my whole future, felt like it was crashing down on me. I spent countless nights awake, trying to figure out how I had ‘changed’ and why I wasn’t enough for him. While all of this was going on, we were getting our BMI (body mass index) tests done at school. We would get our heights and weights taken, and then would be told where we ranked on the standard BMI charts. I ranked ‘average.’ This should be good news right? I’m healthy? Wrong. My whole life, I had always been underweight. This was the one unique thing I saw in myself, the one thing which made me stand out. Whenever we made human pyramids in school, I would be put on the top. It’s the only thing I can even think of growing up which made me feel special.
Since I was now healthy, I had no special quirks or things to make me stand out. I was just average, like my BMI. Being thin was how I identified myself. I eventually connected my change to my weight. When I started dating Sean, I was still underweight. But now I’ve changed, and I’m nothing special anymore. I got this idea in my head—maybe if I could make my body exactly how it was when we first started dating, or even better, he would still want to be with me. I’d be back to how I was, nothing would have ‘changed.’ I went to a Catholic school, so I used Lent as an excuse for my new ‘diet.’ I decided to cut out any foods I perceived as ‘unhealthy’ and was ready to go. I became a perfectionist. If I wasn’t perfect enough for Sean, I wasn’t worthy of him.
My energy was invested in this thing that didn’t really matter. I didn’t realize how much I actually had to offer this world. As a result, I got even harder on myself. I started to learn how to count calories and began to limit myself. As I did this, Sean started to take note of the change in my body. It was working! I was finally getting attention from him again. He still talked to me everyday like we were dating, but we didn’t have a label on us anymore. So now, if I caught him talking to other girls, he would twist the situation around and say my feelings were both ridiculous and invalid because we weren’t actually dating. He would still hangout with me though, and when we did, I would throw myself at him. Every bit of pain and sadness I had felt throughout the day was slowly taken away with every kiss. Sean’s temporary desire would momentarily soothe me. And when he was gone, the pain was back. I took whatever I could get with him, because he’s all I had ever wanted. A small part of me wanted to stop and heal, but I couldn’t tell my mind to do something my heart wasn’t ready for. I never knew how much it could hurt, to be physically sitting next to the person you love, but not having been mentally with them for a year. This is what hurt me the most, the transition from one spectrum to the other. Everything we once did—kissing, touching, or even just talking—all these things symbolizing our passionate bond ultimately became nothing but a way to pass the time.
This relationship was toxic. Every time I was with him, I checked out of my body. I allowed myself to become his possession; I became disposable. Time went on, and I started to notice even more of a difference in my weight. I ended up losing 10 pounds, which was the original goal I set for myself—the goal which would make it like I had never changed. I lowered my calorie intake and upped my exercise amount. I began to develop ‘safe’ foods. I did research on the lowest possible calorie foods and those became my go-tos. Lent was over and I had no reason to be ‘dieting’ any longer, except for the fact I wanted to be perfect for him. As time went by, I got harder on myself. I ended up losing 10 pounds on top of what I already had, but he still didn’t want me so I wasn’t perfect enough yet. I started weighing myself 10-20 times a day. Everything became a workout, whether it was tapping my feet under my desk or walking around the grocery store with my mom. I became intensely afraid of gaining weight and associated a number on a scale with my worth. I developed an eating disorder.
Starving myself was both the way I stood out and disappeared. When I tried to tell my parents about it, they didn’t really know how to handle me. They just told me to gain weight or to go off to a treatment center, which triggered me even more. I didn’t realize how much I took a healthy relationship with food for granted until I was knee deep in my eating disorder. Everything became difficult—my daily life was affected as every thought sauntered away into mental planning about what I shouldn’t eat, what I should allow myself, and what lie I was going to tell to get away with it.
My eating disorder was my comfort zone. But the thing about a comfort zone is, nothing ever grows there. We can step forward into growth, or step right back into safety. My doctor became concerned with me. She noticed this drastic drop in my weight. She told me if I were to catch a cold she’s afraid I wouldn’t be able to fight it off. After about a year of being consistently strung along by Sean, he finally cut me off. And within the week, he had a new girlfriend. This turned into a constant inner turmoil with myself—what did she have that I didn’t? I stopped sleeping. I’d wake up from hunger pains, anxiety over breakfast, and the constant urge to look at my phone to see if Sean texted me.
At this time, I decided everything I was doing to myself wasn’t to be perfect. I originally did it for Sean, and he wasn’t even in my life anymore. I thought I was worthless. I couldn’t make the one person I put all of my love into happy. I thought if I deserved to die, but this would be the slowest and most painful suicide there is. Every day, I wished I hadn’t woken up. I didn’t look both ways when crossing the street. I partook in reckless activities whenever I had the opportunity. Why? Because I didn’t care what happened to me. I thought maybe, something else beside myself could kill me for a change. I hated myself so much. My body may have struggled to live, but my mind was ready to die.
I just wanted it all to stop. I would always say, ‘I’m going to bed. I don’t want to be awake anymore.’ It was the closest thing to death I could get. Even when wishing my own ending, I thought about other people. I pictured my mom, tearing herself apart over my grave, questioning what she could’ve done differently. Pondering how she failed as a mother. My dad, patting her back gently, comforting her, reminding her we all can’t push away our inner demons. My brother, holding hands with his girlfriend, coming to a realization she is now the only primary female in his life, other than mom. I could even see my own dog, sniffing around my room, wondering where I am, as my mom is forced to go in my former sanctuary and drag him out while tears well up in her eyes due to the memory of me. I would die once, but these people who love me would die over and over again, trying to figure out where it all went wrong. I wouldn’t be getting rid of the pain, I would simply be passing it onto them.
Over time, my mental illness became my best friend. I couldn’t rely on people, their words or their promises. I couldn’t rely on money. But at the end of the day, my illness was always waiting for me with open arms. As I got closer and closer to my best friend, I started to acknowledge how much I was missing out on. I didn’t have the energy to go out in public, to hangout with my friends, or to do everyday tasks. I was depressed. I felt as if I was constantly walking around with this dark cloud over my head shielding me from any light or hope in my life.
The thing is, it’s not normal to feel numb. We are supposed to feel our emotions. When we’re happy, were supposed to feel and cherish the moment. And when we’re sad, were supposed to feel it too, and know it’s okay. Depression is different for everybody, and so is treatment. It’s absolutely okay and even encouraged to reach out and get professional help, whether it be therapy, medication, or something else—it may not feel like it, but you aren’t alone and there IS hope.
I was fortunate enough to have parents who allowed me to be evaluated for a treatment center. When I went to be evaluated, I first had to change into a hospital gown so they could get my weight and vitals. While changing, I looked in the mirror. Never once in my life did I think I could hate what I saw so much. I’ve experienced bad hair days and pimples, but never before have I looked in a mirror and found myself to be a waste of life. After the physical evaluation, a woman named Angie brought me into her office. She started to ask me questions about my well-being, questions I’ve been so used to giving these bull answers to. But what did I have to lose? My life and body were already so wasted away. I was honest about everything—my depression, my eating, my insomnia, and my desire to just disappear.
She invited my parents into the room and took me out of it. They talked for about 15 minutes. When I was allowed back in, my mom held a stern yet concerned expression, whereas my dad had his face buried in his hands. As he heard my entrance, he looked up from his own palms to reveal his bright-red face, smothered in tears and despair. ‘Morgan,’ he began, ‘We…we had no idea you had been doing this to yourself.’ His voice was wobbly and unstable, just like his expression. Throughout my entire life, I have rarely seen my dad hurt. He has always been the man I would look at and think, ‘There’s my strong dad.’ It’s not an easy thing, to keep it together when things are always falling apart. My dad always seemed to do it, but not then, as he looked me in the eyes. He saw the eyes he created, then looked down at my body, which can only reveal the monster I created.
It’s one thing to look at someone with your eyes, and it’s another thing to look at someone with your mind. In this moment, I have never felt more connected to my father in my entire life. He had felt my pain, my addiction, maybe even more than I did. His mouth spoke no words, but his eyes screamed, ‘I want my daughter back.’ This is when I realized how badly I was really hurting the people who loved me. Imagine loving someone, raising someone, making them your entire world—just to watch them kill themselves right in front of you. And there’s nothing you can do.
After this evaluation, I chose to go to treatment. When I got to treatment, I was still pretty numb. The first thing I had to do was say goodbye to my parents. They were horrified, and I knew, so I at least had to pretend to be appalled with them. I thought, ‘Maybe one day I’ll be able to feel the emotion I’ve been pretending to have.’ In treatment, I was forced to face my two biggest fears: eating and getting to the root of why I was hurting myself so badly. I began expressing myself in group therapy, learning about balanced meals, recognizing my triggers. I self-reflected, probably for the first time in my life.
I started to recognize the cost of being as thin as I was. How I sacrificed my relationships and mental health to be this way. I began to distinguish what’s realistic and what isn’t. This is when I started to realize life is all about perspective. You could be going through something really unpleasant, like treatment, but if you view it in a positive light, as a growing experience, you’re going to get something out of it. Instead of thinking, ‘Why is this happening?’ I started to think, ‘What is this teaching me?’
I began to realize my value and what I was bringing to this treatment center. People smiled because of me. People wanted to recover more because of me. I was realizing I am supposed to be here, really living. Because of this realization, I was discharged from treatment. I wasn’t cured, though. I went through relapses and rough patches, which was to be expected. After being discharged, I was returning to the exact same circumstances—the exact same friends, the exact same world. How could I expect to get better in the same world I got so sick in? The thing is, recovery is about stamina. It’s a choice you have to make every day, even on days you don’t want to. As I remained consistent, recovery started to come to me in bits and pieces. One night, only two months out of treatment, when I hugged my mom goodnight, my grasp was much tighter than it used to be.
It wasn’t a pity hug or a meaningless goodnight hug. It was a, ‘Thanks for living this day here with me, I can’t wait to live the next one with you,’ kind of hug. I eventually began to put as much energy into repelling my illness as I did into feeding it. It was hard to let go of because I felt like it was the only thing giving me a purpose. Questioning it is like questioning myself because it consumed and altered so much of me.
Recovery included letting go the people who hurt me. I’ve learned someone’s inability to see my worth does not determine my worth. I learned to forgive Jim and Sean, but I’ve never forgotten how they made me feel. This is important to me now, when it comes to deciding what I want and need within my relationships. Time went by and I kept up on my therapy and nutritionist appointments. I committed myself to recovery and I became more and more motivated by the life I was slowly regaining. My relationships blossomed, my passions shifted, and I gained the ability to advocate for myself.
I may not have gone where I intended to, but I ended up where I needed to be. I became so much more than my mental illness. I’m not victim anymore; I am a survivor.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Morgan Hannaleck of Philedelphia, Pennsylvania. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more inspiring stories from eating disorder survivors:
‘I threw plates across the kitchen, and threatened to hurt my sister. ‘Accept that you’re never going to get better.’: Anorexia survivor says, ‘recovery can only come from within’
‘You look better, keep losing more.’ We had mealtimes taken away if we didn’t perform well.’: Dancer recalls anorexia recovery, ‘I barely made it through alive’
‘I cried, ‘Make it stop! I can’t take it any longer!’ I downed laxatives to ’empty out’ whatever I’d let inside my body.’: Woman battling anorexia survives laxative suicide attempt, ‘EVERY one of us need to reach the end, even if we can’t always see that’
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