Breaking Free of Anorexia: Matt's Recovery Story
This article was written exclusively for EatingDisordersOnline.com by Matt Wetsel, an eating disorder writer and activist. He maintains his blog, ...Until Eating Disorders Are No More, and is currently a junior board member of the Eating Disorders Coalition.
I’ll never be able to say definitively what caused my eating disorder, and that’s okay. Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen just how much people want to simplify it down to a few “causes” that are easy to understand or identify, whether it’s the media, diet culture or fashion and modeling culture. All of those things certainly create an environment where disordered eating behaviors become normalized and go unnoticed, as our culture continues its love affair with the completely false notion that to be thin is to be healthy.
For me, it was never “about” how I looked or what I weighed. Not in the way most people think, anyway. I became seriously depressed in high school for a number of months. During this time, I wasn’t sleeping well and had little to no appetite. These symptoms of my depression persisted long enough that I started losing weight, and when I did try to eat it was painful. I now know that I was experiencing symptoms of something called “refeeding syndrome,” which can develop in as few as 10 days of restrictive eating and is very serious.
After a while, a concerned friend asked me how much weight I had lost. I actually had no idea, but was curious and decided to find out. It was the worst mistake I could have made. I’d lost more than I expected, and something inside me was curious, if not delighted. Still depressed and in actual physical pain when I tried to eat, I didn’t know what else to do so I didn’t do anything. After all, I was about to start college and “didn’t have time” to worry about this stuff. That phrase, by the way, is what I hear the most from people when faced with going into intensive or inpatient treatment. They will say, “What about my job?” or, “I can’t take off school!” No job or curriculum is worth dying over, and an eating disorder untreated can do just that. These are things I wish I had known 10 years ago.
The scale became my worst enemy but also the source of all validation. I wasn’t dissatisfied with my body size, nor had I felt any desire to lose weight before I got sick, but once anorexia had taken over my life, it became an obsession. When I’d reach out to friends, they’d often ask, “Well, do you think you’re fat?” I didn’t, actually, and was once even told that if I didn’t think I was fat, then I couldn’t be anorexic (that is completely false). I understand now that when you’re malnourished, you don’t think straight, and it’s difficult to have clear conversations about weight, appearance, and health with someone who is in the middle of an eating disorder.
Things eventually got bad enough that I couldn’t ignore the fact that something was seriously wrong. With the help of a friend, I made it to a support group and heard people talk about recovery for the first time. It seemed impossible, but there were people there who had been sick for much longer than I had and they were taking care of themselves; they were healthy.
I eventually got into therapy and was also in touch with the school’s nutritionist. It took over a year of a combination of these things to reach a point where I could manage on my own, but it would be another few years before I could consider myself fully recovered. Looking back, I probably should have been hospitalized. I’m just lucky I found the resources and people that I did when I needed them.
Everyone’s recovery will be unique. For me, things got bad quickly, but I also got help sooner than a lot of people do. Overall, I spent about two years actively suffering from anorexia and about four years in recovery.
Some people suffer for years, if not decades, before getting help. All I can say is that any amount of time spent at war with your body or hating yourself is too long because we all deserve to be happy and healthy. Anorexia never gave me either.
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