What it Truly Means to “Have No Choice”
Like me, I am sure you are all guilty of having, at some point in time, used the line “But, I had no choice”. But, did you ever stop for a second & ask yourself, “What does that really mean? What does it really imply?” (Nah, I’m sure you didn’t. And, truth be told, I hadn’t either, until very recently). My eating disorder has taught me the true definition of REALLY having no choice. And no, I am not referring to the choice to recover because that is certainly a very sound, thought-out, conscious (& probably, the SMARTEST) decision and choice that I (FINALLY!! I know) made for myself. Rather, I am referring to choosing (or rather, NOT choosing) this illness in the first place.
The harm (WELL, ONE OF the harms) in eating disorders is that for anybody who has not suffered from one in the past or who has not seen someone close/someone they love suffer, they are very difficult, albeit impossible, to understand. This makes it very difficult, ALBEIT IMPOSSIBLE (yes, once again), to help the individual who is suffering. So, since I’m feeling super deep, inspired & raw (NO, for once, I’m not talking about the raw food in my recipes) this morning, I want to try (see, I’m not TOO ambitious) to make you guys understand what eating disorders, and particularly, anorexia, are all about, and how I learned that the statement that the victim (Yes, the person suffering is truly a victim & you’ll understand why later, hopefully) does not choose the illness has NEVER been more true.
For all the bystanders, a.k.a. everybody except the victim, it is very easy to reproach said victim with the following statements: “Well, why don’t you just EAT?”, “Why don’t you want to help yourself?”, “Don’t you realize the harm you are doing to yourself & to your body?”, “Why don’t you just snap out of this?”, “ “When will you decide to stop all of this?” & other similar lines. In other words, the bystanders wonder, IN FRUSTRATION, why the person with an eating disorder doesn’t make better choices.
To these statements, I respond: “I wish I could just EAT (because I LOVE FOOD), but I can’t. It’s easier said than done.”, “I want nothing more in the world than to help myself & get better, but I can’t. My mind is not letting me do so. I’m stuck. In a rut. LITERALLY”, “YES, I realize (& WORST OF ALL, FEEL) the harm that I am doing to myself & to my body (I’m sad, terrified, lonely, depressed, exhausted, weak, hopeless, helpless & STARVED) but despite this realization, I can’t bring myself to do anything about it.”, “If I could snap my fingers & get rid of this thing, I would do so instantly, trust me. But, I can’t.”, “If I could stop it all so easily, I would have done so a long time ago, but I can’t.”
To some, my responses will be viewed as pure weakness – “Well, all she does is say that she can’t. How powerless & weak (I WAS REALLY WEAK PHYSICALLY, btw) is she?”. GUYS, ALL THESE ANSWERS DESCRIBE EXACTLY HOW I FELT & I GENUINELY COULDN’T (Like, I couldn’t even. No, but seriously, now isn’t the time for jokes). As mentioned in some of my previous posts, I have always been a perfectionist, which has always implied that I imposed very high (albeit, impossible to attain) standards upon myself, that I refused to EVER give up when I had a goal, to reach a.k.a. I am determined as f*ck & have so much willpower, ergo the words “But, I can’t” were never part of my day-to-day vocabulary & that I was NEVER one to make excuses for myself. But, when faced with the demon that is anorexia, I can now say with utmost certainty that, for the very first time in my life, I was in front of a situation where I felt, LITERALLY, road-blocked, a situation where I REALLY couldn’t, A SITUATION THAT I COULD NOT CONTROL & THAT I DID NOT CHOOSE.
(FUN FACT (Yep, thanks to my therapist, I actually became pretty educated): Eating disorders actually have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. More than 10% of people with anorexia will die prematurely FROM complications directly related to their eating disorder. Scary, right? NOW, LET ME ASK YOU A QUESTION. Why on EARTH would anybody CONSCIOUSLY choose to develop one of the mental illnesses with the highest mortality rate in the world? No but seriously. Stop for a second & think about that. AND EVEN IF there were no evidence that this illness could become so fatal, why would anybody choose to suffer from a mental illness in general? LET ME ANSWER FOR YOU. Nobody would. I’m sure at this point you are asking yourselves, “But, if it isn’t a choice, then what causes the victim to starve themselves and still think they look fat?”
GUYS, it is SO HARD to put into words. The eating disorder is literally like a person that grabs your brain in the palm of its hands & takes control of your mind, body & soul. It’s LITERALLY a demon (Anorexia, I hate you). I swear, at one point in time, I reached a point where I wanted to get better. SO BADLY. But, anorexia kept telling me to keep going (KAY, you’re probably telling yourself that I’m crazy thinking an illness was actually talking to me, but there really is no better way to describe what I was feeling than this, SO BEAR WITH ME). I wanted sushi. I wanted French fries. I wanted a burger. I wanted fuzzy peaches candies. I wanted a Mars bar. I wanted to enjoy life. MOST OF ALL, I WANTED TO BE NORMAL. But, anorexia took that away from me, literally robbed me of all of those things & for so long, I COULDN’T GET THEM BACK, no matter how hard I tried to battle with my mind – it got to a point where anorexia BEAT ME. Anorexia was stronger than me. I became a victim to my own mind & THANK G-D I (somehow) built up the courage to seek out the proper help because I REALLY FREAKING NEEDED IT.
Throughout my therapy sessions, I have learned that there is actually a genetic link to anorexia (GENES, I hate you) and that genes actually play quite a substantial role in the development of this illness. BUT, what makes things complicated is that even though there is a genetic component to anorexia, it is not a one-gene disorder, a.k.a., there is not one anorexia gene that can be detected with a simple blood test (OH, HOW I WISH THERE WAS. Who wants to team up with me & start a research project?). Its causes therefore do not fit neatly into a single box & lumping all those who suffer together into one group is completely & utterly wrong. Instead, hundreds of genes have an impact on the disorder, a few of which are… wait for it… the genetic trait in people who have perfectionist tendencies, who set high standards for themselves & who do things in extremes (a.k.a. ME). Although genetics do play a rather important role in the development of eating disorders, they are also not the sole cause.
Like most things that spiral out of control in our lives, my eating disorder started out as an INNOCENT attempt to lose weight to look awesome in my handmade & designed-by-moi wedding dress (I had gotten back from a trip to Israel in September, where I ate enough falafel, laffa, McDonald’s, French fries & pita to feed THE ISRAELI ARMY & was getting married in March, ergo, I had a reality check that I would look like a whale in my dress if I didn’t start dieting & FAST, especially since it was white & stuff… SIDE NOTE: For all those who know me, you know my wardrobe essentially consists of the most neutral colors in the world, a.k.a. NAVY, GREY, BLACK & BEIGE…sometimes). The diet was going well (or so I thought) & by December, I had gone from 162 pounds to 125… you’re probably thinking, “WTF”. I was like, the happiest girl in the world. BUT, looking back, I now realize, that at that point, there was a shift from WANTING to engage in a behaviour to NEEDING to engage in a behaviour & this, my friends, is a very, very, scary & dangerous path to go down (And, I’m telling you from experience, so trust me).
Despite a desire to remain healthy, I continued to engage in restricting behaviours and by January, my life spiralled completely out of control. I was eating LITERALLY, the same thing everyday. I did not divert from my meal routine once, NOT ONCE, until my wedding on March 27, 2016 & ANOREXIA BEGAN TO CONTROL, DOMINATE, RULE, GOVERN, OVERPOWER, LEAD, DICTATE, OVERSHADOW & TAKE OVER (and all other synonyms that mean the same thing), MY MIND & MY BODY. This guys, was my point of no return, my ultimate downfall & oh, how I wish I could jump into a time machine. But since I can’t, I’m making the best of the situation & channelling everything I’ve learned through writing, cooking, baking & educating all of my super-wonderful-supporters-who-I-appreciate-so-much-each-and-every-day (Yep, I’m talking about YOU GUYS!).
OKOK, BUT AT THIS POINT, you’re probably still asking yourself, “IF SHE DIDN’T CHOOSE IT, THEN HOW & WHY DID SHE DEVELOP AN EATING DISORDER? Why didn’t she just stop at 125 pounds and maintain it until her wedding?” This is where my post becomes really raw & where I explain, as best as I possibly can (because yes, it’s very hard to put these emotions into words, believe it or not) the combination of factors that I believe led to the development of this illness (I cannot take full credit for getting to the root, or well, almost getting to the root, of the causes of my illness – I thank my therapist & grief counsellor each & every single day for helping me delve deep into my past to understand how & why traumatizing experiences shaped my life, some for the better, some for the worst & led me to where I am today):
1. UNREALISTIC STANDARDS, PERFECTIONISM & SELF-CARE NEGLECT
Throughout my life, and particularly, my academic career, I never, NOT ONCE, stopped to take a break, literally. In elementary school, I was labeled the “teacher’s pet”. In high school, I was ALWAYS on honour roll. I was the go-to-reference when students were sick & needed to catch up on class notes. I never got a grade back lower than a 90 & I got the most awards at graduation (I remember as I was walking up the stairs to accept my diploma, the announcer was still reading the list of my awards & I was like, “K Kelly, walk slower… let her finish!!”, all while trying not to trip over the grad gown & break my neck in my heels. So freaking embarrassing.
In CEGEP, I made the Dean’s List every semester. I was the go-to-reference when friends needed a paper to be reviewed or corrected. Once again, I never got a grade back lower than a 90 & my dream was to go to law school (a dream I would NEVER let slip away). Then, I got into law school. In university, I was always at the top of my class. I sat in the front row & took down LITERALLY every single word the professor was saying (even if it was useless, yes. I filtered my notes later, don’t worry – oh & people hated me because I TYPE LOUD, REALLY LOUD). I succeeded at every single one of my exams with flying colors. I got an internship at the Superior Court & worked alongside two very influential Montreal judges. I lived in the library – it was MY SECOND HOME. My notes obtained gold-status a.k.a. I would be studying in the library & hear people whispering about how they managed to SNEAKILY get my notes from other people & how there was no doubt they’d kill the exam, even without studying. Oh & my professors even asked me if they could have a copy of my class notes (I guess they wanted to proofread themselves & take a glimpse at what they taught us & stuff, or they just believed in me, WHATEVZ). Then, I went to Bar School. If I thought I lived at the library during university, that was an understatement in Bar School. In Bar School, libraries & coffee shops BECAME MY HOME. I ended up failing the Bar exam (but that’s a whole other ball game) & then I passed on the retake, THANK G-D FOR RETAKE EXAMS. OMFG. I could not see myself redoing those 8 months of HELL (I mean… heaven?) again.
ANYWAYS, I ramble a lot. All this to say, I NEVER TOOK A SECOND TO BREATHE. TO REFLECT. TO DEDICATE TIME TO MYSELF. TO SIMPLY, JUST TAKE A BREAK. I remember always thinking to myself: “How do people just take a year off and chill?” (I’ll admit, I kind of judged them). But now, LOOKING BACK, I wish I had the courage to do the same & to care enough about myself to accept that everybody, YES, EVEN PERFECTIONISTS, EVEN OVER-ACHIEVERS, needs a break sometimes and needs to put themselves first. I neglected myself & my well being for so long that I got accustomed to thinking that was the normal thing to do in life & unfortunately, this led to my neglecting myself when faced with the most horrible & traumatizing situation I have EVER had to accept & deal with (or rather, avoid dealing with): my mom’s death (Guys, this part is going to be hard to read. It took almost four years for me to FINALLY open up and face this experience so you can imagine how much sadness, frustration & anger I bottled up internally).
2. GRIEVING MY MOTHER’S PASSING
For those of you who know me, you know that my mom & I were essentially best friends. We’d go places together & people thought we were sisters (either I looked REALLY old or she was just so FAB that she looked like she was 20. Most likely, option #2). We did everything together. I told her everything. She knew everything about me. I spoke to her 100 times a day. She was my BIGGEST support system (in happy times & in horrible times. Side note: I always tell people that if she were here today, my eating disorder probably never would have spiralled as horribly out of control as it did because, well just because, she had this ability to talk to me, comfort me & be there for me in a way NOBODY, and I mean, NOBODY, else could). But, everything happens for a reason. Even if she is no longer here today to get me through this, I am 200% certain that she’s watching over me (so carefully) & giving me the strength from up above to get through it. I hope she’s smiling today (GAH, I miss her).
When she got sick, my world CRUMBLED. That same day, I instantly put a very strong, tough BRICK wall up & that wall was up until a few short months ago, when I started seeing both my grief counsellor & my therapist (both of which I am forever grateful towards). You can imagine what having a wall up for so long can do to a person. Or maybe you can’t, because you’ve never been through it, so let me explain. When the news was broken to me that my best friend in the whole wide world was sick, I did not blink. I did not cry. My eyes did not even do so much as flicker. I didn’t say a word. I sat there. In awe? Maybe. All I know is I was completely & utterly speechless. BUT, deep down inside, I went into a state of complete distress (state of distress that I did not SHOW anybody, not at the beginning of her diagnosis, not during the progression & degradation of her horrible disease & not even after she passed away).
Throughout the course of those four horrible years, I literally forced myself not to show an inch of emotion, although deep down inside, I felt helpless & felt like I had totally lost control. As you all know by now, I am somebody who likes to have control of situations in my life & who likes things to be in perfect order (unfortunately, that might be one of the biological reasons that I am where I am today, BUT WHATEVZ, can’t control biology). When I came to the realization, throughout her illness & especially towards the end, that there was nothing I could do to help, to heal her, to make things better, to get her stronger, to bring our family back together, to make our family happy again, I literally LOST CONTROL (& losing control is a very, very bad thing for somebody with my personality).
The only day I cried was the day of her funeral & let me tell you, THAT WAS MY BIGGEST MISTAKE. I can now say, after a lot of hard work on myself and looking deep into my past, that I did not properly grieve my mother’s death because I believed that doing so would mean I was losing control YET AGAIN. I told myself that I had no other option but to stay strong for everybody else around me. But in doing so, I was unknowingly becoming the weakest of them all. I wasn’t brave or courageous enough to show true, real & raw emotion. I neglected myself & forced myself not to feel (even though, you have no idea what was going on inside of me – legit all kinds of crazy). And here I am today, people. Four years later, I am recovering from an eating disorder & grieving my mother’s death simultaneously. This is both THE HARDEST THING IN THE WORLD, but also THE MOST REWARDING (I did tell you guys in a previous post that I am killing many birds with this stone that is my eating disorder recovery, right? Well this is what I meant). I have changed so much as a person. I learned so much about myself. I developed the most important ability not only to FEEL, but also to COMMUNICATE MY FEELINGS TO THOSE I LOVE & TRUST. This is something I was NEVER able to do. NEVER. EVER. Ask anybody close to me. AND BEST OF ALL: I am finally comfortable with the idea of NOT BEING OKAY, of CRYING, of MISSING HER (& sharing it with people) but I am also comfortable with the idea of RECOVERING, FEELING BETTER, LOOKING BETTER (a.k.a. gaining weight & seeing those numbers go up) & reminiscing about all the beautiful memories I shared with my best friend in the entire world, a mother whose life was so selfishly taken away way too soon, BUT WHO WILL NEVER EVER BE FORGOTTEN. I know, deep down, that it’s thanks to her that my life took a 360 (or 720, however you want to look at it) that cold, winter February 6th Monday in my therapist’s office. SHE GAVE ME THE STRENGH & MOMMY, I WILL BE FOREVER THANKFUL TOWARDS YOU, not only for empowering me that day, but for empowering me ALWAYS.
Now that I somewhat understand the root of where my eating disorder began (& I am not saying that these are the sole two causes, or that there is nothing else that contributed to its development) and that I have come to terms with & accepted both the positive & negative experiences and obstacles I have had to overcome, recovery has taught me that by directing MY FULL ATTENTION to my food choices & eating experiences, I have the ability to disrupt my brain’s automatic responses & make aware & deliberate decisions. To anybody else suffering from an eating disorder or any other mental illness for that matter, I want you to know that with practice & A LOT OF FREAKING DEDICATION, overtime, it is POSSIBLE to regain the power & control to make true choices, rather than automatic reasons. But (and I do not mean to discourage you in any way, shape or form), the road to get there is very, YEP, I SAID VERY & I’LL SAY IT AGAIN, long, hard & exhausting, both emotionally & physically. It takes a really freaking strong mindset to beat this demon & now that I’ve learned that my life CANNOT always be perfect, I accept, WITH UTMOST PRIDE, that I did not & rather, COULD NOT, adopt that mindset until February 6, 2017 (which, by the way, is possibly the best & worst day of my life – the worst, because I reached ROCK BOTTOM & was essentially staring at death right in the eye, but the best, because reaching such a low point allowed me to TURN MY LIFE AROUND, LITERALLY, A COMPLETE 360 (IF THE EXPRESSION COMPLETE 720 EXISTED, a.k.a. 360 x 2 #mathgenius,you?, I would use it) & make the best decision I have ever made & I cannot be more proud of where I am JUST TWO MONTHS (minus 5 days, later).
Lastly, the key to recovery is changing the collective mindset once & for all about eating disorders and treating them as any other mental illness. If before reading this post, you were one of the many individuals who could not comprehend where eating disorders stem from, and if you were guilty of believing that said illnesses are a choice, I genuinely hope, from the bottom of my heart, that I was able to give you some insight into the rawness that is an eating disorder & that I was, EVEN SLIGHTLY, able to teach you a thing or two about how the person suffering genuinely is a victim to his/her own mind. LITERALLY. There is no better way to put it. Oh and, next time you use the line, “But I had no choice”, THINK TWICE. Did you really?