Until I became a parent, I didn’t realize how scary life could be. I didn’t know how many choking hazards there can be in one single room. I didn’t understand how my chest could seize at the thought of my daughters being someday rejected by their “friends.” I didn’t notice the potential car zooming down every street, the poison mushrooms in every yard, the menacing stranger in every unmarked van.
I didn’t realize how scared my parents must have been.
When I was sick with an eating disorder, I was pretty damn selfish. Keep in mind that I’m not calling everyone with an eating disorder selfish. Far from it.
I was selfish, though, in the truest sense of the world. I was stuck in my own head, concerned only with what was going on with me, unable to pull myself out of the hole I was in without serious help and serious time. I was afraid to eat that peanut butter sandwich. I was terrified of a day with no physical activity. My mind seized at the thought of my body expanding to fill the now-loose clothes in my closet.
I couldn‘t think about how my parents were feeling. Not because I didn’t care about them or love them, but because I couldn’t. There was no room left. Every brain cell, every impulse in me was focused on self-preservation. Because that’s what my eating disorder was to me: self-preservation. Others may have seen me exercising and restricting myself into the mere wisp of a shadow, but I was saving my life. I was keeping myself afloat. And I needed all of my energy to do it.
As I started to recover, I saw what my illness had done to my family and friends. I saw how they walked on eggshells when they talked to me, and how their mouths drooped downwards when they visited me in treatment. I apologized and made steps to repair the relationships that had split apart in my illness’ wake.
Some relationships only had a tiny crack, a car windshield hit by a stray pebble on the highway. I knew how to fix those.
Some relationships had shattered entirely, a vase in pieces on the floor that I had to sadly sweep up and gently place in the trash.
As time went on, some cracks disappeared, vanishing from sight and conversation.
Some will be there forever.
The cracks with my parents could be fixed. The glue was time and love and actions. Until I became a mother, though, I didn’t realize how deep those cracks went, even beneath the glue we had so meticulously applied.
I told my mother about this blog over Thanksgiving. She read it, then asked me quietly, “I thought you were better. Does this mean you’re still sick?”
I’m not sick. I still worry about things. I still get anxious. My mind still does weird things sometimes.
But I’m not sick. I don’t restrict or overexercise or monitor my weight. But I did. And that made a mark.
When my parents look at me, I think there’s still an overlay shimmering in front of them, partially covering me up, an image of the sick me, when both my body and my soul were disappearing before their eyes. Even though I’m so far from that scared college girl, even though I’m happily married, with two kids and a house of my own, even though I have a career that I love and a love of ice cream that can outrival anyone’s, they’re still afraid that I’ll fall again.
And I understand that perfectly.
Because even as I reassured my mother that starting this blog didn’t mean that I was still sick, that focusing on advocacy wasn’t “keeping the eating disorder in my life” but actually embracing my full self who wants to help others, who is good at helping others, even as I told her that I’m perhaps the healthiest now that I’ve been since high school, I still understood her fears.
Because I’m a parent now, too. I’ve never been helpless in the face of an illness before and I hope with all my being that I won’t have to.
But they were.
And if I have to reassure them a little bit more, that’s okay.
Because I know the truth. Vulnerability doesn’t mean disease. Openness doesn’t mean weakness.
It means strength and life and fullness. It means the good and the bad.
Everything we were fighting for all along.