May 10, 2017

For the Ones who Kept me Alive when my Secret was Killing Me.

This is an open letter to you.

If you’re reading this, maybe you know me, or someone just like me.

What you may not know (not certainly, at least) is that for the past six and a half years, I’ve had an eating disorder. I have anorexia. This is the first time I have typed those words. Even today, nine months after the first time I set foot in my psychologist’s office, freezing, ashamed, and terrified, I still have a difficult time saying those words out loud.

Every year there are Eating Disorder Awareness days, or weeks, or other periods of mental health advocacy. And every year I think to myself, maybe this year. Maybe this year I’ll be out with it, maybe I’ll talk to someone, maybe this year.

Or maybe next year.

I am learning that part of rebuilding—literally, physically, and otherwise—is that I get to choose who I want to be, and how I want to be. Mental health has been something I’ve felt strongly about for a very long time, even before I was struggling with my own. The tragedy is that even with increasing advocacy and education surrounding mental health, eating disorders—while being the deadliest of all mental illnesses—are one of the most underfunded.

There is a 10 percent chance that my eating disorder kills me. A one in 10 chance. And there’s no way to fix a broken system with silence; there’s no way to help anyone else by keeping secrets. There’s nothing shameful in struggle, and there’s nothing wrong with having something wrong.

When I was finally faced with the decision of whether to continue lying to loved ones who feared for my life, or to let go and let them in, I refused to be open with more than my immediate family, my doctor, and a few close friends. Anorexia affects the brain more than one can possibly imagine, and the more you nourish the brain, the more clear it becomes just how bizarre and twisted your belief systems are.

I was both astonished and panicked that anyone “outside looking in” would think I had a problem. I was adamant that this issue would be a secret within my tiny circle of support and that I would quietly explore getting some help. Now that I have a little perspective, this is funny to me, because the secrecy of this secret was only secret to me.

Everyone else (and likely you, reading this, probably nodding) could see it. There truly was very little that was secret about it. Nonetheless, I initially refused outright to be submitted to the Calgary Eating Disorders Program. I practically lost my mind at the word “inpatient.”

I didn’t want my name on a list, I didn’t want a diagnosis, I didn’t want to admit I was out of control, and I didn’t want to be sick.

But I was sick. I was really, really sick.

It would take a lot of time to explain or list the broken pieces that my eating disorder has created for me. But there are some pieces I know have been collateral damage—and I am sorry:

I’m sorry that I didn’t text you back.
That I didn’t call.
That I didn’t come to your party.
That I forgot your milestone: a graduation, a big exam, an anniversary, a birthday.
That I didn’t remember that you changed jobs, maybe twice.
That you felt awkward when I ordered half a grapefruit at brunch.
That I didn’t come visit.
That I cancelled our plans.
That I gently refused any social activity that took place in a restaurant.
That I threatened to cut you out of my life at the mention of my needing help.
That I didn’t follow through.
That I left early.
That I blamed work for why I hadn’t been around.
That we couldn’t hang out for more than a few hours because it would fall over a mealtime.
That I missed our meeting.
That I wouldn’t make a champagne toast, because champagne has calories.
That I lied.
That I lied again.
That I couldn’t feel enough to feel the way you felt because I couldn’t feel at all.
That I didn’t confide in you.
That I got angry with you when you suggested I eat.
That I got angry with you when you asked me a question.
That I got angry with you.
That I refused the food you so generously prepared to accommodate my “dietary needs.”
That I didn’t see sooner how poisonous we were to each other.
That you never got to take me on a real date.
That I put so much space between us that I drove you out of my life.
That I blamed our drifting apart solely on you.
That I got so cold I had to go home.
That I never let you get close enough to see.
That I triggered you.
That I feigned appreciation at the food you gave me, but then threw out.
That I made you sick with worry.
That I said I ate before I came.
That I didn’t know how to ask for help.
That my sparkle got duller and duller.
That I couldn’t show my struggle.
That you had to hold my secret and that it weighed so much.
That I broke your heart.
That I broke your heart.
I’m sorry that I broke your heart.

I’ve never known support like I’ve experience in the last nine months, because I’ve never let myself ask for it. And many people don’t know the impact they have. So thank you:

Thank you for being honest with me.
For believing I could take this on.
For sharing your own struggle and your own secrets.
For being gentle with me.
For trying to understand something that is impossible to understand.
For understanding what I needed.
For sharing how scared you were.
For sharing how scared you are.
For recognizing that you couldn’t be there.
For thinking about me, even if you didn’t know what to do.
For listening to me.
For politely ignoring the dramatic weight loss.
For celebrating my victories, no matter how big or small.
For being endlessly patient.
For tolerating my veiled way of talking around my recovery.
For telling me I am beautiful.
For stepping up to the plate to keep the wheels turning.
For loving me.
For giving me everything I need and more without question.
For telling me how proud you are.
For inspiring me, even when you don’t know it.
For saving my life.
For saving my life.
Thank you for saving my life.

If you’re still reading, thank you. Truly. It took months for me to find words for this. And it’s important to me that you know: I’m still me.

Nothing about our relationship will change, and we never even need to talk about this if you don’t want to. But if you do want to talk, about this, about you or someone you love, or something you want to know, no matter who you are, I am here for that, too.

If you know at least 10 people, you know someone who struggles with a disordered relationship with food or their body. Maybe it’s something you struggle with, too. Or maybe you struggle with something else entirely.

Think about sharing this, because if nothing else, a little less silence might help. I know it helps me.



Author: Madeline Quinlan
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Taia Butler

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Madeline Quinlan