An open letter…to you

If you’re reading this, you know me, even if you don’t see me often. What you may not know (not certainly, at least) is that for the past 6 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 yearMaybe this year I’ll be out with itmaybe 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% chance that my eating disorder kills me. A one in ten chance. I am learning that 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. There’s nothing wrong with having something wrong.

When I was finally faced with the decision of whether to continue lying to loved ones fearing for my life, or to let go and let in, I refused to be open with more than my immediate family, my doctor, and a few very 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. This is now 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, 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
I’m sorry that I didn’t call
I’m sorry 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
That I broke your heart

I’ve never known support like I’ve experienced in the last 9 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
Thank you for believing I could take this on
Thank you 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
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 changes, and we never even need to talk about this if you don’t want to. But if you do want to talk, about this or 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. 

Infinite and heart-exploding love,

Maddie

I’ve never known support like I’ve experienced in the last 9 months, because I’ve never let myself ask for it.
- Maddie