Who am I? What am I? Where am I? I spent years asking myself those same questions. Often, I was too scared to answer. For most of my life the answer to all of these questions was simple: I have an eating disorder and I struggle with anxiety and depression. But when I became a mom seven years ago, balancing my responsibilities as a parent while struggling with a mental illness called my identity into question in a whole new way.
I have hit rock bottom a handful of times since I was nine years old. I had been in and out of treatment since I was 17. But after I became a mom, I decided that I was tired of falling.
In February 2017, I was 37 years old. A group of my girlfriends confronted me about the behaviors they were observing in me and the impact those behaviors were having on my son. At first, it scared me to hear what they had to say. I got angry. I was so disappointed. But then my friend Jamie took it upon herself to find an outpatient program for me. I went, reluctantly, but soon realized that outpatient treatment wasn’t enough. If I was going to make this the last residential treatment I ever attended, then I had to go all in. Unfortunately, this meant leaving my son for the first time. As a single mom, my heart crumbled to even consider that choice. But I also knew that my eating disorder was preventing me from being the mom I had been, and the mom he needed.
That March, I packed up my things and left my son for six weeks. My friends rallied around us and held down the fort while I was gone. It was the longest, hardest, most terrifying six weeks of my existence. It was a challenging time for my son, and I will never forget the sacrifices my friends made to ensure that he kept on smiling.
However, there was something different this time. I wasn’t fighting just for myself anymore. My self-esteem had always talked me out of fighting for myself. I hadn’t though because I was worth fighting for. But Mason needed me. I wasn’t in it solely for myself anymore. I had no desire to let him go without me ever again. Sometimes I wondered how I could be so selfish for leaving him. But the decision to pursue treatment was the complete opposite of selfishness. I was acting more selfless than ever. For the first time, I wanted to say “No,” to ED. I wanted to explore what defined me beyond anorexia, bulimia, anxiety or depression. I never want to disappoint my son as a result of mental illness ever again. I am committed to therapy, giving back to the community that saved me so many times, and being the best version of myself that I can be.
I know that there will always be a part of me who listens to ED – a part that critiques myself, that compares and judges. However, now I also allow myself to accept compliments, to be loved and to love. In the last three years, I have shown my son, my friends and myself that I am better than ED always told me I could be.