Merilee s Story
Charleston, South Carolina USA
"I remember feeling like I was always an outcast, even in elementary school. I would look around the room and think that I was the ugliest or fattest kid in there and that was why no one wanted to be my friend.
In middle school, I would come home crying everyday because I would eat alone and the other kids would tell me I was fat. I remember going to camp as a seventh grader and walking outside of the cabin door and finding a drawing of an overweight girl with my name above it posted outside the door.
The bullying was bad, but the isolation was worse. It's one thing to not like yourself, it's another to feel like you're going through that completely alone. I don't know when my breaking point was, I just remember crouching on the bathroom floor my freshman year of high school, sobbing while I threw up. It started off slowly.
Purging was just a punishment for those times I cheated off my diet or those days I was just feeling chubby, but soon after it became my escape. I became really good at faking it. I lost almost eighty pounds and made lots of friends and turned in to the token 'happy girl' who always had her life together, I didn't dare tell anyone my secret because then they would know that I was a phony and I knew I would lose everything I had worked for.
As I became more and more popular, I developed this false sense of security and my need to starve myself or binge eat became less. Although I was still strictly dieting, I finished out high school feeling like it was all under control. But all that security I had built for myself got torn down in one foul swoop.
I got involved in a pretty emotionally abusive relationship and my first reaction was that it was my fault. I needed to be better. Prettier. Skinnier. I always needed to be skinnier. I started my freshman year of college in full relapse and it basically absorbed my whole life.
Every morning I would wake up to it and every night I would lie awake thinking about it. It made me anxious, nervous, angry, but simultaneously like it was my only means of control for my life. I became severely depressed and I felt like I had lost my desire to do anything. I was ambivalent about everything, even things I once loved.
My parents knew that something was severely wrong and for the first time we had a real conversation about my eating disorder. I think deep down they always knew, but they were always too scared to ask and I was always too ashamed to admit it. My parents, however, were not ashamed. They were proud. Proud that I was telling them, proud of my vulnerability, proud of my strength. I always thought that if people knew then they would see me as weak, but they didn't. They saw me as strong.
I started going to therapy and it has brought me so much life. Bulimia is still a struggle for me. Anxiety is still a struggle for me. Striving for unattainable perfection is still a struggle for me, but I'm stronger now that I know I'm not alone. The thing about invisible illnesses is that we can't just cure them like a lot of other things. They require patience, and dedication, and grace- lots of grace,
We relapse and we progress and we relapse again and that's okay. The important thing is that we try, we don't give up, we give ourselves grace, and we remember that we are worthy and we are not alone."
Photo by: Jesse Volk