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Your ED Friend: Six Years Later

[Obvious TW is really glaringly obvious.]

“I had an eating disorder.”

“I guessed.”

We were juniors, boyfriend and girlfriend, officially. Up late and texting, doing that flirting thing where you demand each others deepest secrets and pretend you’re giving yours away.

Except I did give mine away.

“I had an eating disorder.”

I was lying, of course. It wasn’t the past tense–it was the second year of an eating disorder, one that would get worse, more disorganized, and wreak much more havoc on my sanity in the coming four years.

But it was the first step.

And he had guessed–known, really, for months. He’s my best friend now, far and away in Texas. In this month, marking six years since I developed what would reach clinical-level anorexia, I asked him about it.  He doesn’t remember when he figured it out, really. It was, according to him, always part of how he knew me.

And I don’t think he’s wrong. It’s been six years ago, as of this month, since the behavioral side of anorexia started. Every time I’ve looked back and tried to think “back when I was stable/normal/didn’t have an eating disorder”…I realize I’m looking back at times when I was actually worse, when I wasn’t eating, when I couldn’t go ten minutes without invasive, obsessive thoughts about food.

Six years. More than a quarter of my life.

There’s this thing they talk about in therapy some times: grieving for the normal self. Because even were your disorder to remit entirely…you wouldn’t go back to being Old You. Your brain learns things. You grow and bend and shape yourself around coping mechanisms and triggers and ways of responding to the world. Old You is just gone. And Old You was a whole person, with plans and potential and places to go and things to do and ways of looking at the world. Maybe a little more optimistic, a little shinier and fresh-faced. You get to have all those things again, those plans and that potential, it’s true. But sometimes they’re a little dusty, a chipped, in pieces.

And I really liked Old Kate.

Therapy was a eulogy, stories of when I could look in mirrors, and dancing and days when I could just throw on clothes in the morning.

And now, finally, I think I’ve laid that Kate to rest.

A photographer friend took this for me--a lasting reminder that I can be happy in this body.

A photographer friend took this for me–a lasting reminder that I can be happy in this body.

I’m…this Kate.

I have this weird alternate life where I write things on the internet and people read them. On weekends I go to conferences and go by a different name, and on Monday the coach turns into the best pumpkin ever and I work at Fabulous Unspecified Internship.

I’ve gone skinny-dipping. I’ve gone skinny-dipping in Lake Michigan in the middle of winter. (Note: REALLY cold.)

I am emotionally able to care for another animal and I know this because I’m doing it right now.

I live in a city that I love. I’m in love.

I don’t dance anymore, and it hurts. But sometimes I actually see New Kate in the mirror, and that makes me think that someday I’ll go back into a studio.

I’ve learned some of two different languages, and I get to take classes about bioethics and astronomy and artificial intelligence and and and…and each day ends with just wanting more more more. More books, more research, more people who want to know anything about everything and everything about anything.

There’s something they don’t tell you about eating disorders. About how much you want more than anything to wake up and be in a different skin, how much you don’t want to feel your own body, to notice what space you take up.

But New Kate is still here, taking up space.

I’d like to keep doing that.

Comments

  1. Ross the Boss says

    I don’t think it can be overstated how moving that picture is accompanied by this text. It has a depth to it revealed by your words that has touched something in me. They open up a world of understanding and compassion that I take with me in my own life and share with others.

    This was wonderful. You are a wonderful person.

  2. Becca Havern says

    This is quite beautiful. Thank you for your courage and openness to share this online. I imagine so many people in recovery can relate to the new me/old me mentality that comes with therapy and overcoming a psychological disorder. Sometimes the passions that we are forced to give up come with a new passion that helps us express our new self. You certainly have a talent for writing; I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

  3. Robert Arnow, Freeze Peach Inspector says

    I don’t know if you read your Tumblr reblogs, Kate, but one of my friends said “Brilliantly written and so so true. I read the whole thing. It made me cry.”
    Good work, friend. One of the more poetic things I’ve read all year.

  4. erikabutler says

    Hi Kate,

    Do you have a summary of some sort of your talk on schizophrenia this past weekend? I’d be interested to see it.

  5. Kate Donovan says

    I don’t just yet–but I’m planning to write some kind of summary and post it here!

  6. didgen says

    For me it took becoming a grandmother and realizing that I had to overcome my aversion to looking at myself or having photos taken of me, or my grandchildren would never remember what I looked like. I destroyed every photo of myself I could find when I was an adolescent, so I can’t show them photos of me as a child. I still sometimes look at a photo that has me in it, and wonder who that old woman is. In the beginning it took quite some time to see it as myself. I am joyful that you are so far ahead of me, have a beautiful life and savor it.

  7. K. says

    Kate,

    I still remember receiving a text from you senior year.

    You had accidentally told me about this and you were freaking out making me promise never to tell anyone. It always worried me and I had always wished to help (especially because you always pestered me about how I would skip lunch). It’s been 4 years since than, but I always felt bad about not trying to help you in return. So, it might be a little late, but I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be more supportive, and thank you for all you helped me with!

  8. Kate Donovan says

    I remember us texting senior year :) You were such a grounding person to talk to. Your friendship was one of the things that kept me going. So for that, I owe you a thank you too :)

  9. tmscott says

    Hey Kate,

    Your description of a “new” Kate vs the “old” Kate resonated with me because that’s a device that I didn’t use in my recovery from depression.

    The turning point for me occurred when I looked at my father’s hands one day, and then compared them with my own. Upon examining our hands, I realized that every scare left on them was the remainder, and a reminder, of some injury; an injury and a healing. Our hands carried the reminders of our injuries and yet they still functioned, and perhaps even better because of their experiences. Our hands were very different, and most of what made them unique was the scars that only they possessed.

    It was a that point, I decided that the scars on my heart were like the scars on my hands, they made me the unique person that I am, and that I am, and I will become, the sum of all my experience.

    All this is a long way of saying that I hope you don’t overlook the contributions of “old Kate”, or those of your struggles to find “new” Kate. The whole package is worth preserving.

    Best wishes,
    Tom

  10. satanaugustine says

    I guess maybe there was and old me prior to age five. That old me is long gone and almost completely forgotten. It’s too sad to think about the old me that I lost so long ago. So when did I get a new me? Me first new me was born when I was 19 years old. He was outgoing (or at least pretended to be), confident (another pretense, but this was a sort of “fake-it-till-you-make-it” trial, and I tried really hard to believe it was true), friendly, funny, but apparently a bit unlikable. He crashed and burned before he turned 20. Then another new me appeared at 21. He seemed a bit more sustainable than the previous mes, and he was…until he was 22 & 1/2 years old. All the other new mes have been unhappy ones. There is no me to try to strive towards. They’ve all been failures (except for the miserable mes, at which I excel…but that’s just sad).

    Oh well, I give up.

  11. erikabutler says

    Perhaps we can come up with an etiquette for interacting with people with mental illness, especially online? I’ve had some issues in a discussion with a group that knew some of my mental health history and when I got into an argument with them–a mostly liberal group, btw–about the proposals to create a database to put mentally ill people on to prevent them from buying guns, and they immediately attacked me over my mental health history, saying that I’m just barking mad like I admitted or that even I was secretly planning to shoot up a place–I reported that last comment for defamation. I was shocked at that treatment and felt like I was stabbed in the back by them, because I had gone to them for support. When I told them about it, they ignored me, saying I wasn’t showing I was “in control” because I kept going on in my defense, feeling like no one was taking me seriously.

    How about some etiquette?

    1.) Check your privilege at the door.

    2.) Never, in a discussion about something, use someone’s past or current history of a mental illness diagnosis against them, such as in such a way to insinuate that that history discredit’s the poster’s comments.

    3.) When a person with a mental illness says they feel very uncomfortable with the way you are talking about them, don’t keep thinking, well, they just have a mental illness and I just know what’s best for them. You’re not a mental health professional and like #1 check your privilege at the door.

    4.) Consider them as people.

    Boy, the whole way the discussion went today makes me a bit angry.

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