I am healthy, and that’s how I want others to see and think of me. It’s true that I have diabetes, but I do my best to manage it. It’s true that I have depression, but I take medication so you’d never know that to look at me or talk to me. I grudgingly accept that technically having those diagnoses doesn’t make me the poster child for healthy human beings, however, I believe that my perception of myself as healthy is a better indicator of health than my medical expenditures or diagnostic codes.
I haven’t always thought of myself in this way. In fact, for most of my life, I thought of myself as inherently broken beyond repair. I saw myself as different from the people around me because I had a disease, a disease that plagued my inner world far worse than it could ever plague my body. That plague manifested itself in many unfortunate ways, most notably in the eating disorder I had for so long.
It’s been my personal experience that a lot of people don’t understand eating disorders. Some look at the disease, anorexia, and dismiss it with a flippant, “Those people just need to eat!” Similarly, it makes my heart seize every time I read comments about diabetics who restrict their insulin to lose weight. “Pfft, they just need to take their insulin!” It’s not a matter of “just” doing something so simple though. The eating disorder always serves a purpose, and identifying the purpose is a key to recovery.
My eating disorder served many purposes over the years. It allowed me to punish my body for betraying me by not functioning the way it was supposed to function. It made it easier to push people away from me, and prevent them from knowing the whole me, the diabetic me. Most significantly though, it served as proof that I was broken and couldn’t be fixed. Diabetes wasn’t going anywhere, and certainly confirmed this errant belief about myself, but this more external expression of being ill made it evident that being healthy was outside of the realm of possibilities for me. I needed my eating disorder to maintain my fundamental beliefs about who I was, and as a result of being diagnosed with diabetes, my fundamental belief was that I was sick and there was no cure to fix me.
I can’t tell you when exactly the notion that I might be something other than a sick person first entered my mind, but eventually, thanks to a lot of therapy, I started to conceive of myself as something other than broken. It took time, years really, for this notion to take root and grow, for me to believe that I could be a healthy person even with diabetes. After 18 years of having an eating disorder, the old belief gave way, and today, I see my transformation into someone who is bursting with health as one of my greatest personal accomplishments.
Because I value being healthy, because it hasn’t always been like this, and because it wasn’t really all that long ago that I believed differently, I experience some discomfort looking back at the person I was, and even more anxiety-provoking, it is with great reluctance that I point to it for you to see. I deliberated whether or not to write this, I cringe at the prospect of reminding you that I was so different from what I am today. I cringe at the prospect of you thinking of me as someone less than able to encourage or lead others toward health. I cringe at the prospect of reminding myself how unwell I once was.
However, there are few voices that raise awareness of diabetes and eating disorders, and sadly, even fewer voices of recovery. To my knowledge, there are no statistics about recovery from diabulimia, but I know it’s a persistent illness, similar to all eating disorders. I can only guess that the more severe and longstanding the case, the more the chances of recovery diminish. Thus, as hesitant as I am to raise my hand and remind you of my 18-year history of misusing my insulin, and binging and purging, I feel like doing so might somehow in some way help someone who needs it. Diabulimia is an illness that can feel as irreversible and incurable as diabetes, so knowing someone who truly recovered counts.
Today marks five years of being eating disorder free for me. Five years of recovery doesn’t sound like much compared to almost twenty years of struggling with food and my body, but if I have anything to do with it, five years will become ten, and ten will become twenty, and who know how far I can get now that I’m healthy.