“Letters to My Younger Self” is a series focused on wisdom and self-awareness. Just as you write letters to a friend to encourage and uplift them, here is the advice we would go back and tell our younger selves.
Dear 19-year-old me,
I can remember it like it was yesterday. April 23, 2019.
The feelings of fear, anxiety and overwhelm that you’re experiencing in this moment. I can picture exactly where you are sitting now. Curled up in your apartment bed. Crying, uncontrollably crying.
April 23, 2019. I remember the tears and the emotions. I remember all of it. Today, the counselor put words to the immense anxiety and incomprehensible fear you’ve felt a little throughout the past year.
“Eating disorder, you have an eating disorder,” she said.
I know this isn’t what you were expecting. The crippling, agonizing anxiety. The constant distressing thoughts. Even the hollow, physical emptiness residing inside your body. See, this isn’t the perfect college experience you were attempting to achieve when you began dieting freshman year.
This isn’t the perfect college experience you were attempting to achieve when you began dieting freshman year.
This isn’t what you expected an eating disorder to feel like either, much less how you thought it could develop. You were pursuing what you saw as health. You were attempting to accomplish your goals. Growing up as a dancer, you were doing what you were always taught was “right.”
You always thought eating disorders were related to problems with food. You thought an eating disorder pertained to girls who avoided eating so they could be thin. However, the problems persisted, even as the plate was put away.
I know you wish others could understand this isn’t simply a choice you are making. This is so much more complex. This is the combination of factors, from genetics to culture to family and environmental circumstances. This is so much more than an extreme quest for vanity, and its effects are so much more than physical.
Today, I write to you two years into recovery from the eating disorder diagnosis you just received. April 23, 2021. I want you to know that we, you and I, actually turned out even better than either of us could ever ask or imagine. The step you took today—to choose to embark on the road to recovery—is the beginning of uncovering a hidden purpose behind this unexpected curveball.
You expected recovery to be a process of getting your body to a certain size deemed “acceptable.” However, this process is full of the unexpected. It’s feeling the sunshine on your skin in the morning as you drink your coffee. It’s smelling the fresh flowers blooming as the season turns to spring, and it’s singing out loud in the back seat of the car on a roadtrip with your friends. It’s doing all of these things with a clear mind and an attentive, undisturbed spirit. This is recovery.
It’s doing all of these things with a clear mind and an attentive, undisturbed spirit. This is recovery.
Because your mind is no longer consumed, your life is enriched. As you take steps toward recovery, you get to experience once again the goodness of life with the people who are living it with you. The memories made, each moment spent with them, this is what you wanted out of college.
To your surprise, you actually begin to find what you were looking for this whole time. Health and wellness is the definition of this story. They are gifts you are constantly receiving and increasingly learning about throughout this process.
There is discomfort in this place—knowing things are about to change and that things have to change in order to heal. However, in the midst of navigating your way around this unfamiliar territory, you discover a feeling even more unexpected, joy. You expected weight loss to bring you the kind of college experience you were wanting, but as you allow life to unravel your expectations, you open yourself up to unexpected growth.
Joy can be produced here—in the unexpected, in the trials. Joy in itself is the unexpected gift we get to receive if we stay open to the opportunity of goodness and growth amidst our trials.
As you take steps toward recovery, you get to experience once again the goodness of life with the people who are living it with you.
Like a flower, we are all growing, and we always will be. Sometimes, we go through seasons where we get a little more rain than others. Maybe even a little more rain than our surrounding flowers. However, just like a flower, we all have those moments when we bloom, those times to shine in the sun.
Like a flower, we don’t always know when our time will come, but we hold out hope that it will. When it rains, we hold onto the hope that we will see the sun again. We never reach a place when the rain stops coming. However, with experience, we do learn to see the rain a little differently. Perhaps, as an ingredient for growth. Preparing us to shine even brighter the next time around.
Perhaps, this encounter with the unexpected was exactly what you needed to discover the college experience of your dreams. Perhaps my girl, this is just the beginning. Life changed our plan. Though it was unexpected, and even unwanted, it turned out for the better.
You’re not going to hear this enough during this season. People may not know what to say. That’s OK. But I want you to know, more than anything, I am so proud of you. Not everyone can understand the kind of battle this is, but I can. You can. We can.
I want you to know, more than anything, I am so proud of you.
I need you to know, from your future self, that it is all worth it. Who you are and who you are becoming is worth it. I can’t wait for you to experience it. So keep walking, one step at a time.
I love you.
Two years older you
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self? What lies have you believed about your body image?
Image via Raisa Zwart Photography