On the 26th of February, I will be speaking as a panelist during an event hosted by UCLA's Body Image Task Force. The event will be held during NEDA's annual "NEDA Week." This post is dedicated to my exploration of the various questions I will have the opportunity to answer, and further understand my journey and experience.
My unique journey and my background
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and so all of my experiences and influences were slightly different to anyone who was raised in the States. I am currently in recovery from my eating disorder and mood disorder, Anorexia Nervosa and Major Depressive Disorder. This time last year, I was admitted into a Residential/Inpatient Treatment Center in Boca Raton, Florida for my eating disorder, and also spent many months before and after that in Day Treatment here in Los Angeles.
When I first came to UCLA, I was by no means disordered. I loved my freshman year fall quarter, and made incredible friends and experienced college life to its fullest. I was happy. I couldn't tell you when I realized I was sick and needed help. For me, my spiral into all my pain and suffering began in my senior year of high school. During this time, I was living by myself in Hong Kong finishing the IB program at my high school. The rest of my family had moved to the states one year before me: my father changed jobs, my sisters started college or high school, and my mom was settling into our new home in LA. Suffice to say, senior year of high school was an extremely hard time for me, and I suffered many losses - both in regards to my family and other relationships I had cultivated. I still remember in December 2015, I decided that 2016 was the year that I was going to "get fit, or get healthy." I was going to go on a diet and implement a new workout schedule for myself to lose weight that I had gained in the months prior. My intention itself was not disordered, but this was the first time I remember manipulating my food and exercise in order to gain a sense of happiness or acceptance I had with my body.
In my spring quarter of freshman year, things were bad. I was engaging in disordered behaviors in extreme ways that were affecting my mental health, and everyday I woke up wishing that night could come sooner so I could sleep to escape my intrusive thoughts. I had joined the UCLA Body Image Task Force my freshman year fall quarter, and I am beyond grateful that I did because the group taught me everything I know now about the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, and it allowed me to recognize that I needed help. I started going to CAPS at UCLA this time, but had to stop when summer rolled around because I had plans to live in Hong Kong for two months while working at a PR firm. Hong Kong in the summer of 2016 was when things truly started deteriorating, and it was a time when my depression hit me with full force like I had never experienced before. With the help of my older sister, I sought the help of a therapist in Hong Kong who diagnosed me with my eating and mood disorder, and it was the first time I tried to recover.
In the middle of fall quarter of my sophomore year, my CAPS psychologist referred me to the Renfrew Center in Los Angeles for a consultation as I needed a higher level of support. I was admitted into day treatment in October 2016, and had to become a part time UCLA student in order to attend the treatment. After 8 weeks, I was discharged to go on family vacation for Christmas break - in Norway and London. This was the trip of a lifetime, but was also the worst time of my life. I was the most disordered I had ever been, and things were at an all time low. When I came back to LA in January, I was readmitted into the Renfrew Center for treatment, but was told I needed to attend Residential Treatment because of how bad things had gotten. This was arguably one of the hardest decisions of my life, and having to take time off from school was incredibly difficult and humbling. I got a physical a few days later, and when I was told I had bradycardia and saw my weight for the first time in weeks, I knew how serious things had gotten, and I was dedicated to recover to save my life.
I was in Florida for 5 weeks in Residential Treatment, and they were arguably the hardest five weeks of my life. I had to confront my anxiety, anger, pain, and sadness face on without any distractions or coping strategies. Coming back to LA and attending Day Treatment again for the second time was also extremely difficult, as I was faced with the real world again and all the triggers of society. After 6 weeks, I was asked to leave the program because I needed a higher level of support, which I was unwilling to get because of how it meant I had to sacrifice more time away from school.
I have been in Outpatient Treatment since May, and have an incredible Psychologist, Nutritionist, and Psychiatrist who have helped me come so far and learn so much about myself. I wouldn't be where I am today without their help and support.
1. How did your eating disorder affect other aspects of your life?
Prior to entering treatment, my family had never spoken about mental health or mental wellbeing. We were simply a family. My parents were just my parents, and we never talked about anything more than academics and daily plans. After being in treatment, and having countless family therapy sessions, my family learned how to talk about empathy, support, and mental health in ways that we never had before. My family was able to connect in an incredible way, through some very difficult times.
- Being in treatment was incredibly difficult for my family and friends as well, it wasn't just about me - they were hurting too.
- Feeling depressed and wanting to isolate
- Wasn't able to fully connect and cultivate meaningful relationships with people around me
- Constantly in my mind
My eating disorder defined me. I was mentally and physically unwell, and constantly needed help from others. I was weak. I was my eating disorder. That was how I saw myself while in treatment, it was what defined my sense of self worth and self image.
d. Daily routines
- My days were revolved around my eating disorder behaviors, thoughts, compulsions, and obsessions
e. Depression and anxiety
- Hated the life I was living
- Hated myself
- Fearful of everything and anything
- Perpetually shaking/anxious
2. What propelled you into recovery of your eating disorder?
- Recognizing that I had a problem and being in sheer agony
- Understanding the life or death consequences of what I was doing
- Finding my passion in psychotherapy (through having been in therapy) and wanting to recover in order to make a difference in other's lives
3. What do you think about the way eating disorders are presented in the media?
- Romanticized (pro ana)
- So many traits and behaviors that are associated with anorexia are praised in society (drive, dedication, perfection, self-control)
- We think we’ll be “happier” when we’re smaller. We think we’ll love our body more when we’ve lost “the weight.” Well let me tell you, that’s a bunch of B.S. that society and your eating disorder tries to convince you of.
- Photos of before and after photos
- Competitive nature of eating disorders, by talking about specific numbers or behaviors or the frequency of different things, sharing one's story has almost become a "look at what I can do" content
- Still playing into the thin ideal and fat phobia by focusing on the changes in physical appearance as opposed to the mental progress
- White, upper class teenager problem -- class and race issue
- Bulimia and BED on the other hand is associated with things like a lack of control and even more infuriatingly, greed/gluttony - shame associated with these disorders
4. What is something you didn’t know about eating disorders before you developed one?
- That they can affect anyone, of any race, culture, socioeconomic background, location
- Don't look one way
- Don't have to be underweight to require help -- set point weight theory and being under set point but within societal boundaries
- Bulimia is the most deadly eating disorder -- heart arrhythmia, electrolyte imbalances
5. What advice would you offer to someone who is currently going through an eating disorder?
- Recovery is not just about gaining weight, it's about regaining all the life that was lost through ruminating on food, exercise, or body hatred
- Recovery is not about loving your body and gaining confidence, it's about seeing yourself as worthy regardless of how you feel about your appearance -- recognizing that your worth and purpose in life is so much greater than looking a certain way
- It's not, and never was, about the food. There's always some underlying issue that drives the compulsions and hatred. Whether it's the need for control amongst uncertainty, a distraction from painful emotions or lack of self acceptance, focusing on and working through the underlying issues makes the world of a difference in terms of recovery.
*You can't hate and abuse your body into loving it.
- You start to realize that you are so much more than your reflection in the mirror. You begin to see that there is room for SO much joy and excitement in your life when you’re not consumed with disordered behaviors. You begin to think less about your body and therefore place less of your overall worth on your appearance
- DON'T PLACE YOUR SELF WORTH ON YOUR BODY
- You are not your body, your weight, your muscles, or fat
- You are your compassion, humor, intelligence, drive, kindness
- People love and care about YOU because of the quality you bring to their lives, not for looking a certain way (and if that is the only reason they care about you, are those really the people you want to surround yourself with)
- Life has so much more to offer than toned abs, thigh gaps, counting calories or exercising
- Let food be food again, an addition to enhance the quality of your life and not your whole life