September 9, 2014 started with an air of excitement. My friend and I were beginning a two-week backpacking trip around the south island of New Zealand for our mid-semester break while studying abroad. What I didn’t realize when I woke up that morning was that this was also the day that would forever change my life for the better.
We had a rocky start, walking three hours just to get to the base of our first hike. Once we got there, it was steeper than both of us had anticipated. After about ten minutes, I doubted if I could actually climb this at all. At this point, I had been struggling with bulimia for about two years, and was up and down in terms of recovering. However, for the majority of the last six months before this point I was in a deep relapse. It was easy for me to deny what was going on – for me to listen to “Ed,” what I call the voice of my eating disorder and deny that I had a problem and to put off asking for help.
After just ten minutes of ascending this mountain, my body was finally able to speak up and tell me what “Ed” has been doing to me these two years. My muscles were extremely fatigued; I was out of breath, dizzy, and worst of all, I was extremely embarrassed. It had only been ten minutes of climbing and already I wanted to quit?
I was embarrassed because I knew that the reason that I was struggling to get up this mountain was because of my eating disorder. Even though my friend knew what was going on and was so supportive and awesome, that didn’t change the fact that my eating disorder has never been something I could not talk about without feeling a huge amount of shame. Why is that? I could barely talk about it with even my family or my closest friends without starting to cry. I believe that there is such a stigma around eating disorders, and mental illnesses in general, and it is why people like me take so long to get help.
That day on the mountain I was finally able to hear my voice over “Ed’s” voice. The feeling of exhaustion and despair on the trail was one of the main reasons I realized I needed more help. Another reason was something I read in one of my classes. We were reading the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. After each habit we read about, we need to answer a prompt that connects to our life. The first habit – proactivity – was the one we covered right before break. The prompt was to find something in your life that was causing you distress, and do something about it. Having that chapter in my head as I sat on the trail crying was the moment I decided enough is enough.
My friend and I continued our hike that day, and we hiked the majority of the rest of the two weeks, even though it was hard for me, because I was done not being able to do things because of “Ed.” I had to call my parents on Skype and tell them that my eating disorder was, and has been for a while, worse than I had ever let on, and I needed more help. That was one of the hardest conversations I have ever had. I felt a lot of shame, again not because there was anything to be embarrassed about, but because I felt shame from society about what was going on.
My parents were so incredibly amazing, setting up different doctors appointments when I returned. We eventually found an outpatient treatment center in my hometown that I participated in for five weeks before I came back to UVM for the second semester. I would’ve liked to stay in New Zealand during the winter break, but every time I wanted to give up on recovery, I just think back to that day on Mt. Fyffe in Kaikoura, New Zealand. That was the last thing that “Ed” will ever take from me. I have too much to do and “Ed” just does not fit in. I am planning on doing a lot of hiking this summer, and starting in September, I will be training to become a yoga teacher. My warrior legs, the branches of my tree, and the core that guides me through every sun salutation does not have room for “Ed” anymore. I am enough, without “Ed.” You are enough. We are enough.
Visit the National Eating Disorder Association online.
Jessica Cohen is a junior at the University of Vermont where she is studying Elementary and Special Education. She loves to travel and do anything outdoors!