The past year has permanently changed my life, and not just for reasons relating to the pandemic. In May of 2020, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and began an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP). I was terrified. Being completely new to the world of eating disorders, I had no idea what recovery meant– or if it was even possible. I worked hard in IOP, but unfortunately I continued to struggle. The burden of it all took a heavy toll on me, and in July of 2020, I found myself in a psychiatric hospital for five days dealing with severe depression. After discharging from the hospital, I worked closely with my outpatient team to find a way for me to continue life as I had planned. Collectively, we decided that I could try to go back to school and see if I could stay steady on my recovery path. I attempted to go back for my sophomore year of college, but after a few weeks, things took a turn for the worst, and it became clear that I was too sick to continue being on my own. I spent the entire month of October in a residential treatment facility, where I did some of the hardest mental and emotional work of my life. Afterwards I was able to step down to PHP and IOP, and discharge just in time for my spring semester.
Everything I thought I knew about mental health was turned completely upside down, and I found myself questioning what it means to have a mental illness in today’s world. Eating disorders are debilitating and extremely tricky to treat, and it takes a daily commitment to stay in recovery. I have had to make the decision many times if I truly want to live, and if so, do I want the chance to live my life to the fullest. I have had to get up and fight on days when I felt I had absolutely no strength left. I have had to realize exactly what and who I am fighting for, and how I am going to live in line with the values that make me who I am. Despite the exhaustion, the pain, and the hopelessness I have faced, my eating disorder has given me the opportunity to realize a lot of things I had never understood before. It taught me that anything worth living for is never going to be achieved without a struggle. I’ve learned that humans respond in very similar ways to adversity, and that there is no room for shame for the ways in which we try to survive our everyday experiences.
I have done the work to overcome my challenges, and I will continue to do so for as long as it takes. However, the parts of these experiences that have impacted me the most had to do with the people I encountered on my journey. I have met people from all over the country–from different backgrounds, races, gender identities, sexual orientations, and conditions. I have witnessed some people’s most difficult moments. But I have also witnessed empathy from shared experiences, comfort during times of pain, laughter in the face of uncertainty, and hope amidst darkness. Whether at their best or at their worst, I could not love these people more. They have taught me what strength truly is. I have seen people learn to love after years of trauma, show compassion when all they were shown was contempt, and redefine their stories despite heartbreaking circumstances. I had never felt so connected to people than when I began to fall in love with their stories of overcoming impossible odds, and nothing has fulfilled me more than to see people’s courage and resilience. At a time in my life when I had lost all hope, I found something to live for in the unbreakable spirit of humanity.
Truly, it is an honor to be a witness to resilience.
If you or a loved one is currently struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to know that you are not alone. The Alliance is here and we understand what you are going through. Connect with us at https://Findedhelp.com/ or call 866-662-1235 to find eating disorder treatment options near you today or visit our site to learn more about our free, virtual, therapist-led support groups.
Sydney Clarkin is currently a rising junior at the University of Iowa, studying social work with a certificate in disability studies. She hopes to one day help others dealing with mental health struggles in the same way she has received help on her own journey.