As a child, I always felt as though I was under a ton of pressure to be perfect. I loved to read, write, and learn. But I also loved to smile, to play, to watch movies, to go camping, and to try new things. I saw my parents’ eyes shine when they received compliments about me. I remember being very good at many things, but never being the best. There was always someone better — smarter, prettier, stronger, more talented — and I began to feel more and more like a failure with every passing day.
I was nine or 10-years-old when the negative self-talk began. The words “stupid,” “weird,” “ugly,” and “failure” became common in my mind’s vocabulary. Oftentimes, when my mood was low, I would just repeat a single, detrimental phrase over and over again. Cryptic mantras from which there was no escape.
At the beginning of high school, I felt like I was losing my place. I was attending a specialized arts school, a school where everyone shines, academically brilliant and incredibly talented. I saw my changing body as undesirable. I was no longer anywhere close to the prettiest or the smartest or the best writer. To me, I was mediocre at best. In my mind, that made me nothing; that made me worthless.
So I decided to transform myself into what I thought was the perfect girl — a top student, and strong athlete with a spectacular body. I wanted to see myself as worthy of love.
The next seven years blur together as hazy memories of thundering voices that screamed of my incredible failure. Each landmark is memorialized in my mind by a time stamp bearing my weight with the footnote “not good enough”.
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My eating disorder took hold as endless restriction and obsessive food thoughts clouded my mind. Within a few months, I technically qualified for the diagnosis of anorexia with bingeing and purging characteristics, a definition that would burden me for the next decade. I hid my suffering from all those around me. It was a black cloud over my head, but I didn’t see it as a problem. To my deluded mind, they were appropriate means to reaching that desired end — the perfection I so desperately desired.
I became an athlete, a competitive rower, pushing my body through all limits of pain and sculpting an athletic body through very unhealthy means. Tenacious determination drove me to be better than anyone could have predicted. Coaches’ words burned themselves into my impressionable brain: “Never settle”. I became a part of national champion crews at both the Canadian high school and university levels. The truth is that I could have had a heart attack at any moment due to how much I was purging. I knew this and I didn’t care. I just wanted to win.
When time came to choose a university, I ran as far away as I could. I studied hard, very hard. Rowing and school work gave me seemingly legitimate excuses to pass up all opportunities for a social life, and I was completely fine with that isolation.
Through two and a half years of university, I lost control completely as my eating disorder took over. I made no lasting friendships and broke most of the ones I had held through high school. I was struggling to keep up with my classes as all my time was devoted to training or obsessing about food. An extreme lack of fuel meant that any studying was futile.
After a date rape by a team mate, further heartbreak and more shattered trust, I started to crack. I was politely removed from the varsity rowing team at Christmas. By February, the doctor on campus told me to go home that night if I wanted to make it back to my parents alive. He was right — when I made it to the ER back home, my organs were in failure.
Being perfect at an eating disorder means that you die, and I was very close to that.
It hurts to remember my parents’ concerned faces as I required sedation to have an IV set in the ER. All I saw was the bag of saline, 1.5kg of water weight that I thought would contaminate my body.
I was an emergency admission to an intensive inpatient treatment program. I’m sad to say that I made it through that only because I decided that I would be perfect in recovery as I was perfect in my ED. I relapsed as soon as that perfection broke with one slip. Recovering for others, relapsing when I remembered how much I hated myself.
These past three years have been cyclic, caught in pseudo-recovery. Striving for new ideals of health, falling whenever I saw failure. I was perfect at clean-eating, perfect in weight training, perfect in running (even winning my first marathon). Those coaches’ voices of the past melded with the toxic influence of fitspiration and I fell victim to it all, believing that it would bring me the happiness it promised.
I was broken. I was trying to please others, trying to achieve the impossible. I had so many congratulating me on the chiseled but unhealthy body that I had produced, and yet I was still depressed, anxious, lonely, and miserable.
I was nothing until I realized that I am enough.
Years of agony came to an abrupt end when I embraced that I am not imperfect, and I am not flawed. Those ideas are constructs of society. If you can’t be perfect, then you can’t be imperfect.
I’ve embraced every part of being that I can — enjoying dessert, friends, a career that I love, laughter, naps, and living with passion. Recovery is the greatest challenge I’ve encountered so far. But waking up every morning and choosing to accept who I am and treat myself with respect gets easier every single day.
I am free from perfection, from self-hatred, from needing the approval of others, from the constraints of my anorexia and exercise obsession. I am free to wake up every morning to love my body, myself, and my life.
And that freedom will be mine forever.
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