Sick Though I Am, I Hold A Cautious Hope

For those new to my blog, I’m a recovering anorexic.  My anorexia with eating has transitioned over this year into an anorexia with athleticism.  If you ask me (and my therapist concurs), it’s a far less shitty condition.  I can eat without panic (though I’m still meticulous) about 2200 calories a day (in February of this year, 800 was a good day) and, frankly, if you’re going to have a debilitating mental illness, one that gets you in shape has got to be the pick of the litter.  But it’s still something I must manage to keep it from spiraling out of control.

One of my confidants during the ordeal with my relapse this year has been Greta Christina, who always asks me when it will be enough.  At what point do I say, “You know what?  I’m happy with my body looking the way it is”?  The answer is always that I don’t know, I just know that I’m not there.  I’m aware of the inadequacy of that answer.  I’m also aware that, because I’m sick, that answer can be dangerous.  ‘I don’t know’ may very well be synonymous with never, and that’s something to worry about.

But in this last week I’ve noticed a change.  For as long as I’ve been working out, I’ve always wanted to hurt.  The more agony I felt from a workout, the healthier I felt psychologically – which is what made it difficult to stop working out.  My most chipper days have been the days when I vomited after a workout.  Let me tell you how odd it is being cognizant of how fucked up that is but still being so bound by the reprieve from my psychological demons that I’ll push my body harder anyway.  I am grateful for friends who monitor me to protect me from myself.

This is what it means to have a mental illness.  It means knowing that your capacity for reason on the issue is corrupted.  It means admitting that you have to trust your well-being to the decision-making capabilities of others, because you cannot trust yourself.  It means managing your condition by trying to reason around your own mind.

But lately I am able to stop before I’m on the ground on the verge of throwing up and be perfectly content.  I am slowly developing a comfort with my body and realizing that I don’t need to be a model to live happily within my own skin.  It feels wonderful.  It feels free.  It feels like…being me.

I’m not well yet, not by any means.  This is not the type of thing that ever goes away completely, so we do not celebrate victory over the monster.  Instead, we celebrate progress and this, most assuredly, is progress.  Perhaps, though, I’m closing in on being as well as I can get.  I’ve fought with this for so long that I’m reticent to allow myself that hope, but this is different than it ever has been, and it’s hard not to let myself dream a little bit.  It makes me tear up to know that I can finally start to say this to Greta and all the other people who have been patient, suffered my insanity, and have pulled for me.  I want to be well for them just as much as for myself.

MENTAL ILLNESS: Today's session.
MENTAL ILLNESS: Time to go be a lab rat.
MENTAL ILLNESS: BDSM or Neuroscience?
MENTAL ILLNESS & PERSONAL: Pictures of my brain.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • fastlane

    Wow. Thanks for sharing that. It gives me insight into helping my wife overcome some of her issues (mostly PTSD related thanks to her fucked up childhood).

    I guess we all probably do things that are self destructive (or at least less than healthy) to some extent. I can’t imagine what it must be like to know how bad it is, but to feel the compunction to do it anyway.

    Thanks again, and continued success on your journey.

  • Sid

    This made my day.

    • Sid

      This made my day, and I’m really, really proud to know you.

  • John Morales

    In that photo, you look pretty good to me, if still somewhat lean.

    Good luck with reaching (and maintaining) a satisfactory (and healthy) homeostasis.

  • tehlise

    what should probably be sad when I read this is where you say, “800 calories was a good day.” And realize that 1,000 is still good for me.

    • JT Eberhard

      How can I help you?


  • Phil Robinson

    I know what it’s like to have a secret disease, a disease that doesn’t make sense because, if it did it wouldn’t be a sickness.
    Most of my friends are sick also. We come and go in & out of each other’s lives.
    I care very much about a friend not so different from me. I hope he lives through it all until he hurts bad enough to get help. It’s sad that people turn their backs out of fear of some mental illnesses when it isn’t necessary. It leaves only those easily made sick to try to help.

  • P Smith

    I’m no expert on mental health or fitness, but if I might, I have a suggestion: If you’re focusing on something to the point of obsession, try placing the focus somewhere else, somewhere that can’t become an obsession, or is less likely to be one.

    For example, in managing your diet you can focus on tracking nutritional values of food, on energy use and caloric intake. It could become obsessive, but knowing what’s healthy and how much you need to eat won’t endanger your health as long as your food intake matches your output.

    Or when exercising, don’t focus on “goals”, focus on ability. Don’t look at running as being able to run 10km in 50 minutes, look at it as being able to climb three flights of stairs without sweating. Don’t look at weight lifting as trying to make yourself huge, focus on being able to lift 10 or 20kg boxes without effort. Work out to make it easy for yourself to do everyday things instead of specific and distant targets.

    As for pain, the “no pain no gain” mantra is masochistic and foolish. I’ve put a strong effort into losing weight over the past year, but pain has never been part of it. Don’t run with pain, run as fast as possible while still being able to talk in short sentences and work up distance gradually. Don’t lift weights to the point of pain, lift enough to make yourself tired and unable to continue and build up gradually.

    Yes, exercise should stress the body. That’s how improvement comes, but damage needs to be repaired. If you don’t stop to repair damage you make it worse, but stopping can increase depression and mental health problems. Never exercise to the point of injury to begin with, and in the long run you’ll be able to do long runs.

    Ahem. Excuse the longwinded post.


  • asmallcontempt

    Oh, P. Smith…while I’m sure your efforts were sincere, I don’t believe that JT will be “fixed” by a few suggestions in a comment on his blog. He’s well aware of where his reality doesn’t mesh and his healthcare professionals most likely work with him regularly.

    I’m not being snide – it’s just that my sister gets that all the time, and being the one that checked her into the E.R. when her heart rate was dangerously low, the little speeches became tired and old pretty quick.

    Because he already knows all of that. It’s not a matter of simply saying “yeah, you’re right, my approach to eating and exercising is neither logical nor healty – I’ll get right on that!” It’s a psychological disorder where certain things (like body image issues or calorie counting or whatever cocktail of nastiness) get in the way of a person’s ability to make sensible choices. The message gets all confused and so the objective becomes warped.

    My sister was in Remuda for a couple of months (with a tube down her nose, trying to get to a place where she wasn’t in medical danger) a live-in therapy program for individuals with eating disorders, and seeing the diversity of the patients really drove the message home: there were 9 and 10 year old girls, college girls, an 8th grade teacher who had a physical breakdown and collapsed, a 70-some year old woman who had had anorexia for 30+ years.

    …again, not a problem to be treated as simple or easy to correct. I don’t doubt your sincerity, but it really bothers me when people try to “fix” other people instead of just listening to their struggles.

  • CayVoo

    I hope for you that the obsession passes. I’ve been there. Had a
    midlife re-occurrence of my teen years about seven years ago. Lexapro actually helped me. Good luck.

  • xero ankh


  • P Smith

    To asmallcontempt -

    I didn’t assume to have all the answers. I spoke up for a different reason.

    I read an Ann Landers column once where someone asked what to say when talking to someone whose friend/spouse/family member died.

    Her advice was, say something, even if it’s unintentionally hurtful. The important thing is to let the person know that others are thinking of them, to know they’re not isolated and alone. It’s the isolation which can make things worse, can cause or worsen depression.


  • Neato Spiderplant

    P Smith, I too see that you were honestly trying to help, but I find your approach little odd.

    I don’t think Anorexia is the same as grieving a loss and to approach them the same would be like a doctor trying to put a cast on an arm when the patient has suffered a heart attack. They are two different situations and the approach you take for one is not likely to be the right one for the other.