Sunday, August 19, 2018

Addicted to the Sweat

TRIGGER WARNING: Talk of excessive exercise and mention of exact numbers, mention of low weight.

The way our society talks about working out and going to the gym is in one vein: do it. Google "workout" and you'll see the seven best exercises for your most shredded abs yet! You'll see the best workout to blast fat. To lose weight. To cinch your waist. Essentially, to be less. To shrink. To exist in this world smaller than you currently are. Of course, this is helpful for anyone who is overweight or out of shape and wants to get healthier, but what about the 70 million people around the world who suffer from eating disorders?

For the amount of articles and listicles found about how great working out is, there aren't nearly enough that fearlessly discuss how quickly and easily it can turn dangerous - even fatal. The average person will look at these workout articles and feel encouraged. They will do the workouts as best as they can, try to eat cleaner, and see positive results within a reasonable and healthy amount of time. This is the ideal. However, the fitness industry fails to realize that there are millions of people around the world with issues, and likely obsessive personalities, who see these articles as a challenge to their "laziness."

These people do the workouts and feel a deep sense of shame and fury if they can't keep up with the entire thing. They push themselves in a punishing manner by making themselves work out every chance they get.

The gym has always been a very sacred place to me. That sounds really dramatic, but working out has always been a major part of my life. I started by taking dance classes at age three and only increased from there. I got my first gym membership at age 11. When I was younger, I didn't abuse exercise. However, I also didn't realize this was a possibility.

No one tells us how bad it can get. How you can easily turn one hour at the gym into two, three, four. No one tells us this is unsafe. Even other people at the gym applaud you for your "dedication." You begin to lose weight, and the world cheers you on. Of course this is one thing if you are in need of losing weight, but you're an averagely-sized, well-proportioned 19-year-old woman. They don't take the time to stop and say, "Wait a minute, you weren't overweight. Why are you losing? You're healthy and perfect just the way you are." Our society programs us to always, always view weight loss as a positive thing.

By the time people were starting to express their concerns, it was way too late. I was several pounds underweight and completely gone. But my issues didn't begin and end with food. In fact, exercise had much more of a hold over me than anything else.

I worked out seven days per week. I was in the gym every morning by 4:30 a.m., doing endless, soul-crushing cardio that was akin to crack for me. I also lifted weights, convinced any of it was healthy. I would stay for a minimum of three hours. I couldn't leave earlier than 7:30, but I could leave later (a fun little rule created by my OCD). If work ever scheduled me at this time, I would be in pieces. Sometimes I would just call out or say that I had school so I could go to the gym instead.

On top of the morning workouts, I forced myself (force, because I never had the energy. I never wanted to do any of this. I just believed I had to, and nothing could change my mind) to do yoga throughout the day, about 2-3 times. I also went on hour-long walks at least once a day, but sometimes as much as four or five. The icing on the cake was that I was also taking in very little calories.

I didn't realize at the time, but this was a sadistic amount of exercise. I lied to everyone around me, acting like I worked out much less than I did because I was scared to be found out. When I first started recovering and seeing my therapist, she asked how often I worked out and was completely stunned by my answer. The sad part is, I only told her about half of what I actually did.

As damaging as exercise can be while you're also starving yourself, it's even worse when you're already starting to recover.

My therapist was the first person to point out to me that I was fully addicted to exercise, and that my exercise addiction was much stronger than my eating problems. In the beginning, I still refused to see it. I thought if I just ate enough, I could continue working out as much as I did.

I kept working out as long as usual and lying to my therapist, telling her I had cut it down. She continued to strongly suggest that I should stop exercising completely. In recovery, you shouldn't work out until you are weight restored. Even then, you should keep it very light.

I couldn't see it at the time, but in recovery your body is going through more than it ever has. Your hormones are coming back into balance, your metabolism is waking back up, your heart is regaining strength, your stomach lining is healing itself and your body is slowly learning to trust you again. All of this adds up to leave you feeling exhausted when you haven't even gotten out of bed yet. Recovery drains you entirely and refuels you as a brand new person - you do NOT need exercise on top of this debilitating transformation.

I still refused to see it, and this harmed my recovery. Although I was taking in over 2000 calories per day, I was still exercising profusely. I was trying my best to cut it down, but the depression that overcame me when I cut too much was staggering. I couldn't convince myself to stop entirely.

This affected my body in extreme and terrifying ways. After working out, even after an hour and a half (I was successfully able to cut it down to this after a few months of convincing myself I had to stop), I felt close to death. My heart would be racing and weird sensations would shoot all over my body, sort of how I felt the night I had to go to urgent care before recovery. I knew deep down it was because I had to stop exercising, but I couldn't make myself do it.

On top of this, my extreme hunger lasted much longer than it seemed to last for other recoverers. I was still eating close to 3000 calories when I was almost a year into recovery and I couldn't understand it. I was eating just as much as "fitness girls" on Instagram claimed to eat, lifting weights and trying to minimize cardio, but I wasn't gaining any muscle. I was just gaining fat. A realization smacked me in the face when I got my body analyzed at a nutrition shop and they told me I had less muscle than the normal person. Of course, they didn't know anything about my anorexia or where I was coming from. But I realized I wasn't building strength yet because my body wasn't ready for that. It was still healing, and I had been 86 pounds just a few months prior. It was crazy of me to think that I'd go from skin and bones to muscular and fit with no in between. It's physically impossible, guys.

Of course, part of me recognized the truth to what my therapist had told me: when you continue to exercise in recovery, even if it's just an hour per day, your body remains in shock because you are still stripping calories away from it. You need as many calories as you can possibly get, especially in the beginning. This means no exercise until your body begins to feel stable again. But the addict in me refused to listen.

With time and a whole lot of effort, I've been able to successfully cut my exercise down to a healthy amount. I work out five days a week for about 45 minutes - one hour. Sometimes work gets busy and I only make it to the gym three or four days, and that's okay. But it took me a long time to get to this point, and I am aware that I still have a lot of compulsions around exercise that I continue to work on and challenge myself with.

However, this doesn't negate the fact that I continued to harm myself with exercise in recovery. That did a lot of damage, and that needs to be talked about. If you are new in recovery and still exercising, I need you to be braver than I was. I need you to realize that taking a few months away from exercise will not do you any harm. In fact, it is the smartest and strongest thing you can do for your body. Continuing in your rigid discipline and routines does not make you tough. It makes you weak. You're giving into the compulsions that have dictated your life for what seems like forever, but you can break away.

I'm proud of the progress I've made in the gym and how much I've been able to cut down, but the fact is I didn't do recovery the right way at first. I continued to strip my body of what it needed because of my own addiction and I gained nothing from it (except the inevitable and necessary weight). I was trying to control my own recovery by exercising throughout it, but what you need to finally realize when you choose recovery is that you cannot be in control anymore. You have to give up the reigns for the greater good.

I work out five days a week for about 45 minutes - one hour, and that is the least I have worked out in years and years. However, I've never seen better results. I'm stronger, faster, happier, healthier, brighter and fuller of life than I have ever known myself to be. But the progress I've made shouldn't just be about how my body looks or how much I can squat. The progress I've made is in my heart. It's in the life that I almost lost and was able to find again. It has nothing to do with how I look and everything to do with how I feel.

Towards the end of my eating disorder when I was feeling my lowest, I remember wondering what the point of my life was. My entire existence seemed to revolve around exercise and food, but something inside me knew that couldn't be it.

We're put on this earth to LIVE. We are here to leave a fucking mark, whether that be with a beautiful family, a thriving career, a passionate love - we aren't just here to waste away. Life is not a contest of who can be the skinniest, the sickest, the **"healthiest." Life isn't that cut and dry. It's messy, sometimes scary, it's full of anger and sadness and love and joy and beauty and YOU. It's real. Your eating disorder or exercise addiction is a way to escape that reality.

Fuck your eating disorder. Fuck your exercise addiction. Embrace the fact that you are a unique, talented, wonderful individual and without you, our world wouldn't be the same at all. Your ED is trying to take you away from us, but we don't want you to go.

Recovery is supposed to be about treating yourself with kindness, so start today. You will not gain any more weight if you stop exercising than if you continue to. The fact is, your body has to recover. It doesn't care how long it takes or how much you try to fight it - it wants to get better. For once, let your body do the talking. It knows you better than you think. Focus on letting go and the rest will come. No one said you had to spend your entire life obsessing over the amount of space you take up. You are supposed to be here, and you are supposed to be healthy. There is enough room here for you, and you belong.

**When I say "healthiest" here, I do not mean actual health  I mean it in the sense that many people with eating disorders' views are so warped, they truly believe they are achieving health by starving themselves or over-exercising. It does not seem excessive to them, only necessary. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Anorexia Recovery: Feeling Sexy Again

There is a concept that is whispered about on ED forums and frantically inquired on by people whose weight is lower than their blood pressure number. This concept comes naturally to almost everyone on the planet, something that is as necessary and human as breathing oxygen or going to the DMV. It's something most people don't have to worry or wonder about, something that just is: sexuality.

When it comes to eating disorders, I've read almost everything there is to read on the topic. I follow the stories of other sufferers and empathize with their pain, but something that isn't typically discussed is one's sex drive. Of course, sex is stigmatized in our society and NEVER discussed in a healthy and normal way, but such a stigma does not exist in Engle's Brain! I'm here to talk about every facet of my eating disorder - not just the ones society deems acceptable to discuss. We're not hiding anymore, and time's up on everyone else covering their ears.

I began thinking about sex around the time everyone else did - in middle school/high school, when we were collectively going through puberty and wondering what the hell was going on down there. As I got older and started to have it, I never thought much about my sex drive. I'm a living organism and living organisms, for the most part, have sex.

Once I became anorexic, I stopped thinking about sex entirely. It didn't sound appealing and nothing ever turned me on. I had completely lost my drive. The skinnier I got, the worse it was. Nothing about sex sounded good - what was the point, other than to get pregnant? It just sounded like a lot of unnecessary exerted energy, and I didn't have much of that to give. Sweating? I did enough of that every morning during my three-hour (sometimes longer) gym excursions. Pleasure? Impossible. I couldn't even remember what it felt like.

It doesn't sound like such a big deal for a young woman not to have sex - maybe I just wasn't in that place in my life. Maybe I was being extra safe when it came to accidental pregnancy. Maybe I just hadn't met anyone special. But the thing is, none of those things would have mattered because I didn't even have the function to begin with. The skinnier I got, the weaker I got, the more my libido disappeared. Eventually, my vagina was unable to produce any sort of lubrication. I was so tiny, even the idea of being kissed with vigor made me cringe.

There are a few different ways an anorexic can handle this loss of sex drive: he/she can avoid sex at all costs, living an incredibly lonely life without ever experiencing "making love," one of the most important things a human can be lucky enough to find, or he/she can commit themselves to promiscuity, forcing themselves to have sex with anyone and everyone in hopes that they will finally FEEL something. Of course, it will never happen.

This didn't just happen to me - this happens to anorexics all over the world. Not all suffer from a loss of libido, but many do. It's truly something to mourn, something that affects your self-esteem and self-worth in ways you don't realize when you're going through it.

I was rarely hit on when I was skinny, but I liked it that way. I was sexualized a lot in high school, known as a slut simply because I wore short shorts and had a sociable, flirty personality. Just before I began losing weight, I had been slut-shamed so many times for reasons that didn't make sense and wouldn't have been anyone's business even if they were true. I've never understood society's obsession with putting down a woman for being a human.

This was one of the subconscious reasons I starved myself, something I didn't realize until I was recovering and in therapy. I didn't want to be regarded as a sexual being anymore. I was sick of men, sick of women, sick of everyone who thought they had a say in my life. I wanted to be a sexually-void stick.

I succeeded. When men looked at me, it wasn't to check me out. It was because my body scared them, and I loved it. I reveled in it. The few men who did ask me out anyway, I hated even more. What was mentally wrong with them that they were attracted to someone who looked 12 years old? How could they possibly see my skin and bones as something to be desired?

As much as I pushed it away, when I drew closer to recovery I realized sex was something I could never avoid. It was supposed to be a huge part of my life, as it should be for everyone. It's healthy, beautiful and a way to feel deeply connected to another person in a way you don't feel with just anyone. It's how we create mini versions of ourselves, and while that was something I convinced my anorexic self I never wanted, the fact is that nine-year-old Taylor used to dream about future baby names with her friends, and that little girl wasn't the illusion. My eating disorder was.

I wasn't getting my period and I didn't feel like a real woman, which is how I've always identified. The loss of both my menstrual cycle and my libido was a huge loss of my person. How we love is a major part of what makes us who we are, and to lose that is to lose part of your soul.

The first time I kissed someone again after I recovered, I felt my entire existence spur to life. It was life and it was love and it was real, and I couldn't believe I had gone so long without it. Tears ran down my cheeks. I cried so many times when recovering: I cried when my hair started growing again, when I got my period; I cried when I wanted to relapse, when I had to eat and just didn't want to anymore. But no tears felt as pure and surreal as the tears I cried when I connected with another human for the first time in years - the sort of connection that is never spoken, only felt.

I recovered for so many reasons, and this was one of them. I recovered because I knew that one day, I would thank myself for fighting for my own life back. When you're in the midst of it, you are completely unaware of all that your eating disorder has ripped from your hands. It takes time to process the magnitude of pain you have projected onto yourself, but as soon as you realize it, you cry tears of joy and relief for the amount of bullets you dodged just by recovering when you did. It is never to early to recover and it's never too late - it's just simply Your Time.

Once I started to get better, my period came back with a vengeance and so did my sex drive. I felt like a crazy horny teenager all over again, which was kind of ludicrous to experience at age 22, but I didn't care. I welcomed it with open arms. My biggest worry had been that it would be gone forever, but here was physical proof that it was possible to find myself again. No matter how far gone you think you are, you can and will always find your way back.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Remembering Who I Was

(Photo taken May 29, 2017 - almost 3 months into recovery)

To recover from anorexia, you typically have to gain weight. In extreme cases, you're emaciated and it's clear to anyone who looks at you that you're ill. To be healthy again, you have to fix that.

But no one ever talks about how in order to gain weight, your entire world has to turn on its head for months - maybe even years.

Gaining weight is a side effect of recovery. The real change happens in your brain. When you starve yourself, it doesn't just cause you to lose weight and be skinny. It changes your entire personality. While in starvation mode, your body begins to break down neurons in your brain for energy and releases large amounts of adrenaline to give you the boost that food is supposed to provide. This sounds terrible and makes you wonder who would do this to themselves, but the feeling that occurs is unmatchable.

With the excess of adrenaline and shift in your brain chemistry, you begin to feel perfect. You're thinking feels sharper, harder. Everything you conceive has glass edges to it. You become braver, moving through life like someone who will never die. 

Pretty soon, you begin to carve out little fragments of life you deem "safe" and only play within those realms, feeling on top of the world because you've absolutely mastered things like restricting, knowing the calorie amount in any food without having to read the label, exercising hours beyond the normal person and getting straight A's in school. You no longer know how to talk to anyone and you can't remember the last time you smiled a real smile, but you've figured out the perfect amount of almond butter to eat to make you think you're full, and that's enough.

Just before I started recovering, I was numb to emotion. The change in my brain chemistry had left me so removed from the human experience that nothing solicited anything from me: smiles, tears, laughter, joy - it was all fiction. 

As soon as I began eating again, my body sprang into action unlike anything I've ever heard of from other recovered anorexics. It only took me a little over a month to get my period back, which was insane to me. I'd read so much about women who didn't get their period back until they were months (or even years) into recovery and I was both grateful and mortified to be moving along so quickly. 

I still remember when it first came back. It was a complete time warp back to that Sunday morning in 2007 when I woke up to pee and practically shrieked when the toilet bowl water was infused with an abrasive red instead of pale yellow (delighting in all of the discomfort this paragraph will bring to some men). This time, I was 23. 

I sat in the bathroom for a while, crying. Never in my life did I think I would be so ecstatic to get my period, but I knew what it signified. It meant my eating disorder had finally begun to lose.

Although many facets of my recovery brought me these kind of intimate, beautiful moments alone with my body, it also brought on months and months of mood swings, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, insecurity and low self-esteem. I want to be open about these topics for none other than YOU, my darling little warrior who has been contemplating recovery for a while but hasn't made the plunge yet. The warrior and warriors I'm writing for all over the world. I'm here for you, because I want you to know this isn't easy. This isn't going to take a few days. This is going to take months, maybe years of backbreaking, life-changing work, but you deserve it and you can absolutely handle it.

I chose the photo above because this was me at the prime of my insecurities. I was beginning to get a butt again, my hair is thicker and the natural glow has returned to my face, but my stomach was incredibly bloated at this point and would be for months and months to come. I was constantly exhausted. I would eat and eat and eat and then have to lay down because I was so dizzy or my heart was racing so fast. I wasn't doing anything incorrectly - my body was just struggling to adjust to this version of myself that eats and it didn't know what to do.

At the same time as my recovery, I was forced to go through a few other massive life changes. Just as I decided to get better, I was also finishing up my senior year of college and graduating. Simultaneously, my parents were moving to Idaho to retire. They told me I could come, but I had just earned my Bachelor's degree and had no desire to start my career from Idaho. The dreams I had been chasing since I was nine were in New York.

But I knew it wouldn't be plausible to move to New York in the throes of my recovery. I didn't want to make that leap until my body and mind were completely ready. I also had ties keeping me in California, so I stayed to recover. I had to move into an apartment with three girls I had never met, find a full time job that would pay the bills and figure out how to be an adult. All completely on my own (including lugging all of my crap to my new apartment), and all while I was recovering from anorexia nervosa. It was so unbelievably hard, but I did it.

All of the physical changes I dealt with were very difficult and at times felt almost lethal. However, what was going on in my mind was even weirder. Even when I had only gained a few pounds, I was convinced I was massively overweight. This goes beyond the skinny girl looking in the mirror and seeing an obese person. That version of anorexia and eating disorders in general is what we see in society, and it's dangerous. It's not just a bunch of rich white girls going, "Oh, I feel so fat." It's a genuine belief that you are. It's not just looking in the mirror and seeing yourself as bigger than you actually are - it's walking around throughout the day and living your life feeling like you are too overweight to function healthily. 

There was a point where I went into my therapist's office in hysterics because I thought I had gained so much weight that it was affecting my health. I thought I was at risk for high cholesterol or blood pressure - I literally felt like I didn't know how to move my body when I was walking because I was so unused to the extra fat. It felt wrong, like it shouldn't be there. I couldn't have been more than 115 pounds when I believed this.

I didn't want anyone to look at me. I began to talk less and less and avoid eye contact with people because I was so ashamed of my body. I was always on edge, waiting for someone to tell me I'd gained weight or to ask if I was pregnant (which I did get asked, many many times). I knew I was doing the right thing, but I started to question if it was worth it to be this miserable and unhappy with myself.

My brain started to feel foggy, as if I were on antidepressants at all times. This made me feel both fat and stupid, and my sharp wit and attention-to-detail I had when I was anorexic were gone. Now I'm aware that this was my brain growing back to its normal size, but I felt like a complete idiot. I felt like I'd never make it in life unless I relapsed.

And there it was, relapse. It sounded so delicious. How easy it would be to less. Little by little. How great it would feel to be who I was again, to have my false sense of confidence and my shrunken deformed brain back in action. I knew I couldn't do it, but for comfort I promised myself that when I was old and about to die anyway, I'd let myself relapse for one last glorious burning ride. Until then, I'd just have to be fat and stupid.

Every time someone didn't talk to me for a while or even just looked at me for a little too long, I figured it was because they thought I was a disgusting fat slob. I figured everyone was pretending to be proud of me because they didn't want me to be so sick again, but I also figured they thought I looked way better when I was skinny and wished I was just able to be that way naturally. And I wished that too.

As my weight crept into the "overshoot" stage, I was completely miserable. I had given up trying to fight it - no matter what I tried to do to slow it down, the weight kept coming. I remember this one morning where I woke up and my very first thought of the day was: I want to die. I lay there staring at the ceiling, the tears running down my cheeks acting as the only clue there might be emotion within me. I felt it so deeply, and I had never felt that way before in my life. My parents were 1250 miles away, my roommate (who I considered a sister) and I were fighting almost every single day, none of my clothes fit and I was barely making enough money to pay rent, let alone buy myself anything new. 

This perhaps stung the most. I've always been very into fashion, but during this time I was forced to wear the same clothes almost every single week because my options were so limited. I had grown out of all of my pants and shorts. My underwear were all too tight and gave me muffin tops and I literally had one bra. One. Fortunately, I was still able to squeeze myself into some of the skirts and blouses that fit me when I was anorexic, but that was all I had. About five really tight and embarrassing outfits. I felt like my recovery was on display, and I felt very alone. Death sounded so sweet and peaceful. It sounded like the only way to quiet down my mind. I felt so overwhelmed. I envied the girls I had seen who had the privilege of recovering in a hospital or at home with their parents. They didn't have to work and support themselves while also trying to learn how to be human again. Everything seemed too hard and I wanted to stop trying.

I got back up and kept going. I told my therapist about my thoughts and we worked through them. I kept eating, because I knew deep down I wanted to live. Something kept dragging me forward, something that told me I could do this. 

For my birthday, when I was just past a year in recovery but still bloated and overshot in my weight, I booked a trip to New York with my best friend. Yet another thing plaguing me was the sense of failure I got when I thought about New York and how I had originally planned to move there after graduation. Every time I go to New York, things become crystal clear. Life makes more sense to me. I figured if I could just treat myself to a few days of my paradise, maybe I could sort out what was going on with me.

A day before our flight, I received an email from a fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar. She had my resume on file from my previous internship there and wanted me to come in for an interview for an assistant position in two days. I considered this to be fate. What were the odds that someone from a fashion magazine in New York, my dream job, would ask me in for an interview during the ONE week out of the entire year I happened to be flying out there? I said yes.

As soon as I set foot in the City, the extreme hunger that had been harassing me for over a year finally curbed. Was this an eery coincidence, or was seeing the City again and realizing my full potential the final step I needed to recover? 

I got the job, and my life threw yet another seemingly impossible challenge at me: I had one week to find someone to replace me at my apartment, sell my car, book a one-way ticket and find a new apartment in New York within my budget. I did it, and I've been living in Brooklyn ever since.

My eating disorder seemed to melt away. My brain returned to its normal size and is finally the brain I remember. I'm fully TAYLOR ENGLE, for the first time in years. Between anorexic Taylor and recovery Taylor, I had forgotten about all of the little quirks and isms that make me who I am, and I am so happy to meet myself again. I am not scared of food anymore and I eat when I'm hungry. My appetite has normalized. I finally remember what it's like to not eat too little or too much - I am just enough.

Recovery is beauty. I've never experienced something so miraculous in my life. I've had so many young women in my Instagram DMs telling me they just want to be who they were before their eating disorder, when they were an innocent little girl who didn't think about food and didn't have a care in the world. This hits so close to home, because that's the exact thing I was craving for so many long months. 

Anorexia was a bitch, but I'm grateful for her. I saw myself at my lowest - I saw what a danger I can be to myself if I really set my mind to it. Then I saw myself as a shell of a woman - someone who felt ashamed moving through life taking up too much space. And now I am me.

I am creative and I like to write. I love dancing - I've done it my whole life. I go to parks, I go to clubs. I learn better when things are written down. I'm ambitious and thoughtful and I care so very much about so many people. I am the Taylor that little girl, that little towheaded daughter of Bill and Lori Engle with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds, would be so endlessly proud of. 

You are not just here to waste away. Remember who you are.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

My Dad's Coat

(Photo taken October 31, 2016 - 6 months before my recovery)

The funny thing is, I thought things were going well. I was proud of myself.

I was eating less and less every day and the numbers on the scale were reflecting that. Every single morning brought a new number, each slightly smaller than the last. It was delicious, enticing, staggeringly addictive. 

While my body grew smaller and my bones and edges grew sharper and protruded more and more, my lies continued to stack up. Oh, I just ate a huge lunch. Yes, I have a very fast metabolism. I'm just kind of a picky eater. I'm a vegan. No thank you, I just had a huge dinner. Yeah, I just do a lot of yoga. I've always looked like this, I'm just a small person. 

Of course the people who knew me and had known me since childhood had to know I was lying, but they held their breaths. And when they didn't, I cut them out. Glared at them. Admonished them for daring to talk about my body - it's my life, not yours. I thought I was unstoppable. I figured basic biology didn't apply to me - I was special.

Food was the only thing I ever thought about. I would lie in bed every night on Instagram, losing track of time looking at pictures of giant plates of food. But I never cheated and I never binged. I cut out as much as I could possibly stand, writing myself off as simply orthorexic, which is an eating disorder with less lethal effects. Orthorexics don't necessarily not take in enough calories, but they have many compulsions around food and eating, such as obsessively checking ingredients and calorie counts, eliminating large groups of food from your diet, showing high levels of stress when "safe" foods aren't present and possible body dysmorphia. I knew having orthorexia wasn't great, but it didn't sound as scary as anorexia and I was still refusing to admit the extent of my issue.

Towards the end of my three years of ruthless starvation and overexercise (I worked out at least four hours a day. Not getting this in on any given day would bring forth such an epic panic or anxiety attack that I could barely function for days on end. Skipping a day was never an option. It never happened for three years, even when I was sick with a cold or worse.), I began to admit to myself that my problem ran a little deeper: I had full blown anorexia, I was very much in the danger zone, and I also had crippling exercise addiction that was taking over my entire life.

I slowly began to follow other peoples' recovery Instagrams, which is what has inspired me to start my own. I followed these women who were already well into recovery, women who had left their EDs in the past but were always mindful of their powers. I also followed women who were just beginning to stumble into recovery with their yogurt bowls and granola, attempting to mend their starved souls.

Following these people wasn't enough to get me to begin my own journey, but it was enough to open my eyes to the fact that I could always save myself one day if I wanted to. I didn't yet, but maybe there was hope. 

In February of 2018, I began to feel the worst I'd ever felt before in my life - in fact, it was starting to scare me. I'd dealt with "normal" ED things for the past few years: a missing period, hair loss, exhaustion, delirium and hallucinations and sudden bursts of adrenaline to substitute for the famine (which is the scariest part, because these were the three feelings I was most addicted to), heightened senses, bags under my eyes, and a scary change in thought process. Dark, mean thoughts about myself and about life. However, this was different.

I started to feel myself unravel. I could feel myself coming closer to admitting I had a problem, but the voice in my head didn't want this to happen. Below is an excerpt from something I wrote February 12, 2017 (one month before I began recovery):

Something’s changed within me. This sounds dramatic, drastic, hysterical maybe, but it’s true.  It’s not an exaggeration.  It could be the lack of food, the increase in sleep, the isolated nature and obsession with burying my nose in a book as often as I possibly can, but something has snapped.  I’ve been fostering a general apathy towards life for as long as I can remember, but this is beyond my control.  I’ve gone unhinged.  I’m not sure if I love it or if I’m terrified of it.

Soon, my health really began to deteriorate. All I had energy for was the gym. Otherwise, I slept or read. I stayed away from people. I was on the brink of making a change, but I didn't feel capable of following through. I still wanted so badly to keep being sick. What most people don't realize is, we're comfortable in our illnesses. To get better is so foreign and terrifying, it feels like a setup for failure.

On March 4 2017, things were getting really disconcerting. My heart had begun to palpitate, beating really slowly and then so quick I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. This was happening for a few days and I was paralyzed with fear. I was well-versed enough with what I was doing to myself to know that this is common for anorexics - to have heart issues. I also knew it meant I was at risk for a heart attack or worse.

One night things were so bad that I began to eat. I made myself a large pot of lentils and I ate. I ate about three huge helpings, which was about four times what I usually did, and when I was finished I was still hungry. This terrified me and I did not feed it. I let the hunger sit in my belly like an unwelcome stranger, waiting for it to come to its senses and leave. I didn't realize then that it was my soul, the real Taylor, simply starving for a second chance.

I put my hand to my chest, feeling my heart thump with record trepidation. That was it. I went into the living room where my parents were sitting and told them I needed to go to Urgent Care. My heart didn't feel normal, and I thought it needed to be checked out.

My dad wrapped me in his coat, exchanging a glance with me. He knew I'd be cold - I was always cold. We rushed over to Urgent Care and signed me in, sitting in the waiting room in complete silence. I could feel them holding their breaths, wondering what was about to happen.

The nurse called me in and took my information down. Five foot four, 21 years old, 86 pounds. Last period: three years ago.

The nurse looked at the scale and wrote down my weight. The nurse asked me a question and wrote down the details of my menstrual cycle. She didn't even flinch. She didn't even think twice about the fact that no woman's weight should ever be in the double digits.

I was ushered into the next room to wait for the doctor, who came in shortly after. I anxiously anticipated the look on his face when he saw me. I expected to see the word "anorexic" immediately light up in his brain. Instead he made small talk with me. He asked me about school and scanned my heart rate and pulse.

About ten minutes later, I was ushered back into the waiting room. Everything was fine, he had said. I was probably just experiencing stress from being in college. Just take some deep breaths and make sure to get enough rest.* This could have given me an easy out to keep starving myself. I could have repeated the doctor's words to anyone who asked, smug with my seal of medical approval. But strangely enough, I knew he was wrong and I was willing to admit it.

Over these short few days, I had a lot of thinking to do. At this point I had completely lost my passion for life. It felt like it would absolutely never get better - like nothing I did would make me happy. I desired so badly to die. But my palpitating heart made this sentiment too real, close enough to touch. All I had to do was let go and keep going in the direction I was going. Until I realized I didn't want to.

I thought the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world was to be so skinny that I took everyone's breath away, but I was wrong. There was something I wanted even more than that, and that was to live again. To take back my life and grip it with vigor and to absolutely not let it go without a fight.

I went to my mom, the one person who had always tried to bring up my weight, the one person who tossed and turned at night over the fact that I clearly had a problem and no one would admit it, and I confessed. I told her I thought she was right, that I was anorexic, and that I wanted to get better. I was terrified she'd get angry with me for waiting for so long and for living with so many lies, but she embraced me. We both shuddered with relief, her because I had finally seen the light and me because I had finally let someone in.

I began recovering on my own. I have always been a very stubborn person, and I knew going inpatient wasn't going to help. I've never responded well to being told what to do. I was aware there were risks that came along with recovering on your own, starting with accountability, but I have a very strong will. Something deep inside of me told me that I was going to handle this, and that I was going to do it right. I trusted that, because I recognized it as a voice inside of me that I hadn't let speak in a very long time.

Of course, I wasn't completely on my own. I had the support of my family, who helped me find and begin seeing an eating disorder therapist. My sessions with Cristine helped keep me on track and showed me that you can be healthy and exercise without hurting yourself. She showed me that self-care is the most important thing and should never be thrown to the wayside. I also had an incredible community of people supporting me, who I met on a recovery forum online and one of whom remains one of my best friends to this day, although sadly we haven't met yet. They got me through my toughest times and they listened to the mania, the things I was going through that no one else would be able to relate to.

On top of that, I decided to go public about my recovery as a form of accountability. I figured if everyone in my life knew, there was no way I could ever relapse. With all of this love and support, I've been able to successfully restore my body to its normal weight and shape and to teach myself how to exercise in a healthy and productive manner.

It wasn't easy, and that's why I made my Instagram account. When I began recovering, I wracked the Internet for information and found there is close to none. I was going through so many weird, uncomfortable and downright scary symptoms for so many months and I had very little explanation or research to comfort myself with, which made me want to relapse many times. Thankfully I never did, but many people do. I plan to continue to discuss all of the trying, ugly, horrible, beautiful, amazing, surreal pieces of my recovery and how I got to the point I'm at now with the hopes that my story will prevent someone from relapsing.

You think your eating disorder is the thick of it, but you're wrong. Recovery is the most difficult thing I've ever had to undergo, and it is not to be underestimated. But it is also the most beautiful thing I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and I want to share it with every warrior I possibly can.

Please stay tuned on my blog and Instagram and share my story with everyone. It is not just the ones who are suffering who need to read this. Everyone needs to pay attention, because we all have a role when it comes to inspiring others and keeping them away from the evil voice that tells them they will never, ever be enough. We all have to find our beauty, and I hope this is someone's shove in the right direction they've needed for too long.

****The night I went to Urgent Care, our medical system failed me. At the time, I didn't understand what had happened. I didn't understand how I could walk into a medical office weighing 86 pounds, flaunting my illness with my emaciation and have no one say anything to me about it. Once I started seeing my therapist and after reading about it in Wasted by Marya Hornbacher, I became aware of the fact that most doctors aren't trained in eating disorders. To me, this is appalling of our medical system. This is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. It is lethal. It robs life from you and dangles it in front of you like a forbidden fruit, and I hope that my story is shared. I hope millions of people know my story so there can be a change. My goal is to implement reform within the medical community. All doctors should be trained in eating disorders and how to diagnose them. This needs to be a requirement for a doctor to become licensed. It is information that is simple to learn, but can save a life, and I can't wait to start making a difference on this level.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Chronicles of a Fashion Woman: The Fourth of July

It's 9 o'clock on Wednesday, July 4th 2018 in Brooklyn. New York is just getting started.

"Just go, it doesn't matter, just go, it doesn't matter, just go, it doesn't matter." A cop who looks to be in his fifties is leaning almost casually against one of the subway entrance turnstiles. The emergency exit door is propped open and he continues to point in its direction as he repeats his mantra, "Just go, it doesn't matter, just go, it doesn't matter, just go, it doesn't matter" and New Yorkers race through the opening with a thrill.

Trains are packed with bodies and humidity, racing through the tunnels towards the East River (where Macy's sets off their legendary fireworks every year). Strangers press up against each other without realizing, excitement dancing back and forth amongst everyone's eyes.

"Stay behind the yellow line," another cop shouts as he paces back and forth across the platform. He's young, not a day over 30, and his cheeks are tinted with anticipation. His body is shaped like a barrel and his cap is a little too small for his head. He clears his throat. "Behind the yellow, please!"

Just as a car is being set on fire in Bushwick, children are playing in the gushing fountains of busted fire hydrants all over the streets of Bed-Stuy. Williamsburg couples creep out of their apartments to enjoy a quiet dinner at the only restaurant open for blocks, hoping to be in bed before the chaos further ensues.

And it does. Cops patrol the streets helplessly, making feeble attempts to enforce the law but knowing full well that it's America's birthday and no one really cares right now. Teenagers stumble through the streets in packs, passing joints and drinking out of brown bags. A group of men dressed impeccably in evening gowns huddle together, trying to figure out their next move. An old couple watches the streets from their fourth-floor apartment window, holding each other and smiling.

The show begins, and suddenly the streets go from chaotic to apocalyptic. Chemicals soar straight into the sky, pausing for a moment and then exploding into color, like a luminescent gun shot. Helicopters circle around the fireworks, which are going off two, three, four at a time and I can't help but wonder what would happen if one of the helicopters got too close.

The air smells like marijuana and gunpowder and quite a few people are power walking towards the river, where they will have a better chance at seeing the show. Drivers take a break from honking and cursing each other out to stick their heads out their windows and look up. However, most people aren't moving at all.

Where I'm from, Fourth of July is for the kids. It's for sparklers and bathing suits and hot dogs and playing games outside. In New York, there are hardly enough kids to go around. Fourth of July looks less like a huge, outdoor daycare and more like a bunch of adults who aren't moving at all, transfixed by the show taking place up above.

A woman dressed in scrubs with her blonde hair cropped close to her ears leans against a fence, watching the fireworks through the chainlink. Her right foot is nestled in between one of the fence's gaps, her weight resting forward. It's hard to tell whether she is deep in thought or thinking of nothing at all. Her eyes do not leave the sky.

Families sit perched on the front steps to apartment buildings, faces pointed straight up. Even the cops patrolling the streets are taking a moment to just...look. It's interesting, the fact that we see fireworks at least once a year every year and still can't get enough of them. A young man with a scruffy hipster beard and (prescription?) glasses to match is leaning against a Toyota, his hands shoved into his pockets. He seems like the type to be impressed by very little, or at least the type to go to great lengths to make it appear that way, but even he mutters "Wow" as green, purple, orange blurs of illuminations light up the sky.

It's like the entire city is holding its breath. All the sounds of war are taking over and it's beginning to feel like anything goes, but no human is making a noise. No human has his/her attention anywhere but up. An entire city of sharks who go through their days without a second thought for anyone else. Financial analysts with better skin products than their girlfriends, construction workers who harass women in their free time, fashion editors with razor sharp edges and a knife consistently sharp enough to stab you in the back. Everyone stops who they are for a second and stares up at the sky like children - with wonder, with hope.

The fireworks stop - at least the Macy's show does. The rest of the neighborhood is still having its own mini event. I make my way through the throng back to the train station, wading past couples and friends and loners alike. I turn the corner, only a few blocks away from the Nassau G station, when I come across a large party taking place in the middle of the street.

I lean against the wall to pack a quick bowl - honestly, the cops couldn't care less right now. They're letting us be honest. Groups of people, people with short hair and long hair and piercings and tattoos and wigs and leotards and ballgowns and thongs are flooded all over the street. A DJ is at a booth too far for me to actually see, playing music too hip for me to recognize. Everyone is swaying; everyone is on a cloud. No one gives me a second glance. I feel indestructible. This city feels indestructible.

I make my way to the center of the crowd, swaying my body to the music and staring at everyone around me. I can't get enough of the looks, the conversations, the dance moves, the energy. A giant disco ball hangs from a tree fifty feet away. I'm not on earth anymore.

The DJ is indecisive - he switches the song before the current one is over, but no one is bothered. We jump and twirl and grind and sashay our way into the night, America stuck on our skin like humidity. I can't remember feeling so indestructible.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Itch

It starts small and then builds like a crescendo.

I wake up, still groggy from the week I've had. I put in 60 hours this week, and while I love being at a fashion magazine more than anything, it's hard work. I'm constantly moving, constantly getting things done. I'm calling clothing samples in from designers to use on our photo shoots. I'm packing the clothes, making sure to keep record of everything that comes in. I'm wrestling with PR managers all day on return dates, getting the correct accessories in, getting a proper ETA so I'm not running to Fendi at 5PM, praying to God I can make it back to the office by 6 so I can send the look to set. 

In my down time, I'm still moving. Maybe there aren't any shoots going on that week and my boss isn't giving me much to do, but I'm still running around the closet picking up stray pieces of tissue paper and bubble wrap. I'm looking, always looking, for ways to make things even closer to perfect.

It's Saturday, and I wake up, still groggy from the week I've had. My body feels too weak with fatigue to think about all of the errands I have to complete, so I go to the kitchen and make myself breakfast instead. I lay back down and watch Netflix, munching on peanut butter toast and spooning yogurt into my mouth while I do my best not to think about a thing. And then I notice it's hot, and my armpits itch a little.

I tell myself not to worry about it - after all, I'm in the middle of breakfast and I'm laying on a bed. It's not like I can't wait until I'm finished to apply deodorant. But the nagging does not acquiesce. The itch grows stronger and stronger until I can't take it anymore; I get up and hurry to the bathroom to grab my stick of coconut Secret. 

In the bathroom, I realize the sink is dirty. This isn't any real surprise to me - it hasn't been draining properly in weeks and our landlord is taking his sweet time in getting someone over here to fix it. But every time I look at it, my entire body feels uncomfortable - like I want to leap out of my own skin.

I rub the deodorant under each arm and put it back under the sink, feeling satisfied. Until I notice things are a little out of order in the cabinets. I sit on the floor and begin pulling everything out so I can rearrange it. Seven minutes later my chest feels a little looser, like I can breathe again. I lean back, satisfied. And then I go back to my room and finish my breakfast, which is now cold.

After I finish my breakfast, I immediately pause my show and take the plate and silverware upstairs. I have to clean it right away, or else I won't be able to watch my show in peace. I bound up the steps, determined to get it done quickly so I can go back downstairs and relax. It's then that I notice the state the kitchen is in.

There are crumbs all over the stovetop, crusted over the burners and peppering the steel wiring. Dirty dishes are strewn about the sink, wet food casually clinging to them. I feel my heart rate start to quicken as I aggressively scrub down my plate and fork with scalding-hot water, soap and a handle sponge. I sigh, sighing because I know this is my day now: cleaning the apartment. I'll start with the kitchen and I won't be able to stop. I'll do all the floors, I'll do the kitchen, I'll get on my hands and knees and work until my entire body aches, because sometimes that's the only way I can fathom getting rid of the anxious voice in my head telling me to GO.

I'm recovering and I think I'm doing a pretty kickass job, but I'm not perfect. What many don't consider is that anorexia rarely stems from the simple need to be "skinny" or "attractive." We know our bodies are repulsive and we know we are killing ourselves. That's the point; that's the fix. 

What I'm trying to say is, I may not starve myself anymore, but the anxiety and OCD still live. On certain days, so does the depression. Recovery is not perfection; recovery is not complete absolution from all things ED. Recovery is being honest and open to the idea of change and self-love. It's a second chance, or a third or a fourth, at real life.

I used to have anorexia, and I still have anxiety and OCD and sometimes I suffer from depression. But what matters is that I'm trying. I'm making an active effort to love myself and treat myself with the respect I know I deserve, and that is something we all must do for ourselves every single day.

I choose to look at my anxiety as an asset. While it possesses the ability to drive me crazy, it also makes me great. It puts my attention-to-detail on another level. It lands me jobs, it gets me good grades. It is what has driven me to post on this blog 193 times! Most importantly, it is what pointed me to recovery in such a dogged, irreversible way that relapse never stood a chance.

Put in the work to contain your insecurities and doubts, but never think that you need to succumb to the idea that whatever is afflicting you is 100% bad. Even the most taxing of mental strains can conjure up a great amount of beauty and strength within you. We write our own stories - don't let anyone tell you differently. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Chronicles of a Fashion Woman: Patience

Working in fashion takes a lot of different efforts you may not have known you were capable of.

You have to be a little conniving. You have to be able to finesse your way into what you want, whether that be a share with Balenciaga so you can shoot Look 2 from their fall/winter collection for your upcoming story or the email of someone at KCD who you think can help you get to your next step. Fashion is constant forward motion; a relentless drive to be better than everyone around you.

You have to be unforgiving. If you need to get something done, you cannot take no for an answer. You allow no excuses, you allow no alternatives, you allow no exceptions. You complete the task, no questions asked.

You have to be a healthy amount of fake. Fashion, like many industries, is all about connections and relationships. Whether you actually want to get drinks with that PR director or not is irrelevant - what is relevant is how well you're deceiving her and whether or not she is going to return the love.

With this said, it's easy to confirm the stereotype: everyone in fashion is fake and out to get you. However, a few little known traits that make you invincible in the industry are patience and respect.

Sounds unfathomable coming from one of the snarkiest bitches you've ever read, right? But when it's 10 o'clock at night and you're still packing up trunks for the photo shoot tomorrow and you have no idea when you'll see your bed next, patience is going to separate you from the assistant who's been complaining since lunch. Luckily, I have the background for this.

I first learned about the importance of patience when I was working at Smart & Final. Being a cashier for five years showed me how much easier life can be if you just stay cool.

Picture being on the register in the middle of rush hour, frantically scanning items in hopes that if you go fast enough, everyone will get out of there that much sooner and you can go home. But the joke is on you, because no matter how fast you go, there's always a customer next in line. 

You're bagging everything yourself because your store is too cheap to hire wiry high school boys to do it. You haven't taken a break in five hours because your backup hasn't come in yet. Your manager has been in a terrible mood all day and somehow, so have most of your customers. You're fighting with a coworker so you have to avoid calling her for anything to salvage your pride. A homeless woman comes in and drops a wine bottle. The registers go offline and debit/credit cards stop working. Carts are full of perishable items that no one is going to buy anymore. Everyone is pissed.

Now picture doing this for five years, anorexic. All of this is going on, and you can't look anyone in the eye at the moment. You can't look anyone in the eye because you can't see straight because you're so hungry. A numbness shoots up your left arm and you're hurriedly quizzing yourself on the symptoms of a heart attack. Tom from Tom's Tailgate is asking you how your weekend was and you're starting to wonder if you might have to ask him to call the paramedics. 

You have 45 minutes left on your shift. Against all odds, you complete it and don't leave the building on a stretcher. 

The moral of this seemingly unconnected story is that your work experience is always relevant to your current job. While I was at Smart & Final, I couldn't wait to get out. I didn't think it had a single application to my real life and certainly not to my fashion career. However, every place you come from teaches you something - it is your duty to pay attention.

"You're nice," a stylist friend told me the other day. "That's what sets you apart from most people in fashion - you're a nice person." Being in customer service for five years taught me to have extreme patience, which will help me for the rest of my life. Patience, after all, is a virtue!

Use your assets wisely.