Share your silence: overcoming an eating disorder and embracing who I am

Overcoming an Eating Disorder and Embracing Who I Am

 Overcoming an Eating Disorder Story

Welcome to Share Your Silence, a new series where we feature stories about mental health from members of The Big Silence community like you. If you have a story to share, we invite you to fill out this form.

Today we’re honored to share Kristen’s story — she bravely opens up about her experiences overcoming an eating disorder, releasing herself from unhealthy relationships, embracing her queer identity, and caring for herself as a “work in progress.” 

My Eating Disorder Story

I am a 33-year-old queer woman who has been through a lot in three decades. I grew up in a nuclear family with a Catholic upbringing, and while my parents were not ultra-conservative, I felt the need to conform to be a good child/daughter/person. For me, that meant conforming to the heteronormative ideal as a girl who liked boys, needing approval from others, being a perfectionist, and ensuring I was always doing “good.”

It was all well and good until my mid-teens when I developed an eating disorder. While I knew something was wrong, I didn’t know how to ask for help. We didn’t talk about big things like this in my family. It wasn’t because they didn’t care; rather, they didn’t talk about their own issues, so I didn’t think they would know how to approach what I was dealing with. It was no fault of their own, but that is what we have been taught for decades — no one talks about it. That is the Big Silence. 

Suffering in Silence

My parents did what they could to help me. I know they felt helpless, and I truly wish there was more support for them when I was enduring my battle. My senior year of high school, I had a pretty bad relapse with my eating disorder. I was incredibly depressed and did not want to get out of bed. Many days, I stayed home from school. I was failing one of my classes, which was so unlike me because I was a perfectionist who never received below a B grade. I honestly thought I was not going to graduate. My closest friends and family knew I was struggling, but so many did not. I always carried myself with a positive outlook and a smile on my face, so I suppose I can understand why it wasn’t apparent that I was struggling. I managed to finish high school and stayed close to home for my first two years of college, knowing it would be the best choice for my well being. 

I slowly made strides toward recovery and eventually moved away to college to finish my degree in Nutrition to become a Registered Dietitian. I wanted to specialize in eating disorders to help others like my dietitian helped me. I didn’t realize at the time of pursuing my degree in nutrition that it would encourage an obsession with eating healthy that was more detrimental to my health than I understood. During my college years, I also entered into a relationship with a man 12 years older than me. At the time, I felt it was a good relationship, but it really stole my college years away from me. 

Finding Joy in My Truth

It wasn’t until I decided to move to Minnesota two years after graduating college to pursue my dietetic internship that I began to discover myself. I finally came into myself and ended my 6 1/2-year relationship when I came out as gay. Now I identify as queer, but it was one of the most freeing moments of my life. I experienced joy for the first time in a very long time. And yet, the fear of experiencing this joy was real because according to my upbringing in the church, I was going to hell for “choosing” this. I knew my parents and friends would be supportive, but it was so very scary to face it head on. 

Love and Loss

I was so eager to explore this part of me that I dove head first into another relationship — one that ended up being very controlling, emotionally abusive, and manipulative. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, even myself. Fortunately, I was able to get out of the relationship after nearly a year of so much pain and being torn apart emotionally. It took a while to heal and to build trust in dating again. 

I did some online dating and ended up with someone who was severely mentally ill and battling alcoholism, but unfortunately could not face it and get the help they needed. After that relationship ended, I found someone who loved me unconditionally and who I shared a deep emotional connection with. Her mom was battling breast cancer and we went through that journey together. Her mom passed sooner than was expected, about eight months into us dating. It took a toll on her and inevitably affected me significantly as well, and we broke up about five months later.

For the past four years, I have been fortunate to experience a loving relationship with a woman I hope will become my wife.* The experiences we have shared together — including healing from trauma and mental health problems we both face — has really brought us closer together.

I have realized through all of these experiences that breaking the silence is essential. It is the vehicle to freedom and connection. Because ultimately I know that in sharing my experience someone else is likely to relate, and then suddenly we are not alone anymore. 

A Work in Progress

Today, I am a director of a program in a nonprofit organization and I barely have room to breathe with the hours of dedicating myself to helping others. The significant amount of stress I endure is a frequent challenge, but I am working to manage it and take it one day at a time. 

To care for myself, I enjoy doing yoga, meditation, and other exercise. I love music, singing, and musical theater. I also really enjoy cooking when I have time — I’ve been trying to learn to make homemade pasta! I have learned through all of my struggle that if I do not bend, I will break. I recently had been working a lot of overtime hours managing some challenges at work and decided I needed to take a couple days off. It was something I really felt like I could not do, but told myself that I really needed it and I was thankful I did. I am still working on letting go of my perfectionism and trying to make room for mistakes and taking time for myself.

I’m a work in progress! I am fortunate to be here and have the support I do. I know the more I talk about it, the better it will be for me and for anyone else who is like me. 

image of a tattoo on an arm - females figure with flowers and nature
Photo provided by Kristen of her tattoo
that honors her healing journey.

What I Want Everyone to Know About Eating Disorders and Mental Health

I did not choose this, and mental illness is not a fad. I also wish it was more common to ask people if they are okay — not just assume based on someone being smiley and positive. 

In addition, one thing that has been really difficult on my journey has been gaining weight, especially after an eating disorder and having troubles with my body. I have had the unfortunate experience of hearing people say that I have “let myself go.” They have no idea how healing this process has been in freeing my body from the constraints I put it under, that ultimately resulted in weight gain and moved me outside of the parameters of what some may call the “ideal body.”

It has taken a hell of a lot to get to where I am today. And there will always be stigmas associated with everything that is not the norm — whether it is being gay, being fat, having mental illness. No one deserves to face these stigmas. But I firmly believe the more we talk about them, the more we can break them down, challenge them, and eliminate them.

My Greatest Learning

I’ve learned that being true to myself ultimately was my freedom. Releasing myself from the binds of unhealthy relationships, allowing myself to love whomever, and finally letting go of the grips of dieting and the control that food had over me has brought me to a place of more joy and happiness than I ever knew.

*Update: congratulations to Kristen who is engaged to be wed!

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, you can reach out to the  National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). You can call or text them at  800-931-2237. You’ll find more mental health resources  here

Related Conversations on Eating Disorders

In "Moving to a New Season: from Hollywood to healing with Alyson Stoner" Alyson is gracious enough to share their mental health journey as she appeared in hundreds of movies, battled an eating disorder, and came out the other side as an empowered and inspiring role model to young girls everywhere.

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Founder Karena Dawn shares her personal story in The Big Silence: A Daughter's Memoir of Mental Illness and Healing, shining a light on the eternal struggle we all share—how to move past the pain and suffering of our personal battles to experience life’s joys.