This past Sunday, October 1st, I attended the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) walk in New York City. I have attended two other NEDA walks in the past, but this year’s walk was very different.
While I am in more solid recovery from my eating disorder and engage in emotional eating, which is less severe than binge eating and is considered overeating without the out-of-control factor, once a month, I am still healing from my 8 year battle with bulimia nervosa.
One way in which I am still recovering is with bettering my self-esteem in terms of body image. I am able to share a photo of my half-naked body on social media with little to no hesitation. Yet, I still experience some anxiety with even showing my face in public. That honestly makes me feel like a bit of a hypocrite at times, but I try to have compassion for myself.
In my experiences, it is so much easier to bare my soul on the internet. While I try to share my story as authentically as possible, I still get to control what people see – to some extent. There can also be a huge disconnect when it comes to social media; while comments and messages appear in real-time, it is still only happening on a screen, whereas maybe the “real life” equivalent would be myself physically standing in a room with thousands of people watching me. The latter still sounds daunting to me, but I am still progressing.
Showing up to the NYC NEDA walk, I worked hard to focus on the friend who came with me, rather than worrying about what the day would be like or if people would judge me for my appearance. The “what if’s” usually take control of my mind, so walking down the block from my car to Foley Square and concentrating on my friend’s words of excitement as we approached, the clear blue sky above us, and the visual of hundreds of people already walking around the park preparing for the walk, made me forget my worries completely. I tend to get stuck in my head quite often, especially in public because I can be so self-conscious, but I wasn’t on Sunday.
Allowing myself to be open emotionally, mentally and physically at the NEDA walk was life-changing. I talked and laughed with my friends with no worries, I ate a snack without looking around to see if anyone was watching me eat, I danced around with friends and took lots of photos, and overall, I was grounded and able to be truly present.
In the past, I have been so self-conscious of people seeing me eat – even strangers. Looking around the room and hesitating before taking a bite of anything has been a habit I’ve struggled with since I was 15. Yet, on Sunday, I simply enjoyed the food because it tasted good and because it was nourishment. While I am better in my recovery in many ways now and do not act on these urges, as I am physically able to nourish myself, my mind still battles with itself time to time on how fast I should eat, and sometimes, even if I should eat.
On Sunday, I combatted those worries and anxieties by taking a deep breath and mindfully eating before immediately jumping right back into conversation with my friends.
Among all of these ‘recovery wins’, which feel brand-new to me in some aspects because I lived so unapologetically and freely in front of hundreds of people this past weekend, I also had countless people recognize me from the work I do on social media. One girl who participated in the NEDA walk as well came up to me thanking me for what I do on social media and telling me I inspired her, and I recognized her right away from a photo she shared in participation of #BoycottTheBefore. Another one of my Instagram followers recognized me and ran up to me crying because she was so excited to meet me. It was so incredible to watch our Instagram accounts come to life.
Meeting so many fellow recovery warriors and being able to interact with them in person without shutting down or feeling worried about how I came across to others was so powerful. I also believe that this event was the perfect place for me to practice being more open, because every single person who attends these events is either there because they have faced similar struggles, or because they are there to support us; so we were all connected in one way or another.
The NYC NEDA walk was so different from any other one NEDA walk I have been to. In public settings, I used to hide myself physically and emotionally so easily.
While it may help us to conceal our emotions in the short term, hiding ourselves is counterproductive; the urge to hide only grows and we are left merely surviving in lives that were made for thriving.
So being able to successfully translate the confidence I have on social media to the real-life situation of the NEDA walk was incredibly freeing for me. While I still may struggle to show up time to time in the future, I now have all these wonderful memories that remind me that recovery is possible and that I am capable of healing.