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Coming out with an eating disorder

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I'm gay, and I'm loud and proud. But it wasn't so long ago that I was hiding my truth from the world. The longer I held onto this secret, the heavier it seemed.

When you hide something as central to your identity as your gender or sexuality it can seem as though there is a vast chasm between you and the rest of the world, and it is a lonely and isolating existence.

I remember hearing an anecdote about the burdens we carry. It goes something like this.

How heavy is a glass of water?

Trick question, the absolute value doesn't matter, but rather the length of time one holds it. Hold it for a minute, it's not a problem. Hold it for an hour, one's arm will ache. Hold it for a day, one's arm will be numb and paralysed. The weight of the glass has not changed, and yet the longer one holds it the heavier it becomes.

Glass half full

It is no secret that LGBTQ+ individuals are at a higher risk of mental illness. Sometimes they are carrying around their secret for decades; some never put it down. I am relieved that I am no longer carrying my glass, so now I can rest easy. To continue the metaphor, when you've carried a glass so long, your muscles seize up and it can be hard to put it down. It seems as though it might be easier to just hold on.

This is definitely something I experienced when contemplating whether or not I should come out. I had been carrying around my glass for at least a decade, but only really became aware of it within the last few years when it really started to impact my mental health. I don't think I truly realised how stifling my glass was until I finally let it rest. 

Carrying the glass

Over the years I developed my own coping mechanisms to counteract the weight of the glass. I self-harmed in hopes that the pain would distract me from the weight of the glass – it didn't. I purged myself of food, in hopes that the glass would empty with the contents of my stomach – it didn't. I restricted my eating in hopes that if I shrunk myself it would make the glass lighter – it didn't. It seemed that I was destined to carry this glass for the rest of my life.

I put my glass down in July 2017. I didn't notice the relief at first. I didn't feel particularly empowered, nor particularly relieved. In some ways I was still just as burdened as before. However, as I stretched my muscles I discovered a lightness I didn't know was possible. Now, I can pick up the glass of water when I need to, but I am able to put it down with ease. Maybe one day, the world will be a place where no one will carry their glasses of water. 

Putting down the glass

The fact is, nothing I could do would change the glass. There was no exercise that would make me stronger, nor a diet that would make the glass lighter. The only way to let go of the burden, is to let go of the glass and trust that you can pick up the pieces.

For me, coming out was a huge step towards recovery. I hadn't realised it, but the fear of coming out was keeping me trapped by anorexia. Letting go of the fear has let me take the reins, choose my own adventure and be unapologetically me. 

Holly is a participant in Young Faces of Mental Illness, a collaboration with SANE and batyr supporting young adults to share their stories. The project is supported by the Future Generation Global Investment Company.

You can see the rest of our content for young adults here.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

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