Feeling like a fraud

And just why might I be feeling like a fraud?

Because I'm recovering.

Being at a healthy weight, eating fairly normal, not exercising too crazily- it makes me feel that I couldn't have ever been sick. That the eating disorder was all in my head. Because if I really was sick, then why am I okay now? Perhaps I have seen too many friends do well, only to relapse spectacularly. So if I'm doing well and not on my way to relapse, then how could I have been sick?

Writing this out, I realize it's a bit on the illogical side. But I still feel that being capable of getting better must have meant I wasn't really sick in the first place.

Part of the problem, too, is that being sick would give a very nice explanation for the continued crazies in my head. I could count my ribs and count the reasons that I was anxious and sad and confused and flailing.

But I look fine on the outside. No one would ever guess how hard the "normal" act is for me. Or that my silences when it comes to relationships or those fun times in college or the benefits of Brussels Sprouts are actually quite deliberate. Yet I don't feel entitled to these difficulties because...duh...I wasn't really ever sick.

I am left feeling in limbo, not quite sure if I was sick, but not quite sure that I'm all well, either. I just want things to start making sense, and they won't.

Yet in another sense, I don't doubt the eating disorder happened. I know I was in the hospital several times, I know my life was hell. I get that. But it also feels surreal. That I wasn't really there, I'm being a Drama Queen, people just got a little over-excited about how little I was eating. That's all. I wasn't really sick. Or I wasn't that sick.

So, my head tells me, pull your shit together and stop feeling so miserable and dopey and just get on with things.

I can't figure out how to do that. I don't know how to deal with life, really. I'm not good at social stuff- I feel awkward and geeky and uncertain. And I don't like spending money because it makes me feel guilty.

It almost seems that people coached me onto recovery, and they were great at it. Loud and cheering and supportive. And then I get to the finish line- my weight is restored and I can really start recovery. So I look around and ask, "Well, now what?" No one has any answers. It's like that country song "I can't believe I shaved my legs for this." I'm having the same feeling. All of that hard work to get to a life...that I have no clue what to do with or how to manage.

I'm not having urges to just run back to the eating disorder. I'm not- at least no more than usual. I'm not phenomenally depressed or anything. And all I can do is sit here and ask, "So now what?"

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Laura Collins said...

I wonder if anyone really knows "what next?"

I think most people COULD stop and ask that question but we are just so used to muddling through and operating on inertia. Maybe you are asking the question because having woken up from QUITE a ride it occurs to you to do so. The rest of us forget to ask.

Maybe we need a yearly reckoning day: Who AM I and What am I doing Day. But people might abruptly leave their jobs or homes and wander off in epiphanies of various sorts. The economy is in enough of a mess.

I know we could all give you platitudes and reassurances (it is worth it, life is grand, we've met you and we simply LIKE you...) but there is a certain existential angst to being self-aware. You've earned the right to that angst, to curiosity, to being an object at rest that is being moved forward. And, as you'd say to a stranger if not yourself: you don't have to have been horribly ill or a little ill or ill at all to deserve it all.

Wild ride, life. Better as a human than a monera, I say.

Anonymous said...


Word for word, this is my mindset as of late. Indeed, "So now what?" I really wish I had an answer...

Ai Lu said...

Instead of wondering how you could have ever been sick, it would be interesting if you view your current incredulity towards your eating disorder as evidence of how resilient you are. In simpler terms: the more difficult it becomes to identify with your "sick" self, the further you are along the process of recovery. That’s something!
I am reminded of a Spanish word, extra├▒amiento, that doesn’t have a clear equivalent in English, but roughly means “a feeling of strangeness or alienation.” It sounds like you are feeling alienated from your eating disorder! This is a good thing, dear. That’s not something that you really want to be close to, do you? But it is troubling, after all of this time, to realize that not everything else in your life has fallen into place; that recovery from an eating disorder is not enough to make for a full life.
I liked your advice, on my posting, to find replacements for the eating disorder. It sounds like you have done such a good job at creating a new life that you can look at the old one as if it didn’t belong to you. But I think that this is a common experience, even for people without eating disorders, to feel as if parts of their lives were completely separate than other parts. I feel like I am one person in English, another in Spanish, and another in Portuguese; I was one person before my eating disorder, another one during it, and a different one altogether after it. But somewhere, inside me, I am all of these people. Reconciling these diverse identities has become easier over time, if that is any encouragement to you: you were a person with an eating disorder, and now you are a person in recovery from an eating disorder. You are one and the same, all of these diverse identities, and yet something greater than them.
And as for social abilities– you are incredibly compassionate, and that goes a long way in my book. I’ll look you up the next time I am in DC – or come see me in New York!
Love and peace,
Ai Lu

Laur said...

I used to talk to you on SF, and do snail mail, and I bought and loved your book, and passed it on to a friend.
I'm glad I found this blog!

Lisa said...

In treatment I referred to my illness as "anorexia lite" no pun intended. I felt like there were benchmarks to being a "legitimate" anorexic. I hadn't ever been to the hospital; I never dipped below 99 pounds: how sick could I be?

Now that I'm recovering and seeing my body change, it's like I've lost all proof that I was ever sick. I'm dreading the day that I tell someone about it and they say, "Really? YOU had anorexia?"

I'm not sure if I have any real advice, except that your personal entries are so positive and strong that I think you've got the gumption to sort it all out.

And hey, my bf lives in D.C., so perhaps someday we may run into each other and be socially awkward together.

Swiss Miss said...

"what next?" that's what it is all about really isn't it. There isn't really anything "next" so to speak, there is just the reality of daily life and the moments amongst that of pure joy. Life goes along on its steady keel and every now and again there are moments of intense feeling and those are the precious times to grasp hold of - the rest you could happily throw away but is in fact just..the reality of daily life. I firmly believe anorexics tend to be hyper-aware people, hyper sensitive, hyper demanding of life, wanting more, needing more , nothing is ever enough in terms of daily stimuli, food, experience, joy, money, love, etc, everything seems to need to be fairly OTT and extreme - certainly is for me anyway. Infact, daily life with children to care for and a family to manage is nothing special and the normality of that is so, so hard to face.I have a mantra I repeat again and again when faced with the choices of backing out of recovery, bingeing, screaming out of lethargy and boredom, it is to just manage through the particular moment in the day when it is ..like..what next... I say to myself - it's OK, time will pass, it passes all in good time. I know this now and accept life has these pockets of complete mundaness and nothing can fill it - I accept it is an empty time and will pass eventually and just around the corner something interesting/sustaining will happen that will be worth waiting for.

Sorry, hope not to negative for Friday morning - not meant to be, just the reality check that is what recovery or recovering means.

As someone in recovery right now, it is a time when all of lifes minute trivia seem huge in my face but are tackled not with food restriciton or bingeing but with managing though the "now what" "what next" moments which are always there - this edge of total hnumbness that comes with the reality of life and yes, it is damn hard to face sometimes. Laura is right - being self-aware can be a bit of a pain at times.

saa said...

Wow. Thank you for posting this. I don't know anyone else in recovery and I didn't know that other people actually felt like this, too. For me, saying "I was never even really sick" translates into "its okay to continue/go back to this behavior"..which sucks. Also, I compare the numbers.. she was hospitalized at xx lbs but i never got lower than xx lbs...And that is just the WRONG way to look at it in so many ways. For one thing, everyone's body is so different but..you really can't measure pain, right? Its fruitless to compare. Anway, once again, thank you for posting this, I've just started reading recovery blogs and i find this very helpful.

A:) said...

I can relate to this. . .

It led to this current relapse -- I felt I had to prove I had an ED -- and still I feel ashamed when I see inpatients that my BMI is not 12 or 13 -- that it was only merely 14.5

It is amazing how the ED can play tricks on us. I have had a phenomenal time accepting that I even had an ED that was not subclinical -- but now I guess with osteporosis and all that it is proof that I have done some damage to my body. . .

I think this is just a head game that we play with ourselves. what helped me is that no matter IF i had an ED or not -- no matter what you call it -- life still sucked there and sucks now -- I want recovery, whatever I am recovering from. . .

Sending you hope and hugs

Ai Lu said...

Beautiful new site design, Carrie!

Ai Lu said...

Beautiful new site design, Carrie!

Anonymous said...

I'm diggin' the new design, too. Nice work. :)

Anonymous said...

Like the new look!

marcella said...

Love the new look. Sorry you're struggling with "what next" but I guess we all are to a certain extent. Keep thinking, keep wondering, keep recovering.

Lisa said...

The new design is pretty and intriguing all at once.

Anon mom said...

I think ambiguity is more poignant and more difficult for those of us with that extra oomph of anxiety ... and I would venture to say (and I guess current research concurs) that most people with eating disorders identify with that personality trait.

There is far less ambiguous about anorexia ... a fairly myopic state of affairs with which to deal. Or, at least, a somewhat predictable if crisis-driven existence.

But when the physical crises resolve, not so necessarily the pschic and spiritual ones. Therein, the new ambiguity that makes the old ways ever so much more comforting.

I wonder if it isn't a matter or waiting out the assimilation of the new ambiguity, until it feels more comfortable and more usual, more tolerable. I hope that happens for you.

BTW, I *love* wordles and have been doing them endlessly with practically every snatch of copy i come across or create myself :)

grey said...

This is one of the top five issues that I've struggled with the most over the years. It's almost as if the past doesn't count... or, if it does count, that I'm not the same person that I was back then. Maybe it's the disconnect between my physical and emotional state. Anorexia is largely defined by physical characteristics... so clearly I can't be having THAT bad of a day, because I AM still healthy. Right?

I think it's just tough (and depressing) to be physically (and symptomatically) okay when you're not feeling okay.

Carrie Arnold said...

Thank you--seriously--for all of your help and support. It means so much.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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