As you sit here in the office, waiting for this visit to be over, I wonder if you would let me share just a few things with you. Despite your impeccable eyeshadow, your impressive GPA, and the smile you flash so readily, I sense that there are things left unsaid. I am curious if there is more to your story that you wish could be told. But I know that insecurity, shame, and stigma are real, so I’ll go first.
I see the pain in your eyes. I see the endless revolutions of excuses, doubts, and self-deprecating thoughts that keep you trapped — held hostage — in your own mind. I see, in your hesitation to answer, the struggle to voice an acceptable justification for the choices you make each day. I see your overpowering desire for control, fueled by the fear that it is always at risk of slipping out of your hands. In your gaze, I see a deep longing for escape that is caged behind bars of disbelief that it can ever be attained. I see your simultaneous envy of both those who are thinner — and somehow, seem better than you — and of those who are heavier — but somehow seem blissfully unperturbed by their weight.
Can I tell you why I see this? Because in you, I see me. I see the young woman who was imprisoned for years in a fabrication of my own mind that constantly considered how I should look, what I should eat, and when I should exercise. I fought the inexplicable battles you face every day — the lightheadedness to shake off, the fatigue to push through, the questions to quickly dismiss, the hunger to dutifully ignore. I lived in a world of irrational rules from which I could not free myself, a world that is so similar to yours.
Can I tell you that it does not have to be this way? Can I tell you that there is freedom? Can I tell you that you are more than an eating disorder? Can I tell you that there is so much life to be lived outside of these walls you have constructed?
I cannot tell you that it will be easy to break free — but I already know that you are stronger than most. The road to relief and recovery can be full of obstacles and unforeseen opposition—but you have yet to back down to a challenge. Those first few steps outside of your control may be small and shaky — but when you look back, you will be amazed at how far you have come.
I will not tell you that I can cure you. But I can tell you that I have been there. I can tell you that it has taken the help of so many others to rescue this young woman from herself. And I will tell you that I am here to listen, to serve, and to try my best to offer even a small glimmer of hope that you, too, can become a young woman who lives freely.
Jacqueline Bolt is a pediatrician.
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