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A girl who doesn't belong

Author: Caitlin Shea

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. The part of me I hate the most.

I spent most of my childhood going to therapy to try and fix my eating disorder. It never worked. I will never be able to go out with my family for dinner. I will never be able to eat pizza with my friends. I will never to be able to go on dinner dates.

It’s not like that’s new information though. I’ve never been able to do any of those things. This isn’t something that has happened suddenly or out of the blue. This has been my whole life. But sometimes I still cry when I think about how much I have missed out on because of it.

I have sat in restaurants with my family, watching them eat their meals while I sit with nothing in front of me. Waiters looking at me like there’s something wrong with me when I don’t order anything. Other people in the restaurant staring at me because I’m the only one not eating.

I was once in a restaurant abroad on holiday with my family. I plucked up the courage to eat the crisps I had brought with me. One of the few things I eat. The people at the table next to us spent most of the evening staring at me. Whispering to one another about me. Judging me without knowing anything about me. That night I left early because I couldn’t sit there having people stare at me because I was different. Since that day I have never eaten in a restaurant again.

I have had my friends at college constantly ask me why I wasn’t eating anything. When I finally did eat in front of them, they would ask why I was eating crisps instead of "proper food". I couldn’t explain the real reason. Each time they would ask, I would make up excuse after excuse.

Guys would ask me out on dates for dinner. Every time I said no. It didn’t matter how badly I wanted to say yes.

So many trips I’ve wanted to go on and been told I couldn’t. Every holiday having to take my own food and drink with me.

So many things missed out on. So many experiences missed. So many chances passed. I’ve never even eaten my own birthday cake. No matter how much time passes, how much older and stronger I get, how much experience dealing with this I have. It still breaks my heart.

Every time I have to say no to a dinner date, my heart breaks. Every time I can’t go on trips, my heart breaks. Every time I can’t go out with friends, my heart breaks. Every time I sit in a restaurant, or round a table with my family watching them eat while I sit not eating, my heart shatters.

Each time the tears get heavier as they fall from my eyes. I become more closed off about it as time goes on.

People tell you that time heals. I think they’re wrong.

19 years have passed living like this. It’s no easier now than it was when I was 5. It’s arguably getting worse the older I get.

One of the worst parts of having to live with this, is not having anyone to share it with. I have my family and my friends, of course. But they don’t understand, not really. I have never met someone with the same eating disorder as me. And I can explain it to people over and over, but that won’t make them understand.

My mum and my brother are as close as it gets. They know what I eat. They know my situation because they’ve watched me struggle with it my whole life. And I am wholeheartedly grateful for them. But they still don’t understand how it feels to live with my eating disorder. They don’t know what it’s like to be the only one not eating. Or not going on a class trip. Or not going out with friends. All because I don’t eat "normal food". Don’t get me wrong though, I’m glad they don’t understand. I would never want either of them to go through what I’ve been through.

But. In between all the tears, and the heartache, and the missing out. In between all that pain, there are brief moments when I sit and look in the mirror and I’m proud of the girl looking back.

In most people’s eyes I haven’t come very far. And if you ask me on one of my bad days, I will agree with them. But on my good days, I look at myself and I am so proud. Because there are foods that I eat now that I never would have thought I could eat. It’s a very, very short list. But it’s still a list.

I still can’t eat in restaurants or anything of the sort. But that’s okay. I’m different. And that’s okay too. I can be different and still be beautiful. Still be loved. Still be happy. The weight of my tears and the heaviness of my heart will not hold me back from living my life. I realise now that it’s time to start being proud of myself. I don’t need to wait for someone else to be proud of me.

My hope is that in the future, I will learn to celebrate every milestone in my journey with my eating disorder. No matter how big or how small. It is likely I will always struggle with my food phobia. But I will strive to celebrate myself for being different and beautiful and strong for the rest of my life. After all, after everything I’ve been through, I deserve to celebrate something. It might as well be the one person who has been with me throughout my entire journey. Me.

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