Whatever brought you here – anxiety about your own eating habits, concern about a loved one’s relationship with food or weight, curiosity about eating disorders, or anything else in between – I just want to welcome you! Thank you for helping us move one step closer to a healthy, judgement- and stigma-free society.
My name is Kamakshi and since 2012 I have been working on my recovery from severe anorexia. Through Freed, I want to share with you my story of getting out of the depths of this illness, and starting on this path towards finding hope, encouragement, and confidence in myself. Talking about this so publicly for the first time, feels terribly daunting but also incredibly freeing.
So. A true-blue (well, slightly white-washed) Indian from New Delhi, at 26 I sometimes feel like I can be more mature than most 40-year-olds around me, yet sometimes I can be a 5-year-old who needs a bear hug and an encouraging pat on the shoulder. So that’s me in a nutshell – a responsible, mature, smart, loving, childlike young adult (oh, and don’t even get me started on my modesty!).
Now that you kind of have a sense of who I am, let me take you back to a fateful Wednesday afternoon, back in 2011. Pulse-racing, nerves-ticking, I entered my first session during college orientation at Georgia Tech in the US. The ambitious 17-year-old in me could already envision 4 years full of new experiences and perspectives, shared with friends from around the world.
College started on a massive high for me. Lots of attention – from boys and professors, to strangers on the road, you name it! I had come a long way since being a care-free, no fucks-given, unibrow-ed nerd in high school. Life had never been this exciting! Of course, I was conscious of not letting this attention get to me, but after all I was just a 17-year-old, trying to figure myself out.
I would always pride myself for not getting frazzled by silly comments by friends and peers about my weight or looks. And then summer hit…
As we got to our first summer in college, most of my friends had left for their homes, while I decided to stay on campus, with very few friends around. With all my friends back in their respective states/ countries, I had been missing the attention I tried so hard not to get used to. The closest thing I had to an anchor, was a gorgeous friend, but little did I know, the summer would prove to be a whirlwind for us both. She was dealing with some insecurities of her own, and the only person she could easily project these on was yours truly. She would make mean comments (aka “jokes”) about my body and eating habits, but I’d brush them off quickly and not let them affect me at all.
Well, at least that’s what I thought. I will never forget the morning when I woke up to a thousand comments on my phone from a picture that she had uploaded of me on Facebook with a caption describing me as an elephant who ‘did nothing but stuffed her fat face with food’.
Something broke inside of me that day.
Suddenly, I felt myself worrying about who must have seen the picture, and what they must think of me. Suddenly, I was embarrassed and afraid of looking at myself in the mirror. Suddenly, I was craving that positive attention and found myself scheming a comeback for this friend.
Like most addictions and mental illnesses, mine started subtly. I decided to work out and introduce healthy eating habits into my daily life. Soon, people were taking notice, giving me compliments in front of my bully friend, and I felt that sense of attention come back. My confidence was slowly starting to show signs of emerging again. I was happy I didn’t have to stand up against these comments – others’ compliments were doing that for me.
Before I knew it, this thirst for external validation had spiraled into a full-blown eating disorder and I was so afraid of loosing all this “progress” that I couldn’t bare to stop and reflect on how I was treating myself. I had no idea who I had become and how my naïve attempt at “getting healthier” had thrown me into the deep end of this mental illness.
Fortunately, thanks to a mild flu I was caught by a doctor in Georgia Tech’s health center for having lost too much weight in a very short period of time, and for being under my healthy weight range.
Writing this, something so overwhelmingly important to me and so inexplicable in its gravity, I can’t help but feel vulnerable and exposed, remembering the deep shame I felt when I first heard the words “you are anorexic, and you need to get help immediately.” But boy am I grateful for having heard those words when I did.
To paint you a vivid picture, on a typical day I would work out till I could barely find enough strength inside me to stand, and eat barely enough to sustain even a two-year-old child. I would isolate myself in fear of having to confront my reality during conversations with others. I had told a very select few people in my life about this, but even for them, it was hard to reconcile why someone, who from the outside had everything going for her, could allow herself to deteriorate like this – physically and emotionally.
It took a tremendous amount of will power and internal strength to finally accept this and ask for help. But if there is one thing I would want you to focus on here, it is the fact that as soon as I spoke about it openly, I immediately felt like the weight of an elephant’s leg had been lifted of my chest – like I could finally see a future in which the Anorexia didn’t control me.
Through months and months of therapy numerous visits to a nutritionist and psychiatrist, multiple self-help groups, and the strength of my unbelievable support structure, I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel and pulled myself out of the Eating Disorder’s strong hold. To be completely honest, I’m still not sure I could call myself ‘fully recovered’. When life throws stressful curveballs at me, I still feel the urge to turn to food, which seems like the only thing under my control in that moment. But the toolkit I have developed through the recovery process, allows me snap out of that mental spiral, and fall back on my anchors – family and friends, professional help, art, music etc.
Today, I am driven by my belief in therapy and support, the lack of understanding of these mental illnesses in India, and my gratitude for all the love I received from friends, family and doctors who collectively helped me feel empowered again – FREED, to love myself again.
Irrespective of what brought you to this platform, thank you for patiently reading my story. I hope that through FREED, we are able to encourage many such conversations around Eating Disorders in India, sensitize people around the importance of developing a healthy culture around food and body image, and create a stigma-free environment where people feel no shame in asking for help!