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The title of this article may seem intriguing, may seem taboo, may even seem fake, and I hate all of those assumptions. The title "traveling with anorexia" should be just as out of the ordinary as "traveling with only one pair of shoes"—still somewhat intriguing, but not so much that you would take time out of your day to learn how the author travels with only one pair of shoes. And yet, it feels wrong for me to talk about this. Even in this broad and simple context, I feel like I am pushing a boundary; not one of my own, but that of someone else. I love talking about my mental illnesses and bringing awareness to them, but I'm always scared of offending someone else with my willingness to express myself through my stories of struggle. It's another article all in itself talking about how it feels "forbidden" to talk about a mental illness where it should be as simple as talking about shoes, but we'll get to that eventually.
For now, we will talk about this taboo topic by relating it to my passion; travelling. To give you a brief summary of my history with anorexia, I was diagnosed with anorexia about a year after I started to excessively exercise and restrict my eating. I had fights with doctors and long waits to see specialists, and at my lowest weight I was 72 pounds (at 14-years-old), on strict bed rest out of fear of my heart going into cardiac arrest, and I was extremely miserable. Over the last three years I have recovered and relapsed what seems like a billion times, but as of right now I am quite stable and consistent with my eating. But I would like to mention that every time that I've happened to relapse, it's been when I was travelling because obviously, going to a different country and eating different foods (for me it was rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), your body is going to store that weight. Unfortunately, my anorexia doesn't understand that and uses this unexpected weight gain as a time to pounce and control me when I am most vulnerable and self-conscious.
Most people believe that if you are a recovered anorexic, that you do not have anorexia anymore; you never experience those thoughts of restrictive eating or over-exercising again, and for some people, I'm sure that that is true. But alas, for me I was not blessed with that. My anorexia will always be there, like that bee that just won't leave you alone. Just when you are confident that it's done flying maniacally around your face, it strikes when you least expect it and you don't have any way of defending yourself. Anytime I think about exercising on a regular basis, anorexia and orthorexia are there to run the show and tell me what to do/what not to do. If I gain weight, there they are, and if I find myself comparing myself to others, you guessed it, they've already pounced before I can keep scrolling.
Having anorexia always peering over my shoulder is frustrating, but it has never and will never discourage me to travel. I believe this is because my need to travel is so much stronger than my need to want to look "perfect," and I am able to keep that in mind whilst travelling with anorexia. Now, I'm not trying to make this look easy. I'm not so incredibly strong and confident that I can completely control my mental illness whilst travelling, because trust me, it's hard as hell. Bloating triggers negative thoughts, eating too much of one thing triggers negative thoughts, finding out that I'm a medium and not a small in Asian countries triggers negative thoughts, and of course going somewhere in a swimsuit triggers negative thoughts. It's almost impossible to function with these harsh words swarming my brain, and oftentimes I'm tempted to not go out, or to not try that delicious calorie-filled item that I can only get in the certain country I'm visiting. Every day is a battle against myself; one side wants to be "perfect," the other wants to be happy. Apparently, I cannot achieve both. I cannot be "perfect" doing the thing that makes me happy, and I cannot be happy when I reach this level of "perfection." It's a hard concept for one to wrap their mind around, but one thing that I try to remind myself when I find anorexia flooding my brain with thoughts such as "If you travel here there are a lot of carbs around the country," "everyone is thin there, you'll look fat" and many more, is that happiness trumps all.
No matter how much I want to just lie in my bed and not venture out of my comfort zone and into the world, I remember how happy travelling makes me, and no matter how awful I feel about my self-image, I remember how amazing the memories that I made were, and I realize how grateful I am to honestly be blessed with this illness. Yes, that sounds awful, but hear me out. I feel blessed to have been diagnosed with a mental illness that has taught me to always keep pushing forward and working towards a goal no matter what obstacles are in the way. Anorexia tries its hardest to stop me in my tracks and turn me back towards the airport and back to where I can control my eating to its standards, but I have a secret weapon against it that will never allow it to get its way, and that's happiness. It's taken years for me to achieve this mindset and to understand what truly makes me happy, and of course it will probably change again shortly, but no matter what my main source of happiness is, it will always be more important than following the desires of my mental illness.