I don’t remember the first time and I don’t remember the last. What I remember is desperation, loneliness and shame.
My name is Natalie Feulner. I am a wife, a mother, a journalist and an adventurer. I also have bulimia. Have, not had. That’s the thing about eating disorders, they’re never really gone.
Recovery is forever.
And that’s exactly why when someone in our community speaks out, especially a young woman with a life full of promise and possibility, we must support her.
Seventeen-year-old Orono resident Harriet Manaker is a daughter, a sister and a straight-A student. She also has anorexia. She remembers years of misery, loneliness and isolation.
But Harriet has so much more.
And she’s sharing that hope with the world even as she continues to struggle.
Last October, Harriet, an avid Buzzfeed video fan, reached out to producer Keith Habersberger. She wanted to make a video that would reach hundreds, thousands even, with her story. The video includes a montage of art and journal entries of Harriet’s and ends with her realization: “I am enough.” It has more than 1 million views.
I met Harriet at her home last week. She’s a bright, loquacious young woman with so much heart and passion.
For people with eating disorders, numbers are omnipresent and debilitating. For Harriet, numbers tell her story.
The age when Harriet realized there was a difference in her body size and that of another girl.
How old she was when she learned what a calorie is.
When she made the connection between eating less and losing weight and the first time she was hospitalized.
But now numbers simply highlight a list of messages she wants to share with others. They’ve given her life new meaning.
1.There is hope.
2. Recovery is possible but more than that, happiness is possible. And it’s worth it.
3. Recovery is exceptionally difficult. As Harriet puts it, “every day, every minute, every meal, every bite for that matter is a struggle.”
4. Eating disorders and seeking recovery are not and should not be shameful. Telling your story, as Harriet has done with the world, is the bravest thing someone with an eating disorder can do. But it shouldn’t have to be.
5. Resources in Maine are virtually nonexistent. Each time Harriet had to be hospitalized, often for months at time, she had to go to Boston. The distance made her disease all the more isolating.
6. You have to let it go. Harriet says recovery is a lot like a trade. You are trading weight loss for gain, sickness for health but also misery for happiness.
Numbers no longer tell my story. That’s the reason I didn’t have a number to give my midwife at my first appointment during pregnancy in 2013. I hadn’t owned a scale for almost 10 years, there was no way to know my pre-pregnancy weight.
Eating disorders manifest in many ways and for so many reasons, but at their core they are about control. Sometimes the numbers control you, sometimes you learn to ignore them.
I thought I knew how to do that in high school. I thought I knew that in college. But I didn’t really know what that really meant until my body did something amazing. It grew and birthed another human. A perfect baby girl.
Even if you don’t know Harriet or me for that matter, you probably know someone who has an eating disorder, even if you don’t realize it. Twenty million women and 10 million men nationwide suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.
Those are numbers we cannot and should not ignore. If we don’t do something, if we don’t change hearts and minds, they will never change.
So, I challenge you.
Watch Harriet’s video. Share it with the world.
Then do something you enjoy.
Climb a mountain, breathe deeply, listen to the sounds of early spring. Remind yourself that your body is strong, resilient and beautiful. Focus not on what your body is or isn’t, but what it allows you to do.
Tell yourself you are enough. Because you are.