Redefining “Normal”

I’ve been out of treatment for quite a while now. I’ve been managing to stay on top of my recovery by planning meals with my partner, going back to school to graduate, and investing my time in hobbies; but, nothing fills the void that was left by my eating disorder. I miss my eating disorder – as crazy as that may seem to those of you who have watched me suffer. Ed is my security blanket and under them, I am protected from the world.

You see, Ed is familiar. I’ve known Ed all of my life. As a child, Ed was the voice telling me to hide my food and look at my Mom’s magazines praising women for losing weight. Ed taught me how to please those around me (because I was only worthy if someone else noticed) and how to act as to not embarrass myself (because if I embarrassed myself everyone would know I had no worth). This is the foundation that my life is currently built on – this ideology that who I am makes me worthless to everyone around me; that I have to use all of my energy to make other people’s lives easier, even if I have to sacrifice myself to do so; and that if I can’t achieve the near impossible goals, I don’t even deserve to live. Imagine growing up thinking that every bad thing that ever happened was the direct result of you not being good enough for those around you. Imagine blaming yourself for everything negative because you felt it was your responsibility to make everyone happy. This was my normal – this is all I knew – and I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with what I was doing.

On some level, I knew I wasn’t okay but I wasn’t aware of what was going on with me because it was so normal. I had never known anything different which made it incredibly difficult for me to accept that I had an eating disorder – to me, a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa made no sense. It’s difficult being told that your normal is what’s killing you.

Recovery was a big choice – it’s easy to stay under the blankets with Ed because it’s familiar – because choosing to recover meant that I was willing to go against everything I have ever known. Choosing recovery meant facing my deepest fears and worst traumas. It’s a choice I continue to make everyday by eating my breakfast, lunch and dinner. I choose to walk back into Marca College – the location of my last relapse – and make different choices. I choose to recover everyday because as hard as recovery is, it’s a hell of a lot better than whatever Ed has to offer. I’m willing to risk everything for recovery because I know what it’s like to risk everything for Ed and I refuse to allow Ed to continue taking from me.

I’m working on how to redefine my normal – a part of that is recognizing which aspects of my former normal were toxic. For me, normal is recovery: feeding myself; allowing myself to experience and express my emotions in ways that don’t cause harm to myself and those around; practicing open communication with my support team; and creating a life outside of the hospital that doesn’t end with me back on IV are all normal for me. But this won’t be my normal forever. I’m not sure what normal is going to look like for me in the future. A lot of people have told me that normal consists of working a 9-5 whereas a lot of people have told me that normal consists of being a parent. I’ve learned that normal simply means to conform and I’m not sure I want to just do what everyone else does. I know what the pressure of working a 9-5 does to my body and I refuse to believe that that is all that life has in store for me.  My support team has helped me to accept this by telling me: “If the best thing you ever do is take care of yourself, you’re doing pretty damn good.”

I’m going to make ‘taking caring of myself’ my new normal. I’m determined to continue in recovery because I want a life outside my eating disorder. If I can do that – take care of myself – I know I’ll be okay.


Jennifer Walton is a graduate of Marca College’s Hair Styling program and an advocate for mental health and eating disorders, with the belief that everyone deserves to have hair that represents their truest self. Located in Toronto, ON, Jennifer is determined to create a safe space for everybody to feel comfortable to get their hair done.

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