Embrace Your Voice, Honor Your Truth
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Megan Bazzini is an anorexia survivor. She’s an American graduating from an Italian business school in June 2022. Her country-hopping uni years opened her heart and mind to choosing herself, recovery, and giving back. This is only the beginning of her advocacy for destigmatizing eating disorders. She is seeking literary representation for five novels featuring characters with eating disorders. You can follow her on Twitter (@BazziniBooks) or her portfolio.
I met anxiety for the first time when I was diagnosed with selective mutism before kindergarten. When I was eight, I got my voice back, but that’s a story for another day. During that time, I discovered my love for books and characters that made me feel less alone. When I started speaking again, my voice was a gift I took for granted. I didn’t think about the delicate power that comes with being the champion of my own story and being my own advocate. That’s a power that I’m still learning to wield.
Eating disorders have worsened worldwide during pandemic lockdowns. In 2020 alone, demand for treatment and hospitalizations skyrocketed across countries like the UK (116%), the U.S. (70%), and Argentina (57%). I am so intentional with my words because I don’t want to advocate solely for myself, I want to join the dialogue on mental health and the growing eating disorder crisis. Our vocabulary has been replaced with “I’m so bad, I’m such a pig” when eating birthday cake or celebrating holidays with loved ones. These words betray the true meaning of food, a basic necessity to fuel our energy for a full life. But importantly, food is also synonymous with culture, tradition, and human connection, something I truly understand after living in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Milan.
Anxiety has walked with me through every step of life, including through every new city. It tricked me into thinking my symptoms were manageable and that it was normal to be stressed all the time. I didn’t understand that the toll that stress and anxiety take on the human body are far worse than suffering in silence. When this stress manifested into a very real and life-threatening illness, I spent years unable to identify which voice was mine and which was anorexia’s.
Anorexia nervosa means having a life-destroying narrator in my head, relentlessly bullying me into self-destructive compulsions and chronic starvation. It’s watching my brother and dad share ice cream and writing in my journal after, “I feel happy, life’s too short to deprive yourself!”—as if watching them savor the creamy dessert left me satiated. Last fall, my eating disorder reached rock bottom on a trip to Tuscany with my classmates. My self-loathing and excessive worries reached their respective peaks during each panini in Florence and sip of wine in Siena. The unreliable narrator unnecessarily counted calories, threatened me, and left me with panic attacks, the highest degree of anxiety. When I returned to school, I decided I had enough of ED. I wanted my life back!
The most challenging hurdle in my coming out was that eating disorders, like most mental illnesses, are terribly stigmatized and misunderstood. I was ashamed to admit I needed help. Since November 2020, I have spent every moment battling anorexia nervosa, fighting to achieve recovery with a contradictory vengeance. Even sleep was interrupted with night sweats as I renourished my body. I am simultaneously emotionally exhausted, yet more energetic than I have felt in years. Through mechanical eating and the healing advice of my team of doctors and professionals, I have managed to achieve full weight restoration plus overshoot.
Essentially, recovery is all about trust, and trusting that my body will be smart enough to heal. I have to trust that my body will use the added nutrition to restore my shrunken body, to free myself from the emotionally void and emaciated shell in which I was trapped. In recovery, I have awoken from the emotional numbness, brain fog, and physical demise that have characterized my entire university experience. I’ve learned that there is no such thing as “sick enough,” no one perfect time to ask for help, and no definitive rock bottom. I could not have started this upward trajectory alone. This bewildering and all-encompassing struggle is my truth, and I’m never going to be quiet about it again. Not when it could help people I love, or the millions stuck in disordered eating cycles, seek help sooner.
The first step is education, including learning how pervasive and normalized disordered eating has become. The butterfly has been the symbol of my weight restoration, healing my brain, and approaching graduation and life beyond—beyond constant coursework, calorie counting, scale stepping, and more. The butterfly represents my life beyond, where I am in remission. I welcome the unknown, something my eating disorder would have never allowed. I take comfort in my endless gratitude for my global perspective on food and health, my support system, and my healing. This is only the beginning of what’s next: my advocacy for eating disorder education and destigmatization. Consider joining the dialogue on mental health; start with embracing your voice, and as scary as it may be, honoring your truth.