I was born in 1999 in New Orleans, LA. I come from a family of 5, in which I am the oldest sibling. As a child, I didn’t speak or express my emotions; I was painfully shy, which led to low self-esteem. In sixth grade, I started struggling with binge eating, angry outburst, and depression. These grew, ultimately culminating in full-blown binge-eating disorder, which went unnoticed and untreated. In 2015, the tables turned; I took control of my body and my weight, beginning to restrict carbs and exercise regularly. This health kick accelerated, and before long, I developed anorexia.
In 2015, I began outpatient treatment, missing school regularly to attend individual therapy, family therapy, nutrition counseling, and psychiatric counseling. I progressed, but soon regressed. In October of 2016, I checked into a residential treatment facility in Miami, not for my own sake, but the sake of my education. I had long dreamed of attending NYU, and at that point, my dream at stake.
Treatment was a bitch. But it was also a fairytale. I got a break. I made close friends. I spent my days in a cushy pink room talking to therapists and recovery coaches and learning how to be mindful. But I also received soul-crushing news: I had severe osteoporosis as a result of persistent malnutrition and excessive exercise. As a passionate rhythm tap dancer and theatrical performer, I died inside. I was also forced to eat foods that I used to binge on, which of course is par for the course, but I can’t express the horror that induced. Above all, however, I had no control; I had 24-hour supervision and couldn’t even flush my own toilet.
At first, I was gung-ho on the process. I was gonna get out, get my life back, go to school, become an artist, and as soon as humanly possible, return to my eating disorder,r who I viewed as my one true love. But as my body started changing, my zest ran out. On December 30, 2016, I discharged against medical advice. I had made it to Level 2 of 4 of my program. I was horrified by my physicality: my weight had come back in areas I despised, reminding me of the body I possessed in my binge eating days. This body was not mine. I also missed my outpatient team, and the nurturing, individualistic approach they treated me with. At home, as before, my progress ebbed and flowed. Would I have had an easier time if I’d completed my program? Likely yes. But alas, the past is the past.
In August of 2017, I finally reached my turning point: starting NYU. I moved up a week early to participate in Project Outreach, a 5-day community service intensive for incoming freshman. Our days were long: 7 am-11 pm. Food was provided. Fuck. It was not good food. (Not by my standards, anyway). I tried to navigate the situation, buying salads at cafes that opened at 6 am, but that got old quickly. I thought back to the previous summer, when I’d attended the 6-week “Cherubs” theatre intensive at Northwestern. I came close to hospitalization, and I missed many moments. That program had also been a dream, and I’d squandered it. I decided then and there that I had to make a choice: keep my eating disorder or let it go. I let it go.
And I’m still letting it go.
It’s a process.
But my identity has evolved.
I am no longer an eating disorder;
I am Bella Florence.
And I invite you to read my story.