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Anorexia and Room Full of Mirrors

I usually interview dancers and use a few quotes in my blog posts, but this one is different. I am going to leave you with Pixie and her own words. They tell of powerful sto

ry of a danger not uncommon in the exacting world of ballet. She is not through the woods yet. Are any of us ever? But, her willingness to open the most vulnerable and scary parts of her soul are an inspiration and I am honored to pass this on to you. Help me support her and others as they fight to find the balance between outer perfection and inner strength and beauty.

"I've been dancing since I was 3, and for almost as long I've had an eating disorder — these are the two cornerstones on which my life has been built, and it's equally hard to imagine myself living without either

of them.As ballet dancers, we’re subject to an intense level of body awareness. We're presented with imagery of what the perfect ballerina looks like and then placed in a mirror-lined room filled with leotard-clad bodies where we can't help but notice our perceived flaws. Dance requires us to be intimately aware of the shape, functionality and position of every inch of our bodies, and it's one short step from a constructive check-in to a painful awareness of your flaws. A short step from checking your foot position and posture to noticing how your thighs smush together in fifth position and how you can see a tiny roll of back-fat emerge in your arabesque. I spent years trying to hide my illness, years of quietly passing out backstage during the intermission of performances, blacking out at the barre and fighting through brain fog to remember choreography. I was letting anorexia run my life —I hid my body beneath baggy clothing, avoided social events where food might be involved and casually brushed off the caring and concerned comments from my friends in order to be alone with the disease that was slowly killing me. I lied to doctors, assured them that I was fine, that I was eating, that I had no idea why my hair was falling out and I was having trouble concentrating. The worst part of my eating disorder, the thing that finally convinced me to go to treatment, was when I didn't have the energy to get through a four-minute routine. My joints hurt too much to stretch, and the flexibility I'd worked so hard for was greatly reduced by malnourished, uncooperative muscles. When I finally had to choose between living a fulfilling life complete with dance, friendships and a future full of exciting opportunities, and continuing down this path alone with my eating disorder, it became clear that something had to give.When I say it was killing me, my mental function was down to 20%, my immune system was completely shot, I was getting headaches all the time, passing out, constantly covered in bruises that wouldn’t heal due to anemia and my bone density was quickly trending towards osteoporosis. I consider myself lucky that I never developed heart problems or organ failure. Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness, with a mortality rate of about 6%. It’s a very real and very serious disease that often goes unnoticed and

because most doctors don’t know how to recognize the symptoms. Most people wind up in treatment either because they finally admitted they needed help, or, more often, because a major medical complication landed them in the hospital. Accepting help is difficult in a culture where most people don’t see ED as a real, serious illness. I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked me, “Why don’t you just eat?” It can be unbelievably frustrating to feel like there’s some magic off-switch that you can’t find. ED is a disease of guilt and shame to begin with — guilt about not being skinny enough, not having the willpower to eat less and hiding your disease — and compounding that with the guilt of not being able to simply turn off your illness can feel make you feel hopeless, lonely and utterly depressed. Treatment isn’t easy, though, and it definitely isn’t a cure. I entered treatment for the first time in November of 2018, after more than two decades of restricting. My weight was so far from the

goal weight my doctors had set for me that I had to have a feeding tube inserted through my nose for overnight feedings in addition to my daily meals for five weeks to get the amount of calories I needed. Treatment is eating six times a day, under constant surveillance so you can’t hide or throw away your food. It’s living in a hospital setting for weeks, getting daily medical checkups. Treatment is being constantly surrounded by a dozen equally sick, equally anxious people in daily group therapy sessions. Ultimately, treatment is rewiring your brain to believe that you deserve to be healthy and giving you the tools you need to learn to love yourself.It isn’t a cure though. It’s very, very normal to have to go to treatment multiple times. Personally, I relapsed only two months after leaving treatment for the first time, and I’m writing this from a different facility, in a different city, where I’m putting in the work and learning to be comfortable with myself. I’m never going to be “cured.” It’s going to continue to be a struggle to accept my body and the nutrition it needs to function, but I can change the narrative from form to function — I can stop hating my body for how I see it and start thanking it for what it can do. I can thank my body for the ability to dance without pain and fatigue, and supply it with the nutrition it needs to build healthy, functional muscles. I hope to one day be able to look in the mirror and instead of looking for a skinny girl and criticizing her flaws, see a strong dancer and praise the things she can do. If any of this rings true for you, I would encourage you to reach out: the National Eating Disorder Association is a great place to start. You’re not alone,and you don’t have to feel this way — recovery is possible."

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