“There is so much hope. It has to do with your mindset.”
I met Janelle by complete chance, or so we both thought at the time. Little did we know how similar our stories were and that this chance encounter wasn't by chance at all. Everything for a reason.
While we only met in person that one time, we kept up here and there over the next few months via social media. Scrolling through my Facebook feed one day I came across something that stopped me in my tracks and everything made sense all at once. This post by Janelle on November 12th, 2015.
"It's sometimes hard for me to wrap my brain around how blessed I am. I didn't expect to be here beyond my 20's, nor did I expect I could ever be a part of helping so many people make significant life changes.
I spent 10 years of focused effort destroying my body. When people stepped in to try to help, I was viscious and defensive. When my doctors told me I was knocking at deaths door, my response was, "well apparently nobody's f***ing home cuz I'm still sitting here with you" (charming, huh?)
...Scrolling through my pictures, I landed on the one below and I remember this day so vividly. I didn't know it then, but I was 3 days away from rock bottom and 4 days away from my first day of recovery..."
Sheila Amir: Tell me your backstory. Share whatever you are comfortable with sharing.
Janelle Teta: I grew up on Long Island, NY. Since I can remember I was always super sensitive and intuitive. My mom said she would find me in deep conversation with an adult as a young kid, on many occasions. She said my uncle would get a kick out of messing with all of us kids when we were younger with his dry humor. He had said to her, “I can’t mess with your daughter … when she looks at me it’s like she looks right into my soul!”
Now feel that this trait is a strength, as a young kid, I think it left me feeling somewhat burdened. My heart was wide open and I was easily affected by the circumstances around me. I felt a huge inclination to mediate a tense or hurtful situation by either acting like a clown to make people laugh, or by redirecting people’s attention.
I was also an athlete and by middle school I fell right into my passion with volleyball. I was on a traveling team through my completion of high school. Most of my school years were made up of my studies, practices and on the road for tournaments.
It was a blessing, in that it kept me focused and driven, gave me purpose and taught me
the incredible power of TEAM. It was also a curse, as I fell into the hands of a coach who sexually abused me for the duration of 3 years: from the age of 13 to 16.
As a young athlete with the determination and mindset of taking their dream well beyond a local level, my coaches were so much a part of my life, they felt like extensions of my parents. You look up to them. Trust them. Respect them. You want them to be proud of you.
I didn’t utter a word to anyone for over a year about what was going on. I believe this was the straw that broke the spirit of that girl who always saw the brighter side of things. I became extremely internal…burdened…disgusted with myself and how I felt inside.
These feelings led me to my first experiences of standing in front of the mirror and seeing a very flawed reflection. To the world I appeared strong - an athlete, an honor role student, healthy. There was an unnerving, internal dissonance between how I appeared and how I felt. Enter….bulimia and anorexia.
10 years…I think most people have a good idea of what the life of an eating disordered person looks like to some extent. To sum it up in regards to my personal experience: it involved years of unsuccessful hospitalization, throwing up 8 to 10 times a day, hiding my own vomit in empty shampoo bottles, esophageal lacerations, swallowing a box of laxatives at a time, days of food restriction that led to loss of memory and heart complications, isolation from friends and family. It was spiritual and psychological death and quite close to a physical death.
SA: How did you find the right mindset to overcome an eating disorder? How do you
maintain this mindset to stay in recovery rather than relapsing.
JT: I would say that my first step into recovery had nothing to do with mindset, but rather some blind faith and a little trust. I was so close to death I could feel myself on all levels, slipping away.
I remember the moment clearly, where I thought, “If I don’t do something right now, it’s really all over.” Suddenly the thought of never seeing the people I loved, never laugh again and just die in physical and mental agony felt extremely terrifying. That was my push to reach out to 1 person I trusted and tell them I wanted to know what it felt like to be happy and free, but was scared to death.
Beyond that point, THE most effective tool for me was psychodynamic therapy and mindfulness. Maintaining this mindset is really easy for me because understanding myself on such a deep level has extinguished those things that clouded my ability to see and feel things with a proper perspective.
SA: For those who aren't familiar with eating disorders, they may be shocked to hear terms like "recovery" and "relapse" when we talk about the subject. Can you explain your take on this for those who have never explored the subject matter, or never explored it from this view point?
JT: I’ve spent years in 12 step meetings. I would say the largest circle of my friends I have been in a recovery program for some sort addiction. Overeaters anonymous. I do base life from what I have learned there. I do believe it’s certainly not the only way. There Is a lot of work that is to be done.
Recovery is quite interesting when it comes to eating disorders, in my opinion. Unlike a recovered alcoholic whose recovery entails never picking up a drink again, a recovering eating disordered individual has to build a healthy, balanced relationship with their “drug” (food) on a daily basis. It would be like asking an alcoholic or drug addict to use the very thing that made their life unmanageable, in a healthy way. Crazy, huh?
For me, my recovery is characterized by a healthy, realistic, manageable relationship with food and my body. Relapse, would be anything short of this for me.
SA: Food and nutrition hype seems to be everywhere we turn in our society. We're all but consumed by it, as we have a sick, malnourished population paired with those who want to monetize off them. How do you keep your head clear from all that static?
JT: I truly just don’t pay attention because the hype has no value in my life. What I value is my education in human physiology paired with being my own detective with my own body. I know what works really well for me on all levels and what doesn’t.
As for the clients I work with, that's another story. In this sense, I am always battling the hype. The people who are persistent in “I want a quick fix” or “just give me a menu and exercise program to follow” I won’t work with anymore unless I can help them let go of that idea in exchange for knowledge.
SA: What has been the most profound lesson you have learned in all of this? Is there something you have learned, accepted as fact that is the complete opposite of what you believed prior to recovery?
JT: YES! We ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a choice. Life is as bad or as good as we chose for it to be. There will always be conflict and hardship and loss…that’s just life. But how we chose to use and view those times is completely up to us. We are not merely victims of circumstance.
SA: What are a couple moments that stand out to you that turned things around for you?
JT: The day I said, “I feel like there is this dark, evil, destructive entity inside of my head that I am constantly at battle with.” My own analogy, made me realize that I had finally started to separate myself from my eating disorder.
There was a new me fighting her way to the surface and struggling with old, unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. The “battle” was good! It meant I was finally fighting for my life!
Another was a time I was sitting with a friend who commented on how incredible my legs were. Suffering from body dysmorphia, I clearly thought she was being insensible, and said to her, “My thighs are twice the size of yours!”
She got up, left the room, came back with a tape measure and said, “Lets measure.”
Much to my surprise, my thighs measured significantly less than hers. As irrational as my brain was at that point, I couldn’t fight with the metric system. It’s pretty cut and dry. That was the day I realized that how I perceived my body, was far from accurate.
A big one was when I was in an out-patient treatment facility with a woman who had starved herself for many years. My heart broke every time I saw her and we sat many days, talking and sharing stories.
One day she walked over to me, with a hint of smile and said, “I’m really trying now. I had some soup yesterday” This was such incredible news, I was ecstatic! 2 days later, she passed away. At her funeral, there was only a few family members, mostly doctors and me. A lifetime of reclusive, self-inflicted imprisonment. I pictured myself laying in that casket with no great thing to leave behind except a sad story- it shook me to my core.
SA: What has been your happiest realization in your recovery?
JT: That I have turned my pain into a greater purpose. The rest of my life’s work is about helping people find their power again. That makes everything I have been through completely worth it.
SA: Eating disorders thrive on secrecy. An important part of recovery is having the support of others. What helped you take the brave steps of reaching out and accepting support?
JT: In the beginning, it was the only realistic option. When you need someone to help you stand without falling and speak for you when you're too malnourished to formulate a sentence; it pretty much forces you into a bit of acceptance.
But it was a very slow process in regards to trusting that other people had my best interests at heart but would also respect my limitations of what I could accept in that moment. The less someone made me feel like I was being backed into a corner, the more inclined I was to be accepting of their suggestions and support. Little by little, I started unclenching my fistsin defense of my eating disorder and allowing the love and support to come in.
SA: What would you like to tell someone in the grips of an eating disorder?
JT: Ugh…tough one. I’m going back to that place in my mind right now and considering how deaf, unwilling and convicted I was while in the grips of my disorder.
So I will say this…the very thing you think you are controlling is in fact, controlling you. If what you truly desire is a life that is void of love, happiness, safety and freedom you are on a path that is destined to get you there.
I can’t even try to temper this with fluff…it’s a harsh reality and it needs to be brought into the light for those who are stuck in the dark. There are a multitude of options in finding help through this, but you need to be willing to let go just a little bit, to be able to let those things in. There is an incredible life waiting for you.
Once you’re aware of it, there is no chance to go back.
SA: Where there any books that you found particularly helpful to your recovery?
JT: At the time I read a lot on stress and still a lot of human psych. What was most helpful for me.. I Have a very science-y mind. If I can break something down to science, I can take the emotion out of it I can break it down and work on it. It helps me detach from the emotion and get to what is real.
The best books I read at the time were all based on science and neuroscience. The way we’re designed to grasp things. Whether or not it’s right or not. Self-help, floating energy books didn’t mean anything to me at the time.
February 21-27, 2016 is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Visit NEDAwareness.org to raise awareness in as little as 3 minutes. Eating disorders are not rare diseases, they are diseases rarely spoken about. Let the open dialogue and recovery begin.
Janelle found this book incredibly helpful to her healing process.
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