**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.
Leah Appel is a senior at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota. She was born in Florida but moved to Minnesota when she was about three years old. She grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Her father moved to Florida when she was in middle school, so traveling has been a big part of her life. Leah loves to shop, spend time with friends, and explore places and stores around the city.
Recovery is a big word and every person has a different insight on it. If there was one word for me to describe recovery, it would be “slow.” Recovery is not an overnight thing. Time is a huge part of recovery. Each day, it’s the little changes that add up to changing the overall big picture. You may not notice growth if you’re looking at things from a day-to-day view, but looking back, progress is made each day.
My journey to recovery started in the spring of 2020. We had online school because of the COVID-19 outbreaks, which led me to feel trapped in my house. I was at a point where I was so stuck in my head that I was about to give up. I was in a constant mental drought and I did not know how to get out of it. Luckily, I was able to reach out for help. I knew I could not get through it alone anymore. I called my father who lives across the country and bawled my eyes out to him about how I felt. My family was aware I had challenges with food, but they could not see the depth of my pain. Opening up was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because I was ashamed of my struggle at first, but if I had not done so, I would not have gotten the help I needed.
The time frame this took place during was right before my fourth term was supposed to start. As students, we had an option to either continue with online education or attend classes at school. The majority of my friends had opted to go back to in-person, which is what I had originally planned as well. However, when I hit that breaking point, I changed my mind. After my mental breakdown, I met with my school counselor to create a plan. I knew I wanted to go stay with my dad and get help in Florida, so we adjusted my schedule so that I could do so. Within three days, I was on a flight to Fort Lauderdale.
Realizing certain triggers, whether it was friends or outside expectations, is crucial to understanding what recovery should look like for you. I had a hard time being around all my friends when I was in that tough part of my life because they did not understand the internal struggle I was going through. They would unintentionally make unhelpful comments, so retreating and working on my recovery was essential for me.
When I got down to Florida, it was like a breath of fresh air. That is when my recovery truly started. I spent more time with my father whom I normally don’t get to see on an everyday basis. He was there for me every step of the way. He would talk me through everything to cheer me up in any way he could. I also spent a lot of time with my grandparents who live down there as well. My grandma was a gem through it all. She was there for me the whole time and would call me daily. Having independent time with family was exactly what I needed. When I was down there, I began journaling. Stating my feelings and creating a plan to better myself was quite helpful. I had a lot of time on my hands while I was waiting for a spot to open in a treatment center, so I found ways to distract myself. I would go for drives, go on walks, journal, lay by the pool, and listen to music
It was not an easy process to get into the program I attended. They would say, “Two more weeks and then a spot will open up.” Then two weeks would go by and I still wouldn’t hear anything. After waiting for six weeks or so, I was admitted. I ended up spending seven hours a day or so at this program, talking to all sorts of people. It was phone-free, so we did lots of mindfulness, stretching, coloring, talking, and sitting in silence. It made me realize there is so much more to life than just food. I knew I wanted to do better for myself and focus on the mental mindset that was stopping me from living.
I only stayed in the program for a week as it was highly intense and I did not need longer, but to me, Florida was my treatment. Recovery does not stop when you leave your program, it’s an ongoing process. I’m still in recovery today, but I’m in a whole different place than I was a year ago. I am now back home and living my life as if I was any other 18-year-old. I work a few times a week, spend time with friends, go out to eat, and participate in more activities that make me feel good. Each day I challenge myself to do something I usually wouldn’t–whether that is having a food or meal I haven’t had since prior to recovery or doing something for myself that makes me feel good.
This is your sign that if you struggle with your relationship with food, advocating for yourself is the best thing you can do. It is not easy, but the sooner you start your recovery, the sooner you will feel free and be able to live your life the right way. It was nearly impossible to live my life prior to recovery. Before, every thought that went through my mind was a struggle; treatment will get you out if you are optimistic and take initiative.