Eating Disorders

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Growing up my family had fish, dogs, chickens, and parakeets. My father and brother loved animals and having pets. I, on the other hand, was afraid of most animals that weren’t cute little puppies. Ok, afraid might be too harsh of a word – perhaps, nervous is a better one. Animals made me nervous. How was I supposed to know what their primal instincts were? Would I be attacked? Could they sense my fear?

I’ve on many occasions interacted with all types of animals – anything from having a snake wrapped around my neck to feeding ostrich and emus at a farm. And every single time, I psyched myself out. I thought, “I hope it doesn’t attack me, I hope it won’t sense my fear, oh god oh god…take the picture to prove I was brave enough to do it…”

During my eating disorder recovery, I mainly used art and yoga as my therapy tools. Art helped me to release tension and emotions. Yoga was a way to reconnect with my body. I never used animal-assisted therapy and I don’t currently have a pet of my own. But looking back, I realize that all of my brave animal encounters occurred while I was fighting for eating disorder recovery.

As much as animals scared me, I kept going through with the interactions anyways. There was something about animals that my soul was drawn to, and they helped me to connect with life apart from myself.

Even though I didn’t know what outcomes those animal interactions would bring, I moved forward. Something within me helped me to move forward and conquer my fear of the unknown, and that is exactly how my eating disorder recovery was. I was scared. I was nervous. I didn’t know exactly where I was going. But I kept going in spite of my anxiety and all of the thoughts that said that what was on the other side wouldn’t be worth it.

I now recognize that those nerves I felt before interacting with animals are similar to the nerves I get when I do anything worthwhile.

I may not be the ultimate cat lady, a pet lover, or dog whisperer, but I know that the connection many have with animals can help reduce their own anxiety and provide them with a sense of peace and comfort which humans can’t provide. I’m grateful to animals for teaching me this, for inspiring me to embrace the unknown, for helping me to prove to myself that I’m braver than I think I am.

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Michelle is a graduate of UC Irvine and currently works at UCLA. As an eating disorder survivor she now dedicates her time to advocacy and using her voice to help others. She is a recovery mentor, contributor to the Mighty and social media volunteer for nonprofits. During her spare time she likes to indulge in adult coloring books, geek out over Batman, and hunt down the best tacos in town.