Dear Lauren,

I'm so sorry, I'm not a teen (I'm 21) but I have no one Jewish to ask. I was diagnosed with anorexia two weeks ago (I've struggled with it for the last year). I've had depression since I was 13, and I self-harmed as a teen. Last week I found out that my heart muscle has weakened. Yesterday I found out I have osteoporosis. Anorexia stole my friends, I can't finish my nursing degree which I was in my last year of, and I can't make aliyah (move to Israel), which I was planning to do in February. What’s the point of recovering when my body is always going to be ill?

I can't be a nurse, I can’t run, I won’t be able to dance or hike. I'm 21 and I’ll have to live like an old person. I don't think this is just my depression speaking, I think I’m being quite realistic and that there really is nothing worth living for anymore. I'm sorry, I know there is probably no answer to this and I’ve put you in a horrible position and that’s not fair of me at all (don't worry about me committing suicide, I’m being seen by a psychiatrist) and I don’t even deserve for you to respond because I know this is all my fault. Just ignore me and don't feel pressured to respond.

Love, Amy
(Name has been changed)

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

You just gave me the answer to all your problems right there: “I don’t even deserve for you to respond because I know this is all my fault. Just ignore me and don’t feel pressured to respond.”

The key to your healing is: “I DO deserve.” “I AM worth it.” “I am a worthwhile, worthy creation simply because God created me.”

The other key to bringing yourself to wholeness is the very first phrase of your question: “I’m so sorry….”

You deserve to ask a question! You deserve to submit your thoughts to Aish.com! You deserve to seek wholeness and healing. Instead of “I’m sorry,” it should be “I’m worth it.”

I had a client this week with your same issue: the issue of not valuing yourself enough. Here’s how part of the session went (names and identifying information have been changed, as usual):

Client: Ethan is such a jerk. All he does is tell me what I’m doing wrong, and then when we go out for dinner, he always expects me to pick up the bill, and he leaves his laundry all around the house and doesn’t clean up after himself, and his daughter constantly picks on my kid.

Me: What is the reason you’re keeping him as your boyfriend?

Client: I just don’t want to be alone.

Me: So you’d rather be with someone who impacts your life negatively than be free and happy alone?

Client: Yeah. But he’s such a jerk! He never holds the door for me, he always criticizes my cooking and my parenting and how I organize my time….

Me: I’m going to say something now that you probably won’t accept. But I’m going to say it anyway and maybe you can think about it. Okay?

Client: Okay.

Me: Here it is: You deserve better than this. You DESERVE better than this. You actually deserve to be treated well. What do you think of that?

Believe it or not, different clients will have different answers to that question. Many people don’t believe they deserve good in their lives. Many people believe they deserve to suffer. Many people believe they should be punishing themselves for something. A good therapist can help figure out what you might be trying to punish yourself for.

Anorexia is a classic outgrowth of wanting to punish yourself.

Anorexia is a classic outgrowth of wanting to punish yourself. If you build up your positive sense of self (through therapy is the best way), you will stop trying to commit slow suicide (which is how anorexia is described in the mental health community).

I want you to remember this: God loves you. I want you to say that to yourself every single day, until you start to believe it. Let me give you a few proofs that God loves you. I know that for someone with anorexia, these “proofs” are going to be hard for you to accept and to believe. But your therapy work should be learning to accept them and enjoy them. Ready? Here we go:

 

God made a beautiful world for us, filled with wonderful sights and sounds and tastes and smells and feelings. Chocolate cake is absolutely delicious. Tomatoes, watermelons, mint leaves, lemonade…so refreshingly delectable! Gorgeous vistas take our breath away. Music is enchanting, delightful, beautiful, incredible. The smells of flowers, freshly baked bread, clear mountain air...amazing. That’s the way God made our experience in this world, as a gift to us.

Can you imagine if we refueled ourselves like a car? If we just drove up to a gas pump, opened a hatch in our stomachs, and poured gasoline in? Instead, because He loves us, God gave us moist chicken, fluffy rice, crunchy cucumbers, sweet butternut squash, rich almonds…. Because He loves us, He gave us colors: the greens of grass and leaves, the pinks and yellows and purples and whites of flowers, the cerulean blue of the sky…. God wants us to enjoy this world.

The Talmud tells us that one of the questions we will be asked when we go to Heaven after our time here on Earth will be: “Did you enjoy my world?”

The way you phrased your question, and your anorexia, both tell me that you are not giving yourself permission to enjoy your life. And you do deserve to enjoy your life, because you are worthy simply because God created you. Your therapy work needs to be your getting yourself to believe that.

Let me share with you another interaction with another client this week. He was very willing to allow our conversation be published, to help other people feel better about themselves:

Client: I was so unproductive today. All I did was sit in the bathtub all day and read.

Me: That sounds lovely! What a fantastic day.

Client: No, it was terrible. I was so unproductive.

Me: Does every day have to be a productive day? Why not take a day to just enjoy?

Client: No. I have to be productive every day, or else I’m worthless.

Me: Let’s examine that thought. Is that really true? That if someone isn’t productive one day, they’re worthless as a human being created in the image of God?

We are still working on his slowly getting to the recognition that “I am worthy as a human being: (a) just because God created me, and; (b) because of my good character traits. Not because of how much I accomplish in any given day. My worth as a person is not dependent on that.”

My dear Amy, your job is to learn to love yourself. Your job is to learn to be kind to yourself. Your job is to learn to take loving, gentle care of yourself. Your job is to give to yourself.

God loves you. Now you just have to believe it.

In therapy, figure out what it is you are punishing yourself for. Figure out what it is that is blocking your self-love. Every person is worthwhile, or God would not have created you.

You deserve to ask questions, you deserve to get answers, you deserve the space you take up in this world. Having a therapist help you really believe those things will take care of your anorexia and your depression.

By the way, as I’m certain your psychiatrist has addressed, there are medications these days which help treat both depression and anorexia. We are so fortunate to have them in our arsenal; they were not available until the mid-1980’s, and they have been a most helpful therapeutic tool since then, and mental health practitioners are grateful for them every day.

God loves you. Now you just have to believe it.