Los Angeles Triggers My Eating Disorder, and It Sucks So Hard

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I got back to LA a little more than three weeks ago. I was so excited to be home! I have loved this city since the minute my plane landed at LAX the very first time. I love the ocean, the palm trees, the people, the nightlife, the history, the mountains, and god I love the film and television industry.

I love being an actor. I love it so much. I love making movies and TV shows. I love booking the role, being on set, promoting the film. I love meeting other creative people on the job. I love telling stories, stepping into another person’s shoes. I love making people laugh, or making them think, or giving them a break from thinking too hard. I love doing 20 takes and discovering something new on the 21st. I love knowing I’m in the same union as Meryl Streep and George Clooney. I love this business with all my heart.

I’ve been acting for 25 years. I’ve never wanted to do or be anything else. I knew when I was 7 years old I wanted to do this for a living. My career is what drives me. My dreams gave me the strength to survive a rocky childhood, to get out of my small town, to press on when I could barely see one speck of light at the end of a long, dark, scary tunnel. I owe my life to discovering a passion for performing. I really believe that.

So here I am, finally, back where all my dreams come true. Hollywood. A place my heart feels at home, where I truly belong. Where I’ve always been happiest and most alive. 

I’ve managed to sustain pieces of my career while I’ve been away. I have agents in Detroit, and I booked a few jobs. I did some theatre in Quito. I got to perform in NYC for the first time ever.

All of this was nowhere near the hustle it takes to succeed in LA, though. Not even close. Out here, you get the feeling you have to be a shark. Not in a cutthroat way. Just in the way that if you stop swimming, you die. Getting the agent is so much work. Getting the headshots, doing the resume, editing the reel, submitting. Then it’s more headshots, different headshots, training like crazy. Always be in class! You want to learn, stay sharp!

Then you have the agent, and the materials, and the relationships, and you’re training- you’re doing it, and you get the audition, and it’s really just beginning! It’s the work of preparing for each audition, giving every single one 100%! Hours of work, then actually showing up, then hopefully the callback, and maybe you book it!

And then starts the work of the work, where you show up and work!

I love this job, but it is not exactly what you would describe as a laid-back, low-pressure situation. You have to pay attention, do your best, and bring your A-game, because you love it so much, and you want the chance to really do it, as many times as possible. You want to never look back and wish you’d tried harder.

Enter: an eating disorder.

I’m not going to lie. I got cocky. Chilling out in the midwest, or wherever I was traveling, doing my thing, I felt great. I was starting to really love my new body. Yeah, there were moments where I wished I were in better shape, or pushed myself to workout more, but it was for the right reasons. I wanted more energy. I liked keeping my depression in check. I wanted to take long walks to have those great talks with my husband that we tend to have on long walks.

I really believed I was basically cured of my eating disorder, even though somewhere in the back of my mind I was sure I hadn’t really finished the work. I just sort of thought…maybe it kind of went away. Tapered off. I did such a great job at the beginning, I kinda licked it on my own. Good for me! So strong. So healthy.

Um- no.

Turns out, I just wasn’t putting myself in many high-pressure, vulnerable situations. The kind of situations that kick my anxiety into complete panic mode and make my brain-demon start screaming at me to get control of my life this instant!!!!

Guess what Los Angeles had waiting for me? PLENTY OF THOSE!!!!!

I didn’t really admit to myself what was happening until tonight. I felt it coming. I contemplated the ways I could hide a juice cleanse between my husband’s visits so he wouldn’t know. I started patting myself on the back when I went long enough without eating that I got shaky hungry. I’ve been pushing too hard in some of my workouts. I had another bout of electrolyte deficiency and felt awful for a few days.

These are the first steps backward. Hiding my eating habits (or planning to) is always an obvious sign that something isn’t healthy.

Today my panic reached a point at which I couldn’t function properly. It kept rising, and I took a walk while I tried to explain to my sweet husband what I was feeling. I really couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I just knew everything was up in the air, nothing was for sure, and a lot of things felt transient. I was doing as much as I could and I didn’t know if it was enough or too much. Everything was fine, but nothing was amazing. It wasn’t terrible either, or even remotely bad. I couldn’t put my finger on what would be giving me such terrible anxiety!

Except that I have zero control right now. I’m in a business of total vulnerability, constant rejection, and no clear path to “success.” It’s a day by day, minute by minute situation. It means surrendering to a lot of outside forces, and just showing up and doing your best.

That’s an awful lot of ambiguity.

That didn’t used to freak me out at all, because I controlled what I ate and when. I controlled my extreme workouts. I controlled my size, my weight, my measurements. I had control over something, and that gave me a point of focus.

I was also miserable, I hated my body no matter how thin I got, and I had a voice in my head that constantly told me I was failing. So, you know, it wasn’t a perfect situation.

Tonight, I realized I still have some real work to do. It’s time to get back to therapy. I need professional help finding healthy replacements for my old security blanket. It’s easy to say, “Just replace starving yourself with yoga! Meditate! Call a friend!” It’s just not that simple. I’m not there yet. The thought of doing those healthy things instead of the thing I know works, the thing I know calms me and puts me back in the driver’s seat…sorry, that just isn’t satisfying.

Maybe this is what smokers go through? Alcoholics? I don’t know. It feels like a real addiction. It defies logic. It sucks.

I had this thought that really scared me and also made me feel incredibly grateful. I realized that if I had fallen into large-scale success in this business when I was very young, far too young to begin to deal with this eating disorder, there is a very good chance I may have died. I was so desperate to keep that control, I can imagine that raising the stakes and the vulnerability higher and higher would have pushed me to more extreme behavior. I could completely imagine I would be the girl who would diet harder, workout more obsessively, or turn to any number of drugs to stay thinner and thinner.

After a while, the same things don’t work as well anymore, and you have to find ways to keep losing weight somehow.

That could have been me, the stupid senseless tragic story of the young actress who dies of a cocaine overdose in a hotel room. I can see it, clear as day.

But that’s not going to be me.

I’m so, so blessed that I’ve been given this chance to get healthy while things in my career are still at the level they are. I’ve been able to work and make a living doing what I do, but under the radar. More importantly, right now, right this minute, I’ve been given a chance to recognize that I still have some very important work to do before things get crazy.

It’s been a rude awakening, but an awakening is always welcome. They don’t always have the luxury of creeping in politely.

Time to get back to work, so I can really get back to work.

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