When Fear Says “No,” You Can Say “Yes”
**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.
Emma Gubitz (she/her) is a 22-year-old Canadian copywriter, a proud Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) graduate who now calls NYC home. She’s passionate about using stories to motivate others to overcome life’s challenges. Explore her advertising portfolio at emmagubitz.com and discover her desire to tell brand stories.
“When the voice in your head, fear, is screaming ‘NO’’ so loud that your head starts pounding, you’ve just discovered the ultimate moment to say ‘YES.’”
This line kicks off the ‘statement of purpose’ I wrote when applying for an academic achievement award six months into my recovery journey—an opportunity I never thought I’d get.
Recovery has been an eye-opening journey, opening doors I never imagined. That’s why I want to share my story. I hope everyone who reads this takes something meaningful from it or even one small step toward facing their fears.
Hey, I’m Emma. I’m 22, just graduated from art school in June 2023, and moved to New York City in July. From January to June of my senior year, I did full-time outpatient care—a choice I made. Being an international student from Canada, my program was online. I won’t go into all the details of why I started, but I’ll talk about some of the symptoms I didn’t even realize were connected to my eating disorder.
Where I Knew
Between November and January, during a school break, I had a realization: I needed help. My relationships with friends suddenly seemed less important, and the idea of traveling didn’t excite me. I was fighting with my parents, the people I loved the most, more than ever. I was short with people who cared about me the most. Even my favorite restaurants, the places I used to first visit on my trips home from university, suddenly seemed bland. And my obsession with control was off the charts. I vividly remember having a full-blown panic attack in the back of my mom’s car when she was only two minutes late leaving at the time we agreed.
At that time, I didn’t even realize what was happening. I was under the impression this was just ‘me.’ Really, these were all bioproducts of my obsession with control, which translated to my plate. To put it simply, from the moment I started feeling anxious about food, it gradually took over my world. It felt like everything, every moment, was shrouded in a weird fog. I couldn’t fully enjoy stories, movies, and books, or see the beauty in everyday things. It was like walking around with a cloud over my head, dimming everything that once meant so much.
This is the part of eating disorders that’s hard to grasp—a part that needs more understanding.
The Outpatient Program
The eating disorder outpatient program meant every meal and snack was monitored on Zoom daily. I also had at least two hours of therapy and other therapeutic work each day. All this while I was still in school. When I first found out I needed this level of care, I wanted to quit right then. So, I started thinking of two voices within me: Emma and Ed. Ed was furious and wanted me to give up, but somehow, I mustered the strength just to start. Thank the universe, I did.
I would step out of class to share a snack with someone on Zoom and have all my meals with someone on Zoom, which became a big part of my life. This meant even when my boyfriend was over watching TV, it was me, him, and the person on Zoom. It was really tough at times, but I kept at it. I often look back at my journal, where I noted my daily wins. Those wins that seemed impossible at the time are now a part of my daily life. I remember the first big win so clearly—eating a whole sandwich, not in pieces. Without exaggeration, this felt like breaking from a jail cell.
Recovery is crucial. It’s achievable. Every day you challenge yourself, that inner voice (Ed) gets quieter. Even though it feels like you’re diving into danger, you’re actually diving into freedom. I understand that for the eating disorder brain, even freedom doesn’t seem that ideal because it means giving up that false sense of control. I know that feeling.
Challenging myself to break free from the rituals and routines I set showed me how much power I had. Every day, I slowly learned that the eating disorder didn’t control me and never will. It was a symptom of coping with something deeper inside. It was like a wild horse, and I had to learn to rein it. I always had control, even when it was angry.
You have a choice—not over the thoughts that come in, but the actions that follow. It’s up to you to make the challenging one. Every time you challenge Ed, I promise, he gets quieter and starts to realize that you’re the boss.
Life is better without all those rules.
What Does it All Mean?
There were times during my eating disorder when the idea of doing anything outside my rituals seemed uninteresting. I felt like I didn’t even know myself anymore. This need for control consumed my identity. But as I let go of that control and allowed the people in my recovery program to push me to eat things I used to be scared of, I learned to embrace the unknown.
When I started challenging myself with food, I started challenging every aspect of life and experienced true, honest, genuine joy again. Joy was never really gone—it was just hiding. You have this power.
I remember the day my friends and I won the Puma design competition at my school. We celebrated with wild excitement, jumping, cheering, and screaming. It was a burst of energy that had been pent up for a year. I was so overjoyed that tears filled my eyes as I thought, “This is why I’m in recovery.”
I began spontaneously taking on challenges, going out more, reading more, and making friends. On the day I conquered one of my biggest fear foods, I met one of my best friends at a party that night. I started taking advantage of opportunities, shows, and so much more that I once found uninteresting. But the only ‘uninteresting’ thing was the person my eating disorder had turned me into.
I remember the Thanksgiving dinner at the peak of my eating disorder when I realized how selfish and uninteresting my eating disorder had made me become. It may sound harsh, but it’s true. Family members would talk to me, and I was barely listening, lost in my food rituals. What was I up to these days? Well, I had a rigid exercise routine, my body hurt a lot, I was cold… and that was about it for my story. This wasn’t what I wanted for myself, even though a part of my brain tried to convince me otherwise.
When I started my outpatient program, my therapist asked me to describe myself. I said, ‘determined, disciplined, dedicated.’ Some of those still apply, sure. But on the last day of the program, I said, ‘caring, balanced, spontaneous.’ Let me tell you, life is better this way. My relationships are better, and I have a newfound appreciation for things. I now have a life full of uncertainties, unclear paths, and spontaneity. I don’t know what each day will bring, and that lack of control makes me so happy I could cry.
For those of you reading this, especially those who feel that strange, indescribable haze hanging over your head, making you feel like you don’t love life the way you used to—don’t panic. Visualize different paths ahead of you. One may feel safe, familiar, and comfortable, like returning to your routine. But, I promise you, taking one step onto the path of fear, discomfort, and the unknown will bring you one step closer to conquering your eating disorder.