Fear of Growing Up (as an autistic person in eating disorder recovery)

autism recovery
Fear of Growing Up

Important announcement!

My book Rainbow Girl is coming out NEXT WEEK! What started out as a desire to write a book about my entire story over 5 years ago, to frantically scribbling down events and turning points on index cards, to actually writing the book, hiring an editor, and designing the final copies for publishing, not to mention having some amazing beta readers read the manuscript and provide beautiful reviews, it feels like this process has been going on forever, yet now that we’re officially 10 days away from launch day, it all seems to be going so fast!

Be sure to mark your calendar for July 14th so you can read Rainbow Girl right when it comes out, and boy I couldn’t be more excited for you! In fact, I thought I’d share a snippet of my book that’s especially relevant to today’s topic, which is all about the fear of growing up:

I missed aspects of my life that the eating disorder had given me. I missed the excuse that I was too sick to complete a school deadline. I missed the excuse that I was too tired to attend certain events. I missed the excuse that I would have a panic attack if others didn’t listen to how I wanted things to go. I was now responsible for my actions; I was no longer the victim of an illness. This put even more pressure on me, as I didn’t know who I was – let alone who I would become – without the very thing I had carried for almost half my life.

This excerpt is from the chapter titled “Identity Crisis” which is all about one of my deepest fears becoming a reality. That is, the fear of handling a new identity, an identity in which I was healthy, and therefore, an identity that comes with responsibility.

The ear of growing up has been coming up with a lot of my clients recently, which is why I decided to make a podcast episode and post out of it. If you resonate, hopefully this post will help you to feel less alone and like you’re not crazy! Or if you’re a parent or caregiver of someone who's struggling with an eating disorder and has shared similar fears, I hope this episode will shed some light on the roots of the fear so you can better understand your loved one and therefore also provide more compassion.

Afraid of growing up

When I was maybe eight years old, I remember having a conversation with my mom in which I told her I didn’t want to grow up. The paradox of this statement was that I was quite mature at that age. Not physically, I mean, I got my first period when I was eighteen years old as I also write about in Rainbow Girl, but for as long as I can remember, people always voiced how I was “so wise beyond my years” and they’d say “wow, she talks so well with adults!” Honestly, even today, I can really easily make conversation with adults that are way older than me, but it doesn’t feel like they’re older than me.

Apparently, looking young but talking like you’re old is a super common autistic trait. In fact, I was just speaking to an Extremely Hungry to Completely Satisfied Course student the other day about how now that she’s learned how to honor her extreme hunger, accept weight gain, and of course embrace all the other bodily changes that come with full recovery, she said she finally no longer looks like a 12-year-old and she can finally go shopping in sections of the store that actually match her age! If YOU want to be guided through the same and learn how to finally find that food freedom you’ve been looking for without the infiltration of diet-culture bullshit, be sure to enroll in my course here!

Going back to that statement of not wanting to grow up, it was rooted in the fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle the responsibilities of adulthood. A large part of me wanted to be independent, as I have always been independent, and now looking back, that was definitely an early sign of autism, but at the same time, I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like if I was truly independent.

As I alluded to in the snippet of Rainbow Girl I shared earlier, an eating disorder serves a protective purpose so that you don’t have to realize this fear. And if you’re autistic too, an eating disorder can be seen as a unique form of masking in and of itself, because it shields your true self from the world. The true self that was born into a world not built for the neurodivergent, and I believe because we don’t fit into the neurotypical mold, we fear we won’t be able to handle the responsibilities of being healthy in this world.

Autism as an adaptation

Another theory I have about autistic people and the fear of adulthood is aligned with something I’ve talked about earlier, and that is the adaptive autistic nature. Autistic people are incredibly resourceful, and rather than being seen as problematic or maladaptive behaviors, I believe that all autistic traits serve as a way for us to feel safe in a threatening and unpredictable world. Take eating the same foods, for example. From the outside, this looks like being rigid and inflexible, but the reason for eating the same foods is to protect yourself from the overwhelm and the possibility of unpredictable flavors and textures that could trigger anxiety. Just for that reason, I believe ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) could better be termed something along the lines of “protective eating condition,” and yes, completely eliminating the word disorder from the diagnosis. Just like autism, it’s not a disorder if you can live your life in a way that feels abundant and unique to you.

The only reason an eating disorder is called a disorder is because it fucks up your life. It gets in the way of living to your highest potential, which is directly tied to my belief that the fear of adulthood in autistic people is an unconscious adaptation to protect us from unleashing the full power of our autistic brain, and therefore allows us to superficially fit into a neurotypical world! To elaborate, the autistic brain is hella powerful. It’s able to think in ways beyond neurotypical comprehension, which is perfectly illustrated through the work of Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Steve Jobs, the list goes on. These people revolutionized life as we see it today, yet in their time, when they were pursuing their creative pursuits, they were considered crazy and weird…simply because they were different. If these men had allowed the outside world to define their actions, they would have never contributed what they did. But they didn’t let others influence them. They stood their ground because they knew their truth and they owned it. They took responsibility for what they believed in their heart, and THAT is what gave them the freedom to create.

The price of freedom

The American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard said that “responsibility is the price of freedom.” Many of us, including those suffering from an eating disorder, choose to stay stuck in the victimhood of the eating disorder because it feels safer. As long as you can blame your inaction on some illness, some external circumstance that you claim you’re powerless against, you trick yourself into believing you really are powerless. And if you’re powerless, you can’t take responsibility, right? But the truth is, 99.9% of the time, when you say you “can’t” do something, you’re actually saying you “won’t” do it.

For years I said, I can’t recover. It’s too overwhelming. I can’t eat more. I’ll feel too full. I can’t rest. It’ll make me too anxious. But if I really could not recover, or eat more, or rest, I wouldn’t be alive today. The reason I AM alive today is because I stopped validating my victimhood. I stopped excusing my petty behaviors. I turned “I can’t” recover into “I’m choosing not to recover,” and when I admitted that, it gave me the power to say I’m done with being a victim.

Sure, being a victim does feel safer. But it’s taken away all your freedom. To gain that freedom back, you will have to fight for it. You will have to take responsibility and turn “I won’t recover” into I WILL recover. And I WILL recover because I WANT to recover. These shifts changed my life. Not only was this mindset work the key that unlocked my eating disorder’s imprisoning hold on me, but this mindset work is why I started my own business at 19. It’s why I just finished writing my third book. It’s why no matter the circumstances, I choose my own way.

If you want to be truly free, you’re going to have to choose the freedom. Sure, your eating disorder is protecting you from the responsibilities of being healthy. There’s no denying that. But it’s equally shielding you from living a full life. And living a full life comes at the price of freedom. So it’s really up to you; which price are you willing to pay? The cost of eating disorder or the cost of freedom?

I hope this post gave you the kick in the pants you need to take responsibility for your health and your happiness, because deep down, you know that’s what you want – otherwise, you wouldn’t even be reading this! If you would like my help and someone who’s been where you are to keep you accountable for being responsible, I invite you to book a consultation call with me for 1-1 coaching here. I hope to chat with you soon!

Want to learn how to navigate ED recovery as an autistic person?

Listen to my FREE TRAINING teaching you how to use your autistic traits to your advantage in ED recovery 💪