Pretty Little Liar's star Troian Bellisario might be known for her role as Spencer Hastings, a character who suffered from mental illness and substance abuse on the show. But now the 31-year-old actress is opening up about her own mental health in a new Lenny Letter. She gets raw talking about her struggle with an eating disorder and how much control it had over her life.
"There is a part of my brain that defies logic," writes Bellisario. "Once, it completely convinced me I should live off 300 calories a day, and at some point, it told me even that was too much. That part of my brain is my disease, and there was a time when it had absolute authority over me."
Her very real and personal battle with disordered eating inspired her to write the upcoming film, Feed, which she also stars in, produces, and directs. "It had been living in my head for about eight years and had gone through so many different iterations," she told Variety of the writing process for the film. "And what if it can inspire other people to close the chapter in their life?"
Bellisario also admits to Variety that deciding to star in the movie herself didn't come easily, as some people close to her felt that playing a character with an eating disorder—and the weight loss that would come along with that—was a dangerous place to be for someone who is on the other side of recovery. But thanks to the support of family, friends, and her therapist, she says taking on the role felt somewhat "therapeutic." (Related: Lily Collins Reveals Her Past Struggles with Eating Disorders)
While Bellisario has come a long way in her recovery, she explains in her essay that practicing self-care still doesn't come easy for her, and how she has to continuously remind herself to listen to her body and what it needs and to simply take care of it. (Related: Eating Disorder Recovery Is More Common Than Previously Thought)
She uses an anecdote to make sense of this internal battle between what she knows is right and best for her body and what she needs to prove (perhaps to herself) by recounting an experience she had while swimming in a freezing lake with a friend. She says that even though her body became "pale and goose-pimpled" soon after getting in the water, she felt compelled to swim three laps before getting out, simply because she told her friend she could do it.
"As someone who struggles with a mental illness, my biggest challenge is that I don't always know which voice inside me is speaking," she writes. "My body voice, the one that says, 'Troian, I'm cold, get out of the lake,' or my illness: 'You told everyone three times, so you can't disappoint them. You are not enough. Who cares about the difference between two times around and three?' I do."
Tomorrow marks one day left before @feedthemovie comes out in the states. I feel a lot right now: excited, nervous, fearful and proud. One of the main driving forces behind an eating disorder (in my experience) is control. Wanting it, manipulating it, attempting to exert it over yourself and your body in order to feel a sense of it in your life. And one of the hardest things to learn and accept, as a part of recovery, is that control is the one thing we can never have, over anything in our lives. And using food or exercise to attempt to feel like we do is dangerous, punitive and can be fatal. So at this moment, I feel so proud to say I get to share this story with you, but I also will admit releasing it to you means truly letting go of the idea that I have some control over it. I don't. And I will not. It will be out for people to see and experience and it will have its own life beyond me. That's painful and exciting. So thank you for all of your comments of support in these days leading up to the release. Im beyond grateful for the kindness, empathy and excitement you have shown me. Thank you, enjoy your Sunday and enjoy the crap out watching of #gameofthrones tonight #winterishere
But even though her mental illness "finds loads of fun, insidious ways" to thwart her, Bellisario continues to look ahead and work on her recovery. "[Anorexia] almost killed me [and] it was a difficult journey finding my way back to health," she concluded. "Through hard introspection, intense medical and mental care, a supportive family, friends, and a patient and loving partner, I survived, which is rare."