“SHE LOOKS ANOREXIC” I look up, responding to the word as if called by name. Anorexic. I never liked that word. “She is anorexic.” As if anorexia is all that she is, as if she is the disease.
My friends are talking about a girl in college, showing her Facebook photo around the group in both awe and disgust at the bones protruding from her chest. A popular topic within our group these days. “She is not anorexic, she has anorexia.” I correct them in my head and bite back the anger I feel at the use of the word like an adjective.
Even two years into my recovery that word still awakens the competitive streak within me that so many of us “anorexics” possess to always be better (i.e. thinner) than the other girls in therapy, the other girls on death row. I never pass up a chance to look through the photos of a girl who has been described as “anorexic”. I want to compare myself to her, fuel the self-hatred a little more.
My friends know, but their words hurt me
My friends know I had anorexia, but they don’t seem to understand how their words affect me. Very few do seem to understand. I had never noticed this problem until beginning college.
Maybe it’s because I am living with four other girls who engage in endless discussions about that girl, oblivious to the fact that eating disorders are more than just a desire for thinness; they are depression, anxiety, self hatred so strong you are willing to starve yourself to death, self harm, entrapment in a body you hate, and the thrill of getting sicker with each passing day.
Counting calories, weighing myself, running until I collapsed or taking enough laxatives to warrant sleeping on bathroom floor were some of my pastimes. I was being bullied in school, parents were separating.
Everything I thought I could depend on, was falling apart. And I was grasping at something to make me feel controlled again.
I fed myself through looking or smelling, but never eating what my malnourished body craved. If I slipped up, laxatives was the punishment. My self worth was based on the scales. Weight up = “You are weak and useless, you don’t deserve to be here, you are a fat, fat, ugly pig.” Weight down = “That is not enough. You are not good enough. No one will ever believe you have an eating disorder.”
I spent three months in hospital
But that was two years ago. I suffered for three years on and off before finally checking into hospital for three months. Definitely not the Leaving Cert holiday I had dreamed of.
I’m okay now though. Or so everyone believes, because I look okay. I am not over anorexia; I am living with it. Some days are harder than others; I get tired of fighting. I can go weeks or even months being fine, not restricting my intake.
Other times I struggle with one meal a day and can’t let anyone see the “fat” me I created my own rules to live by to give me a feeling of control; about what I am allowed to eat or wear, even who I can be friends with. I cannot diet, and still can’t exercise, its triggering for me. Then I am mostly okay. But there are always setbacks; when clothes don’t fit, when I am stressed, when I am emotional. And sometimes I need the comfort of a skipped meal to get through. And that is the reality of my recovery.
Letting go of an eating disorder is hard. Out of all the illnesses in the world, I reckon it is the only one which you don’t want to recover from. I wanted to want to get better, but I never felt like I was “enough” to ask for help; thin enough, sick enough. I thought I was a “fake”, and so I placed “anorexia” on a pedestal and tried to shrink myself to fit the diagnosis.
When I finally got it, I still didn’t think I deserved help. I checked into hospital still believing I was “too fat” and ensuring every other patient in the ward knew that I was aware I wasn’t good enough to be there.
Anorexia whispers in my ear – it’s an all consuming disease
And now I am going to say the thing I am not meant to say; I still miss it sometimes. I do yearn for that girl who had enough self control to starve herself for so long, that girl who was a shell. I tell myself that I could be her again but still manage to keep my life together. It would never work, but sometimes anorexia whispers in my ear that I could do it, that we will do better this time.
These are all the things that go on in the head of an eating disorder patient. It is not simply the pursuit of thinness; it is a life-threatening, all consuming disease which steals you of your life.
It is not an out-of-control diet to be admired.
It is on the same level as cancer; it KILLS. What you are saying may be worsening someone’s battle. So next time you comment on that girl, think of this article; think of the thousands of people who have died from eating disorders, think of how it has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, think of how two years on I still struggle to love, or even like, myself daily.
Think of how I am comparing myself to that girl because I still think I was never good enough, because every single day is a battle not to revert to my old ways.
The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
Eating Disorders Week is taking place from 22-28 February. If you have been affected by this article you can call the Bodywhys helpline here: LoCall 1890 200 444. You can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
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