[Trigger Warning: this article includes discussion of eating disorders.]
[Written by Anonymous]
[Image by Karin Tokunaga]
Being skinny was part of me; at least that was what I’d been taught to believe. I remember how my friends told me how lucky I was to be skinny, how I got into modelling and my family was so proud of me, how my body shape was the first thing anyone seemed to notice about me. And then it turned into an obsession.
It’s a tale that has played out countless times.
It can come from anywhere. Sometimes we don’t even realise we’re possessed by it. It was only after years, when I finally had the courage to reach for help, that I realized how throwing up was never about my body. It was never about me. Obsessing over something I could control, like my weight, was my way of putting up with those things of my life that I had no control over.
I spent months and months hiding and swallowing the pain – because I didn’t want to be a burden for the people around me, because I felt it was too selfish to let my loved ones take on my problems when they already had to deal with their own. It changed when I realized that somebody cared, that I needed to care, that I deserved the right to feel better. This is when I started to heal.
I can’t say I have fully recovered yet – I’m still in a state between my old destructive self and the new me. And I’m working very hard to get there.
The way that we think about mental health (diagnostically – either you are totally fine or you have an illness) is flawed. Many people exist on intermediate stages of a spectrum and can shift up or down depending on lifestyles and external circumstances. Discussing mental health in terms of discrete illnesses can be a useful way to communicate ideas, but it does not provide a complete picture. We need to allow ourselves to accept the in-between states of not fitting the diagnostic criteria, but not being quite healthy either.
Trying to forget about the problem is not the solution. Personally, I know that my disease will somehow always be a part of me. I’ve learned to live with it, to turn down the volume of the voices in my head telling me every bite of food is poison. It is a part of me, but it does not define who I am. Trying to be happy and perfect all the time is a Sisyphean task. For others dealing with the same issues, I want to say: there will be moments when you’ll feel tense and obsessed, and that’s okay. The sooner you realise it, the easier it gets.
Allowing yourself space to breathe is the only way to move forward.
Anorexia. Bulimia. These words can sound scary. But you need to get to know your monster, learn how it works, learn its weaknesses and prepare yourself to fight. You’ll learn how to win day by day, bruise by bruise, until the day the monster will get so small it won’t be able to hurt you anymore.
Organizations like Talking EDs, Beat and Citizen17 are there to help you find your voice, even when you feel like you don’t have one. Those few steps that separate you from one of those meetings, group chats or helplines can be the hardest steps in your journey towards recovery – but you can take them.
I have created a list of things that help me on my phone. None of them are surprising, and they have been backed up countless times by research: exercise, mindfulness, art, cooking, spending time with people who love me. They sound so obvious that it’s tempting to just ignore them with a shrug, but these are the things to do when you feel yourself slipping down the spiral, which will almost inevitably happen. Being aware of it can help you to bring yourself back.
I know it’s not an easy battle. Sometimes I’m enjoying a night out with my friends, or watching a movie with my boyfriend, and I can still hear the voices telling me I’m wrong. They say that every bite I take and every change in my body will reveal to everyone that I’m a failure, but I’m learning to ignore that voice. Instead, I listen to all the life that surrounds me. It’s a much more interesting song.
Slaying the monster is not easy when it lives inside of you. My experience is only one of millions; the experience of a flawed person, a scared person that is still trying not to be her own enemy. But I know that I’m slowly defeating my monster. Battle by battle, day by day.
This piece was originally published in the Between issue
[Image Description: An abstracted figure seen from the back, formed of geometric shapes ranging from pink to red, brown, blue and purple, against a background of abstract rounded shapes in black and white.]