I rub my eyes gently and sit up in bed, stretching out the knots in my arms as I raise them lethargically above my head. Blinking, I shuffle my feet into a pair of socks that match the white lettering spelling out “UMass” on the front of my sweatshirt; wearing something with my college emblazoned on it gives me a sense of still belonging despite not having attended a class there in five months.
It is now that my first behavior surfaces. I skim the flat of my hand over my stomach, noticing the slight curvature of its distension against the fabric of the oversized shirt I fell asleep in. And I wish, with a desperation so vivid and so poignant that the barbed thought literally hurts, that I was skinnier.
Skinnier. Always wanting to be thinner, and never being small enough.
I blink again, but this time it’s to hold back the tears that suddenly spring to my eyes. Then I make my way out of my room to begin my day; all the while, the poisonous thoughts I entertain continuously after they begin at the godforsaken hour of seven in the morning needle at me.
Were I to have it my way, several other behaviors would have already made their presence known as well. I would have dropped to the ground for several repeated sets of pushups, situps, squats, and jumping jacks, changed my outfit around five times before finally settling on the very first combination I’d set out, and meticulously done my hair and makeup despite knowing that I’d face the same nauseating dissatisfaction with my appearance I do every time I look in the mirror no matter how much effort I put in.
But I can’t have it my way. At least, I can’t have the sense of control over my life that my eating disorder behaviors grant me. Instead, I’m relegated to several new behaviors; changing into a hospital gown to get my vitals and weight checked at 7:15 on the dot every morning, showering in a space just slightly larger than the ones I left behind at school, and doing my hair and makeup at the desk out in the front lobby of the eating disorder facility I currently reside at. This is because several items I am so used to possessing, like my blush compact with a mirror inside, my hair straightener, and my blowdryer, are all considered “sharps” and therefore items that I cannot have nor use without the observation of a staff member.
This is how my life has been for the past three and a half weeks. But come tomorrow, a far more significant duration of time will become achingly more relevant: Monday marks five straight months of my life spent in treatment of some kind for my anorexia nervosa.
My eating disorder is cruel. It is the devil that shakes me awake in the morning and causes me to rake my gaze over my body with vitriolic hatred. It is the burning disgust that runs through my veins and the crushing weight that feels like it ought to reduce me to a pile of broken bones. It is the voice in my head telling me that I am worthless, useless, and thoroughly disgusting. It is also my constant companion.
My eating disorder screams at me that the size 00 jeans that I can wiggle my way into with ease are not small enough. My eating disorder yells that the distension marring my abdomen from the bloating caused by refeeding is as noticeable as a glaring neon sign. It berates me with the belief that the minimal weight I’ve regained is equivalent to several pounds of nothing but fat. It encourages me to cease eating altogether despite the hunger cue clawing at my stomach and then ever so gently and kindly reminds me that unless I am skinny, I have no value.
It’s the sad truth, and also a far more inconvenient truth than any Al Gore ever described. Despite that I have now spent nearly half a year of my life in facilities or hospitals battling this disorder, it still has a desperately tight grip on me. I have progressed by leaps and bounds in the past two months compared to the infinitesimal steps I took previously. But it is still not enough. And part of me fears it will never be enough, since every time I so much as even glance at my body or absently think about eating I want to wail and cry hysterically.
Recently I polled my friends, family, and acquaintances about whether they’d either suffered from an eating disorder themselves or knew someone who had or actively did. The results were alarming. Nearly 50% said that they knew someone who did; a further quarter to thirty percent of respondents said that they themselves were fighting one. It frightens me to know that this is just a fraction of the truth; so many people all across the world are fighting the exact same daily war. Eating disorders aren’t prejudiced. They seek out victims of all ages, races, religions, ethnicities, genders, and walks of life.
The difficulty of fighting my anorexia is compounded by my struggles with anxiety, depression, and OCD, as well as potential borderline personality disorder. I also asked the same people through a separate poll if they suffered or knew someone afflicted by a mental disorder like the aforementioned series. Again, the results were terrifying.
I still wake up the same way each morning; my days on the whole are so repetitive it almost feels like one massive wave of deja vu that will never, ever end. But I’m still waging this war. I have now been fully compliant for a full week, which previously was something I never would have been able to do. Even though this seems minimal, it is a giant stride in the right direction. In the coming days and weeks I hope to continue to take steps forwards, no matter how small. Recently I was notified that my weight had plateaued. In simple terms, my dietitian then proceeded to tell me that this meant that they needed to add even more to my already massively extensive meal plan in hopes of bumping my weight up to the set point I am supposedly working towards. However, this shouldn’t last too long. With any luck this increase will get me to the point I need to be at and then my body can get to work normalizing itself. I know that eventually the bloating will dissipate, the weight will redistribute, and my figure will appear more “normal” than it does now.
For now, though, I will still mourn the loss of my behaviors and loathe the continual cycle of meals and therapeutic groups I’m put through as part of my treatment. But I’ll still soldier on. Because someday I hope to be free of my eating disorder’s clutches. I hope to be content with how I look.
Even if it isn’t a size 00.