Two Words

I still remember sitting in the uncomfortable, hard-backed chair in a room dimly lit by a lamp in the corner, across from a woman who had just handed me an official looking piece of paper.

My eyes skipped past all of the fancy medical jargon and focused on one line near the top of the page, bolded for extra emphasis. It was just two words, but they carried an immense power far greater than their length.

Anorexia nervosa. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Before this, the idea of having an eating disorder was an unpleasant nightmare floating on the outskirts of my daydreams. 

I was convinced that I was working my way to better health, and that if I just sustained, if I simply stayed the course, I would be happy.

But I was not happy. Those two words had come to dominate the entire story of my life; scrawled in large, glaring script across the piece of art I had worked so hard to create, like an unwanted graffiti tag.

My bones cried out desperately for me to stop as they struggled to support my ever more fragile frame. My skin burned where I had rubbed it raw from exercising in my dorm room, locked away from the rest of the world in a torturous realm I was wandering through entirely on my own. 

I felt the pain and smiled sadistically. I smiled and watched as my skin struggled to stretch itself over the contours of my face, like butter spread too thinly over a piece of toast.

It was a sick, twisted, convoluted stairway of emotions that never ended. No matter where I looked, there were endless steps spiraling out of sight to a destination that back then I did not know did not even exist.

The day my thighs no longer touched when I stood with my feet together for my daily ritual of examining myself from every emaciated angle in the mirror, I felt an irrepressible feeling of contentment bubble up in my throat like poison. It burned like acid, acrid yet maddeningly pleasing.

The sharp edges of my body jutted out at odd angles like a building put haphazardly together. And my smile faded from my eyes like the way the sun disappears behind the horizon, leaving only darkness behind.

But there were no stars in my night sky. There was no light by which to see. I was stumbling along a winding path that vanished out from under my feet whenever I took one uncertain step forwards into the pitch blackness surrounding me.

For a while the scenery that surrounded me was distinctly medical; sterile, cold, and uninviting. I spent my birthday dressed in a hospital gown, attached to a heart monitor, and sedentary in a bed that was alarmed to alert the staff if I tried to move. I celebrated by taking the three short walks around the halls that I was allotted each day.

I was alive, but inside, I was dying. My desire to live had been sliced too thin. It was flimsy and had nothing to support it, like the little house made of straw that the big bad wolf huffed and puffed and blew down. I was like a flower wilting in the grasp of a winter that refused to let go.

For a long time I teetered on the precipice of whether or not I wanted to close my eyes one final time and leave the world behind permanently. I rocked back and forth on my heels on the very edge of life and death. And eventually, the time came where I had to jump and trust that something would catch me; something would break my fall.

I spent my days writing morbid poems in a spiral bound notebook and watching TV shows like a robot to try and pass the long hours spent laying in a deceivingly comfortable hospital bed. And at night I curled up tightly like a cat, desperately wishing I could just fold in on myself and disappear, and hating the visceral disgust that rose in my chest whenever I felt my thighs touch together.

My anorexia has not been the glamorized, romanticized tilt on a story of a struggle with an eating disorder that the media likes to spin. There has been blood seeping from my back into the fabric of the oversized shirt I wore to hide my body. There have been tears coursing down my face like a raging river. There have been times where I lay awake at night, listening to the sound of rain pattering on the window and wondering whether I wanted to live, as if I were in some sort of cliched movie scene. It has been an intricate web of lies and deceit woven to conceal the secrets I kept hiding behind locked doors. It has been lonely, forlorn hours spent sitting in front of a computer screen, obsessively reading up on nutrition facts and longing for contact with the outside world. It has been an excruciating amalgamation of mental illness all feeding on each other like starving sharks. It has been hours spent agonizing over my emaciated body in the mirror, blind to the walking skeleton that all my friends and family saw with devastating and terrifying clarity.

For so long I did not have the strength to fight. I was barely capable of getting up to walk out to the hallway where I was made to eat three times a day, dehumanized and relegated to being watched like a felon. But one day I opened my eyes and decided that there must be more to life than learning the names of the hospital staff so that I could greet them whenever they came to give me my medicine or take my vitals with that infernal beeping machine that spewed out decibels as it displayed my orthostatic status. There was more to life then the shadow I had allowed myself to become. There was laughter. There was friendship. There was love.

Once I started my journey, I refused to look back at my shoulder at all the obstacles and trials that I faced along the way. I kept my gaze determinedly fixed forwards on the goal of having a smile that once again reached my eyes and a body capable of carrying me through life without danger of collapsing.

To anyone fighting a similar battle, I wish you all the strength in the world. I wish you the bravery to jump off the cliff and trust that someone, something, will be there to catch you. I wish you the courage to stand up to your mental demons and banish them to the dark corner of your mind where they belong, never truly gone but quiet and subdued. I wish you a lifetime of happiness as you spread your wings and fly far away from the burdensome, overwhelming weight of the world that is an eating disorder. I wish you love, beauty, excitement and infinite journeys. And most of all, I wish you the ability to truly, brutally, genuinely, honestly, and completely be yourself.”

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