This is my dietitian’s favorite question to ask me.
Every time we meet, we start the conversation off with a discussion about how the past week has been for me in terms of following my meal plan and how strong my urges to use behaviors have been. Usually I’m able to report near perfect compliance, but also very strong desires to restrict and overexercise. These haven’t been dulled at all by finally becoming well enough to leave treatment; in fact, I’d say they’ve only sharpened. Then we’ll talk about whether or not I was able to stick to the challenges we’ve set for me. These include having certain foods for meals a given number of times a week in order to try and reduce my anxiety around them and incorporate more variety into my diet.
After this, she’ll ask the million dollar question.
“What do you want?”
And it’s a really good question. What do I want, anyways? Sometimes, sadly, the answer is I want to be sick. Because being sick gives me a sort of structure. I wind up back in treatment, where my meals are prepared for me at designated times, and I follow a strict schedule full of groups designed to give me skills to help me navigate recovery in the real world that exists outside the bubble of treatment. It gives me a goal. I figured that weight restoration would be the hardest part of recovery, but in truth, weight maintenance is a thousand times more difficult. The pressure is entirely on you to make sure you adhere to the specific requirements asked of you in order to keep yourself healthy. You have to deal with all sorts of triggers and situations where you could get away with using behaviors. It’s like the trickiest obstacle course ever, and sometimes, you’re not able to figure it out. Sometimes you stumble and give in.
But what do I really want? When I was in the hospital, there was no answer other than I want to be sick. I woke up every morning, stared out the window at the sun rising over the tops of the buildings surrounding me, and didn’t feel even the slightest bit of happiness or hope stir in my chest. I longed for days where it was cloudy and rainy, because that was the sort of weather that suited my mood. I was hideously depressed and sometimes questioned the point of even continuing to live.
Do I want to go back to that? No, I don’t. I never want to wake up in a hospital bed wearing a dressing gown ever again. It was hell.
But my eating disorder is really good at trying to convince me to make a compromise with it. Just be a little sick, it whispers. Only sick enough to need a certain level of treatment. You can do it. You can have control. It tries to make me believe that if I control my life in this way, I will have control over my emotions. I will be happy.
I guess that’s really what it all boils down to, isn’t it? Having an eating disorder is a lot about trying to exert control over your life. My anorexia quickly spiraled into an obsession about what little I ate and what I did to try and compensate. I was under the deluded impression that I could control my body.
The body is a machine, though. There’s no controlling it. Sure, you can do things to harm or help it, but ultimately, it runs on its own. So it wasn’t having any of that, and it let me know in a pretty big way by my ending up in dire enough medical condition to require superseding all levels of care available for eating disorders and having to live in the hospital.
Ideally, I would like to have control over my life. I would like to wake up in the morning and actually want to get out of bed. I would like to go shopping for the fun of it, not for the sick pleasure of staring at myself in a dressing room window and listing every single thing I find wrong with myself. I would like to spend my time laughing and having fun with family and friends. I would like to be happy.
This, I think, is the true answer to the question. I want to be happy.
How does that happen? I mean, smiling people are happy, right? Attractive people are happy, right? Rich people are happy, right?
Obviously it’s not so simple or materialistic, though. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was? If there was a recipe or something? 2/3 cup of smiles, a dash of excitement, and a pound of laughter. Mix thoroughly and bake until ready: ta-da!
(Cookies make people happy, right?)
Depression is like that obnoxious kid who waits until exactly the right moment to blow out the candles on the birthday cake before you can. It’s the clouds that form overhead and block out the sun’s rays. Happiness is right there in front of your face, so close you could almost touch it, and then boom, it’s gone.
So what do I want?
Well, there are a thousand things that I could name. I want to be a famous writer. I want to go on a road trip across the country. I want to travel to all the continents. I want to start my own charity. I want to own several dogs. I want to go back to school. I want to be in love. I want to make new friends. I want to inspire other people.
All of it really boils down to wanting to be happy, though, because that’s what all of these things would make me.
And I’m trying. I really am. I don’t want to live a life in the shadow cast by my mental illnesses. I want to be strong, brave, and beautiful.
I’m on the road to finding these things. And that’s what’s important in the end.
Have a lovely day, everyone ❤