The Face of an Eating Disorder

NOTE: TRIGGER WARNING

what does an eating disorder look like?

many people probably picture an emaciated looking woman with a tape measure wrapped around her waist and a scale permanently at her feet

and believe me, I have been there

but eating disorders are so much more than this narrow-minded, societally driven image

true, for me it involved a thin, frail looking frame with bones that jutted out at sharp angles and stood out against my pale, sickly looking skin

underneath which my body was working fervently to try and survive as I slowly but surely attempted to kill it

it started out as a desire to just be healthier, born of a dissatisfied and warped perspective of how I looked and who I was

I still remember the first day I stuffed my sneakers and workout clothes into my backpack along with my notebooks

and I also remember the days where I decided to forgo class and simply go to the gym instead

sweating my sadness out of my body faster than the tears that rolled down my cheeks

as I cried myself to sleep at night, holding my knees to my chest as I sobbed uncontrollably

stuck in a terrifying, frightening loop of self-loathing

an eating disorder looks like refusing to eat, sure

but an eating disorder can also look healthy

I cannot count the number of times someone told me I looked good, or complimented me on my weight loss

because they were blind to the real reason behind the metamorphosis

but I had an eating disorder even when I was a healthy weight

I had an eating disorder even when I went to college and gained the infamous freshman fifteen

I had an eating disorder when I resolved then and there to end my sadness and began restricting and overexercising so compulsively I continued to do so even while I was in the hospital

people have eating disorders no matter what shape, size, gender, age, race, or any other defining characteristics they possess

eating disorder are blind to these identifiers

they choose their victims with cold and calculating precision

the girl who hates the way her thighs brush together when she walks, the boy who wishes he was built more strongly with intimidating muscles

the old woman who has always been unhappy with the way her cheeks support her smile

society has learned to stereotype those with eating disorders

they are seen as a choice that we make; something we can decide to change as easily as our hairstyle or our clothes

meant to be tried on for a time and then shed at will

I have met so many people along my journey with all sorts of disordered eating behaviors

I have seen the person who fills their pockets with food when she thinks no one is looking, the girl bent over the toilet as she attempts to purge, and the boy who pushes his plate away from him in horror

I have watched as they are forced to choke down supplements or otherwise face an even more intensive level of care that strips away their freedoms as easily as one might tear a piece of paper

and I have been that girl too

but eating disorders affect everyone uniquely

I have been the girl writing down calculations and mathematical formulas in a spiral bound notebook scrawled all over with hasty pen scribbles detailing what I ate and what I did to compensate

I have been the girl with multiple IVs dripping fluid slowly into her body as she deliriously reassures the medical staff that she hasn’t been exercising herself to the bone on the cold, tile floors of the hospital

I have been the girl who is weight restored and sits in front of a plate of food she has prepared for herself, unable to think of anything but throwing it in the trash

I have been the girl who laughs until her sides hurt despite the fact that inside she is being ripped apart piece by piece, shattered into a thousand tiny shards

I have been the girl who has to wake up at an ungodly hour of the morning, slip on a hospital gown, and wander into a tiny room to be weighed and have a blood pressure cuff contract uncomfortably around her arm

I have been the girl who secretly wishes for the counselor to use the smaller green cuff meant for children rather than the blue one meant for adolescents

I have been the girl who has to take the elevator because she is not allowed even the minimal exertion that climbing up or down the stairs would involve

I have been the girl who commiserated with others facing similar struggles, sharing triumphs and tribulations that sometimes brought the community to tears

I have been the girl who picks up her fork and fights her way back to health one bite at a time

this is my personal story and I am still writing it each and every day I open my eyes to a new beginning

as I watch the sun shine in through the window as if it is begging me to wake up

as I stand in front of the mirror, examining myself from all angles with careful and judgmental scrutiny

as I march downstairs like a soldier heading into battle, pulling out utensils and plates with a grim sort of urgency

as I set out my various medicines in front of me, lining them up like I used to toy cars as I prepared to race them

as I swallow a bite of food and the lump in my throat that threatens to morph into sticky, hot tears cascading down my cheeks

as numbers dance cruelly in my head with nightmarish smiles and cold, detached stares

as I step backwards onto the scale so that my weight remains a mystery

as I finally give into my demons urging me to step up looking forward and face the ominous, frightening music of the numbers on the display

as I take in my spindly arms and legs and bloated, rounded stomach and feel revulsion surge in my throat like a tidal wave

as my heart beats a violent, flighty tattoo against my chest as I contemplate the rush that comes with using behaviors

as I fight back against the voices in my head with no weapons, just my own wits and will that I’m barely able to keep about me

as I obtain victory over victory over my eating disorder, even if it is something as innocuous as eating a small bowl of strawberries or a single pieces of candy coated chocolate at a time

eating disorders are faceless, murderous creatures that hack dreams to tattered shreds

they take lives into their skeletal, frigid hands, and hold onto them with a vice-like grip, refusing to let go

as their bony fingers work to crush the very breath out of you

and as if by holding your heart tightly enough they can simply stop it beating

what does an eating disorder look like?

I have a dream that one day mine will be all but invisible

it will be healthy, happy smiles that daunt the devil and keep him at bay

it will be strong arms and legs that carry me through the journey of life one step at a time, even if it is two steps forwards followed by one step back

it will be hair that once again shines brilliantly in the sun and skin that is no longer dry, cracked, and brittle

it will be choosing the french fries instead of the side salad because something in my head wants to indulge 

it will be laughing with friends and family that I haven’t been able to see in ages, relishing the freedom that I now possess

it will be embracing my love for traveling, for writing, for thrill-seeking, for helping others, for painting, for whatever sends my heart soaring

and it is learning how to treat my body with the respect and love that it deserves.”

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2 thoughts on “The Face of an Eating Disorder

  1. Amazing post!! Struck a chord in me. I’ve been struggling with an eating disorder for a while (you should check out my blog at outinthesunflowers.wordpress.com! I think writing about it and reading it helps everyone get through it knowing they aren’t alone in their disorder) and I just wanted to tell you to keep your head up!! Good luck on the road to recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

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