Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so simple?
If I just woke up in the morning with a big smile on my face, flipped some eggs and made some toast while sipping from a mug of coffee like I was in a commercial or something? If I didn’t have to fight the urge to perform mental calculations in my head as I stare at the nutrition fact label on a box of food? If I didn’t stand in front of the mirror and suck my stomach in to try and convince myself that I’m still thin? If I had never been hospitalized due to my complete and total inability to put food in my mouth without turning into a hysterical wreck? If going to a restaurant didn’t send my heart racing faster than a speeding car? If I went to sleep at night with that same stupid smile on my face without lying awake for hours in sheer and utter panic and horror at what I had ingested throughout the day?
Wouldn’t it be nice?
Here’s a newsflash for you if you’re uneducated and imbecilic enough to think that the solution to an eating disorder is as simple as “just eating”… If your ridiculously idiotic answer was the magic spell everyone suffering from a restrictive eating disorder needed to hear, no one would have eating disorders.
“Well surely,” you say, because your ignorance is bliss, “surely, eating disorders are a choice.”
Let me ask you something.
Do you think I chose to let my organs catastrophically fail, to the point where I was warned by several medical professionals that they might shut down on me entirely?
Do you think I chose to wake up in a hospital bed on my twentieth birthday?
Do you think I chose to have thoughts that torture me every single second of every single day?
Do you think I chose to look in the mirror and feel hatred literally rise in my throat with a tangible burning sensation?
Do you think I chose to starve myself until the number on the tape measure dwindled to an astonishingly low level?
Do you think I chose to exercise myself to the bone, literally tearing open my skin, in a desperate attempt to burn off any calories that I had so pathetically consumed?
Do you think I chose to spend months of my life in treatment for a mental disorder that has one of the highest morbidity rates?
Do you think I chose to look death right in the eye?
Here’s an even more important newsflash for you: NO. I didn’t chose any of that, and nor does anyone else who suffers from an eating disorder.
Your uninformed, demeaning viewpoint is part of the reason why eating disorders, and really mental disorders on the whole, are so misunderstood and often claim lives before anyone becomes aware that there is a real, deadly issue at hand. No one chooses to be ill. They don’t wake up in the morning and go “Gee, I think I’ll just not eat anything today.” They don’t look at a menu and go “Hmm, I think I’ll pick the salad because that’s the socially acceptable choice.” They don’t look at themselves in the mirror and say, “Wow, I would really like to lose so much weight that I look like a walking skeleton so that I don’t even need a Halloween costume this year!”
They wake up in the morning and face an all-consuming dread at the prospect of eating. They may have every intention of nourishing their body, but there is a fear that literally settles in your bones and poisons your mind that refuses to let you do so.
They look at a menu and pick a specific item not because they are worried of what others might think, but out of an intense hatred for the idea of consuming anything with real caloric value.
They look at themselves in the mirror and fail to see how fragile and sick the person looking back at them truly is, and instead see their worst nightmare come to life.
How moronic can you get? I pity you. I truly pity you. To live a life in such disgusting ambivalence and lack of awareness must be wonderful.
Let me take you on a tour of a day in the life of someone with an eating disorder. And mind you, I’m in recovery. I’m nowhere near the sickest I was. I don’t dare take you there. I don’t wish that on anyone, even someone as disillusioned as you.
I wake up in the morning and perform my usual ritual of checking the time on the clock on my phone. If it’s too early by my eating disorder’s standards to begin my hellish day of three meals and three snacks, I fall back asleep in order to put off the awful prospect of eating.
Once I’m finally unable to stay asleep anymore, which usually is in the early afternoon, I open my eyes and skim my hands over my hips, hoping to feel the bones jut out against my skin. Then I wrap my arm around my midsection to see if my fingers can wrap around my waist or not. After this, I get up, wrap my shirt tightly around my stomach, and examine myself from every angle in the mirror. I bash myself with comments like “You’re so ugly,” “You’re so fat,” “No one will ever like you if you look this way,” and “You should be dead,” to name a choice few.
Then I head downstairs, usually at a relatively fast pace. This isn’t because I’m excited to go shovel food into my mouth, it’s because I still suffer from the hope that running down the stairs will burn more calories than simply walking down them. I open the fridge and pull out the same damn food that I have every day; I have a rotating menu of about three options for every meal, because the prospect of eating anything else is enough to scare me shitless.
I sit down with my plate of food and pile of medications, all prescribed in the hopes of making this living nightmare somewhat easier. Then I start to eat, bite by bite, trying to turn off my brain so that I can get the job done. Sometimes a thought or two sneaks by my defenses, though, and rattles around in my mind, echoing over and over again. “Disgusting.” “Hideous.” “Fat.”
I will repeat this process five more times throughout the day. And every single time I am plagued with a desire to not. To just simply give in and refuse to eat. Not because I want to. But because, according to my disorder, I have to.
At the end of the day, I head to bed, usually spending at least an hour mulling over everything I’ve consumed. My mind whizzes with numbers and vitriol, keeping me lying awake. I wish to wake up the next morning and be skinny. I sometimes wish I were back in treatment. I sometimes even wish I were dead.
What a pleasant thought to fall asleep with, huh?
“Just eat,” you insist.
Just shut up. Seriously, do the world a favor and either educate yourself quickly and sincerely, or never again voice your stupidity.
I don’t fault people for genuinely not understanding eating disorders. As long as they don’t have any pre-formed judgments about those afflicted with them or refuse to learn why they are so destructive. I’ve dedicated a lot of my time trying to make my anorexia more accessible and easily understood so that people are better informed about what it’s truly like.
Where I do take issue is with people who decide to remain blind to reality. Thousands and thousands of people die from eating disorders. I almost did. And there’s no saying I couldn’t face that prospect again. Sure, I’m weight restored. Sure, I manage to eat things. Sure, I don’t exercise until it literally feels like my body is going to fall apart. But I’m nowhere near recovered.
An eating disorder is not a joke. It is not some immature child crossing his or her arms and refusing to eat just to be a pain in the ass.
I hated treatment, for the most part. Hated it. I had to ask someone for everything. To use the bathroom. To have a pair of scissors. To go outside. To take the stairs. I was cut off from the rest of the world, save for the occasional visit I got from family members and friends. I was miserable, and saw no end to it.
“Just eat,” you advise me.
Name your biggest fear. Now let me tell you how to conquer it. Just do it!
Not so easy, right?
Yes, sometimes, “just eating” is the only way to remedy a restrictive eating disorder. But for fuck’s sake, if it were so simple, so concise, don’t you think everyone would do it?
The fear numbs your entire body. It sends your adrenaline racing; you feel like you have to run away, and run forever. It turns your stomach; your palms start to sweat and you feel clammy and nauseous. Sometimes there’s even physical pain. And there is always mental pain. An assault; a barrage of words all stabbing at your defenses until they find a weak point to deliver the fatal blow.
I have been eating more or less consistently, and not exercising, for several months now. By a lot of people’s standards, I’m well into recovery. But I still wake up and contemplate not eating anything. I still watch the hours and minutes wind by without any sense of urgency. I still abhor my meal plan and long for the ability to just blithely ignore it. I spend my days dreaming that I never asked for help and was instead left alone to shrink and wither and die.
I want to. I want to so desperately. In my heart of hearts, I don’t want to be sick. I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror and loathe my appearance. I don’t want to pick and choose certain foods because others scare me silly. I don’t want to face the prospect of waking up in a hospital with wires attached to me and an IV in my arm ever again. I don’t want to look emaciated. I don’t want my hair to fall out in clumps and my nails to break right in half. I don’t want to shiver in heated rooms and pass out from lack of nutrition. I don’t want to spend my days learning about cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy and several irritatingly named acronyms for “skills” I’m supposed to develop to help me navigate recovery. I don’t want to eat my meals at a long table while observed by a keen-eyed counselor. I don’t want to only see my family and friends on the passes I’m seldom allowed to have or the short visiting hours permitted each day. I don’t want to have to take countless little pills every morning and every night because the chemical imbalances in my mind would cause me to self-destruct otherwise. I don’t want to have to call someone in hysterics for help because I can’t make it through the day without having a panic attack. I don’t want to starve myself to try and attain this unattainable ideal in my head. I want to be healthy. I want to “just eat.”
But I can’t.
Because I have anorexia.
So please, before you give me the earth-shattering, highly original suggestion to “just eat,” consider that maybe, just maybe, I can’t “just eat.” Consider that I might want to with every fiber of my being and soul and heart. But for all the want in the world, I just cannot do it. It’s just not possible.
Open your mind.