It’s Not About “Being Skinny”

Today I decided to talk about one of the saddest, most close-minded, and impudent viewpoints on anorexia that I’ve encountered.

And that is the idea that anorexia is about “being skinny”.

If you don’t know much about this disorder, I can see where the confusion might come in. One of the hallmarks of anorexia is weight loss. Those who suffer from it starve themselves and overexercise regularly, and as a result, their weight drops like a stone. From an outsider’s perspective, this could appear to be a purely aesthetic disease; the fallacy of which I’ve written about before.

But I would hope that upon closer examination and education, it would become startling apparent how far from the truth the statement that anorexia is purely about “being skinny”.

My descent into the grasp of this often fatal disease was marked by severe and rapid weight loss. I would look in the mirror and see a girl a thousand times bigger than everyone around me saw. Due to body dysmorphia, my perception of my appearance was massively distorted. Ignoring the insistence of my family and friends that I resembled a skeleton more closely than I did a human being with flesh and muscle on my frame, I continued to sink further and further into exceedingly poor health.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that one of the primary factors behind the medical diagnosis of “anorexia nervosa” that I received one day in December on a piece of paper handed to me was the fact that my weight had dropped to a very low point. My health had become compromised by my complete and utter inability to put basically anything in my mouth.

Here’s where it starts to get a little complicated.

I lived in fear of food. Not because I worried it would make me fat. Again, yes, I realize that the assertion that “I’m so fat,” fell out of my mouth time and time again. But the driving force behind that was this complete and utter terror that froze me solid whenever I contemplated eating something.

My depression and my anxiety were at all-time highs when I first entered care for my eating disorder. I had ceased taking my medicine. I stopped spending time with friends, and instead made the gym and my dorm room my sole companions. I dissolved into hysterics if I went a day without working out or if something changed with the food that I managed to consume. 

Now, someone who is sadly misinformed might say that the reason why I was so easily upset is because I feared becoming overweight (at least by my distorted standards).

Wrong.

I also happen to have OCD, which manifested itself, along with my depression and anxiety, so clearly and undeniably when my disorder started to really spiral out of control, that I find it hard to believe that anyone could look at me and say, “She just wants to be skinny.”

Every day I got up at a time that was a multiple of five. I was incapable of getting out of bed otherwise. If I woke up before my alarm went off, I would wait until it sounded. Then I would head over to my desk, pull out my hair straightener and my makeup, and spend some time making myself look socially presentable. I would then pick out an outfit from my closet full of items of clothing, even though I usually picked from the same few things. After I was ready, I would cram my bag full of a couple notebooks and my gym clothes, swing it onto my back, and head to the dining commons.

Every day I ate the same thing, in the same order, without fail. I won’t go into the specifics of what this entailed because I don’t want to trigger anyone, but suffice it to say that I had exceptionally disordered habits. If something went wrong, like the person who normally prepared or served my food suddenly not being there, or an item not being available, it turned into a moment of sheer and utter panic. I’m talking heart pounding, palms sweating, racing thoughts, complete and total panic.

Every day I attended a couple classes, depending on how many I felt that I could manage, and then head to the gym, where I performed the same exercises each and every time I went.

Every day I returned to my dorm room, showered all the sweat off, and got myself ready for bed by brushing my teeth in front of the same sink I always did, checking my phone and watching TV until the time again reached a multiple of five during which I felt tired enough, and then clambered into bed to await another day.

Every. Damn. Day.

Not only was my OCD overwhelming, but so too were my depression and anxiety, as aforementioned. They were unchecked by medication that barely did anything to alleviate them anyways, but basically, I was without any defenses. I desperately wanted to be social, spend more time engaging with all the incredible communities around college, attend all of my classes and further my education, and go to bed with a smile on my face, but the fog of my mental illnesses was simply oppressive, plain and simple. Every time I considered doing something routine; something out of the ordinary, I almost scoffed at the pure ridiculousness of such a suggestion. Then I went back to what I did every single day.

Eventually, this broke me. I called home sobbing and begging to receive care for what was tearing me apart.

Now, I would love to say that I entered treatment, immediately realized the error of my ways, understood that life was filled with so much more than what my limited view allowed me to see, and got better as quickly as anyone ever had, without any errors, lapses, or mistakes.

Not so.

Because anorexia isn’t just about “being skinny.”

I remember one of my trips to the hospital with extra clarity because it was my last. I remember examining myself from every angle in the bathroom mirror.

And, unlike what normally happened, I saw something terrifying.

I saw a thin, emaciated, empty looking girl staring back at me with vacant, defeated eyes.

This is not to say that my body dysmorphia and eating disorder suddenly vanished and voila, I was healed. Far from it, actually, because immediately after this revelation, the goggles were back on and I saw the most disgusting creature ever reflected in the tiny little mirror.

When I look back at the pictures I took from when I was the sickest, I’m horrified. I see that same girl who I saw for the blink of an eye back when I was in the hospital.

I am not attractive. I am not beautiful. I am not healthy. I am not anything positive.

I look dead.

In the hospital, I surrendered to the reality that I would have to eat, or otherwise have a tube do the job for me. But I still found ways to use behaviors and indulge my mental illnesses, because I was petrified of letting go of them. This continued throughout the other levels of care, too.

Why?

Because anorexia is about so, so much more than just “being skinny.”

My call home was a cry for help. I was drowning in an ocean of mental illnesses; a tornado of destructive thoughts. I realized that I would not survived if I continued on that way.

Anorexia is my depression manifesting itself. It is my anxiety manifesting itself. It is my OCD manifesting itself. It is my fears manifesting themselves. It is my nightmares manifesting themselves. It is my convictions manifesting themselves. It is my insecurities manifesting themselves. It is my disordered thoughts manifesting themselves.

It is an amalgamation of everything negative in my life.

Think about it. If anorexia was just about “being skinny,” wouldn’t I have eventually hit a weight that I was comfortable with? If I fit into tiny clothes, if by medical standards I was underweight, if I aligned with society’s disturbing ideals?

There is never “good enough” for anorexia. Not until it kills you.

Anorexia was a sign that I was at war with myself. It revealed how insecure and lacking in confidence I was. It revealed how sad and lonely I was. It revealed how unhappy with myself I was. It revealed how fragile my sense of worth was. It revealed how broken I felt I was. It revealed how disgusted with myself I was. It revealed how much my mental demons had taken control of my life.

I think a lot of people associate anorexia with control. I sure did. I thought I was the epitome; the pinnacle of control. I could go hours and hours without eating anything. I was the master of the way I looked. Surely, I was in control.

This could not be farther from the truth. My anorexia is the ultimate expression of just how little control I had.

Since beginning to engage more fully with recovery, I have regained some of this control. I can now eat somewhat normally. I don’t exercise until my body feels like it’s going to fall apart. I’m not in a treatment facility.

But there is still so much more work to be done.

Because, once again, anorexia is not about “being skinny.”

It is about sadness. It is about despair. It is about unhappiness. It is about depression. It is about compulsions. It is about control. It is about fear. It is about anxiety. It is about mental illnesses. It is about perceptions. It is about worries. It is about triggers. It is about distortions. It is about beliefs. It is about values. It is about food. It is about exercise. It is about confidence. It is about the media. It is about society. It is about friends. It is about family. It is about hatred. It is about love. It is about happiness. It is about success. It is about habits. It is about death. And it is about life.

I am still learning how to accept and be at peace with myself. Most days I think I am a total and complete waste of space. I struggle with nourishing and taking care of myself because I don’t believe I am worth the effort.

But every day that I keep fighting is a step forwards. That’s how a journey proceeds, anyways: one step at a time. I will keep battling until I attain my goals and my dreams. I deserve to not only be alive, but also to thrive.

To anyone else struggling with anorexia, or really, with any mental disorder: never doubt your worth. Never doubt your beauty. Never doubt your intelligence. Never doubt your uniqueness. Never doubt your beliefs. Never doubt your talents. Never doubt your values. Never doubt your love. You are all of these things and more.

In closing, I would just like to reiterate for the thousandth time that anorexia is not about “being skinny.” So before you make this quick, massively incorrect judgment, consider that there might be several other things at hand. And extend an offer of help. If I hadn’t gotten help in the incredibly amazing way that I have and continue to experience, I know for sure that I wouldn’t be here writing this to you today. Never doubt the power of your words and your actions. You have the capacity to save others and save yourself.

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