anorexia at a distance;

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{in honor of neda week, i have a thought or two about my experience with anorexia nervosa}

when i wrote my “i binged on fun at remuda ranch” series (part one. two. three.) last year,  i was hoping to reach people, to change their minds, to shake things up in terms of what people think of eating disorders. what i got was not only an outpouring of love from readers, strangers, and middle school acquaintances. it’s my most-read piece, by far, and the fact that scared mothers who googled this issue and read everything they could do to help their daughter or son beat one of these nasty disorders and found this piece through the magic of the internet   touches me on a daily basis.

sometimes people shift in their stance or seat when i tell them that in the span of my anorexia lies one of the best collections of moments in my life. it’s also the reason why i got the above tattoo (dewey decimal number for harry potter #7, as the night i bought it was the first time i’d left my house in months/decided to recover). the three months i spent riding a glorified donkey at a po-dunk ranch in arizona with 40 other girls were some of my favorite to date. to this day, i haven’t found a more supportive bunch of girls with which to high-five about bowel movements, getting your period, or whenever that hottie psychiatrist decided to come and do rounds. i would say that sharing woes of having a feeding tube at the dinner table, being forced to drink milkshakes, and falling asleep during church six times a week would have been a lot less fun had it not been for the group of overly-medicated girls i lived with. and oh, were we medicated.

sometimes i want to shake people around so that they’ll know that because i had a nasty, little eating disorder doesn’t mean that i was somehow made more delicate, more difficult to handle, like i have a huge “handle me with care” stamped on my back that i’m unaware of.
when i returned to school after missing the first eight months of my freshman year of high school, i felt like a white elephant. i was hugged tightly, but not too tightly. i was invited out, but i could feel the compulsory nature of it. i could tell that nervous mothers had brought up the idea at first. i could feel the stretch of having to fabricate an entirely new personality and set of memories for the last 8 months get to me. there was no one to share my experiences with, no one who could listen and not feel discomfort, even thought my time in treatment was largely one of the most special experiences of my life. they didn’t accept what they thought was just “a brave face.” 

when i finally got the courage to eat in front of people, i could feel the need of others to ask me how i got to the point where i was eating a yogurt in pubic. “but anorexic people don’t eat anything, i thought,” i could hear them want to say. i always wanted to laugh at that notion. i always wanted to say “of course, we eat. that’s all we do.” but i knew that would get met with some concerned looks. you see, all anorexics eat. it’s all we do, because we can’t do anything else. this is not to say food is our obsession, it’s just a placeholder for something larger, something darker, and something a lot hairier or more difficult to distinguish.

we don’t all want to be these fainting, anorexic ballerinas. we didn’t “give ourselves an eating disorder”. sometimes getting to 89 lbs was an accident on the way to getting perfect, manageable, or someone who didn’t inhabit very much space. you want to compartmentalize your entire being, and eating a few hundred calories a day allows you to fade away for a bit. you think you’ll get over it. you think you can just stop as soon as you feel better, but the best you feel is when you trick yourself into staying home, because you know as soon as you leave your house you might hurt someone, distress them, or make them upset.

if anything,  beating my eating disorder has made me want to muckrake more. i wasn’t always like this, i can tell you that. i wanted the deep, un-awkward hugs. i wanted the invitations to friends’ houses without hesitation or motherly intervention.  i wanted to be the furthest extension away from an “anorexic girl”, whatever that was to me back then. but then i realized i was doing the least i could do to the girls who, like me, had no one come up in google to make me feel like the little angry man inside my head would get quiet. no success story. no chance of survival, when i wasn’t sure if i did anymore, if it meant a life of 40 calorie rations of slippery turkey slices, no-calorie peanut butter, and the horror of finding out that ketchup and toothpaste had calories.

i don’t necessarily to cause someone distress, but i want them to know that the way we think about eating disorders right now is not productive or even factually true. google searches only arise more conflicting opinions, testimonials where you will “never fully get better”. talks with insecure girls in the  high school bathroom about how their friends look “anorexic” and ask how they can, too, just backtracks us back ten years. the more girls get recovered, the more they want to be quiet about their recovery, they are afraid of the misconceptions of anorexia, bulimia, and the myriad monsters that fall under the eating disorder diagnosis.

we need to make sure that the next set of girls with one of these nasty disorders have heard us clearly, that they know there is something beyond this. those of us that are quiet and recovered need to get louder. a lot louder.


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5 thoughts on “anorexia at a distance;

  1. I am so, so honoured to have you as a friend. In the least gross & smooshy way, you’re amazing. Your series last year was so important and held some of the most resonating words I’ve ever read. xo

  2. As someone who also had a run-in (though not quite to the same extent) with an eating disorder many moons ago, I have to say that the way you describe everything is simply.spot.on. The obsession with food (I was quite sure I’d never think of anything else), using the lack of eating to desperately cling to control, recovering even when everyone says you never fully will…check, check, check. Thanks for putting a voice to it!

  3. What a ‘nailed it’ sorta post. I think this makes an original and significant point – one which wasn’t covered by others in the NEDA reading I did. I guess, I wonder, if people with an eating disorder would be able to grasp what recovery is, so it’d be helpful, I think, if people discussed this more too.

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