There’s a lot I can’t tell you about eating disorders. I can’t explain why they happen to so many of us, so brutally; I will probably never understand why it makes sense to so many people to hate our bodies so much that we begin to slowly murder them. But I can tell you one thing: when it happens to you, the eating disorder doesn’t feel like the problem. It feels like the way out.
Here’s what it’s like: you feel guilty. All. The Time. You feel guilty when you don’t eat, because there are doctors and psychologists and nutritionists, not to mention friends and family, in your head telling you that you should eat, that it’s healthy, that your body needs food. But you feel guilty when you do eat, because as soon as you’ve swallowed the last bite you can feel it translating into fat. It builds up around your arms, legs, chin. The cells of your own body swarm, threaten to swallow you whole. In these moments, being full is the absolute worst feeling in the world.
These perspectives clamor in your head. They fight for control. After a while, you listen to both of them: you DO eat, but then you regret it, and the need to get rid of it rages inside you. Throwing up feels as natural as eating. It’s part of your life now, one of the sacrifices you have to make because you are you and, for some reason, it seems both true and logical that you can’t simply enjoy your life like everyone else can. You’re exempt. The fact that you can’t keep your food down doesn’t seem like the issue anymore; it’s your body’s own hunger that starts to feel like the more dangerous symptom. At some point, you’ve decided that you’d rather be skinny than be healthy, but you’re also not completely aware of this.
I didn’t know I was dying. I had no idea that my blood sugar levels were scraping the floor, that my body was eating itself up because I refused to nourish it, that I would sometimes fall into dazed trances in the middle of class when my body and brain were too tired to function properly, that everyone who talked to me could tell there was something wrong. I didn’t know, because I couldn’t see past the fat girl in the mirror.
That’s how eating disorders stay with you. That’s how they ruin your life. They convince you that they’re not the issue; they’re a bit of neuroses, a mild distraction, an innocent secret. They say, “hey, just look at yourself; I’m not the problem here. You are.”