Below is a stream-of-consciousness piece I turned in for a writing assignment in my Psychology of Well-Being course. My professor gave us plenty of freedom. No length requirements, no specific guidelines other than to choose a part of “our story” and write our way through it, as a means of healing, cathartic release, emotional discovery, whatever it may be.
I did what I could with what I had. Here’s what came out.
I’ve always been a writer.
Ever since I was young I’ve always had an itch to write, to put words to the feelings in my chest and the thoughts flowing swiftly in my mind. I remember being ten or twelve, unsure of who I was or who I was becoming. I understood there were many identities that could be mine, many roles I could attain and fall into, and this both unnerved and thrilled me. But I knew one thing for certain;
I’ve always been, and always will be, a writer.
Our discussions on “my story” and the concept of writing our way to our highest well-being resonates deeply with me for this reason. Writing raised me, writing healed me. I don’t believe I chose to love writing the way I do. It simply found me young, and has stuck by me ever since.
When I was fourteen I developed anorexia. The process was slow and steady, of course. That’s the way these things happen. Gradually over time and right under your nose. Never realizing it until it’s far too late. It was the summer before I began high school. The anxiety of a new chapter, the pressure of fitting in, a new and foreign self-consciousness about the body that carried me, all came together in a perfect storm.
The roots of my eating disorder lay in innocent intentions. All I ever wanted to do was “get in shape”, “be healthy”, “tone up”. I turned to the Internet to guide me through this new healthy living endeavor. I worshipped forums where strangers provided advice, prompting me to workout often and watch my calories, to fear carbs and to make sure I get my 100 crunches done before bedtime!
I began to implement changes slowly. Poking at my body in the mirror each morning, I’d think about how exciting it was to be working on myself, to be able to see myself change, diligence taking a tangible form right there in my reflection.
I wasn’t so strict, not at first. I’d come home from school and run a few miles, eat my low-carb dinner, and then move on with my life. On the weekends, I “treated” myself, a concept the Internet provided me. All of the sweets and indulgences I avoided during the week were cherished during this two-day timeframe. I felt balanced. I felt happy. I was making healthy lifestyle choices and getting to enjoy my life too.
But then I got the best of myself.
I’m a perfectionist, very type-A. I had no way of knowing I had an addictive personality before I developed my eating disorder. But eventually I grew frustrated that the results I desired weren’t developing fast enough. I wanted more and I wanted it now. I wanted to be smaller, leaner. I amped up my workouts from 45 minutes a day to two hours. I stopped eating carbs altogether, because strangers online swore they’d make me fat. I promised myself I would be the best at being healthy, without knowing that this meant I would become the most extreme in my behavior, reflective of an innate desire for control and perfection.
I quickly grew addicted to this pursuit of mine. Yes, I got smaller and smaller. But it was never enough, not anymore. One workout a day turned into two. I was skipping meals, loyal now to only a handful of “safe” foods I was comfortable wouldn’t ruin my “progress”.
I became extremely routine-oriented. I’d workout the same way at the same time every day, eat the same meals at the same time every day. Soon I was barely eating at all, a fear of food and the associated weight gain being so real and so threatening I would have rather died than eaten dinner.
This is what life with anorexia looked like for me. In a few months time I had gone from an innocent young girl to a dying skeletal shell of life. I had lost nearly half of my body weight. I worked out into oblivion. I barely ate, chronic hunger pains tearing up the lining behind my ribs, gnawing at my insides, threatening to swallow me whole. My eyes sunk deep into my skull and my skin turned paper thin, the bones beneath is rising to the surface. I became a collection of sharp edges. My brain was deprived, a foggy command station that triggered toxic mood swings, bouts of depression, painful anxiety attacks.
I withdraw from the world at large. Everyone and everything were threats to my “healthy” lifestyle. My friends would ask me to grab dinner, but I couldn’t possibly eat the things they ate. I was much too healthy! I was above them. Plus I had already eaten once that day, and I couldn’t possibly eat more. I dropped all of my after-school clubs because the meetings ran long and cut into my two-hour gym sessions that I could never, ever miss. I spent my days avoiding food like the plague and yet it was all I could think about, a gross desire for what I knew I couldn’t have.
You’re probably reading this and want to shake me, grab my bony shoulders and look me square in those my empty, absent eyes and yell, “Can’t you see? Can’t you see how sick you are?”.
But of course I couldn’t. This is mental illness. This is anorexia. This is addiction. My eating disorder took the world at large and flipped it, twisted it, warped it until the line between rational and irrational ran blurry and one became the other and they both became one and I spent every waking second on edge, a flame burning slowly and rapidly all at once.
I feared everything. I was afraid to eat, to stop exercising, to lose control. I was afraid to stop engaging in behaviors and indulging in decisions that I knew were destroying me, killing me, because a voice in my head forbid me from doing otherwise. I snapped all of the time. My dad would come home from a long day of work and rap lightly on my bedroom door, whispering my name, asking for a hug hello. I’d yell for him to go away, a wave of anger boiling at my core for no reason at all. When I’d hear him walk away I’d burst into tears as his departure. I don’t know why I did that. I wanted a hug.
One time my mom fixes me a bowl of oatmeal, plain, bland, made with filtered water and a sprinkle of cinnamon. She knows I’d never tolerate it otherwise. I watch like a hawk as she carefully stirs the whopping three ingredients together, each clang of the spoon against the white ceramic bowl a taunting tease, a reminder that I’d have to eat in just a few short moments. With a broken heart and tired eyes she slides the bowl across the island counter to me, begging me to eat, just a few bites? I tell myself I can do this. I can eat this small bowl of oatmeal cooked in water. And then it’s in front of me, my mouth salivating at the thought of a meal, the hunger pains trickling up from my ribs into my throat. Of course I know I should eat and I know I want to eat but the voice inside my skull begins stabbing at my brain, kicking and screaming, warning me to abort the mission. My mom watches in silence. This war takes place in a world far beyond what she can see. In a fear fueled fit my hands pick up the bowl and swing it over my head before smashing it forcefully on the tile below. Sharp ceramic shards spray around the room while sticky bits of oatmeal lodge into my hair, onto my face, across the counter and way over there, plastered across the window over the sink. I’m crying now, dry heaving really, a fear within me so genuine, so intense, so raw and real and heavy that I can’t breathe and I want more than anything to pick up a piece of ceramic and run it along the insides of my wrists but I’m too afraid and instead run out the front door in nothing but my pajamas and fuzzy socks, right into an icy November morning, running running running until I collapse halfway up the street and my dad carries me home, limp and chilled, over his shoulder. He is crying.
My eating disorder destroyed me but it was not mine alone. While I slowly killed myself my family went down with me. I wore my parents down with constant worry, catering to me, their oldest child, while my three younger sisters needed them the most. Many nights long after the house had fallen silent and everyone was tucked away in sleep my mom would crack open my door and tip toe into my room, a nervous energy spreading like wildfire through her being, as she leaned over my dwindling frame, desperate to see the rise and fall of my chest. Is she breathing? Is her heart still in there, beating, beating?
As the oldest sibling I was supposed to be a fearless leader. I was supposed to be the cool older sister, the one that shared stories of first boyfriends and always had the perfect shirt to borrow for a Friday night party. Instead I was a prisoner of a tainted mind trapped in a sickly body, moving through life in silence and misery. I paid my sisters no mind. They irritated me, with their ability to live so freely and so deeply, to eat what they wanted whenever they desired it, to laugh with friends and leave the house by choice. They glowed, every single one of them, youthful energy laced with an intoxicating vibrancy pulsing out of their being. I couldn’t stand it. And so I left them in the dust. I shed them like skin, like chains that were holding me back.
One icy morning in late fall I climbed into the backseat of my mom’s car so she could drive me to school. I had long ago stopped taking the bus because I couldn’t physically tolerate being around my peers, the possibility of interaction stirred up an anxiety that could have suffocated me on the spot. Plus I despised my sickly body, I hated how I looked. A sunken ghost draped in clothes from her twelve year old sisters closet, still saggy on the waist. I hated my appearance. I longed to be womanly, filled out in my frame, but my eating disorder was so disturbingly strong that even though I desired to run from it, it kept me trapped. It promised me security. It warned me that if I ventured off the narrow path of x calories a day and 2 hour workouts then I’d have no idea what to expect, couldn’t possibly anticipate how my body could change. It was this deep, feverish thirst for control that kept me sick, small, scrawny and skeletal.
This morning was like any other-until my parents drove past school and my dad picked up speed as he merged onto the highway, nobody answering my frantic cries about being late to first period. He whipped the car into the hospital parking lot and I remember kicking and screaming, clawing at my wrists and the tops of my knees, threatening to rip holes in the denim fitted over them, the chronic chill that lived in my nearly-exposed bones overcome by a wave of heat. For months my parents had threatened inpatient hospitalization, and for months I swore I wouldn’t need it, I would get better, I’d eat!
And then I didn’t, and didn’t, and didn’t. I swore I would and I didn’t. And then they tossed me in a car and dragged me into a hospital where I was softly sedated and pricked with needles and had my blood taken from my body. As the nurse walked away with viles of the very fabric of my being I watched longingly, begging them to take the rest of me as well, rip me off into parts and break down my being, rid me of the burden of simply being myself. End me.
I was tired from crying all day. I passed out on my mother’s lap and woke up to her fingers in my hair and her tears watering my scalp. A nurse slapped a FALL RISK bracelet on my wrist and escorted my parents out, letting them know they can return that night to bring me my things. I wanted to cry more but my body refused to produce more tears and my heart was strained from screaming, screaming since 6 AM that morning and as the late afternoon sun fell elegantly over the hospital cot I passed out again, never, ever, ever wanting to wake up.
Of course I could go on, I could go on for years. My first inpatient hospitalization lasts a month before I leave against medical advice (AMA) and head home, where I violently relapse and land back in the hospital three months later. My second stay drags on for months and I miss nearly my entire sophomore year of high school. I return home for the last few weeks of school and head into the summer and relapse yet again, the weight I gained in the program melting off my body like water.
The summer following my junior year of high school I have an epiphany. This word makes it sound as if I woke up one morning and something clicked, that now I knew what to do, that after years spent walking through a dark tunnel feeling the walls to find my way a flashlight suddenly falls into my hand and ah, I see now. I can escape.
It’s like that and it’s not. I had always known how to get better, I had always just refused to surrender the power and control required to do so. This epiphany, this is me at rock bottom, understanding that there are two options from here: I could try to break rock with my bare fists, daring to dig deeper and lower until what? Until I die? Is this success? Is this victory? Or I could bite my lip and step bravely into the unknown, investing my trust in a higher power to carry my fragile heart through a long and taxing recovery.
I choose the latter, finally.
My recovery is long and grueling. It hurts in every sense of the word. It brings me deep pain. It challenges the core of my being, my values, my beliefs and self worth. It stretches my body in ways that scare me and ways that feel foreign. It makes me hate myself.
But it also fills me up. It fills me out. It floods nutrients back to my brain and I stand up without fainting spells, ascend a flight of stairs without a crippling loss of breath. I can tolerate meeting my friends for coffee, or allowing an unplanned snack to enter my body and stay there without a burning impulse to run ten miles as compensation. It levels my moods and fills out those sharp edges where my shoulders and knees once jutted out like knives, like pricks on a cactus.
In the early stages of my recovery I create an Instagram account to serve as a food diary, a means of holding myself accountable for following my strict and dense meal plan provided for me by my treatment team. I draft up an ambiguous account with an image of a flower as my profile picture and post candid photos of a plate of eggs and toast, the caption indicating that I’m terribly afraid to eat this, could use some support! All of three people on the Internet would see it and supply me with support, letting me know I got this! It’s all worth it in the end! For some reason, putting it out into the universe that I needed to eat this and subsequently harboring support for doing so made me feel obligated to follow through.
This community kept me strong in my moments of greatest weakness. I began contributing my support to similar accounts as well. We saved each other’s lives.
Eventually I outgrew the stage of active recovery. I had gained all of my lost weight back and then some. I was maintaining good health on all fronts. My account reflected this transition. Instead of a food diary, I was now sharing meals and recipe ideas, my love for cooking sparked by my recovery itself. I saw first-hand that food is healing. That food is nurturing. That food is simply delicious and I loved it in every way. It healed me and saved me and I was in awe of these powers.
I finally slapped my face and name onto my account and began interacting with a growing community. I was proud of the work I was doing, and this energy drew people in, which I never imagined would be the case.
As I grew more comfortable in this little corner of the Internet, I felt a calling to do something…more. I had all of this knowledge, all of this insight into life with an eating disorder and how to find a full, meaningful life after. I knew all too well there are thousands of men and women out there living my twisted past. I knew I had a story to tell, words to share.
And so I turned to writing. Writing about my illness. Writing about my recovery. Writing about finding balance and my definition of health and what it feels like to undergo the shift from surviving to living. Essentially, I engaged in the very exercise we’ve been tasked to do for this assignment. I wrote my story, I write my story, over and over and over again, each time in new ways, each time revealing insights and feelings I had no idea were there. Each time fresh. Each time new.
Today my account is not only a social media presence, but also a full-time brand. My love of food runs deep, so my content is heavy on recipe development, but more importantly I use my space to open the conversation on eating disorders and on mental health in general. Nobody’s talking about it. Nobody’s talking about it loud enough to be heard over the stigma that screams for us to stay silent. On my account I share raw, deeply personal and vulnerable accounts of my past, pain endured, lessons learned. I open my heart and as a result I feel a deep cathartic release, but knowing that I’m serving others as well? I like to believe I’m decent with words, but when asked to describe this feeling they all escape me.
I’m deeply grateful for the work I do every day. Writing my story saved my life. Writing my story is helping others save themselves. It is truly a force to be reckoned with.