June finally ended and by mid July it was more than obvious I was deeply depressed and had immersed myself completely in losing weight at any cost. I cut myself on my 13th birthday over something stupid. I felt incredibly guilty that I ate a small piece of birthday cake.
The diagnosis “anorexia nervosa” was brought up and then slowly became a word I saw everywhere. I saw it on the books by my mother’s bedside table, a pamphlet on the kitchen table at my Dad’s house.
My parents were trying to gear up for war while I waved a white flag to the enemy.
When I think of how this must have felt to my parents, my heart feels really heavy.
It was like an old folktale of a changeling, a child stolen in the night by fairies with an imposter left in their wake. The changeling my parents were left with was a deceptive shrinking creature who was dead set on self destructing.
But this was no fairy tale and there were no magical instructions on how to bring the “real” Genny back.
Everything fell on deaf ears, I didn’t care what anyone said.
I was finally becoming thin and pretty and no one could take that away from me. My anorexia gave me a sense of power and control in a life that had not felt “right” in many months. Growing up, anger was an emotion I struggled with deeply. Now that anger just spilled out like dam that had finally succumbed to a natural disaster. Everything I couldn’t say out loud, I could scream with jutting hipbones and bony limbs.
In today’s society, anorexics are often asked to prove their sickness with the severity of their weight loss.
Myself and many others feel that this sensationalizes anorexia and places importance only on those who are extremely emaciated. This essentially glorifies one eating disorder while casting those who have ED-NOS, bulimia, or binge eating disorder into the shadows. Even those who are anorexic but do not end up at 60 lbs can feel that their weight loss wasn’t enough because of this hyper focus on the worst of the worst.
I know I have definitely felt that way about my lowest weight and how I wasn’t that serious compared to women and men in People magazine articles or on tv. When I am not in a good place I will always admonish myself that I was a failure because I “wasn’t that thin” and how “I was a failure as an anorexic”.
Someone’s weight does not solely determine how detrimental their eating disorder is.
Some of the hardest times I have had with my eating disorder were not just when I was underweight but also when I was weight recovered but still struggling mightily.
I refuse to share my lowest weight or any pictures of me at my sickest in this piece of writing.
I know it all by heart of course.
How much weight I lost that first summer, how much weight I gained during my first impatient stay, the cycle continuing through a relapse and another hospitalization at 15. Then another relapse and another one during my freshman year of college. How much weight I then gained over the next two years. How much I purged my senior year after the break up of an intense 5 year relationship. My highest weight at age 24. How much weight I lost in my late 20’s when I did a lifestyle overhaul, started to exercise, and learned to love vegetables. How many years I spent in a relapse triggered by Sean’s mom dying and then complicated by my chronic pain and never-ending nausea.
How many minutes a day I still worry over my body shape and my weight, 20 years later after that first summer when all of this began.
None of those numbers really matter.
None of that really tells you what it was like.
Its all just numbers, mere statistical data, none of it can truly tell you what life is like in the grips of eating disorder. Anorexia makes you a crazed mathematician, a wild eyed scientist. What equation, what forumla of calories, macros, and excessive exercise will finally make you finally like yourself?
How can you finally become perfect?
The day shall be spent obsessing about food all the while avoiding it.
You should compare yourself repeatedly to everyone, measuring your wrists and running your hands against your ribs and collarbones, making sure nothing has gotten bigger in the past few hours.
The more weight you lose, the less sense you make. You become afraid of the grocery store. You wonder how many calories are in toothpaste. Ice becomes its own food group. 15 laxatives at once is completely rational even if you’ve barely eaten that day. Working out for 3 hours when you’ve barely eaten is a fantastic idea.
The rest of the world seems able to exist outside these strange rules and ideas but for whatever reason, you can’t.
Every goal weight quickly shifts into another unacceptable one. You hit the next number on your list and then after careful observation a.k.a obsessive exploration, you decide another 5 lbs needs to go. Seeing the numbers go down is the greatest high you have ever felt, better than drugs.
The less space you take up, the better a person you will be.
Your skin turns slightly grey. You’re always cold even in the summer. Your hair starts to fall out. Your breath smells like death and rotting…because your body is starting to consume itself.
Days and nights are to be spent lying to parents and friends, hiding your weight loss with baggy clothes and purging any food you guiltily eat. Maybe you ate it to make your loved ones to think you were “doing better”, to try and hide whats going on a little more. Maybe you ate it because you couldn’t bare another hour of being bitterly hungry.
Maybe you don’t hide the weight loss, you flaunt it in everyone’s face. You see the pain in your loved one’s eyes when they take in your body. It hurts them to look at you. Hugging you breaks their hearts as they can feel bones no one should be able to touch. You simultaneously feel proud and horrible all at once.
So you starve yourself some more.
When the house is dark and quiet, you just lie awake, trying to fall sleep while clicking your knee bones together. Your stomach howls and grumbles. You punch it hoping it will shut up so you can go to sleep.
Tomorrow will be exactly the same, wash rinse repeat. Obsess starve purge.
You know what you are doing but you can’t stop.
That is what its like to slowly disappear.
When I see 12-13 year old girls now, it shocks me how young I really was to be diving so deeply into something so dark. Girls in 7th grade are still so young. Sometimes it’s hard for me to comprehend that this is how old I was when all of this began. I thought I knew it all.
I started smoking weed a few days after I turned 13 to complete my “look at how messed up I am” triad of anorexia, cutting and drugs/drinking. When I was high I would feel pretty, I could laugh and play in the woods with my friends. Being high was the only time I could eat without guilt, until I came down and would hate myself for eating. I rarely drank though… because you know, calories.
I lost more weight.
Summer slowly burned out, the heavy humidity of August softened as September approached.
I lost more weight.
My depression got worse and worse. I began to think about suicide seriously. 8th grade was about to start and yet I considered ending my life at least once a week. I had this song I would sing to myself in my head when I got anxious “I hate myself I hate myself and I want to die“. I know, I know, the lyrics sucked.
I started to cook for food for others which is pretty typical for those with anorexia. You get to be in close proximity to food which you miss on some level and then you get to be a huge gloating asshole when everyone eats and you don’t. Some anorexics engage in “food” porn where you obsessively look at cookbooks and websites of recipes. The food is there in front of you but you can’t put any of it in your mouth.
“How strong you are” to deny yourself food when everyone eats.
That part of anorexia is the one of the pieces of the disorder I hate the most. Most people who kn0w me would say I am a pretty nice person (I’m also kind of annoying and neurotic but thats for another blog…maybe). I worry far more about others than I do myself. Other people’s feelings come first, other people’s needs come first. To suddenly indulge this nasty side where I felt superior to others because I could starve myself and be thin always felt disgusting.
Feeling superior is a weird part of the disease.
Perhaps you have been someone that has always felt stupid or ugly or freakish. Your anorexia allows you to finally feel like you are winning some screwed up competition. I cannot begin to count how many times I have said to myself “Well you know at least you are the skinniest girl in the room since you certainly aren’t the prettiest or smartest”.
Even now, I compare myself to everyone to see how I measure up and every time it makes me feel horrible. A lot of the time I come up short, sometimes my body is deemed acceptable.
Most of the time though I can always figure out a way to put myself down.
As I lay here writing this it is now July. July 1rst to be exact. That bittersweet month of June is over. 20 years exactly have now passed since I began this long arduous journey of being at war with my body.
Some days I am filled with so much regret over everything that happened.
For hurting my parents so deeply.
For taking attention away from my little brother and having him grow up in a house that had a dark cloud hanging over it for many years. No young kid should have their childhood overshadowed because their older sibling was a basket case. In November 1996 I would be sent away to an eating disorder hospital in Oklahoma for 3 months (the only one that would take a child as young as me). The night before I left, Chapman sat in my lap and cried while I cradled him and told him to be strong for me.
In that moment, I remember asking myself why I had let this happen.
For the past few years I had been trying to protect him from our parents failing marriage and then the divorce. When they would fight before the divorce I would close the door in his bedroom and play his favorite game. Later when my dad would show up to pick us up for Wednesday dinner or for his weekend with us, a fight would almost always ensue so I would grab Chapman’s hand and take us outside or turn the tv up so he couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want him to feel the pain I did. Once my anorexia began, I protected him less. Instead I downed a handful of laxatives and cleaned the kitchen hoping I was burning enough calories.
I focused more on myself and less on everything that really mattered.
You would think I would realize that the reach of my anorexia went much farther than me. Eating disorders unfortunately are insidious and make you incredibly self absorbed. You can be the sweetest person there is but your anorexia will make you a complete shithead.
I am so deeply sorry for making him live amongst a war I had created.
I could write for months about what happened the rest of 1996 and onward. The story of my anorexia is a long one. I would go again to the same inpatient program in 1999 and stay there for half a year. I would be threatened with IP treatment several more times after that. I have relapsed so many times. This is true of many people with eating disorders.
One of the more shocking things I saw in treatment was women who were my mother’s age and older. Women who had developed eating disorders young like me and had for whatever reason not been able to ever recover. They are called “career anorexics/bulimics” and the prognosis is grim the longer you engage in ED behaviors both mentally and physically.
There was a woman who was 40 something but looked 60 because of how emaciated she was. She was tube fed and kept pictures of her teenage daughters taped to the IV pole. Another woman was very thin but had insanely swollen lower legs and ankles, she later lectured me in the lunch line about how abusing laxatives and diuretics would one day make my legs look like hers
Recovery from an eating disorder just like drug addiction or alcoholism is a life long journey, one that is never finished.
You might go through periods where you feel more at home inside your skin, where eating is just eating and not a complicated chess game. Then something happens and you’re back there starving yourself again. Sometimes its slow, sometimes it happens within a week. Sometimes you mean to relapse, sometimes you don’t.
I would love to end this mini-memoir by stating how amazing recovery is and how wonderful I feel abut my body but that is not where I am in this moment of time.
I would rather be real than finish with false words.
I struggle to still see myself as I am. I often feel larger than I am. I sometimes wish I was 15 lbs thinner even though that would make me underweight. I don’t always love eating. I still feel pulled to make myself throw up when Im really upset. I obsess over body and food stuff more than I would like.
I have definitely had periods of time where I didn’t engage in any eating disorder behaviors. I had a small period in my mid-20’s that were when I was the most normal I have ever been about food and exercise but I have never had a break from the obsessing. That for me doesn’t ever seem to go away no matter how recovered I look on the outside.
I am in a place where I mostly accept it for what it is.
Last night while scoping out food that may or may not piss my nausea off which is happening every single time I swallow food, I had a random thought.
Maybe the anorexia was to prepare me for what I am up against now. The journey back then is different than the one I am on now but its still all happening in my body.
I know what its like to struggle with illnesses I can’t stop. I know what its like to be mad at my body. I know what its like to have your life derailed in ways you could never imagine.
I have spent a lot of time wondering why I couldn’t JUST have an eating disorder and a mood disorder, why I had to go on to deal with several other stupid illnesses.
But thats life.
You don’t get to choose your path and life is filled with multiple sorrows and challenges. This is the life I have been given and since I am not sure I will be given another, I have to embrace the one I have.
Just like this body.
This is my body, the only one I will ever own. We have been through a lot and every day I hope I get closer and closer to feeling more peace within. Both with my eating disorder and my chronic illnesses.
Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. I do know that I am light years ahead of where I started.
20 years ago I learned to disappear but this summer I am doing my best to be here.
I am here on this planet and I am sitting in the light instead of in the shadows.
I exist here in the world fully. I am visible and I am found.
Thank you as always for reading and following this series.
Thank you as always for reading. Please feel free to share this series with those who are struggling with eating disorders and self harm, those who are in recovery, and those who are interested in understanding eating disorders more. Open and honest discussion about these issues is a powerful tool that will hopefully help us to eradicate these devastating illnesses.
If you or someone you love has an eating disorder please go here for support.
You aren’t alone, friend.