Life With An Eating Disorder

“HE DOESN’T WAIT until I’m awake. He comes into my unconscious to find me, to pull me out. He seizes my logical mind and disables it with fear. I awake already panic-stricken, afraid I won’t answer the voice correctly, the loud, clear voice that reverberates in my head like an alarm that can’t be turned off.

What did you eat last night?

Since we first met when I was twelve he’s been with me, at me, barking orders. A drill sergeant of a voice that is pushing me forward, marching ahead, keeping time. When the voice isn’t giving orders, it’s counting. Like a metronome, it is predictable. I can hear the tick of another missed beat and in the silence between beats I anxiously await the next tick; like the constant noise of an intermittently dripping faucet, it keeps counting in the silences when I want to be still. It tells me to never miss a beat. It tells me that I will get fat again if I do”.

-Portia de Rossi

It is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. To spread awareness, I’ve decided to write about a fictional character who represents very nonfictional people. What’s an eating disorder like? I hope this answers at least part of that question.*

Veronica was a nineteen year old girl who did not know how to find motivation to continue living anymore. Veronica’s dark brown hair fell over her waist, framing her opaque skin and high cheekbones, highlighting her features. Her eyes were a pale, marble-blue that resembled mirrors reflecting ocean waves. Her appearance made people stare at her in awe, scrutinize her from head to foot, and admire her beauty. But their words remained unheard, filtered by the darkness that narrowed her vision and structured her thinking. She did not hear them. Most days, she did not hear her own voice crushed beneath all those barriers she had created. But other times she heard it, small and at the same time deafening, trying to cry out and be heard; to scream, to perhaps bring some attention to the tumutlus whirlwind living inside. It was a voice etched with hope. She had woken up five minutes after her alarm clock went off, splattered some make up, thick like a mask, did some perfunctory morning exercises and quietly walked down the stairs. As she did, she was aware of every movement of the floorboards, every sound, every breath that could wake up her parents. She opened the front door, inch by inch, and felt she had escaped. No one got in her way; no one was there to tell her she should eat breakfast. This meant that perhaps the invisible abuser that spoke over her shoulder words edged with fire and daggers, would remain quiet just a bit longer.

The prolonged silence startled her and suddenly she was alone, everything underneath the shadow unprecedentedly there for her to see- like a calm ocean with sand sitting at the bottom. Clear water, all her unbeautiful things unveiled. She got into the driver’s seat of her car and drove off to school, fighting tears the whole way. She walked down the halls toward first period, her eyes falling on every body that passed her- thinner ones, taller ones, ones that did not need any modification at all. She looked at the eyes of other students because maybe she will find something, unrevealed, there. Did everyone else live alone inside their head? Was she the only one who did not know what complete silence was like? Was she the only one who was afraid of the silence after she caught a glimpse? She rounded the corner, entered the classroom, sat on her desk and lifted up her walls- walls of iron, constructed from years of mistrust. She wanted to talk, she wanted to be heard and known, she wanted people to recognize that she existed, that she took up space in the world even if she felt guilty about such wasted space. But it was as if invisible hands restrained her, pushed her own hands against her back and whispered secret consequences. Her heart clenched, her stomach gave an elaborate summersault and a stone seemed to have settled itself somewhere in her chest. She reached over her shoulder and back, felt the ridges of her ribs and breathed in relief. They were still there. She felt her knobbly knees and smiled because they felt as prominent as the night before. She observed as the people around her spontaneously talked, so expressively, so free and unrestrained. It looked like life and tasted like freedom- like broken chains. That’s all she had ever known: chains. Iron ones that wedged her wrists and created red and purple marks upon her white skin- like ink on innocent page-, ones she had desperately tried to free herself from but to no avail. It was a clever chain, a malicious wall- two live things that breathed and held beating hearts and thinking minds. The ones she had become a slave to and now she did not know how to enter the world she saw around her. It was so close. In fact, sometimes you’d think she was in it with everyone else. She was breaths away and also universes away. She had to bear a separate entity that lived inside her mind, taking careful, painstaking steps, making tentative moves, never unheeding and always watchful. What would it say to her next? Who was this voice? Sometimes it sounded like her own voice, another nonexistent version of herself she doubted she would ever become.

Other times it sounded like the voice of a man- sometimes she knew him, others she didn’t. But the words pelted her like thorn-encrusted swords anyway, burning from her mind toward her veins, as she drifted away from the world she wished to meld with the same way night blends with twilight. “How do you do it?” she mumbled to nobody in particular, her voice hidden by the drone. “What’s it like to hear nothing?” She closed her eyes shut and pressed her lips into a thin line. Her hands clenched and unclenched. The vein beneath her wrist pulsed. Because she knew silence never lasted longer than an hour. The fact that she had not eaten breakfast was not enough to muffle it a moment longer. Veronica: Shut up! Shut up! Voice: You’re filthy, disgusting, unworthy. You should not even be around. You are so, so ugly. Look at yourself. Pathetic. Veronica: Can you please leave me alone for one day? Voice: You lost count yesterday didn’t you? You think you can compensate by skipping breakfast? How naïve. You’ll have to do better than that. You have to work harder. The damage is already done. You cannot undo it and it’s all your fault. You were not strong enough. Undisciplined, out of control. I’ve been so patient with you. I’ve helped you get through your worst moments. I’m your friend. I want what’s best for you and this is what I get. Ungrateful. Don’t push me away.

School ended. She walked back home and, unexpectedly, made her way toward the kitchen. She felt like a hollow shell, like the grass beneath her feet had dried, and the sun’s light dimmed, like there was no warmth against her skin anymore and no brightness in her eyes. No. She was a hollow shell, one that sounded with frightening echoes against its inner, ragged walls.

She was alone at home and even though there was nobody around her to tell her what to do with herself, she still heard the echoes of her parents incessantly screaming: “Why would you do this to yourself?” “All you have to do is eat and then you’ll get better.” “Stop being so immature. It’s a teenage thing, a phase. Nothing more.” “You are too thin. Please, gain some weight.” “Is that all you’re eating?” “Why are you doing this to us? After all we’ve done for you this is how you repay us?” Veronica sat at the table, trembling hands carrying her paper plate- a plate filled with the exact amount, an amount that would not send her off the deep end, at least not yet. Something she could tolerate for now and at the same time, keep her alive for the time being. She sat down, stared at the food in front of her and interlocked her hands together, trying to keep them from trembling as if the temperature had suddenly dropped. She closed her eyes, took in the smell, tried to tell herself that eating it was probably a good idea, listened to her heart- and then began listening to other things as well, to other voices that had become a part of her so intricately she did not know where she started and they began. She did not know who she was anymore and she felt like nothing but a wisp of smoke, a shadow of a silhouette. And wasn’t that a good thing? Didn’t that mean she had become exactly what she wanted to be? Hadn’t she been determined to become smaller and smaller, to disappear, because she took too much space in the world and would rather someone else be in her place? Wasn’t she a heavy burden that needed to be lighter? Her hands turned into white-knuckled fists and her heart pounded in her head where it seemed to have moved along with thoughts that flew and insulted like moths gone crazy mad. And a voice- a thunderous, hearty voice that drowned her own and overwhelmed her world. With her food in front of her, everything perfectly patterned and perfectly placed on the paper plate, as if the arrangement had some sort of meaning, she began having a conversation with that voice. This is how it went:

Voice: You know that is way too much.

Veronica: But I haven’t eaten anything in more than one day. How could that be too much? I’m starving.

Voice: Did you just say starving? Needing something is not productive. Remember the last time you needed something? No one was there to fulfill those needs. You’re setting yourself up for a huge let down.

Veronica: But I’m human. Of course I need it. I need it to live.

Voice: Maybe. But maybe you’re not good enough for it and I don’t think you deserve it.

Veronica: I don’t care. I still need it. I think I’ll have it.

Voice: Are you blind? Surely, you saw yourself this morning in the mirror. Disgusting. Repulsive. No one would ever want to be with someone like that.

Veronica: Yes but, I don’t think one meal will make a difference at all on my appearance. It’s scientifically impossible.

Voice: Your choice. But if you do eat, remember you will gain weight. Remember nobody will like you because of it. Remember that you will be left all alone and you will feel the hollowness that threatens to drown you. Your choice.

Veronica: Shut up. Stop controlling me. It’s not my choice. You always chose for me all this time! Don’t make it sound like I’m the one to blame!

Voice: Go ahead. Eat. You will be alone then. But that’s okay. You know I will never leave you. You know that what we do together works. You know I’ve helped you keep on living.

Veronica wiped her hands underneath her eyes. Her face was now red and tear-stained, the dark circles encompassing them becoming deeper. She picked up her fork, her hands white and shaking, the voice inside her mind grasping for control, for a word, for something to make her fall. But Veronica pressed on, crushed it beneath her feet. A whisper resounded, ever so slightly, somewhere inside and she immediately knew it was her own voice trying to be heard and gasping for air. It sounded like a weak child- but a child with potential, with a small voice that is carried by the wind and penetrates hidden, unreachable crevices. She grabbed on to it fiercely, for dear life, and took a bite.