Weighting Game: On Surviving Anorexia

Trigger Warning: mental illness, eating disorders, self-harm, substance abuse, rape

Today I step on the scale and 112 lbs stares back at me. This is a healthy weight for my height, but a small part of me still cringes when I see that number.

This year marks another anniversary of surviving anorexia nervosa. I am one of the lucky ones. Boasting one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness (between 10% to 20%), and with extreme relapse prevalence, this is a devastating disease. As I celebrate almost a decade of living through anorexia, I’d like to share this timeline of my experience. All of these moments whirl together and brew up the perfect storm.

Digital Art by Coral White

2005

I am a chubby but active and outgoing kid. I consider myself to be funny and likable, although maybe a little weird. My body just has baby fat and I’m okay with it because I’ve got spunk (or so my mom tells me).

Now, here is something I’ve realized after years of reflection: anorexia is not a moment, it doesn’t simply begin. Instead, multiple interacting instances drive me towards my extreme weight loss: boys on the bus call me fat, my parents push me to excel in everything, my best friend is thinner and prettier and people like her better than me, I am naturally a neurotic perfectionist.

I begin to lose weight. Slowly at first, then faster. People begin complimenting me. My parents approve of my newfound interest in “health.” I join the cross-country team and excel, determined to be good at the one thing I wasn’t before (fitness). My friends marvel at how cute and tiny I am. I strive for more.

2006

The compliments stop and the concerns begin. I am slipping into something else, some sort of secret ritual that only I understand. I exercise on bathroom floors. I hide bits of every meal I eat. I run endless circles around the track every recess. The smaller clothes my parents happily bought me now billow off me like sheets. On Christmas Day, my sister calls me a walking skeleton.

2007

I weigh 67 pounds, 65 if I try really hard. I still feel fat. My parents are terrified. They watch their daughter shrink away in grotesque slow motion. I can see all of my bones and I count them with joy. I count everything. I think my parents may have installed cameras to secretly watch me. I think everyone and everything is trying to make me fat. Sometimes I think nothing at all, knees pulled in and shivering by my electric heater that can’t seem to warm me.

I’m weak and too thin for puberty to even be a possibility. Downy hair (lanugo) covers my body in an effort to keep in heat. My breath reeks from the ketosis (my body breaks itself down to eat). Sometimes when I walk, it all goes dark and I’m fainting (my blood pressure is at an all-time low).  

“I’m fine,” I tell my parents. “I promise I’ll eat,” I lie.

The night I am admitted to the hospital, I cling to the bathroom door and howl as my poor parents tearfully pry my fingers off the doorframe. My father carries me to the car. I still think I’m fine.

I spend three weeks in the hospital, at first not allowed to walk. I am terrified. The eating disorder ward feels like a prison. Finally I leave, enough weight restored. Finally, my parents think I may actually be okay.

2008

I relapse. I write my highschool exams in a hospital classroom. I withdraw from life. My grades start slipping. My parents worry again.

2009

I continue to struggle with many of the illnesses common in post-anorexic people: bulimia, binge-eating, self-harm, substance abuse, anxiety. I make bad friends and lose good ones. At a normal weight, my body feels alien to me. I try all the ways I know to escape this feeling.

2010

With disdain for my body, I forget to protect it. A boy at a party rapes me. I blame myself. I binge eat everything in my house when my family goes to sleep. I eat until my muscles ache. Sometimes I purge. And sometimes I don’t.

2011 to 2016

I make more bad choices, but also some good ones. I find therapists who care and medicines that work. I end an abusive relationship and begin a healthier one. I stop trying to hide how I feel and my body starts to heal. My weight fluctuates. I expand and contract as I try to sort everything out.

2017

This is me now. I am alive and I am still here. I am one of the lucky ones.

I disagree with those who say anorexia can be cured. I think it can only be survived. I still have the same fleeting thoughts every single day about my body, my weight and me. I’m just better at fighting it now. I’ve gotten tougher.

I think the most important survival tactic is memory. Our stories need to be told and shared and listened to. The blame needs to be lifted off of our tired bones. There is no simple formula for why someone becomes anorexic or how we cope with the aftermath of its destruction. There is only surviving, self-loving and stabilizing.

So far, so good. I’ve survived. I’ve made it here.

“I’m fine,” I tell myself. And this year, I think I might actually be right.

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