This is what makes me sad. (Most of the time, anyway. Every once in a while, when I look over, it won’t be sadness that’s simmering, on low. It’ll be ABSOLUTELY IRATE, bubbling up and over, instead. Probably on power-boil.)
Anyway, the thing that makes me angry-sad: I felt like I needed to lose 20 pounds in order to feel sick. Genuinely, sick.
Or I don’t know. Maybe it was that I felt like I needed to lose 20 pounds, in order to actually be sick. In order to get people to see me as sick. Or in order to feel like it’d be okay, to ask for help. [Legitimate, help.] I don’t know; I’m still not quite sure. These are murky waters, for me.
There is something that is crystal clear, though.
I’ve been sick for a long, long time. Long before this summer-into-fall. When I nearly killed myself — in a last-ditch, furious attempt to lose the weight that had always done a too-good job of keeping me on the small side of normal.
Normal. I want to dump scalding hot pasta water on this word, every time I see it.
I’ve put entirely too much stock into this word, normal.
Can I tell you what’s not normal? It’s not normal to think about food all the time. Every minute of every hour of every day.
And it is not normal to lie awake in bed at night, counting down the minutes until breakfast. It is not normal to worry that breakfast might never come back around. And it is not normal to feel like you are less, somehow, for not having been able to make it this time. Because you had to tiptoe out to the kitchen, let something melt on your tongue. Crawl back into bed, stomach churning. Mind racing. More, I need more. Please, give me more.
I could go on: it is not normal to see stars when you step off the stair climber at the gym, it is not normal to run out of energy at 3pm, it is not normal to ask the barista 4 times for skim milk. No matter how politely. Sorry — I said skim, right??
But this is not my point. My point is that even before I nosedived, even before I lost the weight — even before I committed myself to four months of filling my mouth with the faintly metallic taste I will forever think of as HUNGER — I was sick.
I was sick when I stopped wearing a bathing suit, when I was something like 11 years old.
I was sick in high school, when I wouldn’t let a boy go up my shirt. What if his hand brushed against my stomach, what if he felt how fat I was?
I was sick in college, when I went to the dining hall one time, piled my plate high with dry iceberg lettuce, and never returned (except to steal fruit, and sit with friends).
I was sick when I was running 80+ miles a week, training for a marathon, fueling my complete and utter refusal to rest.
I was sick when I cut out cheese, then chocolate, then nuts. Then desserts just in general, one summer. Eventually, all carbs too.
I was sick when I brought my own groceries to my then-boyfriend’s house, every time I visited. I was sick when I started refusing to visit, because it was too hard.
I was sick when I graduated and went to work, found I couldn’t make it through my shift without my mood plunging. Found I couldn’t find comfort, in anyone or any thing.
I was sick when I was weighing every ounce of food that crossed my lips, compulsively plugging every single thing I ate into My Fitness Pal.
I was sick when I started getting stronger, lifting four times a week.
I was sick when I was nearly recovered, when another boyfriend helped me get back to where I needed to be. When he told me I was beautiful, every time the number on the scale jumped. When he took the scale away.
I was sick when I broke up with him, when I felt like he was too much of a threat to my eating disorder. To everything I knew.
I was sick when I started cleaning, to feel better. To feel more in control.
I was sick when I started going to bakeries simply to stare into the cases. Dreaming.
I was sick when I stopped cooking, started drinking coffee instead.
I was sick when I started using [only] small plates. It wasn’t very long before I started halving my portions. Halving them again.
I was sick when I started scooping handfuls of hair from the drain, every time I showered.
I was sick when I started shivering at sixty degrees. When I started realizing I was cold, all the time.
I was sick when I went to the doctor and I said, “P.S. I haven’t gotten my period in three months. Six months. A year. Two years. Is that a problem?”
Am I ranting? I might be ranting. But truly, it does no good. It does no good to rail against myself or against anybody else. Not the doctors who didn’t notice, nor the faceless people who unknowingly continue to perpetuate the REALLY ERRANT IDEA that you have to be emaciated, in order to be anorexic.
But it will do some good, if I can help even one person with the “I’m not sick enough” mentality. If I can reach even one person who has just decided to…retreat, for lack of a better word. Consciously or unconsciously. And not necessarily for some major, identifiable reason, but for whatever web of reasons.
If this is what you think about all day, if it makes it so you can’t work or love or laugh or live [the way you want to] — you are sick. If it has become something that you have to consult, before you do, think, or say anything, you are sick. You are plenty sick, enough.
That’s all I’d wanted someone to tell me. That’s all I’d been waiting for.
I guess this makes me angry-sad, too: that nobody told me until I was comfortably numb inside myself. Until I had lost so much more than time.
Don’t wait. Do me a favor, and don’t wait until you have to pad your 12-year-old frame in chunky sweaters and loop super soft scarves 3 times over your head. Angle your body directly towards the camera, to look more normal. And freak out that you already look recovered, like that, when you’ve really only just started.
Don’t wait until it feels like it’s going to be a long, long road. Don’t wait until you have completely obliterated your trust in yourself. Don’t wait until you need a calendar to keep track of all of your appointments. Don’t wait until you feel like you need to be hugged for two weeks straight. Okay? Don’t wait.