I’m not sure if you’re someone who gets really irritated, really easily. I wouldn’t say I am, but if you’d wanted to drive me UP THE WALL, four or five months ago, this would have done the trick:
“You aren’t thinking clearly. You are not capable, of thinking clearly.”
I’ll explain, but first: I can’t tell you how many times I heard that. From family. From friends. From my therapist. From my nutritionist.
I didn’t feel the concern, the shock, the fear. I felt the poking, the pushing, the provoking. Especially at therapy, especially at the nutritionist. It was so obvious: the two of them were a tag team. They were taking turns, purposely baiting me. The implication that I didn’t have the cognitive ability to understand exactly what they were up to made me furious.
It is only now that I am able to see how critical a tactic that was. Anger will penetrate a hunger-induced fog like nothing else.
I had to get angry. Really, really angry. At all of the people who hadn’t noticed, who hadn’t said anything. At society at large, for making me feel like I needed to lose weight in the first place. I got angry at all of the ads, at all of the careless comments — at all of the stuff that snuck right in and made me sick, even though it bounced right off of other people.
I got angry at all of the girls with better genes — the women with the boyish hips, the flat stomachs, the legs for days. The lightning-fast metabolisms. I got angry at all of the men who adored them, appreciated them, idolized them so.
I got angry at my parents. At my dad for abhorring The Fat, The Lazy, The Undisciplined. At my mom for dieting throughout my childhood. I got angry at boyfriends I’d had, even at old employers. Employers who tend to value high-achieving hard workers. Employers who tend to prize perfectionism. Employers who wouldn’t think twice about asking for more. [More, more, more.]
It felt like all of that took forever, but eventually — really pretty quickly — I got mad at myself. For letting it get this bad, for not being able to see. How could I not have been able to see all that I had been losing, when I’d been losing weight?
Well, because everyone who was not starving was right: I had restricted my eating to the point where I could no longer think clearly. If you ask me, this is one of the more devastating effects of anorexia.
I don’t remember when it happened — maybe when I’d decided I did want to get better but still didn’t want to eat more or exercise less — but the anger fell away. Sadness took its place, along with fear. I was sad for all I’d lost, and afraid for all that lay ahead. Actually, “afraid” is too dull a word. Petrified.
I stopped feeling so sad and hopeless almost the second I started eating again. Although I cried all the time, nearly every time I ate. I didn’t feel depressed, but I felt too much. There was too much food going down, and too many emotions coming up.
But there was one feeling I could pinpoint without a problem: anxiety. Anxiety so intense I still don’t have a word for it. It was worsened by the fact that all of my previous methods of coping were definitely decidedly no longer on the table. And it was exacerbated by hours and hours of absolutely unbearable hunger — even with the seemingly obscene amount of food my meal plan required.
I found the anxiety around meals (before, during, and after) the most brutal. Sometimes I failed. I couldn’t just “sit with it” — ride it out, and know it would pass. In the beginning sometimes I just had to exercise, go sweat it out.
Now I know crying gives me a similar kind of release. And when I get really, really anxious (which, thank goodness, is not nearly so frequent anymore), I write, or go to yoga, or text a friend. I drink tea, watch a movie, or sit outside.
When I do get anxious now, it’s typically about my new shape. It’s about the way my stomach looks before I (hopefully, hopefully!) get my period. Or it’s in reaction to the way even my sports bras suddenly no longer fit. I’ll need to buy new ones of those, too.
I did feel a tiny tug of regret when I gave away my things. Especially the hardly worn things, the expensive things. But they are only things. And the truth is, I’m really happy in a pair of curvy cords from Ann Taylor Loft. They fit, and they flatter my bum. I don’t need designer jeans, $200 down the drain. Those jeans? They were all skinny jeans I felt I had to diet my way into. Jeans that felt small to start.
They’re almost all gone now: the extra smalls and the smalls, the zeros and the twos, the twenty-fives and the twenty-sixes. The twenty-sevens. Who knows how much further it will go? It’ll be okay. I’m trying very hard to think about those clothes as the ones that didn’t allow room for any cake or any pie. Or any fun, or any spontaneity, ever. I don’t think I will actually miss them very much.
When I get stuck on how I used to look, I remember that I didn’t feel thin then either. I didn’t feel thin, even when I was clinically starving. And I certainly didn’t feel happy. I didn’t feel generous, sympathetic, patient, thoughtful, or hopeful — I didn’t feel ANY of the things I feel now.
I remember to run through the list of things I’m gaining now, now that I’m gaining weight. Because I’m gaining weight. It’s a long list, that list! Confidence will come. Better body image will come.
Things really are changing so quickly. In a good way, not a scary way. Ten days ago I couldn’t eat a bite of my lunch in front of my mom. Three days ago I went out to dinner with my mom, my brother, and his girlfriend, and I loved every bite. Had such a wonderful time. Didn’t get too worked up about making a few approximate guesses and some substitutions, to the meal plan.
And yesterday I had a new snack (ten yogurt-covered pretzels, instead of an apple with almond butter!), and a baguette instead of a bagel. Good gracious, I’d forgotten about baguettes!
It’s all going to work out. I don’t waver on this, even when I slip and wish I were able to be smaller and healthy, at the same time. I feel oddly fond of my body for its ability to bounce back after all I’ve put it through, in a way that still manages to surprise me. And I’m so sure I want this life — not the one I had before. Not the joyless one, where I was constantly at war with what I’d last eaten and when I would be able to exercise next.
I’m seriously convinced the only way to really recover is to wholeheartedly believe that full recovery is possible. And I know it is. I know people who have done it, and I’m going to do it too. It would be such a tragedy to stop halfway. I refuse to fall off the wagon, when life gets hard. The cost is much, much too high.
I am calmer, now. Infinitely more positive.
That said, there is still a lot of work to be done. I need to be really careful to watch my exercise. To make sure I go when I want to, if I want to. To make sure whatever I do feels fun — more like play than punishment. Exercise should be enjoyable — it shouldn’t ever feel like drudgery. I’m not a professional athlete. I can be a very healthy (and very happy) human without exercising six days a week, or without sticking to any kind of a schedule at all. It’s actually really lovely to have NO schedule, at all.
It’s taken me three years to be able to maintain a better balance on the exercise front. I had to let go of my rules slowly, one at a time. Sometimes they morphed into new rules, and then I had to catch myself and let go of those too. I’m still working on it — compulsive exercise is one of the hardest parts of ED to treat. But it’s coming, it’s coming. It’s so much better than it was.
I’m rambling now, but do you know what I wish? I wish we could banish the word “lazy” from our vocabulary. Who came up with that, honestly? I prefer this instead: “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” And when I feel myself saying, well yes, yes, but you can do nothing after you do a little something at the gym!, I appeal to my inner hard worker, and I say: it is harder for you to rest than it is for you to exercise. So-called laziness is a skill you need to develop.
And here’s another thought, just one last thought: “lazy” people can be really fun to be around. Not a lot of stress, you know? No agenda, no pressure, no apologies. Guilty-free idleness is a skill — I really think we could make that argument. It’s a skill I want, and it’s a skill I’m going to get.