Trigger Warning: eating disorder, anorexia
Slightly toasted and thinly sliced pieces of white bread ooze with sugar-free strawberry jam and oily, natural peanut butter. I am at Mote Marine Laboratory with the children that I babysit. After our picnic, we are off to see manatees and the mangrove walk.
For nine years, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches defined my diet, but this marks the first time in months that I am eating the sandwich. Now I prefer salads, spaghetti and meatballs and hearty vegetable soups.
I once survived on the sweet concoction – so satisfied by it that I rarely missed other foods. In the height of my eating disorder, I ate a quarter of the sandwich on Monk’s Sunflower Seed bread for lunch each day.
In eighth grade my weight dipped from 112 pounds to 68 pounds and the Buffalo winter sent chills through my bones. My life was a blur of hospital visits, blank stretches of snow-frosted parking lots and trips to an eating disorder outpatient clinic where I confessed my fear of becoming a woman.
Thin and slight in my Delia’s thermals, my eyes often pointed to the ground, I was certain that no one at my school would desire to be my friend. I was tired, stoic and turned into myself. I did not have the energy that so many of my peers had to laugh. I am not sure if the girls with whom I lunched noticed me or my spare diet. I was at the bottom of the social totem pole and sat with them despite how little we shared in common. They were devoted to manga and anime while I preferred thumbing through fashion magazines and redecorating my dad’s apartment in my spare time.
Riddled by anxiety, I thought of topics to spark conversation with a girl named Olivia May who sat at my lunch table. A perpetual flower child, with a sunny, blond-haired, blue-eyed complexion, Olivia became one of my best friends in high school. I denied the existence of my eating disorder for so many years that I don’t know if she knew that I was struggling at the time or not.
After a fever that lasted 6 days, I decided to feed my body again. I was scared that I had single-handedly and determinedly destroyed it. My hair was thinning, my body had ceased to develop, I was always shivering and one night, ensconced in a cold sadness that I had never felt before, my heart palpitated.
My mom, with whom I normally fought bitterly, turned into my nurse. She fed me milkshakes and made me homemade pancakes made fluffy by whipped egg whites folded into the batter. I became the focal point of her life and I realized how gifted she is as a dialysis nurse – channeling all of her energy which at times can seem unfocused, chaotic and buzzing into her patient’s well-being.
She helped me heal. She brought me to an anorexia recovery outpatient treatment center. They set me up with a nutritionist and told me that I recovered faster than any patient they had ever seen before. I promised to myself that I would never starve myself again and I have kept that promise.
Though I recovered quickly, I still agonized over my eating habits and often binged on sweets. I have romanticized my days as an anorexic and thought about starving myself again, but never have. Last year, I learned how to eat for the first time – how to sense my body’s cravings and how wholesome fruits and vegetables make my body feel. I learned how to welcome the food that I was craving without fearing a downward spiral of binge eating and weight gain. Exercise has also been an essential part of my recovery from disordered eating – runs help me cope with my anxiety and give me a release. Now, the year of my eating disorder seems like a faint memory and a topic that seems stale to write about for the first time in my life.
If you think you may have an eating disorder first and foremost get professional help – therapy sessions are free at the Counseling and Wellness Center. Counselors and nutritionists will help you through your struggle, but the only cure to this malady is to love and embrace yourself. Sometimes to accomplish this you need to move, surround yourself with different people or immerse yourself in a new adventure so be patient – healing yourself is a journey. This is my letter of encouragement to you:
Dear everyone whose temples throb with a dull ache and who has parched tear ducts,remember that you are not alone. You are not inextricably flawed or poised for a pattern of destruction. Maybe not tomorrow, but someday soon you will wake up and see the morning and breathe in air that has just touched the sun. Your neck will soften and your body will feel light again. You will start savoring food again and stop fighting against your appetite. You will be healed because pain this deep also knows deep joy. Your sensitivity, brutal as it may seem, is also fodder for creation and new healing. You have been here before and escaped this pain before – proof that you have a future.
For information about eating disorders and finding support please call 1-858-481-1515 or visit the National Eating Disorder Association website at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.