12 years on and this writer still struggles with an illness that is often not even considered or acknowledged. Here, she articulates some of the many ways in which her eating disorder affects her body, self and mind. In her own words.
The mind is a funny thing; a powerful thing, perhaps the most powerful thing. It literally shapes how you view the world. Your thoughts become your reality. For me this has never been clearer than through my struggle with an eating disorder. It goes something like this: I’m walking around thinking I look fine- I pass a mirror, I stop (as most of us do), maybe straighten my shirt or blot my face or just smile and move on. Then a passing remark about my weight pulls a trigger and I go back to that same mirror but now, I’m literally twice the size I was moments ago. My thighs are bigger, my arms are larger than life. I put my hands up and stretch to see if my ribcage is visible. And it doesn’t end there, because my physical reactions are nothing compared to the attack my mind is now waging on itself. It’s relentless.
I want to tell the people who know I struggle with this, that I’m struggling. But I can’t. I feel like I don’t have any right to still struggle with this after 12 years and all that growing up I’ve done. I feel like I should just suck it up and go to the gym and not eat rice or eba…or anything at all. But I can’t do that anymore. Somehow, my body is so scarred from the index attack that it immediately goes into starvation mode…and I ACTUALLY PUT ON WEIGHT. It’s the ultimate betrayal and my mind knows it. So what was an onslaught before becomes this unquantifiable, unforgiving, unrelenting feeling of despair.
You see, it’s not really about my weight or the way I look. It’s never been about that. That’s just the symptom. It’s about control or rather the lack of it. Because all of this started when I realised, truly understood, that life ends and that there is no way to predict its ending. Car accidents, cancer, armed robbers, malaria, at some point the cause stops mattering. Gone is gone and suddenly takes on a whole new meaning because even when you knowing someone is dying, the moment they do…it’s always too soon. And it just felt so rude and abrupt and I started to think of all the things I needed to control just to feel safe in this world and now here I am, controlled by the thing I tried to control.
I used to have this dream, a wish so powerful I continued to make it even while I was asleep. In this dream, I would use a screwdriver to unscrew the layers of fat on my thighs and underneath those layers, would be perfect thin thighs. Sometimes the screw driver was a knife and I was a carving maestro; the slices never hurt and never bled but I remember the elation that came with this particular version because I was in control of creating that thigh. I was in control. I always woke up from this dream feeling sad, like I wished I could stay in that place. I still smile thinking about it…it’s like a treasured memory.
This illness is crafty. It keeps me insecure enough to seek validation from people who in turn use it like a weapon. Like a ‘best friend’ who would always say “oh did you put on weight?” when I called her out on her questionable dating choices. I’ve come to understand that this illness likes when I find these people…pushes me to find these people…because they always send me back to it.
There is no neat, inspirational way to say I’m working on this illness. There is just the daily struggle. Somehow, I’ve grown to be less afraid of the things that I can’t control but I can’t seem to shake this…thing. And that fact makes me feel ashamed. So I don’t reach out to my support system as often as I should and sometimes not at all. This thing…it doesn’t like to share me with anyone. It’s jealous like that.
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