I rarely talk about this, but just over 3 years ago I spent 3 weeks as an inpatient at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in the Eating Disorder Ward. And 3 years later I’m still discovering the depths and complexities of healing my relationship to food and my body. It’s a struggle to think back to a time that I could carelessly eat food or live life. I used to think my eating disorder started my senior year of high school, but as I look back at pictures and recall memories, those lines become more and more blurred.
In middle school my friends didn’t eat lunch, so I decided that was the cool/good/popular thing to do. In high school I thrived on the “you’re so skinny” comments. In high school I looked up how many calories were in a cup of steamed broccoli. My freshmen year of college I passed on the dining hall every single time someone asked if I wanted to go so I could eat raw kale salad alone in my room.
My mind was a constantly running calculator of calories and hours since I last ate. It was a game. How many hours could I go without eating before I felt faint. How long could I run on the treadmill at the gym listing everything I ate the day before over and over again until my legs felt like they would fall off. Ask me to list the nutritional facts of an apple? No problem.
How many numbers would it take to be interesting? To get people to pay attention to me? Because maybe my eating disorder was some sort of call for help. I don’t understand how it began. I don’t understand how I wound up in a wheelchair, like some geriatric old woman, in a hospital ward. What triggers an eating disorder? I can’t answer that.
And maybe it’s less important for me to understand why it all started. Maybe the question I should be trying to answer is how to let it go. I would say my relationship to food is pretty healthy now. I would say my relationship to my body and my eating disorder is not. It’s always on my mind. Everyday. Without fail. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it.
It’s a strange thing. I’m happy, I have friends and people who love me around me. When I was starving I had none of that, or at least felt like I didn’t. But I still have this weird attachment to my illness, this fascination with everything that was falling apart about me at the time. This feeling that if I was sick again I would be more interesting.
My knees ached from resting against each other in bed, with no fat to cushion them. My hair thinned, loose strands clogging the shower drain. Climbing a flight of stairs felt like a marathon. My veins stood out on my arms so prominently it looked like I had been weight lifting 24/7. Wearing three layers in March just so I wouldn’t shiver. The concerned looks. Interesting right?
When they gave me a glass of milk to drink at the hospital I cried.
Sinking to a place where your bodily autonomy is taken away from you is probably the worst feeling. Not being able to stay vegan, being forced to consume the products of another beings suffering and being told it would end my own, was awful. There are so many problems with the ways eating disorders, mental illness in general, is treated in this country – but that’s a whole other blog post.
“If you are not recovering you are dying.” – Blythe Baird
Body positivity is a daily struggle. Whenever I’m insecure or anxious my mind goes straight back to the thought,”I know how to fix this – skipped meals – hours at the gym.” I know the high of an empty stomach growling for food and thinking I had willpower for denying it that. I know the feeling of arching my back in front of the mirror just to see how many ribs stuck out, like a disturbed pro-ana Tumblr account my mind can run for hours on loops of destructive thoughts.
I know how to be healthy. I know how to feed my body what it needs and how to fuel myself. I don’t know how to be happy doing it.
“Why Breakfast tastes like giving up.” -Blythe Baird
I wish I could stop relating my happiness to what I eat and how I look. I want to just be happy. Happy without conditions.
“So how lucky it is now to be boring. The way not going to the hospital is boring…My story may not be as exciting as it used to but at least there is nothing left to count.” -Blythe Baird
I know all the rights things to tell myself. I follow Body Positivity Instagram accounts and blogs. I can wax poetic about feminism and destroying body standards, but it’s so hard to practice what I preach. I know I’m not alone in this struggle, though it is quite a solitary struggle. It’s hard to find comfort in the fact that so many people are also not happy in their bodies.
We only have 1 life to live and I’m tired of living it with nagging, unhappy, unhealthy thoughts at the back of my mind. So this is me, trying to heal. Everyday.
This is me encouraging anyone that still struggles with eating issues and body image to be kind to their bodies and to be patient with themselves. Recovery is a process, a long and grueling process. But if I am not recovering then I am not living.