Jessica Yin recounts her struggle with anorexia as part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2015.
Warning: the following article contains sensitive material and potential triggers.
Some days, when I revisit those memories it feels like the morning after a night out, when you wake up with this vague, fuzzy recollection of the strange, uncharacteristic things you did while you were drunk. Sometimes it feels like another lifetime, as if it was all a fictional movie where I played this shell of a girl who laughed a little too loudly for anyone to truly believe she was happy. During the worst of it, when the anorexia was so uncontrollable that I stood throughout lectures, stood throughout meals, stood to do homework, and barely slept just so I could always keep burning calories, I was no longer me. I let it consume me until I couldn’t recognise the weak, scared girl I’d become.
It started because I wanted to make a change. At 15, I was tired of being overlooked, teased, and assured that my wits would make up for my lack of beauty. I wanted to be thin and beautiful, because girls like that seemed happy and girls like that were noticed. My friends had voted me out of the group because I ‘scared away boys’, and for all of my bravado and outward self-confidence, I wanted to feel like I belonged, and I wanted to become someone that people would actually like. Three months later, I was feeling great. People kept telling me how good I looked, how impressive it was that I’d dropped all that weight. Anorexic me was an efficient, productive machine; without all that time wasted eating meals, lingering at the dinner table, searching out snack foods, or sleeping, I had 24 hours to do all the readings in advance and to prepare my cases for debate and Model UN with pages of research, because someone with good intentions told me that thinking burns calories – and thus I never stopped thinking. I was proactive, looking for internships, volunteer opportunities, and jobs so that my body would be too busy to crave the nutrients it lacked.
When my liver started failing and my heart slowed to an unsustainable rate, I still refused to start eating because I was scared. I was so scared of going back, of gaining weight and becoming the person that I was before, with the body that had gotten me nothing but years of jokes and snide comments. I had such control over my routines, over every pound that I gained or lost that I didn’t know how to let go, how to relax, or how to recover. It felt like I had lived like this for so long that I didn’t know how to be without it. How could I take that step to recover if I wasn’t sure how to be normal anymore?
I made the decision to save myself one day in math class when my brain almost failed to solve the algebraic equation before me because it couldn’t remember how to multiply. In that split-second of absolute confusion, I felt horrified at who I had become. I always prided myself on intelligence and high academic performance; my mind was my gift, the source of my creativity and ability to express myself and write the words that will maybe change the world one day. What was the point of living like this if I was going to lose everything I’d ever loved about myself, everything I’d ever been proud of? I refused to continue erasing myself out of existence.
Four years later, I still call myself a recovering anorexic because simply eating again is not the same as getting better. It’s the first step and it was a bitch to attain; I spent many nights crying and hating myself after every bowl of soup I managed to finish, every sandwich I managed to eat half of. I went through a binge-eating phase where I fueled the feelings of self-loathing with entire cakes and bags of chocolate, because eating again felt like giving up, like cheating on a diet that had been my entire life. I still can’t look at butter without feeling sick, and I can’t actually eat bread without hating myself a little and running for an hour to feel better about it. Still, I am better and I’ve learned to find happiness in being myself and realising that I am enough just by being me.
Every body is different; I am a small Asian, just over five feet, and will never be a tall, blond, Norwegian model. That’s okay. Exercise to keep your body well and functioning; eat a balanced diet and take pride in the quality of food that fuels your body, but don’t go overboard – let yourself have that brownie, because food is kind of awesome and life is more than simple utility. Remember to always love who you are because there is no one else with the exact wonderful mix of crazy you have. I was so caught up in trying to change myself so that people would like me that I forgot that the most important person I need to please is myself. Anyone that wants me to change for them doesn’t deserve my time or friendship; be who you are and the people who love that will find you.
In this world, it is very easy to get caught up in the stress and in the expectations we have of one another; it’s easy to look at someone and wish you were them, completely missing the amazing traits in yourself. To anyone who is dealing with an eating disorder, I’m telling you that it’s not worth continuing down that dark road. I know it’s hard to break the mindset and I haven’t succeeded completely yet either, but it is infinitely better to forgive yourself and let yourself be imperfect than to strive for this abstract perfection that doesn’t exist. Eating is not giving up control, it’s taking back control from the disorder that has been running your life and it feels pretty damn good when you do it. One day, I hope I’ll be able to look at food as sustenance and not as the enemy, but I can only be grateful that at least now I can look myself in the mirror and see someone I like, someone I should always have been proud to be.
For more information about beating eating disorders, along with information regarding both online and local support groups, visit http://www.b-eat.co.uk/.
*The content of Perspective articles, as with all articles posted on the Tribe, reflects solely the views of the authors. The opinions expressed are not those of the Tribe as a publication or necessarily those of any other member of the editorial and/or writing staff*