Jessica Yin shares her deeply personal thoughts about recovering from anorexia and her desire to claim back her mind.

I can usually make it about two days before I start to hate myself.

After a particularly tough competition weekend or a sleepless one spent in the library, even an exercise fanatic like me takes a few days off. ‘Allow yourself to recharge,’ I sternly lecture myself, sitting back to enjoy some takeout from the Thai place and an orange liqueur hot chocolate. But the voices in my head do not seem to understand the necessity of this relaxation period and about two days into my hiatus from long runs and constant training, the barrage of criticisms start again. Every mouthful is laced with guilt and even the consumption of coffee is sour with the poison of derision and self-judgment.

I’d consider myself a recovering anorexic and most days the impulse to deprive myself till the point of mere survival is just a low murmur in the background. But it is the fairly constant exercise that keeps those withering critiques at bay; it is the morning runs and the evening gym sessions that have allowed me my mind to be free to ponder more exciting things than whether I’ve burned enough calories today to offset the rice I had for dinner.

That’s what I miss most during the bad periods: the days when my body is just too tired to push itself anymore. I miss the freedom to make plans and enjoy outings, unafraid to tire myself out too much to complete my core routine later that evening. I miss saying yes to lunch dates and nachos after training, so terrified of the allure of snack foods and dessert menus that I deprive myself of the company of others with a convenient excuse of too much coursework, sorry.

I am so tired of filling every waking moment with items on a to-do list because the pleasure of reading a book seems insufficient to justify sitting, lying down, or being otherwise lazily immobile. I miss the mental space, the ability to want things unrelated to their energy output and calorie crunching capability. So today, I am going to share a quote from ten of my favorite books, to remind myself that there was once a time when my mind was overrun with characters and stories that inspired the novels I intended to pen. A time when I daydreamed about fantasylands of my own creation, conversed with characters I molded out of the clouds in my imagination, and lost myself in the lives of fictional heroines and quests I desperately wanted to find myself on one day. My head was once a place of wonder and magic, hope and optimism; I dreamed with fervent curiosity and created with uncontainable delight.

I can be that girl again in the future; I am claiming back my thoughts from the jaws of this disease that’s infected every corner of my imagination and reared its ugly head in every cavity of my mind. I refuse to let beautiful, imaginary worlds go unexplored and my potentially spectacular stories fade untold.

10. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand:

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all.”

9. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray:

“I’m an oddity of one, my strangeness too complicated to explain or share.”

8. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket:

“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.”

7. The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett:

“Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

5. Graceling by Kristin Cashore:

“When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?”

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

3. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke:

“Books have to be heavy because the whole world’s inside them.”

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak:

“The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”

1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”



Jessica Yin