Ten years ago I had just been sucked down the rabbit hole of anorexia, getting turned upside down and losing control before I really realized what was happening.
Starvation became my job, my friends, my boyfriend, my hobby. Dropping out of high school because I was too sick and too weird didn’t seem to bother anyone, especially me. Who cares what the implications on college or my social life where, I just had more time to stay at home and starve. I lost about thirty pounds right away, in a month or two, then the next twenty trickled away over the next three months, hitting a low during what felt like an endless trip to Brazil to see relatives.
I was losing so much hair that I would throw it out the window, into the jungle for birds to make golden nests with. My mouth had at least ten canker sores at any given point, and I hadn’t had a period in six months. My nails and lips were blue all the time, and I was down to one fat-free yogurt, one piece of fruit, a broth cube, and a piece of light toast per day, plus all the diet guarana soda I wanted. I had seen a therapist before we went on our trip, but she wouldn’t see me anymore after I almost passed out in her office, saying I needed inpatient treatment that we would never be able to afford. My dad and I weren’t talking, especially after he had told me that I’d end up in a mental hospital if I ever got treatment. My sister hated me for what I had done to our family, or at least it felt that way (I can still hear her screaming that at least she wasn’t an anorexic bitch who didn’t bleed when she misheard me and thought I had insulted her).
On my 17th birthday I couldn’t eat that day because I had eaten too many almonds the day before. My mom gave me a tangerine surrounded by flowers with a candle in the middle, and her eyes filled with tears when I couldn’t eat a single section.
My heart beat less than forty times per minute, and most of that time was a blur. Eventually I gained about fifteen pounds, leaving me still about twenty pounds below the minimum for my height. I went on anti-depressants, and enrolled at the community college, and was now in a weird limbo where I looked “normal,” but my life was still ruled by food and exercise, which still meant no friends, no life.
I clung to my mother desperately, and she was my sole source of socialization. Days revolved around identical scheduled meals and workouts, like some kind of groundhog day. My class schedule was decided around workout and meal times, and having a job was not an option. Slowly this started eroding, the grip loosening. Very, very gradually, whether it was being able to eat in a restaurant or working part time at the Gap and bringing lunch from home. I wasn’t in therapy, and went from anti-depressant to antidepressant with little benefit. I can’t say what the change was, other than time, the way that rocks get broken down into sand by the beat of the waves, slowly and imperceptibly.
During the limbo years, underweight but not skeletal, maybe making one friend, was when I got the most male attention I’ve ever had. For the first time in my life I wasn’t too fat or too thin, I was the middle of the three bears. Even though my life still revolved around controlling and measuring and restricting my body, I was attractive to men. I still didn’t get my period, even after hormone replacement therapy, but I got asked out on lots of dates. As a teenager I had developed early. I was always a size six, and at my wealthy school straight out of mean girls I was too fat to ever get asked out. When I was emaciated I could have cared less whether men found me attractive or not, but now in the limbo years, I was healthy enough to go on a date but still too sick to have a boyfriend since all of my time still went to maintaining my low weight.
When I went to law school and had my first real boyfriend, I started putting on weight. The first ten pounds came when my structured compulsion shifted away from my body and to my studies, and I was content with sacrificing workouts for study time, and from being in love and going to brunches and dinners with wine on the weekends when he would visit me. This bothered me, but it was not very noticeable and my clothes still fit. Then, all hell broke loose with my body.
I developed tendonitis in nearly all of my major joints, and was plagued with staggering chronic nausea. I went from doctor to doctor desperate to find out why, but the only answers that I got were that my body, after years of over- exercise, including running a marathon, and under-nutrition, it gave out. My workout routine went down to pitifully swimming a few times a week, until my shoulders hurt too much and I couldn’t do anything at all.
For over a year I was completely sedentary, with aching achilles and knees and shoulders and ankles that made me have to walk down stairs sideways because it hurt too much. I tried doing a liquid cleanse, but the weight still came on. Depression crept over like a thick layer of fog, and I just didn’t care anymore. Or rather, I cared, but had no mental energy, and my attempts at weight loss felt futile. The semester before my final semester of law school, my apartment burnt down. It was the day before my birthday, and my boyfriend was taking me out of town to celebrate and propose to me. We lost everything, and had to move into an efficiency in the Tenderloin near my school. Slowly I became more and more isolated. With the extra twenty pounds I had gained in law school I was once again invisible, restored to my high school weight. Men didn’t look at me anymore, didn’t yell things when I’d walk by.
After two years of no activity, I was able to slowly get back into exercise. I didn’t think that my body would heal, but then it did. When I was at my most anorexic, I remember telling a therapist that there was nothing that anyone could say or do that would make me feel any differently. That was true then, until I did feel different. Like my injured body, time was what I needed to heal. Recently I was talking to the sister of a friend. She is bulimic, and I told her that I was around if she ever wanted to talk about food stuff. She asked if I was completely over my eating disorder. This paused me, and I truthfully answered that I wasn’t sure, maybe not. I’m still rigid with exercise, and still don’t bat an eye at leaving work early to go work out. I still feel shame and guilt and control around food. I’m at a normal weight, and I get my period again, but I’m truthfully preoccupied with food and exercise in a way that negatively affects my life. I’d still love to lose twenty pounds.
But so would so many women that I know, my sister, my mother, my friends. We all are stuck in cycles of unhealthy food behavior. Is this baseline? Does being at this point mean that I can say that I am over my eating disorder? Does almost every woman in this country have some sort of an eating disorder, in different places along a continuum? Everyone says that I need more self-esteem and need to love and appreciate my body more, but we still live in a world where a body with an eating disorder gets more male attention than one that is strong and healthy and fertile. My fat (if you can call a size six fat) is an invisibility cloak, and the fact that my body got me through law school and the bar, and can climb mountains and run marathons is less relevant.
I used to look like the models in ads, with skinny things that were the same width from the top of my knee to my hip. A starving size two still gets more compliments at the end of the day, and maybe working on that is just as important as women learning to love themselves.