I cleared my throat.
“Um, so you guys are meeting me towards the end of my time here. It’s been a really long road to get where I am today.”
I regretted the cliché, but continued.
“My eating disorder started this past semester in school. It escalated gradually but one day I woke up and knew I had a problem.”
I hesitated. How many gory details should I provide? Whenever new patients join us in the partial hospitalization program, we run through our story’s highlight reel. Pressed for time, I continued without mentioning the days spent in the haze of depression, the numbing hunger that clawed at my mind, the exam deferrals.
“I basically just crawled to the end of the school year and then my parents shuttled me into treatment. I’ve been here for seven weeks…”
Pause for emphasis. I knew exactly what they were thinking because when faced with veteran patients seven weeks ago, I thought it myself. God, what a mess she is. I’ll never be in for that long—four weeks tops. Five if I’m feeling indulgent.
“And like I said, it’s been a long and hard process. But I’m stepping down at the end of this week to intensive outpatient. I don’t feel anywhere near recovered, but I’m optimistic.”
And with a stiff smile, I bowed my head in acquiescence of the next speaker.
I caught about half of what she was saying as my thoughts drifted through the memories of this place. Seven weeks.
Week one and I slid into my seat. Patients were moving above me and acting like I should know what to do. I catalogued each of them and was relieved to find I looked the sickest. I sat down to my first meal with my skin crawling and my blood curdling. I thought I’m doing this for school, for my family, for my future.
Week two and my hair started falling out. I pulled strands from my head like thoughts and flushed them down the toilet. At night I cradled my ribs and made sure my thigh gap was safe. I thought, I don’t want my body to change, I’m not ready.
Week three and I covered the mirrors. I saw fat start to trickle in hard places. I was just getting used to the amount of food I had to eat when the dietician increased my calories. “Your body is repairing itself, you need more energy,” she said. What I needed was rest from the war raging inside my mind.
Week four and I’m drowning. I grab onto the eating disorder. I miss it; I crave the emptiness of a starving stomach and the swelling sense of pride as my body shrinks. I forget why I’m in recovery. All I remember is the vibrancy of the anorexia.
Week five, god how did I get to week five? They make me talk about things long buried and I feel like I’m breaking in half. I can see extra weight everywhere and my self-esteem is a bubbling cesspool. I hate my body, I hate myself. I can’t believe it’s come to this.
Week six begins with screams. “You’re so out of your depth that I wish you’d just drown!” directed towards my mum one bright evening. Slamming doors, isolation, tears—a routine that has become second nature. But something’s different now. A new voice has come into my mind. It’s weak and speaks in whispers and it tells me to eat. You deserve more, it says. You deserve more than this.
Week seven and I’m standing on shaking legs. Can I walk? Do I want to? Do I have a choice? I’m not nearly put back together but I’m not broken either. I’m trying to remember myself, to build an identity I can walk into. And on top of all this I’m tired. Seven hours of therapy five days a week for seven weeks. I’ve been cut, hammered, bruised but like I said, I’m standing.