I asked a woman with Anorexia Nervosa, how do you do it? Every day, you fight back. Every day, you bite back. Every morning, you wake up choosing again to recover. And that choice has made you stronger. Every day you grow stronger!
The woman, though, wouldn’t answer. Not immediately. Instead, she took my hand, and she looked me in the eye, and she said, “Dear, I hope you never understand. I hope you never know. I hope Ana never steals the years of your life that she took from me.”
But then, she did share, and described aloud a list of 68 Thoughts in the Head of Someone with Anorexia Nervosa. She told me to process the experience slowly, because it hurts – anorexia hurts – and it’s hard – the isolation is hard – but she also told me to remember: my friend, her joy, is still in there. And boy is she strong, stronger than she may even believe!
Here’s what she said:
1. In the morning, my stomach is concave. And my ribs protrude.
2. And still I ask, ‘Should I eat today?’
3. And most days, I say ‘yes.’
4. But that doesn’t mean I’ll eat enough. I won’t eat enough.
5. Because I reach my hand to my shoulder to feel my bones from within my skin. Just to know, ‘They are still there.’
6. Not that anything would change if they weren’t there.
7. Except my confidence. My self-esteem. My self-love.
8. I might have my life back.
9. I might be able to get through a day without growling. And rumbling. And chugging down water.
10. Because, dammit, I haven’t had a hug – from me, from you – since the bones appeared. It’s too ‘grotesque’ you say, wincing at my morning body. ‘You look like an ailing child.’
11. And [thank God] you wouldn’t fuck a child.
12. So I haven’t felt human touch since I was too afraid of pain. And I haven’t felt pretty since my skin turned pale olive.
13. And I’m too ashamed to wear that cute sundress I bought last Spring. Or to dance with my arms in the air. I’m too ashamed.
14. To lift my hair; you have to feel how coarse it has become. How many vitamins its lacking.
15. Though it hasn’t fallen out. Not yet.
16. I take a bite of dry toast and start my day.
17. With the thought that ‘I’m fat.’ Even though I know ‘fat’ is not a feeling. Even though I know I am far from it.
18. The thoughts hurt the most, trapping me in a cage of no escape. With no savior.
19. Because I haven’t told anyone: I have these thoughts. Except my therapist.
20. I have a therapist. Except my family.
21. I scare my family.
22. I haven’t told the friends in my life. You. I haven’t admitted.
23. It’s not a problem. Because I know what to do. What to eat. I know what to think to fight back.
24. CBT, DBT, fill my world with T [therapy].
25. And let’s be honest: there are days those tools work. Most days. Many days.
26. And I eat enough. And I come to life. And I thrive.
27. But some days, some nights, I’m just too tired. To fight, and to think, and to argue back.
28. With the eating disorder, because it is in argument. With my life. And my choices. It is always a battle.
29. So though I have never been to war, I know the shape of enemy lines. All the tubercles and stretch marks. Its hideousness.
30. It’s fascinating.
31. I think that’s why I keep going back. Because of everything I imagine when I get there.
32. A better life. A thinner life. A slender frame. A healthy frame.
34. But that’s never what I find. ‘Maybe I just got lost along the way?’ I think, deciding to go further down anorexia’s path.
35. And you can’t stop me.
36. I can’t stop me. Because I will put on my baggy sweater and my loose-fit bell bottoms. I will wear my hair over my neck and my eye bags under make-up.
37. Even to bed. Even with you.
38. So no one will see what is happening.
39. And for a few months, I won’t let you touch me. Or hold me.
40. I won’t let you feel. How un-sexy I’ve become, how un-appetizing I taste. I won’t let you in.
41. Because nothing is worse than lying on top of a stack of bones. Except being that stack of bones.
42. And feeling your body thrash against mine. Without cushion. Without confidence. It hurts.
43. Almost as much as it hurts to feel your bones melt away. It aches.
44. More than the pain of knowing you couldn’t possibly love me without also loving my eating disorder.
45. Not that we’re connected – the eating disorder and me. We aren’t. I am me, anorexia is a separate beast.
46. And that’s an important distinction. That’s everything.
47. My reason to fight. My reason to believe there is something worth fighting for.
48. But we are in one body. And you love that body.
49. And we are fighting for one mind. And you love that one mind.
50. And we are time and time again in a shouting battle. Within my thoughts.
51. Even if I am doing fine. Even if I am looking great. We will have our shouting battles.
52. Me and my Anorexia. I won’t tell you about them, because you care too much.
53. I won’t clue you in, because you’ll want to help.
54. And you’ll feel helpless.
55. Because there’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing I can do. Once infected with the virus, it’s a lifetime battle.
56. Like HIV.
57. It could kill me. Or it won’t.
58. Either way, I can’t keep it a secret. From you.
59. And I can’t help but wonder if you’d love me. Without the eating disorder.
60. So I close my door. And I close my eyes. And I imagine you and me, no longer separated by bones.
61. And I imagine me and the world, no longer separated by thoughts.
62. And I imagine my anorexia, no longer strong enough to speak.
63. And I put on my sundress. And just a touch of light make-up.
64. I walk out with authenticity.
65. You are still there. You will still love me.
66. And I eat.
67. And I dance.
68. And I start over again.