At fifteen – with the ends of my hair wet from the toilet bowl, with my shoes worn through from pacing the neighborhood every afternoon, with my wallet filled with the lunch-money I wasn’t spending – I didn’t think about how my eating disorder would affect my life almost ten years later.
Why would I?
I wasn’t thinking any further ahead than my next goal weight, or the new hole I’d have to drill through the leather of my favorite belt. My future, and my future self, was irrelevant. Thinner was relevant – the only thing that was.
I’d be better, I thought, once I was thinner. I’d be able to focus more, once I wasn’t so heavy. When I couldn’t pinch the skin above my jeans between my fingers, I reasoned that I’d be able to concentrate on other things. Once my hip bones were a bit sharper, my collarbone a little more defined, my wrists smaller and my stomach flatter, I’d figure everything else out.
There was an elusive, permanently out-of-reach “afterwards” that I didn’t pay much attention to but always managed to push aside. I didn’t think of my eating disorder in permanent terms, or future terms. I believed I had things perfectly under control. I knew what I was doing, what I had to do, and I was doing it. I’d found something I was good at.
The problem with believing I ‘had it under control’ is that inevitably, my eating disorder began to control me. ‘Thinner’ is never-ending, and never, ever enough.
Instead of the elation I’d imagined at finally, finally seeing my Ultimate Goal Weight on the bathroom scales, I felt disappointed and uncomfortable. I stared at my reflection and saw everywhere that wasn’t thin enough – good enough – yet.
Then, a shiny new goal weight. A new exercise plan. A new calorie-counting paperback shoved in the bottom of my schoolbag. New restrictions and allowances.
I made new friends, online friends, in the forums and communities I became addicted to. I spoke to girls who understood what it felt like, to lay in bed until the early hours of the morning, fantasizing about food while our stomach’s seized and cramped. We bonded over “x amount of days fasting” and favorite binge foods, giving each other tips and tricks to avoid getting caught by suspicious relatives. A secret society of teenagers killing each other with support.
“No food after eight p.m.” became “no food after seven,” became “no food after six,” and on and on. More sit-ups, more bottles of water, more movement, longer playlists for my afternoon walks.
Life rolled on. I got older, and in the years in which everything around me changed, I did not.
I remained there, stuck in a vicious, never-ending cycle of my own making. The numbers on the scale would fluctuate, and in the times I gained weight I’d convince myself that it was all behind me, now. I’d eat normally for a while, hating myself through every bite, weighing my body like religion, but I wasn’t thin so obviously, I wasn’t sick.
Until I got sick again, dropped dress sizes again, didn’t eat for three days again, and felt in control again. The older I got the less I thought about seeking help. Everything I’d read, everything I’d taught myself, left me with the belief that eating disorders are a teenager’s disease. Not for adults.
It’s not cute, when you’re twenty four and crying over a sandwich, or binging on a week’s worth of food in your own kitchen that you can’t afford to replace. Nobody swoops in to save you, to hover or pester you to eat, when you’re old enough that people expect you to have your shit together. Those helpful tips and tricks from years ago don’t matter when you have responsibilities and bills and plans and a life to sort through.
I’m twenty-four now, and I wish I’d asked for help a decade ago. I feel silly and embarrassed at the thought of admitting to somebody – anybody – that I don’t know how to eat properly; that this has gone on for so long that I doubt I’ll ever be normal again.
At fifteen, I thought I’d be better, once I was thinner. Now, I look back on the ten years of my life that I’ve wasted to this disease, and I think, better than what?