Dear You. Love, Me.
Hello. I mean, hey, how are you?
I’m fine too.
I never know how to start these things. Everything seems disingenuous — like I’ve practiced it in front of a mirror (which I have), or edited it a thousand times (which I will). I just keep thinking I sound like I’ve swallowed a version of the Suncreen Song or a Lifetime made-for-tv movie. Well, fuck Lifetime (not really, they have some great films for when you’re sad and want to slowly weep, curled up on the couch with some bourbon in a coffee mug).
Now that I think about it, I’ve never actually tried to explain what it is like to have an eating disorder to anyone. Other than my therapist. Or other people who have one. They don’t count.
It’s probably as hard as explaining what it is like to take a hit of heroine (I think). Or have an orgasm (I know). There is only so far that the words will go. Language falls so incredibly and frustratingly short of what I need it to do. I beg it to twist and writhe with how I feel but it just floats through the air, or sits on a page. So so stubborn. Usually I just end up sitting there crying. No matter how I force words to take the shape I need them to — to explain why I do this, why I act like this, think like this, live like this, it never seems quite right.
That happens all the time though. Ever tried to explain how to tie a knot?
You’re trying to do it right now aren’t you?
I know you are. It’s hard, isn’t it? Don’t use your hands. No cheating, no pictures. Just. Words.
You can’t. I know you can’t.
No one can.
To be honest I am sure you are thinking this is a letter from a sad white girl. You’re not completely wrong. I wish you were. I wish I could be writing about how I am messed up for some other reason — something more noble. Whatever that is. Cancer maybe? Cancer is pretty, fucking noble. Maybe by the time you read this I’ll have cancer too and this will be less “sad white girl” and more “sad white girl with cancer”. I’ll let you know.
Anyways, I used to think of eating disorders as this stupid thing that rich white teenage girls get because their mothers gave them too many beauty magazines and someone called them fat one too many times (which is ONE TIME, for the record). I hate that I am a trope now. I hate that so much I want to run around scream-crying. But I can’t change that I am white, I am young, and while I may not be rich, I am not struggling. I fit the bill. Actually, that may be the worst part of having an eating disorder for me — it is so played out. It is not interesting. It is fucking predictable. My character has been written a few too many times for my liking. Usually I am the b-story line on a CW teen show about how hard it is to live in a suburb and have hormones.
If I could be anything else right now it would be unpredictable. I wish I could shock you. I wish I could blow you away with my story and who I turned out to be. I wish you would finish reading this and think, “wow, she has been through some shit but is such a wonderful human.”
And I’m not.
I didn’t used to feel that way. I used to think I was a character worth putting into a book. That I would want to read about my life one day. That I was special.
That was before I realized that no one is special, and the worst people are those that think that they are.
I don’t know. Maybe we are all special. If you want the greeting card version that makes you feel a little better, which some days honestly I do too, so here you go: You are special. But also, so is everybody fucking else. Happy?
The word “bulimia” is such a simple way of describing it. I have bulimia. I am bulimic. I suffer from bulimia. B-U-L-I-M-I-A. Forget trying to say that word out loud, even using it to think of my own disorder feels wrong. Bulimia makes me think of beauty pageants and for some inexplicable reason, the 1990s, when really the first time I made myself throw up was in 2011 on a mountain in Latin America into a dirty latrine with poorly patched walls made of mud and bamboo and filled with roiling maggots.
Maybe that shocked you? Roiling maggots are shocking.
The first thing I threw up was spaghetti.
It mixed in with the maggots rather seamlessly, actually.
Bulimia is at its core, very very gross.
I’m sure you knew that.
I can talk about throwing up, but I can’t say that word out loud to another person. Even though language falls short so quickly, that word seems to have extra weight to it. It carries with it meanings and connotations that I did not give it, and I wish it didn’t have. It also lacks the important qualities of MY eating disorder. Of MY problems and MY anxieties, however white and irritatingly normal they may be.
I was kind of alone up on my mountain. By choice. And for the longest time this disease was mine, and no one else’s. No one else in the world had this problem. No one else was coping with feeling so fucking alone and useless the way I was. Just me. Only me. I was sure of it. This made me tragically beautiful, I told myself. Now I may think of it as ordinary and uninventive, but back then when it was new, it was shiny and heartbreaking and fucking MINE. I held it close to me at night and could feel it breathing beside me like a partner. It kept me company and comforted me when I was sad and it helped me cope with uncertainty and loneliness. I turned to it the way you do an old friend when you are feeling upset. It never let me down. As crazy as that sounds, having this thing, this one large secret, this special damage that only I could understand helped me feel less alone. It had substance when nothing else did. It helped me feel like I was adding to myself and telling my story. Which, is kind of ironic seeing as it is an act of stripping myself of something and telling a thousand-other people’s story.
But you’re young. You probably learned about eating disorders in psych or health skills class or some shit like that and thought “those all sound crazy, glad that is not a problem for me,” and then went and ate a fucking turkey sandwich for lunch like it was nothing. If I could do one thing over again, it would not be to not discount anything. It would be to never rule any direction out as a possible route my life could take.
I don’t believe in god but I do believe the universe has a sick sense of humor. It also is not very creative. It just makes you think it is at the time.
Can I be honest? I feel like I can be honest with you.
I don’t wish I never became this.
Did you hear that? Here, I’ll say it again in case you missed it:
I don’t wish I didn’t have an eating disorder.
I hope I stop someday.
But I don’t wish those other days away.
The days I didn’t let a single piece of food nourish my body.
The days I looked in the mirror and only saw a stupid, inept girl that no one wants to touch or lie next to in a bed.
The days I felt like I was nothing and needed to be filled with nothing.
The day I almost fainted in a shopping mall in San Salvador because I hadn’t actually eaten anything in days.
The day I did faint in the subway in Washington, DC, after running 6 miles after purging and a kind stranger sprinted to a Pret-a-Manger and got me an orange juice and kindly agreed when I asked him not to call 911.
The days I threw up hot chocolate.
White chocolate macadamia nut cookies.
Beautifully cooked salmon and Brussel sprouts.
Chips and salsa.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Vegetable lo mien.
A carrot cake muffin.
Those pretzels they give you on an airplane.
My birthday cake.
Other people’s birthday cake.
You get the idea. I threw up a lot.
And I don’t regret it. There is some song I can’t get out of my head lately that says, “I love my scars and broken bones”. I guess it is like that.
So what is the point of this letter to you? It is certainly not to warn you about eating disorders, but I guess it could be doing that. It is not to turn into some afterschool special about how you need to be kind to yourself and love your body. It is not even to tell you to get ready for a rough couple of years.
What the fuck is this letter for?
I don’t know.
I think it is to let you know that you don’t figure out anything. I am 29 and I do not understand what I am doing or how to live life a certain way that ensures happiness. I have not become zen. I don’t love my body. I am not sure how to do that. I don’t have any body positive quotes for you or fun, positive haikus to get you through the day. I am frightfully judgmental of how I look to everyone. I still care what other people think of me, even though I try not to (though not very hard), and I have failed at figuring out how to live like Bobbie McFerrin has been telling me (Don’t worry, be happy).
But I think that is okay because the one thing I do know is that nobody fucking knows what the fuck they are doing.
So just keep doing whatever the fuck you are doing.