GUEST BLOG 2: This is What an Eating Disorder Looks Like
There wasn’t really a distinct before and after. There was no defining moment where I “decided” to become anorexic. I just remember being 22 and completely overwhelmed by life. I felt like I was forever reaching for something concrete that would tell me I was good enough, talented enough, worth enough. I was attending theatre school and pressure was everywhere. Constant comparisons, dancers lined up in front of wall to wall mirrors. I was not a dancer, I was struggling through the beginner jazz, ballet, and tap classes that were part of my coursework, and I felt heavy, slow.
I don’t remember what gave me the idea to stop eating. I knew what anorexia was. I flirted with it as a teenager, so much that people were spreading not-so-false rumours about me being anorexic in high school. I wasn’t quite there yet as a teenager, but the foundation was built. And at least in high school, I was a big fish in a small pond. Once I got to theatre school all of the sudden I was a little fish in a big pond. Nothing I did was good enough, nothing I did felt like an accomplishment — until I dropped a few pounds. All of the sudden, I felt capable. I felt like I had a skill that was worth something. Never mind that being skilled in dropping weight would lead me down dangerous paths. I was good at it, that was all that mattered.
Over the course of a few months, I shed 30 pounds. I looked sick. My bones hurt when I sat. I was cold all the time. I weighed 89 pounds. I owned two scales because I didn’t trust just one of them to tell me my weight. I hopped on and off the scale multiple times a day. I tried diet pills. I tried laxatives. I tried throwing up. One day, a hasty finger down the throat caused some damage and my voice teacher noticed I wasn’t singing as well. Theatre is everything to me, and I was putting it in jeopardy, but I couldn’t stop. I tried several kinds of therapies. I tried yoga. I tried opening up my chakras. I met with a dietitian and insisted that an entire banana was too big for a serving. But I kept sinking deeper.
Friends were gently suggesting I might need more help, but I was adamant that I would finish theatre school — until one day, I suddenly changed my mind. I’d like to think my impulse to live kicked in then, and I took a plane to Manitoba to go through residential treatment.
It’s been ten years since that first time in treatment, and my weight has fluctuated greatly. I’ve been diagnosed with anorexia. I’ve been diagnosed with bulimia. I’ve been diagnosed with ED-NOS, which is kind of a catch all for anything that doesn’t fit clearly within anorexia or bulimia. I am stuck in this pattern of loss and gain. I drop weight to the point of threatening my life, and then I go into treatment and gain the weight back. At first, every treatment program I did I thought would be the time I got rid of the eating disorder forever. Now, 10 years later, I’m not so sure it will ever go away.
I’m 32. I spent last summer in the hospital, regaining the weight once again. I have osteoporosis due to 10 years of malnutrition. And every day I have to fight with myself that coffee is not a food group, starving does not make me a better person or more capable or more likeable. The only thing that starving does is intensify the discomfort and ambivalence I have about being me. I look at pictures of me at low weights and the longing for the safety and invisibility I felt when I was tiny makes me choke. I know I was miserable back then, but at least my world was this tiny circle of control. Life is terrifying when you’re not hiding behind an eating disorder. You actually have to feel your feelings.
I really don’t want to end up a statistic. I’m trying to make this as hopeful as possible, because I do still have hope. But I also have immense struggle. Everything is one meal at a time, carefully planned. Spontaneous food plans still give me panic attacks. But there are small victories. I just finished the run of a play where I ate a banana on stage every night. I used to be so terrified of judgement that I couldn’t eat in front of anyone, and I just did it night after night in front of hundreds of people. Things like that make me proud, but also afraid. Nothing feels as accomplished as losing weight did for me. But if I want a life, I need to give that up.
And I definitely want a life.
“This is what an eating disorder looks like.”