Kristin Stadum

“I’m nothing if not….”

My mind wanders.

“Did you know that zero is a size, a real size, that real people wear?”

“That’s…” he hesitates. “You’re a zero now?”

I can see my chest flitting across his features. It hasn’t shrunk. Not really. Not much.

“I don’t get it either,” I laugh. “I have no idea what small, flat-chested women wear. I already buy clothes in the kids department.”

A few months ago, a favored coworker said, “I read in magazines about these women who are five-seven, five-eight, and wear a size four. I always wonder, ‘Who are these women?’ but it’s you! That’s you!”

I laughed, and then, I got smaller.

I wasn’t trying to shrink. A lifetime ago, I would have loved it. Anorexia. Bulimia. Gym addiction. Been there; done that. I have weighed over 200 pounds and once lost 60 pounds and a patch of hair the size of a silver dollar. I gained most of it back — the hair and the pounds, lost weight again, and kept it off. I got over it and set that yoyo aside with other childish things. I got healthy. Then, I got diagnosed with MS, started on meds, and found myself caught in a seemingly endless loop of nausea leading to undereating leading to anemia increasing my nausea leading to…

Who’s on first?

Eventually, most of it straightened out and the nausea faded a tiny bit. I eat more than ever before (which I know because I keep track), and I work hard to eat enough (at least, the bare minimum) every day. My metabolism just seems to have hit a hard reset. My outside reflects the little I eat and how much I walk, but I have done that for years.

“Congratulations!” friends say. “You look so much healthier now!”

“Healthier?” I wonder as my stomach pitches and rolls, my head spins, and I find myself desperate for bed sometime around noon.

“Are you still losing weight?”

“Not really?” I shrug in embarrassment as they sneer, “Eat more. Walk less. You’ve got to stop.”

“Oh! That’s the answer!” I think. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

I try to eat, even though I want to retch. I don’t walk to lose weight. I walk to feel better; it is the only thing that really quells the pain for a while.

One of two things.

A few months ago, I decided to embrace the new, smaller me. I figured that I had spent a lifetime struggling to lose weight; I might as well accept that I had. I bought dresses that would fit for the season or a month or maybe a week or two. I bought dresses because they were easy, because I didn’t have to find something to match, and I played dress up with my pretty new things. Too tall for petite and almost too thin for regular, my skirts were short and my legs long and strong. My hair was long and strong, too, and my nails and eyelashes. (I took a lot of vitamins to fill in the gaps.)

People reacted to me differently — some for the better and others the worse. It was entertaining, and while I still felt like the gunk Death scraped off his shoe, at least I looked good oozing there on the sidewalk. At least, I thought I looked good until I heard from a friend.

He called me beautiful. He called me bony, too, and said that I’d looked better before with “meat on [my] bones.” He said I looked happier then; I shouldn’t think I am prettier now. I was perfect, and I wondered why he had never told me before. I wondered how it was that nothing was ever enough.

I might be a zero, but I am not nothing at all. I just am nothing if not here in the moment, this one, right now. This is my life.

Always better with numbers than words, Kristin Stadum graduated from Bowling Green State University as the 1997 Most Outstanding Student in News Editorial Journalism, which she followed with a career in federal finance. She lives, works, and plays in Washington DC with regular forays into the world at large. When one such trip (hiking in the Himalayas) led to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, she found an explanation for a lifetime of falling down steps and renewed commitment to picking herself up again. She shares her experiences daily on her blog Candy Sandwich and regular pieces on Cowbird. She has also appeared in National Geographic online and in the Huffington Post.

This piece originally appeared on Cowbird.

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