Eating Disorders

Please Don’t Mistake Me for the Picture of Health

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Warning: this post may be triggering for people who struggle with eating disorders or are in recovery, and it may be best to avoid.

As a person pseudo recovered from an eating disorder, though I prefer the term in recovery, I’m supposed to stay in regular contact with–and frequently visit–my team: a doctor, a therapist, and a psychiatrist. Well, in the last few months, I stopped going regularly. There was no defining moment where I decided to do this, but more a combination of circumstances that egged it on. Increased stress from school, anxiety about the future and regularly occurring existential WTF moments, etc. all collided and helped convince me that it was okay to take some time off from my health.

Rapidly, I began eating a little less and running a little more, isolating a lot, and becoming even flakier than I was before. I can see this in hindsight but I didn’t wake up one day and consciously decide this would be my new game plan. Though I eventually realized something was a little off, I wasn’t very concerned. The only people who seemed to notice any difference, anyways, were my mom and my best friend, and when they brought up my weight loss I did the very anorexic thing of sort of staring blankly at them and then walking away. Which is to say, avoiding the conversation.

But yesterday, when my psychiatrist insisted on weighing me in alarm at my fairly bloodless pallor and once again dwindling figure, I was genuinely surprised to find that I’d lost eleven pounds in an extremely short period of time. I didn’t feel pride, but fear, having thought I was less delusional than before, only to find that perhaps my vision is just as warped. While weight loss for some people might be cause for celebration, it isn’t for me, who was barely toeing the line of healthy at my recovery weight. To illustrate this further, the scary chest pains I once had have intermittently returned, along with an inability to focus and nonstop exhaustion.

But when most people look at me, they really don’t think disordered. Because while my bones may be vaguely apparent in my upper body, my legs thinning, I’m not as translucent as I once got to be. And, from society’s warped viewpoint, that means I’m doing just fine. But what it really illustrates is the flawed logic of judging health through a purely aesthetic lens.

It reminded me of a situation I experienced last year when I noticed an acquaintance’s fading skin tone, lack of appetite, and thinning wrists. The rest of her body wasn’t what you would call thin, but from being in treatment surrounded by many different bodies, I knew better. I confronted her nicely, to say that if she was going through something she could talk to me about it—I’d been through it. She, of course, vehemently denied it, saying things like, “Have you seen my body? I’m nowhere near sick.” Months later, she would be half her size and further entrenched in her disorder.

Ironically, I was going to post something yesterday about this whole idea, but a niggling feeling inside held me back, as if my subconscious knew that so-called shit was about to go down. But the gist of that piece, which was basically, I may look healthy but I am not the picture of health, is more relevant than ever. When I found out the news my immediate response was: you don’t owe this information to anyone, take a break from blogging, from social media, etc. But is it really better to hide my reality from people? I don’t think so.

We live in a world in which celebrities with silent eating disorders abound, in which girls are throwing up their meals regularly unbeknownst to anyone else, in which a lot of people who appear healthy are not. Does the world need another person like that? No. And I don’t want people to think I’m living some idyllic life of healthful thinness where I’ve struck down my eating disorder once and for all. Because that’s bullshit, and it just perpetuates the problem.

So, I may not look like the Google results of anorexia right now, and I am certainly not at the very scary square one that I once was. But I am a lot further back than I expected, at least weight wise, and I still have work to do. It might not make sense to you, you may think I look fine, but health goes deeper than a person’s ratio of skin to bone, and we all need to remember that.

“You deserve more than this, Jessica,” my best friend said on the phone yesterday. “You could be one of those women who maintains a disorder throughout her life without letting it fall too far backwards, but you deserve more. You deserve to indulge and enjoy yourself, to take your clothes off and not worry what somebody is thinking of your weight.” She’s right, and logically, I agree. I do want that—I do want more of my “old self” back. But for reasons that are hard to comprehend for others, it also terrifies me. “Control” has become my comfort.

The reality of full recovery, though, is that it isn’t comfortable, and somewhere along the way I forgot that, and began slipping backwards. Now, amidst all the other craziness of life, I’m going to try and get back on the proverbial wagon, try to allow myself to be a full bodied woman, not one stuck in the figure of a pre-pubescent girl. I’m not back at the start, but I quickly could be, and that’s not a risk I want to take.

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With that said, should I expect everyone to know that I’m not entirely healthy, from a simple glance? Of course not. But I do wish such assumptions were given more thought, with health being considered for the complex equation that it is. It’s dangerous to do otherwise—to assume that less flesh is always more.

15 replies »

  1. Not hiding your reality can only allow the people who love you to be supportive. I’m glad you wrote about it. Confidence, Schiffer.

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