Avoiding public eateries. Trusting only pre-packaged and frozen foods. Cleaning her mouth and teeth vigorously after every meal. Eating where and when no one can watch her.
I sat across from my friend, as she told me these stories — these incidents — of her then-current college room-mate. This never happened before, my friend whispered, innocently mystified. I don’t know what’s going on.
But these stories of secrecy weren’t just casual room-mate peculiarities to me. These stories are a part of my own story, so true and so real to me that hearing them spoken aloud was like I was reliving my own. It’s the story of a thousand broken mirrors.
Me 5’6″ May 2010 | 93 pounds
It started in eighth grade. It started when all of my friends abandoned me for boyfriends, for girlfriends, for hormones and drugs and homework.
And, to be perfectly honest, it never really ended. It is something so powerful — a burden, a cross, a crippling metaphor, whatever you want to call it — that I still carry the scars with me, every day.
In a culture fixated on the fat, petite until it’s painful, stubborn until we’re starving, we know we’re better than this. In a land of opportunity and democracy, American women shouldn’t have to worry about the bulge in our stomachs or the calories coursing through our veins. But we do.
Because every advertisement in the women’s health department mocks us in our weakness, shames us for our skins, denies us of our beauty, until we’re spitting out the food we need to survive on the bloody pavement we call progress.
And I am just one of the many silent bodies that have ached to feed their souls with something more real — but have punished themselves because they just can’t figure out how.
I am just one of the ballerinas who grew faint because she didn’t eat dinner — or lunch, or breakfast — because she had to stare into the eyes of a thousand broken mirrors of shame, week after week, at her reflection that was never damn good enough.
I am just one of the GPA-consumed high school students who tried so hard to forget her half-empty existence that she struggled and studied, practiced and prepared, so that there was at least one thing in her life she could feel worthy about.
I am just one of the daughters, one of the sisters and friends and aunts and nieces, who drove her loved ones insane because she couldn’t explain, couldn’t tell anyone she knew, about the numbness and the fatigue that haunted her until the darkness of the night erased all of the day.
And I am just one of the lucky.
I am just one of the lucky women to survive and resurrect and limp onwards after the fall. I am just one of the lucky statistics who lived beyond her 20th birthday. I am just one of the lucky skeletons who was able to heal her bones and learn to love her body again, day-by-day.
I am just one of lucky survivors of an eating disorder, who finally shattered all of her broken mirrors and reframed a different tomorrow for herself.
But I am just one of the lucky.
Me 5′ 6″ March 2016 | 125 pounds
I almost didn’t go to college. That fact never ceases to amaze.
Not that I wasn’t smart enough or fortunate enough — I was. I had it all under control, sealed up in a neat little transcript envelope bedazzled with my “A”wesome academic accolades.
But it was another envelope, one that I remember avoiding until absolutely necessary, that derailed my naive delusion of control and nearly carted me into a mental institution instead of the university dormitory I checked into my freshman year.
The word was osteopenia. Not osteoporosis, or the irreversible bone loss that often plagues older women. But the word osteopenia and its implications were close enough by my pediatrician’s standards.
I remember staring down at my dainty arms, craning my neck to peer at the shoulder bones poking out from underneath my translucent skin, flexing my feet and cracking my toes. The very foundation beneath all my fleshy, stretchy skin was deteriorating — and I couldn’t even begin to understand how to save it.
I had been waiting for some higher power — my God (at the time), a savior, a guardian angel — to save me from my own calorie-constricting ways. I had been literally and figuratively wasting away for the past 4 years, and yet I wasn’t getting any better; in fact, I was falling apart at the bone, and this diagnostics report was the very ammunition my doctors and my parents needed to begin their barrage of hopeless attempts at rescue. I knew the cycle of disappointment, rage, and repeat — but this time, it wasn’t just hair loss or crackling skin that I could avoid and deny. My body, my very bone, was screeching for help, and the only one who could save me was myself.
Flash forward 3 years.
I’ve just returned from a 20-mile bike ride after a 3-mile run this morning, and I feel fantastic. Honestly, truly, and without a doubt amazing.
My muscles are a little sore, but loose. I’m tired, but in a wow-I-just-rode-all-that-way kind of feeling — and not horrendously fatigued and exhausted like I used to feel all the time.
Since first reading and digesting those bone-scan results in the winter of 2014, I have crossed oceans and climbed mountains and seen several parts of the world but have so much more to go. And, most importantly, I have a newfound love and appreciation for my body — what I put into it, and what I get out of it.
It’s a symbiotic relationship — you know, like the reef sharks and the remora we all learned about in biology. When two organisms…can’t survive without each other…That’s the relationship between my mental and my physical, my mind and my body.
I know now that the food I eat need not be a weapon of mass destruction, but becomes the fuel and the fire that I need to explore and do all of the things I dream to do on my own two feet. I know now that the food I eat can be completely Earth-conscious, and I can be a vegan if I so choose — so long as I remember to eat enough of the vitals (protein, “good” fats, simple sugars, a little sweetness).
I know now that strength (and its partner endurance) is not a lottery winning but an interest rate, slowly accruing over time. I couldn’t even run for 20 consecutive minutes at the end of high school, let alone climb Hawaii’s Diamond Head without getting woozy; nearly 3 weeks ago, I was running practically every morning in Berkeley and climbing Mount Diablo in California with joy.
It’s a balancing act, always. My body fluctuates, depending on the mood I’m in or the food on the table or the amount of exercise I’m getting (or not).
And it will always be a challenge, to negotiate the voices from my past with my present will to experience life and EAT FOOD FOR FUEL damnit. But, if I’ve learned anything in these past 6 years, nothing — be it sacrifice, love, even redemption — is impossible.
That’s why I’m volunteering this weekend with the National Eating Disorders Association’s walk in Athens, Ohio, because I believe that everyBODY deserves to feel strong and powerful and limitless.
Me 5′ 6″ August 2016 | *who cares?*
This summer, I finally came into a harmonious collision between both mind and body. I finally learned how to love myself — completely, unabashedly, and simply love who I was, where I was, and who I could see myself becoming.
I am lighter, I am freer without the worry of the world (or my weight) on my shoulders. All I know is that I want the energy to summit another mountain, to keep hiking and biking and maybe even climbing and skiing and traversing and just living with an open heart and a mind of mindfulness.
And I want to inspire someone else to feel this freedom, too. Someone who is chained down by her (mis)conceptions of beauty and strength, of pathetic and power.
Just because an eating disorder is a battle of the mental psyche and society doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to overcome. With a little courage, a lot of determination, and a fervor to keep living, it is possible.
Today, I am living. Tomorrow, I am living proof.
This essay also appears on Medium