My COVID Puppy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Just something I wrote during quarantine reflecting on the development of my eating disorder and my recovery from it


I’m not pretty when I’m angry. There will be fleeting moments: when I catch myself at a good angle in a mirror; or, perhaps, when the impossible happens, and I actually like a photo of myself; but this is never the case when I’m upset, or angry, or worse--indifferent. My face is uninteresting. I akin myself to a basset hound, or some sort of floppy, soppy creature, especially when I am upset. Now, I know this is exaggeration; I also know I have body dysmorphia, and I don’t know if I’ll ever know what I look like. 

I stare into mirrors a lot. Or windows. The worst is when a wall in a restaurant, or a home, perhaps, is made entirely of mirrors: I constantly fight and give into the urge to look at myself, to try and make some sense of my being; surely the physical must represent the literal. It is solid. It is easy to comprehend. Human beings are simple in their vanity; simple in their urges. Paradoxically, I am both vain and self-loathing; addiction-prone and restrictive. The only thing that reconciles these descriptors is this: I am self-destructive. Give me a way to hurt myself that makes me feel better, even if only for a moment; preferably drugs, but I’ve found sex can produce a similar sensation, too.

The best by far, though, is starving. I’ve heard it described as a high, but that has never been my experience; it’s a total lack of feeling. Nothing is interesting or important when you’re hungry. Nothing except food. I spent hours scrolling through “food porn” accounts; food I could not eat because I was vegan; food I would not eat even if I could. A starving mind fixates on what it needs the most. A starving mind can’t think of anything else that hurts; any fleeting emotion that pops up is submerged in a milieu of unnecessary nutritional information and the amount of time between the present and when you can allow yourself to eat next. A starving mind is, quite literally, not interesting. It is something the body is able to cope with, at least for some time. It is something you are using to cope with other things. It is not working. 

Science in general, and evolution in particular, has always fascinated me. How the human body came to be; how perfectly suited it is for its intended purpose. How well adapted it is to starvation. My biology minor does not by any means make me an expert; however, I imagine that hunter-gatherers and the like would go for periods without eating, a literal famine. My famine, though self-imposed, had an evolutionary response at the ready from this history of being human and being vulnerable to the influence of outside forces on your sources of food, be they natural or otherwise. 

Being thin was cold. From early on, it was so, so cold. The winters were particularly hard; leaving the house required layers, and I had always hated layers. Still the chill would persist; my friends would crank the heat in their cars when I got in; my mom added two extra quilts to my bed when I came home to visit. The body was conserving energy. My body was conserving energy.

Then comes the stage when, inevitably, nutrition gets reintroduced (that, or you die); I was not prepared for my body’s response to refeeding. The night sweats in particular took me by surprise. When they first began, I thought I was sick; then I realized I was getting better. The body allows the metabolism to pick up speed when calories are reintroduced; sometimes, the body practices being a body again at night, and you wake up drenched and wishing for the chill of starving again. But you persist, and the sheets dry up, eventually. 

Your mind is a bit trickier; if you’re gentle with her, though, she’ll start to come around. You’ll start to learn about yourself again, or perhaps for the first time, and though you may not like all you discover, you’re better for knowing it. You aren’t perfect, and you’ve never pretended to be (though perfection is certainly what you sought), but you’re worth knowing.

I think that’s why I wrote this book. I wanted to know more about myself (a rather selfish pursuit, I know), and often my thoughts aren’t clear to me until I write them down. I also wanted to challenge myself, and writing is certainly challenging, especially when you’re hyper-critical of yourself (not looking forward to editing!). But I also want to illustrate what a disordered mind looks like, sounds like, and can feel like; my hope is that this information will help those of you questioning your sickness believe you’re worthy of help, and know definitively that you’re not alone.

I’ll end this introduction with something it took me far too long to realize (and that I probably mentioned elsewhere in this book): your disordered thoughts are not unique. Your sick mind is not special. What makes you special is the person your eating disorder is stopping you from being. There are so many wonderful and horrible things to think about--I’m sure you could think of a few yourself, if you had the energy. 

And, most importantly, food tastes fucking good. So, enjoy it while you can.

Chapter 1

My birthday, for as long as I can remember, has been hard for me. My grandma always said that it was the one day each year that was truly yours; being the perfectionist I am, I took that to mean that each birthday had to feel distinctly special and memorable, lest it be wasted. Looking back on May 22, 2016, I have little reason to remember that day, aside from the following: after indulging in a meal, complete with dessert, at my favorite vegan restaurant (Three Brothers Pizza Cafe), I came home and promptly weighed myself on my parents’ old, likely inaccurate, scale. Upon seeing the number, I felt my stomach drop and decided to eat less and exercise more the following day. 

This trend of weighing myself daily is one I developed the previous year in college. Each day after working out in the campus gym, I would step on the scale located in the lobby (after taking great pains to try to ensure nobody was looking). I made sure to remove my shoes before doing so to bolster my confidence in the number’s accuracy. At this point, the number would not define my day. It was simply a compulsion to step on the scale--something I gave little thought to, until it became all I thought about. I likely would not even remember doing this if the events of that summer had unfolded differently. 

But, given that I am writing this book, I have resolved to tell these events as they occurred (or, at the very least, to the best of my recollection). However, before moving forward from my 20th birthday, I do want to highlight two memories--both rather hazy, softened by time--that come up for me when I take on the task of considering what helped forge this particular path in my life.

The first memory is a single event, and perhaps one of my earliest recollections. I am seven years old, or around that age, and I am sitting in the back of my neighbor’s car. The destination is not important. The sun is filling the vehicle, and my bare legs are sticking to the seat. It is summer, and, notwithstanding the air conditioning, I am rather sweaty. To my right, I catch the eye of my close childhood friend as I shift my thighs around to prevent the sticking from becoming uncomfortable. Looking down as I do this, my friend grabs onto my upper right thigh and loudly proclaims, “blubber!” Now, for those unfamiliar, blubber is a type of fat, found on whales and other large mammals, primarily used for insulation. While I am sure my friend was not aware of the origins of this word, she did know its vernacular meaning: fat. I knew it, too. The shame I felt in that moment is the part of this memory that has stuck with me the most. To this day, I have difficulty looking at my thighs in the car; they always look bigger sitting down, and I hate them for that.

The second memory is not really one instance, but a collection of instances. I am now in high school; I have internalized the shame I felt in that moment, and in others like it, and I have the self-esteem to show it. I stand in front of my mirror at the end of each day before I shower. I poke at my stomach, usually full with the dinner I have just consumed; I suck it in and hold my breath; I stick it all the way out and smack it until it turns red. I wonder why it has to look so full. I wonder why I have to look so full. 

You might be reading these memories and thinking of your own that are similar. That saddens me, but it does not surprise me--for many young girls, it is the norm to hate their bodies. If you happen to be an exception to this rule, it is almost certainly not something you flaunt. After all, nobody wants to seem conceited. And in a world that is constantly telling us (women in particular) that something is very wrong with us, something that can only be fixed by changing our outside appearance, the idea of even accepting your body seems rooted in narcissism, and woefully misguided. 

However, I cannot pretend that I was aware of what was happening to me as it happened. I am using vague terminology here purposefully, and I will return to the specifics of my story momentarily. I just need to emphasize the fact that I thought being insulted by friends about your appearance was normal. I thought feeling shame for your appearance was normal. I thought, essentially, that hating your body, and, more largely, yourself, was normal.

So, I did not think it was at all abnormal to be keeping a watchful eye over my weight, birthday be damned. I had recently lost a nominal amount of weight--walking through my college  campus and the dining hall’s vegan options did confer some health benefits--and, to be sure, my friends and family had noticed. I received countless compliments on my much improved appearance. The positive reinforcement was already established.

If you’re not familiar with positive reinforcement, it goes something like this: a child receives a good grade in school. That child goes home and tells his parents of his triumph. To reward that behavior in the hope that it continues, his parents present him with his favorite treat after dinner. This is based in psychological studies, often conducted with rodents, but the same methods have been found to work with humans, and the effect is increasingly powerful the more a behavior is positively reinforced.

Suffice it to say, I can recall many instances in which my unhealthy behaviors were commended and complimented. However, this is not solely what fueled me; as I will discuss throughout the chapters that follow, there were many factors that contributed to my eventual eating disorder.

Did I mention that I have an eating disorder? If you did not read the introduction, you may have regardless guessed at it through the narrative that this chapter contains. It’s an interesting label. It’s one I have both hidden behind and rejected. It fascinated me prior to my diagnosis, and, in some ways, it fascinates me even more now. 

Returning to that day, May, 22, 2016, I can recall feeling happy. Feeling comfortable in my own skin (for me, at least). Feeling little hesitation while ordering at my favorite restaurant--not even knowing what a blessing, what a freedom it is to look at a menu and feel excitement instead of dread. Feeling hungry, anticipatory, instead of paralyzed by choice. Perhaps you chose to select this book because you can relate. Perhaps you, like me, are simply fascinated by eating disorders. I once thought that I could never understand the mentality of someone with an eating disorder; after all, I loved food too much. But I’ve learned that it is a mentality you don’t want to understand, if for no other reason than once you do, it can quickly become all you understand.

It was shortly after that birthday that I, like the cat, found myself killed by my own curiosity. I have always been a snoop. I have a somewhat fragile sense of self, and I find solace in knowing what other people are thinking and the conversations they’re having that don’t involve me. In a word, I’m nosey. This attribute extended to my mother’s conversations; her text messages, to be precise. It was a few days after my 20th birthday that I found myself reading a conversation she had with my dad. In this conversation, I discovered that he planned to move out. It’s difficult for me to remember what went through my head in that moment, but it was likely a mixture of sadness, guilt, and fear.

I had grown up in an upper middle-class family. We had lived in a significantly smaller home than the one in the majority of my memories until I was six. After that, we moved into a polished, friendly neighborhood, where families knew one another, kids played in the street, and there was a block party every summer. Where each house looked eerily like the next, save for perhaps different colored shutters and roofs, so children could distinguish between their home and that of their friends. Where the families within each home seemed as perfect as the solid exterior would suggest. I remember spending time at the homes of my neighbors (including the girl who brought up blubber in my earlier anecdote) and finding solace in the way their families interacted. It was a nice break from the tension I often felt in my own home.

I’m not going to pretend my parents were cruel, or hurt me, or one another, or deprived me of anything. However, the style of interaction in my family was unhealthy (and it has taken me years to realize this). If two people didn’t agree, there was a fight. If there wasn’t immediate compliance, there was a fight. If someone demonstrated even the slightest incompetence, there was a fight; most often, my parents were the ones fighting. And so, this was the style of communication I learned to emulate. Either blame others when something goes wrong and prompt an argument, or internalize that blame and grow increasingly sick of yourself. I usually chose the latter.

One of the most vivid memories I have of my best friend from my neighborhood happened perhaps 3 years after the “blubber incident.” She and I were playing with my older brother, Michael, in his bedroom, when my father burst through the door. I don’t remember what made him angry, but I do remember my best friend’s reaction: she cowered under my brother’s desk until my dad stopped screaming. I had always thought interactions like that were normal; my friend’s fear told me otherwise.

It took me until recently to realize my parents were likely just unhappy. My brother and I spoke after my parents’ separation, and we realized that growing up, the two of us shared the same biggest fear: our parents getting a divorce. I think we both knew that the environment we were surrounded by wasn’t sustainable; it still startles me to this day to see two parents in love, perhaps because it seems so foreign.

So, needless to say, the separation wasn’t a shock for me. However, the emotional effect it had on me was. The knowledge that my parents had a complicated marriage would, I thought, buffer the impact of such news. But as I stood there, reading this message I was not supposed to see, I felt my stomach drop. I had been planning on going to my boyfriend at the time, Billy’s, hockey game, but in that instant I could not envision myself going anywhere, ever again. The world that had supported me, the unit I was a part of, imperfect though it was, was going to change forever; what frightened me most, though, was this: I had no control over any of it.

To be frank, I have never been good with change. The hardest transition I had gone through up until this point was the move from high school to college. Growing up on Long Island, I knew I needed to go somewhere different when graduation came--perhaps to prove to myself that there was somewhere different. For anyone who hasn’t been to Long Island, it really is a beautiful place (especially during the summer). But it’s also crowded, with an abundance of traffic, and a good chunk of less-than-friendly people who place more importance on physical appearance than treating humans with kindness (this helps to explain my own emphasis on looks). So, I was both thrilled and terrified to explore somewhere new. At least in theory. When the time came to move down to North Carolina, I cried more than I ever had in my life. At least up until that point.

Having weathered that change, though, the idea of this change, only a bit more than a year later, seemed inconceivable. What was worse was the fact that there was nobody I could talk to about it in my family. My brother didn’t know, and my parents certainly did, but they didn’t know that I knew. I realized in that moment that I would have to internalize this knowledge until my parents decided to tell us. Had I not been leaving for a family vacation in Florida the next day, this may have been easier to accomplish without severe compartmentalizing. However, as the fates would have it, we were set to travel to my uncle’s Boca Raton home with my grandma. 

A note on the term “family vacation”: in my family, this typically would include my grandma (my mom’s mom) instead of my father. My dad, due in part to a family history of skin cancer and in part to his innate neuroticism, had diligently avoided the sun for as long as I can remember. There are countless family photos of my mother, brother, and I swimming happily in a sunny pool, with my father nowhere in sight. There are countless memories of vacations spoiled because a day that was supposed to be cloudy turned out not to be, and my dad would force the family to retreat into our hotel. There are countless fights between my parents over my father’s duels with that unflappable enemy: Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun. In fact, he brought an umbrella on my campus tour of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill--where I would end up attending--when the skies were clear and Carolina blue. Needless to say, I was mortified. 

I did end up attending my boyfriend’s hockey game that evening. A few of his other friends came to watch, and I sat smiling and chatting with them as if everything were normal, and would only occasionally acknowledge how wrong that felt. I felt guilty for feeling happy. I just wanted his game to end so I could collapse into his arms and weep. He was the only person I would tell about my immorally obtained knowledge until my parents actually came out with it. And when his game finally ended, and my extremities were sufficiently numb from the temperature in the ice skating rink, I told him--between sobs--that my dad was moving out. He looked startled, and he held me as I sobbed. His friends often went to Applebee’s after games; he asked if I would want to join them. He thought it would cheer me up. I didn’t, of course. I resented him for wanting to go, and for deciding to.

Though I am a rather self-deprecating person, I’m also incredibly selfish. It has taken me a while to admit this to myself, and I will talk more about this as the book goes on. But in this moment, with my boyfriend trying in his good-natured way to cheer me up, and myself feeling affronted by his efforts, I realized that I wanted him to hurt, too. How could his life continue on, as normal, when mine was on the verge of collapsing? A part of me has always loved playing the victim and pulling those I love down with me; this part resented Billy’s eternal optimism.

I should note that the trip to Florida was actually rather pleasant, if unremarkable. Even though I felt on that evening that my life would not, and simply could not, go on, indeed it did. I spent the majority of the trip enjoying the sun, the pool, the beach, my family--thinking nothing of my body in a bikini or my lack of exercise, and not realizing what a gift that mental freedom was.

My parents eventually told us about the separation the day we got back from the trip. My dad picked us all up from the airport, and he drove home like a madman. I remember my grandma clutching onto the side of the car for dear life; I remember thinking that my parents were probably going to tell us today, and my dad was, in his own dramatic way, preparing for that. Sure enough, my grandma drove home, I went for a quick run, and, when I returned, my parents called my brother and I downstairs.

I descended the stairs in my orange sports bra and blue shorts, still moist with sweat from a summer afternoon run. As my parents told us what I already knew, tears began to well up, and I felt so angry at myself for crying about something I was privy to all week. How stupid, to feel the same feelings all over again, to express them so obviously--and, sure enough, my mother cried because she saw me crying. Exactly what I knew would happen. Exactly what I dreaded.

From that day on, I had a vague awareness of the changes happening around me. My dad moving out; my mom telling my extended family; the coping mechanisms I was turning to. In hindsight, it’s so obvious to me that I was acting from a place of hurt. But, in the moment, I could have sworn I didn’t feel a thing. I was coping fine, I would say. Sure, it sucked, but that’s life. Internalization after internalization, until, eventually, I found my own way to make my pain external. 

Chapter 2

I fainted for the first time (independent of getting my blood drawn) in early July of that same summer. I had just woken up, and, as I had taken to with the adoption of a “morning person” identity, I shot right out of bed, eager to wash up and start my day. En route to the bathroom, I became cognizant of the fact that my head felt fuzzy, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to determine where I was going. In fact, I was blacking out; while I remained conscious in the literal sense (which made the experience all the more frightening), I couldn’t see where I was going and was really only traveling by momentum. I eventually came to a stop when I banged into my bathroom wall and collapsed on the floor. I regained vision shortly thereafter, and remember gripping onto the sides of my toilet to pull myself up. I proceeded to wash up as if nothing happened.

I did tell my mom what had occurred later that day, and the two of us attributed it to standing up out of bed too fast. I was aware, however, of the fact that I had been feeling dizzy more often lately, regardless of how fast I stood up. But, in the same way I was vaguely aware of the other things going on in my life, I acknowledged this, too, with the vague awareness of someone who plans to address a problem first thing when she finds the time (or, in my case, the  energy).

Things had moved rather quickly after the Florida trip in terms of my mental deterioration; I was anxious nearly all the time, my mind a flood of thoughts of food, mainly foods I would no longer allow myself to eat. I also was dealing with the fact that my aunt was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer, and we wouldn’t be spending as much time with her or my cousins this summer. My family, from the time I was two, had traveled to Lake George every summer and stayed at the same hotel; this year, my aunt and cousins would not be joining us. But, again, I was confident I had dealt with these feelings; after all, I rarely thought of anything (aside from food) anymore, so I felt sure that meant these other matters simply didn’t bother me.

My parents certainly noticed my weight loss, but it was not so severe as to worry them. The changes in my mood were far more concerning; indeed, my dad actually looked at me proudly as I lay out tanning and proclaimed “you’re so skinny!” like that was all he ever wanted his daughter to be (did I mention positive reinforcement?).

In terms of mood changes, I really lost all patience for, and interest in, most things that summer. I was either irritable, tired, or indifferent; I can recall very few instances of true happiness from this time in my life. I have since realized that this obviously had ramifications for the people around me that cared about me, particularly Billy, but all I felt towards him that summer was anger that he couldn’t make me happy anymore. I didn’t know why that was, but I attributed it to some deficit within him, and I continued to resent him for it. 

Shortly after the blackout-in-the-bathroom ordeal, I came down with some sort of stomach bug that kept me on the toilet for the better part of 3 days. On the third day, my mother decided that this sickness now warranted a trip to the doctor--more specifically, the pediatrician that my 23 year old brother and I still saw. In fact, my brother would continue to see him until he aged out of being allowed to (I would not. But this speaks to the hating change thing I mentioned earlier…). 

On this particular visit to the doctor, I was hoping that my weight wouldn’t be taken; I always dreaded being weighed at the doctor. This started when I was still a child. I was, as mentioned, a slightly chubby kid, and so my BMI was always on the heavier side of normal. My doctor, on one occasion, informed me and my mother that I needed to “lay off the junk food.” I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, and yet that visit is vivid to me even now. I started skipping dinner the evening before my appointments in the hopes of producing a more acceptable number on the scale, one my doctor could be proud of. So, even with my stomach largely empty due in part to a virus, the anxiety of being weighed was still present.

I need not have worried about a situation similar to that experienced by my 10 year old self, though. In fact, I had lost approximately 35 pounds since my last visit, a little under one year prior. This certainly got the doctor’s attention. The scene that commenced was both emotional and pivotal.

The doctor proceeded to ask me how I had lost so much weight, with a worried and stern tone now accompanying her words. I detailed the weight loss that had happened naturally in college, which played a large role in such a shocking total sum; however, I did admit to making some “healthy” changes since arriving back home. My mom added that I had been motivating her to buy more fruits and vegetables, with a chuckle. 

The doctor proceeded to ask me to lower my robe so she could examine me. Cold (why is it always so cold in medical offices?), exposed, and vulnerable, I complied. What ensued was one of many examples of doctors making statements that are decidedly harmful for individuals with eating disorders: she poked and prodded at my flesh, before reluctantly proclaiming that I “still had some meat on my bones,” but if I lost anymore weight she would start to think I was anorexic. 

At the mention of that diagnosis, I began to cry. At the moment, I was certain this show of emotion was due to the weight of that word; it’s such a scary diagnosis! How can she think I have an eating disorder? I just have a stomach virus, of course I weigh less! These appeals, and more, were made between sobs while she looked on, unconvinced but willing to give me a chance to prove myself. I had a follow up appointment in a week; if I could gain some weight by then, she would believe that I was “healthy.”

I still wonder why a professional wasn’t consulted. As a mental health professional, now, myself, I find myself shocked at how often the providers dealing with me throughout my journey took on my case with little idea of what they were doing or how to help. Had this doctor been more familiar with eating disorders, she might have known not to comment on my body, or to ask me what specifically and in what amount I ate each day, or how often I exercised. But, she instead believed my assertions that this was all a big mistake, and gave me the chance to put on some weight.

I am now cognizant of the fact that my show of emotion in the doctor’s office at what would later become my diagnosis was not only out of shock but also (and, perhaps, moreso) out of a sad sort of relief. Some part of my brain knew already how sick I was becoming and immediately identified with the disorder. And I garnered a strange sort of comfort from hearing it spoken out loud. Acknowledgement was a sort of permission: yes, you’re sick, you can relax, you can eat, you can get help! But, as I pushed back on the doctor’s hypothesis, I effectively denied myself this permission; instead, I set upon the task of gaining weight, a means of proving both my physical and mental health.

The next week passed unremarkably, with little change to my nutrition other than a laughably small scoop of peanut butter for “extra calories” and the fact that I wasn’t shitting my brains out all day. So, when it was time to return to the doctor and discover I had, in fact, gained weight, I patted myself on the back for my efforts. Of course, this weight was likely a byproduct of being hydrated, but it satisfied the doctor (and my mom) and allowed me to keep eating my “healthy” meals with renewed confidence in my diet.

The idea that I might be anorexic is one that stuck with me, however. I often think that awareness so early on, that acceptance in some part of my mind that I was, in fact, sick, is what helped me to seek treatment earlier than some choose to. But, of course, we’ll get to that.

I mentioned earlier that my family traveled to Lake George this year without my aunt. That trip is the next event that sticks out to me from this particular summer. Lake George has always held a special place in my heart; I have memories there of formative experiences of all sorts. I grew close to my cousins there, I saw my grandpa happy and seemingly healthy for the last time there, I almost lost my brother there (funny story now, but scary at the time--certainly not relevant to this book, though), and I even lost my virginity there when I was 17 (also a funny story, and also irrelevant).

This trip would end up being the last we have taken to the lake to this date. I do hope that my family eventually returns, as this is not how I want my final visit to be remembered. My brother, my mom, my grandma, and myself ended up being the only ones who made the drive up north, through the Adirondacks. When my mom told me she booked the hotel she expected me to be so excited, since I was the one who really pushed us all to go. Instead, my response was panic. I teared up a bit, and then I asked tentatively, “where will I exercise? What will I eat?”

I ultimately ran a few miles every day we were there. It was beautiful in the mountains and around the lake; it was also at elevation, though, so I kept my runs short. At this point, exercise hadn’t really taken over my life. I did obsess about it and try and do some form of movement each day, but my runs were usually 3 miles long or less. My brother was sleeping on a pull out couch in front of the door; every morning when I woke up early to run, he would hear me and wake up, too. He would get grumpy and ask me to run later, but I had my routine. I always liked sticking to a routine.

I look back on this particular trip with a lot of regret. I regret how I treated my brother, I regret how my grandma had to see me act, I regret not allowing myself to have fun on what may very well be my last visit to Lake George with my grandma, or in general. During my sickest days, I was constantly irritable; I’m sure most people who starve themselves are. It’s hard to regulate your mood when your body is trying so hard just to perform basic functions. My brother, in particular, was a huge source of irritation for me. He’s a quirky person, and I had no tolerance for any of it, especially on this trip.

My mom and I liked to take kayaks out onto the lake; it was beautiful, peaceful, and not too draining for her. I liked the additional exercise, too, of course. My brother decided on one outing that he wanted to come with us, but he insisted on giving us a radio to communicate with him, since he would be in a separate kayak. Michael loved gadgets, so he wanted to see if they would work on the open water. This frustrated me beyond belief. Every time he tried to radio to us, I felt heat well up in my body. Instead of enjoying the peaceful paddling, I complained incessantly to my mom about my brother. Then, at some point, the conversation about my mood in general came up. I disclosed that I rarely felt happy anymore. In truth, I really only felt irritated or depressed that summer. My mom listened and made space for me; she’s always been good at doing that. But I think she knew, perhaps even before this vacation, that I needed help. I also cannot imagine how difficult it must be as a parent to see your child so unhappy.

Lake George has a cute little village filled with all sorts of shops: ice cream shops, clothing stores, tacky souvenir stores (my favorite), antique stores, restaurants. My family used to walk in the village every night when we would visit; there was often live music, or fireworks, or balloon artists. However, my grandma had been having knee pain throughout the trip, so we had to limit our walking. One evening, when trying to decide where to go to dinner (which was an ordeal in and of itself, given my peculiarities), I encouraged us to pick a place nearby so we could walk. I insisted that it wasn’t far and my grandma would be able to do it. She did make it to the restaurant, and we had a meal that I don’t remember and don’t think I ate much of. However, she did not want to walk back; she was too tired, and in truth, it was farther than I had anticipated. My brother and I proceeded to walk back together to get our car while my grandma and mother waited at the restaurant. We then drove back and picked them up. I think I’ve remembered this particular evening, when the rest of the trip is largely a blur, because this was one of the few times I felt something other than depressed or irritable: I felt guilty. I love my grandma; she’s one of my favorite people. The idea of causing her stress, making her feel like an inconvenience, or worse--hurting her, made me feel incredibly guilty. This will come up in a few other stories, unfortunately. 

I should note that my grandma had also dealt with anorexia before. My cousin, Kristina, who is maybe 10 years older than me, had an eating disorder when she was 14. In some ways, this comforted me, because I knew she understood more than most what I was going through. In others, it crushed me; I hated putting her through it again.

My parents tried to get me to go to therapy that summer. Specifically, they tried to get me to go to my mom’s therapist. With my mom. Eventually, I very reluctantly agreed. The session itself was awkward, and I rarely spoke throughout. When the therapist asked me whether I thought my mom was overreacting about my mood and eating issues, I said yes. I didn’t have to go back to therapy that summer.

One of the last real memories I have of this summer happened with Billy. We were driving somewhere, I don’t know where; we made some attempts at going out and “having fun” the way we used to, but I had by this point become so rigid in my schedule and eating that I rarely wanted to leave my house. So, we were driving, and Billy was trying to figure out why I was being so irritable and acting so sad. I by this point had gotten used to this sort of conversation and resented having to repeat it. However, I became emotional, which was unexpected; while I cried a lot this summer, I didn’t really ever feel my emotions. In this case, though, a flood of sadness that made me want to crawl out of my skin hit me, and I began to sob. When Billy asked me what was wrong, I vividly remember responding, “I just want to be happy. I’m never happy.” This led to a conversation about how he wished he could make me happy; the thought that popped into my head, burned into my throat, and was never uttered: “I wish you could, too.”

Chapter 3

My parents held out hope that going back to school that fall would improve my mood. However, there was a contingency in place: I was expected to seek out therapy of some form before the semester started. With this necessity looming in my mind, my mother, grandma, and I flew down to North Carolina; in retrospect, my mom and I agree we shouldn’t have invited my grandma to come, but I knew she wanted to see the school. I wasn’t in a good place, though, and I was moving into a new house; moves have always stressed me out, so I was more irritable than usual. Additionally, my grandma couldn’t handle the heat of August in Carolina (and, truthfully, I don’t blame her), so we weren’t able to walk around campus as much as I envisioned, which disappointed me. The worst part, though, were meals out. I had been a vegan since junior year of high school; this veganism morphed into, essentially, only eating vegetables and fruit when I was deepest in my eating disorder. So, it was difficult to select places that had food I could eat, and I hated being the one that had to make the decisions. This resulted in me often eating house salads and feeling both hungrier and “hangrier” than usual.

Needless to say, the visit wasn’t particularly enjoyable for anyone involved. I was more relaxed when they flew back to New York; my friends and I went out to a party that night, and I thought to myself that maybe everything could be normal again after all. Certainly, with the help of a therapist, and without the stress of my parents, I could be happy again, after all.

In searching for a therapist, my main requirement was that it be as cheap as possible and that the therapist in question be a female. I knew I would feel significantly less comfortable talking to a man about my issues with eating. I also didn’t think men could understand the way women can; having witnessed my father and brother struggle to know what to say to me, one could sympathise with the development of that idea. 

So, she had to be a woman. I heard from a friend that UNC’s Campus Health Center had a free counseling service; that seemed like a reasonable place to start, and besides, anything was an improvement over that first therapy session with my mother in attendance. Upon entering the counseling wing of the health center, and seeing so many students also in the waiting area, I began to understand the pervasiveness of mental health issues. Even though both of my parents had always gone to therapy, and my brother and I participated in one or two awfully awkward family sessions throughout my childhood, I held a stigma of seeking help. I didn’t want to talk about my feelings; indeed, I didn’t even want to talk about myself. However, that small part of me that knew something was wrong when my pediatrician mentioned anorexia--that small part of me helped me keep my promise to my mother and seek out help.

The campus counseling waiting area was spacious, so I found a seat away from other students while I filled out my intake form (on an iPad! How fancy!). One of the questions on the form asked what brought us to counseling, and I wasn’t sure what to say was wrong. I still had not embraced the eating disorder label; I told most of my friends I had been having some “issues with food”--whatever that means. I supposed that was what I would tell the intake people, too. After all, it wasn’t like they had any specialists on hand; I was going to end up talking to a graduate student one way or the other, since that was the main reason the services were free: it gave interns an opportunity to practice, and it helped students with basic mental health issues. Emphasis on basic.

I will return to my therapeutic experiences throughout this chapter, but I do want to highlight how quickly things escalated in my illness once the semester started. I had hoped that the return to school would allow me to forget the issues at home, forget my aunt’s illness, and eat more freely at the dining hall with my friends. The dining halls on campus had ample vegan options, and I hoped that eating with friends would provide a distraction from the food itself. In some ways, this turned out to be the case; however, my rigidity followed me to school, and I began restricting my intake in the dining hall as well.

I often attempted to eat alone, too. On the days of the week when my friend, Mark, was unable to eat lunch with me, I would sit alone and eat my standard lunch as quickly as possible. I usually got a salad with a lot of toppings (none of them carbohydrate heavy, though) and fruit for dessert. I would always take whatever vegan dessert option they had that day (like cookies, or brownies, or favorite was the cookies, though) and bring it back to my house in a to-go cup for after dinner. I had a new rule: no dessert until after dinner. At least I still ate dessert, I reasoned.

On one occasion, a staff member in the dining hall caught me putting the cookies in a to-go cup; apparently, this was against the rules. I proceeded to put them on a plate instead, to which she responded she knew I was just going to put them right back in the cup when she walked away. I truly wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do, and I frankly felt like crying and telling her, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I can’t eat cookies this early in the day, and I want to take a few back home for later, and they’re the only dessert I let myself have, and I’ve been so unhappy, and this is sometimes the only thing I look forward to all day…” But I didn’t do any of that. I put them back in my to-go cup a few minutes later and walked out of the dining hall. Then I allowed myself to cry.

This lunch would carry me over until snack. Snack was an apple, also taken from the dining hall. Dinner was another story, one that grew increasingly odd over the course of the semester, and it is still hard for me to look back on now--how could I have been so strange, so rigid, so obsessive-compulsive, with so little regard for my friends (and myself)? But, dinner. I can’t recall how the ritual started, but start it did. My campus had various little shops which sold to-go food from restaurants in the dining hall. Each day, I began selecting one of these to-go food containers: each day, I chose the same thing. The containers contained approximately 200 calories worth of Morroccan couscous from a restaurant called Mediterranean Deli. This restaurant had always been one of my favorites; indeed, I still enjoy it (and the couscous, with all of the memories it brings) to this day. 

The oddest parts of this ritual consisted both of the time at which I purchased this “dinner” as well as the manner in which I consumed it. I would examine each Morroccan couscous container in the fridge; I had to choose the “best” one--what characterized best was the neatness of the packaging and the fullness of the container (as counterintuitive to a restrictive eating disorder as it might be, I preferred the fullest). Often people would wait behind me to make their selections for quite some time; this is something I was consistently oblivious of until I finished making my choice. In order to ensure I received the best couscous, as well as to ensure they did not run out, I began purchasing it earlier and earlier in the day. My routine eventually became procuring the couscous after my 11am class, then carrying it around in my backpack until I went home. On one occasion, I noticed that the heat would cause the couscous to leak oil in my backpack; because of this, I began carrying the container around from class to class. When I did place it in my backpack, I would constantly check on it and make sure it was still intact. The amount of mental space I wasted on this couscous astounds me to this day. I was often unable to focus in class because I was worried it would leak or somehow be damaged. Classmates accidentally bumping into my backpack was enough to prompt a full panic; I would immediately check the container and attempt to move my bag even farther away from other feet and desks. Eventually, I resolved to leave the couscous on my desk in each class; this way, at least, I wouldn’t be distracted by checking it.

As far as the manner in which I ate, we must begin with the time of day: 7:30pm. Every day, 7:30pm; this was dinner time. If there were events or gatherings at this time, I simply would not attend. So: 7:30pm. I watch the small clock above our television in the living room until the much anticipated hour. I take the couscous, which has been sitting in the fridge, and I sit in my same spot on our small dining room table; I use my same spoon; I eat so neatly, so slowly, it is laughable. First, I lick the container to ensure I have ingested the particles of couscous that are not neatly in the container, lest any be wasted. Then, I begin to scrape at the couscous; I take it from the sides, first, and make sure no particles remain there; then I work my way to the middle. All the while, slowly nibbling, savoring each bite. I ultimately lick as much of the remnants left in the container as possible before I consider my meal complete. The whole process takes about 30 minutes. It is 4 ounces of couscous. Then, I get to the highlight of my day: dessert.

It was always of interest to me that I never, even at my sickest, denied myself dessert. I restricted, I exercised, I was so focused on being “healthy,” but I also allowed myself one treat every day. Perhaps this is because I’ve always had a sweet tooth; indeed, life would have been too miserable to continue at that time without this treat to look forward to. 

Another source of joy for me, albeit compulsive joy, was running. My friend and housemate, Maddie, was training for her first marathon during the fall of 2016. As such, she was running before class most mornings. Though some of her runs were unfathomably far to me, like 15 miles or more, I would often accompany her on her shorter runs. I would say that I shouldn’t run farther than 4 miles because of my eating issues. I was afraid to lose more weight; I was weighing myself every week and knew that I was, and quickly. However, at some point, I stopped caring about these eating issues. I wanted to run the Tar Heel 10 Miler in the spring, so I began testing my endurance (of course, without increasing my intake). It’s crazy to me to this day how fast I was able to run when I was so light. Of course, I was also plagued by injuries (and still am) because I refuse(d) to rest.

My final true source of joy that semester came in the form of a small rodent named Ginny. I first saw Ginny on Facebook; a girl was advertising that her friend’s hamster had a litter of babies, and they were for sale. I’m not sure what compelled me to, but I reached out to the girl. I was truly in no position to care for another creature; I was hardly caring for myself. But I was persistent, and neither my mother nor my friends could convince me not to get her. I headed to the pet store and bought all of the essentials: a cage (with fun, colorful tubes!), bedding, a ball for her to roll around in, a bed, some food, a water bottle. The men at the checkout counter asked me if I wanted a hamster to go with all of these supplies. I informed them that I already had one, thank you very much.

On the day I finally got Ginny, I raced home after class, walking faster than usual with my Morroccan couscous in hand. The hamster girl, as she is heretofore known, brought in her two golden coated Syrian hamsters. One was long haired and the other was short haired; she wanted me to pick between the two. I knew that whichever one she handed me first would be the one I chose. She handed me the short haired girl. That was the first time I held my Ginny.

I spent more time with that hamster than any human that semester. I had read all about how to ingratiate yourself to hamsters; they can be skittish; it’s important to give them time alone in their habitat before you try to pick them up. My friends came over to see her and were disappointed I wouldn’t interact with her. Because of this peer pressure, I resigned to try and hold her; after all, my friends argued, I needed to get her used to human interaction while she was still a baby. When I put my hand in her cage to grab her, she let out the most heartbreaking squeal; I was sure I had ruined our relationship forever. Once I had her in my hands, though, she was comfortable and playful; she had been handled often by the hamster girl and her friends. She eventually would run over to the cage to be taken out once she got used to my scent. She even fell asleep on my leg once when she was still a baby. She was my girl, and caring for her became the highlight of most days--along with my dessert, of course. 

I often studied for my classes while Ginny rolled around in her ball across my bedroom floor. Though this was the beginning of my junior year, I was technically a senior; I had enough credits to graduate that upcoming spring. This likely was a larger source of stress than I realized; I didn’t feel in any way prepared to enter the post-collegiate world, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. However, my parents wanted me to take this opportunity to save money; so, I resolved to make an appointment with my college advisor that each senior is required to make. My advisor was a small, sweet Asian woman who had a toothy grin and adult braces. We discussed the classes I would need to take in the spring to complete my diploma requirements; she handed me a small blue and white pin that boldly proclaimed my senior status; she asked me about my plans for after graduation. Perhaps it was this question that made me get emotional; perhaps it was the realization that my new pin brought that I was, in fact, set to graduate; whatever the reason, I began to cry, and I chastised myself for crying which, of course, only made me cry more. She handed me a box of tissues and gave me some time to calm down. She asked, genuinely worried and curious, what prompted my emotional response. I launched into my story: my parents split up, I’m having a hard year, I’m having some issues with eating. I spoke to my advisor with more honesty than I did my counselor; part of me trusted her intrinsically, and I came to find out why. She told me that she, too, had a history of disordered eating. She understood, she empathized, she emphasized the importance of getting help. I wiped my tears, embarrassed that they continued to flow as I stubbornly tried to squeeze them back into their ducts; I thanked her for listening, apologized for acting so silly, stuck the pin in my bag, and walked briskly out of the building.

Billy and I broke up at some point early in the semester; truthfully, I can’t remember when, and I don’t remember feeling too phased by it. Our relationship had been rather miserable throughout the summer, largely because of me, so I was shocked that he hadn’t broken up with me sooner. Once we did break up, though, I began to sink deeper into my behaviors; he and I would still talk, and he would implore me to try and make changes to my routine, but I didn’t take any of the advice he gave me to heart. I didn’t have to anymore. There was nobody I needed to stay healthy for; nobody who loved me enough to care that I was withering away. That’s what I wanted.

Eating disorders are strange, though (duh). I wanted isolation, loneliness, and not to feel, but I also craved attention and concern. I wanted people to be shocked by how I looked, to comment on how much weight I had lost, to make sure I was eating enough, to ask me why I wasn’t taking a rest day (my friends did all of these things; I didn’t deserve their concern). Throughout recovery, this would be one of the hardest hurdles to getting better: not “looking sick.” By their very nature, many eating disorders influence our physical appearance; for me, my disorder became an outward display of the shit I was feeling inside, or was trying to avoid feeling. So, it becomes difficult to cope with feeling anything when you don’t look like you’re struggling. How else are people to know you’re hurting?

I recall laying in bed every night that fall and shivering under my covers even though my room was the warmest in our house; I often had trouble falling asleep, partly because hamsters are nocturnal, and Ginny loved to bite her cage at night (ultimately, I got her a larger cage, which solved that problem: make sure your hamsters have enough space!). As my mind drifted and tried to quiet, I would come back to the same thoughts: do better tomorrow. Eat more tomorrow. Don’t buy dinner at 11am tomorrow. Tomorrow will be different.

Tomorrow never was different, though. No amount of non-specific therapy was going to change that; however, I continued to see my counselor bi-weekly. At CAPS, you are only allowed access to short-term therapy; after about 8 sessions, you are referred elsewhere. Looking back, I often become frustrated that I wasn’t referred out sooner. Surely, if someone presented to me (a counselor) with a disorder I was not equipped to handle, I would help them access those that were. This apparent lack of concern on my counselor’s part contributed to my thoughts of not being sick enough. 

I would often seek reassurance that I was, in fact, sick enough from my friends. This was never fair to them; it only made me annoyed at them, regardless of their answer. I recall two specific instances of this occurring, both with different outcomes. In the first instance, I was sitting on the couch in my living room with my housemate and close friend, Maddie. We were smoking weed and talking casually; at some point, I brought up that I didn’t really think my legs looked different, even though I knew I was losing weight. My legs had always been a major insecurity for me (perhaps dating back to the blubber incident), so it makes sense that my body dysmorphia centered around them. Maddie sort of chuckled, almost ironically, and said that they did, in fact, look significantly different. She repeated this for emphasis. In that moment, I realized both how concerned she was for me and how warped my perception of myself had become. Maddie would help me a lot that fall and winter; I will always love her for that. 

The second instance was later in the semester, perhaps right before winter. My other housemate, Hanna, and I were smoking cigarettes on our back porch (something I only did while drunk...usually). I commented on the fact that I was nervous to go home for Thanksgiving; I hadn’t seen my family since the summer, and I knew I lost more weight since then. Hanna responded that I looked about the same as I did when the semester started. I had, by that point, dropped approximately 10 pounds lower than my summer weight (which was already low for me). I took this as an affirmation of my own analysis of my figure. I would discover how wrong we both were upon my return home for the holiday. 

Chapter 4

Thanksgiving had always been one of my least favorite holidays (aside, of course, from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade). I have abstained from eating meat since middle school, so the food was never particularly thrilling, and each year my brother and I would alternate which side of the family we spent the day with--even before my parents split up. The only difference was that if, for example, it was my mom’s side of the family’s turn, my father would come with us to wherever the holiday was hosted. However, in 2016, my father went to his parents’ house, whereas my brother and I went with my mother to my aunt’s house.

I felt an acute sense of dread when I realized how soon the trip home was. I had been having a “weird” time at school lately--weird is the word I use when I don’t know how I actually feel about a situation, and I don’t have the energy to find out. My close friend, Mark, and I had kissed shortly before Thanksgiving break--an alcohol-fueled ordeal from one of the many evenings where I drank too much to try and recover a sense of happiness, however false. I often will seek out male attention when I feel insecure and, regardless of how small my body had become, I was more insecure than ever. I repeated, in between kissing, that I was gross--over and over. I don’t know if Mark responded or not, and it wouldn’t have mattered if he did; in my mind, it was a fact. I still use that phrase when I feel uncomfortable in my body, and no amount of argument can convince me otherwise. Gross then, gross still.

Around the same time, I sparked up conversations with various males on different platforms. I had created a Tinder a few months prior, gone on one date, and realized (wisely) that I probably wasn’t in the best place for a relationship. I just craved male attention; surely a bye-product of my low self-esteem. It still messes with my sick mind to this day that at and around my lowest weight, I received the most male attention. To be fair, and in the interest of presenting all of the facts, this was also my longest period being single since my senior year of high school. I often wonder what sort of attention, if any, I would receive today.

These conversations, amidst all of the isolation and restriction, kept my mood elevated. People thought I was pretty. They were interested in me, even if I hated myself. Surely, that must mean I can’t be so awful. I rode this false high all the way home to New York; my mother’s response to my new physique, however, would incite a sharp crash.

Sifting through old messages from around this time period helps me immerse myself in the pervasive negative feelings that had become commonplace. I was so focused on myself, my appearance, my issues, my food, my routine. Eating disorders are truly selfish beasts. I regret immensely playing on the emotions of others, particularly those who were romantically interested in me, in order to make myself feel better. I allowed men to compliment me and try and help me through these feelings when all I really wanted was to stew in them; it’s enough to make me hate myself.

And hate myself I did (and, I suppose, do). As I mentioned, Thanksgiving was my first time home that semester since the summer. My mom in particular braced herself, as I had warned her I lost more weight. At first, however, given the baggy clothes I typically wore, it was not painstakingly obvious how far I had slipped. In some ways, this lack of attention to my appearance irked me; I don’t know how else to explain my rationale for trying to frighten my mother. Because that’s really what I did and, on some level, wanted. We were sitting in my old kitchen; a rather large, tan-colored room, with an interesting, tactile paint job that we at first thought was some sort of strange water damage, but had grown to love. I preferred to sit on the stools that lined our kitchen counter; my mother was at the kitchen table with the laptop in front of her. I decided it would be a good time to show her how thin I had become. I rolled up my sleeve to show her my arm--I had become somewhat self-conscious of my arms during this time, because they looked rather bony (as did the rest of me). Upon my sleeve rolling up and my bony limb being exposed, my mother let out an audible gasp. This was what I wanted; verification of my sickness; mission accomplished! But, for whatever reason, I cried. Her fear frightened me. I anticipated it, desired it, but, upon being presented with it, was forced to face the reality of my condition. It isn’t pleasant to watch your family startle at your sickly appearance, no matter how validating. It hurts; it hurts you, and it hurts them.

Thanksgiving day that year, I insisted on borrowing one of my mother’s long sweater dresses. I didn’t have any clothes of my own that fit me anymore, aside from large sweatshirts and leggings that looked baggy. I wanted something long and plain so my body wouldn’t be startling. I had learned my lesson from my mother’s reaction, at least for the time being.

One of the most difficult parts of holidays was being surrounded by food. This used to be my favorite part; I loved to snack, and my aunt always had some of the best chips and dips. However, parties and occasions from this period in my life are punctuated by full-body tension as I fought against myself and my urges to snack. I believed that if I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop; there may have been some truth to that, as “over-eating” is a normal response to restriction; nonetheless, I wasn’t willing to try. Instead of being present with my family, I snacked on celery sticks and counted down the hours until I could go home. 

However, we certainly weren’t going to leave before Thanksgiving dinner. My mother and I had started the day like we normally did, watching the parade and baking sweet potato pie (usually, we made it vegan so I could eat it. This year, I insisted we make it non-vegan, so I couldn’t). That normality stood in stark contrast to my behavior at dinner. Unusually for me, I don’t remember what I actually ate that evening. I do remember feeling full afterwards, which was both rare and exceptionally uncomfortable. If my mood were apathetic before the meal, it was downright desolate after.

I mentioned earlier how ritualistic my daily routine had become; meals were consumed at the same time everyday and typically consisted of the same foods, as well. Holidays threw a merry wrench into my well-planned days. On Thanksgiving, we ate dinner around 4:30pm; I didn’t eat lunch that day to “make sure” I would be hungry. Really, I was just anticipating eating different food for dinner and restricting to feel more comfortable with that fact. 

So, the holiday was spent tipsy, hungry, and irritable; I was the first in my family to want to return home. I started going to bed earlier that semester, to allow ample time in the morning for my workout routine; this was not changing due to a visit home, so I wanted to go to bed. Never mind that I only saw my family every few months; never mind that my cousins were there, who I only see twice a year. Time for bed, Ally said.

I always hated the gap between Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. This gap, really, was in place for final exams to be given, final papers turned in. However, my mom added an additional task for me that year: if I wanted to stay at school, I needed to find a therapist that specializes in eating disorders and get appropriate help. She informed me of this shortly before my flight back to North Carolina; I didn’t have the energy to argue.

My time with my CAPS counselor--of which the most I can say was she asked me to challenge my fears (whether they be fear foods or feared changes to routine), and I simply didn’t, and we would spend the session talking about why not--had come to an end. She gave me several providers in the area to contact in the hopes of continuing care elsewhere. Oddly enough, none of these providers specialized in eating disorders. This both lessened my confidence in my sickness and required me to research providers that could actually help me.

I compiled a short list of individuals in the area, including the UNC Center for Excellence in Eating Disorders (it still baffles me that I was not referred to this institution, which was right on campus, earlier on in my illness). I hated phone calls; this remains true today. The anxiety of not being able to read the body language and expressions of the individual being communicated with can be crippling; even more so when you’re calling for help you aren’t sure you want. I always had insight into my disorder. I was aware of what I was doing, why I was doing it, that it was unhealthy, that it was likely unsustainable, and that it was taking away from my life. But that knowledge doesn’t mean I wanted to change. That vow I made to myself each night, to exercise less, to eat more--that didn’t happen for a reason. There’s a quote that I learned in recovery that I’ll paraphrase now: you cannot beat yourself up for not getting better sooner; you were doing the best you could at the time. The best I could do was recognize my illness and accept that the individuals on the list I created needed to be contacted. I set aside a day to do so: the day after I completed my last final exam. Cap off a week of stress with more stress; ride the waves until they break.

I chose to start with the individual therapists first; it was difficult enough for me to call them. I could not face the prospect of making an appointment at UNC’s Eating Disorder Center; it seemed too similar to a hospital, and, after all, I was not truly sick. I was just crazy.

The therapists I called were, unfortunately, little help. I recall several of them could not take on any more clients, and one of them was going on an extended vacation. The conversation that sticks out the most to me, however, was with a provider who could, in theory, see me. She did something unexpected, though; she asked me my weight and my height. Upon telling her this information, she said that she hopes I get help, but she doesn’t feel comfortable treating me as an outpatient. This was my first indication that I might, indeed, be sick enough. I hadn’t realized that there was a “too sick,” though. 

After exhausting the less frightening options, I resolved to make an appointment at UNC. To my elation, there was the option to request an appointment online. Any service that allows me to make an appointment online has my business. I chose to schedule this appointment for the day before I was scheduled to start my journey back to New York for winter break. Mark and I were going to drive together; I needed to bring Ginny with me since I had nobody to watch her, and I somehow convinced Mark to help facilitate the journey.

On one of the last evenings of that semester, my closest friends came over to my house to make Christmas cookies. This is something we had done since the year prior; that year, I ate icing (the only vegan ingredient) and laughed, decorating the sugar cookies, singing along to carols. This year would be different. I would eat no icing; I would act sad because I wanted to eat icing and I would not let myself. I read somewhere recently that eating disorders, as much as they can be depicted as glamorous, are truly boring diseases. The story of a girl in an eating disorder is, more or less, the story of a girl disengaging with her life. In my friendships, more than anything else, my sickness took a toll. The aching I feel when I look back on memories of semesters spent staying home alone to avoid eating out, or blacking out because I hadn’t eaten enough and drank far too much, or making my friends drive me back home so I can eat my usual dinner; it is visceral; it is all-consuming. This particular memory elicits such an aching. 

The morning of my appointment at UNC’s eating disorder center was a cold one; the sort of cold that is uncharacteristic of North Carolina winters. The wind chill, in particular, was literally painful. Of course, I was always cold; I was accustomed to dressing in layers, and my friends knew to crank the heat when I entered their car. But this day was different. I went out on a run; I dressed in a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, my running leggings, and a head warmer; I pulled my hood up and secured it there to attempt to shield myself from the wind. Mittens my grandma had given me completed the outfit. Most of my runs from around this time are a blur; this one is distinct and vivid. I attribute this to the fact that I saw my friends, Mark and Maddie, driving on campus as I trotted by (I was embarrassed by how silly I looked in my hood. My friends were more perturbed by the fact that I was running in what felt like sub-zero temperatures). Unbeknownst to me at the time, this would be my last run for a few months. 

I planned on walking to the eating disorder clinic; it was approximately two miles from my house. Maddie, however, offered to drive me; these offers typically irritated me, as my walking was an integral part of my exercise compulsion. However, perhaps because of the cold, I relented; I was also nervous, and having her with me was comforting. As we approached the clinic, I was amazed at the size of it. UNC’s medical campus in general is an impressive glass-and-tile metropolis. The CEED was smack-dab in the middle, which allows for collaboration with medical professionals of all sorts (which, one could imagine, would be useful in treating an eating disorder).

I felt a certain resolve as I stepped out of Maddie’s red Jeep, waved, and entered the building. I told her I would likely walk home; it was sure to warm up by the time I was finished, and I didn’t want to inconvenience her any further; there was always some excuse to incorporate more movement into my days. My sickness knew the truth. My sickness also felt protected; surely it wasn’t severe enough to warrant treatment in a facility as grand as the one before me.

Upon arriving and checking in, I was led by a nurse to an exam room. The first task was to take my height and weight. After measuring me against a wall, I was instructed to remove my many layers, strip myself bare, and put on a cloth gown. I had to be wearing at least two sweatshirts; I hadn’t anticipated this particular inconvenience. I also wasn’t quite sure what the scale would say, or how the nurse would react. The number wasn’t a surprise; the nurse’s reaction was negligible. So far, so good.

After putting my clothes back on, I was then corralled into a small room; this looked like the sort of room I was meant to get comfortable in. This was, of course, a difficult task; I was acutely aware of the fact that this interview would make me uncomfortable. After all, this was an eating disorder clinic. I was not unique; these people had seen my thoughts and behaviors before. Perhaps this explained the unflappable countenance and almost condescending tone of my interviewer.

Of course, I likely felt negatively towards her because she was challenging me head-on. When I told her I ate peanut butter as a snack sometimes, she knew instinctively how meager the amount (much to my chagrin). When I told her my exercise routine, she pointed out the obvious: its excessiveness (“so that’s two workouts a day, then”). I was near tears by the end of the interview. By the time I left the building, I would be sobbing.

The interviewer assumed a different tone as she told me my fate. She either feigned empathy, or truly felt it; I wasn’t paying much attention to her face, only to her words. I could not be helped as an outpatient (which was the help I had sought). I would necessitate inpatient hospitalization; unfortunately, they were at capacity, but they certainly could recommend a facility nearby. 

I tried to contain my tears in front of this unflappable woman; it was a futile attempt. I begged to be allowed the option of outpatient; she indicated that, given my weight, it was not a possibility. However, she said that if I could return from winter break having gained a certain amount of weight (which was, essentially, impossible given the period of time, eating disorder or not), it was an option we could discuss. She also said I needed to stop running; exercising of all kinds was off limits if I truly wanted this outpatient help.

I left with this information swirling in my head; I didn’t care who saw me cry as I exited the building. I planned on walking, but the idea of movement of any sort seemed impossible; I wanted to curl into myself, disappear, lose consciousness. Walking required too much awareness. I called Maddie and asked for a ride; she happily set out to rescue me.

As I waited for her, I wondered if this would be it: all those evenings wishing for change; certainly, if anything could prompt it, this scare would be it. I was sick. It was finally true; sick enough to be in a hospital. Part of me wondered what I was crying for; this was exactly what I wanted. It was true: I wanted to be sick. I didn’t, however, want to get better. 

Chapter 5

I didn’t want to cry in front of Maddie. As close as we were, we never had a strong emotional relationship; both of us are introverts, so neither of us often opened up to the other. But there was always, and still is, a mutual love between us. Nevertheless, I worked to suppress my sobs as I saw her car approaching. It was obvious that I was recently crying, which made it obvious that the appointment hadn’t gone well. However, there is an obligation to inquire; a curiosity, especially when your friend is so clearly upset. I willed her to allow us to drive in silence; I also willed her to ask; I wanted someone to hear about it, to worry about me. It didn’t take long for the innocent inquiry, at which point I relapsed into sobs. They said I’m too sick to help as an outpatient. They want me to live in the hospital. I don’t want to live in the hospital. I choked out some form or combination of those declarations as I struggled to breathe. 

Maddie was resolved and optimistic on my behalf. She affirmed me of my ability to get better. She seemed shocked, however; even though my friends knew I was struggling, I don’t think any of us considered hospitalization being a necessity, much less a possibility. I recall with clarity what Maddie said to me, as well as the tone she said it in; her strength and love for me in what was quite literally the darkest moment of my life touches me as I write this.

Perhaps this scenario doesn’t seem like it warrants being described as such a low; I’m certain that many have weathered struggles greater than my own. But I am a perfectionist by nature: I dutifully fulfill my obligations, I try to be as self-reliant as possible, I am quick to pick myself apart for whatever failures, perceived or real. Hearing that I had let myself reach this point overwhelmed me. How could I become such a burden? I wanted people to worry; this is what I hated most about myself. This was exactly what I wanted, and it made me want to die.

I don’t speak of suicidality lightly. I have certainly had thoughts; never plans. What psychologists call passive ideation. In this moment, though, I truly wanted to stop living, stop feeling, and stop hurting, forever.

I sobbed the rest of the way home. I was simultaneously frightened and shocked; all I wanted was to feel numb again. After I called my mom and told her the news, I compartmentalized it; I began packing for the long trek Mark and I were going to be making home. It was a rare period of snowfall in North Carolina; this meant the weather was going to be even worse up north. Mark was never one to worry, though; our trip would proceed as planned. I didn’t know if I wanted to tell my friends about what happened earlier that day; I decided to be cryptic. I recall sending Mark a message indicating I was having, for all intents and purposes, the worst day ever. I wanted him to ask what happened; to show concern; to worry. Back to my paradoxical feelings towards worry: worry equated to love, but it was also a burden on the days I wanted to cease to exist.

Regardless, Mark didn’t pry. The rest of the day continued like normal, with one modification: my dinner. Maddie was making pasta: noodles, as we called them. I had indicated to her that I was ready to commit to getting better; I was going to stop running, I was going to eat more. My experience at the clinic was like getting scared straight; if only it were truly that simple.

Nonetheless, I agreed to have some noodles. It isn’t important the amount I allowed myself, though I’m sure it was meager; to me, this meant I was moving in the right direction. It was like recovery was a to-do list for me; stop running: check. Consume noodles: check. Perfectionism, insidious as it is, both pushed me to check these boxes as they presented themselves, and thrust me into self-hatred afterwards, for what sort of willpower is checking such lazy, glutinous boxes showing? My eating disorder was quite literally fighting against my more rational mind. Both of them were perfectionists.

The guilt I felt after checking that particular box, though, was enough to cause regret. I spent much of the aftermath of that meal calculating calories, comparing that meal to my regular meal, chastising myself when I should be feeling proud. The juxtaposition of those two feelings, guilt and pride, would become commonplace in my recovery.

Part of me knew that I would not be returning back to school for the spring semester after that break. UNC’s clinic had been my last chance at finding a provider willing to support me as an outpatient; I vehemently refused to go inpatient. I was an adult, so my parents could not force any choice of care on me; however, given my financial dependence on them, defying them would not be simple.

The evening came, and Mark and I packed up his car in front of my cute little duplex home. The last item into the car was my sweet Ginny; she would travel the whole way, spinning on her wheel throughout the night. Mark was somewhat determined to complete the journey in one shot; I, however, wanted to spend the night somewhere. Part of me thinks I just wanted to spend more time away from home. Truthfully, after Thanksgiving, I was not particularly looking forward to this visit. I was sure it would be riddled with stress and tension; perhaps this seems pessimistic, but it was also the reality of returning to a home where your separated parents often live together. My dad had not found a stable place of his own yet; he would come home most nights of the week. I despised this arrangement; a separation inherently implies some change in living arrangements, or else what is the point? Indeed, my father in general was one of the greatest sources of stress for me at times; my parents fought often, sometimes due to my eating and behaviors. During the Thanksgiving trip, my father had come to take me to his parents’ house for a visit. I was in the middle of making lunch; a sad-looking salad of some sort, I’m sure. My father had told me he was coming to pick me up at a specific time; however, he arrived early, and he proceeded to rush me to leave. I became upset because I had not eaten; eating was everything, especially on schedule, and the idea of this routine being interrupted was upsetting. Additionally upsetting was the callousness with which my dad addressed the topic; surely he understood his daughter was sick. My mother came downstairs and began arguing with him; she shouted something like “let her eat, why would you interrupt her eating.” She had a point.

So, suffice it to say, home could be a shit show. But home we headed. I lamented to Mark about my experience at UNC’s clinic; I expected it to shock him, I think. He reacted calmly and asked me something about how I planned to move forward and get better. The truth was, I didn’t--I’m sure I didn’t say that though. I probably mentioned having eaten noodles. And the fact that I had to stop running (this was actually a big accomplishment for me; the morning I spent with Mark at the hotel was the first morning in months I did not exercise. Of course, it didn’t feel like an accomplishment at the time).

We listened to music, mostly, as we drove; Mark liked to mock my musical taste, which was primarily pop-punk, but he included Brand New’s album “Deja Entendu” for me in his playlist. He said he had asked Maddie what music I liked, and she told him about that album. I was touched both by his effort to include music I preferred and by Maddie’s remembering that I love Brand New. People can show they care about you in ways other than worry, I supposed.

Eventually, I convinced Mark to stop. I said I was worried about him driving if I fell asleep; that was true, but I also wanted to spend the night with him. This can be taken both as it sounds (because I think part of me did want to sleep with him) and in a more literal sense--I was going to miss Mark when I was home. I knew I would be home for longer than we both thought, so the idea of intimate time together was pleasant.

Mark called his parents; they helped us find a hotel nearby. The problem, however, was Ginny; the hotel did not allow pets, but it was far too cold to leave Ginny in the car all night. Hamsters prefer warm environments, just like I did. We checked in, leaving her and our luggage in the car. We then brought our bags up to our room through a side entrance; our room was not on the ground floor, so we had to either take the elevator or the stairs. After checking out the room and putting our things down, we had to get Ginny; Mark decided to put his jacket over the cage to cover her. I’m sure it looked laughably obvious to the guests who saw us. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t stop laughing; sneaking a hamster into a Hilton was too ridiculous. 

With Ginny safely stowed in our room, Mark and I got ready for bed. The room was rather nice, with a queen-sized bed, a television, a sitting area; the bed was truly all we needed. It was close to 2am when we checked in, so I looked forward to going straight to sleep; we were planning on getting back on the road early, too. 

Mark and I stayed up for a little while talking, though. I was certain we were going to kiss again, but I was also nervous about doing so; I pulled the covers over my head repeatedly in a playful attempt to hide. We didn’t kiss, though. We talked. I wish I remembered what we talked about. Truthfully, my mind was partially occupied and stressing out about not being able to exercise the next morning. So many memories lost to a foggy, sick brain.

While I was the definition of a morning person, Mark was the antithesis. He was grumpy the next morning when his alarm went off. I woke up a few hours before him, and vaguely considered finding a way to perform some sort of exercise; instead, I went downstairs to look at the breakfast selection. I wasn’t sure if Mark would be awake in time to get his own food, so I picked some things out for him, along with two coffees. Part of me just wanted to be around the food. Though I wouldn’t (and couldn’t, because vegan) eat most of it, feigning normalcy and making a plate was fun. Food was a lot more fun when I wasn’t worrying about eating it.

Mark, it turned out, woke up in time to get his own breakfast. He tasked me with picking out food for myself, both for breakfast and for the rest of the drive home. I looked at my options; since carbohydrates were my biggest “fear food,” the breads and bagels were not considered among them. That left fruit and cereal. I selected a single, small, red delicious apple. For good measure, I added an equally small box of Fruit Loops. 

When Mark saw what I had chosen, he gave me a look I hadn’t seen before; it was disappointed and sad, while simultaneously not surprised. I affirmed that that was all I would be bringing, and there was no further discussion; we smuggled Ginny out, packed up our things, and once again headed home. 

There was more snow on the road as we continued up north. It was one of those days where I found it impossible to get warm. I was wearing a big sweatshirt and fleece leggings; this was practically my uniform that winter. I kept examining my legs in the car; they looked flabbier to me simply by virtue of not exercising for one day. I put off eating the box of Fruit Loops for as long as I could after that.

My dad was supposed to pick me up at a diner that was convenient for Mark; he was going to continue driving to Connecticut, and my dad was going to bring me to Long Island. Then, my mom was going to meet us at a restaurant near where my dad worked and bring me home. This shuffling around was my parents’ idea of co-parenting.

Coming home during my disorder was different. I didn’t have Billy anymore; when I first moved to North Carolina, I cried from homesickness and missing him. Visits home were a reprieve from the ache I felt without a close loved one. However, as I made connections with people in Chapel Hill, I began to view both Long Island and North Carolina as home. In my sickness, though, I only wanted to live in the bubble of one of those homes; the one where I could isolate myself and my family wouldn’t know; the one where my parents didn’t fight or question what I ate; the one where nobody could stop me from getting as sick as I wanted; the one in North Carolina.

So, coming home during my disorder sucked. I used to look forward to visiting my favorite restaurants again (and having my parents pay!); now I rarely ate out, and would be so irritable by that time from hunger that it was unpleasant. I didn’t look forward to family functions or holidays in the same way, either; again, the stress of being surrounded by food was enough to outweigh my enjoyment of the festivities. 

It was also strangely nostalgic to be back in the house where I grew up; to sleep in the bed I slept in as a child. This nostalgia was unusual not in its presence, because I usually felt it, at least mildly, when I went home; no, it was strange in its potency. I missed the person I was before my life became about food and exercise. I also realized that my brain wasn’t going to just fix itself. I didn’t feel like doing the work it would take to become the person who used to live in my childhood house. I didn’t realize that that person would never return; that anorexia irrevocably changes both the way you view yourself and your world; that, in some ways, the person I used to be would have a lot to learn from the person recovery would help me to become. 

Chapter 6

That winter on Long Island was particularly cold; whether this was a byproduct of my malnourished frame, or truly a reflection of changes in weather patterns, or perhaps some combination of both; I am unsure. Driving down the slush-covered roads of my neighborhood, I admired the way the Christmas lights reflected off of what remained of the snow on neighbors’ lawns. I didn’t love being home, but it certainly was beautiful--particularly during the winter.

My grandmother came over that evening to help my mom and I decorate our tree. During Thanksgiving, we had picked out a new, though just as fake, tree. My dad loves trees; he instilled within us an appreciation for all living things. So, a real tree was out of the question. Our previous tree had been rather large and full, with rainbow lights. Our new tree was larger, fuller, and had white lights. This was its debut in our living room, and, as we strategically placed each ornament, it began to look lovely. More lovely than our previous tree, we all agreed.

Christmas Eve was spent at my uncle’s home in Connecticut; Christmas day, at our house. My mom and I look back and agree that, all things considered (my eating disorder, her separation, my aunt’s cancer), it was a good holiday. Most holidays were. My family is, overall, rather good at pushing issues to the back of our respective minds in favor of tradition. 

One item I had asked for, perhaps a month prior to coming home (and before my experience at the UNC clinic), was a pair of running shoes. I had researched different types, most from Saucony; I had been running in that particular brand since high school. I found a pair I loved: they were berry, pink, and red, and they were my favorite model of shoe, too. So, I knew those would be under the tree for me on Christmas day (likely signed “from Santa,” as my mother still was apt to do). The profound frustration I felt when I opened those shoes and put them on and realized I couldn’t just go for a run right then even if I wanted to caused me to lash out a bit. Why would my mom even put these under the tree? I ended up begging, literally, to go for a walk around the block in my new shoes. Eventually, my parents relented. It was a lovely walk. 

However, as the holiday season came and went, the issue of “what to do with me” next semester began presenting itself with greater frequency. After speaking to my aunt and uncle, who dealt with my older cousin when she was deep in anorexia, my parents attempted the Maudsley approach. This approach is often used with children. I was 20. The premise is to take control of eating away from the adolescent (or, in my case, adult) in order to restore her weight. I imagine this works better with younger adolescents and children. It infuriated me. The first night my parents presented an entirely unacceptable meal (with several fear foods) to me, I flew into a rage. I shouted, I cursed, I cried; I was forced to eat what my mom fed me. Given my extreme reaction, my parents decided it might be best to consult professionals. This meant another try at therapy. Again, without consulting me, my mom made an appointment with a local therapist who specialized in eating disorders. 

I feel myself growing angry, even now, when I consider how left out of the decision making process I was in terms of my recovery. However, I also acknowledge that I likely was too sick to make healthy decisions for myself. So, in some ways, it may be better that my parents assumed the role they did; nonetheless, there is some resentment I feel for that, as well as guilt. How can I resent people who were just trying to help me? But I acknowledge these feelings, and we continue.

My first day with my therapist, Steph, my mom did most of the talking. However, I did appreciate that Steph eventually asked my mom to step out so she could develop a relationship with me. I distinctly recall two things: that I cried for most of the session and that Steph told me my period remaining present likely was a result of my birth control, not a natural occurrence. This made me irrationally angry (especially because I acknowledged she was likely right), and I ranted to my mom about it later. I claimed not to like Steph, but the truth was I wouldn’t have liked anyone trying to help me. 

When the body, particularly the female body, is at a low weight, it, as we discussed, goes into a sort of survival mode. This leads to feeling cold regularly, slowed digestion, and the lack of a period (for some women). It makes sense that a starved body would try to protect itself against the nutritional demands of a pregnancy. Menstruating is a waste of energy, too, if one is not able to sustain pregnancy. So, the body cuts its losses. The period disappears. Mine did, too, eventually. Even on birth control (which, quite frankly, is weird).

The real root of my resentment for Steph was the following: I knew that getting established with a therapist on Long Island likely meant my parents were planning on keeping me home for the spring semester. The logic was sound; why else would I have to bother talking to anyone if I was just going to return to school in a few weeks? My parents had made up their minds; they just hadn’t told me yet. In the meantime, I tried to use the faint possibility of seeing my friends in the spring as motivation to keep resting and eating a bit more. 

A few weeks later, my mom came down to the living room, where I often sat with Ginny watching television, to talk to me. She expected the fact that I would have to spend spring semester home to be a bombshell; I was unsurprised. In fact, I knew that my parents were likely making the right choice. Part of me was relieved by this decision and part of me, the sick part, was not. I both did not want to stay home (that was all of me: what was I going to do at home for so long by myself?) and did not want to get treatment. Especially now that Billy and I were broken up, I saw no appeal in spending so much time there.

I also had a new romantic interest in Chapel Hill; his name was Nik. He knew I was sick but was undeterred (for whatever reason). So, I was doubly heartbroken.

The hardest part, of course, was letting Mark know. Especially since he essentially only drove home for me, I felt awful telling him I wouldn’t be making the ride back with him. I also felt like a failure; he had believed that I would be able to do what it took to return to school, and yet my parents and Steph both agreed I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself. It was a regression, in my eyes, and it embarrassed me. However, the motivation for me to get better was still present: now I just needed to spend the semester recovering so I could return to school in the fall. Had I returned that spring, what would have motivated me? Nothing.

In addition to Steph, I had a nutritionist named Susie. Treatment for eating disorders necessitates physical, mental, and nutritional support, so I visited the physician as well. Much to my dismay, they performed all sorts of invasive tests; the EKG was particularly terrifying, but anorexics often have heart problems, so we had to be safe. Luckily, aside from low blood pressure and low blood sugar, there was no damage apparent. 

Back to Susie: she and Steph both felt I needed more support than outpatient therapy, but I again remained adamant that I wasn’t sick enough for hospitalization (whether this is true or not, I really don’t know; after all, what is sick enough?). Susie informed my parents about intensive outpatient therapy, or IOP; essentially, a group of young adults with eating disorders meet 3 times a week for group therapy and a group meal. It sounded, quite literally, awful. However, this was the only arrangement that was willing to work with my veganism. Other institutions would not cater to vegan diets, since they are so often byproducts of eating disorders. Any sort of diet makes restriction easier; vegan diets are particularly strict. However, my veganism (and prior vegetarianism) predated my eating disorder significantly. I love living things. I save bugs from pools. I don’t kill mosquitoes, even as they’re biting me. So, I refused to change my beliefs and eat animal products for the sake of my mental and physical health (and I would continue to refuse until very recently in my recovery).

The center at which IOP would take place was also very close to where I would be working that semester. Indeed, I refused to sit at home and do nothing; after all, my mom and brother would both be at work during the day, and the idea of sitting home alone was utterly unappealing. So, I decided to work at my dad’s law office; this is something I had done in summers prior to make some extra money, but never for such a long period of time. On days I had IOP, I would stay at work a bit later and head right over; both were approximately 30 minutes from my house, so it didn’t make sense to drive home in between. Those were long days. The worst part of working in the office was how slowly the time crawled by. Especially given the clock on my computer, it was impossible to restrain myself from checking how many minutes had ticked by since I glanced up last, how many needed to pass until I could eat again, how many needed to pass until I could finally leave.

My first day of IOP was hard for me, but not in the way I expected it to be. Indeed, I was worried that the food would be the biggest issue for me; after all, every other member of the group seemed to struggle with completing meals from time-to-time. They even had a policy in place for if you did not complete a sufficient amount: you would then need to “boost,” which meant drinking a bottle (or less, depending on how much of the meal you were able to complete) of Ensure. This beverage is not vegan, so I knew it wasn’t really an option for me. Luckily, I never had to find out what their alternative would have been.

The first thing I noticed about the group I was in was the age range. Many of the members were still in high school; I was the oldest one there, but not by too large a margin. The second thing I noticed was how profoundly upset one of the girls was. She was curled up on one of the couches in the room where we met and did not acknowledge me when I walked in. I didn’t realize that some of the girls had therapy prior to IOP, so often issues would carry over from their individual sessions to our group sessions. However, this first night was particularly difficult for me, if only because I did not struggle as much as other members of the group.

Group was held in a comfortable, cheerily painted room with two couches facing two armchairs. A table was also present with high-top chairs off to the left of the room. The walls were covered in quotes and positive affirmations; the lobby and dining room turned out to look similar. On my first day, I was given a binder and a workbook; this immediately appealed to the student in me, and I felt comforted with these items clutched firmly in hand as I sat on the left couch cushion, looking at two therapists in the armchairs before me.

The problem with group therapy for those with eating disorders (or, at the very least, for me) is that both recovery and sickness become a competition. Susie once told me that when you compare yourself to someone, you always choose something on which you come up short: for example, she’s thinner than me or she’s smarter than me. So, being surrounded by a group of individuals with mindsets similar to my own and hearing about their personal struggles and behaviors immediately brought to mind my own, which then led to the comparison of severity, or frequency, or whatever the case may be. If this doesn’t make much sense to you, your brain probably just doesn’t work like mine, and you’re lucky. I will offer examples throughout this chapter to illustrate what I mean.

One of the most natural points of comparison came both immediately before and immediately after the meal, when we would check-in with our hunger levels. This included both physical and emotional hunger. This differentiation was nonsensical to me for awhile; after all, I always felt hungry, food was all I thought about, and the idea of a day coming when I wasn’t half-starved seemed impossible. Imagine my surprise when the majority of the group rated themselves low in both types of hunger. Suddenly I’m a glutton, a pig, an insatiable ogre, all because the frail, pale, and anxious individuals around me deny, or just refuse to admit, their own hunger. I thought something was wrong with me. I couldn’t even have an eating disorder correctly.

We were allotted 45 minutes for the meal itself. I have always eaten fast; the only exception was the meticulous way in which I consumed my Morroccan couscous. However, there was no couscous at IOP, and therefore I was the first person done every single night (this includes the therapists, too; I grew tired of trying to match other people’s eating paces). This would provide ample time to stare at my empty plate or at the other members of my group around the table. I would try to ignore the fact that I just completed a meal the other girls were still struggling to finish. I wondered why I was always the first one done; certainly these girls are hungry too, and why not just get it over with? I usually contemplated the content of the meal I finished what would feel like eons ago as our therapists reminded us we only had 10 minutes to finish up. My gaze would then shift to the young girl beside me, who had effectively picked apart and put back together her meal but managed not to take a single bite as of yet. It would be easy to spiral in negative thoughts in this moment; I needed to remind myself (or somehow be reminded) that I am sick, too. I need help, too.

On more nights than I expected, the other members of the group would need to boost because they were unable to finish their meals. I wondered what that protein-and-calorie-filled concoction must taste like; surely food must taste better, and if you’re forced to take in calories regardless, I never understood the battle. But, then again, I always ate more than the typical anorexic. I just made sure to compensate with ample exercise.

Not that we were all anorexic. This was the most common illness in the group when I was there; however, there was a range of disordered eating behaviors, body types, and (at one point) genders among us. One was bulimic, one had avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (otherwise known as ARFID), and the remaining 3 (including myself) mainly struggled with anorexia. What linked us was our preoccupation with food; our inability to eat “normally.”

After our meal, we again rated ourselves on the satiety scale. Though my counterparts often did not finish their meals, they were almost always at a 10 afterwards (meaning super, uncomfortably full). I, on the other hand, usually said 7 or 8 (which is considered comfortably full after a typical meal). The constant comparisons I conducted between the other group members and myself eventually led me to believe, by the end of my first week of IOP, that there was no way I was sick enough to require this level of care; I ultimately decided to discuss this with Steph and Susie.

I was attempting to convince myself that IOP was going to make me worse; in truth, I think I realized it ultimately would make me better, and that was largely why I wanted to stop. However, both my therapist and nutritionist were able to convince me to give it a bit longer; within a few weeks, I began to look forward to going and grew to love each of my group members. I began to see my condition relative to them as a way to help them, and myself. What I mean is this: instead of resenting the others for not finishing their meals quickly enough, I began encouraging them when I had finished so that we all could complete our meals. Some of the younger girls in the group looked up to me; this, too, became motivation to do my best within the setting (out of this setting, however, was another story).

Indeed, my perfectionism coupled with my desire to help others made IOP much easier for me than Steph or Susie anticipated it to be. I, on the other hand, wasn’t surprised. I knew I would have little trouble completing my meals; I am too people-pleasing to disappoint my therapists by struggling. I could hold it together those few hours a week. That said little about how I was the other hours, when I had greater control over my food. If portion size and food choice was within my control, I was restrictive. I compartmentalized my meals at IOP: I had no other option than to consume what I was given. I placated my eating disorder most of the other hours of each day.

This pseudo-recovery would continue well past my graduation from IOP and my return to UNC, and was perhaps more painful than some of my sickest days because of my explicit awareness of my actions (and their consequences). Beginning to recover is like learning there is no Santa: you can still celebrate the holiday each year, but it doesn’t feel the same. I can still decide to restrict or engage in other behaviors, but I know too much about the havoc that will come next, and it doesn’t feel the same. I wish, sometimes, that Santa were real; I wish, sometimes, that I could rewind my brain to the days before I had a disordered thought, and try it all again.

Chapter 7

I visited UNC, my friends, and Nik several times that spring semester; the first of those times being primarily orchestrated with the purpose of moving out some of my things. After all, I had only packed for winter break. I had hoped to, and planned on, returning after a few weeks. So, my mother and I flew down to North Carolina that January; I was frustrated that she insisted on coming, but she wanted to make sure I ate and took proper care of myself, and I suppose she had reason to suspect that may not be the case.

I was particularly excited about seeing Nik. We had been talking throughout the entirety of the break and he was one of the first people I told that I would be taking a semester off. I had thought this would deter him from continuing to pursue me; I was dysfunctional, and I was so poorly that I wasn’t even able to go to school, so how would we spend time together? But, for reasons I still don’t entirely understand, he remained interested, and I planned on visiting the fraternity he and Mark both were in (ZBT) on my first night back for a party.

However, first I had to pack up some of my things. It felt like ages ago that I was sleeping in my small twin bed, with my maroon comforter and my Brody blanket (quite literally a blanket with a humongous picture of my dog on it), contemplating and sleepily committing to change and forgetting about it the next morning. I have felt negatively about myself throughout my life, but I slept in this bed at my lowest; I made promises to care for myself that I never kept; I lamented my appearance and, truly, my existence as I struggled to fall asleep while Ginny bit on her cage. But Ginny’s cage was bigger now, and so was I (in more ways than one).

Truthfully, this trip left me feeling sadder than I was when missing the semester was just a vague notion in my head; now it was real, now I was packing up my things, now I had to say goodbye to my friends. Nik also asked me to be his girlfriend at around midnight during his frat’s party. I spent the night with him and thought about how lovely it would be to be able to sleep beside him every night. Then I remembered that I would be heading home to an empty bed, and it was entirely my own fault.

My family was big on blame. If something went wrong or someone was upset, an argument would be necessary to determine whose fault the incident was. So, I learned quickly that when I made mistakes, it was my fault; I learned to internalize that blame. In fact, I am just now beginning to unlearn it. This pattern of thinking was difficult for me, especially early on in recovery; the guilt that comes with blame was fuel for my eating disorder and kept me trapped: for example, shortly after I left UNC to return home, Mark texted me; he said, “miss you already.” Mark was not one to say sentimental things like that lightly; initially, I was touched. Then, I began to blame myself for making my friends miss me, for making them worry, for making them sad. This led to what I call a “guilt spiral” in which I resolve to take even less care of myself than before (logical, right?) because I am unworthy, awful, and at fault.

There is power in recognizing your own automatic thought patterns and, if they are not serving you, working to change them; I encourage everyone to try it. I wish I had done so ages ago, but we do the best we can with what we know.

Missing out on that spring semester was more difficult for me than I anticipated. Not only did I miss seeing my friends, but I also now had a boyfriend, and again found myself in a long-distance relationship. Aside from that, though, I was lonely at home. I lost contact with all of my high school friends, so I only truly spent time with family and the people in my dad’s office. The monotony of that job continued; my life, really, became a monotonous repetition of itself. Work 5 days a week; IOP 3 nights a week; go out to eat on Friday or Saturday (to challenge my fear of doing so); repeat. Sprinkle in a therapy session and a nutritionist session once a week each, and that was my life week in and week out.

In some ways, this monotony served me. I liked predictability. I liked control. I liked routine. As I began to restore my weight, I realized new rules that weren’t exactly about food were emerging. These rules mainly had to do with time; both mealtimes and bedtimes, as well as organization (usually of, you guessed it: food). My clif bars, for example, had to be eaten in the order in which they were purchased. They had to be arranged in a particular configuration for this reason; how else would I otherwise know which came first?

If these sound similar to the sorts of rituals in obsessive-compulsive disorder, that’s because, at least in my opinion, they are. Eating disorders and OCD share a multitude of similarities, and they both share a similar purpose: to reduce the discomfort associated with not acting on the thoughts in one’s head.

I was more ashamed of these OCD-type behaviors, though. Anorexia and thinness in general are glorified; I received so, so many compliments on my sick body that I am still working on acknowledging came from, if not a sick person, then at least a sick culture. So, in some ways I felt, and still feel, a certain pride in having that particular mental illness. Which, of course, is sick in and of itself.

Another ritual I will touch on involves my eating disorder’s favorite dessert: almond bark. This treat was sold in rather large bags at Costco; whenever my mother and I shopped there together, we were sure to leave with several bags. I particularly enjoyed the chocolate because it was conducive to eating slowly. I would break off small pieces and let the chocolate melt in my mouth; like the couscous, this allowed me to prolong the consumption and trick myself into satiety. However, my dad also enjoyed this treat; when he would come over and stay at our family’s house, he would take the bag from the pantry, sit on the couch, and eat straight out of it. This drove me crazy--I think it was a combination of the ease with which he ate and my own OCD tendencies that contributed to my reaction. I would lament that he took all the “good pieces” from the bag; I would take my time and check each piece before selecting the few I would enjoy each evening, so when my father took pieces out, he was sabotaging my dessert for the week (in my mind, at least). Eventually, I began coming downstairs every time it sounded like he was taking the almond bark out; every time I so much as heard the crinkle of a bag. Needless to say, he was irked by this.

Even now, I associate a feeling of safety and security with my nightly dessert ritual. Regardless of all of the day’s other events, I knew that mine would end in the same way: with 3 or 4 “good pieces” of almond bark. This is, after all, the function of eating disorders, and ritualistic behaviors in general: security. Control. Or, at the very least, a sense of the two.

It was slowly beginning to occur to me, though, that I was the controlled: that the disease I clung onto for certainty and safety was the most dangerous and disruptive part of my life. Around this time, I was consistently keeping a journal for IOP in which I completed my “homework” assignments. In one instance, I wrote the following: “what good is control if you can’t do the things you like? What good is a coping mechanism if it ultimately gives you more to cope with?” So, while I wasn’t even close to “recovered” at this point, either physically or mentally, I still had a grasp on the fallacy of being in control when restricting. 

Nik visited me on Long Island that March; he accompanied me to the building where I had IOP on those few evenings a week, and waited with patience for me while I tried not to feel guilty for needing this support and not spending time with him. One evening, while I was up on the third floor, where the eating disorder center was, Nik stayed in the lobby and met a group of elderly Korean men who taught him how to play a board game that he referred to as “Go.” This was so ridiculous to me that I laughed out loud; he has always had an uncanny ability to make me laugh through the more difficult times of my life. On the day I graduated from IOP, which was later that same week, Nik bought me a bouquet of flowers at the grocery store near the clinic, so I was completely surprised. I didn’t consider the graduation to be a big deal; after all, I was one of the members of the group who often encouraged the others through difficult meals; in other words, I was “less sick.” So, though some of the members had to complete multiple 10-week cycles of IOP, or cycle between IOP and in-patient treatment after relapses, I felt confident I would be perfectly fine after those 10 weeks. I was ready to graduate. But, recovery was not defined by some arbitrary cut-off date or program graduation; I am still recovering today.

After I graduated, my therapist recommended that I try to write a note to future individuals who would be beginning IOP for the first time. I never completed that note. It sits in my journal, untouched still; it reminds me constantly that I still have not fully processed my time there. At this point, it reads: 

Dear Future IOP-ers,

Ah, yes, I remember my first days of IOP. I genuinely can’t believe I’m done with it. The apprehension, the awkwardness of joining a new group of people, the realization that you have to EAT with these people, that for at least the next 10 weeks, this is your reality. I had myself convinced that I didn’t need that level of care, and the first few nights sort of made that feeling stronger. I was able to complete my meals with less difficulty than girls who had been there longer than me. That brought a sort of guilt, which brings me to my first piece of advice for you--please, try and be proud of yourself. The fact that you’re even here is amazing. You’re trying, you’re strong, and, even if completing a meal makes the unhealthy part of you pissed off, be proud of yourself for pissing it off. Keep pissing it off. 

For me, one of the most challenging parts of IOP was being honest, both with myself and with the group, about my struggles. I still don’t entirely understand why, but my anxiety around food was lower at IOP than anywhere else (which is rather counterintuitive, really). In pre and post-meal, I would always say I was fine. And really, I was. But so many days and nights outside of IOP, I struggled. I don’t know.

After deciding that I didn’t know where I was going with this letter, I stopped trying. I still come back to it; even writing it here I wonder what more I wanted to say, what points I would have tried to make. I know more about myself now, but I still have difficulty attempting to impart any sort of wisdom on others, especially those going through similar struggles. I recall vividly how difficult it was for me to write that other people should be proud of themselves for trying, while knowing that I did not hold the same respect and love for myself. In reading this letter back, I think that’s what saddens me most.

Around this time, I began to grow somewhat more confident in my ability to, well, eat. I was allowing myself a wider variety of foods and becoming more confident in eating meals out. Part of this came from lessons learned in IOP: I can eat a meal that is put in front of me, even if I don’t know what’s in it. It was harder for me to prepare food for myself: I would calorie count again and again and omit ingredients that added flavor (like oil, for instance). I can recall to this day the exact number of calories in my safe foods. Calculating and re-calculating each item on its own and then all items combined that added up to a meager meal, to be sure I was under the maximum allotment I had arbitrarily decided on: my head would be spinning before dinner was even in the oven. Eating out, somehow, was easier, at least if I was familiar with the eatery. So, I was excited to show Nik my newfound confidence in a restaurant, especially the very restaurant that used to be my favorite, and that I went to on that 20th birthday (after which, I weighed myself--remember?). What ensued, however, was the biggest meltdown I’ve ever had in public. At least I think, and hope, it was.

The day started with a run. I had been slowly adding short runs back into my routine, with Susie’s permission, as I gained weight. I was only allowed to run for 30 minutes a few days a week, but I was finally able to wear my new running shoes, and I was finding that I was able to squeeze more miles into those 30 minutes than I anticipated (after all, you run faster when you’re lighter--at least, up to a point). Since Nik’s visit was coming to an end, I figured we would go out to dinner to celebrate. I always tried to match up the days I ran with the days I anticipated eating more. It would take me a long, long time to heal my relationship and mindset towards both exercise and rest. I am still working on it today.

So, I ran. Nik and I also planned to go into New York City that day. Nik had never been there before; he was born in North Carolina, and hadn’t travelled much as a child. It was warm that day, as it usually was in mid-May, but we spent our visit walking through Central Park and Times Square anyway. Truthfully, I had never cared much for the city. It’s too crowded and loud and I get impatient when the people in front of me walk slowly; I begin to feel claustrophobic and suffocated in the crowds easily. Nik, however, loved it, and I was happy to see him enjoying himself; ultimately, though, I grew moody and wanted to leave before he did, which made me feel guilty. Thus began the negative emotional spiral that built up through the rest of the day.

The train ride back to Long Island was relaxing, and resting in the air conditioning improved my mood. I partly wanted to head home so early because I anticipated a meal out and wanted to ensure we had time to eat within appropriate dinner hours. Three Brothers was also rather far from my house and I knew both Nik and I would want to shower. Just calculating the time necessary made me irritable and anxious; hence why I became moody and demanded we go. 

I didn’t want my dad to come with us. I remember making that explicit. I felt that, since my parents were separated, it would be strange if they went out to dinner with us as a couple. I could tell he was hurt by this, but I did not relent, and my mom, brother, Nik, and I headed to the restaurant without him. Of course, now I feel guilt for the way I treated my dad on this instance and those like them; my hope is that how I treat the people I love now will overshadow my behaviors when I was sick.

The first issue with this evening was my drinking. I had a glass of wine or two before we left my house; I always had wine before going out to eat. Partly, this was because it relaxed me. Partly, this was because I was convinced food didn’t taste as good sober. I would have to be high or drunk to eat a meal out. If I was going to consume as many calories as a meal out contained (which I could not, and did not want to, even consider trying to calculate), then food needed to be as enjoyable as possible, or the experience would be wasted. In order to achieve optimal enjoyment, I simply couldn’t be sober.

I didn’t usually get as drunk as I did that night, though. Nik was leaving the following morning; I was sad, and I didn’t want to be lonely at home after enjoying my time with him so thoroughly. My mom thinks this is why I drank so much; I think it was likely a factor, but I also was nervous to be at this particular restaurant. They had too many options and all of their options frightened my eating disorder, so choosing felt like an impossibility. I wanted to eat both everything and nothing simultaneously. I also wanted to eat bread; everytime I felt myself craving it, I would drink wine instead; when Nik offered me bread, I explained that I needed to “save room for dinner” and took another large gulp of pinot grigio.

Admittedly, the rest of the night is, as a consequence of both time and the amount of alcohol I consumed, rather fuzzy.  I do know that I ate quickly and nervously, and I ultimately felt uncomfortably full. I felt obligated to finish the meals Nik and I were sharing, because the idea of leftovers, especially such “unhealthy” leftovers, was more frightening than the alternative. However, when the waiter came over with the dessert menu and asked if we were interested, I dissolved into tears. I was interested; I wanted so badly to order dessert; it was the main reason I loved the restaurant so much; it was practically all I talked to Nik about prior to going. But, in that moment of uncomfortable fullness, with the guilt of the meal now setting in and my eating disorder setting off what felt like an atomic bomb in my head, I could neither control my sobs nor truly express what was wrong. The waiter awkwardly dismissed himself and let me mourn; this increased my guilt: I hated that I had made him and everyone else feel confused pity for me. Guilt only increased my self-hatred, which increased the strength of my sobbing. It was, quite literally, a negative spiral; it continued the entire drive home, and much of the remainder of the evening. Each time I began to feel better, I made sure to remind myself how stupid I had been, how crazy I was, and how embarrassed my family was of me. The tears began anew; Nik’s concerned sympathy continued. 

That was not the way I wanted to spend my last night with Nik for a few months. The guilt I felt that evening had not assuaged much come morning, but the sober version of myself was able to control her emotional reactions. However, to this day, going to my still favorite restaurant is a different sort of challenge; the table I wept on remains, the dessert menus have not changed. Luckily, though, I have, and though the memory of that evening inevitably accompanies a trip there, that’s all it is now: a memory.

Chapter 8

The summer of 2017 was markedly better than the season’s previous iteration. I still struggled, but my struggle had a name, and, for me, there was a certain power in that. The process of reconciling with the fact that you’re sick and taking steps to get better feels hopeful, even if it is riddled with anxiety. Additionally, I was doing well enough that I felt going back to school for the fall semester was an almost certainty. My parents confirmed this inkling for me by insisting I get a new car.

I drove a 2001 Chevrolet Impala. It was white and ugly, with large dents caused by an accident the previous owner was involved in. It looked like the sort of car an old man would drive; indeed, that was who did so prior to myself: the previous owner’s accident was a product of his old age. He suffered some sort of medical crisis while at the wheel, which caused him to lose control. I always joked that someone died in my car; in truth, I don’t know what actually happened to him. But, his wife was a friend of my grandparents; my grandparents then gave the car to my brother. When my brother graduated college and began working as a police officer, he saved up enough money to buy a far nicer car; I was excited to receive his hand-me-down. After all, a dented car is a lot less pressure to drive; nobody notices one more small dent. 

I spent my freshman and sophomore year without my car; living on campus, I didn’t really have any use for it. The beginning of junior year I moved off campus, but I still only lived about a mile away; that was about the distance of my freshman year dorm, Hinton James. However, my parents didn’t want to send me back for my senior year knowing I would be adding so much walking into my daily schedule. I was, after all, very limited in my exercise still, and they worried even about the necessary walking I would have to do in between classes. So, they decided I needed to bring a car down when I moved back in; my old man car, unfortunately, did not meet their standards.

We took the car to our mechanic who determined it wouldn’t survive the drive without some serious repairs, which my parents were not willing to splurge on for such an old car. I insisted I didn’t want a new car, and in saying that realized how privileged I was to have parents that could even consider such a purchase. I have often felt guilty about my comparatively easy upbringing, and getting a new car was not going to do much to assuage that. However, I wanted to go back to school, and I ultimately relented and picked out a vibrant blue Chevrolet Cruz. I was a Chevy girl again; albeit with a less grandpa-esque vehicle, and I was ready to return to my friends, my “normal” life, and my studies.

My mother and I drove down together; she was planning on helping me move in, and subsequently flying back home to Long Island. I don’t recall much from the drive aside from the fact that Virginia is a really big state, and Delaware is rather small. Ginny would awaken periodically in the back seat and run on her wheel; I was less worried about her during this trip because of the warmer temperatures (compared to that winter trip home). Many of my memories from the years I had Ginny revolve around her in some way; I had to be home every night to take her out for at least an hour and let her play; when I was my sickest, I filled my loneliest moments with the comfort of her warm, small, fast-moving little body. I miss her as I write this; I dream about her still even though she has been gone for over 2 years.

I found that the convenience of having a car with me depended on where I needed to go. If I wanted to go to campus, for example, the vehicle was of little use; parking was impossible without a pass, and I was not willing to pay for one. If, however, I wanted to go to Nik’s apartment, or perhaps the grocery store, the car was fulfilling the function my parents intended and saving me from walking. I did often insist on walking to class; I claimed the bus was too confusing; I really was simply unwilling to choose a less active means of travel. However, if it was raining heavily, I would (sometimes) relent and travel by bus.

One of the contingencies of my return to school was that I continue seeing Steph and Susie, whether virtually or by phone, and get weighed once a week; I could choose whether I preferred Nik to weigh me or wanted to travel to the campus health center and get weighed by a nurse. Though it was inconvenient, I chose the nurse; she was a kind woman named Maya, and, if someone had to know my weight, I reasoned she was a better choice than Nik.

The campus health center was one of the farthest buildings for me to walk to. Particularly in the summer, I would face the humid, sticky air and feel disgusting by the time I arrived approximately 45 minutes later. I simply feared changing any part of my routine if I was to be weighed; I worried this would affect the results: I feared both losing and gaining weight at this point in my recovery.

It’s difficult for me to determine when I should include behaviors I engaged in for the sake of the narrative; I am acutely aware of the potential for damage that describing behaviors can bring about, especially in those who are already susceptible to or, at the very least, interested in (as you likely are if you are reading this book) disordered eating. However, it is equally important to me that I be honest, and particularly about this subject, as I lied so frequently throughout my sickest days. So, I admit: I waterloaded before being weighed each week.

For those unfamiliar with such a sick practice, waterloading is just what it sounds like; consuming large quantities of water prior to being weighed to increase the likelihood that your weight stays acceptable. So, even with the increased activity, both from my walks to class and my runs, which I had begun making longer, my weight typically stayed in the same range. Except for one week, when I didn’t waterload before my appointment--on this particular day, I was weighed in the afternoon instead of the morning. I assumed that the food I consumed throughout the day would increase my weight naturally. After all, your weight typically fluctuates and is lowest in the morning. My assumption, however, was wrong, and both Susie and Maya were baffled by such a sharp drop in weight so quickly. 

Cognitive dissonance, produced out of a desire to protect both my eating disorder and myself, allowed me to act shocked about the number on the scale, too. Maya even weighed me multiple times, trying different scales, while I insisted they must be wrong; each time, I kicked myself for not sticking to the same water-bottle-guzzling ritual regardless of the time of day. 

I spoke to Susie shortly after that visit to campus health; she told me not to worry about it for this week; however, if the same range of numbers continued next week, we would have a problem. I felt myself bathed in relief. That momentary calm was interrupted by Susie mentioning that Maya had wondered if I could be waterloading. I acted shocked. I acted like I had never heard of the phrase. All the while, I justified this to myself by reasoning that I wasn’t drinking so much water as to make such a big change. Really, I have no concept of how much water I would drink, but I do know the intention behind the action. Often, with eating disorders, the intention is what matters most: I was drinking uncomfortable amounts of water because I knew I likely was losing weight and did not want that to reflect on the scale. But, given my usual composure and my reports of doing well each week, Susie believed me. 

Around this same time, I began making small changes to the way I approached food. I largely attribute this to my desire to run farther: I knew that I could not keep losing weight, yet I was unwilling to decrease my exercise again. The only thing left to change, then, was my food intake. Nik and I went out to eat more; however, when I cooked for myself, I was still quite restrictive.

Also around this same time, I began taking Adderall more regularly. I had experimented with drugs throughout my college experience, and senior year would be no different. I particularly enjoyed Adderall, though, because I didn’t think about food when I took it. Adderall suppresses your appetite. I was still mildly obsessed with food because of my mild restrictive behaviors (and abundant exercise); the only thing that truly quieted my brain was curbing that appetite. Adderall did that; it also helped me feel more productive at work and in school.

That semester, my last semester of college, would be the first in which I received a 4.0. I was taking less credit hours; I’m sure this had a hand in my achievement. I also was spending less time with friends in general. I would typically either be with Nik or at my house; I still spent time with my friends, but much less. I have difficulty balancing friendships and romantic relationships; being in a long-distance relationship with Billy made this easier for me (obviously), but having Nik at school made me feel a lot more comfortable. In my recovery, comfort became key; comfort with food, with people, and with general routines. I lament that this was the case; I lament that I valued comfort over experiences, especially at that point in my life, but I did. 

I did not completely neglect fun and friendship, however, especially if drugs were involved. My drug use took on a different form in recovery; I think it still does. Without starving myself, I had no real way to cope with my feelings. I improved at identifying them, thinking about them, trying opposite action, trying to reframe them; sometimes, though, I just needed a break from fighting against my thoughts. Drugs offered that. 

I don’t think I realized, though, how weak my body truly was. Putting an actively healing body through the stress of drug use was clearly not one of my more intelligent decisions; however, I got away with it for a long, long time. Including the previous year I had spent dropping towards my lowest weight. So, I was woefully ignorant as to the consequences of pretending I was invincible. That is, until New Year’s Day of 2018 came and went.

Though I never liked New Year’s, I did enjoy having an excuse to drink heavily and use drugs (truthfully, isn’t that why everyone likes it?). Nik and I planned on spending the evening together before going over a friend’s house; we had a small group of friends that we would often go on triple-dates with at the time; they were Nik’s college friends and their respective girlfriends. That evening, Nik and I took Molly, which is really a form of ecstasy, and also snorted some cocaine later in the evening. I recall that one of my friends had recently gotten a hamster; she let him roll around in his ball while we snorted coke off of the table; I kept thinking of Ginny and felt simultaneously sad and euphoric. It was, all in all, a tiring and physically draining (but, certainly, fun) evening.

The next morning, I woke up feeling energized and slightly high still. Though we went to bed around 3 in the morning, I was unable to sleep much past 7am. Eventually, I tired of lying in bed; though I knew I shouldn’t, I decided to go for a run. I knew I shouldn’t because my body was not properly rested, fueled, or hydrated; I decided to anyway because I exercise compulsively, and I justified it by holding onto the fact that my body felt fine. In fact, the run felt great; I was able to run at faster paces with greater ease. This is likely due to the stimulants that were still present in my body; I took it as a sign that I recovered well from the night before, and did not anticipate any sort of crash.

However, later in that day, around the mid-afternoon, I went to play with our new guinea pig, Gimbus. We had purchased him a few days prior; he was the first pet that Nik and I owned together, and I was completely enamored with him. He was my second rodent, as well; he did shed significantly more than Ginny, though, which irked my desire for neatness and order (which is likely why I never played with him as much as I did her). Nonetheless, since he was living at Nik’s house and I was not, I would cuddle him whenever I got the opportunity. That afternoon, I got up from Nik’s sofa to do just that. 

Most of my bouts of dizziness would occur immediately after getting up from laying, or sitting, down. So, when I felt myself begin to get dizzy, I was not deterred; I figured the vertigo would pass the way it tended to. However, as I moved closer to Gimbus’ cage, I felt myself becoming increasingly unsteady; instinctually, I reached out and grabbed onto what was closest to me: Gimbus’ cage. At that point, everything went black; this was different from the incident in my bathroom over a year prior--in that case, I was aware of the fact that everything in my field of vision had gone black, and that awareness continued as I walked into a wall and lightly collapsed on the floor. There was nothing light about this instance, though, and my awareness was completely gone for what could only have been a few seconds.

That means I didn’t feel myself hit the floor this time, which is likely just as well, because this fall was significantly harder. I regained consciousness to the image of Nik standing above me, trying to get Gimbus’ cage off of me. When I had started to faint and grabbed his cage for support, I was unable to let go before falling; luckily, I managed to hold his case on my chest as I landed on my back, so he was not crushed, and the mess was minimal. The guilt I felt for putting him in harm's way was what brought the first tears to the surface of my eyes; the embarrassment that ensued when Nik’s roommate, Jon, walked in, saw me on the floor, and subsequently helped me up kept them coming. I was also confused; I couldn’t accept that my body had simply failed me momentarily; regardless of the shit I put it through, it was resilient, and the idea that a day may come when that resiliency was no longer enough was startling. Some part of me was starting to realize that the way I treated myself brought with it consequences. 

As a result of the fear fainting brought with it, I resolved to eat out for both dinner and lunch that day. This was often how I justified my eating: I fainted, or I ran too much, or I worked a long waitressing shift (I started working at the Carolina Club around this time as a server. I loved it, but it was a lot of stress on my body). It is difficult still to allow myself to fully enjoy food if I feel I haven’t engaged in adequate activity, or if my body isn’t sending me severe warning signals. 

Waitressing also put a lot of stress on my mental health. It was difficult to be around food so much at first; additionally, lunch shifts were followed by community meals, and I at first refused to eat the food they served. I hated how separate this made me feel, though I justified my decisions by citing my veganism. And, truly, nobody cared as much as I did, if at all. However, the staff often made comments about my body: mostly the male staff, of course, but women made more subtle remarks. I was still very thin (for my body) when I began working there; one of the cooks took to calling me “flaquita,” the Spanish word for skinny. One of the pastry chefs once told me I was so small he could easily pick me up. He then proceeded to do so, which was both invasive and inappropriate, not to mention humiliating. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I admit the sick part of me loved being treated this way. Not so much the physical touch, as I’ve never been a fan of that, but more so the acknowledgment that yes, I am small, and people do notice that; people see me, even though I’m small; perhaps even because of it.

My relationship with attention has always been rather complicated. I both yearned for it and felt guilty for doing so; I was also rather shy, so when attention did come, I would feel my cheeks grow hot and my stomach lurch. I outgrew the shyness in adulthood, but the attention-seeking behaviors have continued, particularly from males, as a means to prove my worth to myself. Men want me; therefore, I am a valuable person. People always tell you that you need to love yourself before anyone else can love you; I’ve found that people love me regardless, I just drive them crazy.

The focuses of my life after graduating that winter were work and running. I had no concept of what I wanted to do with my psychology major; besides, I was making enough money to sustain myself. I was also becoming increasingly passionate about long distance running. I don’t want to make this story become one of how running saved me from anorexia; I’m acutely aware of the impact those words could have on potential readers of this book, and I loathe advocating recovery by any other means than listening to a professional and giving your body rest. However, running gave my recovery a purpose that I’m not sure it otherwise had, and while I will be sure to note the limitations of this sort of pseudo-recovery predicated on something that can be taken away, I acknowledge the ways in which it helped me, too.

My first goal was to run the Tar Heel 10 Miler; I had considered participating for years after seeing Maddie do so, but never committed myself to training. However, my runs had been feeling good lately, and the idea of getting to run more made me more comfortable with the idea of having to eat more (hence the term pseudo-recovery). While I didn’t follow a particular training plan, I was able to complete the race in a time that surprised me and I was proud of. It was an exhilarating experience; I raced in high school on cross country and track teams, but I rarely felt the same sense of pride afterwards because I was aware my times were not good, and I was far too hard on myself to appreciate my own effort. Now, with my only goal being to complete the distance, and a medal being my reward, I was elated.

The idea of running a marathon began percolating in my mind after that first race. It felt foolish and outlandish, both because of my continued struggles with disordered eating and the impossibility I associated with such a goal. In the fall of 2018, I began tentatively increasing the distance of my long runs; however, I didn’t fully commit to a race until that winter. I had found a race in March that was nearby and sounded manageable since it was rather flat. One night, after drinking with Nik (perhaps a bit too much), I brought up the idea of signing up to him; his main concern was the opinion of Steph and Susie. Likewise, their opinions rather concerned me as well. Perhaps because of the alcohol, I decided it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission, as Nik always tells me, and signed up to run the full distance of 26.2 miles. The fear of such a feat didn’t set in until the first sober moments of the following morning; the primary concern being the increases I was going to have to make in my intake and the amount of rest that would be required following the race. I was confident I could push my body; I was less confident I would be willing to fuel it adequately and give it a break. 

There was a time when I could stay snuggled under my covers until well after the sun was up; when I didn’t feel obligated to start each day with a strenuous workout; when my life didn’t revolve around my exercise regime. I can sit and acknowledge that time once existed, while also accepting that it may not return--however pessimistic that may sound.

Chapter 9

The year was winding down and a familiar chill that signified the beginning of winter could be felt in the early morning and late evening; this sort of weather had always been my favorite, though in the years prior I admit the cold chilled me with a ferocity I was not used to. This winter would be different, however. In the midst of marathon training, I paradoxically began putting on weight; of course, I was hungrier, but I was also starting to accept that my body could not exist at the smaller size I desired forever (unless I resigned to be miserable, or dead). The past few years of recovery had changed some of my habits, perhaps even some of my thinking patterns, but my body had not returned to the size it was before the madness began. Though I was hopeful it had changed in some fundamental way and would establish a new baseline, I was also trying to block out the many hints that this was not the case, that there was more work to be done: the night sweats, the snugness of jeans I wore the year prior, the number on the scale steadily increasing each week--in fact, it’s around this time I stopped wanting to know my weight. The number was a reminder of the part of myself I felt I was losing: sure, it was the sick, small, sad part, but it was also my identity. I mean that literally; I didn’t know who I was without my eating disorder consuming me. There are days when I still don’t.

However, again, I want to highlight the fact that my shift in identity from “anorexic” to “runner” was not a healthy one. It was simply a shifting of obsessions--or, rather, a shifting in their relative importance to one another, since I was still very much obsessed with food. I just could not restrict the way I used to; if I stopped running completely, I am doubtful my food progress would have continued. 

Ultimately, I successfully completed that marathon in March of 2019; it was exhilarating, and the pride I felt in that moment will likely not be matched until I do something else that scares me (like publishing this book!). Unsurprisingly, though, I was unwilling to rest; I ran a “shakeout run” the next morning, which (unsurprisingly) felt awful, and resigned myself to other forms of exercise until running felt good again. Exercise was the new addiction: running in particular, but, if I was injured or otherwise unable, whatever else I could think of would do: yoga, pilates, cycling, even just long, compulsive walks. Anything to quiet my brain; anything to ease the discomfort of eating without earning it.

Racing became a sort of addiction, too. I participated in a race each month after the marathon until I eventually injured myself in August (you guessed it: unsurprisingly). The distances varied, as did the justification I presented to my therapist for wanting to run each one. In April, I signed up for the Tar Heel 10 Miler again because I simply had to run it every year; in May, I signed up for a half marathon as a birthday gift to myself; in June, I signed up for an 8-kilometer race because I knew I would soon be busy with graduate school; in July, I signed up for a 4 mile race because a few members of my cohort were doing it. Always a different reason, all seemingly plausible, of course. And likely not problematic if I were capable of taking races easy and enjoying them without pushing my hardest; given all you have learned about me thus far, though, do you really think I’m capable of that?

I was defensive about my running and racing and unwilling to admit that my drive was compulsive and unhealthy. That is, until I was injured. After each injury, I would suddenly realize the error of my ways, vow to change, and then forget all aspirations of a healthy relationship with running as soon as it became available to me again. Graduate school did shift my focus, though; having a passion for something other than exercise was helpful, but I still woke absurdly early to run before my internship. I attempted exercising in the afternoon once: I found myself focused on it all day, and worried that something would prevent me from heading to the gym as I had planned, at the time I had planned. I didn’t exercise in the afternoon again.

Routines such as that became my new solace and comfort, instead of restriction. However, the existence I lead was similarly lonely--I rarely went out with friends due to concern about not getting to bed on time (I liked to be in bed by 8:30 or so most nights, which doesn’t allow much time for socializing). Even on evenings when I worked past that sacred time, I would reject plans to go out with coworkers and head home, where I would go right to bed. On nights where I had to work unexpectedly late, I would quickly become cranky and anxious, both from fatigue and from a desire to preserve my status quo. Rigidity of any sort, I’ve found, can shrink your world considerably. My day was the same, almost every single day. Wake up, exercise, school/internship, home, dinner, sleep, repeat. If I didn’t live with Nik, I’m sure the loneliness would have become unbearable; having him present even if we weren’t interacting made things seem at least semi-normal. It was odd, though, to find myself still struggling even with the progress I had made on the food front. When I began recovering from my eating disorder, I thought I may be a little wacky around food for the rest of my life: I could cope with that. I didn’t realize that the semi-carefree person I used to be would never return, that my fixations and compulsions would shift, that there truly was (and still certainly is) something inherently wrong with the chemicals in my brain, or perhaps how certain receptors operate, that tried to keep me scared of living fully. 

That’s a common thread among us anorexics, I think--the fear of change, the lack of identity, the steadfast rigidity. If we could only freeze time, or perhaps know exactly what the future holds, maybe we could face it all with a brave resolve, or settle into the cold firmness of a frozen eternity. We could give up our consciousness, even, and move through life like animals operating on the same instincts we have ignored in our bodies for so long; what a weight off our shoulders, what a quiet, finally, in our minds.

But I digress from my story. We have come, now, to the near present, albeit with some details omitted, and some stories, I’m sure, long forgotten (my memory has admittedly become fuzzy, perhaps from drugs, perhaps from starving, perhaps from a combination of the two). This year, 2020, has certainly been unique, and has tested my mental health more than any since 2016 (when I developed my eating disorder). Assuming you are a living, breathing human-being who has been consciously existing on planet earth (I’m hoping this is a safe assumption), I’m sure you're aware that we are in the midst of a fucking pandemic. While social distancing and adapting to this major shift from normality has been difficult for everyone, I think especially so for those of us with eating disorders (or, really, any major mental health issue). I recall some of the first days of the pandemic hitting America; I recall the anxiety I felt walking down the empty aisles of the food store and wondering what the hell I was supposed to eat; I recall the gyms closing and injuring myself running and feeling hopelessly trapped in a body that was changing; I recall the thoughts of suicide that continuously popped up, usually after a Xanax-binge, perhaps even for weeks after--and yet I failed to learn my lesson, because Xanax was quite literally the only thing that would quiet my brain, and there is nothing more frightening for someone who hates themselves than being stuck with only that hated being day after day after day.

There were days where I actively restricted, hoping it would bring even momentary relief. There were days I was legitimately not hungry, but I forced food down my throat anyway because I decided in that moment that backsliding was not an option. Then, there were days when I truly thought I was relapsing; on one of those days, I wrote the following in my journal:


I’m falling into old patterns again, and it’s incredibly easy. A missed snack here, an extra walk there--never a rest day anywhere. And today I got up and I felt dizzy, and a weird euphoria came back but I was also so scared of doing this all to myself again and that’s when I realized how fine, how fragile the line is between recovery and relapse. And I guess now comes the hard part: Making that choice. Listen to my body or listen to that voice? 

Then I turned on ER and there was an anorexic girl in the episode and she was dying but didn’t want help and the doctor gave up on her. But I don’t want to give up. 

What are the chances of that episode coming on today?

I often look for signs from the universe when I’m feeling depressed; this episode was that sign for me. As the doctor resolved to distance herself from the patient, I let out a sob that surprised me; I was happy Nik wasn’t watching this episode with me; I found my reaction embarrassing, and initially attributed it to taking too much Xanax recently (which I had). I was at a point in my recovery where I felt I had processed my emotions around being sick to begin with; my reaction, though, told me otherwise, and I took that as a sign: a sign that I should both keep pushing in my recovery, especially as I found myself slipping, and a sign that I should start writing again to process the often jumbled thoughts in my brain. What a wonder it would be, I thought, to be conscious of your emotional reactions before you lashed out, or sobbed, or felt your cheeks grow hot and your pits become sweaty. Perhaps journaling would help me find some stability.

I’m never consistent with journaling, though; in fact, that entry was my last for awhile. Coping mechanisms, I find, are difficult to substitute. My initial impulse when I am faced with stress or trauma is to react rashly, internalize, and numb out. I have only on a few occasions thought to myself, “fuck, I’m so stressed, I’m gonna journal.” Smoking weed is easier; exercising is easier; Xanax is easier. But recovery from any addiction is replacing those easier patterns with healthier patterns. 

And so, that’s what I find myself focusing on recently. Amid the pandemic, amid my as of yet fruitless job search, amid writing this book and wondering who the fuck I think I am to write anything, I am trying to figure out what makes me happy. Eating disorders are easy because you’re never happy (well, truly happy, at least), so you don’t have to worry about that question; the only question is what makes your eating disorder happy. There are a lot more options when you ask your whole self to reflect on that question. I’m indecisive; I fear every outcome of a decision because inevitably decisions lead to change. But I don’t want a stagnant life, or at least I tell myself I don’t, because I can’t think of anything more depressing than going my whole life afraid of living. I’m getting really global and existential here; I tend to do that, but that’s the reality of being mortal and being conscious of your own mortality; there’s anxiety that comes with that. Being human, in short, can be shitty. 

But it can also be wonderful; that is, if you let it. I’ve found that loosening the rules I impose upon myself has been helpful. I have stayed out well past 8:30pm a handful of times. I can acknowledge the time without feeling the same pull to rush home and hop in bed immediately; to optimize my sleep instead of my waking hours. This is, in part, due to the fact that I have yet to find a job that requires me to work obscenely early; however, I do credit myself with making a conscious effort to be more flexible. 

Searching for a job is more demoralizing than I anticipated, though. I have little experience with rejection; I was accepted into every college I applied to (with the exception of two reach schools, and I’ll admit that still devastated me), I made every sports team I tried out for (again, with a devastating exception in 9th grade), and I got every job I applied for (up until this point). I knew the pandemic would make the search more difficult, but I still put pressure on myself, particularly in relation to my cohort. I wanted to get a job earlier than most; this, to me, would prove my worth and ability as a school counselor. Earlier in the year, I commented that my biggest fear was to be the last one to find a job; that is the exact circumstance I find myself in now, and it has been even more difficult than I predicted. My self-worth is often tied to my ability. As a student, for example, I took immense pride in my grades; they were essentially the source of my self-esteem. When I graduated college, I felt lost; the pursuit I had tied my identity to since kindergarten was gone. So, I turned to waitressing, and I served with a relentless perfectionism, often doing more work than the majority of my coworkers (which I resented, unfairly, since I never asked for help). Then I entered graduate school, and left with the full expectation that a fulfilling career was on the horizon. I know it is, still; I just didn’t realize how far off that horizon was.

I’d like to think that this experience will ultimately be beneficial for my recovery. It does give me time to be with myself--something I have vehemently avoided most of my life. Of course, the drug use that has admittedly worsened during quarantine dulls the sting of sitting with my thoughts a bit. However, I intend on spending some time sober in the coming weeks. Or at least trying to. 

The point I am driving at with this chapter is that recovery and mental health are constantly evolving. Eating disorders are like addictions; it isn’t surprising that many of us who have a history of disordered eating move to issues with drugs--again, simply a shift in coping mechanisms. It’s easy to reach a healthy weight and let yourself eat whatever the fuck you want and determine you’re cured; for most of us, though, I think the issues root far deeper than that, and unless we actively work on those issues, we will become victims of a new addiction. 

In the outline for this final chapter, I wrote one bullet point that stands out to me; it’s the only bullet point that contains a single word, and it is also the final bullet point: acceptance. I cannot recall what sort of acceptance I had in mind at the time, but I imagine it was more of the cliche sort: accepting that everything happens for a reason, and the circumstances of your life are put in place to transform you into the person you’re meant to become. In truth, I believe that on my more optimistic days. However, acceptance has looked different for me lately. I am working on accepting that for whatever reason, I developed an eating disorder; it has made me selfish, it has made me lie, it has made me lonely, and these are traits that don’t just disappear when your weight is restored; these things are all inside of me still, and for that, I feel a lot of guilt. But that doesn’t mean I have to spend my life defined by the worst parts of me. I can accept the good and bad without internalizing shame and becoming self-destructive. I can forgive myself and, perhaps some day, I can love myself. 


I thought it might be interesting to include a few journal entries here; they are in order from oldest to newest and the year is indicated; unfortunately, I rarely dated my entries (apparently I never thought I would copy them all down into the conclusion of my first book). However, I hope they offer some additional insight into the mindset of an anorexic in early recovery, and how often that mindset can shift:


January 28, 2017

I’m realizing that if I’m not willing to do IOP, I need to make my own challenges for myself or nothing will ever change. I often plan on doing so, but it’s hard to make changes when no one is forcing me to; those changes I do make will mean even more, though, if I initiate them myself. I want to recover as a vegan, I want to prove I can, I want to stay true to myself, I don’t want this disorder taking my values from me, too. Some days everything feels unbearable and I don’t see any point at all in trying to get better, but I think those are the days when I need to push myself even harder.

I want to eat what I want, when I want, without feeling like that means inciting a battle in my head.

I want to run again, and run to feel good, and give my body the energy it needs to allow me to do so--I’m so grateful that my body was able to continue to even function when I was running too much and eating too little. I need to stop pushing it.

I want to go back to school, to be with my friends and my boyfriend and enjoy those things I used to enjoy both with them and by myself.

I’m scared of what’s going to happen to my body. I’m scared of what I’ll look like when I’m healthy (which I don’t understand, because I don’t even like how I look now).

I’m scared that recovery won’t make me happy and that something else is wrong with me and that nothing will ever make me happy.

I’m frustrated with myself for letting this get to this point. I’m too hard on myself, but I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know why I have the amazing people in my life that I do, because I don’t understand what there is that draws them to me.

Hopefully as I get better I can see myself in a better light.

I will get better, no matter how scary it is. I can do scary things; I can do hard things.

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

Undated, 2017

I hurt my dad; I would rather hurt myself. I wish nobody cared about me and I could starve. I know I won’t feel this way later but fuck feeling it now. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Undated, 2017

I still freak when I feel like my dinner is too big. I still stick to things that are safe and that’s a form of restriction. Why do I pretend I’m doing so well? But I am doing better. And then there’s the guilt--like I should be sicker or I never really was sick.

I read about passive suicidal thoughts the other day in a medical record and I guess I have those. 

I feel like writing my feelings down or speaking them out loud makes me feel like a fraud. Am I really even feeling these things? Am I trying to be dramatic? I don’t know if I’m in touch with my feelings or if I make them up as I go. I don’t know who I am, or what I like. I have no sense of self…

Literally everything I’m writing is making me hate myself--I’m whiny, self-pitying, and silly. This is why I hate journaling. 

I don’t know how I’m going to get better if I don’t change the way I think. I can shove food down my throat till I puke but that won’t change my mindset.

Undated, 2017, IOP Assignment: Thank You Letter to Your Eating Disorder

While it’s true that you definitely helped me feel in control when life was just too overwhelming, you ultimately just made things worse. Yeah, you made me feel secure when my parents were separating and my aunt was sick, but you also just added more stress to my mom, who now not only had to worry about her sister and marriage but also had to watch her daughter wither away. And yeah, you made me run faster, but you also took running away from me for about 3 months. What good is control if you can’t do the things you love? What good is a coping mechanism if it ultimately gives you more to cope with? I hate to say thank you, because when I think back on the thankfully short-ish time we have spent together, it makes me want to scream--at myself and at you. But you were all I could turn to, or at least it seemed that way, and I have to acknowledge that. I also have to promise myself that I’ll never turn to you again. Life is harder without you, not easier. I just have to remember that.

May 2017

Last week I woke up and I was 21 and I had an eating disorder.

I went on a run even though it was raining in anticipation of eating out later that day. 

I packed the same lunch I pack every day and went to work and felt sorry for myself.

I didn’t go to lunch with my dad because I don’t like to eat lunch out, or my eating disorder doesn’t, and it being my birthday wasn’t enough to change that. 

I cried in the bathroom when Nik told me to have fun at my “pity party” because he was right.

All I do is feel sorry for myself.

Who cares if my 21st birthday is different from someone else’s?

I had a nice day when I let myself.

Who cares if I have an eating disorder?

I’m still a person. I can’t blame everything on that.

This week I woke up and I was 21

And I still had an eating disorder

And I will next week

And the week after that, too

But I can’t let it control me anymore, and I won’t. I’m 21, I have an eating disorder, I’m stronger than it--and maybe one day I’ll believe that instead of writing it down and feeling ridiculous, and feeling sorry for myself.

June 2017

I don’t know what makes me happy and sitting here trying to think of things is enough to make me cry.

I can get so hyped up to do something (journaling, for instance), and then when I actually go to do it, all I feel is frustration.

What makes me happy? What fulfills me? Why don’t I have any interests outside of food and exercise?

It’s hard to remember if I’ve always been this way--when I didn’t have this disorder, what mattered to me?

Does everyone feel stuff like this or is something wrong with me?

I’m so fucking lonely.

I want new books, I want a tattoo, I want to stop feeling this way, or I want to die.

Late 2017

At first, starting to eat more was fun--it was kind of nice to let up on control for the sake of my physical health.

Now that I’m healthier, it’s much harder. I don’t “need” to be eating all that I am, but I still do. I’m physically healthier, but mentally struggling, which is a much more difficult place to be in.

I don’t look sick anymore but I still need to get better. This is the worst part; I feel like I need to look sicker in order to eat like I am.

I can’t live half a life anymore, though. A life of eating “enough,” sure, but of rituals, ruminating, stress, anxiety, sitting in front of food and not eating it just to prove that I can. That I’m still “in control.” A person who can’t eat or do what they want is so out of control it’s ridiculous.

Late 2017

Yesterday I glanced at you in the mirror and felt a flood of sadness. This isn’t the body I’ve known, the body I’ve trusted and felt no malice towards throughout the years. This is the body I’ve created, weakened, pushed, drained, and starved. Sure, I’ve always had a small frame, but the flesh on that frame was different. There was more of it. It cushioned and protected me. It kept me warm. I used to argue with my mom that we kept the house too hot, but now even that temperature is too cold. It gave me energy and the ability to exert myself and still go about my day. And I exerted myself not to be rid of my flesh, but to admire your strength. Because you are so strong--even now.

Today I glanced at you in the mirror and saw too much of you. Too much flesh. How could I have let this happen? Lost the control I had held onto so tightly, allowed you to change? I truly don’t believe I have body dysmorphia--you seem to me the same size that you were yesterday. The way I feel about that is what has changed, and so I feel sadness for a different reason. I compare you to a different version of myself, one even thinner, colder, and weaker, and my fucked up mind misses that.
Undated, 2018

Thought I looked beautiful in the mirror this evening and realized how strange and foreign that feeling was to me and how odd it feels to live as a person who hates herself--how can anyone love themselves and still live with the shitty things they do? I don’t know this doesn’t make sense but I know what I mean. I can’t see the things I do as a person and love myself fully. But I looked in the mirror today and thought I looked beautiful and that’s pretty strange and foreign and weird to me but I’m grateful.

November 27, 2018

Bad mood today. Was challenged to eat pasta salad by a kind gesture, and wish I was still in a place where that felt more doable and didn’t prompt a spiral. Also weighed myself--immediate satisfaction of knowing becomes all I can focus on…

March 2, 2019

Been thinking a lot about how my ED started this week, and in a much more nostalgic way than I’m proud of. I miss in a vague way the feelings of emptiness and numbness it gave me, because now I feel too full of everything (emotions, fat, thoughts). I also miss being worried about. I think that’s because I feel like if people aren’t worried, then they don’t care. I feel like a hypocrite because I used to claim I hated making my family and loved ones worry, but now it feels like I’m just expected to be okay, and I think I hate that more.

Sometimes it feels like my brain will never give me a break regardless of all the times I successfully ignore it. Sometimes all I want is to be sick again. Grad school and growing up are too scary and when I was sick people were just happy to see I was eating/looked healthy. 

Remember how your tailbone and spine dug into chairs? You were never comfortable. Why do you miss that? Why do I miss this?

Undated, 2019

“It’s safe to want recovery.”

Undated, 2020

My body isn’t big, it’s strong. My body isn’t gross, it’s beautiful. My body isn’t my enemy, it’s my ally. My body carried me 26.2 miles and then some. My body endured starvation to keep me alive. Remember how sad you were when your boobs got smaller? Why can’t you be happy they’re back? How could you romanticize the shiver that never left, and the night sweats that followed (even writing about it feels like I’m romanticizing, cut it out!)? Don’t look at old pictures, don’t strive to be who you were; why numb out when there’s so much good to feel? Why do I feel the need to have a physical representation of my mental illness (why complicate things more? Whose validation am I seeking?)? The only validation I need is my own. If I think my body is beautiful, then it is. And it is.

October 14, 2020

There will be days where you will wake up, with your head foggy and your vision blurry, and you will realize you have forgotten to take your medication again--Effexor always has had the strangest side effects, and it never seems to really help much, anyway, but you will take it religiously to avoid the side effects, to escape the pain of withdrawal. There will be days that the world is too bright, and you long for the skies to grey over; surely, then, you could sit and stare and feel no guilt for this lack of productivity at all, feel nothing at all. There will be days that start out much like the last, with a mood that is neither too high nor too low; and you will wonder, later that evening, at what point you became more afraid of days like this than days marked with emotion. There will be days when the idea of living through another day like this seems impossible, where the thought of growing another day older is enough to terrify you to death, literally to death, and you wish that were possible, for if it were possible to die of fright for the future this would surely be your fate, and what an easy death it would be, certainly more so than the other sorts of ends you have been contemplating, but have realized again and again you are far too cowardly to go through with. There will be days when you look back on writings like this and hate yourself for being so dramatic; there will be days when you hate yourself for no particular reason at all; there has yet to be a day that you have loved yourself, and perhaps that is the sort of day you are holding out for--others have days like this, or seem to, and what makes you so different, so broken, so utterly fucked up, that you can’t find the will to keep pushing towards that day? 


Submitted: February 07, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Ally Brooke. All rights reserved.

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