"Okay. Today's going to be a good day. You're going to be strong. You’re not going to eat," I tell myself as I stand in front of the mirror in my underwear. I turn left. I turn right. I twist my knees in to make my thighs look farther apart. I count my ribs, wishing I could see them all outlined against my skin without having to suck in my gut. I grab my upper arm, measuring how far around my hand can clasp.
"Shit," I say under my breath. I'm going to be late for class. I had been lost in my reflection again, unable to tear my attention away from the extra fat on my tummy and the space between my thighs. Wow, I think. Even my ankles look fat today. Why aren't my fingers slenderer? I have to remember the way to stand that makes my stomach look the flattest. I practice poses in the mirror.
Finally, I sigh once, get dressed in baggy clothes to hide my figure, grab my things, and head to class.
Eventually it's three o'clock. I haven't eaten in about 20 hours and my hands are beginning to shake. When I move too fast my head starts to spin. I tell myself to just hold out until dinner time. I will let myself have something small, just to tide me over until the next evening.
Oh no, someone offered me a Twix Bar. I said no but they insisted. Were they looking at me funny or was that my imagination? Do they know? I’m being paranoid. I take the candy and I eat it. And I die a little bit inside. My day is ruined, what have I done? Okay, calm down, it’s not the end of the world. Rationally, I know this is true. But I still can’t shake this sinking feeling. It stays with me until it’s finally dinner time.
I don’t want to go anymore, but I made plans to eat with a friend. I walk into the food hall, nervous. I’m always nervous.
And I cave. I load up my plate with pasta and pizza and bread. I finish it. Every bite is a knife to my chest but I can’t stop. It’s like I’ve completely lost control over my body. I go back for seconds and clean the plate again. Then dessert. I can barely carry on the conversation with my friend at this point. I am consumed by what I am consuming and my sudden inability to stop.
I do my best to act normal until I can tear myself away from socializing and rush to my room. Then to the bathroom. I make sure I am on my guard to listen for the door as I kneel down in front of the toilet and stick my fingers down my throat. Five minutes later and my eyes are bloodshot and I have a splitting headache, but at least my stomach is empty again.
I go to bed, defeated and in pain, both physical and emotional. I do my best to console myself, reminding myself that tomorrow is a new day. “You’re going to be strong,” I tell myself for the second time today. “You’re not going to eat.”
I see girls on the internet making this kind of life sound so Hollywood, so chic. But it is not romantic. It’s traumatic. I would not wish this cycle on my worst enemy. I am wasting away a little more every day. I make my mother cry. She doesn’t know how to help me and it is killing her. Killing her is killing me. But I can’t stop, I don’t know how. It’s been seven years and I have yet to find the strength to pull myself up by my bootstraps and whip my mind into shape.
But maybe that’s not how this works. Maybe I don’t have the ability to do this on my own, and maybe that’s okay.
I struggle with my eating disorder every day. But, I don’t think I have to, and I don’t think I always will. I would love to tell you that this is a story from my past and I am a new woman. But this was actually today. Not every day looks like this anymore, though, which is due to one simple reason: I got help. At 20 years old, I finally opened up to a counselor at my college about the struggle that I have been living for nearly as long as I can remember. I have opened up to my parents, which is something I truly never thought would happen. I am a very lucky girl to have people as supportive as they have been. I am beginning treatment from specialists for my eating disorder and seeing a therapist to help manage my anxiety and depression. I won’t lie, it’s been hard. Dealing with these emotions and behavior patterns that have been coping mechanisms so entrenched in my brain is going against every fiber of my being. But it’s time.
I used to think that I couldn’t get better because I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own. I thought that asking for help was losing. I thought it was weak. The more I understand about my disorder, however, the more I realize that getting help was the strongest thing I have ever done. Eating disorders are illnesses. We need professionals to keep us healthy sometimes, and mental health is no different. I am not weak, I am sick. But I will not always be. I am vulnerable and I am fragile. But I will not always be. I am strong and I am beautiful. And I beginning to realize that I will always be.