I thought I was ready. The scale sat below me, at least two feet wide. It reminded me of the scene in "Stranger Things" when the shadow monster from the Upside Down was looming over Will, and suddenly, all the darkness went into him. Will was me at that moment, the scale was the shadow monster, and the darkness was my fear.
I took a deep breath and decided to let the nurse weigh me. It had been three months; Surely, I could be weighed and be fine. I stepped onto the scale, and when I saw the weight, I couldn’t breathe. I had gained twenty pounds. I grabbed my phone and checked my BMI. It was the highest weight I could be without being overweight.
My heart beat rushed in my ears as I hyperventilated, hands trembling.
The nurse led me to the doctor’s office and shut the door. I began to write a poem about it, hoping it would help. I messaged a friend who struggled too, and she helped me calm down. I couldn’t stop being afraid that I was overweight. I began to look at my body differently, as though it were a foreign body which had taken control of me.
I was not kind to myself initially. Potential food plans ran through my mind in split-second snapshots, everything from liquid diet to going back to eating half a bowl of cereal every day. My mind was frantic, desperate for some relief. I was so scared of being inadequate that at that moment, I rejected myself.
Despite how much I believe that physical beauty doesn’t matter, I still feel uncomfortable when I no longer fit the mold of what is considered beautiful.
Growing up, my stepmother would tell me that I was lucky I was so pretty because I’m stupid and will never go anywhere in life. She didn’t want me to apply to college because she considered it to be a waste of money because I wouldn’t get accepted anywhere anyways. When I got a letter saying I was inducted into National Honor Society, she yelled at me for an hour.
When I was accepted into Emory, she dismissed it as luck and said it was just a rich person school despite it being one of the top universities in the US.
Although I know that I’m intelligent, I grew up with my stepmother continually reinforcing the opposite. I was told that my value lies in my physical beauty and that was my sole redeeming trait. My other female family members didn’t see it as being my only positive attribute, but it was how I was defined. Even as a nineteen-year-old, this misperception of me throughout my childhood continues to haunt me.
In some ways, I am still that thirteen-year-old girl, scared that no one will love her if she doesn’t look beautiful. But now, I know better. Later that week, I found out that the scale at student health was faulty and I had actually gained ten pounds, not twenty. I felt like I could breathe again, relief soothing me. I realized at that moment that I wasn't done with anorexia.
No matter how much I hoped it would be gone, it didn’t work like that. I needed extra help. I needed my friends.
I don’t feel confident in my ability to navigate the seemingly infinite maze of anorexia, let alone to voice it. As I write this article, I hear the group of friends behind me speaking like valley girls, every sentence beginning with “like oh my gosh.” I’m not sure if there is a common vernacular that can hold the severity of my struggle within a regular conversation. I can’t image widening my eyes, valley girl tone on full blast, saying, “Like oh my gosh, I have been having such a hard time with anorexia like it feels unreal.”
The oral dialect I’m immersed in feels suffocating when it comes to things like this. I’m not sure how to share my emotions without feeling as though every “like” is shrinking the validity of my feelings and regurgitating them into the streamlined river of voices where every struggle is ended with a “but I’m doing great.”
There is no room for the voice of the survivor without having completed the act of surviving. The issue with this is that surviving is not a one-step action. It can take months, years, sometimes even your whole life.
How can I fit my fear of my body into a vernacular that stifles every struggle with the promise that I am, in fact, okay when I am not? How do I voice my struggles when to do so is to break the stream of “likes” and “ohmygosh” and “I guess” that insulate the emotional impact of every thought? I can’t do it, so I don’t talk about it. I should, but I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know how to penetrate this vernacular and get to a level where I can tell you that I’m struggling, so I write about it. I write, and I write, and I write, and I’m not sure what it means.
Perhaps in emptying my thoughts into the white of the page, I may fill my mind with understanding. Sometimes, I’m afraid to understand. Sometimes, I’m scared no one will understand me. I know I have friends, people who care, yet I find myself distancing from them out of fear of rejection. I get scared that if they knew my struggle, they would not like me.
Although I know in my mind that if they are truly my friends, they will accept and love me as I am, I’m only human, and that means I have fallible fears. It means trusting in people, even when you can get hurt, even when you feel more vulnerable than person. It means opening yourself up. It means I will always wear my heart on my sleeve, and that I’m not ashamed that I’m struggling with anorexia. I’m only ashamed that I thought a number could define me.