Don’t take this the wrong way

I’ve been managing my impulse to isolate quite well, considering my circumstances. I try to get out of the house every day, even if it’s just to walk the dog. Some days, I just can’t do much. I’ll take a walk down the block, and I’ll just know from the dizziness in my head and the pain in my chest that I can’t do anything but rest. There are times when I push myself too much, and I always end up regretting it. But I still get out there the next day.

I could have stayed home on Easter. I could have stayed in bed all day or smoked through a pack of cigarettes in the backyard, which is what I usually do when I’m alone on days like that. But I decided to go. After all, my case worker says I should work on being more social.

It started out okay. There were a lot more people there than I thought there was going to be, most unknown to me. I stayed calm, and migrated toward people I was familiar with. I had my knee brace on over my pants (because it’s impossible to wear a full-length knee brace under anything that’s not oversized sweatpants). A friend of the family asked what happened. I told her I had torn my ACL, and wore out all of the cartilage on my knee. I stayed positive about it, though, telling her how I was still getting out and walking around as much as I could. She shared some (very) distantly related story about how her knee hurt her 40 years ago.

And then she said those words, the words that never, ever end well.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

She then proceeded to tell me how my weight was likely the cause of my problems, and how I need to watch myself, and when I feel the urge to take those “third helpings” of food I just need to stop.

As soon as I caught the gist of what she was saying, I had so much shit going on in my head that I couldn’t listen to her anymore. I just sat there quietly, holding back the tears. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I was just hoping she’d stop. But she didn’t.

When the food was finally served, I stayed in my seat. All I could think about was how fat I was. My friend was encouraging me to get some food, telling me what they had. “You should eat a salad.” Before I could even respond, my friend told her that I didn’t eat that. She then went on to make another suggestion, and by that point, I had enough. I knew I was going to emotionally explode, so I got up and went outside.

I smoked a few cigarettes, let out some tears, and calmed myself down enough to go back inside. I thought I would be okay, but I wasn’t. The sight and smell of the food made me nauseated. The memories replaying in my head made me sick to my stomach. I wanted to run, but all I could do was walk away. I wandered the neighborhood, smoking my last cigarettes, crying, and blasting my music as loud as it would go so I could drown out the voices in my head.

I eventually found my way back, numbed out from all emotion. But I still couldn’t eat. I felt like anything I put in my mouth would be judged by people, would be judged by her. It felt like I was under control again. Instead of you can’t eat this, you don’t deserve it, it was now you can’t eat this, you don’t need it.

I get it. I’m not a thin girl. I never was. But why do people feel the need to tell me what food I should or shouldn’t need, and what I should be eating? I’m on a high sodium diet, recommended by not one, not two, but three cardiologists. I also have to consume a considerable amount of protein to keep my creatinine levels normal. I eat a lot of vegetables — they are my “safe” food, the food I can always eat no matter what, and they help increase my vitamin levels, which have been dangerously low in the past.

I may be fat, but I struggle with an eating disorder. And no, it’s not binge-eating disorder. I’ve been doing well in recovery for the last several months. I’ve been eating two to three meals a day. I haven’t purged. I haven’t obsessed over counting every calorie and weighing myself every morning. I haven’t had to fight at any meals because I haven’t refused to eat. Although a combination of my knee injury and my heart medication has led to a substantial increase in weight over the last few months, I wasn’t letting it get to me.

But now the devil is back on my shoulder. My ED brain woke up from its peaceful nap and is now wreaking havoc. I’m struggling to eat. I’ve started counting every calorie. I let myself get this way, and now I need to fix it. I need to not be fat — a goal which logically, I know is unachievable, but emotionally, I believe is the cure for what ails me.

Don’t take this the wrong way…it’s amazing how just a few words can really fuck up your recovery.

I still don’t know — what other way was I supposed to take that?

Beneath the Fat

Are you sure you aren’t diabetic?

You don’t look like you’re starving.

You shouldn’t be eating that.

Not hungry? I find that hard to believe.

You should lose some weight, then you won’t be so sick.

These are just some of the things that people have said to me over the years — most of them said more than once.

I get the diabetes assumption quite a bit. When I had surgery to repair my Lisfranc, I had a nurse ask me SIX times if I was sure I wasn’t diabetic. Six. Times. I understand asking is standard procedure, but asking six times because you just can’t get over your assumption that my weight must mean I’m diabetic is not standard procedure. That bothered me. 

And then there’s the people who see you eating a cookie and tell you that you should be watching your sugar. Why? I’m not diabetic. Never was. But thank you, because now I feel horrible for eating.

You don’t look like you’re starving. This goes right along with not believing I’m not hungry. I’ve had people I considered friends say this to me when I told them I didn’t really eat much. It’s not funny. It’s frustrating. Starvation isn’t always skin and bones. Starvation doesn’t always have an obvious “look”. Trust me, I’ve experienced it. Sometimes forced upon me, and sometimes self-induced. But no one sees the lanugo growing on my body or the rampant malnutrition running through the blood in my veins. They just see my weight and assume I must sit at home all day and eat.

You shouldn’t be eating that. This comes from so many people, friends and strangers. I once had a coworker scold me for eating a Poptart; it was the first thing I had eaten in days. Needless to say, that was the last thing I ate for a while, because what he said made me feel ashamed for thinking I should eat. 

I’m on a high-sodium, high-protein diet for health reasons, and people have felt the need to comment about me adding salt to my food or eating meat. It’s not good for you! Your blood pressure. Well, actually, it is good for me, because my blood pressure is low. I know, it’s hard to believe. Because all you see is my weight.

I am not in the best of health. There’s no denying that. But when you hear about it, don’t jump to the conclusion that I am suffering because I’m fat. I don’t have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. I didn’t get lung disease from being overweight. My autonomic nervous system didn’t turn to shit because I’m fat. I can’t fix my health with diet, because it’s not fixable.

People look at me and see the fat. They see I’m overweight. They see me struggling. So they make assumptions. Dangerous assumptions. Hurtful assumptions.

They don’t know that I am literally half the size I was just a few years ago. They don’t know I spent time in the hospital because I was severely malnourished from not eating. They weren’t there when I tediously calculated every calorie I took in, making sure I would not go above 500 in one day. They don’t see the concern in my doctor’s eyes whenever I get weighed and have lost too much weight too rapidly.

They don’t know how much I struggle some days just to eat. They don’t see me weigh myself every morning obsessively, trying to determine if I deserve to eat that day. They don’t hear the inner battle I have to go through before I sit down to eat a meal. They’re not there when people who care tell me I need to eat because they know it’s been too long.

They just see the fat.

They don’t see the eating disorder ravaging beneath.

It’s been so easy for me to deny I have a problem, because it’s been so easy for me to hide the truth beneath the surface. Other people’s beliefs became my words. Whenever I’d get feedback or suggestions that I had an eating disorder, I’d just tell them I don’t have an eating disorder; I’m fat. I’m not starving; I’m fat. I’m fine; I’m fat.

I got so angry months ago when the PHP I was in diagnosed me with ED-NOS, atypical anorexia nervosa. I don’t have a problem. I don’t look like I’m starving, so just leave me alone. Why couldn’t they just be like everyone else and only see what I was on the outside? Why did they have to dig deeper? Why did they have to be worried when no one else was?

It took me some time to realize my anger was displaced. As much as I wanted to be angry at the program for giving me the diagnosis, I was really angry at everyone who refused to see my struggle, everyone who made it harder for me to cope with my ED because they couldn’t see past my outward appearance, everyone who purposefully and not-so-purposefully contributed to my guilt about eating.

I’m not your typical person with anorexia. There’s a lot of things about me that just don’t fit the norm. And that’s fine, because nothing in my life has ever been typical. It’s hard for people to understand that. I only understand because I’ve had to.

It’s difficult in general when you struggle with an ED. It’s even more difficult when you add people and ignorance into the mix. All of those comments about my weight and what I should or shouldn’t eat only made it harder for me to recover. They made me believe that I still wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t worthy enough. I’m not enough. Every time I managed to take three steps in the right direction, someone would make a comment and push me back six steps in the wrong direction. It’s a vicious cycle that continues to hinder my healing.

I’m still struggling. I think I may always struggle a bit. There are days when I manage to eat like a “normal” person. But there are still days when I conveniently forget to eat. There’s still days when I self-sabotage. It’s been difficult for me since I got sick. I’m not able to move around like I used to. The medication I have to take causes water retention and weight gain. I think of ways I can counteract it all, ways that really aren’t healthy, ways that will only end up hurting me even more.

It was much easier for me to sit there and self-destruct when I had no one who cared enough to stop it. It’s not so easy now.

And I know that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t make the struggle any easier, and it doesn’t erase the shame. I’m still scared of myself. I’m still afraid of the thoughts that go through my head, the fear of gaining weight that eats me up from the inside. I’ve been taught to attribute my worth as a human being to my weight and my actions, and I’m not sure how to remedy that when it seems to be ingrained in a part of my brain I can’t seem to access.

This was all so much easier when no one saw what I hid beneath the fat.

“I think we need to ban the scale.”

My eating disorder has been out of control.

And my life factors have made it so much easier to go along with it. No money this week? Perfect. We don’t need food anyway. We can stretch out this last cup of rice and make it last a week.

But it’s so much more than that. There are times when I am in such horrible denial that I have a problem. People ask me if I’m okay because I don’t look well. Well, I ate the other day. Isn’t that enough? In those moments, I can’t process that no, going days without eating isn’t normal. I can’t process that, in that moment, I look like hell because I haven’t eaten.

And then I sit in therapy and battle with my therapist. Did I eat today? Well, I had coffee. Coffee is food. Just stop. What is the big deal? I am FAT. I don’t need food. I ate the other day. I am still alive and doing just fine. What is the big deal? No, I’m not about to pass out. It’s the lighting.

I was so angry at myself during our session on Monday because I had gained three pounds over the weekend. THREE POUNDS. I had lost 23 pounds in the last 17 days, but now that I gained 3 back, I only really lost 20. And I was pissed. I told my therapist I couldn’t eat this week until I made up for the gain.

“I think we need to ban the scale,” she said to me. “It’s becoming a problem.”

I weigh myself every morning. Obsessively. And I know that. It is a sick obsession, but I need it. I need to know how much I weigh because I need to know if I deserve to eat that day. Am I too fat today? Someone will notice that extra pound and judge me for eating that bowl of rice. I just can’t do it. We’ll try again tomorrow. It’s a sick and twisted cycle that I keep getting caught in.

I go through periods where I can manage quite well. And then there are times, like now, where my eating disorder becomes full-fledged and affects my everyday life. I sit in therapy sometimes, half out of it, unable to think, because I’m tired and haven’t eaten. And I can sense the frustration in my therapist as she tells me we can’t work through much if I come to therapy starved. I can’t work through my issues if I’m not fulfilling my most basic needs. And I know she’s right, but I keep fighting it. I’m fat. I don’t need food. Why doesn’t anyone understand this?

Why can’t I just have a normal relationship with food? Why did my mother have to point out how fat and disgusting I looked all of the time? “Pull your skirt down, no one wants to see your disgusting legs!”

Why did she have to complain about how much our food cost her? To make us feel guilty for having basic needs. How dare we have basic needs and take away from her. Why did she have to take it away so much? Why did she send me to school with nothing and then yell at me when school would call that I didn’t eat? Why was it my fault? She set me up for failure every time. Food could never be a simple, fulfilling experience.

Why did I only get food if I deserved it? Why did food always have to belong to her or my brother? Why did she turn food into a tool of manipulation?

Do you know what it’s like to be told you can only eat certain food once it goes bad? Do you know what that does to your sense of worth? It destroys it. Whatever sense of worth I had left was no longer. It didn’t seem to bother my father that he and I were treated like shit. He looked forward to when some of his favorite foods were nearing expiration.”I see those doughnuts are just two days away from expiring!” and he was so  excited about it. I was horrified. I saw it as my mother’s way of telling us we were worth nothing. But hey, she can say she feeds us, and she wouldn’t be lying. Sick. It’s sick.

I’m not sure I have ever mentioned it here before, but I have a sixth sense for scoping out expired food and beverages. I can walk past something and just get this feeling that it is expired, and sure enough I check, and it is. It helped me a lot at my last job, as I cleaned out a lot of expired merchandise in their grocery department. I’ve also filled up baskets of expired foods while shopping at stores and dropped it at their customer service areas. I don’t know why it happens, it just does.

And I never made the connection before, until I was laying in bed last night and thought, have I trained myself to scope out expired food because that’s what I had to do at home? Have I done that without even realizing it? I don’t know how else to explain it. It makes me sad.

Deep inside, I still feel an immense sense of worthlessness, that I am in many ways unworthy of food, unworthy of the basic necessities of life. A piece of her is still inside of me, telling me I am worthless.

And now, thanks to all of this shit I’ve dealt with, I can’t even eat like a normal person. Every time I consider eating a piece of food, I have to go down an entire mental checklist. Do I deserve to eat today? Am I fat today? Is this going to make me fatter? Do I even want to eat this? Am I even hungry? Should I bother? I’m too fat to eat this. I can’t eat today. I’m bad. I didn’t earn this. I can’t. 

I ate today. But only because I weighed myself this morning and lost six pounds in two days. The cycle continues.