The Thick and Thin of It
If someone asked me why I was anorexic or how it all started, that we be a very long conversation. The more family members and friends have probed me about it and the more I heard things like: “Just eat something”, the more I was able to flesh out my thoughts and make sense of it. However, it is still so complex that it baffles me still. I can only imagine how confused a person without an eating disorder can feel when they think of anorexia. I can only hope that their need to understand and the desire to be educated and informed about it will not end.
My Point of View:
It doesn’t mean I’m crazy. Although, sometimes, it drives me crazy. It doesn’t mean I can’t have a healthy relationship with a man, with friends or with my family it’s just that much harder and what relationship isn’t somewhat dysfunctional already? And as much as human contact is the world to me, there are times I will withdraw from all or many. Most days are bad days – you just learn to smile through it and a good day is simply just getting through it without crying once. It doesn’t mean I’m not a good person or that I don’t have a good heart, though some of the darkest thoughts I have come out of it.
It’s an illness. It’s a disorder. It’s a really bad habit of sorts. It’s my best friend and my worst enemy.
Many people understand an eating disorder to be a person’s way of getting attention and I’m here to say that they couldn’t be more wrong. Many people think that a person who suffers from an eating disorder is highly vain or insecure or both. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders and I’d like to dispel any rumors and misunderstandings. With that said, I think there are far too many who think they get it… But they don’t.
People don’t intend to trivialize the disorder but there is definitely a downplay of the magnitude of the problem and a lack of compassion that minimizes what we go through happens more often than not. Every time I have a brush with the illness, the battles are won when things don’t end fatally but the war is far from over. In the movie “When a Man Loves a Woman”, Meg Ryan plays an alcoholic wife and mother, and Andy Garcia is her loving yet helpless husband. When she enters rehab and calls him for the first time after detox, he says “Hard part’s over” and her attitude on the end of that comment immediately changes. The truth is, there is no one particular hard part. It’s all hard. Every day, every moment and every facet of the illness.
There are some key phrases scripted for her character that I identify with, though I’m not making any claim that the two issues are alike. I’ll use these quotes as a prologue to the rest of my story (somewhat paraphrased):
“I’m scared all the time… I can’t do anything unless (I’m high)” – I don’t have the need to be high but that feeling of uselessness is similar. “Nothing has to happen in order to have a bad day, that’s the thrilling part in all of this…” – As aforementioned, most days are already bad days.
“I am not your problem to solve.” – I’ve never felt like people were trying to fix me but there are some people that are constant reminders that something is wrong with me.
“You don’t know what I go through. You don’t have a fucking clue” – This is a phrase that I have wanted to say to some people in my life (usually to those who undermine my illness and try to diminish it into simply “a tough time” or vanity). And though I’ve wanted to say it, I never would because it sounds so “victim-y”.
(I’m a lover of films, and most often I find a phrase or scene that resonates with me in some way. So I’ll probably make a lot of movie references to help me illustrate and explain).
It Doesn’t Always “Look” Like One:
I have an eating disorder. I have lived with and battled it since I was 12. I’m now 34. Still alive and seemingly well but everyday for the past 22 years I have struggled to fight against it and live a “normal” life. Sometimes I gave into the power of the illness and 5 years ago, I hit rock bottom and nearly lost my life. I did not have kidney or heart failure; I did not grow fur on my neck or back to keep me warm because I was too skeletal; I did not have visible scars on the back of my knuckles from shoving my fingers down my throat. My injuries are invisible to the naked eye and if you met me today, you would think I was healthy. But being alive today does not mean that all is well. I think it’s safe to say that my life is a testament that death is not the only means of stealing a full and happy life. The results of the condition of my heart and mental state in physical form would look like that of a trauma patient in the ER or the IC Unit. Forawoman who tried to live with integrity and transparency, I’m now full of secrets and lies all hidden beneath smiling eyes.
I consider myself to be pretty self-aware. I am not unrealistic about my own hand in this – I know I willingly do this to myself. There must be some kind of acknowledgment that this is an epidemic in the world that simply lays the majority of the blame on Hollywood and the media far too much. While there is a degree of development from it – be it from parents/upbringing or peer and societal pressures, in my opinion, I think some of us are born into it or with it based on our personalities and temperaments. Each disorder case in itself is individual to the person and while much of what I’ve experienced could be classified as a typical statistic, my condition is also very unique to me. The reason I talk or write about it is not for attention or pity but for educational purposes and to satisfy this innate longing to be understood; “made sense of”. That, and the fact that I’ve lived the lie for years and doing so is more mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting than anything else I’ve ever had to endure.
Five years ago, I went to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for the first time because the worst of the illness had taken a hold of me more than I had ever experienced since it all began in my pre-teen days. But the goal in going wasn’t to get better. I had no desire to heal nor did I think it was even possible to be rid of it. I was there to find out one thing only: what happened to me and why am I so fucked up. I wanted to understand why I had these issues. I already took ownership for the fact that I was doing this to myself but I also wanted to see the trail from childhood through adolescence to adulthood that contributed to the horrible thought patterns and behaviors that I possessed… or that possessed me.
What It “Looks” Like… For Me:
Right now I’m eating Chinese dim sum. Fattening to say the least and probably very low on the nutritional scale and very high on the caloric one. However, this is what I will eat all day today. It’s very calculated and preplanned. Everyday is started already having resolved whether I will eat lunch or dinner and topped with a conscious decision as to what it might be. Yesterday, I made 270 calories noodles for dinner and ate only half. I will eat the rest tomorrow since today I’ve just ingested all that previously mentioned oil and grease. I feel full after 5 pieces of dim sum, and the anger I feel that follows after any kind of meal that fills my belly, is more excruciatingly uncomfortable than getting a PAP swab done at the doctor’s – it doesn’t take a moment of torture, it consumes me. Consumes my thoughts, consumes my breathing and energy level. Sounds crazy, right? But the mental state that I find myself in after a meal actually takes a toll on me and at times it’s actually physically painful (be it nausea or a feeling of suffocation) and most times it’s just better not to eat. Now, this doesn’t mean I eat nothing all day. I do.
Each lapse in my health has different “rules”. This is the criteria this time round: Every morning after I get over the disappointment that another day has started, I decide what I will eat today. That’s a lie. That decision was made the day before. I limit my calories from 500-700 per day with either one meal a day or a few small bites of something. At the start of writing this, it was up to 800 calories but throughout the weeks, it’s dwindled down to a max of 700 and who knows if I will lower it again. I will allow eating some chips and junk food but then nothing else. What I eat is not a matter of healthy choice. If I want that cake, I will eat it… but then nothing else. I can eat something fried but then nothing else. I can eat carbs but then nothing else. The problem is, everything that follows after – the deprivation, the feeling like crap from regret and anger for eating. Liquid calories are a no-no unless I eat nothing else so it’s water, black coffee or herbal unsweetened tea. I will drink alcohol on occasion but that all depends on the consumption of calories prior. IF I’ve given in to the desire to be a “normal girl” and eat a “normal” portion for the day, I will forego everything and binge eat. It’s an “all or nothing” mentality. It’s a “black and white, no room for grey” mentality. My friends once asked why I couldn’t just eat a little and then stop. My understanding of what happens in my head is this: it doesn’t matter what I’ve eaten. Be it 2 bites or 30, a salad or a burger it does not matter, I will still feel the same torture. The thing that usually follows these binges is a trip to the toilet where I “assume the position”, head facing into the bowl and holding on for dear life. I have been avoiding that stance thus far (explained later) so if there is too much food in one day, the next day is followed up with neither one meal nor small snacks. It will most likely be coffee and a lollipop (or juice – which I NEVER used to drink before – this is new for me) for an added sugar rush of energy.
When I hit my lowest over five years ago (I’ll call it The Low), I became what was called a “Fasting-Purger”. I honestly can’t recall if I made that phrase up or read it somewhere because I did a LOT of research on eating disorders. It became a project with charts and color coordination because that’s all I thought about all day, everyday and it was almost “fun”. My mornings consisted of coffee and 5 marshmallows. My calorie intake was 300-500 calories/day and anytime anything was ingested, I would “assume the position”. The common behavior in one who struggles with bulimia is to have an intake of up to thousands of calories before expelling that and since mine was substantially less than that, this “Low” took me to a level that proved to me this was a) getting really bad and b) not JUST about being thin. Sure, when I was in college, all I would eat was a chocolate bar before dance class or rehearsal and then an apple a day. This was certainly about weight loss. God, I wasted so much money and food by throwing out all the lunches that my mother lovingly prepared for me. I remember a time in 2nd year when one of my friends and I used to eat all kinds of food for lunch or dinner and I recall a sense of happiness. But after a while, I started to abuse laxatives. Sometimes it IS about weight but The Low definitely wasn’t. I was retaliating against anything healthy and anything, including God, that gave me joy.
I stopped going to the gym entirely – this was from a 7 times/wk, sometimes twice a day, to only an hour walk to my therapist and an hour walk back, once a week. I hated the very sight of my body. I hated seeing my ribs and hips in the mirror. I hated lying in bed because it felt like everything was digging into the mattress. I hated the bruising that magically appeared on random places of my thighs and I was certain I didn’t bang into anything. I felt like I was the shell of a being and needed my soul or spirit to be set free.
“Look” Filled But Feeling Empty:
Did you ever watch the movie “Cocoon II”? In the movie, the aliens take the form of humans because they’re trying to rescue one of their own that has been captured. They appear human but they can simply strip it off like a one-piece jumpsuit and soar out like a flying ball of light. I always saw it as though it was the soul of the human form floating out and I wished I could do that – just unzip my body from my soul and escape my costume or disguise or in my case, prison. Appearances to me were futile and one common theme in me is to hate all fashion, trends and effort to make one “beautiful”. Not only is it effortful trying to keep up but it is annoying that I would also try to live up to this standard of beauty or presentability.
All of that tied together with depression, feeling unloved by God and conflicted with both a desire to live and die, the desire to eat but deathly afraid to and a desire to be “normal” but unsure of who I am without the illness is the sum of my condition. This “conflict” is apparently very common in those who struggle with an eating disorder and for me, it is the most painful part. At times it feels like you’re being choked and other times you feel like you’re the rope in a cruel game of Tug-Of-War. There is actual physical pain in my chest as though my heart is being ripped in half.
There’s a movie called “For the Love of Nancy” starring Tracey Gold who publicly battled her eating disorder and is now completely free from it. At the beginning stages of her recovery, she shot this film and I recently watched it again. One of the key phrases she says in the movie is “I want to but I can’t.” She wants to eat, she wants to please her family but she just can’t. Everyday, I “want to but can’t”. I want to stop thinking fatalistically; I want to eat and not feel badly; I want to love my body and nurture what I’ve been given… I just can’t. The control that one with an eating disorder thinks they’ve gotten is now out of control and we no longer hold the reins. But I find that this time around it’s not about control for me. (Wow, this illness just keeps evolving). It’s familiarity. I KNOW it will control me and I KNOW I will be miserable but relapsing is my choice to “LET IT”. When I am feeling lost and lonely, the disorder is there for me. When I feel unloved, it’s the one consistent thing in my life that has always been true. Just like the phrase “When you can’t beat’ em, join ’em”, well, when the world around me gets chaotic, I don’t try to regain control with food, I simply give up fighting and give in to something else that would also be out of my control. It’s not about controlling what happens, but feeling safe in the arms of the one who captured me… what’s that called? Stockholm Syndrome – where the kidnapped starts to attach themselves and even defend or make excuses for the kidnapper. So that’s the conflict and relationship between the “want” but “can’t”. In “The Man In the Iron Mask”, when the young Phillipe is freed from his mask, he briefly puts it back on saying, “I wore the mask for so long, I don’t feel safe without it”.
Sometimes the conflict is so unbearable that no matter how little you ate or how many times you purged, it’s just not enough to make you feel better. Actually nothing makes you feel better. It only numbs the pain. One day, I was alone in my apartment, in the bathroom for the daily ritual and there I was with head in toilet but feeling rather “unsatisfied” in doing JUST that. I couldn’t escape the pain in my brain, the shakes in my body and felt like my head would explode. All this as a result of conflict. So, I needed to do something more. Not to punish myself but for some kind of release; liberation, for lack of a better word – albeit ironic. This is when I started cutting myself. One spot, only once for about ten minutes; carving into my flesh. I am so grateful it never scarred and healed as though nothing had ever penetrated the skin. Must be a miracle. Today, I still look at the area on my arm and while thoughts flood back to that moment and sometimes a desire to do it again, I’m so grateful there is no visible reminder. It was but a moment in time and I remember coming out from that state of mind and realizing how bad this was getting. Everyday death sat at my doorstep as I looked over my 12th floor balcony and pondered whether I could kill myself or just get seriously injured. The latter was not an option – it was all or nothing. I did not care to live and I did not care about who would mourn me after I was gone.
THE THICK AND THIN OF IT:
I have been overweight (emotional eating and bingeing) and I have been underweight (restriction and deprivation for various reasons). I won’t mention what my BMI, weight or waist size is at the moment. It doesn’t really matter, does it? Is it only a danger to me if I’m beyond the charts of a healthy number? Yes, my fear is to be overweight. I don’t want to fathom it. But my fear is thinness also. I don’t want to be too thin. I don’t think it’s attractive and in some ways, that’s just inviting people to look at you and say, “Oh that girl has an eating disorder”. No one is perfect, yes. Everyone has issues and I’m not embarrassed to say that I am broken. But due to such harsh judgment and misunderstandings about it I’d rather not have people know unless I choose to share it in a safe and trusted conversation or relationship. T oo often, people automatically put you down for having an issue like this. Meanwhile they’re obsession is in working overly long hours at the office or spending 2hrs at the gym everyday or abusing drugs or perhaps ridiculing/bullying people in their lives. It’s all the same shit just a different name. But for some reason an eating disorder just gets more flack. Lucky me.
This is my reality: I may not starve myself to death and I may not eat myself to death but the preoccupation and the mental affliction I carry every day, every waking moment will “stress” me to death. I want to do something “bad” everyday. Everyday. Recently my friends said that it seemed like I was doing better. I said “no”. Sure, I’ve gotten used to feeling like crap on a daily basis but I still feel like crap everyday. I’ve gotten used to getting upset after I eat anything but I just won’t cry as often anymore. I’ve gotten used to staying at home by myself and avoiding anything that involves a huge dinner or alcohol – basically avoiding a social life. I’ve gotten used to going through the motions of putting on a show at work and eating in front of coworkers knowing full well that if I eat with them, I will not eat at dinner. I’ve gotten used to living the lie and everyday, I want to “end” it. I may not need medical attention or need overnight care and supervision but the things that rattle around in my head and heart have stolen my life so what’s the point in living then?
As I look back on the years from age twelve to The Low to today, I can’t believe I’m still alive. I equate much of it to the hand of God but the twisted thing is, some of my issues are heavily wrapped up in the difficulty I face being a Christian. I shouldn’t say such awful things, right? Afterall, I’m a pastor’s daughter. But it’s true. I have beef with God. One time I shared with a non-Christian friend how ridiculous some “church-goers” tend to be and their response was “Glad you’re coming to my side”. I realized then that people will mistake my complaints of God or the church as a defiance of Christianity. But I am Christian. I believe in Jesus and that will not change however I will never deny that I have a problem with other Christians and God’s “promises”. I once put all my trust (whatever was humanly possible) in God and now I cannot. I’m afraid to. I don’t want to be hurt by His “will” over mine anymore. I also know this could be chocked up to just a lack of faith. I know that it’s about submission to God’s agenda and how He will “make my path straight”, give me the “desires of my heart” blah blah blah. I know that He will not always say “yes” to what I want and that He has a purpose and dream for me. Part of my problem is, “Well, what about what IIIIII want???” The Bible talks about not being able to serve two masters. Even when I thought I was totally surrendered to God, I still had to work on putting Him first everyday. In Great Expectations, one character says about another (and I paraphrase): “He’s a man that gets what he wants” to which the hero of the story responds: “Then Want must be his Master”. Perhaps that’s been my problem. I’ve always wanted more. I do know that I have been provided for and blessed in many ways so it’s not about always getting what I want. But doesn’t the Bible say: “You do not have because you do not ask”? Doesn’t it also say, “Ask and you shall receive”??? I have watched others time and time again back-stab, cut corners, cheat, lie and deceive and yet flourish in life. And I’ve witnessed my parents who have been faithful servants of God and His Church, struggle and face trial after trial. They remain faithful to this day while I take a skeptically step back in cynicism. It pains me to believe in God’s promises to bring us “peace”, “fill our cups”. I am angry. I’m angry with God, jealous of others (so hard to admit) and saddened because after a while you just feel forgotten. But again, I am a Christian and that will not change. I just struggle with this thing called Faith.
I am a pastor’s daughter and that too, will not change. I grew up in a bit of a fishbowl and not only where “saving face” and “living by example” were predominant themes in our household, I was often pegged as “Pretty” and my sister was “Good”. I was jealous of her label and was always trying to show people that I too, had a good heart and was an obedient child. I ended up despising my given identity and yet found myself entwined in the need to live up to it at the same time. Conflict.
What the hell was I trying to prove? Why did we have to be watched and let others judge our every move when we didn’t know what the hell we were doing either??? Why do I have to be a leader? Why do I have to have grace for others when they never had grace for me? Why do I love and have compassion for people who don’t give a shit about me? But I do. Conflict. We were poor and lived very simply but my mother always gave away my clothes and things to those who had “less” than us. As an adult, I see the generosity of my mother and what her intention was. But as a kid, in my confusion, I always thought, “What about me?”
I Am Not “Special”:
I’ve never claimed that my past was worse than anyone else’s. I’ve never claimed that my life is or was harder than anyone else’s. Everyone has a past, has endured hardship and for some, experiences of abuse and neglect. I’ve actually been quite fortunate. But there were some things that I can look back on that may have contributed to a skewed way of thinking and perceiving my “physical self”. I was taller than all my friends; I was the first to get a bra and was pretty well- endowed compared to all my petite peers; I started taking ballet when I was 9 and then I started to gain muscle definition in my legs and grow into a teen with hips and where most people would’ve embraced having a curvy body, I rejected it because I was a dancer. It’s not like today where athletic bodies are accepted in the dance world. The 80s and 90s were a very different time and I was more set on being a ballerina rather than a girl in a music video. It was in Grade 7 when for the first time, I asked my friend to steal me some diet pills. Freedom as I knew it and eating like a normal, growing girl had ceased from that moment on.
When it came to boys, the crushes came on strong and some even made their interest known to me in physically forceful ways. For a girl who thinks she’s not that great looking it’s kind of confusing. Then the confusion increases when all guys want from you is to get you in bed and you’re like “You want to sleep with this?” The more people were interested in me because of a physical attraction, the more I was “turned-off” by their pursuit of me. I dated, yeah. I’ve had boyfriends but I’m still single today probably because of the same thought patterns I’ve always had about boys wanting me for the (in my mind) wrong reasons. I despised being picked up at the mall or at a club and I became the best “Turn-downer” ever! I even joke now with friends that I repel men. They automatically know NOT to talk to me or something. *Sigh…
I always felt different. Next to my tiny, little, Korean companions, I was an ogre. As a dancer, I was too curvy – How cruel is it to have the love of, talent and skill for an art form like ballet and not have the body to go with it? I was an artist by nature, always drawing and writing short stories, singing and performing for my family. Being surrounded by girls who didn’t have the same interests as I did and limited by a family that came from a culture who rarely cultivated that type of mentorship or even encouraged a career in the arts, I felt this was just a dream that could never be brought to fruition. Disappointment and pessimism was introduced to me at a very young age so I grew up with no real ambition or direction, just a head full of dreams with no hope. I lived life from dream to dream with nothing to go on except a passion for it. So I continued to pursue the arts – it was the only thing I ever wanted to do anyway. People thought I was a woman who knew what she wanted and went after it. ALL a front. I exuded a false sense of confidence and strength while inside I was just a girl telling herself not to make an ass of herself and fall on her face. “Blend in and just get through the day without drawing any attention to yourself!” I rarely looked up or at people when walking in the halls at school, that all throughout high school people used to say, “When I first saw you, I thought you were a bitch/snob but now that I know you, you’re so nice!”
I Am Not a “Victim”:
I have some self-worth. I know that I have a big heart for injustice in the world and in the world around me. I know that I have something good to offer. I love deeply and am not afraid to express or show it. I welcome feedback and correction from others and value their opinions and try to work on behaviors in me that hurt or offend them. Many of us think ourselves to be “good” people most of the time and on occassion struggle with insecurity – “doing” things for accolade or approval; “doing” things to define our worth and just the plain old human desire to be loved and accepted. Insecurity and feeling low is in all of us and once in a while it pops up in me too. I, too, struggle with it here and there. But I don’t think this illness is all about my insecurity as a person. I like myself most of the time. I think I am a “good person”. Hating the skin I live in isn’t about a feeling of worthlessness per se. It’s a way to cope with life’s lemons; a revolt against others’ expectations of who they think I SHOULD be and against what I HAVE to “do” or be. It’s a rebellion against the idea that beauty and fortune equate success and value. I know that I am good at what I do. I know that I have talent and the skills to “do the task” and “get the job done”. This illness isn’t who I am – Sarah: daughter, sister, friend, lover, employee. It only affects my personhood and how I deal with certain things.
When I started to heal from The Low, I decided that I would have to stop performing because on one level it contributed to the illness. There was this expectation to be “on” all the time. The pressure of looking “perfect” and for someone who is not the typical Asian it’s hard to give producers and casting people what they’re looking for. The lack of sympathy for a zit that showed up the day of your audition or in my case enduring Post- Adolescent acne at the age of 27 and going to auditions with welts on your face! Having people constantly mock you because you’re an actor and they think you’re constantly looking for attention, when you’re merely being your bubbly self. I couldn’t ever laugh aloud or make a facetious comment without hearing things like “Stop acting, Sarah”. Pretty patronizing if you ask me.
I did something really stupid last week. I told a colleague at work (not because I wanted to confide in her but because I started to cry) that I was relapsing and she said things like this to me: “You need to feed your body. The more you eat the better you’ll feel about yourself. My son eats this thing and now he’s not angry or depressed as much any more, do you want me to get you some? Do you not eat because you can’t be bothered?” A week after that, she told me about a couple of people in her life that had passeda way. She topped the conversation off by saying to me, “See, other people have bigger problems”. And walked away. Nice.
I never said that I had the worst life in the world. I never claimed that other people’s problems were nothing compared to mine. But to dish out something that alludes to the fact that my problems aren’t valid not only makes her look like a completely insensitive ass but makes me feel small and foolish. I totally regret telling her and letting her into my world.
Sometimes, I already feel dead inside. If I haven’t expressed my fatalistic thinking already, allow me to stress it now. I want it sometimes. I want to do end life and sometimes I want someone else to do it for me. All I want to do is sleep. Close my eyes and not live life anymore. Recently, someone I know from a distance was murdered. And while his family and friends mourned their loss and the tragedy of his end, I couldn’t help but envy him. It does not mean I am not compassionate to what his loved ones are going through. It’s very sad and painful. I know this. It does not mean that I don’t care that someone’s life was taken deliberately and prematurely. It’s unfair and cruel and scary to think of the world we live in. I don’t know what his life was really like, but I envied that he didn’t have to live it anymore. This just goes to show how much help I need. When you’re already feeling dead inside, being alive is the cruel and miserable. I feel like a zombie or a robot most days.
Do I fear death? Yes. But it’s more the “how”, not the state. About 10 years ago, a friend of mine asked a few of us “If you died tomorrow and could look back on your life, would you be upset having died so soon?” Two people responded, “Yes, there’s so much I haven’t done yet”, “Yes, I want to go skydiving before I die.” Then I said, “No”. I said that I felt that I had lived my life to the best of my ability, I had no regrets in life, I have no desire to go “skydiving” and if my life were taken from me tomorrow, I would not be upset because I’m ready to meet my Maker. To this reply, my friend became angry and proceeded to lecture me about how it was absurd that I could be okay with dying at a young age. Nine years later, he also accused me of having an eating disorder just for attention and called me a “Drama Queen”. We are no longer friends. Back then, half of my rationale to “meet my Maker” was because I was so in love with God at the time that all I wanted to do was be with Him for eternity. I think I always knew in my heart though, that the other half was a longing to not live life any more. In retrospect, I have been tired of living for a very long time. That’s sad.
I became a Casting Assistant because I wanted to be behind the scenes and place value on performers that probably dealt with the same kinds of anxiety-causing stress and I wanted to make their experience a positive one. I want to be part of a team where I could do the work and still have the capacity to be there mentally and emotionally for others that had more on their plates than I did. I want to help others look good. It’s people I want to tend to. I want to be the smile in someone’s day. I want to encourage and shine a light in someone that can’t see it themselves. I want to acknowledge someone’s existence everyday. I want to do these things because I know what it feels like to NOT have these things and The Low taught me that there IS hell on earth and some people are living in it; as I did and still do. Again, this is not my taking on the position of a “victim”. I do not feel like I am less than anybody else nor is this a cry for love or a pushover’s “I’ll do everything to pander you and you can step all over me” mentality. I just want to love people. That’s the heart of me and what comes most naturally to me. There was no breakdown from that Sarah to this hurting, sick Sarah. It’s just the illness.
I never wanted my physical appearance to be the means of assessing my character and who I am. The problem was, I never felt people “saw” me – she’s just pretty (she must be a bitch); she’s just a dancer (she must be stupid and by the way, she’s kind of fat); she looks like she’s 20 (so I can talk down to her); she’s just a receptionist (she must be uneducated); she doesn’t have a degree (she must be unintelligent). Everyone does this and I, too, have judged people based on what they look like. How many times has a guy asked me out and I simply rejected him because he wasn’t my “type”? Or maybe I judged that girl because she was really fit and I figured she was much too “into” her appearance pegging her as “shallow” all the while knowing I wished I could look like her – jealousy’s a bitch, ain’t it? How could I expect and ask others to “see” me when I’m not looking past the superficial myself? Conflict. Any regular person could say, “Hmph, whatever”, whereas I say, “Stop the vicious cylce!” and it consumes me.
It hurts me to follow the norm, meanwhile I’m just begging to be “normal”. The illness definitely brings out the ugly in me. When I’m sick, the love and attention and my capacity to give it shrinks and what comes naturally to me becomes effortful and exhausting. The illness cripples me; debilitates me and leaves me limbless or in a coma-like state. Everyday I have to fake a smile or hide the fact that I just don’t care about anything utterly drains me and I’m completely wasted by day’s end. Just speaking to my friends about how I’m doing or even the sight of my awesome parents brings me to tears because I know when I am not well, they are hurting too. I hate the effect this has on them – mind you, my family currently has no idea that I’m not well right now. Still, every time I see or speak to my mum, she tenderly says “Are you eating? Don’t starve yourself.”
Who and What I Need:
I have lost friends in my life because of the burden of the illness but I don’t blame them for not sticking around. I don’t blame them for not understanding. I don’t blame them for not wanting this/me in their lives. I cannot ask that of them or expect it. What I do need, are people who through the lack of comprehension, can understand. Through the lack of empathy, can sympathize. Through my weakness, can offer their strength. But again, I can’t ask that of many. And I certainly don’t want to ask that of my immediate family. It would hurt me more if they knew. I know that’s not right. Family is family but at this point, I just can’t bear it. All I need right now is for my family to know that their Sarah is ok. Growing up, I witnessed so many trials for my family that I wouldn’t want to add to their burdens nor to my friends’. So the withdrawal begins and the Hermit comes forth. During The Low, I really didn’t care if they had to lose me. Now it takes every last bit of strength I have left in me to NOT kill myself. To NOT cut myself. To NOT purge… when that’s all I want to do… I know that in doing those things it will worsen my health and in the end take my life which in turn just results in the suffering of my loved ones.
It has now been a few months since I started writing this and while I have been trying to make sense of all this it has spurred opportunities for me to have some enlightening conversations with friends, giving them permission to be as real with me as I have been with the illness and with them. I’ve discovered that in having these conversations it’s helped me examine it, see it more for what it truly is and make me hate it. I’ve also discovered that the more we discuss it, in asking questions instead of avoiding it, I feel less “sick”. Avoiding it or being polite about not bringing it up, just reminds me that there is something about me (the elephant in the room – no pun intended) that is being deliberately ignored. I don’t want to encourage discussion about it so that the topic could be about me but it’s about giving permission to let any one who wants to know me, know all of me. And the illness is part of that, so why beat around the bush? I want to understand the illness, therefore, I want my loved ones to understand the illness and ultimately, me.
What I Want:
Everyone has a desire to feel significant and live a purpose-driven life. But the illness steps in and what worries others in any given day for a moment, will monopolize my thoughts and dictate my day and obviously, my life. It starts from my heart, is ruled by my head and paralyzes my body. I live in fear everyday and can hear a quiet voice inside dying yet also dying to be free.
In Forest Gump, the young Jenny prays, “Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far, far, away from here. ” In Moulin Rouge, Satine sings, “When will I begin to live again? One day I’ll fly away. Leave all this to yesterday. Why live life from dream to dream and dread the day when dreaming ends.” I no longer dream and I feel like that caged bird everyday. In my body, in my mind – I am my own prisoner. And I feel like I’m dying. The eating disorder is just a means to an end. Is a way for me to flesh out all of what’s going on inside. If people want to still assume this is just a “hardship”, they couldn’t be more wrong. I’m not going through a rough patch. I live with a mental disorder. You can’t see my wounds but they eat at me from the inside out.
I want to be free. Whether that means in death or in this life, I want it. I don’t care how I get it, I just want it. And as cowardly as it may sound, and as selfish as it may be (and yes, I know it’s a cop-out), “in death” is the easiest solution. I’ve been fighting my whole life and I just don’t want to fight anymore. Don’t tell me I’m stronger than this, don’t tell me I’m a Fighter. I’m tired of fighting. Others may see the light at the end of the tunnel but I only see darkness. So I sit in it. I don’t know what or who I’m waiting for to find me here but there it is.
I was watching The Lord of the Rings movies last week and if you know the story, Frodo has been given the Ring that must be destroyed. The Fellowship is created to help him on his journey to complete the task. And this is no simple the task. They face battle after battle, they face challenges that could lead to death and the Ring itself has a hold on Frodo and the further he goes, the more he becomes vulnerable to its power. I’ve seen this trilogy several times and this time it impacted me differently. At the end of watching it, I called my friend and I came to what she calls a “breakthrough”. Frodo tells Gandalf “I wish the Ring never came to me” and Gandalf replies “We cannot ask why we have been given the task but choose what we can do with the time given us” (or something like that). And his journey carries on. His friends help him and fight the battles around him and with him. One of his friends even walks with him to the very end and even carries him up the final destination: “I can’t carry the Ring for you, but I can carry you!” Through my tears, I confessed to her that I didn’t want to die anymore; that I didn’t want to die like this and leave the legacy of a girl who lost the battle. My whole life I wanted to be known and seen as a good person and my new fear, that now seems to outweigh all other fears, is that if I lose this fight, I will only be remembered as the girl who lost the fight. This is not what I want to leave behind. Everything I’ve worked towards in my character and in my heart would be wiped away in my giving up.
We called some places and are furthering the journey to finding more intense aid for me and yes, I’m scared of that too. But I know I have a wonderful fellowship of friends and family (next step tell them?) to get me through it. I won’t commit to calling this a light at the end of the tunnel, but a willingness to fight again? Sure.
By sharing my perspective and story, I don’t expect any kind of miraculous healing to another. I do not expect that anything I’ve said is profound to one who identifies with the same disorder. I can only hope that I penned some things that were difficult for them to articulate for themselves. I can only hope that more people who are living with this disorder and tired of fighting can one day find peace in the fact that they are not crazy and alone. I hope they too can recognize that they are loved and do not have to accept this as their end. I can only hope that the few success stories I’ve heard about can also be our success story. I can only hope that my hopes are not in vain.