Eating disorders are diseases of silence. We are all silently screaming for something: attention, love, help, escape or forgiveness. Although we might be looking to fill different voids, we never ask for the things we need. We feel unworthy, that for some reason we don’t deserve them. So, we play the game of guess what I need from you. You’re inability to guess just feeds our feelings of worthlessness. When you finally realize there is a problem, it is much too late. We will now fight, lie, and cheat to hold on to the one thing that has given us support. You see the symptoms, weight loss, weight gain, or depression. You watch us starve, eat, purge, and isolate. You tell us to eat or not eat, to sleep or to get up and do something, you can’t understand why we can’t just get better.
If it were only that easy! Some of us have been living with this, like this, in this hell for half our lives or more. We honestly believe it is the thing holding us together. Even when all others see it as the thing that’s making us crumble to pieces. It is not just a part of us, but it has become us. It is our identity and who are we without it? Many of us are afraid to find out. Fearing without it we are nothing. It becomes our sole companion. It is the thing that makes us strong, so that we don’t need, don’t want and don’t feel. It is our cape of invisibility. With it on you can not see us, you can not see our pain and shame, we begin to disappear. Slowly at first and then before you know it we are gone. Lost in a world of pain. Always fighting for control that we never seem to get.
In the beginning the control is easy and the high from it incredible. I can not eat for 4 days, I can exercise for 4 hours a day, or I can throw up everything I eat. I am in control. But somewhere along the road we lose that control and the eating disorder takes on a life of its own. We no longer control it. It controls us. We wake in the morning hearing its voice and can’t sleep at night because that voice is too loud. We stop listening to anybody except our eating disorder. We believe we are fat, useless, unworthy, unlovable, and weak. We honestly believe that losing weight will on some level make things better. We wake up with thoughts of food; they consume us all day long, and often cause sleepless nights. It becomes all that matters. We listen to the voices that constantly tell us we are not good enough, thin enough, strong enough, a little more and then we can stop. But there’s always a little more and it doesn’t stop.
You may see us hurting ourselves and not understand; we do not really understand either. We know we must lose weight. We know we must punish ourselves when we feel guilt and shame. We use laxatives, exercise, sleep deprivation, and self-mutilation to take away the pain. Many of us get to the point where the pain is too much and the road so long, we decide it is just not worth it. Since we have no worth, the world will not miss us. If we could just disappear, the pain would go away and we would no longer hurt others with our problems. Death becomes a way out. Can’t live forever with an eating disorder, can’t live without it. It becomes the question we will ponder for many, many years before having a definitive answer. Do I want to live? Why? Our reasons not to live may seem mundane to someone without an eating disorder. You can not feel our emptiness or understand our loneliness. We can’t share this world of silence we have made for ourselves. It is the thing that may have saved us in the past and might kill us in the future.
You look at the consequence and can’t imagine why we would do this to ourselves. We are losing our hair, rotting out our teeth, bleeding when we throw up or even just brush our teeth, dizzy, tired, dehydrated, malnourished, and mentally unstable. And at some point these things do scare us. The first time throwing up blood, passing out cold or being admitted is an eye-opening experience, but not usually enough to stop the behavior. Some of us might even see these consequences as reinforcement that we are succeeding at something. Look, I’m really good at being eating disordered! To give that up would be giving up a piece of us that we aren’t sure we can live without. It is with us in the morning, telling us to get on the scale for the first test of the day. Even if the number is down it’s never good enough. Then taking a shower where we close our eyes because the sight of ourselves is so disturbing. Next is finding something to wear. This can take hours because nothing fits right and everything feels tight. After all of this it’s time for breakfast? No way we can eat after that disappointing morning. The day goes on in the same manor. Nothing is good enough, nothing quite right. So we push ourselves to eat less, run faster, dance longer, whatever we are doing we must be the best. Then comes night, where the distractions of the day aren’t there to drown out the voices. Sleep is difficult when thoughts of hopelessness, self-hate, failures and suicide ruminate for hours. So instead of trying to sleep many of us spend endless hours on our computers, exercising, reading, cleaning, anything to avoid sleeping. We eventually sleep usually for just a few short hours, and then the cycle begins again. Only now we have to beat the day before, weigh less, eat less, do more. By our side our faithful coach and partner filling our heads with criticism, demands and insults.
Although we say we hate the voices and the disorder. We don’t hate it all. We love the high of seeing the number go down. We long for that empty, numb feeling that comes with starvation. We thrive on what begins as compliments and turns to worry about our weigh loss. Nothing gets rid of feelings the way throwing up does. The disorder is the thing that makes us feel strong and special, while at the same time letting us disappear and run away from life. We will say we don’t want your help. Sometimes because we are in denial and actually believe things are fine, sometimes we feel guilty receiving help, because we feel unworthy, and sometimes it has just gone on so long that we have given up hope and accepted that “I will live with this until it kills me”. When we say we don’t want your help, those are the times we need it the most. We need you to stand up for us when we can barely stand, love us when we hate ourselves, hold our hope when we feel hopeless, and never give up on us, the way we give up ourselves.
We will push you away. We will make you angry with us. We will tell you we don’t need you and to leave us alone. We will throw temper tantrums and even throw food. We will close up and lock you out. We will blow off important appointments. We will do the things we’ve been told we can’t, exercise, chew gum, drink Diet Coke and we will push every limit. We do not do these things to hurt you; we are just scared and feel threatened. You want us to give up something we can’t imagine living without. So be patient with us. Whether you’re a parent, spouse, friend, therapist, or doctor; there will come a time when we realize what you have done for us. When we reach out for you and ask for help. When we will ease your burden and start to take care of ourselves. We will share more, smile more, and live more than you have seen us do in years. We may still have negative thoughts, be obsessed with food and body, and eat in a different manner than you, but we have taken a huge step in recovery and the rest will come in time. We may always have issues with food and body, but we now have outlets for out negativity and we know it is all right to ask for help. Just because our symptoms lessen does not mean we no longer need you. We will always need you.
- ‘How it feels’ by K. Martel