Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why I spend hours reading what other people write about their eating disorders

I make no secret of the fact that I have a messed up relationship with food. Everyone in my life knows of my twisted body image. It’s pretty hard not to. All you have to do is watch me interact with food, talk about food, abstain from food, exercise compulsively, refuse to leave the house for 3 months until I’ve lost weight, or talk about how much I wish I could just eat a bagel without feeling guilty for at least 72 hours afterwards. I’m a writer, a talker, a storyteller, and a world-class yo-yo dieter. I also have no filter. So my dirty laundry is always on display.

The first official diet I went on was Atkins at age 17, but I might even go back further, to sophomore year. My school picture was heinous, and my retake was beautiful. The difference between the two: a season of varsity cross-country. In sixth grade I ran one mile a day after school every day for a month until my brown baggy pants from Express (the ones with white contrast stitching that Rose also had) were baggy and I rejoiced in the mirror. In first grade I started complaining about how my thighs spread out against the leather car seat. Even before that, I switched to skim milk and insisted on only eating bread if it was toasted, because the texture of mushy bread reminded me of the texture of my mushy tummy, and that made me feel like invisible mosquitoes were biting me all over. I can remember tons of bits and pieces like this, disjointed memories forming a strange constellation I’m still trying to make sense of.

I’ve come to realize that when it comes to disordered eating, there is no past tense. There is no end, all better, wrapped up in a Lifetime movie bow as the credits roll and the people embrace. It’s always a part of you, it always will be, and if you really think back, you’ll probably realize that it was a part of you long before you knew it. I know I did.

Which is why I submerge myself in eating disorder writing. I keep thinking if I read enough of other people’s problems, my own will start to make more sense, or at least not be so stifling. Being at war inside your own skin is tough. I have so many years of resentment for my body built up that sometimes it feels like sitting in my living room. all the windows opened, on a pollen-heavy spring day, when my roommates and I have forgotten to clean, the cats have been wrestling, and I have a bad cold: SO MANY ALLERGENS FLOATING AROUND THAT I CAN’T BREATHE AND WANT TO INJECT BENADRYL INTO MY VEINS AND EYEBALLS AND FINGERNAILS BUT NOTHING WORKS.

This is one of the aforementioned cats. He has a lot of fur. Lots of allergens. YAY  METAPHORS! 

I find it helps me to read about eating disorders because it’s a combination of escaping my problems and dealing with them. I’m immersed in the content of my problems, but not directly dealing with my own. It’s an indirect therapy, like when the detectives on SVU ask a young sex crime victim to draw pictures of her life, and the pictures help them solve the crime and help the little girl deal without an intense, dimly-lit, Detective-Stabler-flying-off-the-handle interrogation. (Sidente: This scene DID happen in the episode. It was just later).

But what does it all mean? I just ate healthily for most of the day before eating a slew of random items that had too much combined fat. I spent half the day complimenting myself on stopping when I was full only to spend the rest of the day eating past the point of being full and reminiscing about how wonderful it felt to be kind of empty in the morning, a messed-up bliss that only comes at midnight after eating a tablespoon of almond meal for no apparent reason. Then I read. I read and read and read. And here’s what I’ve come up with:

It has to mean something, all these hours spent reading about all these struggles. I’m not sure what it means, but I’m going to figure it out. And I’m going to write about it. Obviously. Get ready.

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