“Select a word to best describe your personality”. I stared at the question so long my vision blurred.
It was a question on one of the many bullshit ‘career aptitude’ quizzes we’d done in Year 10.
I glared at the page. Fuck you. I don’t fucking want to. I’m not usually one to feel rage towards a piece of paper, but the first word that sprung to mind, that one word that encompassed all my traits most concisely, is something I couldn’t bring myself to face. My anger wasn’t so much directed at the shitty quiz, but more so at myself. Few people can describe themselves in one word, but I was so sick, so possessed that I could.
There it is. That was my entire existence summarised in a single word.
With a BMI of 12.2, I was the real-life version of the walking dead. It’s hardly surprising I couldn’t find any other words to describe myself, and it’s lucky I was even capable of keeping a train of thought.
“Why are you doing this!?” I can still hear my mother howling those words when she saw how frail I was. I didn’t have an answer. I suppose it’s impossible to rationally explain something so inherently irrational. I haven’t experienced great hardships or trauma and I can’t identify one clear root of my anorexia. No matter how many times I’ve thought about it I always come back to the same conclusion: I had a mental illness and, much like any addiction, the behaviour ceased to be a choice at a very early stage. I was wholly subsumed into my E.D.
Most people with eating disorders feel controlled by their disorder. I’m well aware of the fact that neither my sentiments nor my story are unique. For me, that’s one of the most frightening aspects of any eating disorder; it strips you of so much of your individuality that you’re left to live life merely as a puppet of your disorders behaviours and symptoms of your illness.
There’s that other word. That word seems so incomprehensible to so many people. Illness. I fucking suffered from a mental illness. Eating disorders are a mental illnesses. Is it really that hard to understand?
Don’t tell a bulimic person how you could never throw up because you hate vomiting. I sincerely doubt you’ll find a bulimic with a vomit fetish. They’re not doing it for fun.
Don’t tell someone with an eating disorder to ‘just eat normally’. If it was that fucking easy, they would. Eating disorders are not all about food.
Don’t describe every skinny person as ‘anorexic’, it’s not a fucking adjective, it’s an illness.
Eating disorders cannot be treated as a ‘phase’ and something people can ‘snap out of’. Eating disorders are not fodder for jokes about thin people. The mortality rate for bulimia nervosa in Australia is estimated to be around 20%. Around a quarter of Anorexics die as a direct result of their disorder and only ~35% of Anorexics are deemed ‘fully recovered’. The remainder will present symptoms (and relapse) for the rest of their lives.
The majority of those suffering with eating disorders do not condone their condition in any way and are not part of the much publicised ‘pro-ana/mia’ culture. I find it incredibly hard to even comprehend how this culture exists. It totally baffles me. Who the fuck would want anorexia? How about bulimia? Does anyone think it’s glamorous to tear your esophagus because you purged too hard? Or to be covered in lanugo (grey fur) because your body can barely function? #gl@m0roUslyfe.
I almost named this piece ‘having an eating disorder’, but I didn’t ‘have’ or possess it; it possessed me. It really seemed like everything about me was so excruciatingly intertwined with my disorder that as each day passed I become more of a shell of myself. Going into outpatient was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’ve relapsed more than once and I still grapple with my thoughts and insecurities every day. I’m not recovered, but I’m recovering.
I can’t describe myself in one word any more.
Thank fuck for that.
Illustration by Virtual Girlfriend.