The stark white walls closed in around me as I took that far too familiar step onto the scale. My body convulsed as I shivered, and I swallowed hard, forcing my eyes open from the tight grimace that adorned my face in anticipation.
And there it was again. Every single morning, glaring up at me, mocking me, convincing me that once again I was not quite good enough. It wasn’t just a number. It was the monster that laughed spitefully in my face. It was my lack of self-worth. And every single morning it said the same thing: FAT. It was crazy what drastic effect those three small letters could have. It was crazy how they could suffocate, causing my skin to shrink tight against my body. To some people it may have just been a scale, but to me it was more than that. It was an obsession, the sadistic friend that had the power to make or break my day.
But at the same time it was strangely comforting. It was strangely comforting to know that I had the power to make that number go up or down, preferably down, no matter how excruciatingly slow it was. People don’t understand the empty, haunting comfort it brings, unless they have experienced it themselves.
I know this because I told someone once. I didn’t want to tell anyone, but when your best friend sits you down and confronts you there are only so many responses you can give.
“Daisy, look at your wrists. Look at your bones. Why don’t you eat?”
And there it was, the other three-letter word that carried so many harrowing emotions on its gaunt back. EAT. I told Sarah that eating wasn’t just eating. Eating was failure, and the controlling monster was not about to let me forget it. Every bite harbored the same taunting guilt; “Do you really need that?”
So I would tell myself that no, I did not need it, and so I would not eat it. And there was that comfort, however messed up it was, it was still comfort. But Sarah did not understand this explanation. “Don’t be silly Daisy, everyone needs to eat! If you are trying to lose weight then that’s just stupid, you are absolutely tiny.”
So I would shake my head, force a smile, and say, “You’re right, it is silly. Don’t worry about me Sarah, I will be fine!”
And that would be the end of our conversation. I couldn’t explain it anymore to her because it was obvious that she did not understand. How could she understand? She was perfect. She had always been perfect. People were enchanted with Sarah’s infectious personality, and the grace and confidence that she exuded. Everybody loved Sarah. Sarah was that girl everyone wanted to know, and I was the awkward friend that people ignored. I would slink behind her, tripping and stumbling over my social anxiety, with the monster perched menacingly on my shoulder whispering constant reminders of my non-existent self-worth.
But I wasn’t alone. There were people who could relate to me on the internet. They would write about it on their blogs and they would create a standard for me to better. They would write; “No breakfast or lunch today. I couldn’t do it. Salad for dinner.” This set a standard, and I would better them by having no breakfast, lunch or dinner. It was a big competition to see who could be the sickest, and the winner came away with the glamorous prize of bones and hunger pangs. Hunger pangs were the comforting stabs that remind you that you are winning and you are in control. Those empty, piercing pains are the medals that we wear to prove our success. But no one else can see them. Only the sick individual who is out to prove that she is in control.
People do not understand that it’s not just about losing weight. It’s about that sense of control that I lacked in all other parts of my life. At least it was. Until you lose the control, and the disorder controls you. The monster is the puppeteer and I am his starving toy, submissive, doing as the monster pleases.
People seem to find some sort of strange satisfaction in glamorizing and trivializing eating disorders. “I only ate veggies for lunch today, I am SO ano!” One of my friends said that once, and then laughed her head off. “I’m going to be anorexic for like a month and lose 10kg.” Once the monster has you, you can’t you stop “being anorexic.” Anorexia is not about being skinny; anorexia is about self-loathing, control and disease. And I would not wish that on my worst enemy.
If you or someone you know needs help with an eating disorder, The ED HOPE National Support Line and Web Counselling Service provides free, confidential support for anyone. Their number is 1800 ED HOPE / 1800 33 4673.
Words by Sally Dickinson. Photo by brokenframes.