NEDA / by E

During National Eating Disorder Awareness week there's always a post which I have spent the entire month dragging out and writing in short bursts, only to scrap it all the next day (it's hell for not only myself, but the people who have to read the 20 drafts I preempt with, "this is really shitty but just tell me how shitty, please"). The ever annual post seems especially important now; not because there's some new magical cure for mental illness or body dysmorphia, but because with all the awful shit in our current reality, mental health takes a back seat to fighting for basic human dignity and once assumed decency. It is important to remember that you can't fight effectively nor speak eloquently and thoroughly enough to get your point across if you do not take the time to care for your body and mind.

We could go through the normal routine of 'eating disorders fuck you up, man' but it's all been stated before, the stats are easy to find, I can only talk about the ravishing beauty of bleeding cuticles and thin hair so often, and if you have not experienced an eating disorder firsthand then there is no effectual/logical way to describe it (and half the time you try to describe it to someone they come back with a story about that time they had food poisoning and stopped eating for a week and/or they haven't eaten that food since(!)).

I was asked recently why I started the old original blog and it took me an awkward stuttering of 3-4 minutes where I hemmed and hawed around 'the origins' (a personal recovery blog) because no one is cool with talking about it and just because I write some damn think piece once a year for NEDA doesn't mean that I'm any better at it. It's awkward and it's not fun; telling people that your mind is fucked because starving yourself was your answer to everything that you had to improve on if you wanted to truly succeed and that you still have moments where you misinterpret hunger as nausea or decide that you just don't deserve to eat today (illogical, I know, but pertinent still). That's without getting into the nitty gritty details people don't like talking about, like when you kept notebooks listing what you did eat and how much; or all the times you wished you could just cut off the fat or lose it in some drastic way; or every time you cringed when you heard that damn word 'fat' or swore you saw a roll; or every time you stared in the mirror from side to side or tried to look into your face and see what someone else saw; or when you refused to go shopping or to the beach with friends because the thought of being too much for something or someone was too much; and when you saw someone you loved absolutely demolishing a meal and your first thought was to be disgusted because eating that much food that joyously is infuriatingly incomprehensible. You know your hair is falling out and your skin is flaky and your hands are shaking and you can't remember a thing and your heart's not right and skinny does not mean healthy and there's a tiny part of your mind that knows that if you work out for four hours then you should eat more than one spoonful of peanut butter or a few grapes, but there's a much louder part that decides that everything which isn't clearly muscle or bones is fat.

It's easy to categorize anorexia or bulimia or body dysmorphia as side effects of the weak and vain and talking about it won't completely change that stigma because you cannot wrap your mind around it if you've not been through it. You just can't. It's irrational and illogical, the idea that food is the enemy and that if you could just reach this weight (an ever-changing goal) things would be okay. These posts are for people who have gone through it or are still working on it because it just feels like a weight off your chest every time you see someone who genuinely understands. My freshman year of college I was 5'8" and weighed around 114 lbs and I was so disgusted every time I looked in the mirror that I covered my 2x3 ft dorm room mirror with a scarf and ignored it as often as I could because I still thought I was fat and that meant I was useless: a worthless failure who was wasting everyone's time by just existing and by speaking up or joining a conversation I was annoying and useless and deserved to die. Anorexia and eating disorders in general are not tied down to one thing and it very rarely is based in vanity and the idea of some unattainable beauty (though, yes, commercials and fashion magazines and all idolized standards don't help, but if you're going to go after that you've got to go after all the ads that tell men and boys the 'perfect body type' they 'must have!', as well).

Honestly, it feels gross for me to say all of this without telling you that I still don't remember to eat unless an app on my phone tells me with 'discreet' messages to "get a gift for Cindy at lunch" at 1 or "go for a walk after dinner" at 6. It's not like I can face an eating contest head on, but I can also now pig out on cookie dough with my siblings during the holidays and it's wonderful. I'm always going to have a few scars and I'm never going to totally love photos or mirrors but it's easier to throw on a shirt that actually fits and leave home without also having a sweater or hoodie over it. There's still times when "you should just kill yourself" is bouncing around inside my head for hours without end until I'm so exhausted that I'm curled up in front of yet another Parks and Recreation marathon. Last Friday I took the day off to go hang out with my dog and play a marathon session of catch (with me mostly chasing her down to get the ball back because I don't have the control in that relationship) because every time I went to answer an email or start a review these same thoughts about how fucking stupid I am and how annoying I am to even be out here were back and it was exhausting and I needed a break from it. Simply existing does not make you a burden and it's important for you to realize that if you've ever questioned it for a second. No one is expendable, regardless of what your mind keeps telling you. It's not going to work out 100% how you want and expect it to but it's going to work out and it's going to get a hell of a lot better and as long as you can keep saying that, the most infinitesimal progress is still progress. It is okay to not be 'okay'.

If you have an eating disorder or any mental illness - or if you're just suffering your own small hell in response to this new administration (the depression and lack of focus really is widespread, you're not alone in that) - talk about it. Anorexia sucks. It's a silent but effective bastard. I fucked up my heart, my lips were always chapped, my cuticles bled for like 5 years straight, bruises and split ends and under eye circles were my aesthetic, and while coming back from all of that remains a slow process, it works. Vain as it may be, it really does feel awesome to bleach and dye your hair and know that it's now healthy enough to not just break off. And hiking is a hell of a lot more fun when you don't have to worry about, you know, dying from your heart giving out. And if you're out there fighting for basic human dignity remember to take care of yourself and to talk to people about how you're feeling. It will be gradual and it may not be as extreme as the effects of an eating disorder or other mental illness, but it will break you down, because stress, anger, and despair are equal opportunity dicks.

If a decade and some of struggling with anorexia (and a few years with a never-thought-out-nor-planned-community-project-of-a-website) taught me anything, it's that no one succeeds in anything on their own. No matter how much progress I thought I'd made, it was nothing compared to what happened when I finally told friends and family and the more you're able to talk about it, the less damning and isolating it all seems. There are so [too] many people who have lived in silence with their own eating disorders that I guarantee you are not alone in any way. Depression, anxiety, all that stuff that makes life so much more difficult than it already is isn't uncommon and while your experience is personal, you're never alone in what you're feeling, I absolutely swear to you. While I know very well that thinking of the good doesn't always negate that moment where you're not really there anymore and the only thing you can focus on is that end, suicide doesn't fix anything and you really, earnestly cannot have all those good moments in life without the tragic ones that make them so much brighter.

It's all those mediocre bits that make life so worth it. Like eating wild raspberries; falling asleep in the car and waking up to a completely new landscape and a rising horizon; watching your dog bounce around while chasing down their favorite ball; driving with the windows down and a bead of sweat down your temple that lets you know you're a part of this; having the ability to be there to hold your youngest sister's hand on one of the worst days of her life; sitting on the phone in silence for hours with your best friend because there are no words but it's an unspoken guarantee that you will always be there for each other; that firey/stinging pain immediately after you leave the tattoo studio that lets you know something is permanent and lasting; finding the time to learn a song you love or take an exaggeratedly luxurious bath after a particularly rough week; really talking and listening to your older relatives and their lives; finding an amazing record for cheap at Goodwill; drinking cheap wine with your cousins and shamelessly gossiping about family drama; realizing there are thousands of like-minded people beside you defending basic human dignity with passion and love; falling on clean sheets fresh from the dryer; that free feeling you get while dancing at your favorite band's concert with your favorite sibling; and knowing that love is stronger and continues to remain, even if every time you look at your newsfeed or open the paper it looks like it's been forgotten.

As usual, there's a quick playlist below. Sometimes the hardest thing for me to remember is that I do actually love music outside of whatever I'm doing for work and I know that the way that music is released now, so frequently and urgently, doesn't make it easy to truly appreciate a piece for how great it really is. So take the time to truly listen to music, without distraction, and remember why you fell for it in the first place.

NEDA Helpline: 1-800-931-2237

National Suicide Prevention Helpine: 1-800-273-TALK

Crisis Counselor for depression/anxiety/eating disorders/self harm/abuse/stress/grief/suicidal thoughts: Text “CONNECT” to 741741

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