Almost a year ago I said Iíd write this essay. Then, it seemed that the words I could give would be insightful, truthful, and possibly helpful. But each time I sat down to put these words on paper, my language failed me. My experiences sounded preachy. My observations were dull. It felt dishonest to discuss my struggles with anorexia because, in the end, I donít have any solutions and Iím not an authority. And although Iíve tried to discuss this before, my comments havenít made the right sort of impact.
A few years ago, when I was recording my first CD, I decided to begin the album with the song ďSetting the Record StraightĒ. It was a spoken-word piece, venting all sorts of personal information about myself. I shared insights, mostly unattractive, including the lowest number I ever weighed. The language was meant to confide a brutal truth, but even after all the other uncomfortable fragments of myself that I shared, I took the most heat for the comment about my weight. Apparently, low weight should not be discussed for fear of triggering other anorexics. So, the message loud and clear was, ďYour experience will only harm others. Keep it to yourself. Youíre sickÖcareful not to give people your ideas.Ē
So, for this essay, I considered mounting a research campaign in which I would discuss various statistics to drive home the reality of this disorder. But there are countless resources online, in your bookstore, and through crisis centers that will graciously provide the statistical outline of this problem.
What remains missing from this awareness is discussion, compassion, and understanding. Iím friends with several survivors, and today we might nervously laugh over enjoying a junk food splurge together. But thatís the surface. The food issues are more like the consequences, instead of the cause. And even with my closest friends, itís difficult to discuss the CAUSE.
And this is mine.
Always good. Always shy. Always small. Always thin. Without trying, I might as well have been a ghost, or a tiny mouse scurrying out of sight. More comfortable with my internal landscape than the real world, it was difficult to relate to most people around me. So when I began my eating disorder, itís not surprising that I thought no one noticed. The problem really began when I was in 8th grade and continued until I was 23. Later, my mom would tell me that she held a mirror under my nose at night to check my breathing. Once, a therapist admitted that she almost sent me to a hospital. Even my friends confessed they had worried about me for years. But nobody ever said a word as they watched me decidedly starve.
The biggest problem I see with eating disorders is that itís a topic that canít be discussed and subsequently understood. Itís a disorder that defies logic to a ďnormalĒ mind. But amongst its survivors, fear of triggering keeps us from forming healthy bonds of expression with each other. Current practitioners are equally reluctant to discuss their situation for fear of embarrassment or judgment. This leaves very few first-hand stories from which we can learn.
So, instead of examining the unique experiences of struggle and survival, as a collective society we look to a broad explanation for this behavior.
All eyes on the media.
I think too many critics place blame on the media for our shrinking perceptions of the value of human spirit. Replacing our self-worth with impossible body images, the media is an easy scapegoat. While photographs of skinny, happy women can be destructive to fragile viewers, it really makes me wonder whatís making the viewers so delicate in the first place. Why donít we look at bone-thin images as cartoonish and easily dismiss their reality? Logically, we all know how much makeup it takes to make that image look good. Itís interesting that so many of us are eager to suspend our disbelief and convince ourselves that people really look like that.
But I donít blame the media. Theyíre only peddling what weíre willing to buy.
I blame our own willingness to believe the worst in ourselves.
Iím not sure when I started thinking the worst about myself, but I remember getting cues from the adults around me from the time I was young. For instance, my grandmother lamented that I was a brunette. She wanted golden granddaughters. Some school ďfriendsĒ told me I was weird and laughed behind my back. And when I wanted to leave a sports team after an substantial injury, my dad called me a quitter. These and a hundred other small moments in my childhood mounted a colossal panic inside me that I wasnít good enough.
My mom once commented that she could praise me 100 ways, but one negative comment from anyone else would level me to the ground. To this day, I quickly dismiss congratulations, yet I wallow in criticism. I can now see that this cycle is what allowed me to damage my body and my spirit for so many years.
Oh, psychologically, thereís got to be a textbook explanation for anorexia. Someone, somewhere figured out that itís triggered by x, y, and z. But I donít think there is such a thing as a textbook anorexic. We each end up starving for different reasons, based on different experiences.
Similarly, survivors have each triumphed over their struggle with different tools of strength. Thankfully, for me, I turned myself around before the damage was irreversible. Though I still have unpredictable metabolic and neurological responses, I am otherwise healthy and consider myself recovered.
How did I do it? Honestly, Iím not sure. I literally woke up one morning and realized that I didnít like who I had become. I was sad, lonely, depressed, consumed with self-pity, afraid, and desperately uninterested in living. I allowed myself to become weak, mentally as well as physically. I now acknowledge that there was a certain amount of identity in this behavior. If I wasnít the prettiest, funniest, smartest, most creative, or popular, then I would be the opposite of all those things and wait to see who would love me anyway. For me, it was a ploy for attention at some level, some way to test the devotion of the people around me. It was immature, selfish, and stupid. But it didnít happen accidentally. I designed it.
I canít say that any particular realization triggered my healing process. In the end, nobody sent me to a hospital. Nobody forced me to do anything. I realized that this was my prison and my apathy would keep me here. And then, all of a sudden, I didnít want to be like that anymore. I began by forcing myself out of bed earlier in the day. Then I started planning errands and other activities outside the house to participate in. I gave myself small goals to accomplish throughout the day. And I slowly became more interested in life. At first, it was a great effort. But as I exercised these long atrophied muscles, I began to develop a hunger for more. I participated more and more in the world around me. I began to FEEL things. I could finally get angry. I could finally feel happiness. I even started to gain an appetite. A real appetite.
So, in essence, it was like training myself to become strong. I flexed all sorts of mental and physical muscles that had become so lazy, I forgot they were part of me.
And here is something I learned:
Strength is not something we earn. Strength is something we have. Complete and whole, we are not missing something that a loved one can give us or a fashion model can sell us. What we need, what weíre starving for, is already in our hands. The sooner we realize thisÖthe sooner we look at ourselves without fearÖthe sooner weíll watch ourselves blossom, instead of denying ourselves the warmth and love thatís required to bloom.
And here, my fears about this essay are confirmed. I do sound a little preachy. Maybe youíre reading this thinking that Iím oversimplifying the problem. Of course I am. This is a complex issue. But Iíll tell you what. It feels better to write about it than it ever did to keep silent.
Many thanks to Terami Hirsch for the beautiful and insightful article. Terami, you are an inspiration to many, and you create such a healing force with your music. Thank you for sharing yourself, and your music with the world.
Sky Bleeds Scorpio