This morning, I purposefully left my home empty-handed.
My alarm rang and before I even checked the time, I ran through a mental list of my meals for the day. Watered down fruit for breakfast and a performance for dinner. A performance, an act of self distancing, a defense mechanism. When I agree to meet friends for a meal, I have adapted to not restrict myself. I simply eat what they eat, because I can not afford to display my struggle in public. Self-restraint seems severe. People assume and pass judgment. To avoid the comments, I eat. I will choose anything over the voices in my head coming alive through other people. Tonight will be a performance of me eating a normal meal in front of my friends, and it is the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning.
Assuming the worst for dinner, I blocked off the rest of the day for water and a small apple. I am not allowed to have any more. That is what I told myself; this is something I am used to telling myself. Sometimes my body believes, and many times my mind believes too. No more. Despite having carefully assembled a weeks worth of packed lunches to bring to work, I happily shut everything out. I shut myself in my car and tried to leave my problems locked inside the refrigerator as I drove to work.
I realized that before the sun had fully risen and before I felt fully awake, I had thought myself into a chaotic moment of true fear and subsequent deprivation. The decision of what to consume on a given day can seem superficial but feels undeniably pervasive from all angles. Somehow, what you eat seems reflective of a larger definitive statement. There seem to be an endless amount of reasons to cut consumption, some of which are legitimate and some that alternatively can be abused as a justification for starvation. The amount of considerations that could factor into what one puts into their body is exhaustive to the point of dizziness.
There happens these consequential moments, where unexplainable logic and intrusive thoughts break down a floodgate in the mind, where all logic crumbles and there is an honest belief that nourishment is unnecessary. This morning I was gridlocked in such a moment, one that told me I did not need food. I did not want it, and I did nothing to deserve it.
These moments can devastate a day, they can taint a morning, and sometimes they can even feel empowering. Despite the spectrum of feelings following them, what remains unwavering about these moments is their familiarity. Like family or old friends, I know this feeling on a deeper level.
By the time I was seven, I fell in love with the descriptor of skinny. I would mark my self-worth by the frequency with which my mother commented on how thin my wrists were. To me, a third-grader, there was no better compliment than a comment bordering concern. At the same time I was learning cursive, I was setting myself up for an indeterminate period of disordered eating.
I would classify my struggle as mild, compared to what I have seen and heard from others. I have learned to muffle thoughts; to forgive myself for scheming against myself; and to recognize when I am falling into old habits and recalibrate. I have given less attention to the comments of others regarding how I eat, for I do not know their story and can not understand how they might be coping with their own demons. I no longer force guilt or hatred on myself when I eat foods I used to consider below my standards. I have expanded the confines of which I used to live. I have progressed, but still, I stumble. I have unhealthy thoughts and I have days like today. Days of deprivation.
Upon arriving to work, I felt hungry. I am used to this feeling as I am used to cultivating a pattern of eating to be perfectly void. I am used to forcing myself to not eat real meals, packing only enough food to not be noticeably fatigued. Rabbit food. Some people tease me about the paucity of relying on nuts, carrots, and tangerines for sustenance. Others tease because they witness my binges on a daily basis.
As soon as I started feeling hungry, I panicked. My mind fell victim to a screaming match of criticism and confusion. I know chose wrong this morning, I am starving and I need something. I have eight hours before my next meal and I am empty. I am unable to think straight. If I eat, I lose. If I eat, I wasted the willpower and the energy I have already spent on accepting hunger. If I eat anything, I should be eating the fucking food that I made and purposefully left. I abandoned myself, and my brain feels wrung out like a dishrag. I give up. My head is a spinning top.
I give up and I eat everything. I eat all of the trail mix stored in the cabinet above my desk. Then I go for spoonfuls of peanut butter right out of the jar until I have enough awareness to feel acutely vulnerable. I am at work, where everyone can see me. People will say things, they always say things. I drink two cups of tea and then move on to the stockpile of carrots I leave in the break room. They are cold, stringy and unsatisfying.
Today I have three meetings out of town. I leave in twenty minutes. My mind is still racked with disappointment, confusion, and fear. I hate myself and I take this as my last chance to force hunger upon my body. Instead of food, I stuff my coat pockets with cough drops. If I have enough, I will feel sick and forget.
On any given day, and in fact most days, my colleagues will pass a remark about the quantity of my consumption. I have become a literal synonym for binge-eating and strange consumption habits. They have no idea. I do not look like I have a problem. I do not act like a have a problem. I just have a problem.
Living with disordered eating patterns feels like living with someone you failed to realize you hated. Someone who, ultimately, you cannot hate but instead must coexist with. There seems to be no happy ending, resolution or closure, because there seems to be no ending in the definitive, curtain-closing sense. What I have found instead, is compromise. Living through these moments as experiences and trying to gain insight from each one however disturbing or painful; accepting the seriousness of these moments and thoughts, carefully avoiding minimization or exacerbation of their severity; and detangling from the chaos, using forgiveness and affirmation to stay grounded.
This is what I’ve learned.