I’m going through a transition phase, in more ways than one. I graduated from college in May and I’m learning that adulting is the hardest thing since puberty.
I’m also recovering from an eating disorder.
In this strange limbo period, I spend a lot of time babysitting an eight-year old girl, which occupies my time and fills my wallet. On Thursdays, I pick her up from school and take her to ballet class. Directly across the street is a renowned symbol of American gluttony: the infamous two golden arches. I don’t know which staple of Washington was there on Wisconsin Avenue first, the McDonald’s or the eponymous Washington School of Ballet.
The placement couldn’t be more fortuitous – for the McDonald’s, anyway. Kids come streaming out of the large glass doors, their already-quick metabolisms on full-speed after a hard workout. The only way many of the parents manage to get their kids through those doors is with delayed gratification. The mecca of rewards is a tangible place they can point to and say, “After, now go!”
I’m the type of person who avoids conflict at all costs and has a hard time saying no – particularly when the subject is a doe-eyed eight-year old who can turn into a tempest quicker than you can say the word ‘tantrum.’ So sometimes that “After, now go!” is accompanied with promises of not just a four-piece chicken nugget Happy Meal, but a milkshake, soda, or cookie – whatever it takes.
[bctt tweet=”I’m also recovering from an eating disorder.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Normally, while she indulges, I get a Diet Coke and watch her chow down enviously. This past Thursday, I thought, why should she have all the fun? I was hungover from the night before, so I was also particularly susceptible to indulging. In fact, I’d already indulged earlier that day, with chips and chocolate. That’s the problem with instant gratification: distracting yourself with a taste momentarily doesn’t change the fact that you feel like crap overall.
I ordered a Happy Meal as well.
The first thing I noticed was that portion control is no joke at the modern McD’s. The container of fries was smaller than the bowl of a wine glass and contained ten skinny fries at most. The last time I’d eaten at McDonald’s was when I was back in elementary school. This was before Super Size Me and the nationwide health craze that occurred in the 21st century. Back then I would dunk each chicken nugget in every sauce, Ketchup, BBQ, and Sweet & Sour, before delivering it to my mouth. I loved doing that.
[bctt tweet=”Distracting yourself with a taste doesn’t change the fact that you feel like crap overall.” username=”wearethetempest”]
This was the first time that I’d done that in years – 14 to be exact – and I have to say, it’s still pretty damn good.
From what I can remember, I started restricting what I ate in middle school. I deemed most foods “bad” and decided I would no longer eat them. My diet consisted of oatmeal, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and lean protein. Ice cream, cake, candy, dairy, potatoes, bread, pasta, steak, chocolate, McDonald’s: the list of “bad” foods goes on and on. None of these items were included in my diet in the same way that certain colors or styles can be absent from someone’s wardrobe. I was the girl who wore only black.
[bctt tweet=”From what I can remember, I started restricting what I ate in middle school. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
It drove my mother crazy when I wouldn’t eat what she had cooked for dinner, but I was intractable. There wasn’t a lot of variety in what I was eating but I was eating, so there wasn’t much she could say.
My friends and family knew I had issues with food, but I hid them effectively, instead earning me titles such as “health nut.”
That was one way of putting it, I guess.
[bctt tweet=”My friends and family knew I had issues with food, but I hid them effectively.” username=”wearethetempest”]
It didn’t help that I was always perfectly healthy on paper, a pediatrician’s dream with my fruit and vegetable intake and apparent lack of sweet tooth. Although it definitely aggravated and isolated me from people at times, they tended to chalk it up to the “quirkiness of youth,” a phase. We all have our antics.
College made it so much worse. I began to restrict not only what I ate, but how much, and I also started to binge and purge.
My parents have always told me I don’t do well with change.
With leaving home came the inevitable but pervasive anxiety that comes with transitioning from a teenager to a twenty-something. It’s when you’re asked to confront real questions about what you want to do and how you see yourself. I wanted to be small, I wanted to feel like I could fold into myself and disappear. The less of me there was physically in this world, the less of a presence I felt that I had to be in the face of everything overwhelming and unfamiliar.
[bctt tweet=”I began to restrict not only what I ate, but how much, and started to binge and purge.” username=”wearethetempest”]
It wasn’t until college that evidence of my condition manifested itself outside of my head. Depression exacerbated my insecurities and for the first time, I saw results. Between the spring of my freshmen and sophomore year of university, I lost more than twenty pounds. For years, nothing. Then people began to react.
[bctt tweet=”For years, nothing. Then people began to react.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I always knew my habits weren’t normal but I also didn’t want to accept it. I didn’t want to acknowledge it because then there would be a need to change. I knew that in order to change, I would need to first want to change. It wasn’t until February 2015 that I decided that I wanted to change and get help. Or rather, that I needed to change. For my health, sanity, and future.
I can remember the exact moment I accepted that I had a serious problem. I was with my best friend at the local laundromat. The whirring of the machines all around projected a white noise, making it feel like a safe space for sharing. We had our journals out on the table but neither of us was writing; snacks on the table but neither of us were eating. There were tears in our eyes as we said the words that had been avoided for so long. I told her I hadn’t gotten my period in months and how scared I was that I wouldn’t be able to have kids. But as much as I feared not being able to have kids, I fear having them even more. I fear passing this on to them.
The timing, however, couldn’t have been worse.
I was leaving in two days for a semester of studying abroad. I should have been elated, but instead, I was petrified. I knew getting treated abroad wasn’t realistic, but what if it got worse in the meantime?
[bctt tweet=”I knew that in order to change, I would need to first want to change.” username=”wearethetempest”]
It didn’t get worse while I was away but it didn’t get better either. I started binging regularly. The dormitory-style residence hall I was living at had vending machines on every floor featuring the worst of the “bad” foods. There were nights where I’d go back and forth between my room and the machine, each time convincing myself that it would be my last run, or that it didn’t matter because I needed to gain weight anyway. I’d wake up with chocolate smeared on my chin and find crumpled wrappers under my sheets.
That was over a year ago.
Recovery is a difficult process. I’ve come a long way but I wouldn’t say that I’m better. I don’t restrict my diet or caloric intake the way I used to and I’m working on controlling the binges and purges, but they still happen.
[bctt tweet=”Recovery is a difficult process. I’ve come a long way but I wouldn’t say that I’m better. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
Learning how to eat “normally” is hard. I feel like a kid again, like I’m having all of these delicious treats for the first time. It’s hard to say no, and to make myself stop when I’m full.
I wish I could be like the girl I babysit. For her, food is fuel. She eats what she wants but only until she’s full. It doesn’t command her psyche like it does mine.
I fear I’ll never really be normal.