Updated: Jan 19
Tw: Eating disorders
Dear Mrs. Therapist, I write this to you at two o’clock from the carpeted floor of my closet- for this is the only consolation I have. Scribbled words on notebook paper, looped in scrawny cursive writing as my hands tremble and tears stream in delicate waterfalls. Outside, the world is still, lives lived, and breaths taken as if it were yet another day. After all, for others, it is just that- another day.
In the grand scheme of things, the number falls relatively short. A two-digit unimpressive statistic set aside by the name of one Indian immigrant. They told me the move would be hard. Said that school would be hard to adjust to.
New country, new faces, new way of living.
They failed to mention the underlying current of insecurities that would wash over me—shrinking within myself for fear of judgment from every angle. My very own friends nabbing at me for my accent, my unshaven arms, and legs, my flab and body fat that clung to me. Poking my stomach that hangs out when I wear slightly curve-hugging attire—callously asking who I dressed up for when I sported a crop top over a black slip.
What else was I to do?
No, not adapt- change who I am.
In my mind, I manifest a different girl. One who is confident, intellectual, charming, has an American accent. Most importantly, she is skinny, for that is the quest that I have embarked on.
My mother has found me passed out twice now.
What she doesn’t know is that I shiver consistently wherever I go. Every day I wake up parched, my throat dry and chalky like the texture of sandpaper. I cannot drink water, however, for that adds weight, doesn’t it? Any number that adds to the scale needs to be shunned.
Same dance, same tune.
Wake up, get dressed. Run to the scale in my mom’s bathroom to ensure that I haven’t gone over. Shower with scalding hot water so that I fog up the mirrors and don’t have to see myself as I get ready. Taint my lips with pink lip gloss, weave my hair into intricate braids so I can distract from my body. Always letting my hair fall in waves so I can retreat behind my curtain of black. Hope that today I won’t stumble when they ask for my name.
Now I wasn’t always like this. I used to love dressing up. Back in India, my friends marveled at the number of skirts I owned and proudly swished around in. Instead, now I take upon the basic middle school attire- jeans, a top, and a jacket. Branded from top to bottom. Society chided me when I was fat. Now they compliment me for losing weight, deeming me an inspiration. Because here’s the thing, when you are already skinny and lose weight- you are rushed to the hospital. Yet when you’re overweight, to begin with, and lose an unhealthy amount of weight in a short period- well, then there are three words stamped by your name.
A success story.
Within society, we never strike that balance we require. I flounder at Indian parties where the adults question if I’m eating enough. Then I find the very same preaching that girls need to maintain a slim figure, that certain clothes are meant for certain body types. This isn’t something restrictive to solely my culture, it’s a world out there that fails to understand how one incident, one off-handed comment, one sentence can permanently torment a naive, hopeful thirteen-year-old girl.
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if sticking down two fingers in my throat would be any easier. At least I can eat what I want. I can revert to the girl who used to live to eat instead of the one who now eats to live.
If anything, I’ve become better at math. My mind has tuned itself to add up calories on-demand and calculate how many jumping jacks or steps I would need to take to burn off my fat. Countless Youtube workouts, endless minutes spent in the dead of the night pushing myself to the limits until I am undeniably sore the next day.
One Oreo is seventy calories, one serving of around fourteen lays chips is one-hundred fourteen calories, one roti is approximately one hundred and four calories, one fried egg is close to ninety calories, one croissant from Costco is two-hundred fifty calories, one strawberry activa yogurt is ninety calories, one banana is a hundred and ten calories, one Quakers smores bar is ninety calories.
The funny thing is, I find that no one’s noticed. I assumed that everything would change once I dropped the extra weight. Now that I am no longer a size eight, shouldn’t everything just fit into place?
Shouldn’t I be worthy of attracting someone’s attention now that I can wear skinny jeans without having to overcompensate with an oversized tee? Shouldn’t those girls who used to laugh behind my back now smile at me? Shouldn’t I be happy?
Here’s what I’ve found though, happiness is fleeting.
As are the people in your life.
People that I envisioned by my side when I was getting married. Friends that were supposed to last a lifetime, gone just like that with a snap of fingers. Leaving me to best my inner demons on my own, leaving me to drown in my voice, leaving me bleeding with splinters pierced through me. Cliche, overdrawn metaphors aside, this is how I lived for six months. This was the norm for six months. My life was overtaken by this fragmented state my mind was in. A disgruntled lifestyle muted by the perfidious intent of the voice in my head. Every day the standard set of directions rammed into me by this constant voice in my head.
What’s worse is that she has morphed to sound like me. And if I can’t trust myself, then who do I have?
Atone for bad breath with mints. Make sure that you do not wake up any heavier than you did the day before. Carry a jacket around because you don’t want them to see the flab or the goosebumps scattered across your arms. Be the ideal student, the ideal daughter, the ideal friend, the ideal human. Laugh even when it feels forced. Don’t let the lights in your eyes ever drop. Tilt your chin up, smile for the masses. Whatever you do, don’t let them see you falter. Wake up; grin, don’t be conspicuous. Step in with the crowds; no one wants to see you.
Two years later, and I can systematically recall the calorie content for food. So much that it has become a game for my sister to approximate the number of calories of items in stores. I laugh it off; to her, it’s a silly pass-time, a simple nothing. To me, it serves as a reminder of everything that I lost during those one hundred and eighty-two days. An eating disorder is not the simple constituent of losing or gaining weight. It’s a disease, one that ravages countless individuals across the world. An ailment that impairs one from tapping into their true potential. The harm that results from an eating disorder isn’t restricted to the person suffering from it, family, friends, acquaintances- they’re all impacted by it. In other words, it was the shot fired in my life, one that has left me with scars to this date. A big reason for my recovery was because I was exhausted, exhausted of amounting to nothing- nothing but skin and bones.
The world that I live in is pieced fragments that I continue navigating through to this day. On certain days when I eat a little too much, I find myself reverting to planning out the next meals to balance it out. At the same time, I now know that our bodies don’t work that way. Mind, soul, body- they’re all connected. Ironic how an eating disorder can put something so rudimentary into perspective. My experience has made one thing clear: it becomes essential to take a step back to realize where we fall short in today’s data-driven, myopic world.
Life is not black and white pages of scribbled writing. Instead, it’s a vivid bullet journal awaiting its pages to be filled. People come, people go- but you will always be there for yourself. Even in the darkest of times, there is that light that we need to tap into. Rebelling against the voice in your head is never easy, but a shrivel of hope is what helped me resurface to the light.
A friend of mine believes that everything happens for a reason. While I may not entirely agree with that, I will say this. My eating disorder made me realize there were parts of me that I didn’t notice were hidden beneath the surface. So many things that I had taken for granted, from sugar to my love for writing to good friends- aspects of your life that you don’t miss until the joy is sucked out of them.
Maybe everything doesn’t happen for a reason.
But some things do.