1. My childhood.
The day that you wake up and realize you are fat, is the last day of your childhood. There are no more cakes at birthday parties or ice creams for dessert. There are no more bottles of ice cold coca-cola with your brothers on a Saturday afternoon. You are fat and even at 12 your grandmother will tell you that you must stop eating these things and begin to watch your weight. So will your ballet teacher. They will advocate lettuce leaves, skim milk and deprivation. You will believe them because you always have and it will become your new mantra. A life of denial begins at ten years old, before you are old enough to realize what is happening. One day you will wake up and not be able to remember what your life was like without ED.
2. My Dreams
I wanted to be a ballerina. I wanted to get married and move home and have children. I wanted to write a book. I wanted to travel and take photographs. I wanted to help orphans in Africa. I wanted to live an extraordinary life.
For three years at ballet school when I was in training for dream number one, my eating disorder was so out of control that I spent more time focused on food than on dancing. I thought by being thin I would have a better chance at being a ballerina. I starved, binge, purged, experimented with diet pills and swallowed laxatives like they were the elixir of life. I became an exercise addict and pushed my body to breaking point. Fatigue and malnutrition led to multiple injuries, illnesses and time away from dancing. I was so exhausted that I survived class on a combination of pain killers and sheer determination. I passed out in the studio multiple times. I woke up with a bulimia hang over from purging ten times a day, every day. Eventually I broke my foot before I even graduated from ballet school. My weight had ballooned. Four years later I had my first surgery. My bones were weakened from years of anorexia. The doctors didn’t want to say that it was the eating disorder that caused most of the injuries, but they didn’t have too. I already knew. Now at 31, I am wait-listed for three more surgeries on my foot and both knees. I move like I am old, because my body is unforgiving for all the years I abused it. It has harboured grudges against me in the form of chronic pain.
3. My Relationships
How many lies have I told to people that I love? Family, friends, boyfriends…
I always said that it was for their own good. To protect them from the things they did not need to know. In reality, that is my excuse to keep my shame to myself. There is sorrow in not being able to tell your mother that you are suffering, that you are in hospital (again) or that you are broken beyond repair. There is regret in the burden that I placed on my father who did not know how to save me from myself when I was just a child. I look at my brothers and keep a piece of myself locked away. They have already worried too much. I have already hurt them enough. The same goes for the friends who have stood by and watched me lost in the madness of ED. Some of them have loved me enough in spite of what I have put them through.
As for the men I have loved..they knew. All of them. Some knew more than others but it always came between us. Having an eating disorder and being in a relationship is effectively being in a threesome. I dedicate as much (if not more) time to ED. I am devoted to it. It was my first love after all. It has been the first thread that has begun the unraveling of many relationships.
4. My Memories
I do not remember any part of my life without ED as a frame of reference. When I recall an age, it is always overshadowed by how fat I was at the time, if I was anorexic or bulimic or “recovered”, or what number the scale yelled back at me.
Age 10 – anorexia begins, subtly at first. I am confused as to how fat I really was. Photos show me as average looking. My family assure me that I was not fat. I remember otherwise.
Age 13 – anorexic, as skinny for me as I could be, 50 kgs
Age 19 – bulimic, fat, 67 kgs
Age 23 – recovered but living on diet pills, fat-ish, 60 kgs
Age 26 – bulimic, the fattest I have ever been, 75 kgs (diagnosed with hypothroidism)
Age 29 – anorexic, thin-ish, 55kgs
Age 31 – bulimic, fat (again), no weight recorded for the devastation that it will cause.
It does not matter where I was living or what I was doing…in the phases listed above, I lived in Africa, Europe, North America; went to ballet school, performed, traveled; was married and divorced and none of it matters because only ED mattered to me. It is my first point of reference in my recollections.
I do not think of holidays and remember times with friends or loved ones frolicking on the beach or in the pool. Instead, I have memories of sitting in my jeans and t-shirt instead of in a bikini. I remember all the meals I did not eat or purged afterwards. I remember birthdays, weddings, parties where I was in a bathroom vomiting instead of dancing. In photos I can see my chipmunk cheeks – a sure sign of bulimia. I can tell the dark shadows beneath my eyes and pronounced collar bones of anorexia. I can see myself hiding my hideous body behind other bodies as we laugh and capture a moment. My memories are marred by ED.
5. My Identity
I don’t know who I am. I have come to think of myself as a bulimic or anorexic or a compulsive exerciser. Along with my memories that are defined by ED, so is my identity and therefore my self-worth. In times when I have “recovered”, I have panicked without ED. Who am I when I am not on a quest for skin and bone and perfection? Who am I without this illness? I have been sick for 21 years now. I have known ED longer than I was ever “normal” or “well”. I cannot remember life without this thing even though I know that once I was 3 or 5 or 8 and had not met ED. It came before I ever knew myself or who I was or who I wanted to be. It was part of me before I was fully formed. I don’t know how to be without it.
6. My finances
How much money can you spend on food, on binges, on diet pills or laxatives, on weight loss powders, gym memberships, appetite suppressants, having your drains unblocked, hospital visits, therapists, nutritionists, counselors, psychologists, recovery books, smaller clothes, bigger clothes, antibiotics, support groups and coffee?
7. My Health
I have hypothyroidism. I have a genetic pre-disposition, but the endocrinologist assures me that it was triggered by my ED. I gave myself a disease that makes me fat.
Mutiple breaks and fractures from weak bones.
8. My Time
Life is short. Too short. Hours, days, months and sadly, years of my life have been lost to ED. Obsessing, exercising, eating, not eating, counting calories, weighing, measuring, crying, lying on the bathroom floor, vomiting again and again and again. Time: the most precious gift of all has been squandered for the sake of ED. All the places I did not go, the people I did not see and the things I did not do because I had to give my time to ED instead.
Please share with me the things you lost to ED that mattered most to you.