It's weird. When I think back at my life in my last year of high school, when I was battling against my own body, I can't seem to exactly remember what I went through. I think that after I started to recover, and got it out of my system by telling people that I used to have an eating disorder to convince myself that it was over, as if to cleanse myself from it, I forced myself to suppress the memories. I hear about other people's eating disorder stories and I'm surprised by what they put themselves through, before realizing that I actually did the exact same thing when I was going through a similar situation. Even now I cannot believe this was my life at one point.
I remember the times before it all began when I couldn't comprehend women looking at their emaciated body and not realize how bony and bad they looked. How can they see a fat person staring back at them, when they were obviously undernourished? I just couldn't understand. Until it happened to me.
The summer before my last year of high school, my friends and I had indulged ourselves in all the good food that surrounded us in those hot months. I'm talking barbeques, candy, ice cream, the occasional snack. Knowing that it wasn't of paramount importance to me at the time, I didn't pay much attention to eating healthy. As a result, I had put on some weight. At the end of summer, however, I realized that I weighed more than I ever had, which shouldn't have bothered me as much as it did, because, in retrospect, I didn't look bad. I weighed 60kg, and measured 175cm. But coming from a Russian background, where tall, slim women are often considered to be the only acceptable representation of beauty, my desire to fit into that category became stronger than ever.
Ultimately, it wasn't a form of depression or something that had happened to me that pushed me to do what I did to myself, but rather a feeling of self-loathing, dissatisfaction with the body I was given, and the ability to focus solely on my "flaws". It started off as being something that was just constantly on my mind. Like a little voice in my head whispering, "Look how fat you look" and, "Can't you see how hideous your legs are? Where's your thigh gap?" every time I saw myself in a mirror. At one point it became so intense that I couldn't look at my reflection without crying.
It wasn't until about October that I started to actually do something about it. It was baby steps at first: I had stopped eating as much as usual at lunch at school. I'd stick to just a small croissant or some other insignificant pastry. The last thing I wanted was for people to notice the reduced amount of food I was consuming. Despite my efforts, they did. Naturally, I denied that there was a problem. After winter, I started to skip lunch altogether.
It was harder to hide the fact that I just couldn't eat in front of my family. I'd use excuses like, "I'm not that hungry", "I had a snack before", "I'll finish it later." It worked most of the time, although they didn't always buy it. I don't think my parents really wanted to notice that something was wrong – people are always in denial that something like this could happen to them.
I had started to weigh myself over 5 times a day. I set myself goals ("Try to get to 54 kilos, then stop."), but every time I reached one of them, I'd convince myself that I was strong enough to lose more. The scale had become both my best friend and my worst enemy.
Ironically, I considered myself to be strong when I was pushing myself deeper into actual illness. I could spend hours filling out quizzes on the Internet to find out if I was underweight or anorexic, always hoping that I was. I began to be aware of the calories I was ingesting that came with the food I allowed myself to eat. I starved myself and felt satisfaction when I stepped onto the scale and noticed that I had lost another kilo. I hated it when people caught me eating – it made me feel like I was cheating myself.
Not eating gave me an artificial high, a feeling of being able to have power over something in my life, as the rest had seemed to have spun out of my control by then – problems that seem so meaningless today. Having control over what I ate, or rather thinking that I was controlling it, made me feel like at least something could be fixed. But paradoxically, it wasn't me who was controlling food. Instead, food was controlling me and everything around me.
There was always a part of me that screamed to me warnings of danger, telling me that I was doing something wrong and that I should seek help before I started to look like the anorexic girls we were always warned about. And then there was my damaged side, poisoning me with denials of the existence of a problem and convincing me that I was fat and horrible. It was on the days when I accidentally slipped and ate more than I usually allowed myself to that I hated myself the most. Even though my sane side was telling me to do something about it, I never felt ready to do anything, because getting help meant gaining back the weight I had lost, and the thought terrified me beyond anything.
My friends had begun to show concern. They pointed out how thin I looked and how worried they were, which secretly made me happy, because it meant that I was succeeding at noticeably losing weight. It was disgusting. I knew they were right, but I could not stop. I could not accept and love my body the way it was. All I could see what the fat that I could still lose. But I hated that they were so worried about me. I wished that I could make them believe that I was fine, that it was nothing to worry about, but the lies I told them only temporarily eased their conscience, if at all.
Around June, I had an epiphany, which came in the form of cold, brutal honesty. One afternoon, just before finals, I went to a friend's house to hang out. Her mother, upon seeing me, didn't give two shits about sparing my feelings. She told me not how thin, but how bad and unhealthy I looked, and listed all the health hazards that could result from my condition. It was like a slap in the face. For some odd reason, the realization was instantaneous. This woman, who I wasn't close to at all, had made a much bigger impact on me than my closest friends and family ever had. The next day, my friend arrived to my house unannounced, with a shopping bag full of high-carb foods, making me promise that I would eat it. I was still digesting all the truths that were thrown at my face by her mom the day before. It was at that moment that I decided to get a grip and fix myself before moving to a different country for university. I decided that I wanted a clean start, without an eating disorder dragging behind me.
I was surprised at how quickly compared to others I managed to get better after this decision. It wasn't easy, but at least I was getting healthier physically, forcing myself to eat a bit more every time, convincing myself that I was doing the right thing and that I was doing my body a favor. I snapped out of this haze that my illness had created, which had made me unable to see how I was slowly destroying myself. And it wasn't because my eating disorder was "superficial". It was because somehow, things in my head became clearer and clearer each day after that. However, my mental state never fully got back to normal, and there are chances that it never will. After my initial attempt at getting better – it was all new and sort of felt like I was being reborn, which made me regain the weight I had lost at a relatively quick speed – I started to sink back into that feeling of despair and "relapsed" several times throughout the year that followed. I still do from time to time, but not in the extreme way I used to, and it never lasts too long.
All in all, I went from weighing 60kg to almost 50kg in half a year. I did not look that unusual to people didn't know me from before or to those who did not pay much attention. I mean, how rare is it to come across tall, naturally slim women nowadays? Which is why, after I started to recover, I decided I did not want to label myself as "anorexic", because… was I really?
My story is not nearly as extreme as some others that I've heard of. I never sought medical attention, nor did I look ill on the outside, only thinner than average. To be honest, knowing that it doesn't sound as bad as other stories out there made me reluctant to share this at all. But it is important to voice every kind of eating disorder, however far it went and no matter how extreme it may seem, to make people aware that with eating disorders, just because you don't look like a skeleton, it doesn't exclude the fact that you could be mentally ill.
In the end it's both funny and scary, how a couple of gained kilos turned into such a rollercoaster of emotions, fears, hatred towards my own body and most of all myself. By now I've come to terms with the fact that I don't believe that it's possible for a person recovering from an eating disorder to fully recover mentally. To the lucky ones who have managed, I applaud you. However, judging by my experience, a small part of you will always be there to remind you that you'll never be good enough. The only way to keep it from destroying you all over again is to try your hardest to silence the thought.
This short chapter of my life seems so hazy to me now. As I said, I forced myself to suppress the memories in an attempt to eradicate this version of myself. I don't think I should though – I'm still the same person, and pretending that what happened did not, increases the chances of it happening again. So I must constantly move forward by learning from my past.