It's OK to be OK
Although unheard by the outside world, a conversation took place every morning in front of the mirror between me and the always disappointing reflection, or was it the reflection and the always disappointed me? Regardless, the internal monologue was vicious and yet the words seem so cliché’ as I begin to write them down now. Who says those things to themselves? The sad truth is that they were internalized by a girl … me, the ‘me’ who was so desperate to be more than just OK. They sounded like this…
“Wow! Good morning Miss … Fat! Yes, you! Ugly fits! Disgusting fits better!!! If only you were skinnier. Maybe people would like you more! Maybe you’d actually feel like you fit in with the cool kids, like they weren’t just talking to you out of pity. They couldn’t possibly just like you. And what about him, Yes ‘the HIM’… maybe he would still want you and not her. Maybe?”
“You know what? Forget it… you know you won’t be satisfied until you’re under that ‘NUMBER’, until you can reach your hands around your waist and have your fingers touch. Now that’s SKINNY and right now you’re not even close. Who are you kidding? You know what it will take for people to notice, for you to be good enough, to be liked, to be beautiful, to be desirable! You also know what you’re having for breakfast don’t you … that’s right NOTHING! Why? Because you’re F*A*T!”
No one would allow a friend to speak of herself that way, but with no one to keep my thoughts in check they became a predictable pattern – a daily morning ritual. They became my ‘truth’.
In reality it was nothing close to the truth. It was just some warped image my mind thought it saw in the mirror and my mind was super critical. The skinner I got, the fatter I thought I was.
It’s a funny thing, truth. How do you know what it is? According to whose opinion, whose view? What makes it right? The fact is, the validity of anyone’s truth can always be debated, but in the case of someone suffering from anorexia the truth is unquestionably flawed. It’s a mind disease with physical symptoms. But you try telling that to the girl with the fat reflection. You try explaining that those ideals are unreasonable to the girl who won’t eat breakfast because she’s genuinely ‘not hungry’. Try arguing with the girl who takes nothing but salad and rice crackers for lunch because ‘it’s healthy’. You try convincing the girl who believes the pain in her stomach is ‘sickness’ that it’s actually her body desperately crying out for nourishment. She won’t listen and she won’t believe you because she takes comfort in the suffering, because she knows that at least she’s in control of something.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You may be wondering how something like this even starts? Well for me it was a combination of a few things. Don’t go instantly jumping to conclusions. Sure we’re quick to jump on the media bandwagon blaming it for every single eating disorder any girl, or guy for that matter, has ever had. But I can guarantee you that while the media may have some impact, greater issues usually lie much closer to home and they are much more powerful in their influence.
For me it was three things: an incredibly low self-esteem, a fear of failure (which comes from an innate need to please everyone but yourself) and one quiet, caring and well-intended comment. “Honey, you’re at the age now where you need to start watching your weight and how much you eat. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. It’s called, becoming a woman.” It was just one simple comment spoken by my mom, but it was enough to reinforce my doubts and make me believe that I had to impress others to be happy. Was it all her fault? No. Having talked about it since, she revealed to me that she was worried about saying anything at all. She too had suffered from anorexia and bulimia for years and understood how fragile and delicate a situation can become. It wasn’t that I was fat; it’s just that I could head that way if I wasn’t careful. She debated how to say it or even if to say it at all. She decided to say it anyway.
You can never just blame your problems on one thing alone. There was a lot going on at the time. After doing most of my primary and junior high school years by correspondence, I started at a new school my junior year. Suddenly I went from a relatively small and quiet world to one that was filled with demanding teachers, the challenge of making new friends, and the most intimidating of all, interacting with boys. For someone with self-esteem issues and a fear of failure, suddenly life seemed lot more demanding. I needed some way of feeling like I was in control and the two things I could control were my diet and my study. By turning to my studies I was able to distract myself from food. I became obsessed. I believed that if I got good grades the teachers would be impressed and if I was thin then my friends and the boys (one in particular) would also be impressed. It was a win for everyone (except me, but I didn’t know that then).
Initially it felt good. I was proud of my ability to control my body, to put up with the pain, to manage my portions and what I ate. The numbers on the scales were reducing, my grades were improving, and I was getting noticed for all the ‘right’ reasons. I wasn’t failing. I was finally in control…
There’s a fine line between control and the total lack thereof. The mind is a fragile thing. I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but some time in the next year and a half I went from being in control to almost losing it completely. I went from just being on a diet to being obsessed with my weight and throwing insults at my reflection. I got under ‘that NUMBER’, but then that number didn’t seem good enough.
People close to me noticed there was something wrong. They did what they could and said what they thought was right. But comments like, ‘You’re so skinny, you don’t even need to lose weight’, just told me that what I was doing was the right thing, I was impressing the right people.
In the end it was my dad who turned out to be the wise one in the situation. I don’t remember any lectures, any ‘Honey we’re worried about you.’ or ‘You need to eat.’ comments. I just remember him asking me what I would like for lunch. He knew I wouldn’t make it myself, so everyday for a year and a half, he would make it for me. He obliged my food requests, not because he believed they we’re the best choices for me but because I guess he figured my eating something was better than me not eating at all. I think he knew drawing attention to the problem would only make things worse. He was probably right, and thank goodness he was there.
Anyone who knows me now knows I am no longer anorexic. In fact, most people would have absolutely no idea I ever was. So what changed? Never one to make excuses, I always determined to prove I could do anything and I would push myself as hard as I could mentally and physically. That one moment happened during a P.E. class where I was doing just that – pushing myself! All of a sudden I felt my body snap. I can’t describe it any other way. It just broke. I instantly felt nauseous, not that I had anything to throw up, but the sickness was overwhelming. Everything inside my body began to shake. Those shakes lasted for three days.
I was scared. It was a huge wake up call. Deep down I knew that I had done this to myself. I knew also what had to be done to fix it. I knew I had to begin doing the very thing I had been training myself not to do – eat. It wasn’t easy, but I started to learn to recognize that pain in my stomach for what is really was, hunger. I also began to learn to say the words ‘I’m hungry’, and when I did my dad was there ready to get whatever it was that I needed. If it was barbeque chips I wanted, then that’s what we got, as many as I needed until I ate normally again.
It was a slow journey back to normality and as I write this now I wonder if my account of it is completely accurate or whether my mind is up to its old tricks. Others who watched on would probably tell my story differently. But there is one thing I think we can call agree on: I’m one of the lucky ones. It could have been so much worse. For many others it is. The day my body ‘broke’ was awful, but I’m grateful it happened. It saved me from my mind, it shook me back into reality, and it saved me from anorexia.
To say there have been no long-term consequences would be untrue. I now suffer from a sluggish metabolism, weight issues and hormone imbalances. But I am now dealing with them the right way. There is a saying that has become my motto, “There is no diet that will do what healthy eating does.”
The truth is anorexia was never the problem. It was always a symptom, like so many other behaviors. The real issue lay in my internal cry to be ok, to be good enough, to be acceptable. But it was not to be accepted by others that I needed, it was to accept myself.
It’s taken me a lot longer than a year and a half to figure out that I am more than ok. And while there are days where I still struggle with that whole notion, I am definitely learning that the more true to myself I am the more people love me for me, quirks and all. It’s me they want to get to know not because I’m skinny but because I am creative, caring, and talented. I have a lot to offer. I know there are things I still have to work on, and I want to work on them, because real living is about growing and transforming.
I want to be brave—not the sort of brave that suffers through the pain of an empty stomach to seek approval, but the kind of brave who dares to live a life that doesn’t rely on what others think of me. It takes courage to love the real you, to believe that your beauty is God’s gift and that true happiness is found in accepting that you were created in His image – perfect! It is this courage that I continue to seek because, ‘to be beautiful means to be yourself.”
‘Don’t change so other people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.”