There is something beautiful about simply existing. For a long time, I let myself forgo that; thinking of existence as something I had to earn. Or maybe it was not the fact of earning, but of proving my existence was more impactful than those around me.
In my mind, it seemed inexplicable how happiness was distributed. Why were people around me who did not live “perfect lives” given more than I was? Comparison, the thief of joy, also was the thief of my oxygen. It took my breath away, everyone did. No one had something I felt I didn’t lack.
Life was not always like this though. I don’t remember plotting against my fifth-grade best friend for her blue eyes. But the thing is I don’t remember much at all before my eating disorder. There are photos and stories but looking at these is like looking down on someone else’s life: a pre-apocalyptic display. Existing was not what I was doing anymore. I was just surviving.
Survival was as destitute as it sounds. When my morning alarm went off, I already knew what was to come. I knew for days. Think of Naked and Afraid; spontaneity is not an advantage. So, I planned, I planned and planned until each moment was a micro note on my calendar.
There was no time to feel because I always had something that needed to be done. My closet, forever organized; my meals, planned out into the weekend; my time, spread thinner than my reflection. I would look around me at friends and family with disgusted eyes; appalled at their ability to watch the world pass them by. Sleeping in until 10am? What a waste. By 10 I had done 25 percent of my checklist. My worth was measured in each check mark.
The truth is that the real world is a tentative place to live, and I didn’t like tentative. I wanted certainty and consistency. So, I built my own world.
The horrors of anorexia are endless, there is nothing quite like being cold on a summer day. But it’s important to acknowledge that this illness happens as an act of protection. In this new world I created, I did feel safe. Let’s say life is a house – my house was decorated with soundproof wallpaper and pretty scented flowers; completely isolated from outside pain. No matter the messages that showed up at my door, my walls were impossible to shrivel. Free Britney? Didn’t hear it. Climate change? I’m sure it’s real! Grandpa’s sick? Uhm, sorry.
I was safe from emotion beyond the physical realm. Not all emotion, I did cry over burnt salmon, threw tantrums over late meals, and had desolate hate over my body and mind. But this “emotion” felt like something I could fix. Next time I wouldn’t burn the salmon, next time I would cook faster, next time I would love myself. My sick grandpa, what could I do to fix him? Nothing.
Being in control is a feeling that I had often longed for, and anorexia gave me that. This sense of control was false, of course, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought I owned my body, that I could bend and poke at it when I pleased without repercussions, and I liked that. Kind of like a superpower that only I possessed.
Instead of a vessel to experience life, my body became my life.
I wanted to elaborate on some of my pre-recovery experience because eating disorders are often condemned to “just eat” or stigmatized as superficial. I can see why but, after coming out the other end, I can confidently say this illness was the most internal battle I have ever faced. An eating disorder is all-consuming, taking the form of mind, body, soul, and spirit. Not a facet of life goes untouched. Simple pleasures become rampant hell. And I think that is why I wanted to write to The Diary Healer and share my story. Because I got simple pleasures back.
A little over a year has passed since I committed to recovery. And, just like full reconstruction on a house, there seemed to be numerous delays and obstacles. No wonder people complain about contractors. It really took gruelling labour to start. My parents had to drive a forklift into the side, doctors had to leak roaches into the vents, but ultimately, I had to decide to leave because for a while I was completely okay with living in the mess. It felt safer than stepping onto the grass my feet had forgotten how to touch.
What my newfound existence looks like
But I made a jump. I joined an intensive online coaching program for eating disorder recovery. I think I joined more as a last hope, sort of, “If this can’t fix me, I am unfixable.” I almost wanted to prove that nothing could fix me. Not even the most inventive, progressive recovery coach around. But this coach got me. And I could not be more grateful. I am not going to get into the nitty gritty details of recovery. Because those details do not define who I am and why I am writing. I will, however, get into the nitty gritty details of my newfound existence and what it looks like.
Waking up fresh, listening to 2015 hits as I brush my teeth, unapologetically screaming the words into my mirror. Making eggs in the same pan my mom made bacon while watching my dogs jump around the kitchen. Walking on legs that are strong enough to stand. Seeing how damn funny my friends are. Meeting new people and noticing more than what they order for dinner. Existing involves learning and loving and being.
I had thought my sole purpose was to live a perfect life, to live a routine life. I wanted to be a dietitian who attended fitness classes and made overnight oats. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but this was not the path I was made to follow.
My interests shot up like whack-a-mole
As I started to regain weight and brain space, my interests shot up like whack-a-mole. With an hour of free time, I went outside and wrote, with a big bag of buttery popcorn instead of endlessly attempting to make zoodles taste good. They just don’t.
I learned what I really want, which is to travel, write, and love. I want to love beyond bodies and bounds. I want to eat pasta in Italy and skydive in the Alps. I want to try those weird water boots that shoot you up in the air. I want to spin a globe and pack my bags.
Most of all, I want to look back and have my memories be the air, the smell, the laughs, not the fact my wheat bread was out. There is honestly so much I want, and some of it might be unattainable but this is who I am. This is why I am here. I was a person made to dream so big my head hurts. Mom says I have always been this way, my dreams just got derailed for a moment.
Letting go of ‘what if’ and ‘why’
Sometimes I do let myself drift into the ‘what ifs’. What if my high school experience was like this? Did I miss out on boyfriends and adventures and late-night pizza? Well, yes, I did miss a lot. But I grew in a way I never could have without anorexia. This illness was supposed to make me small, but really it taught me how much space I deserve to take up.
I look at the world in a new way now or maybe the way I did before my eating disorder developed. I look with eyes that see little things. I see the old couple strolling around the park and the mail man who always pets my enormous golden retriever. I see the way Dad looks at Mom when she has one of her laughing fits. My life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I still have days where I want to send a flaming baton through my mirror, but those days outweigh living anymore.
No matter what higher power you believe in or even if you don’t believe in one at all, the truth is our existence is inexplicable. I could go on and on. Why me? Why here? Why now? But asking “Why?” almost killed me and letting go has enabled me to truly live.
I know now that I am beautiful, that life is beautiful. That burnt salmon is not so bad. I am damn grateful for the grass and the freedom and the love I have the chance to experience. I am grateful I can exist, and you know what? That is enough for now.