yesterday on my instagram i got a message from a seventeen year old girl. she was struggling with her self image and came looking for help. first of all, anyone looking to me for help seems totally crazy, because i’ve been struggling with my self image for basically my entire life. but i thought back to when i was seventeen, and how badly i wish i had someone to tell me that everything would be okay.
when i was in fifth grade, i sat on the reading carpet with my classmates during the spring and another girl commented on my legs, crossed underneath me. they were so hairy, she said, i looked like a gorilla. this is the first time i can recall being told there was something wrong with the way i looked. as i entered middle school, i was still too tall, too flat chested, hair too curly and way too bold. a boy told me he wanted to french kiss me, and not wanting to seem inexperienced, i just opened my mouth as wide as it could go. i went to school early and stayed late, making friends with janitors and librarians who unlocked doors. i never felt comfortable in my skin, and it felt stretched across my bones in a way that felt extremely tenuous.
high school was a much larger animal. my graduating class was at the time the biggest the school had ever held, five or six hundred kids all smushed into overstuffed classrooms. here i was ridiculed for being queer, my hair, my neighborhood… everything about me felt like it was on trial, and it seemed inescapable. i think high school is where my eating disorder really took off and took hold, controlling my days in a way that was militant. i knew when which meals would be served in the cafeteria, knew what was in every vending machine, knew which doors were unlocked to leave campus. i would run to the gas station to buy a family sized bag of tortilla chips and a liter of diet pepsi to scarf during that 40 minute lunch period.
this is behavior that is incredibly hard to unlearn. now, at 26, i still find myself binging pasta whenever i make it. there is no time clock, no judge waiting in the wings to scold me for my meals, and yet…. i can still fall into old patterns. i burn my mouth on pizza fresh from the oven because i’m afraid it will disappear before i get the chance to eat it. i trick myself into skipping a meal by sleeping in late, or eating a big lunch and having a “night snack” instead of dinner. i have to actively fight against my own brain to give my body what it needs. three square meals, or two and two snacks, or a protein bar in my purse for when i stayed in target too long and get the spins.
and what’s funny is…. i weigh a lot more now then i did in high school. i look at photos of myself from back then and can’t for the life of me find the flaws i used to obsess over. that girl needed someone to tell her there was more to life than the way she looked, and i’m here to deliver it, a few years too late. i missed out on a lot of my own life by hating myself, and though i try not to regret it, i can’t help but feel a little nostalgic for an adolescence without so much darkness.
for anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder, i wish i could give you an easy answer on how i started healing. my truth is sad and shitty, and it’s because my little brother died. after he passed away, i survived through pure will. i didn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and was barely going through the motions. i left my abusive boyfriend and moved back in to help my mom after a few years away. she spent most of her days in the darkness of her bedroom, silent or sobbing. one of the only ways i could get her out of bed was to cook for me. if i told her i needed her, she would provide. and so… i ate. i drank. i sat at the kitchen table and we cried together as we made food brendan loved. i told myself that she had already lost a child and i wouldn’t let her lose another one, so i took a second helping.
over the past two years (almost three) since brendan died, i’ve become a new person. i’m not afraid of anyone thinking i’m too big or small or loud or weird. i am all of those things and i love myself for it. i have found safety and solace in the community of followers i’ve built, in my family, and in jacob. people who somehow still love me no matter what bullshit i’m pulling this week. sure, i have bad days just like everyone else. my arms don’t fit into some of my favorite sweaters and that bums me out but guess what? i can buy more sweaters.
this turned into more of a diary entry then an advice post, but i wanted to give a little background. we all know i’m a chronic oversharer, but i’ve never really gotten into the details of my adolescence because, well, they’re sad! but i’m here to tell you (and young me, who i know is in a parallel universe reading this) that there is an end, and you can come out of it just fine. i promise!!!!