expert-level navel gazer that i am, the fact that my 28th birthday is this week has me in a certain kind of way. mostly because i realized that with this year, i doubled my own life expectation.
sure, like so many other teenage girls, i ate up burnt cds of taking back sunday albums like they were 100 calorie oreo packs. BUT i was depressed and moody in a way that became subconsciously performative to the point that i nearly died of an eating disorder on three separate occasions when i was 14. it’s not that i still feel like i was destined to die, and gave the grim reaper a suuuuper sick atomic wedgie, jogging away from some encroaching ether wrapping a finger around my ankle. i don’t see life in that way. it just felt very close and very in my control to sway either way, and that hasn’t been lost on me in the last 14 years.
i hesitate to mention the specific severity of my eating disorder, because the tricky nature of eating disorders is a competition in control and a romanticism of pain (“am i suffering enough?”, “was she sicker than me?”, and “i’m not THAT sick [and thus not worthy of extra care].” are constant thoughts that are a means to weigh your own pain, constant benchmarks you’re keeping track of). i know there are other wayward sufferers who often have found my writing online, and it’s of no use to anyone to describe the depth of it from the bottom. i have no photos of this time in my life. i obsessively crocheted, didn’t talk to any of my friends, and just wanted nurses to tell me i was good. i was at the point where the hospital chaplain came to sit with me daily, i had a feeding tube, and my mother asked me to pick out my own coffin. it sounds dramatic because it was. i was half-dead and found a nugget of peace in that.
a lot of people have asked me how i recovered, and i have a polite talk-show guest answer i always like to employ: “my mom fucking lied to me!” which is true; she said if i got better we would go on a vacation to london, a fact she told me while i ate air next to her at an ihop. (spoiler: i am a significantly less awful person to bring to an ihop now.)
which is so absurd because my dad was like, INFINITY years behind on child support and we would never be able to afford that, but the idea of traveling and being really close to a crumpet reminded me that wow, hey! i had something to live for! i had been fishing around in the bottomless coin purse of teenage life for really anything to glom onto. i grasped onto that false promise like the dirty little sidewalk penny it was.
so very little of my recovery is poignant, really. most of it quite bizarre and indelible. there were no sweeping moments of string quartets piping through.
it would probably be set to the tune of like, a really, really bummer-y fiona apple song that your parents are like “hey, can you just not” in the car. fun fact: ANOREXICS LOVE FIONA APPLE. 98% of the AIM away messages i put up in 2005 were pulled from “paper bag”.
my first clawing out from under my eating disorder involved plagiarizing a shia lebeouf quote and building my entire new shaky personality on top of it, i swear to god. my personality is absolutely hurricane proof now. if you enjoy me in any capacity, you also enjoy shia lebeouf. that’s just the transitive property. if shia tried to destroy me with the elder wand, he would destroy his last horcrux in the process and then HE WOULD ACTUALLY DIE. we are one.
i was sitting at dinner at my second treatment center, where we always were offered hot tea after meals if we wanted, with honey if we felt adventurous (i’m sorry but only bulimics are capable of being adventurous. i know this is awful, but i just don’t think you’d find an anorexic using honey of her own volition in 2005. no one could fathom a world where asses would be in.)
the teabag also came with a motivational quote on the tea string, from a great mind like thoreau and goethe (none of that yogi tea ‘be yourself’ bullshit). i used these teabags as a sort of daily horoscope of sorts, a wink from somewhere ephemeral that things would be okay. gradually all of us girls collected and tried to memorize each tea quote. my treatment center party trick was that i knew all of them by heart and could do them on command.
i always chose peppermint tea and added a little creamer cup, enough to turn the water slightly murky. i think in someways this combination made me feel like an aspirational, more adult version of myself. i could transcend my lack of personality for a moment with a sip and be like the kind of woman who had a boyfriend who wore jackets with elbow pockets and used the word “derivative” as the highest slight. she’d go on vacation in the azores and has never heard of netflix. she definitely goes by the first initial of her name in polite society. she like, inherits things??? idk man. i’ve never met her but she scares the fuck out of me and i think i just might love her.
i sipped the tea and loved the way the peppermint tea made me feel a bit cleaner, which was how my anorexia made me feel at its peak. i felt less unkempt and unruly. not too much. just goldilocks right.
“i love peppermint tea. it makes me feel like a champion!!” i said one day at the dinner table. the full shia lebeouf quote via seventeen magazine was “i love brushing my teeth. it makes me feel like a champion”. why the hell i felt like hitching my newfound personality wagon to this star, i will never know. but the joy of the quote always clung to the side of my mind.
and it fucking SLAYED. the whole table, including the table counselor, lost their damn MINDS. keep in mind, I NEVER SPOKE. i was 3 weeks into my second treatment center, hated everyone except my therapist, mike (shout out to mike ily) and was the resident agnostic in a christian treatment center where we went to church 6 days a week.
i once told one of the more peppy, religious girls i “didn’t listen to music” when she asked me earnestly what my favorite band was. i only read books about the holocaust. i campaigned HARD with the nurses to get my crocheting hooks out of contraband so i could crochet alone in a corner and continue to not talk. i wore sweatshirts in the summer.
I WAS THE WORST OF ALL POSSIBLE TEENS.
many more have asked me how i got “this” way, i.e. “normal”, seeing me now with burger grease dripping down my hands or counting down the days until the local fried bull testicle festival happens, and it’s perhaps an inch more poignant but not by much. becoming a woman was a traumatic idea to me when i was 14. i didn’t want the responsibility, the attention, or the change. and i was uncomfortable of the idea of becoming any of the examples of women around me. i’d rather be infantilized, to be quiet and cared for. eating disorders are seen as vain, attention-seeking diseases, but they all bow down to the very true cliche of control. i controlled my own ascent to womanhood in this case. i became vaguely childlike. i would come home and watch children’s tv, eat teddy grahams. my friends were all getting felt up in movie theaters during a group outings to see the life aquatic (you fuckin RUINED THE MOVIE FOR ME, lindsay!!!!!) and the thought of that happening to me horrified me.
don’t worry. i’m not about to preach on about how much i love my womanhood and curves now (i honestly didn’t know i had any curves until a roommate pointed it out about a year ago.) i very much see my body in a transactional, functional way. the most life-changing part of treatment wasn’t a newfound reverence to a higher power pulling at my puppet strings, but more so realizing that my body was a machine that needed specific food exchanges and my mind was full of goals and to feed it means that my goals can be cooked in the best goddamned extra virgin olive oil they can. this isn’t often the most helpful thinking for me, but it has mostly saved me and keeps my lights on. my eating disorder persona has morphed from a little hitler to ina garten, less brutal but still just as tidy.
i am pissed when my body is weak or overrun. humbled when it’s able to be pushed. i don’t wish to be a child anymore. i don’t roar, but i’m no longer a doormat. an old roommate told me her boyfriend had ‘never met a woman like me before’, which she recalled to me with a kind of quixotic and scared curiosity that honestly hurt my feelings at first, but now pleases me greatly, that i’ve become my own sort of unknown woman species. i am endlessly healing my body and mind and am earnestly grateful to live in a world where its now trendy to be a healing and self-caring woman, though those two things don’t come without a great effort for me.
the list of things that make life worth living keeps growing the more i can live alongside my eating disorder with a sort of kindness: FUCKIN’ SAND DUNES. when my dog greets me with a shoe. the national parks system of america. whole milk yogurt. rodeos. that maybe my own broken dirty future promises to myself give way to something better, something i can’t quite put my finger on. and really fucking good peppermint tea.