bright girl, dull future

i used to be the girl who everybody talked about owning the world. the one who would be the boss of all her bullies one day. the girl who could be anything she wanted, with all the opportunities life could afford her. she could be a doctor, a vet, a physiotherapist, a surgeon, an astrophysicist, a chemist, a writer, an actress, a make-up artist, a painter… anything.

the world was my oyster, but the pearl never formed.

i think maybe, that the constant, relentless weight of expectation contributes more to my mental health than people may perhaps realise. it’s the sense of relief from receiving a high distinction, before realising that people will only ever focus on the 3% of mistakes, not the 97% of knowledge. i love learning. i love studying. i kinda even love exams, in a very nerdy way. but i despise the comparative competition.

it hurts.

for the 97% of my life to be ignored, and the 3% ostracised over and over again.

lately, i’ve given up on things. i still study, because who would i be if i wasn’t studying, but i no longer give a fuck about that 3%. it could be 50% for all i care. because i can be fucking anything. the world is my oyster and if it hasn’t formed yet then i will damn well force it to solidify.

i can sense the disappointment in the air. as if the bright girl has discarded her future for writing poetry, and body art, and self harm.

they think my future is dull but i don’t care. i have seen and done things in my short twenty years that most people will never experience in a lifetime (thankfully). i have been ridiculed, i have been restrained, and hospitalised against my will, and attempted suicide ten times, and am having a relapse with my casual love of self harm. and i’m trying to convince everyone that i’m struggling.

but all they see is the dull future. they refuse to see the bright girl down there. they would rather be disappointed than intervene. i have survived, and i am surviving, and i am slowly learning how to live and if that doesn’t make my future seem fucking bright then i don’t know if anything will.


This was supposed to be a city

synonymous with starting over.

Somewhere to reinvent myself

with ink and piercings and an undercut,

with the kinds of things a bright girl

would use to dull her future.

Not only did I remake myself,

I redesigned my body,

ploughing furrows over

the fertile flesh of thighs,

burning crop circles

into flammable forearms

and transforming wrists

into rivers and rivulets

running scarlet.

This was supposed to be a city

of embrace, of exploring

the beautiful brutality of being.

Somewhere to learn

that worth is not earned

with grades and blades

and perfection hunting,

with the kinds of things a bright girl

like me relies on to build her future.

A Surge of Urges

The urges rattle my bones as if there were an earthquake beneath my skin. Clenched fists hang at my sides as if the harder I press my fingernails into my palms, the easier it will be to win this fight. The thought consumes me: to cut or not to cut?

That is the only question. There is no alternative that rises in my mind despite the DBT skills that I’m supposed to apply at times like these. What’s the point? What’s one more scar? Or two? Or a smattering?

As usual, the trigger is food. Not the good food that I’m supposed to nourish my body with, my temple of a body, but the naughty, banned, bad foods that Ana forbids me to eat. Sugar coats my lips and fat sings as it touches my tastebuds.

I’m binging. I’ve binged.

I dissociate, and it’s over.

I sit on the floor, slumped, surrounded by crumbs and packaging. I don’t remember buying the bad foods, I avoid doing so for this exact reason, yet here we are anyway. I have failed.

And failure requires punishment.

I can hear the sharps vibrating nearby; they call to me. The stainless steel sings. I try not to listen, but these tools are like sirens and it is inevitable that I give in.

I do.

Red scatters across my skin, warm, but painless. I see beyond the first layer – that pesky epidermis – and I go further. I see the fat below the skin, and my hand lingers. My weapon lingers. Do I dare go a little deeper? It’s not good enough, she whispers. It’s not deep enough. You haven’t done it properly, you’ve just failed at something else. Do it again. 

I try not to listen but before I know it red has been flicked across the carpet and my sheets, and trickles down my thighs and my fingertips. I groan, and rest my head in my hands.

These pesky urges.

They just won’t leave me alone.

A Small Win – in your face Ana!

Tonight should have been a binge night.

See, everything was going well until I successively broke three of Ana’s most important rules:

  1. Eating after breakfast before I was hungry
  2. Eating a non-lunch food for lunch (in this case, leftover veggie nachos)
  3. Baking, and eating not one, but two muffins, again before I was hungry.

It was looking like a bad day. Motivation was low, my head was full of thoughts, my brain was scattered. The epic list of study I was hoping to smash out left barely touched. After breaking rule 3, I jumped on my bike for an exercise purge. One and a half hours of cycling, finding the steepest hills around of course, and another half hour of weights at the gym. To make sure everything was okay. To make sure I could be hungry again. To make sure Ana was satisfied, and I was allowed to eat my next meal. I had to double check the numbers three times to make sure I was safe again now.

So Ana quietened.

But I still felt down. The day seemed to pass both infinitely slowly and extremely quickly, which probably means I dissociated the day away. Somehow it was late, and I ate dinner, and went back to my desk for another round of attempted study. (My problem isn’t even external distractions – its thoughts, and dissociation, and emotional distress. All of which sucks, because once I get into the groove of it, I actually love studying. I love the process of learning, and I love what I’m learning about.)

I started to feel productive and then my progress was interrupted.

I still broke three rules… and if I’ve broken three today, then why not break some more? Thus began the spiral down the rabbit hole. Where was the closest pizza place? Ice cream place? Supermarket? How did delivery work (I’ve never done it before)? Oh, a $30 minimum? A 60 minute wait? No worries. Which one was the worst for me, which one would generate the most disgust, shame and repulsion? Which one would most likely lead to self-harming, and to releasing all this hurt?

And I don’t even know why my brain decided that this moment was a great moment to suddenly switch its circuitry, but I walked to the nearest shopping centre, and I bought a single ice cream cone. And I licked it slowly, and pushed the ice cream down with my tongue like I did when I was little, so that it went all the way to the bottom. I enjoyed the sensation of goose bumps in and out and realised that winter is the ideal time to consume ice cream because it won’t melt all over the place. Crucial, considering Sydney is hot – or at least it will be, in a few months.

I didn’t buy a tub of ice cream, and eat it all with a spoon. I didn’t waste money on binge food to feel guilty over later. I didn’t punish myself more, or send myself into another self-harm / restrict / binge / purge cycle. I bought one ice cream. I ate it. It was fucking great. I don’t regret it. Take that Ana. It’s a small win, but it’s still a win nonetheless.

Anorexic is not an adjective

This week, I saw something that frustrated me.

It frustrated me to the point of ‘borderline rage’, the kind that hasn’t consumed me for a long time, and the impulsivity that accompanies this. In this case, the impulsive act didn’t cause much corporeal damage – I posted a long, deeply personal post via Facebook. The outcome was that I felt more hurt than I had to begin with, and guilty, and sad, and nostalgic for Ana, and everything that I left behind when I recovered. Anyway.

The topic which frustrated me is a topic which has been in the media so much lately, too much. It is a topic dear to my heart, too dear. It is a topic that is being promoted, and that disgusts me. And yes, despite being weight restored, despite fulfilling the psychiatric definition of “recovered”, the anorexic behaviours, thought patterns, distortions, obsessions and compulsions still consume me.

Anorexic is not an adjective. And it is one used as such too often, by people who don’t understand, “celebrities” like the Kardashians, who have the reach to make real change, but are instead the ones blocking the way. It doesn’t matter who you are: you do not get to joke about an illness you have never experienced, an illness which takes more lives than any other. In fact, the more famous you are, the greater your capacity to create change by not stigmatising the illness any more than it already has been. I’m not one to “keep up” with these particular ladies, but what they said amongst themselves hurt me. It hurt me because they joked over an illness that nearly killed me. It hurt me because they joked over the mental illness with the highest mortality rate of them all.

Anorexic is not an adjective. Anorexic is being hypothermic in summer, and collapsing from exhaustion every night. It’s losing your childhood, your womanhood, your friends, and laughter, and smiles. It’s looking at your reflection and counting bones from your clavicles to your hips but believing you still need to lose weight. It’s yellow skin and a gaunt face and sunken eyes and hair that falls out as you stroke it. It’s wearing children’s clothes because nothing else will fit. It’s being controlled by numbers and calories and food and weight and exercise and a voice in your head that compels you to behave in certain ways, all whilst maintaining a facade of control that you yourself still believe to be true – even as this control spirals away like the soup you’ve been pouring down the drain. It’s hiding beneath baggy clothes, and a web of lies so intricate that a single breath could cause the whole system to come crashing down. It’s eating a single cracker, and punishing yourself for days and days or crying over a carrot that you’re being forced to eat. It’s narrowly avoiding hospital admission by convincing yourself and your doctor that you’re fine, that everything is fine, that nothing is wrong, despite the fainting, the collapsing, the low blood pressure and the anaemias, and the messed up hormone counts and missed periods and reversal of puberty that you brought upon yourself. Being anorexic means having a life cemented in obsessionality and despair and anxiety over the smallest changes to a rigid routine. 

Being anorexic means never being quite enough: not thin enough, good enough, smart enough. Just never enough. Being anorexic means giving up your life, physically, emotionally and mentally; and for some, even literally.

Anorexic is not an adjective. So please, don’t use it like one.

 

Starvation: the all-too familiar sensation

This sensation claws at my chest, crawls inside my belly, and shivers beneath my hands, an internal shaking that I cannot cease. It’s relentless, and stronger than my heartbeat, stronger than every intake of breath. Clinging to counter tops, resting on chairs, nodding the wooziness away, headaches and brain fog and heart murmurs that don’t recede, and an overwhelming exhaustion, fatigue deeper than my flesh – this is the sensation of starvation.

It returns to me, like an old friend that I once cherished, and parted ways with. Alas, this friend returned without invitation, without so much as a warning, and has squeezed her way back into my life. Ana returns, gnawing at my sides like the growling of my belly. She whispers to me, how much better these jeans would look if you were thinner. How much more they would appreciate you, if you were thinner. How much more they would notice you, if only. you. were thinner.

She whispers to me, praises me, for what I have done. This is how it’s supposed to be, she says. It’s supposed to be constant. Can’t you feel the weight slipping? Can’t you feel that I’m winning? 

And every time she whispers these words, that voice only grows, and multiplies. It only takes a small stumble to lose yourself in a crevasse.

But you need to be exercising as well, she adds. It’s not enough to be hungry before eating again, but you need to be beyond hungry, you need to be starving. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve restricted quite so severely, and for this long. It is both familiar and unwanted. These pathways – the starvation pathways, the rituals and routines and obsessions – were fixed for five years. They are not difficult to find myself slipping back into.

And I can’t even bring myself to care.

I miss my eating disorder – my real eating disorder, not this disgusting bulimia that has taken it’s place. I miss bones and my old body and I miss being thin. I miss the call of death, the oh so close call of death. I miss Ana. I miss anorexia.

There are lots of aspects to this monster that I don’t miss, the things that I couldn’t bear to return to, the things that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody. But I’m ignoring them. My judgement is clouded by her, and her only.

Because if I just listened, Ana would make things right.

So this will continue. And my pants will continue to loosen. My bones will continue to re-emerge. Finally, she will return, starvation will return, and everything will be okay again, because everything will finally be right.

The A-B Battle

I am torn between two impossible choices. I’m torn between the presence of bones and the absence. I’m torn between starvation and binge eating. I’m torn between a complete emotional breakdown or numbing out with self harm. I’m torn between plain rice cakes and fruit and vegetables or bread and cake and peanut butter. I’m stuck between two impossibilities, and the further I stretch towards one, the further it leaps out of reach. The further safety leaps away, along with my sanity.

I am torn between anorexia and bulimia.

There are memories in the blank abscess of my brain, not many but a few. Starvation fucks with your mind. I can remember the book that started it all. I can remember the nose dive into excessive exercise, and orthorexic habits, and obsessions, and weight loss. I can remember the fear, taste its coating on my tongue: I was afraid of fat, and carbs, and sugar, and gaining weight, and people, and my parents, and failure. I was terrified of failure. I can remember the sit ups and push ups secretly on my bedroom floor, the inescapable urge to repeat exercises because I hadn’t done them right. I can remember the weight going down, and every drop brought with it only more elation. Every increase, however minor, brought with it self-deprecation, and punishment. I can remember the day I realised I had an eating disorder, and how it shattered me. I remember the day I called her Ana. I remember the text I sent to someone, the first person I ever opened up to about her. Have you met Ana, I asked? Ana who, she replied. Ana-rexia?

I remember doctor after doctor after doctor because my mum just wouldn’t fucking admit to herself that was the failure. That her perfect golden child was seeking perfection, and it was killing her.

I remember the anxiety. And tears, and the suicidal thoughts to come. I remember the utter intensity of pain and anguish that I felt. I remember being threatened with hospitalisation. I remember it was only 500 grams away, but it was 500 kilometres away too.

I remember that nobody noticed. Nobody dared to ask lest they face the wrath of my bitter sarcasm.

Bulimia is not like anorexia.

They are both eating disorders, but that is all. Bulimia is grounded in shame and desperation and hatred, but anorexia is placed on some sort of pedestal, even in our own minds. Even in my head, I value the bones I’ve lost during weight restoration, I envy the people I see and I think to myself, they know Ana too. Bulimia is misunderstood, more so than anorexia. As soon as I confess that I don’t purge by vomiting, because I physically cannot (I wish, believe me), my concerns are pushed away, as if there’s not more than one way to purge, and not more than one way to have an eating disorder.

The two battle against each other. I eat to combat Ana, but I exercise to fight eating. I binge to cope with emotions, but starvation suppresses them too. I’m no longer underweight, but I can’t help thinking that I was better off dead, when I had the chance, when I had the opportunity, and I was oh so close to heart failure, even if nobody knew it at the time. I can’t help thinking that this shift from anorexia to bulimia shouldn’t even be important, but it is. It is. 

There is nothing worse than your own head, nothing worse than memories which plague you. There is nothing worse than swapping one disorder for another, instead of recovering properly, like I was supposed to, like I should have, like I wasn’t good enough for. There is nothing worse than praying for a relapse, because I know, deep down, that this time, a relapse would kill me. 

And that, after all, is the final goal.