An uphill struggle, a fight with myself, a battle with and for control. I am burning, yet feed the flames. Never at peace. Even in sleep. Scars on my stomach, could the hatred be marking? My own stigmata. These bones are a blanket. Hide me from the real problems. A soft cover can also be a cage of thorns. Do I look in the mirror and see beauty? Never. Failure stares back at me. Ugly. I will never be enough. Zero is the best number. Nothing. Gone. It is an empty shell. Not enough for most. They want more. Appropriate that is me. In tennis, love. I love.
I sit and help feed Lola, my small niece. She can eat much better by herself than last time I saw her. Little pasta shapes on her spoon, flavored with butter. “I ate a hippo” she giggles at me. I smile at her, baffled, but used to her hilarious statements. “Yum Lols, where did you get that?” She looks at me and then points into her bowl. Animal pasta shapes. She carries on eating, happily, until the bottom of the bowl, when things get tricky. I help her get the last few pieces. She needs no coaxing, she simply opens her mouth happily and hungrily, appreciating the help and lapping up her hippos. Doing all I can to help her grow makes me inexplicably happy. I encourage her to munch away “mmm, delicious” I say, once the bowl is empty. She looks at me, perplexed. Then into the bowl, then back at me. “Still hungry Lols?” I smile. This is unlike her, she has already polished off some eggs, now the bowl of pasta, and she is still looking at me expectantly. Yoghurt next. She munches away, making exaggerated eating sounds as she goes and spreading yoghurt around her mouth. More often than not Lola is not a happy camper at meal times, not wanting to eat very much and taking much coaxing and persuasion. This evening however, she is obviously hungry. 16 years my junior, Lola clearly has more common sense than me. She answers to her body’s needs, sensing when she needs a little more. Maybe she’s going to grow. I am hit by the realization that the meal this tiny 4 year old has just finished off would send me into a spiral of panic. Lola is thin. My sister often jokes that she needs feeding up. Whilst some may not even bat an eye lid at this little girl feeding herself, lifting the cutlery up in to her mouth. Smiling with enjoyment, I marvel at her talent. It seems impossible to me that I was ever so happy with food. That I ever enjoyed a bowl of pasta. I loved pasta. Now I am like a small child, learning to eat again. It is ridiculous. I am ridiculous. I cannot get my head around it. I look back at Lola, she is smiling up at me, both of us sitting at her little table and chair set. I get up and take away her empty bowl. Get her off her seat. “Thank you auntie Maya”, she tots, not realizing the wave of love that her little voice causes to over come me. I bend and give her a huge cuddle, unable to believe that I am going to be on the other side of the World from this little girl once again within 62 hours. I can’t bare it. I see my sister watching us, 20 years my senior, but not looking her age at all. I see smiles and worry combined in her eyes. The guilt this brings on is huge. I hate worrying everyone, and I know she is upset after seeing me this trip. We had spoken about it, of course, but sitting with my niece and helping her eat had really homed in what my illness must mean to others. Whilst at that table with Lola, I was able to keep the monster away. All my strength was mustered, although I was not even faced with the challenge of food. I knew though, Lola would not dine with that daemon present. She is a fiercely intelligent little girl, with an incredible grasp on the emotions of those around her. If I were anxious, she would know it, and it might rub off on her. The amount of love and care and protectiveness I feel towards Lola let me quell the monster, if only while she ate. I did not think about calories, I did not feel my stomach to check it was still flat, I did not let it sit at that table with us. I knew I would do anything to stop Lola ever even see the fanged beast, let alone let it anywhere near her. I would wrestle and gauge and batter it if it came near her. I would know if it was going to. However, those who love me could not have had the knowledge I do of how to recognize it sneaking in. My family, friends, incredible Jacob have to sit and watch as I struggle with what has infested within me, polluting. I could not feel worse about what I am putting them through. What this has done to them. The guilt is crippling. I feel that if I were a good person, I would be better. I would eat. I can’t bare making them so unhappy. They try to speak to me about it. They have been trying for so long. At least I accept it now. I am not still denying it.
I remember the first time I was told I was too thin. ‘Too thin’ was not in my vocabulary. The concept was impossible to me. How could anyone be ‘too thin’? However, although I know it was not meant as a compliment, a little something inside of me smiled. Patted me on the back. “See how good that feels?” It hissed. I looked at my dear Thea’s concerned face. Her eyes looked wet. I felt dreadful. Here she was, taking so much courage and care to try and help me, and I am glowing. “I’m just worried Maya, I’m worried you’re losing perspective, I’m worried, you’re not quite you any more. You don’t look right twin”. Her gentle term of endearment had thrown me, the beast was pushed down for a minute, overruled by the part of me that thrived on being considered as close as a sister to someone. Anorexia detected this moment of weakness and quelled it, although I did not recognize it for what it was at the time. “Too thin? Ha, as if, show her your rotund stomach, grab the mountains of flab that prove gluttony on your hips. You stick out in all the wrong places, it’s a deformity, the way your body is formed, why else would you jut out around your middle, then curve back in before the top of your legs. Violin deformity. That’s what they call it”. When questioned, attack. Anorexia leaves no room for doubt. Once it has dug its claws into its chosen body, it will not give up easily.
I worry that they all think that because I am not better, I do not care about them. The only reason I care about me is in relation to them. I thrive on looking after others. Not only in the ‘feeder’ capacity, traditional of many anorexics, but in many others. That is my role, although anorexia has incapacitated me of this ability in many ways. My mother always says that to look after her, I need to look after me.
I thought I was more ‘normal’ now. I thought people wouldn’t really notice my odd eating habits as much. Compared to where I was before, I thought I was doing great. Then reality hit. I am still a freak. Puppet to it. It ruins things. I ruin things. A trip with my girls ended only a few weeks ago in a fraught, emotional, teary conversation. I am not normal. They are so worried. I was hurt, I was angry, I was surprised. Couldn’t they see how well I was doing now? Couldn’t they remember me before. When I would only eat green beans? “Are you sure you should be going to uni Maya? It’s pretty stressful?” “But I’m fine, look, I’m coping, I love uni, I love having another focus, otherwise I’m alone with it, left behind completely, I cant let it put my life on hold”. “We’re only saying this because we love you and we’re worried”. Déjà vu. I remembered this conversation. I’d had it so many times, Thea, parents, friends, Jacob, teachers. “Don’t you think youd look a bit better if you just put on a bit of weight”. Slap in the face. Although I know this is all coming from a place of love and care, that statement knocks me. I cannot even speak. I just sob, harder. I try to say it, but I cant. I’m too hurt and battered and angry to even say the words. It is not to do with how I look. I know I look like shit. I hate that I cannot sit and eat bread and butter and cheese with you all. It is not bread I know. It is foreign and scary. If it were to do with how I look then it would be easy. I thought they knew that. People always say things like “but you/she was such a pretty girl”. As if that is what makes the disease confusing. As if if I were the bearded woman, with a monobrow, warts and 3 eyes, then it would make sense. I could look like Cheryl Cole, Kate Moss (whoever is considered beautiful these days), or look like a baboons backside. It would make no difference. There are many different theories about why it happens. Environment, biological, need for control, pressure from ourselves, pressure from the media, pressure from those around us. I think it is a combination of them all. Maybe I am kidding myself and it is simply me striving for beauty. However, if this were the case, then all those afflicted with an eating disorder are vain, selfish and judgmental. I do not measure the value of others on how they look. I have friends of all shapes and sizes and I do not care. ‘Normal’ is not anything to me. Those with disabilities, I still love. My love for them if not effected by what some may describe as an abnormality. I do not measure in physical beauty. Some have argued that I have surrounded myself with a particularly ‘beautiful’ group of friends. This is true, however, I did not choose those girls because of how they look. We do not sit around discussing latest beauty techniques and how to better ourselves in the looks department (quite the opposite, our common room at school was filled with conversations frequently of toilets, our bodily functions, and other not so ‘ladylike’ topics). If it were the case that this is what cemented our friendship, then even if they had once considered me ‘pretty’, they would sure as hell not be friends with me now. Anorexia is not pretty. Yet they still rally around me and I am lucky. I cannot argue with the fact that societies weight focus has definitely had an influence, however, the cat walk is not to blame for the curse. If it were not through food, then my feelings towards myself would have manifested themselves in another way, I would have chosen another form of punishment. The worry, frantic conversations, tears come from a place of love, I know that. I know I would be just as frustrated if it were someone else. Everyone has different opinions on how to make it better. Uni/no uni. Inpatient/outpatient. No one knows. There is no clear path. Trial and error. No wonder drugs. Some that can help, just a little. None that can fix it though.
I wish I could sit and eat animal pasta covered in butter with my niece. I wish I didn’t upset everyone. I wish I could be well. All I ever wanted was to be ‘better’.