The Conversations That Remind Me the Ghosts of My Eating Disorder Haven't Died
After the hospital stays and after the doctors’ visits for regular weigh ins and EKGs. After you stop taking birth control purely for weight gaining purposes and after walking the dog is considered a healthy activity again. After your friends stop hedgingly asking, “How are you feeling?” and after people no longer side-eye you to make sure you finish your meal. After you wake up and aren’t disappointed you didn’t die in your sleep.
You are considered to have survived. You are considered to have lived through the living nightmare that is an eating disorder. You are rehabilitated. You can return to normalcy.
So, for days, for weeks, for months, for years, like everyone else, you ride the bus. That mundane activity, a part of everyday life. Some days, you let your head bob to your music, simply enjoying the scenery. It’s bliss to let your thoughts slip and wave from place to place without ever fully landing. Some days, you are buried in work, your nose pressed into emails. You hastily read memos and organize last minute meetings.
Some days, a familiar duo boards the bus and sits immediately in front of you. They have a conversation so inane and so circular it cuts through your music or your memos. It draws your attention so completely it’s impossible to pull away, to refocus. You try to breathe, using all those techniques they taught you. They don’t work. The words of their conversation drill deeper. They take hold, clawing into every part of you.
“Are your thighs touching?”
“Yeah, but we’re sitting down. Of course, they’re touching.”
“It feels gross. Move them apart.”
“What’s the point? My thighs touch, that’s just a fact.”
“Yeah, but still, don’t you wish they didn’t.”
“No. Well, maybe a little.”
“Look, that lady is basically the same size as us, do her thighs touch?”
“Yeah, I think so, but she seems happy.”
“Yeah, she does, but should she be?”
“Yeah why not, other people seem happy with their size, why can’t I be?”
“Because you can’t.”
“Well you can try, but wouldn’t you just be lying to yourself? You know you’d be so much more if you lost like five pounds.”
“Well isn’t that just society telling me I should look a certain way?”
“But what’s wrong with wanting to be the best version of yourself?”
“There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“So why is wanting to be slimmer wrong?”
“It isn’t, but we have other stuff to do.”
“Yeah, but let’s do this first.”
You bury your face in your hands wanting to scream that none of this matters. That there are so many other things to worry about. That for the love of all things holy, will you please shut up. You are an onlooker to your own infuriatingly cyclical thoughts. Knowing the how wrong this conversation is doesn’t help silence it. If anything, it fuels it.
“So have we decided if we are going out for dinner tonight? You need to respond to them.”
“I do, but I don’t know.”
“We should look up the menu, see what we can eat.”
“What if they ask me why I’m not drinking?”
“Could we manage one drink?”
“Yeah, but isn’t that just a waste of calories?”
“Yeah, but I love beer. It’s a craft beer place.”
“Yeah well that’s your fault for not planning for it. If you had thought ahead then maybe, we could have enjoyed it. Yeesh, you’re useless.”
“What if we make lunch smaller?”
“Oh, that could work.”
From listening to them, you come to realize ghosts don’t die. They just sleep. Ready to wake at the slightest provocation. You realize this haunting duo is ceaseless, merciless. They can poke holes in anything. Any glimmer of self-satisfaction and they will smother it so completely you will feel foolish for even dreaming it possible. They exist only to remind you that despite all you have proven to yourself, you have made no progress. At the end of it all, nothing about you will ever be good enough.
The conversation is dizzying and exhausting. It drains you of your ability to focus on anything else. It eats away at everything you enjoy. It makes you feel shallow. No matter what you have accomplished and have done since, all of that substance falls away, is irrelevant.
The bus crawls to your stop. Some days, you get off the bus, and after some sincere positive affirmations, you can move on with your day. You placate the ghosts, cajoling them to sleep, promising you won’t eat too much, that you will work out extra hard.
Some days, you get off the bus, the conversation ringing so loudly in your ears you want to rip your skin off, shed it completely and fling it from you. To run so far and so fast you become a different person, with different problems. That you never have to return to hating yourself so acutely.
Some days, you get off the bus, middle finger in the air, defiantly yelling you are more than this. That this duo is no longer truly in control of you. That you are better than this, that you are more than what your illness left you with. That no matter what they say, you are working on being happy with you who are now. While medical metrics have deemed you rehabilitated, you come to judge your true progress by how you get off the bus.
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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.