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Why I Relate to ‘Defying Gravity’ From Wicked as a Person With Anorexia

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

I am a huge musical theater fan and, because of that, I have of course seen “Wicked” on Broadway. The first time I saw it, I was 11 or 12, so while I absolutely loved the music and show, I don’t think I completely understood it all at such a young age. This past September, for my roommate’s birthday, a group of us went up to New York to see it again. Eight years later, it was truly a completely different experience. I remember sobbing when intermission hit, after Defying Gravity, and crawling over people in the row to give my roommate, who was also crying, a hug. As both of us have struggled with depression, anxiety and our own mental illnesses, that song struck an incredibly powerful chord for us.

I was listening to it again today, and (again) started to cry. To me, the lyrics reflect a conversation between someone and their mental illness. As I have been struggling, grappling and coming to terms with my eating disorder, this song was perfect. It is a beautiful depiction of a person deciding on and choosing recovery.

“I hope you’re happy now. I hope you’re happy how you’ve hurt your cause forever, I hope you think you’re clever!” — Glinda

At the beginning of the song, Glinda — who in this context I see as my eating disorder or as my depression — is yelling at Elpheba, who I view as myself. I am trying to choose to let myself eat and choose joy, and my mental illness is yelling at me that I’ll never be smart enough or clever enough to do that.

“I hope you’re happy too! I hope you’re proud, how you would grovel in submission to feed your own ambition.” — Elpheba

This when I get mad at the disorder — yelling it is disgusting that anorexia nervosa would let me do the things I do to myself just so it can win.

“Elphie… listen to me. Just say you’re sorry. You can still be with the wizard, what you’ve worked and waited for… you can have all you’ve ever wanted…” — Glinda

This is anorexia calming down, trying to entice me. Telling me I can still choose to not get better; I can still reach this unattainably skinny image of myself; I can still have “all I ever wanted.”

“I know. But I don’t want it. No. I can’t want it anymore.” — Elpheba

This, to me, is one of the most powerful lines in the entire song. She says she doesn’t want it, but stops herself and says no — I can’t want it. I want to lose weight; I want to look in a mirror and be satisfied; I want to see how long I can go without eating. I’m not going to lie about that — I want that. But, I can’t want that anymore. I know where that road leads. And it’s applicable to any addiction, really. You can want to physically harm yourself, you can want to take another line, have another drink — but you can’t want it anymore. This is the turning point.

“Something has changed within me, something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game. Too late for second-guessing, too late to go back to sleep, it’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap!” — Elpheba

This is me thinking this through and getting excited about recovery. I’m saying “no” to the disorder. I’m saying I’m done with society’s standards and rules. I’m done waiting and saying I’ll do this some other time — I just have to take the leap.

“It’s time to try defying gravity. I think I’ll try defying gravity. And you can’t pull me down.” — Elpheba

It’s time for me to try to fight this. I think I’m going to try to fight this. And my struggles can’t win this time.

“Can’t I make you understand? You’re having delusions of grandeur…” — Glinda

This is the mental illness coming back, laughing at me, trying to pull me back into their reality, telling me there is no way I would ever be able to beat them — it’s delusional that I would even think I could.

“I’m through accepting limits because someone said they’re so. Some things I cannot change, but until I try, I’ll never know. Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love I guess I’ve lost. Well, if that’s love, it comes at much too high a cost.” — Elpheba

This is where the song starts to pick up, as Elpheba cuts off Glinda and is full-on embracing recovery. There are some things I can’t change, but I’m going to try to change what I can and I’m done with living by what other people have judged to be “beautiful.” The last line in the verse is so powerful as it fights back so forcefully by saying, if passing out upon standing, if being out of breath after a flight of stairs, if avoiding every single social interaction that involves food, if not being able to see straight… if every single thing this eating disorder has made me do is what it takes for me to like myself, that is way too high a cost.

The next part of the song has Elpheba trying to convince Glinda to come with her, telling her how, if they work together, they can be so powerful. Glinda ultimately decides not to as they both go their separate ways.

The song ends with Elpheba belting out:

“And if I’m flying solo, at least I’m flying free — to those who ground me, take a message back from me: tell them how I’m defying gravity! I’m flying high and defying gravity! And soon I’ll match them in renown. And nobody, in all of Oz, no wizard that there is or was is ever gonna bring me down.”

This is the last hurrah, as I am reclaiming my life and victory. And, if I have to do this alone (which I don’t, and you don’t, and none of us do), at least I don’t have to do it with the weight of anorexia on my back. I know depression and anorexia and anxiety and self-harm and suicide all are going to try to bring me down, but I’m gonna keep on fighting. I’m defying mental illness.

Photo via “Wicked” Facebook Page

Originally published: April 27, 2019
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