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When I Used to Believe I Could Seek Refuge in Starvation

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Dear Fiona,

It won’t be a doctor that calls you out on your eating disorder, but a close friend who can no longer watch you disappear. No longer stay silent about your food rituals, your denial. Your shrinking thighs and bony collarbones that never seem small or sharp enough.

You will be sitting in a cabin by the sea, listen to him run through a diagnosis list taken from the Internet. You will see yourself in that list. You will meet most of the criteria for having anorexia. You deny having a problem anyway.

To put your friend’s mind at ease you will call your doctor back home to make an appointment. Your hands will shake uncontrollably as you dial the number. You will hang up and instantly regret having made the call.

You will feel exposed. Vulnerable. Accept that you are.

A week later, coated with fear-fuelled sweat, shaking with shame under the unrelenting glare of too-bright fluorescent lights, you will answer the doctor’s questions.

You admit to wanting to be 95 pounds. You don’t admit that what you’re really thinking is, “That’s a start.

You will feel cold. Always cold. A kind of cold that no amount of clothing can lessen.

Your hair will start to fall out. This will scare you. But not enough to start eating again.

You will feel like a fraud. A failure. You are neither of those.

You will give blood and urine samples to ensure that your body isn’t failing. It isn’t. Not yet.

You will feel bullied by calls from well-meaning workers at the eating disorders clinic. You won’t go.

Instead you’ll continue to seek refuge in your starvation.

You will feel utterly alone. There are people who want to help you, but you need to let them in.

Six months later you’ll succumb to your last panic attack and agree to go on medication.

You’ll feel better. You’ll gain some weight. Friends say, “You look healthier.”

You will go off the meds. You’ll lose weight. Your clothes will feel loose again. You’ll feel better. By not being better at all.

Two years later you’re still struggling. You’ll find a list of safe foods that you can eat without causing panic. When you eat off this list your body will rebel with stomach cramps and fear. You learn to not eat off your safe list.

You don’t feel small enough. You realize you may never feel small enough.

You’ll get stuck in a place of not-so-sick and not-yet-better. Where you still think about every calorie, every ounce of fat you consume. You won’t be able to look at a block of butter without equating that with a pound of fat on your thighs.

You realize to do the work you want to do in the world, to make a difference, to incite change, to inspire, you need to take up space in this body. Exist in this body. Nurture this body. Nourish this body. That will feel like a huge sacrifice. You’ll wonder if it’s worth it.

It is.

You will start to share your story through writing and poetry. People tell you, “You’re such an inspiration.” You don’t believe them.

You need to believe them.

Fiona's hand placed on a rock. Her silver ring says "believe."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Originally published: March 10, 2016
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