• Freedom

  • Esther

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    This is (part of) my true story of what an eating disorder really is. Lonely, shameful and so complicatedly messy. Not what society typically gets, if you know what I mean. It’s challenging to keep the writing candid and real while making it understandable, appropriate and interesting. And it’s super challenging for me to share so much…

    I’d appreciate sensitive but honest feedback. Especially if anyone finds parts to be unclear or too technical, like at the end.

    OK, I’m posting. I can’t breathe.

    Freedom

    My friends are passing around the donuts and iced coffee, noshing, chilling and having a good time. I’m sitting there watching everyone else eat, eyeing the food nervously, as if it will jump up at me any second. I dare it not to. I don’t allow myself this stuff.

    Someone notices and offers me something.

    “No, don’t give her that, don’t you remember that Esther doesn’t eat sugar?” A friend across from me winks.

    Everyone turns to me. I groan inwardly. I mean, we’ve been through this before and it’s supposedly not such a big deal anymore, but I still get the reactions.

    “Wow, you’re so healthy! I wish I could be like that; I eat tons of junk.”

    “What, you really don’t like this? Just taste it, it’s good.”

    “You have such self-control, how do you do it?”

    My stomach aches from loneliness and from being so, so misunderstood. Definitely not from anything I ate, because I haven’t tasted a morsel of the party food. All I had today was a low-fat yogurt and an apple, bought at the store after agonizing deliberation. And therefore, this scene. This picture, one that is very, very wrong. I feel it. I know it.

    True, I don’t eat any “bad” food, but I also don’t eat enough “good” foods. I have very specific rules, constantly changing rules, about what I can eat or not, and they have nothing to do with health. More to do with calories. In fact, I am so unhealthy that if you would give me a choice of a low calorie, unhealthy food or a high calorie, nourishing food, I would take the “less fattening” one in a second. Yep, all I care about is the number on the scale.

    And there are signs that are hard to ignore. I’m always cold and weak. My skin is tinged yellow because my liver doesn’t have energy to process the huge amounts of carotene from the vegetables I am addicted to. My hormone levels are nonexistent from not enough fat. Almost every night, after surviving a whole day on rice cakes, I end up binging on sweet stuff and purging it all. If making myself throw up is normal, if obsessing about weight, calories, BMI, and ingredients is the way to live life to its fullest, then yeah, I’m doing great.

    So, after years of feeling so good about my “self-control”, I’ve come to realize that I’m actually as far from healthy as day and night, in body and mind. In fact, my friends with their chocolate and their carefree laughter are much closer to the picture of health than I.

    And no – I am not in control. Some horrible monster has got me in his grip. He is in complete control of me, and he makes me do this. I have no choice. I try again and again to take control only to see how it is not really me in control, but my disease.

    ***

    I enter the squishy school bathroom stall and lock the door behind me. I slide to the floor as the tears come. I don’t even know how the teacher reached this topic, but now echoes of words from the classroom discussion swim around my head, taunting me.

    “They’re crazy, those girls that starve themselves. They’re not normal.”

    “Yeah, I knew someone who was super thin, she fainted because she didn’t eat anything for two days.”

    “Anorexia is a mental illness, they need help, nebach.”

    “Poor things.”

    I blindly yank out a handful of tissues and dab at my eyes, before remembering to be careful of my eyeliner. Well, maybe I don’t care. Maybe I even want someone to notice and say something. Because eating disorders are not only anorexia. Suddenly, I wish I was anorexic! If I were thinner, maybe someone would notice. Them maybe I would get help. I make it my goal to lose as much as I can, at any cost. To become officially anorexic.

    I don’t realize that I’m already deep in the clutches of a form of anorexia, a sinister, sneaky disease adept at denial and contortion.

    I indulge in a few more minutes of pity, then pull myself together. I sniffle and reluctantly let myself out, because my inner perfectionist doesn’t let me miss too much class. On the way out, I peer in the mirror, rubbing at the dark smudges until they disappear. Good. Then I straighten out my shoulders, relax my face, and pull my mask back on. Ready to face the world. Because as much as I want someone to see underneath the facade to the part of me hurting so badly, I’m just too scared. I’m scared of myself and what I’m become. Of having to face that person.

    ***

    We’re in the school gym. I find it hard to believe that I will be a certified Phys Ed teacher. I mean, I can’t take care of my own body and someone will trust me to take care of theirs’? I feel like such a fake.

    As we’re getting changed someone notices a scale in the corner. Of course, in a room full of girls, it’s a magnet.

    My friend climbs on and looks down.

    “Hey guys, I lost weight!”

    “Good for you! I think I gained, lemme see,” someone nudges her, nonchalantly.

    They’re all so calm, like this is just another part of their life that they’d like to see some success in. But for me, this is my life. I start sweating, my mouth goes dry. I wait until most of the girls have drifted away, then step up, my heart in my throat. I dare to take a glance. Oh no, I haven’t lost enough! I’m obviously eating too much. Because even as my brain will scream that I don’t want to eat, something will force me to reach for another fruit, another diet candy, something to put in my mouth to sooth me. I try to stick to low fat, but it still adds up.

    Anyway, gotta get on the treadmill. Adrenaline is already pumping through my veins, ready to push me past my limit.

    Just before I step down off the scale, someone looks over my shoulder.

    “Hey, you’re so thin!”, she exclaims. “Lucky you.” Right, lucky me. For some reason I don’t feel very lucky. I feel more like a prisoner.

    ***

    It all started – actually, it didn’t. It was a slow, invisible buildup. With highs and lows in every sense. Every trauma, every trigger, added weight to a pile that was too heavy for me. I tried to shake it off, in any way possible. Each week, month, year, brought new rules, new levels of dysfunction. New aspects of a horrid disease that threatened to bury me alive. I had no way out. I reached the depths of rock bottom only to discover that there is no such thing.

    It was a completely perverted quest for “health” and “freedom”. At the same time, and contradicting that entirely, was my obsession with losing, just getting the number down, down, down. I chased after anything that would make me better, cleaner, thinner, more in control. You name it, I tried it. But I only succeeded in tying myself up in bigger knots.

    I was, however, expert at hiding my inner battles. I put on an award-winning show, and would simultaneously laugh and cry inside as the outside world showered me with admiration and praise. If only they knew. But they didn’t.

    Until eventually, it all came crashing down.

    ***

    I sit across from the professor and his team in the eating disorder unit in the hospital. My brain is having a hard time processing. This cannot be. Everyone is talking, about me, around me, to me, through me. I don’t hear any of it. I can only think of one thing.

    “Why am I here? I’m not even thin!” I burst out, unable to contain it any longer.

    They look at me knowingly.

    “Esther, you’re very sick.”

    But I’m not anorexic, I’m just nuts.

    Turns out there are many factors to an eating disorder. They tell me I’m suffering from anorexia type 2, which is kind of like anorexia and bulimia together. The validation is a relief. Oh, and Orthorexia. My ultimate best friend and jailor. My monster.

    I’m not really in denial, I’m too smart. My illness is smarter though. It tells me I don’t want to get better, that until I reach my unattainable goal, I cannot stop. I want the world to finally see my suffering. I want to make a point, punish them, punish myself maybe. I don’t know what I want. My brain is too starved and perverted.

    But a part of me knows that this way will never work. That the only way out of this is through. So, I promise to try.

    And I do try. I listen to the rules. Though they seem impossible. No more exercise, no fruits and vegetables, no whole grains. None of the things that I use to survive, that make me feel good and in control.

    “They are not healthy for you, they feed your disease.”

    That doesn’t make sense to me! It can’t be that sports are bad. I’ve been active my whole life. And processed food it not good for anyone, it leaves you sluggish and bloated, sticks to your arteries and…I could go on and on about the disadvantages, risks and outright dangers of all those trans fats, simple sugars, preservatives…I know better that those silly dietitians. I argue heatedly, but of course, that is just my illness talking. Because I’m very sick.

    ***

    I need support, so I share with my friends. They’re understanding, if a bit confused.

    “But you eat so well!” They exclaim.

    If you call cutting out essential food groups eating well, yes. If you call filling up on only fruit and vegetables eating well, sure. If being addicted to artificial sweeteners is good, yeah, then of course I eat well.

    “And you’re not even that thin! Like, you’re super thin, but you don’t look…” they try to explain awkwardly.

    Yes, I know. I don’t look anorexic. Well, how is an anorexic supposed to look? A walking skeleton, with thinning hair and cracked nails? I also thought so. Turns out there are many levels to anorexia before reaching a place of no return. One day I’ll be grateful I stopped before I got there.

    ***

    As part of my fitness training, I have to take a nutrition class. The irony. The hospital staff makes sure to drill into me to not listen to a word I’ll hear, these people are all quacks who end up giving everyone eating disorders.

    The naturopath teaching us is very sweet. And in retrospect, pretty smart. But I can’t let myself believe anything she says, I might relapse. I hear my doctors speaking to me, on one hand. And my eating disorder on the other. Who will win this tug of war? Already, I feel myself weakening. I start obsessing about all the harmful, fattening, damaging things going into my body. I’m freaking out. What to do? Do I want to be healthy in body or in mind?! Do I have to choose one?!

    I can’t do this!!!

    ***

    “Esther, it would be great for you to exercise.”

    I stare at my new therapist in shock. She’s the first one to treat me since I left the hospital, where we finally had to admit that they couldn’t help me. They got my body back to normal, but my head is as sick as ever. I’m skeptical anyone can help me with that, but I’m losing hope and I’m willing to hear what she has to offer.

    “It would do wonders for your mood. You know, if someone is not exercising, other treatment has much less of a chance of working.” I know that, but I thought that for me it’s not healthy.

    “Everything can be healthy in the right way.”

    I’m excited. Does that mean I can do the things that I love? Maybe make a career out of sports, like I’d dreamed of and trained for?

    Not have to eat garbage but get to eat foods that I feel good having in me?

    And, dare I imagine, not have to carry around that extra weight that I was reassured I should not lose again, but be thin again and still be healthy?

    ***

    The next shocker is from my sponsor, with my dietitian’s backing. No sugar. No fruit juices. No white flour. No processed grains or starches in any form.

    I’m thrilled. Then I feel guilty. This can’t be OK.

    “But I thought it’s not healthy for me to restrict anything,” I wonder.

    “Right, but these foods are triggers for you, they spike your blood sugar and make it crash. To be free of those cravings, it would help to stay away from these foods.”

    What about all of the other unhealthy things that I’m scared to eat?!

    “Oh, those are fine.”

    Wait, but I don’t want to put that trash inside me! I’ve heard too much of the horrors of all these things. But then if I’m choosing not to eat that, shouldn’t I cut out all those other things again, that I learned can do so much damage? Or, will my mental health pay the price?

    I need to think about this. What is healthy? What does it mean, in general, for me? It is even a goal, or a means to one? Why am I doing what I do?

    I now take a good look at my life. I ask questions, argue, research, think things through. I become more extreme at first. And then I decide to start letting go. Because I may have found my answer.

    Healthy is not going on magical diets, following all the latest fads, cutting out any food that may have been proven to cause cancer in mice.

    Being healthy is doing what works for my body, for my mind. It means figuring out what my goal is, and what serves that goal.

    And I started to learn that for me, to be healthy is to be free. Free to live my life.

    ***

    I understand now that not only was it never about health, but it wasn’t about weight either. It was about trying to be perfect, to control at least one thing when I felt so overwhelmed. It was about running, fruitlessly attempting to escape my demons, my traumas, my fears. Only once I could separate the two, and stop using food to numb myself, was I able to find the courage to go through everything inside. And that is when I started living.

    I wish I could say that I’m free now. I don’t know if I am, I only know that I’m on my way. And I also know, that freedom is not about being in control, it’s about letting go. Because we never were in control. It was an illusion all along.

  • Elisheva Halle

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    Esther, thank you so, so much for sharing this! I think I’ll echo what one Masterpiece member said under the ‘mental health as a plot tool’ forum that the next frontier in Jewish writing is exploring the inner battles going on inside.

    This was so inspiring. I was able to take away so much from your piece. The courage to fight my own inner battles. The awareness that freedom from my struggles is letting go of control, not clinging even tighter. Thank you for being brave enough to share your personal journey, it’s so inspiring.

    My only issue is that I want more…I want to hear more about the overwhelming struggles that gave that monster (the yetzer hara?) a chance to get such a tight grip…I want to understand what events and mindsets led you to that place…’cause maybe that will help me understand what triggers my own inner monster…but even your piece as it is just breathtaking.

  • Fayge Y.

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    The next shocker is from my sponsor, with my dietitian’s backing. No sugar. No fruit juices. No white flour. No processed grains or starches in any form.

    I’m thrilled. Then I feel guilty. This can’t be OK.

    “But I thought it’s not healthy for me to restrict anything,” I wonder.

    “Right, but these foods are triggers for you, they spike your blood sugar and make it crash. To be free of those cravings, it would help to stay away from these foods.”

     

    I’m a little bit confused. So you can eat avoid sugar and processed whites? Which foods are the triggers? Where do fruits and veg. come in?

    It’s courageous for you to share this. I was going to say important, because there are so many people who would benefit from this, whether the person him/herself, friends, or relatives. But important might pressure you, as well as seconding that I hope your story includes the reason behind it. But this is your story, to tell as you see fit.

  • Esther

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks, Elisheva.  I wish I could answer that…still figuring it out…writing helps though!

    Fayge, that is exactly why it’s so complicated.  Eating disorders are not only completely restricting – anorexia, or completely addicted – bulimia/compulsive overeating…there is often this crazy tug of war – an emotional void that can be filled with a range of food related behaviors, very individual.  Like extreme diets on one hand, and using food to numb feelings on the other.  Or, both – overeating diet food…A lot have it on some level I guess, but as long as it doesn’t interfere with life they don’t need to deal.  I had no choice.

    I’ll try to clarify for you – processed carbs can trigger cravings which can cause binges which I need to purge…

    Fruit and veg are “safe foods” that I went to if I was physically or emotionally hungry, basically always.  Instead of real food.

    There is a incredible amount of shame in my story BC I had never heard of such things, like you.  I thought I had to be sick in a certain way to get help, but the help was not the right help BC it wasn’t my disease…Only after someone very brave shared a bit of her similar struggle was I able to open up and start healing.  I guess that is why I feel strongly about reaching others.

    Thanks for letting me know what needs clarifying, it’s really important to me that my readers understand!

  • Sherry

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Everything Elisheva said.

    What an incredible read! I particular like this line, made so much more poignant after the struggle:

    [quote quote=19224]And I also know, that freedom is not about being in control, it’s about letting go.  Because we never were in control.  It was an illusion all along.[/quote][quote quote=19224].  And I also know, that freedom is not about being in control, it’s about letting go.  Because we never were in control.  It was an illusion all along.[/quote]

  • Esther

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    Also, I guess not everyone would know what a sponsor is etc.  So much to explain.  Help, how do I do this in a short story?!  Maybe it’s just destined to be a book…

  • Esther

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    How do I write a book?!

  • Elisheva Halle

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    I think the person who told you to go back to exercising and encouraged you to pursue it in a healthy way was truly amazing…our biggest weakness is often also our biggest strength…She seemed to realize that totally divorcing yourself from sports and conscientious eating was just making things worse…it’s just all about moderation, and she seemed to realize that you have it inside you to do it right, not just totally stop doing it

  • Elisheva Halle

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Yes, please write a book!

  • Sherry

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    [quote quote=19234]I think the person who told you to go back to exercising and encouraged you to pursue it in a healthy way was truly amazing…our biggest weakness is often also our biggest strength…She seemed to realize that totally divorcing yourself from sports and conscientious eating was just making things worse…it’s just all about moderation, and she seemed to realize that you have it inside you to do it right, not just totally stop doing it[/quote]

    Yep. Yep.

  • Esther Kurtz

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    Hi Esther,

    You have a beautiful and unique way of expressing yourself.

    Your writing speaks of vulnerability and courage.

    I have many questions though, this piece bounces around chronologically, skipping crucial moments. I’d love to read a more focused and structured piece. Consider writing a series of focused pieces telling your story for the most compelling and effective read.

  • Leahle

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 5:39 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing Esther! Being that my friend got anorexia when she came homw from seminary, I Always wanted to understand her, yet never had the guts to ask her so bluntly. Now I understand what she is going through… Thank you so much!

     

    I daven that you will reach ultimate freedom very soon!

     

  • Esther

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 5:42 pm

    Sounds interesting.  I actually kept a diary for a bit, I have that as well.

    I’m going to keep writing, we’ll see what it ends up being.  And you can all have a dedication if you help get it published…Deal?

    I have a question though, about writing too bluntly about EDs.  From experience, it can be very eye-opening and validating, but also very triggering to read on this topic.  I would never want to put anyone in danger.

    What do you think?

  • Sury

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    Esther, you are so brave for sharing this with us and I absolutely admire you for it. I really like how you express yourself in writing; so authentic and soul-stirring. This is…wow. Frankly, I’m in awe of you. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

  • Anagrammer

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    Esther, I don’t know what to say. This is touching and powerful, and so real. You have to get your story out there (maybe as a diary serial?). I think you can empower others with your courage and self-honesty. I think you have to ask your question about triggering to those who are in your situation. Ask them how they’d feel reading about it, with all the details, coming from someone on the way to recovery.

    This is such an open, vulnerable sentence: “I understand now that not only was it never about health, but it wasn’t about weight either.”

    This:  “And I also know, that freedom is not about being in control, it’s about letting go.” reminds me of MJ’s poem ‘Letting Go’ (I think that’s what it was called).

  • Fiction Fangirl

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 7:34 pm

    Esther, I see a book here.  I see a book because of the specificities of your struggle.  Of not fitting the boxes.  Of not looking anorexic.

    A life theme many people grapple with is feeling alone in their struggles.  Universality is a powerful need.  Your story can meet that need because of its uniqueness.  Although the story may be about disordered eating, I can see the struggle translate into various battles related to mental health.  I can see a large readership resonating with your story.

    I’ll echo Leiba’s suggestions for organizing the chronological structure of the story.

  • Fayge Y.

    Member
    June 22, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    Esther, I think it wasn’t as ambiguous as I made it to be. I may have misread.

    Re sponsor: I think most people know the concept. You might run into other things like that. Your editor can help you figure out what needs to be spelled out.

  • Esther

    Member
    June 23, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    Shiffy wants to publish it in Wellness, IY”H 🙂

  • Anagrammer

    Member
    June 23, 2020 at 11:23 pm

    Mazel Tov, Esther! So excited for you!

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