Join me in welcoming my first guest in the ‘Fight With Us | #DCfC’ series for mental health awareness, Lizzi Lewis. This courageous piece gives us a rare glimpse into the debilitating mental illness commonly known as anorexia nervosa.
The Things She Says
“You’ve put on a lot of weight,” she says, looking with distaste at my body in the mirror.
“Never mind. You can get rid of it again. Disgusting stuff.”
I look at my figure, pudgier than 6 weeks ago, when I was taken ill, and had to spend a long time not doing anything much, convalescing, battling post-operative depression…eating. I look at the way I’ve filled out, further than I’m happy with, and pinch the fat on my stomach between my fingers, measuring how much is there.
“There never used to be that much,” she says.
I know, I think. But I used to panic so much about weight and food and exercise, and surely this is okay…I mean, I’m still not fat, right?
“Why don’t you worry about it anymore?” she says. “Back when you were really worried about it, you had the willpower to resist the food and do the exercise. You kept at it. You were doing really well. Now…” her eyes scan up my frame, lingering on wobbly thighs and a definite pear shape “…it’s like you’ve lost that drive to stay thin.”
I stare at her until she’s forced to meet my gaze, and tell her that may well be true, but I’m far happier now; less stressed; less frantic; more relaxed around food.
“Ah yes,” she says “you were told that by a friend, weren’t you – ‘It’s great to see you more relaxed around food’ – it’s just permissive crap to make you think you can stuff your face full of sugar and carbs and fats, with barely a thought to how vile it is. Have you SEEN how much it’s affected you? You’re so plump you can barely fit in your clothes anymore.”
But I do fit in them, I remind her.
She smooths her long fingers down her own, nearly flat stomach, and I can see the muscles working in her arms. I can see her power and strength, where my own is obscured by the layer of blubber I’ve allowed to accumulate through over-indulgence and inactivity.
“It wouldn’t take much,” she says, coming closer, whispering into my ear as she strokes her fingertips down my arm “a few weeks and you could be much closer to how you used to be…after all, you were almost beautiful then, right? Just the right amount of hard and soft. You were powerful. You were succeeding. You could get back to that…”
She wraps her arms around me and I can feel the soft jut of her hipbones and see the bumps of her ribcage as she smiles over my shoulder, beguiling. I twist my mouth into as much of a smile as I can manage and tell her my boobs are better than hers because they’re fuller and rounder and nicer than her little saggy excuses for tits.
Her eyes turn to ice and she narrows them at me, pushing me away and poking a finger into the bulge of my belly, hissing in anger.
“You’re weak,” she says. “You’ve brought this on yourself and you should hate it. You used to think this was vile. Do you remember how you used to think everyone would hate you for how fat you were? You’re heading back that way – to the fat girl – to the girl who swallowed the fucking world and asked for more. She’s reclaiming you, and people will judge you for it. HOW CAN YOU NOT CARE?”
It makes me sad to hear her anger and frustration because she’s right – somehow I’ve forgotten how to care. I’ve not forgotten how good it felt to be thinner, but I can’t work up the energy for the starving and the self-hatred. It’s happened – the treatment has made me complacent about being fat.
My head drops as she pinches the underside of my arm.
“You’re turning into a pudding,” she says. “A big, wobbly pudding, and soon you won’t fit in your clothes. You really almost don’t fit in most of them, and you BULGE. Good grief, the bulge! Who wants to see that?!”
I can’t answer her because no-one wants to see that.
“Please, for me?” she says, snuggling up to me again, laying a feather-light kiss on my cheek.
“Would you just try a bit harder and lose a bit of that vile, disgusting fat? It would be totally worth it – you looked almost good before, when you were thinner. And everyone loved you. They all said you looked good. Who would say that now?” she says.
I look at her, with her sculpted cheekbones and her collarbones showing delicately above her chest. Tiny tits apart, she looks good – far, far better than I do. She looks almost beautiful and I smile as she sticks out her lower lip in a mock-pout, knowing by my appraising gaze that I’ve taken on board what she said.
I can try, I guess, I tell her quietly. I’ve just learned about a new way to cut carbs in the evening.
“Just make it into a rule you can follow, and then really try hard to stick to it,” she says, as faint warning bells sound in my brain.
I run my fingers down her lithe, muscled body, and reminisce about the nightmare and the wonder of those times when we were really close; how I had so much more willpower, and looked so much better…and my clothes fucking fit.
I remember how good I looked, and how much I hated myself…how she controlled me.
I remember I couldn’t go out for dinner with friends, or eat in front of anyone without feeling intense shame, as she whispered into my ear that they would SEE what a fat, greedy pig I was.
I remember being so convinced by her, that people would see a hideous ugly blob when they looked at me, and hate me…how I saw a hideous ugly blob when I looked at me…how sometimes I felt so ugly I wanted to pour acid on my face so that I would know I was a hideous ugly blob, and then work on developing a personality which people could like in spite of the scars and the horror.
I remember how I yearned to be free of her insistence, how I longed to talk or think about something which wasn’t food or exercise or fat.
I remember how people complimented me for losing weight, how they said I looked the best ever, how they were envious of my shape. Oh, their envy felt so, so good. So much better than food tasted.
I remember how hunger and cold felt like winning. I remember how dropping dress sizes was wonderful, and carrying the hangers in the store, with the sizes showing, felt less like shame.
I look into her eyes – her complicated, vicious, beautiful eyes, and hold her gaze again, giving nothing away.
She grins, smoothing her hands around my waist, up my spine before tangling her fingers into my hair, pulling me close.
“We’ve got this,” she says. “You’ve got to take Niece swimming soon, and you’ve got an interview coming up. You don’t want to look hideous for those, do you? You and I together, we can get you looking as good as you did before.”
I turn to my pudgy reflection as she and I become one again – my eating disorder and me – and I spend some time giving myself a good, hard stare in the mirror, thinking about the things she says, and what I’m going to do about it.
I Must. Try. Harder.
The struggle ends on a cliffhanger because that’s where I am – cliffhangered. What will I try harder at? Which extreme sucks least? Why can’t I just be content to be healthy and do my best? Why can’t I be healthy and do my best?
What’s wrong with me?
It’s her, isn’t it…
Lizzi is a Deep Thinker, Truth-Teller, and seeker of Good Things, committed to living life in Silver Linings. She’s also silly, irreverent and tries to write as beautifully as possible. She sends glitterbombs and gathers people around her – building community wherever possible. She’s absolutely certain that #LoveWins.
Each piece in this series will be linked on my page Depression: Catalyst for Change and the hashtag #DCfC will be used when sharing on any/all social media. We will also use the hashtags #MHA #breakthesilence and #hope. Please help us advocate for better understanding of mental illness and those affected. Share the pieces in this series on every platform you have at your disposal. Splash them across the internet. Spread the word. Join your voice with ours as we combat the stigmas surrounding these issues – together, we can make change happen.