I was once asked in an interview what my biggest disappointment was. It threw me for a loop. The type of loop where I opened my mouth but nothing came out. It was a loaded question — a good question.
After taking about 30 seconds to think, I finally said that my biggest disappointment was not studying abroad in school when I had the chance. I hadn’t been brave enough. And because of that, I had missed out on an amazing opportunity.
Days later, I thought about it again. Was it a big disappointment? Sure. But was it my biggest disappointment? The one that sits in the back of my mind and motivates every decision I’ve made ever since?
The biggest disappointment was a single moment, on a single day, when I let someone cut me down after I had built up the strength and courage to be honest. And I simply let them do it.
We were sitting at one of the only romantic restaurants in my college town. I had wanted so badly to bring him there. To have a genuine romantic date on one of the two weekends he would be visiting all semester.
The renovated attic space was filled with tables draped in white tablecloths, basked in the soft light from the candles between couples. The windows reflected the downtown street, sparkling below. Next to us, a couple leaned toward each other, a fondue pot taking up the little space between them. Tapas. It was charming. It was intimate. It was supposed to be romantic.
But it didn’t feel that way. Instead of being excited, I was stressed. I was panicked, I was sad, and I was caught up in another cycle of an eating disorder that I wouldn’t name for at least another six months.I don’t know why I decided that moment was the time to tell him. I guess it seemed fitting as I anxiously scanned my menu, realizing that nothing on it seemed “healthy.”
“Fried pickles!” he exclaimed. I cringed.
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
Somewhere between him wanting the pickles and me trying to enthusiastically agree to everything fried, doused in cheese, and loaded with potatoes, I recklessly decided this would be the time to tell him.
But in reality, I wasn’t reckless. I pushed forward slowly, trying to get us to the point where I could say what had been burning on my conscience for so long — what I had only shared in the confines of a counseling office. I wanted to be honest; to share my fear of what was happening to me. I wanted to explain why the thought of fried pickles was making my hands shake. I wanted to know I could trust my love of three years with my heavy burden.
“I’m really having trouble with food. And it got really bad for a while.”
He leaned back in his chair, a bemused look on his face as he waved off my worry. “You’re fine.”
“No. It’s a problem. I even made myself sick.”
I looked down at the pristine tablecloth, then up at him. I don’t know what I expected to see… perhaps a look that indicated all of the love was gone. But he just stared blankly at me. The silence grew, so I pushed forward. “I told my counselor. I know it’s bad. And I haven’t done it since. But you know, I’m not disappointed in myself because — ”
“You should be disappointed in yourself.”
I’ve always heard that you can’t count on anyone but yourself. Or maybe it was that no one will save you but yourself. Or perhaps some other form of advice that emphasizes a lonely life because in the end, all you’ve got is yourself.
I don’t blame him for what he said. My disappointment isn’t in his reaction. It isn’t even in his refusal to let me call the disorder what it was — a disorder — because that’s not his responsibility. It was mine. And maybe that’s what it means to only count on yourself.
But I think, what it really means, is that when you put yourself on the line… when you jump… the only person there to catch you is yourself.
And I didn’t do that.I had spent weeks — months — gathering the courage to tell him the truth… a horrifying truth at that. And when I finally became brave enough, when I finally said it aloud, he wasn’t there to catch me. But I wasn’t, either.
My biggest disappointment is not standing up in that moment and saying, “you’re wrong.” My biggest disappointment is watching myself fall all the way back down after it took me so long to climb that high.
I didn’t finish my confession. I fumbled for words before excusing myself to the bathroom so my tears wouldn’t show. And when I came back, we moved on to some banal topic of conversation as if nothing had happened at all.
I wish I had been brave enough then to say what I know is true now.An eating disorder is a unique state of hell inside your mind. It’s paralyzing and sometimes, it’s inescapable. And the moment you free yourself — even if it’s only for a moment to tell the truth — is a tremendous feat.
I’m not disappointed. I’m not ashamed. I’m not embarrassed. I’m proud of who I am and how far I’ve come. It wasn’t a choice — but I will choose to fight the good fight every single day.And I will never, ever, be disappointed in myself for that.
Reprinted with permission from Human Parts.