There’s a lot of mystique and misunderstanding surrounding eating disorders. Everyone thinks having one is easy: You stop eating; you lose weight. But as anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder can tell you, having one takes a lot of work and most of your energy.
In the summer of 2009, I was deep in the throes of my disorder, which was a combination of anorexia nervosa and laxative abuse. I was new to New York, recovering from a bad breakup, and unemployed. I spent most of my days crying alone in my tiny apartment and missing Los Angeles. During my free time, I visited the local pharmacy, stocked up on laxatives, and tried not to see the judgment in the store clerks’ eyes.
My laxative abuse increased along with my loneliness. It got to be that I couldn’t eat anything of substance without popping at least two of those little blue pills. The noises I emitted when visiting the restroom made a T-Rex’s roar sound like the whimpers of a baby. It got to be that I was afraid to go to the bathroom in a public restroom, only I couldn’t hold going nearly as long as I used to be able to.
Then I met Nick.
Nick was everything I wanted in a boyfriend. He was smart, funny, and a writer who had excellent taste in music. He also had a studio apartment with walls as thin as paper.
This meant every time he heard me use his facilities, he heard everything. And I mean everything. And running the faucet while I did my business didn’t help.
Now, there are lots of men who find all sort of weird things attractive. Someone had to invent the Cleveland Steamer. But Nick wasn’t one of those guys (thank God).
At first, I lied to myself and said he couldn’t hear me. But even if that was the case, there had to be something incredibly unromantic about a date who constantly fled to shit.
Nick stayed quiet for as long as he could. But one morning as I made my way out of the bed he grabbed my wrist.
“Are you OK?”
My smiled stiffened. We both knew what he was talking about. “I’m fine,” I lied. Nick held my arm a moment longer than necessary before letting go.
That day we decided to lunch on some famous New York pizza. I checked my purse to reassure myself that my bag of laxatives was still there. Rain was drizzling; but I suggested we walk anyway. I thought it’d make me feel less guilty about eating cheese and carbs. It didn’t.
My usual response to stressful food situations was not to eat at all. But this was a date. A date I wished to continue. I couldn’t not eat. Nick would know I was crazy then. Usually I waited until the boy fell in love with me to show him my True Crazy.
So I ate the pizza. And I was reminded of how good it tasted. I loved pizza! Why had I given it up?
I thoroughly enjoyed myself for a good half hour. We ate pizza, laughed, and discussed our dreams and desires. We were falling in love.
Then the guilt set in.
I was going to gain weight. I was going to become fat and unlovable. Nick would no longer want to date me. I’d die alone and miserable—and fat.
I knew of one way to help combat the anxiety. I’d take double the laxatives. I’d take the whole bunch. Then Nick suggested we watch romantic movies at his place and maybe go out for late-night ice cream and drinks.
No amount of laxatives would change the amount of calories we’d consume. And even if I took them all, he would hear everything.
I didn’t take the pills. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I practiced breathing, and forced myself to keep smiling. Ultimately the panic subsided. I laughed. Nick kissed my neck. I started to have fun and forget myself.
The next day, we had omelets and toast at Nick’s favorite diner. I almost made it home before I started to cry. I hated my gluttony. I hated myself. Nick and I had plans to have dinner at a fancy restaurant later that week, but I canceled claiming I had to work. Instead, I went to the gym. I just couldn’t handle another night out eating like a regular person.
As I stared at myself in the mirror, I realized I had to pull myself together. Eating was normal. It was part of dating. Hell, it was part of living. I could only cancel so many times before the boy wouldn’t call again.
I made an appointment with a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. I threw out my pills. That night, I called my mother and told her just how terribly I really was doing. She was concerned, and wanted to fly out, but eventually settled on paying for my therapy. I can never repay her kindness. Going to therapy not only saved my life, it would save my relationship.
Eventually I would confess my many issues regarding food to Nick and all my friends thanks to the encouragement of my amazing and kind therapist Dr. DeSole. She helped me work through my dependency on laxatives and my ability to cope with depression and anxiety.
Of course, let’s be realistic: not every day was easy. If I was stressed with my internship, or had a fight with one of the friends I’d eventually make in New York, I’d look in the mirror and see myself as the next Jabba the Hutt and go for a run and take a whole pile of laxatives. But those days became fewer and fewer, and eventually practically nonexistent.
Eating disorders consume you. This is, of course, ironic considering most of them are about lack of consumption. Nonetheless, eating disorders mutate you into a different, more unpleasant version of yourself. They force you to ostracize yourself from those who care about you the most.
The fabulous comedienne Amy Poehler writes in her memoir that there’s a “demon voice” that lives inside of us. “This very patient and determined demon shows up in your bedroom one day and refuses to leave. You are six or 12 or 15 and you look in the mirror and you hear a voice so awful and mean that it takes your breath away. It tells you that you are fat and ugly and you don’t deserve love. And the scary part is the demon is your own voice. But it doesn’t sound like you.”
When I read those words, I started to cry. (I’m realizing now that this essay makes it sound like I cry a lot. I don’t.) Amy Poehler gets it. And I realized that while not every girl or guy has an eating disorder, we all battle that demon. When the demon shields itself with the armor of a mental disorder, he just makes it that much harder to build up the protection of friends and loved ones.
Anyone reading this whose demon shares my demon’s skills, reach out -- to friends, family, support groups, or online communities. Don’t be alone. Your loved ones are your best reinforcement against that evil voice. That’s why having an eating disorder while being in a relationship is so damn hard. In the end, you have to choose who wins: love or the demon. Please let it be love. The demon may win some battles, but in the end love should win the war.