Why don't we talk about mental illness the way we talk about physical illness?
Seventeen-year-old me wasn’t standing in front of her full-length mirror, wearing only her bra and panties (I hate that word, don’t you? Panties. Panties. Gross.), examining every nook and cranny of her perfectly average body thinking, You know what sounds fun? Puking my guts out for the next 10 years so I have something fun and edgy to write about when I move out to LA. Yeah! That sounds like a great time!
No, I just wanted to get thin.
I wanted to get thin since I knew thin was a thing girls were supposed to want to be.
I remember the moment exactly. I was 7, taking a bath with my former step-sister (a story for another day), when she poked my stomach and said, “You’ve got four sets of boobies! That’s because you’re fat!” I looked down. She was right. I had four pinkish rolls of fat cascading down my belly, while she, flat as a goddamn board, had none. My eyes teared up. I covered my mid-section with my arms and hung my head low. And she sat there, naked and thin and proud. I felt shame for the first time in my life. Shame about of my body. That’s because you’re fat.*
(I wasn’t fat. Chubby, sure. Plump, totally. But not fat. I don’t know what that experience is like. And there’s nothing wrong with being fat. But there’s everything wrong with the way society treats people who are fat, and stigmatizes the word “fat.” That I, at age 7, had already learned to associate “fat” with “bad” is a massive failure on the part of our culture. It’s fucked up, and I’m sorry.)
It had never dawned on me to think of my body as anything other than the vessel that allowed me to play kickball with the neighbors, or run through the sprinkler in my bikini, or throw wild temper tantrums when I didn’t get my way. But life would teach me that a woman’s body was for judging, for shrinking, for viewing, and for hating. That’s because you’re fat.
Thus began my 20-year hunt for Thinness.
Throughout adolescence, the shame around my body grew, and with it that desire for Thinness — a Thinness that would take my shame away. Despite easy friendships and a nerdy love of learning, shame was always lurking nearby. She would lash out when I answered a question wrong in class, or was made fun of by a boy I liked, or was told I was “too pushy,” “too loud,” “too driven,” “too much.” No one said that to other girls. That’s because you’re fat.
I spent more time in front of the mirror, I sucked in my gut, I wore baggy shirts when I swam (always a killer look). I even quit dance, which I loved, because I just couldn’t handle standing next to Jennifer. Perfect Jennifer. Beautiful Jennifer. Thin Jennifer. Her dainty little hip bones jutted out of her leotard, while my disgusting, bulbous gut made it impossible for me to even see what position my stupid feet were in. She’d stand there, smiling kindly at the barre, and invite me over for a pizza and a slumber party. Pizza, Jennifer, really? Pizza? Because you think I’m fat, Jennifer? Well, fudge you, Jennifer! You can take your stupid pizza and shove it up your slumberpartied ass!
At 17, I learned how to count calories. And the thing about science is that it works. I got Thin. And I’m not going to bullshit you — it felt great. The mystical Thin I’d spent 10 years searching for was mine. I had done it. And I wasn’t giving it up. Not for anything. I wasn’t giving up that power, that control, that feeling of superiority. It didn’t matter that I was cold all the time, or that my hair was falling out, or that my heart rate was low and hard to detect, or that the compliments at school had been replaced by stares and whispers and sad, concerned looks. And the doctor who dared to call me "anorexic" could go fart in a dumpster for all I cared because I felt great I felt great I felt great I felt great I felt...
Therapy didn’t work. But I did start eating again. Bingeing. A lot. And it caught up with me. When I went off to college, I started gaining weight. And that was unacceptable, so I’d starve myself again. But before I knew it, I’d find myself back under my dorm staircase, shoving an entire pizza down my throat at 3 a.m. again. Not because I was drunk, like my peers, but because I was starving.
That’s because you’re fat.
Purging followed soon after. That cycle — starve, binge, purge, repeat — stayed with me for the next ten years. It survived my first attempt at treatment, at a rehab center in Minnesota. It survived three boyfriends, losing my virginity, and graduate school. And it tried to survive Los Angeles, but art got in the way.
See, I moved out here to be an actor. And in 2013, I got a bit of acting work. Exciting, right?! Wrong. I was so consumed in my cycle, in my precious bulimia, that I couldn’t enjoy it. I don’t even remember the name of the character I played. And if I couldn’t enjoy the very thing I was supposed to love the most, if I couldn’t create, then what was the point? Thin couldn’t possibly be more important than creation.
So I got help. I went to treatment at a Partial Hospitalization Program that was eight hours a day, six days a week, for almost four months. And I got better. Because I was finally ready to let Thin go.
All that suffering being said, there was so much about my time with an eating disorder that was darkly hilarious. And I met some of the most intelligent, fascinating people in treatment. Their stories — our stories — are severely underrepresented in mainstream media. So often, eating disorders get a one-episode feature in a family drama: Little sister won’t eat. Family worries. Family talks. Little sister cries. Little sister eats again. Eating disorder cured! That’s bullshit. There is so much diversity and nuance within the eating disorder community, and those stories need to be heard.
So I, along with my co-writer Yuri Baranovsky and his kick-ass team at HLG Studios, created BINGE a dark comedy about my time with bulimia. We hope it can be a source of laughter, irony, community, and catharsis for those suffering from eating disorders, and a source of knowledge and insight for those who don’t.
Finally: If you’re struggling, I want you to know, I thought recovery was impossible, that I was too far gone, that I’d never break out of the cycle. But today, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast and I honestly don’t care. Your pain is valid. You are valid. Seek help. It can work.
I love you, and keep fighting.