I am not privy when it comes to discussing my anorexia, although that hasn’t always been the case. Even the term ‘eating disorder’ used to make me feel vulnerable and insecure, almost as if the bloody battlefield taking place behind the calm seas of my retinas had somehow manifested itself onto the outside of my body in the form of a gaping wound.
Now, I talk about my anorexia almost as if it were a conjoined twin: hardly an ideal prospect, but probably something that will always be a part of me, so I may as well just accept it.
Seven years and counting. Well, seven years and four months, to be precise. That’s how long anorexia has been my most faithful counterpart, my closest confidant, my driving force and more often than not the chief decision maker in everything from the mundane everyday to the life changing. (Do I want to learn to drive? Yes, of course I do. But anorexia says no - it’ll make me lazy and restrict my daily steps, and that simply won’t do. If it doesn’t conform with the meticulous self-discipline of anorexia, then it can’t possibly exist in my world.)
For so long, anorexia had the same voice as my oppressive father, the kids I would never fit in with, and the teachers who didn’t even try to understand. It was a monstrous hybrid of everything and everyone that had ever made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, and it showed no relent in its mission to destroy me from the inside out.
But then anorexia became more than that. Once it had chewed up and spat out all of my deepest fears, memories and insecurities, it gathered momentum. It became a crushing machine of its own, aiming its deadly venom at the only remaining shards of happiness I had left. It infected every aspect of my life until it was the sole contributor in my ability to function, think and breathe.
How does anorexia feel physically? Apart from the obvious consistent bone pain, dizzying heart palpitations in the dead of night and the extreme sensitivity to cold, anorexia metamorphoses itself in a variety of connotations.
It’s the invisible power of a mountain against your back, leaving your shoulders hunched under its weight.
It’s a stoop when you walk as day by day, tiny fragmented slithers of you are prised from your clenched fists.
It’s unnaturally rigid, staccato movements of defiance whenever it is questioned; arms flailing in anger, the stomping of feet, and sharp turns away from the perpetrator who dared to address its morals.
It’s making yourself as small as humanely possible in the hope that it will forget to look for you today. Because you need a day off; God, you need a day off from this torture. It’s folding your spine like a sheet of paper, tucking your head into the arch of your chest, squeezing your eyes so tightly shut that the tears are finally met with a barricade.
Mental illness gets a negative reputation, but my anorexia isn’t all bad, I promise. I’ll explain why...
Anorexia may well be the defining story in my life, but I have to thank it for creating the chapters within its blackened pages.
Anorexia’s intention is to keep me under lock and key; a prisoner within my own mind, my silent screams hidden in my assertive stride, convincing smile and my every declaration of ‘I’m fine.’
I’m not fine. I will never be fine, but actually, I am making peace with that.
What anorexia didn’t anticipate was the strength and bite that it gave me.
On paper, my story might have a dark undertone, but if one were to carefully prise open the pages of my life, the black and white text would evaporate into surprising bursts of colour.
Anorexia told me to run, so I ran. I ran and I ran, every single night, until my legs shrieked in agony and I could no longer put one foot in-front of the other to climb the stairs. But I didn’t stop running. I ran straight past anorexia as it stood at its infinite finish line, and I ran through the open aeroplane door.
I fled anorexia and I fled the disdainful life that it had been born from the ashes of.
That unexpected ‘check mate’ move marked the chapter entitled ‘Travelling Solo Across Europe,’ which flows nicely into the ‘How I Took My Goddam Life Back’ exert of my life’s novel.
I took anorexia by surprise. It was temporarily winded, and I used this to my advantage. For the first time in years, I stood up to it. I raised myself to my full height and looked it in the eye. I yelled out loud, my words dissolving into nonsensical roars.
I HATE YOU!
YOU DON’T OWN ME!
LEAVE ME ALONE!
I’M STRONGER THAN YOU REALISE!
I DESERVE BETTER!
YOU WON’T WIN!
Of course, this doesn’t cue the rolling of the credits and my ‘happily ever after.’
Anorexia fought back; it would have been stupid of me to think that it would back down so easily. But it was deterred. From that day on – that first time I stood up to it while living in Spain, splayed on the cold apartment floor half way through my gruelling 100-sit-ups-a-night ritual – anorexia knew that it had met its match.
It’s been a battle of the tenacity ever since, and neither of us show any signs of surrender. I’ve learnt to manipulate anorexia in the same way that it controls me. Sometimes, I actually think we bring out the best in each other. And sometimes I long to unzip my own skin and bolt from it, welcoming the release of death.
Anorexia will always be my story, but I am the author, and I choose to make this fable beautiful. I’m the pen-yielding warrior fighting until the very last page.
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©