Fed Up with Eating Disorder Silence
Pent up in my room, I contemplated the screen. Words failed me, and I felt consumed by an incessant writer’s block. Deprived and malnourished, my stomach ached, and my head was abuzz with a low, cyclical thrum of throbbing that thwarted every word. I always enjoyed writing – I had been doing it since I was a toddler. There was something inherently graceful about the loops and swirls of the letters, the to-and-fro of the graphite against the page or the clacking of the keyboard. I always engaged in a sort of waltz with the paper as I gently cooed to words which appealed to my whims.
Words have always felt natural to me. My parents often joke that I would recite Shakespearean soliloquies at age five. There is something in the practice of tickling the computerized ivories and pressing one’s hand against a broad piece of paper dappled in sunlight as a honey-like light pours in through the window. Words would cascade over me as though a syrup drizzling over a steaming stack of pancakes. They were delectable words at that, and I recall fondly those moments when I would unite with a new word and munch on it for hours upon hours.
I grew so engrossed in my writing that I failed to understand the effects that I would begin to incur. Emaciated, I rid all eating from my memory and, in declining any delicacy, felt consumed by the thoughts which propelled me to write. There was always something easier about writing, something that I couldn’t quite grasp with verbal communication. Perhaps it was my ability to pause and meticulously manicure words, whereas spoken words were judged harshly as they were conjured up. Writing, perhaps like recovery, takes time, something for which I am duly grateful but also terribly chagrined. No matter the circumstance, writing was a safe haven for me to take time to pour out my words in a slow, graceful cataract of thought.
Once the years of adolescence had begun to eclipse my child-like thoughts, words no longer were a diversion insomuch as they were a compulsion, something to satiate some void inside of me where food had once resided. No longer were the words a thing of extemporaneous thought, but rather of a meticulous, manicured ritualistic ideation which centralized on perfectionism.
Some people say that eating disorders are a slow process, one which oozes slowly into one’s life as though a viscous liquid, some sap which devours the victim as it sinks its teeth into her mind. Similarly, in history, any given movement is not said to have started in a day, but instead to have gone through a graduated evolution into existence. Conversely, I remember the day that I felt the eating disorder descend upon me and ravage me.
Reverie often comes to me pertaining to the occasion. As per usual, I had perused cupboards for a smidgeon of tea and ultimately deferred in hope that I would conserve my physique and not be so reckless about adding water weight. The computer, pings and all, beckoned for me, bellowing out my name from across the house. Keen on playing to its caprices, I ran up the stairs and zipped to the screen.
For a moment – and just a moment – I peered at myself against the pitch black screen. Bones and edges, hard edges, defined the skeletal contours of my face. The writing was of scarce import. I was a changed person, having lost what was perhaps a svelte form and having transformed it into something exorbitantly sinister. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy , a mode of therapy which centralizes on accepting what you cannot control (experiences, maladaptive thoughts) and committing to your values in response (knowledge, friendship, and so on), there are five distinct echelons of recovery:
- “I don’t have a problem”
- “I have a problem and I like it”
- “I have a problem, and it’s a problem”
- “I have a problem and need help”, and
- “I have a problem and am willing to do whatever it takes.”
Unequivocally, I belonged to none other than, “I have a problem, and I like it”. My transcendental dip into being underweight was tantalizing, and I developed an obsessive desire for more bones, for more of my innards to show conspicuously.
But I remained silent. As I descended into my high school years, words were no longer at my disposal as they had previously been. After many ventures to foreign countries with less palatable foods for my limited repertoire, my parents had enrolled me in a therapy session, a daunting task for me at the time. My therapist made me sign contracts in red ink, but nothing mattered to me anymore; it was all of so little consequence. Words lost their meaning and instead became mechanisms through which I could obtain resources to hasten my plunge into starvation.
Despite the many words that I would shed onto the paper, I couldn’t speak. Furtively sequestering myself in my room, I had no words to spare to anybody or anything. My language had been whisked away from me in absolute, and nothing seemed to pour from my mouth. Language became something inept, a retired vehicle which I could no longer employ or enjoy. Words ceased to fascinate me, and I grew markedly less infatuated in their curves and hoops and loop-to-loops. Instead, I plugged myself into some automatic mode of existence.
In lieu of writing, I took assiduously to walking. In the past, I had tried my hand at running but soon a doctor ordered that I forsake this career. My muscle had dissipated during the past few years, and in its stead arose a gangrenous-looking architecture which enveloped my body. For many hours a day, I would walk and put my head down as though embarrassed to rendezvous with my parents, from whom I had grown inordinately estranged, on the street.
My parents and I still lived together, but it was as though we didn’t. They worked at the hospital in perpetuity and often likened me to the geriatric patients whom they would encounter in the operating room and dialysis unit. Many times, I would confront the turn of phrase “Just eat”, a pithy yet punctuated reminder of my downfall. The last time that I would speak to my father would be during a one-night stay in the emergency room when he held my hand and looked at me, into me, with his soulful eyes and uttered, “I’m sorry”, sorry for all of the inattention to the help that I had desperately needed to surmount my eating disorder. Thereafter, I secluded myself from both of parents and sheltered in my room. Every time that the garage rumbled beneath my feet to announce my parents’ arrival, a torrent of tears would stream down my face, and my words continued to elude me.
Alone, and deeply exasperated, I turned to doling out help to other people in the scope of eating disorders. Cobbling together a motley group of high schoolers, I expended the last ounces of energy that I didn’t have and distilled my residual psyche and welfare in June of 2020 into Fed Up, a non-profit organization which seeks to hoist victims out of the depths of their own mental health crises. I was lost and trying to help others be found, in a curious sort of hypocrisy. I would stream myself onto platforms and proclaim recovery when, in reality, I was withering and shriveling into something less than human, a diluted mode of Emily. Perhaps in some way Fed Up would drive me to ponder my own disposition towards recovery and ultimately propel me to seek out treatment.
But the common theme became one of my silence in my private manners. Words wouldn’t churn in my mind as they had before. Words were repugnant, putrid little things that sat somewhere where my tongue couldn’t access them. Words were harbingers of my downfall, and I ceased speaking and writing altogether. For months, I was plunged into selective mutism, too afraid and too ashamed to recount my story to others. All of the girls in my high school could eat so easily, so why couldn’t I be among them? Having forsaken therapy altogether, I was wallowing in my own consciousness without anybody to help preside over my illness.
Girls poked fun at my ribs, both literally and figuratively. Why couldn’t I simply confide in them as I would the counselor whom I didn’t have? What’s wrong with me? I needed help, and I would ultimately volunteer myself to inpatient treatment at an accredited venue for just over four months.
Following copious treatment in inpatient, residential, and a partial hospitalization program, I returned to the Fed Up that I had created in the plashy quagmire of my eating disorder. Mitigating my own struggles, I thought it apt to provide a platform across which teenagers internationally could converse more readily about their respective eating disorders and mental health crises. Much like the storm surge that inflicts the brunt of a hurricane’s damage, the most punctuated aspect of eating disorders is arguably the silence that is so concomitant with its victims’ suffering.
Writing is now instrumental in my recovery. Long gone are the days of radio silence which had once eclipsed my ability to speak. I no longer fail to muster words and conjure up my feelings. I Once I could not emote, but now writing has enabled my palette of feelings and emotions, each of which now radiates from every word that shoots out from my pencil. Writing is no longer condemnation, but rather liberation.
To alleviate this mental health travesty which renders others silent, Fed Up has installed ambassadorial presences in about 60 schools worldwide in hopes ultimately to implement newfound curricula which centralize on eating disorders, nutrition, and canonical Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Skills. I am its presiding member, and current activities include a podcast, up-and-coming YouTube channel, and a bevy of body-positivity merchandise.
Fundamentally, I wanted to create Fed Up to ease the suffering of others. Furthermore, Fed Up has established a network of mentors and mentees. Beyond having eating disorder experience, mentors have relevant tertiary studies. What’s more, the team is spearheaded by some leading members in the eating disorder community. The Fed Up team is filing for its 501c3 and expects to become properly recognized as a tax-exempt, charitable organization this spring.
As one of Project HEAL’s 500 volunteer Ambassadors, I also help this organization to raise awareness of eating disorders, and fundraise locally across the U.S.