Moving Beyond Perfection

Anything is possible to overcome

Posted in Uncategorized by Kathy on July 11, 2009

I just wanted to share with everyone parts of a beautiful story a friend sent me about her own experiences with adjusting to college and self-esteem issues. I say beautiful because I know how far she has come, and it is beautiful to know that truly anything is possible to overcome. I could relate to so much of her story, and I thank her for sharing it with me. She is one of the most amazing, gorgeous, kind, caring, and intelligent girls I know, and also has a smile that can light up the entire room. Please take time to read her story!

(Note: these are only parts of the whole piece!)

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At 121lbs in April, four pounds lighter than when I had entered college, I felt overweight. With a sweet tooth for perfectionism and controlling families, anorexia nervosa stalks a particular person.  Although genetic traits and abnormal serotonin levels can predispose someone to developing anorexia, physical causes alone cannot account for the eating disorder’s formation.  Most anorexic women feel stifled, unable to express their emotions with their voice; instead, they harm themselves, denying basic nourishment so their physical suffering mirrors their inner pain.  I worked eight hours a day that summer, a camp counselor for under-privileged and special needs children; I practiced wall sits while waiting for the kids to change into their bathing suits and ran around with them during “gym” period.  I dragged myself from bed at 6am daily, frustrated when oversleeping my alarm limited my run to three miles.  Thinness does not equate to happiness; the more weight I lost, the more desperate I became.  The numbers faded from the scale but the imagined fat remained.  I thought I felt it jiggling when I walked, saw it in the folds of skin draping my taut elbows and heard it taunting me as I ran.  It took me months to see my body anxiety as red flag signaling my unhappiness and not its root cause.

****

For the first time in my life, I dreaded soccer games; easily pushed around by other players, I gritted my teeth and decided I needed to improve my core strength. When my parents settled down to sleep each night, I began my second workout regiment, forcing myself to do more sit-ups and push-ups than the night before.  I medicated the pain in my abs with reruns of “Lost” and a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, coveted in the 2am bewitching hours.  Guilt flooded my mouth after eating any other sweet; ice cream though, I gladly skipped dinner and lunch to have.  I kept a meticulous calorie log on my computer, updating the Excel spreadsheet every few hours. Anorexic malnutrition often leads to lower blood pressure, causing tiredness and dizziness; I fell asleep twice at the wheel while driving home from work that summer, my dad’s minivan drifting into the next lane before my eyelids fluttered back open and I slapped my cheeks awake.  The late afternoon sun trickled through my windshield, striking corn stalks growing roadside, and nudging my brittle fingernails on the wheel. Anorexic women aged 15 to 24 have a mortality rate twelve times that of the general population, lethal physiological damage adding to the murders from starvation and suicide.  Alone on the barren lane, I shivered and righted the car, eluding the statistics once more.

****

Anorexia poisons more than its victims, however, its toxins spilling onto close family and friends.   I burned my father with cold hands that refused his hugs and sickened my mother with my thinned cheeks, dull eyes listlessly peering from sunken sockets.  I dismissed their attempts at discussion, slamming my bedroom door or yelling at them to leave me alone.  They begged me to return my friends’ phone calls, to take a day off from exercise.  I responded by running farther, eating less, and crying more.

****

Neither Nick nor Isaac could understand the struggle inherent in “looking good.”  My favorite jeans, the denim now fuzzy and the knees worn through, slipped down my hips when I walked; a belt only cinched the spare material together, causing a hideous-looking cloth ripple bulging beneath shirts.  Necessary for interviews and good first impressions, my formal brown pants hung limply from my waist, no longer accentuating my rear.  Once my most head-turning asset (literally), my derrière had disappeared.  My little black dress, the staple in every woman’s closet, required a safety pin in the back to recreate the form-fitting style.  The American Psychological Association’s diagnostic criteria vaguely characterizes anorexia as an intense fear of becoming fat and a refusal to maintain a body weight appropriate for one’s height and age.  Psychologists label the symptoms to make anorexia digestible, pointing to neat mathematical BMI charts and establishing amenorrhea—“the absence of three or more consecutive menses”— as the line distinguishing an eating disorder from “disordered eating.” They mention nothing about an inability to find butt-boosting jeans or the frustration in spending hours turning racks looking for a long-legged size zero.  Anorexia refuses to rest contently in its medically defined cage; smothering, it gobbles up emotional freedom, leaving more than two-thirds of its victims hollow with depression.  The summer stole more than weight from me; I lost my B-cup breasts, I lost my favorite pants, I lost my ability to sing.  Without a voice to express my pain, I stopped singing when I stopped eating.

****

Put on a time-gobbling regiment, I had to weigh-in weekly with a school doctor and create a portion-based meal plan with a nutritionist.  They prohibited me from running, threatened to prevent me from playing soccer if I lost more weight and encouraged me to eat multiple desserts a day.  My therapist explained I have “an addictive personality”; she said I inherited it from my grandmother, the woman who obsessively stalked love, clinging to fragmented shadows of men and fed nicotine to her lungs until they shriveled black like licorice.  Observing the brown-blue flowers blooming on my shins and knees, the sculpted quads from sweat-drenched hours burning calluses onto my soles, she wanted to know why tears welled in my eyes and what boundaries I wished to set with the world.  Sophomore fall, I mirrored a passionate soccer player, a dedicated honor student, a conscientious daughter, a loving sister.  But I felt flat, like the life-size Barbie my abnormal psychology professor had discussed in class.  With exaggerated 22D breasts making standing upright difficult, the realistically proportioned doll would only have enough room for an esophagus or a trachea in her throat, leaving her either unable to eat or unable to breathe, but in both cases unable to live.

****

When I started singing again, it was because of a boy.  I found myself trudging down Plympton Street through slush from grey-dirt snow mixed with March mist, trailing fingers along the splintered wood ledge lining the Harvard Bookstore windows and lightly whispering the words to a Third Eye Blind tune.  My voice startled me, barely cracking into the alto range but firm in its resonance.  It had last belted out Kelly Clarkson angrily while whipping down the interstate alone over eight months ago, cracking and brittle.  I used to dance as I ran too, skipping and twirling to poppy rap’s two-steps.  I gave up dancing for running, though, pushing my aching feet to struggle through another two, another three miles, unsatisfied with four.  But now, catching myself, I smiled wider and skipped, singing, “I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads…”

****

Besides electrolyte imbalance and renal failure, anorexia causes heart arrhythmias, where the muscle beats irregularly, coughing as it pulses.  Coming full circle, the physical pain written in the emaciated figure, sucking happiness from her eyes, finally attacks her heart.  Emotional distress ravishes the romantic organ, leaving it weak and malnourished. Denied sustenance, the heart will wither.  My therapist said I have an addictive personality; she said I inherited it from my grandmother, the woman who obsessively stalked love, clinging to fragmented shadows of men, and poisoned her body with tar.  But I am not my grandmother; I gladly take back my voice and give up sculpted legs if only to sing again.

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