It took a long time to write this book. I talked to publishers and considered the options of working with a publishing team or self-publishing. After a year of being unable to make a decision, I finally got the courage to self-publish the book on my website and on Amazon.
Here is a sample of the book. You can purchase it directly from my website homepage.
I was climbing, hiking to the peak of a mountain. Or at least it felt like it. And with each step I took, the peak got further away. Every cell in my body was fighting me and the only thing moving slower than my feet up the stairs was my brain. My mind felt sluggish, like I was in a constant state of buffering. I was trying to do the mental math, but numbers weren’t coming quickly or easily. Okay, so just eight stairs per level, three levels to go, so 24 steps. Ugh, 24 steps. I could take a break on the stairwell landing and pretend to text in the corner. Or I could text someone for real. After all, most of my friends were used to hearing from me when I really had nothing of substance to say. But if I chose to stop, I lost momentum, and if I lost momentum, where would I go from there? Back down the stairs? No, I couldn’t do that again. It felt like there was no good option at this point. I filled my cheeks with air and exhaled forcefully through pursed lips. Up I go. I can do this.
I reached the top of the stairs and pushed through double doors into an old hallway lined with lockers that probably hadn’t been used since the 50s. I felt a small breeze from a classroom door opening and a wave of goosebumps covered my exposed arms as I gave a brief shudder. I rubbed my hands together to warm them up and noticed a very faint purple coloring under my fingernails. I kept wringing my hands together in hopes of getting rid of the discoloration and warming up my extremities. Then, a sweeping loss of balance and lightheadedness hit me. I had gotten used to this familiar sensation, but it still rattled me a little bit. I blinked hard several times and shook my head slightly from side to side, trying to reset from the vertigo. I assured myself I would not faint, I just needed to rest. I could not handle the embarrassment of passing out in the middle of the hallway on the way to a sociology lecture. A few deep breaths, a few more steps forward, and I would make it to my destination. Then I could just sit for 55 minutes before eventually doing the same mental gymnastics all over again when it came time to walk back to my dorm room.
“How did I let it get this far?”, I thought as I sat in a lecture hallway with 60 other students. The professor kept talking but all I heard was the dialogue in my own head. When did living become exhausting? Physical breakdown was followed quickly by mental breakdown. Frustration and sadness slowly slipped into the void that was hopelessness. The void ate everything - my joy, my energy, my enthusiasm for life. It ate away at everything that made me, me. I both abhorred and envied its appetite. I felt absolutely alone and I wondered if I would ever be happy again. It had become my whole way of life. It was consuming every crevice of my mind every second of every day. This was bad. It became apparent that if I didn’t take action, this eating disorder would kill me.
When I returned to my dorm room after the lecture, the thought of the climb from earlier that morning came back to me. I started to cry uncontrollably tears with audible heaving breaths. I couldn’t live like this anymore. I hadn’t eaten for close to 72 hours, and over a 3-month period had gone from an athletic 130 pounds to a frail 99.4 pounds - putting me at dangerously low weight for my five-foot-five stature. And as I sobbed on my bed, I started to feel that none of it mattered anymore. I just wanted to feel like myself again. I wanted to be able to find happiness in literally anything. Even if I had to take drastic action, I would do it. I would no longer let this eating disorder control me and my life.
What is your earliest memory of disordered eating? Or body dysmorphia? When did you start to feel negatively about your body or your weight?
I have been asked questions like this by therapists, friends, and family over the years, and on occasion I’ve even asked myself the same questions. For some people, there may not be a distinct day and time they remember the disorder taking hold. Maybe it didn’t hit like a ton of bricks, but instead like a dripping faucet. And that faucet leaked one drop at a time until suddenly the sink was overflowing, and they had no idea how it happened. Mental illness has a way of disguising itself, or hiding in the shadows until something or someone sheds a light on it. Most women can recall having a negative thought about weight, food, or their body. These can be passing to those able to shake them off and continue about their day, or they can be the precursor to a much darker path ahead. For many the question, “when did your eating disorder start?” is a difficult one to answer. But not for me. Those feelings are as accessible to me now as they were when it all began.
At four years old I stood in front of a wooden framed floor-to-ceiling window as the mid-afternoon sunlight hit my face and warmed my cheeks. It was springtime, and outside I could see the modest green lawn of my childhood backyard peppered with brown patches where the dog had dug up the earth below. I could see a swing set where my siblings and I would play, an abandoned whiffle ball bat from an earlier game of home run derby, and a maple picnic table where my mother would serve dinner on warm summer evenings after the sun had gone down. Unfortunately, I couldn’t maintain my gaze on what was beyond the window. Instead, I was focused on my own reflection in it.
The window reflected my legs. I stared down at the flesh itself, then back to the image on the panes. My eyes moved back and forth from reality to reflection several times. I traced the outline of my shape on the window, leaving an index-finger sized streak on the glass. And while I examined the outline and continued to scrutinize my reflection, I heard a new type of dialog inside my head. It sounded quiet, like it was far away. It was as if someone was gossiping in hushed tones several rows behind me on the bus and I had to strain to hear what they were saying. It was a dialog that I would go on to build a very complicated relationship with. When I heard it the first time it was hard to understand where it was coming from. When I was young, the “voice” sounded like it was coming from a child. The tone was curious, naïve, and unassuming. As I stared at my reflection, ignoring all the beauty through the window, the voice of this dialog starting asking me questions, “Why are your legs so big? I wonder how tall you will be one day? Will your face look less chubby when you grow up? Will you be skinny?”
At the time I didn’t pay much attention to this voice, but I remember this first “conversation” because it marked the beginning of the most toxic relationship I would ever have. Of course, it would take me years to realize, understand, and accept that I had personified my internal dialog into something or someone that I couldn’t easily walk away from. Still, at four years old, unprovoked by my peers, siblings, parents, or even media (my mom was very strict about the television and movies we watched), I saw myself as physically flawed. I suppose there may have been subtle things that formed my youthful impression of femininity and beauty, but what this memory illustrates to me is that eating disorders can start at a very young age and they aren’t always as a result of trauma, bullying, or unrealistic standards set by one’s environment. While I remember vividly when it started, I cannot trace my eating disorder to a single catalyst. It didn’t start with a bully at school teasing me for being fat, or overbearing parents that obsessed over my weight and diet. There was no catastrophic trauma before the age of four that led me to feel my body was not “right”. That isn’t to say that trauma or bullying can’t lead to an eating disorder – they can, and it doesn’t make recovery any easier. However, it does provide some solace in the question “why did this all start”? But for me, despite knowing exactly when the disorder started, I still can’t quite answer, “why?”. Even after years of reflection, I can’t find a single, tangible external factor that caused this to happen. And while I am grateful for my happy childhood, it saddens me to think that if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. If there was no specific cause of my disorder, was there anything my younger self could have done to prevent it? Was there anything my parents could have done? Is there anything parents can do now to prevent it from happening to their children? I cannot definitively answer these questions, but I do think it’s preventable. More on that later.
Despite being just four years old, I noticed parts of my body that were fleshy when I held the skin between my fingers. And I noticed other parts that were lean and smooth with the very beginning of muscle tone. At an age where I had so little to worry about, I wasted time staring at my reflection feeling anxious and self-conscious about an objectively normal-sized four-year-old body. Something was not “right” and I was not good enough because of it.