Thursday, December 9, 2010

Age 19

Dear 12 Year Old Me,

You are standing in the line at the grocery store next to the studio. You don’t really know why you’re there and you’re worried that you will be late to dance class. You have one item, and it seems really important to buy. When you pay for that package of laxatives you don’t realize that you’ve started what is going to become the hardest fight of your life.

You hate who you are. Hate, perhaps, isn’t quite the right word. Hate implies too much action; it takes energy to hate, and you don’t feel that you deserve even that. You feel that you should just disappear, and rid the world of yourself. You reason the world would be a better place without you. You are a straight A student, taking advanced courses in middle school and excelling in dance classes; you’ve known what you wanted to do since you were 4 years old (oncologist) and you are determined to achieve it, and all you can think of is whether or not the number on the scale is up or down.

Soon you become sick of the laxatives, they make you cramp and feel nauseous, and you discover that throwing up really gets rid of everything faster. By 13 you are purging everything you eat, restricting everyday to under 200 calories and binging once every few weeks. You are consumed with this feeling that you don’t deserve anything that you have. That you deserve to be in pain; that you're life and your body are in gross excess, you can barely look in the mirror without your stomach churning in revulsion; you do endless calisthenics in your room at night and you beat your stomach as it cries out in hunger, and it all seems like the right thing to do; you need to disappear.

But what you can’t see is that you are crying as you write this. You would never have thought that 8 years from now you would be sitting in your room, writing this letter and crying your eyes out because you can’t stop this cycle of hatred. You can’t see the damage you’re doing to your body. How you can’t even eat now without feeling ill. How your hair is falling out. How your skin is always a mess. How your period is irregular and disappears for months at a time. How your heart beat is irregular due to electrolyte imbalances from purging.

You don’t realize that your life will become one long succession of getting on the scale and off the scale. You can’t see that, even as your twentieth birthday looms, you will still be that 12 year old girl, sad and desperate to feel beautiful and accomplished, though you’ve graduated high school a year early, worked in a biochemistry lab for almost 3 years and won a national scholarship in your field, all before the age of 20.

But now, you will choose to change. It’s not a question of want to; though sometimes you do want to be rid of your eating disorder, other times it is easier to just curl up with it. But you can’t do it anymore. You can’t fight this losing battle with your body. You are only going to lose either way. No matter how thin you get, you can’t fix an inner problem with outward appearances.

These feelings of inadequacy are not based on size. This eating disorder is not about a number. It’s about shutting out feelings that you can’t deal with. It’s about making the miserable pain you feel inside more manageable. But it doesn’t make it more manageable; you are slowly killing yourself and you can’t go on like this anymore.

You may not always love your body. But you are going to try. You are not going to fight it anymore. Even as you write this, you’ve been in outpatient treatment for two months, seeing a therapist, nutritionist and psychiatrist. And they want you to go to an inpatient clinic. You see, that’s how serious things will become! And you will probably do it. Because you’ve come to your wit's end and you’ve lost the control that you were trying so hard to gain, to no avail, with your eating disorder. You're weight's been all over the place and you've never been happy, you've never felt beautiful, the key word is felt: you've always been beautiful!

You only get one body. This life is all you have. You’re all about being accomplished and successful. And though being perfect is not what life is about, if that’s what you want, then stop focusing on killing yourself and start LIVING! It’s not a life, what you’ve been doing for the past 8 years. You’re going to start graduate school in a year and a half; enjoy this time. Embrace life with the fervor that you embraced your eating disorder. And leave this disease behind you, so you can be a productive member of society, and, above all, happy. Think about whether this eating disorder has made you fundamentally a happier person. I think you’ll find the answer is painfully obvious. You deserve better. You deserve to live and be loved. You won’t always believe it, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less true. You are beautiful inside and out.