Guilt. Shame. Disgust. Horror.
Those feelings haunted me, kept me up at night as I stared, or rather glared, at my reflection for hours. At 16 years of age, how could I already be running out of hope?
It wasn't always so.
As a child, with my messy blond hair and navy blue eyes, I never questioned my appearance. Or anyone else's, for that matter. Grades were perfect, little lithe figure was perfect, family was perfect. Just pure perfection. And then it all got complicated.
Grades were faltering to horrific new lows (A- and such disasters).
Parents became negligent of their 2nd, less interesting daughter (alias me).
The atrocities that no one had ever warned me about (hips) grew in, and just like that, my whole world shifted.
Was my face distorted? Was I morbidly obese? Was I (gulp) even pretty?
That last question changed everything. It changed me.
My eating got completely out of hand and the binging could not be controlled.
But my weight had to be.
It was all I could control.
I had to compensate - make up for - a monstrous creation from the Devil Himself, also known as my face.
I would maniacally run around my room in the middle of the night for hours on end, trying to burn off the calories I had just inhaled, and maybe also sweat off the ever present guilt and horror I felt about my eating habits.
I wanted to crawl out of my skin and, in some ways, I suppose I found outlets for that request.
At age 10 I started picking at my cuticles.
By age 14 I had worked all the way down to my knuckles, leaving my fingers blood red, swollen and often infected.
I moved on to the back of my neck, to my feet.
I had to get out of the prison cell that was my body.
During one of my tantrums, after looking at my horrid reflection for much too long, I punched myself with all my might. Right on the temple. Several times.
Punishment for my despicable behavior and my even more despicable appearance.
That was the moment I started to scare myself. Questioning my appearance had turned into questioning my sanity.
I tried to get help, but my secret weight loss tricks I had buried for 5 years (the manic exercise, the laxatives) were blocked by the carapace I had built around me to protect myself from getting hurt.
But the only person who was truly damaging me was the voice inside the fortress.
After months of rejection and misdirection by doctors, I was finally hospitalized. At 16 years of age. Seven months ago.
So when I look in the mirror, what do I see?
I see strength, but also vulnerability.
I see imperfection, but also a willingness, a courage to accept it.
Doubt may creep back up and shove me back down, but I always get back up and keep fighting.
Keep fighting the fight against pressure and judgment and conformity.
Because my health is a prize worth fighting for.