Monday, February 17, 2020

Calling It What It Is: How Talking About ED Diminishes His Grip on Me

I remember my first crush. We were in first grade, and his name was Chris. He had freckles and curly brown hair that was always in slight disarray. I was a scrawny, fairly awkward girl with a pixie cut that— now that I think about it—probably looked pretty similar to his own hairstyle. Maybe that’s what drew me to him. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that one day I just decided I thought he was cute.

And just like that, BAM, I “liked” someone.

For a while, I didn’t tell anyone about my crush. I relished having a secret of my own, and I spent a lot of time daydreaming about Chris and concocting a fake relationship with him in my head. Having a crush on a boy made me feel special. It was new. It was exciting. It was a little taboo. But most importantly, it was mine.

But kids have this inconvenient inability to keep secrets for very long. Eventually, I decided to tell my best friend, who of course told one of our other friends. Before I knew it, most of the kids in my class found out, followed by my mom, and then (Oh the horror!) the boy himself.

As my “secret” spread, something weird happened: My feelings just kind of fizzled away into nothing, like the bubbles of the sickeningly sweet grape soda I used to get out of the pop machine at K-mart.

The thing is, I don’t think I even “liked” Chris that much. I think I liked the idea of liking him, and I liked that it was something I did in secret. I loved covertly scribbling hearts with our initials in them on the inside cover of my Lisa Frank notebook, and sneaking glances at him in art class when I thought no one was looking. I took pleasure in coordinating the color of my hair scrunchie to the hue of his winter jacket and acting like it was just sweet serendipity when we matched.

But once everyone found out about my crush, it lost its wow factor, and I sort of just stopped caring about it. Then I stopped thinking about it altogether. Soon enough, my daydreams became less occupied with Chris and returned to their regularly-scheduled-program.*

*For those of you wondering, these often involved being both an Olympic gymnast and a famous singer. Also, a hot pink princess dress. There was always a hot pink princess dress involved.


You’re probably wondering where the hell I’m going with all this, since this is a piece about eating disorders. If you’re still here, thanks for sticking with me while I reminisce about the simpler days of Dunkaroos and childhood crushes. I promise there’s a point, and here it is:

Something I’ve discovered since starting eating disorder therapy is that the more I talk about ED, the less “special” he seems, and the less significant my relationship—my infatuation, or “crush,” if you will—with him becomes, just like when everyone found out about that first grade crush.

Keeping ED a secret gives him more power over me. It makes me feel closer to him, like we share an exclusive bond that no one knows about. It sounds weird, but let me put it this way: Imagine one of your close friends tells you a secret—maybe that she’s pregnant—and she asks you not to tell anyone yet. How would you feel? Special? Honored? Privileged? Chosen?

That’s how ED makes me feel sometimes. He whispers in my ear that I’m the only one he can trust to keep our secret, that I’m the only one who understands him, and—even more importantly—he’s the only one who understands me. He convinces me to keep our relationship quiet because other people won’t—or simply can’t—“get it.”

And guess what? He’s right. Most people DON’T get it. But that doesn’t really matter. People don’t need to “get it,” they just need to know about it.

This is something that’s particularly difficult for me because I feel an immense sense of shame about my eating disorder and how it’s affected not only myself but also the people I care about. However, with time (and a lot of therapy), I’ve realized it’s not only healing for me to talk about ED, but also vital for me if I want to keep fighting that son of a bitch.

I have to acknowledge ED. Own him. Call him out by name.

Any other Harry Potter nerds here? Remember when J.K. Rowling brilliantly wrote that “[f]ear of a name increases fear of the thing itself?” It’s so true. That’s why it’s important for me to openly admit that I struggle with an eating disorder. In doing so, I become less afraid of it.


Unfortunately, I think a lot of people shy away from openly discussing mental health issues. There tends to be this completely misguided notion that they’re too personal, embarrassing, or even shameful to talk about.

But when we don’t talk about this shit, we give it more power over us. When I don’t talk about ED, the proverbial ball is in his court: He’s in control, and I’m left living in the constant fear that I’ll make a mistake, and he’ll expose our relationship to the world: that I’ll slip up—skip a meal, over-exercise, get caught chewing and spitting—and someone I love will wonder, what’s going on with her? I don’t want people to wonder. I want people to know:

I spend every day fighting a fucking eating disorder, and it is exhausting.

I want to share my struggles on my terms, not his. So I talk about ED. I talk about ED to the people who “get it,” like my therapist. And I talk about ED to the people who may never get it, no matter how hard they try, like my husband (who can eat an entire pizza, flex his six pack, and not give it a second thought). I talk about ED to strangers on the internet (I’m looking at you, reader). I talk about ED even when it makes people feel awkward or uncomfortable. I talk about ED when I feel like talking about him, and I talk about ED when I really don’t feel like talking about him.

The point is, I TALK ABOUT ED.

And here’s the thing: The more I talk about ED, the less I find myself listening to him. Sure, I still hear him. In fact, hearing him is a conscious choice I’ve made along my path to recovery. I allow him say his piece, I acknowledge it, and then I call him out on his bullshit. You see, there’s a difference between hearing and listening, and there is power in the choice to hear someone but not listen to what he’s saying.

So when ED tells me I’m not good enough, I try my best to reply with a not-so-friendly “Fuck you” and carry on my merry way.

And if I’m feeling really sassy, I might even go eat a donut, just to remind him—and myself—who’s boss.

Me with my eldest child, who recently asked to take a picture with me in the new shirt I got him.
As you can see, it has food on it. More specifically, a donut. So I thought it was appropriate lol.