Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part post. The first part, below, discusses the tribulations of the author making it through a night with anorexia, OCD and suicidal ideation. The second part, which can be found here, discusses the author’s experiences in superficial Jewish culture as a demonstration of how Jewish society fosters self-image challenges and prioritizes the wrong values.
When Anorexia Strikes
It’s 2 AM. My heart is beating, and my head is spinning. I hardly ate anything the day before, but I am too scared to eat now. My parents think I don’t love them (because I refuse to eat), yet the only reason I even swallowed the little bit that I did was so that they won’t have to be at my funeral. If it were up to me, I would throw this all away so that the fight would finally be over. But, I can’t. Other people are relying on me to get better. If I kill myself, they will probably kill themselves, too. If I choose to hurt myself, that’s my issue, but I can’t do it to anyone else. They don’t deserve to suffer. I think about it all the time… If I killed myself right now, who would care? My parents and siblings would, but everyone else would probably get over it.
I go back and forth in my head for hours. I’m exhausted, and I just want to go to sleep. My stomach hurts, and I have heartburn. I am nauseous, and I want to throw up. I’m scared that if I were to get up, I would immediately collapse. Maybe I can just drink some water, and I’ll be fine. I drink another bottle of water, but I still can’t fall back asleep. If I get out of bed to get something to eat, my parents will wake up and get worried, plus it makes it so much harder to eat if other people see me eating, or even if they know I’m eating.
If I decide to eat, I’ll also have to take out my retainer. What’s so complicated about that, you might ask? With OCD, everything is complicated. It requires taking out my retainer, eating, brushing my teeth, flossing, rinsing with mouthwash, brushing my retainer, and finally putting it back into my mouth.
It’s probably about 5 AM at this point. In the last three hours, I’ve texted four friends, trying to get encouragement. I go back and forth in my head, trying to weigh out (pun not intended) if I’d rather risk my heart rate dropping and potentially dying versus gaining an ounce. I get out of bed, prepare something to eat because I know it is the right thing to do, and cry while eating it. I probably also watch a show or listen to music to try to distract myself from what is happening. Finally, I must take care of my whole oral hygiene ceremony. At this point, my stomach still hurts but not because I didn’t eat; it hurts because I did eat. I am so angry that I have to eat, but at least now I can finally get a couple hours of sleep, because my body has the energy it needs to be able to sleep. I know, right? How interesting… I never realized I needed ENERGY to be able to go to SLEEP!
Mental Illness Doesn’t Get A Reset
It’s 8 AM, and it’s a brand new day, but unfortunately, Anorexia doesn’t believe in “new days.” My first thought is “I don’t want to eat, but I have to… But I don’t want to. I just ate a couple of hours ago. I’ll be fine.” I look in the mirror and hate what I see. Why did I have to wake just to deal with this? I get upset at Hashem. I don’t even want to say Modeh Ani (a morning prayer). I ignore phone calls from my friends, and I hide under the covers so that no one sees my body.
My mental illness affects me physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually. It’s intense, it’s exhausting, and it’s frustrating. Not just for me, but for everyone else in my life, too (family, friends, community, and treatment team). People think they understand completely, but they don’t. They pressure me to get better, and say if I wanted to get better, I could do it in an instant. They say that I am not trying hard enough. They don’t hear all the voices in my head. They don’t see all the battles that I do win. They only know about the ones that I lose.
The Evolution of An Illness
People always ask me when this started or what caused it. Obviously, certain things made it worse, but I honestly think in a way, I was born into it. Ever since I can remember, my father has been dieting, and my parents have been extremely weight-conscious. I remember, at age five, my father telling me not to take dessert because I will get fat. Other parents were begging their children to come eat dessert. I was confused. My parents were telling me to stop eating the main meal, so why were other parents trying to get their kids to eat dessert? It made no sense to me.
Every single day, I would come home from school, and my father would analyze me and either tell me if I gained weight or lost weight. I know he meant well. He struggled as a kid with body image, and he wanted things to be better for me. In second grade, I asked a friend in the middle of a dodgeball game at recess if I was fat, and she responded, “It wouldn’t hurt you to lose weight.” I used to run if I needed something at another end of my house, so that I could use it as an opportunity to burn calories. I never felt comfortable eating in front of people. At Bar Mitzvahs or Weddings, I would nibble on something and then eat a real meal when I got home. Everything I think, say, do, wear, eat (or don’t eat)…it’s a whole conversation in my head. Caring so much what other people think is consuming.
It starts off with taking less dessert, or even a compliment from a neighbor, but before you know it, I am scared of a carrot. It can happen to anyone. It’s difficult for a person herself to recognize an issue when it’s been her norm for so long. I have found that most people are ignorant of the symptoms, even medical professionals. I used to be 100% sure I wasn’t anorexic. Luckily, my friend (who worked in the field) picked up on some subtle hints. If it weren’t for her, who knows if I would be writing this right now. Please, learn more. Read more. Ask more. Talk more. Hopefully, that will let us live more.
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