I have no hesitation about owning the label ‘self-harmer‘. No shame about ‘depressed‘, ‘anxious‘, ‘suicidal‘. I excel at all of these things. I have hospital admissions, medications, surgeries, stitches and scars to prove that they’re true.
But for over a decade, I’ve been too ashamed to admit, even to myself, that I have an eating disorder.
At first, I thought it didn’t count, because I didn’t throw up after I binged. And that was shameful, because I should be making myself throw up. I was a disgusting pig, and I deserved to throw up.
Then I got a little older, into my late teens, and I started to realise that maybe there was a little more to eating disorders than the lectures about anorexia and bulimia we got in high school. But I was afraid to think too much about it, and anyway, I was a ‘normal’ weight, so I couldn’t have an eating disorder.
And now I’m in my mid-twenties, and getting more and more aware of the times that I eat even though I’m not hungry. Even though a voice in my head is telling me ‘I don’t want to eat this‘. Even though I feel full, and sick. I’ve been characterising it as an unhealthy coping mechanism, a way of dealing with emotions, and mostly just ignoring it. Never, ever mentioning it to therapists, because it’s not extreme enough for me to be proud of it, to own it. I am not ashamed of self-harm, because I have to suffer for the relief. And I hate this, I hate it, because all I’m doing is losing control and stuffing my face.
When I was a teenager, my mother was obese and miserable about her weight, and she used to call me a pig and pinch my hips, seeing how much fat she could grab. Even now that I’m an adult, and science tells me I’m a little below the “ideal” weight for my height, if she sees me eating something she doesn’t approve of she’ll look me up and down, a pinched, disgusted look on her face, and say “Well, you don’t need any dinner“.
And I so didn’t want her to win. I didn’t want to have any body issues; I wanted to sail through it, unaffected. But the truth is, she is winning. She’s made me so ashamed of eating, so ashamed of not being underweight, that I can’t even confess to myself that I might have a problem. (Another one.)
Last night, I went and read the diagnostic criteria, and the verdict seems pretty conclusive. I still hate it. I’m still ashamed. But I might as well admit it.
I have an eating disorder.