Ellie is in the process of writing a memoir on anorexia nervosa and blogs at http://ellieherman001.wordpress.com. Ellie is also a student at Albright College, where she studies psychology. For this guest post, she bravely shared an excerpt of her writing.
Eating disorders use several different torture methods to bring pain to the afflicted.
Hunger Pains. You think you know what it feels like to be hungry, but having an empty stomach is a pain that completely overrides that of skipping lunch. Pangs shoot through your abdomen, and you know exactly what the cause is. If you occupy yourself, you can usually train your mind not to notice these pangs though… or maybe your stomach just stops twisting itself in screaming protest because it learns that your stubborn self will not be delivering the food it demands any time soon. When your stomach is empty, there’s a dull sensation that persists even when the pangs stop though. This is not over-powered by the mind and is not something that can be trained to subdue. The dullness will last as a silent shriek from your body.
Heart pains. These don’t manifest until the disorder has well-established itself as a part of you. Your body is depleted of nutrients, energy, flesh, and muscle. It shouldn’t be pushed, physically, to do much of anything in this state, but the anorexic mind knows no boundaries to the things it decides to do to the body. The mind wants it to move, to burn more energy, to whittle away. The heart, being a muscle, pulls at any resources it can: the stomach (empty), the muscles (dilapidated), and is forced, then, to pull only from itself. It’s been weakened too by the lack of nourishment, and as it pulls on itself its owner feels its strain. Close to the skin because there is no flesh even on the chest to cushion it, the heart makes itself all too known to the anorexic mind. Painful pounding, painful pulling.
Cramps. These usually happen at night. You’ll wake up and realize that a pain is shooting through your calf. Surely there is someone stabbing you. Surely your leg is missing. Or, maybe it’s a pain in your toe this time. You realize you can’t move your toes; they’re locked in a binding cramp. These cramps are not coincidental. This does not just happen regularly to everyone. Your body is deprived and yanking at strings, and muscles are made of strings. “Potassium,” it says in its dying voice. “Need potassium.” And it draws it from the fibers of your thin legs as a last resort.
Guilt. You feel bad about what you ate. You feel bad because you ate something out of your normal “routine.” You ate something that wasn’t “safe.” You ate something good, something delectable, something sinful. It was likely delicious, but you feel like you shouldn’t have eaten it. Surely it has already ruined your discipline. Surely your stomach is now a beer belly. Surely the people who saw you eat it have now disowned you. The guilt of eating is a pain like no other.
Guilt. You feel bad about not eating. Your body is pleading for nourishment. It really doesn’t care what type at this point…what it wouldn’t do for a calorie. But, you’ll deny it that luxury for as long as you possibly can. It doesn’t feel good. You’re only convincing yourself that it feels right. Deep down you feel bad about not putting that food in your mouth, allowing your body its deepest desire, granting your family and friends confidence in your ability to overcome this demon. The guilt of not eating pains you and others who watch you shrink.
Others’ eyes. People look at you differently when you’re too skinny and when you’ve gained weight. When you’re too skinny, it’s a pity look. Their eyes plead with you to eat. The sorrow there is usually genuine; they’d gladly give you any food they have on their persons. Family’s eyes are the worst. Filled with love and pain and fear for your whittled future, these eyes will haunt you even after reaching a stable body weight. You caused that fear, that longing, that feeling out of control. In reaching for your own control, you take it from your loved ones, leaving them in the same pool of emotion that you put yourself in.
Fullness. When you do start putting food into your malnourished body, it is shocked. Your stomach simply is not used to having mass in it, and it contracts with surprising strength for its shrunken size. The pain can make you think eating is wrong, too much for your body, an unfortunate side effect to doing exactly what you need to do: eat more. Your little stomach stretches itself, trying to accommodate the new nourishment in its clutches, but this stretch can be excruciating. You feel full after a few bites of a meal.