There is a show on television about eating disorder patients. I discovered it at the gym, of all places.
Are you watching this? I asked the woman at the gym, who was working out in front of the TV with the offensive show.
Yes, she said, I am.
Then you are what is wrong with America. My response — which even I hadn’t planned — came out loud and angry; without warning.
There I was, unexpectedly having a screaming fit in the middle of a high-end fitness club on the Upper East Side. With that anger, I was losing what little I had left to lose; 10.5 months into the year in which I gave up so many things I loved in a life I did not like.
You are killing little girls by watching that show, I ranted. Where was this angry voice coming from, I wondered. Why couldn’t I stop it?
There, on the screen, was a sick girl who had put herself on the TV for public judgment. The sick girl was re-feeding in the naked light of day. And suddenly, my own process was called into question.
Who are you, you spectators out there in the ether? Mum? Dad? Aunties, uncles? Do you watch this show? Do you know the hell I went through – both the going-through it part, and the part about keeping it all private? Are you judging me too, when you watch her?
Who was this girl on the TV who had just torn my life open for public consumption? Who had suddenly made “re-feeding” a reality show concept?
And who was this woman, insisting that all of Equinox have the pleasure of watching it?
A trainer quickly came over to see what the ruckus was about. One look at the TV told him all he needed to know. The show was not appropriate for an open gym. He changed the channel, over the woman’s protests. He asked me if I was okay.
I was not, but I said I was.
I did not want to get kicked out of the gym again.
I had been asked to leave the gym once before; almost three years prior, back when I was still very sick. A wonderful, kind trainer sat me down, then, and talked with me about how I felt, and asked me if I thought I was okay to work out, and asked me to leave her class.
I want you to come back; when you are healthy.
I left, then, and came back years and pounds later. But then, it all felt like torture.
After my run in with the woman, the trainer and the TVs, I went down to the basement of the gym, where the TVs showed football, and finished my workout.
Walking home that night, I thought, I have fought for this, you know.
There were days, not long ago, when I pretended I didn’t know why my hair was falling out in dull golden sprinkles; why I was fainting in the bathroom at work; why my bones would stick out of my body the way they did. When I would ignore my best friend when she screamed in my face “YOU HAVE A PROBLEM,” and everyone else turned their eyes politely when I wore sweaters and shivered during New York’s sweltering summers.
To the casual observer, I might now look like your average slim, athletic woman. If you heard that I was a marathoner; you’d more than likely say, “That makes a lot of sense.” You might tell me I “have time” when I tell you I am afraid I might not be able to have children; you might just tell me to eat more cheese or take a vitamin when I express concerns about brittle bones.
But you don’t know me.
I’m a recovering anorexic. That thing almost killed me, in a very literal way. I am thankful, every day, for what I have, and I face every meal with a little bit of trepidation and a great deal of gratitude.
That TV show — it won’t kill me; it won’t bend me or break me. It’s not me on the screen each week; it’s not me staring down a plate of food any more — at least not in the same way as the women on TV. It’s not me making the choice to put my life out there the way those women have.
Living with an eating disorder is not easy. But there are days when I wonder if living in recovery is not infinitely harder.