“There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Oh, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland.”
– Paul Simon, “Graceland”
I want to address an important topic.
At the end of my series on my years, so far, in New York I posted a picture of myself wearing the same shirt I had worn years six years earlier. I did it on purpose, to show you how the thing that nearly killed me has played a role in the time that I have been living here. (And I am careful not to mention it by name — not because I am ashamed — but because I don’t want to be searched for toxic ideas.) Many of you see me every day; you wouldn’t notice, necessarily, the difference between what I used to look like, and what I look like now. (It’s also a bit of a bad picture, which is why I feel compelled to address the issue now…particularly after receiving a number of concerned messages at the conclusion of the series of posts on New York. The messages reached enough of a critical mass to justify an open discussion)
I could write you a feature article on the history of the medical view of the disease (first as “mere hysteria,” then as “chronic, lifelong,” now as “episodic, perhaps transient”), and the history of my disease — but that wouldn’t be as personal as a rejoinder. The fact of the matter is, what I was doing to myself for many years was so serious, it has significantly altered my body, perhaps for good. People I haven’t seen in ten years comment on how I look; they don’t recognise me when they see me at weddings; reunions. People I haven’t seen in three, four, five years notice it, but they blink their eyes and look away; afraid that it’s an illusion; unsure of what they’re seeing.
I spent nights in the emergency room because of my illness — and my hospital stories are not meant to gloss my New York experience with a bit of semi-fictional highdrama. There were times during these years when my hair was falling out in flaxen clumps; my nails were peeling; my body was showing all the tell-tale signs of this thing. There were days when I was fainting in bathrooms.
My statements are not exaggerated recollections of a former life. These are things that actually occurred; those moments terrified the people around me.
An eat!ng d!sorder consumes you. It becomes the sole focus of your life — at least it did of mine. The monster lurked beneath the surface for a long time, and then, gradually, took over my existence. When I began the slow ascent into recovery, I was shocked at how much time I had on my hands; how clear my head was — because I was no longer thinking about what came next; how I was going to cope with facing down lunch or dinner.
And recovery has been no picnic — it has been a road full of false starts; setbacks; bumps and bruises. “Getting healthy” has been a weird journey of being a strong woman made very vulnerable — of groups and sad rooms and crying over bottles of Ensure. Of staring at sandwiches wondering what to do with them; of feeling like pastry is an unapproachable territory. Of learning to eat with a fork after years of primarily eating with spoons and chopsticks, and wondering, after the fact, how no one noticed or commented that I was doing it.
In writing, I can’t make these feelings come alive — my story of staring at food and not knowing what to do with it, like food is a foreign language. Try as I might, I’m not sure I can impart to you my feelings on surviving the judgment and presumptions of others: you do this because you want to be thin; you do this because you’re unhappy; you do this because of x or y or z.
My struggle was/is/has been none of those; a life-consuming “thing” cannot be reduced to a word or phrase. Can a long-term disorder be condensed into a single experience? Lyme disease, maybe. But an adult lifetime to date isn’t a tick bite. Not for me, anyway.
This, gentle readers, is all to say: while I have written around my story (and sometimes through it), this is the rebar that undergirds my six years in New York.
I may not look the way you remember me looking when I was sixteen or twenty or twenty-five. (You may also not remember that I managed to go from seventeen to nearly thirty with almost never showing off my body — it wasn’t until it finally hit my neck and face that most people began to notice what was going on.) Your body may bear the joys and scars of California or your beautiful children or the drug habit you didn’t tell anyone about but that you overcame anyway. You are full of triumphs and wounds and so am I. I have an ugly neck, now. But I have run seven marathons in recovery. I have brittle bones, now, but I have a beautiful, serene yoga pratice.
My body-story may be more visible than yours. But, at the heart of the matter, my body-story is not much different. So this is the tale of a girl in New York City; this human trampoline — stiff, flexible, bouncing, tumbling in turmoil — perhaps you know exactly what I mean.