February 28, 2023

Trigger warning: eating disorder

All I remember from fall of my freshman year was being cold. I wore a winter coat at school. When I got home, I would bundle up in old wool sweaters my grandma knit, and warm a bag of rice to hold in my hands. I blamed it on the air conditioning, the weather (this is North Carolina, after all), or my clothes, but I had no idea it was my own fault.

I still remember the day I got diagnosed. It was an awful, terrifying day. I was in disbelief, standing out in the hallway as the doctor talked to my mom about things they didn’t want me to know. Of course I knew what they were discussing. My weight. My calories. My eating disorder.

There’s a lot people don’t see in eating disorder representation. In films, we see skinny women lying in beds with tubes in their noses. We see hair falling out and bony backs. In reality, eating disorders are ugly, and not in any aesthetically pleasing sense. Do movies show constipation? Or missing school? Or hurting the people around you? Of course not.

On top of that, movies depict recovery as a depressing, pointless struggle, which is harmful. I remember feeling like there was no point in trying to recover because I wouldn’t succeed. But I did, and only because I made the choice to believe it was possible. I wish movies would show recovery how I see it: as a plain old war between good and evil. But also a war between who you want to be and who you are. For me, recovery was a culmination of a lot of little things. Boost puddings. DBT charts. Karaoke nights. Crying to my dietitian, fighting with my dad, and gossiping with my hospital mates. It was a jagged line of progress that could totally flip from day to day, but in the end, (unlike what the movies show us) recovery is almost always successful.

Don’t get me wrong, recovery takes hard work. But hard work in recovery consists of little things that normal people probably wouldn’t catch. Like eating alone, sitting on the couch after a meal, or trying a bite of a friend’s food. Maybe that’s why movies don’t depict recovery correctly. These little actions seem like nothing to you, but I know that they are what bring someone back to the land of the living. Small steps that are giant leaps on our battlefields.

Despite having recovered, it is true that the struggle never really goes away. I will always fantasize about being skinnier. Eating less. Being sick again, despite knowing how hellish being sick is. But what’s important is that now I have the infrastructure to catch myself if I’m slipping. I have people in my life who check on my weight and hold me accountable. I have a therapist who helps me deal with hard things without hurting myself. And now that I remember how much warmer life is in the land of the living, why would I ever want to go back?

Mitra Samei

Featured Image by Valeria Ushakova