Some of my earliest memories are of feeling bad. In third grade, the teacher passed around batteries for a science experiment. I don’t remember the science experiment. It seemed like we were all going to do the same thing, but the batteries being handed out were a mix of 9-Volt and smaller, double-A batteries. I got the smaller batteries, and cried because it seemed as though I was being singled out. I had the impression the smaller batteries meant my project would not be as good.
An earlier memory, from kindergarten, was in PE. Everyone in the class had to roll from one side of the gym to the other on little blue scooter boards. I wore a pink frilly dress. It kept getting stuck under the wheels of the scooter, so I was slow and got stuck in the middle of the gym. I began scream-crying because I was left behind. Everyone else had made it to the other side. I don’t remember how long I was left there to cry.
Sometime after, I stopped wearing dresses. I’d wear shorts and white t-shirts to school, and other kids made fun of me for having chicken legs and knobby knees. I was too thin, I guess, for an eight year old.
But being too thin is like being too drunk. Which is to say, it’s not that much of a problem.
Maybe I’ve always been taught to see my depression as selfish.
How pretentious can we get?
I recently bought myself a flip phone. The kind with flat buttons and no internet access. It keeps me off social media, and also keeps me from obsessively searching for images of early 2000s era “scary skinny” pop stars. The quintessential Mary Kate, post-Simple Life Nicole Richie. Also Paris Hilton, Tara Reid, Mischa Barton. Portia De Rossi. In the early half of the decade, pop magazines were obsessed with the phrase “scary skinny.”
I am trying to assess if my current obsession with the late nineties and early 2000s is due to my desire to escape the current time. (Used to be also obsessed with the idea of dating a man who drives a gold Corolla).
I am never not myself (which is painful) and I am simultaneously never able to be myself (which is also painful). When I’m hungry I imagine my body is eating itself and it relaxes me.
I had sex today which proves that I can starve myself and still have sex.
I am constantly working to prove that starving does not fuck up necessary shit in my life like the functioning of my libido or the way I connect to people.
I am trying to convince myself my decision to buy a flip phone was for mental health reasons and not out of a compulsive desire to consume.
I can’t sleep.
I am wearing gold adidas. I am in a gold Corolla. I am dreaming about these things.
I spend most of my time at night rereading my own experiences. I feel so far from myself or I am trying hard to imagine how you might experience my life, how I or my art might be experienced in your eyes.
Of course I know this is impossible and you will lie to me if I ask you about your experience of me. It also feels self-involved to ask you about the ways in which I interest you.
I am not ready to discuss how self involved I am.
(Curious about the kind of car you drive and whether or not the car is a manual. Is the car rear wheel drive, is it older than 1992?)
I have decided I have late capitalist bulimia in which I purchase many things quickly and then almost immediately regret having consumed these things. I attempt to rid my self of these regrets as quickly as possible by donating old clothes and items that are similar to the items I have purchased in order to assuage the guilt I have contributed to this system.
I also might have actual bulimia.
I re-watched this documentary from my teenage years called THIN, which came out in 2005. Periodically I research the young women profiled from Renfrew, considered one of the most famous inpatient eating disorder clinics in the country, to see how they’ve survived. My favorite one committed suicide in 2008. My other favorite, the twin, made a blog post, also in 2008, then disappeared for a while. I have watched this movie so many times it reels in my head. I have searched for the young women many times.
When I am not sick, I know not to watch it. Like reading Wasted: A Memoir, I know exactly why I watch it and what I am looking for. There is a scene in the movie I can recall with particular clarity: one of the thinnest girls (who is also profiled in the hardbound picture book which accompanies the movie) cries during a group therapy session. She’s in her early or late twenties. She is attempting to warn a much younger girl, sixteen, by describing the experience of bringing “pre-packaged meals” to Thanksgiving dinner, and the separation of eating, of being unable to eat what her family eats, brings her to tears when she describes it. The hair rises on the back of my neck. It fills me with adrenaline, to think about the times I have spent with my family eating separate holiday meals, meals I made just for me, with each calorie counted exactly as it needs to be, to think about the holidays I couldn’t eat separately and so gorged myself gleefully on gravy and potatoes and meat before stealing away to the bathroom, where I had to figure out the most silent way to purge in a relative’s house where every footstep echoed.
Am I romanticizing the sickest parts of myself? Is this why I believe recovery to be false?
I’m attending Alcoholics Anonymous to seek therapy for my eating disorder, on Mondays at noon when my partner is at work, so I won’t have to tell him I am going.
Sometimes throwing up feels as good as or better than sex because it is extremely personal and ritualized. It is easier for me to vomit when it’s forced than when my body naturally attempts to vomit on its own from nausea or sickness.
Lately, I do not want to have sex because I am low energy and the sex seems to be more about the other person rather than about me.
The girl from THIN who killed herself purged, too. I am not sure if she considered herself bulimic. There is volatility in purging food, in bulimia, that does not exist within the actions of anorexia. I felt most suicidal when I was purging every day, when it felt that any food in my body was an invasion I kept forcing upon myself.
My partner does not know I have relapsed.
There is a kind of shame in being bulimic versus being anorexic, even when you are a very thin bulimic. As though there is an unwanted feminine chaos that exists within bulimia.
I mean that anorexia is seen as the ideal because it is controlled. It is why the most common depiction of eating disorders on television are of anorexics. As I restrict my intake and attempt to become the idealized version of my self (which is, however, not the idealized version of how society believes women should be), eventually my body can no longer restrict. It can take days to get to this point, or months. I then, unwillingly and also willingly, consume as many calories as possible. I expunge them from my body. The truth comes out: I cannot be controlled. I am actually messy. A garbage person, eating garbage things, and then wasting them. Anorexia is the organized, rational masculine ideal to my unwanted feminine chaos. Maybe that is why it is the more idolized and more glamorized disorder. Maybe that is why bulimics are not seen but instead heard.
Forcing myself—to do anything, even what I ultimately want—is something I am used to doing in all of my relationships, including the one I have with myself.
AA meetings are the safest to attend because thin women don’t bother me but eating disordered women will make me want to vomit or starve.
If I went to an eating disorder program, I would be pleased because I could revel in my sickness. I would get sicker, even if I gained weight. Weight gain seems to be the only factor, or at least the main factor, in what recovery looks like to eating disorder programs.
There is a tendency for anorexics to be extremely proud of their ability to hurt themselves in such a controlled and sustained manner.
The girl from THIN who committed suicide was kicked out of Renfrew because she violated community rules. The therapists and administration called her “tricky.” They said they didn’t trust her. At the beginning of her stay, she pocketed anti-anxiety medication to give to the twin, who hid it in her room. They found the medication during a room check, and determined this was a violation. Then, they learned the girl got a tattoo during an unsupervised outing, which was also a violation.
I am inclined to believe another factor in her expulsion is because her weight had stabilized. It was, at least, more stable than other patients. Her insurance had run out, and her mother begged the hospital staff to keep her for another week. The father was footing the bill. The mother said to the hospital staff, This is it for her. The mother said her father would not fund another stay like this again, and there was no one in her home state who could help her the way Renfrew could.
I would be interested to know, if she had been more skeletal, how they would have weighed the decision to kick her out. With eating disorders, what factors determine how sick a person is? Is it how I see myself, or is it how you see me?
I am interested in the shape of my thighs when they are around my partner’s waist. They have changed sizes many times. Sometimes his eyes draw to my thigh gap. I think he prefers them when they are at their smallest and I prefer them that way, too.
I hate how every time I decide to recover and eat a normal amount I immediately regret my decision to be so square. I bargain with myself: some people drink alcohol to forget. Some people gamble. Some people smoke. Maybe my smoking is that I stop eating, or eat too much and purge. My vice could be that simple if I let it.
The truth, though, is that it is not simple. It gets out of hand, it causes problems.
I tell myself I should become a nutritionist so I can always be surrounded by the sickness of others. I could openly obsess about numbers, macros and nutrients. It would give me an excuse to continue unhealthy eating patterns masked as healthy, because I would have to do it for work.
They say psychologists study and become psychologists because they are crazy and trying to fix themselves. The level of food obsession in nutritionists I have met makes me assume the same is true. The cross section between therapist and nutritionist must exist: they are trying to convince themselves they’re fine while drenching themselves in the environment of other sick people needing to be fixed. I smell, taste, touch the atmosphere of anorexia and I immediately miss everything about it.
A neatly arranged plate of crudités, cutting fruit in half and saving the rest for later, black coffee, high fiber cereal. The way my calves get stretched in long, three p.m. shadows when I take a walk. Pants tight enough to make that little concave void between my legs.
I am always guarded.
I still have not told my partner about the AA meetings. If I tell him about the AA meetings, it will imply I have a problem with alcohol when I do not (and if I tell him it is for my relapse, he will know, then, that I have relapsed).
I make the assumption he does not want me to have a problem with alcohol because it seems to be a large part of our lives.
However, I would rather be around alcohol addicts than purgers or starvers because addiction seems to be the root of the issue. Although I have abused alcohol to lose weight (why eat when you can drink) and have put myself into alcoholic ketoacidosis (alcohol lowers your blood sugar, but if there’s no glucose in your system, the body can shut down) twice trying to lose weight, I do not consider myself an alcoholic or wanting to revel in the sickness of alcohol addiction. I am addicted to bodies. I am addicted to consuming bodies. I am addicted to my body, comparing my body to other sick bodies. I am addicted to consuming things and then ridding myself of them.
I sent a version of this essay to my close friend and mentor and she said, it seems you may be addicted to addiction. To identifying as an addict. Perhaps what makes recovery so square is it implies I would no longer harbor a sense of obsession within me. For many years I have felt obsession is the engine with which I move. I enjoy it. It feels good, deliciously painful, to obsess. Especially over things I cannot control.
I am very proud of how much vomit is expelled from my body.
My partner’s ex-girlfriend was anorexic and she was also, at one point, my best friend.
It is unfair of me to say my partner prefers my thighs when they are smaller. I know I am projecting my own tastes onto him as a way to continue being sick, as a way to continue a nonexistent competition with my once-best friend.
Alcoholic ketoacidosis starts as a slow-meld out of body experience. Your systems begin to slow. There is a throbbing. A sense that your mind is living, but your meat package is about to burst. I felt scared at the time, but now I look back on it and think, it could have been peaceful.
When I say ‘best friend’ what I mean is we starved together for several years and got to our lowest weights together, before the two were ever dating. It was very romantic. Meaning I romanticized it heavily.
The girl from THIN who committed suicide never revealed her tattoo to the Renfrew staff. The tattoo was on her hip, a half-circle, hugged by a swooping, long line; the symbol of eating disorder recovery.
Sometimes my partner forgets to eat.
I forgot about the gold Corolla.
You do not forget a romance like one that involves your favorite sickness.
The twin I loved from THIN has a Facebook profile. I found it last month on my hours long research binge while re-watching the documentary. I was convincing myself treatment wasn’t necessary or that I could sustain this behavior of restricting my calorie intake until it was impossible to fight and then binge-eating and purging to compensate. On the Facebook profile, the only public information the twin revealed was a life event. She’d become an eating disorder counselor at a recovery clinic.
Her profile photo is a very thin body in a very fitted dress.
Elle Nash is the author of the novel Animals Eat Each Other (Dzanc Books) and the forthcoming story collection Nudes (SF/LD Books, 2021). Her work appears in BOMB Magazine, Hazlitt, Guernica, Literary Hub, New York Tyrant and elsewhere. She is a founding editor of Witch Craft Magazine and a fiction editor at Hobart Pulp. She teaches a biannual workshop called Textures.