Wednesday Wellbeing: I wanted to disappear -the battle with anorexia
I’ve always been an unusual girl.
I wanted to live in another era, loved different things from those around me and found it difficult to find my place in the world. People used to tell me I was the weirdest girl they’d ever met. I was the strange one, the “pretty but too smart” one, the “weirdo”.
In truth, I was always delighted to hear those comments: they made me feel special.
I had a family that loved me and pushed me to pursue my dreams and ambitions. At school I was a model pupil -I loved history, art and literature and in my spare afternoons I took ballet and theatre lessons. I liked the idea of acting. I would spend my days watching old Hollywood movies with my grandparents and trying to recreate the scenes, dressing up as Marilyn or Elizabeth Taylor.
I’ve always felt I was good at understanding people. And in my teenage years I became known in my social circle as a good listener and friend. So I thought that if I wasn’t destined to be an actress, maybe I could help people by becoming a therapist or a prison psychologist, something that really fascinated me.
I was blessed with friends and love especially during my high school years, from 15 – 17. The people I met then were the best anyone could meet. I felt lucky and knew I would always carry them in my heart for the rest of my life.
I felt immortal and invincible, pretty, original, clever and fun and if someone had told me how things would turn out, I would never have believed it. No, not me. I loved my life way too much.
But at 17, something in my life and inside me started going wrong. I had to face a few problems with my parents and friends. I lost some of the dearest people in my life and I fell into a pit of insecurities and depression. I felt like I had to grow up overnight and become a woman. It was too fast. I didn’t want to, I wasn’t ready: I became lost and life became unbearable.
During that year, something broke inside me, I didn’t feel confident anymore, I couldn’t find my place in the world and I started feeling alone as I had never felt before.
Family and friends asked me what was wrong. Some people came to their own (often wrong) conclusions and I felt they were judging the book (me) only by its cover. Looking back I don’t think I could ever have explained what I felt inside and how many feelings I was struggling with.
The truth is I wanted to disappear. And by disappearing to be noticed again and hugged and comforted. But instead of asking for help I moved my problems from my soul to my body: I decided I had to lose weight.
It’s kind of easier to think the things that don’t work in your life belong to your appearance than something else, it’s somehow easier to start a battle against your thighs than your heart and to focus on a diet than a mental recovery.
Unfortunately, eventually it wasn’t: hating very much on your body is just a metaphorical translation of the way you feel towards your feelings and inner pain. It’s just an excuse. Just a way to externalise.
I remember I thought I had to look as skinny as I could because that would show the kind of person I was inside: charming but dark.
I was done with being the girl I was before: too ‘smiley’, too kooky, too “pretty but weird”, too sensitive. And ultimately, I was done with being that girl because that girl had too many feelings and ended up “a failure”.
I couldn’t see the beauty inside of me anymore.
I valued myself as nothing.
I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin and in my soul anymore. I fell into a major depressive disorder which caused me to lose 20 kilos and be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and social anxiety.
I hated myself. To death.
I started counting calories, going to the gym 3 hours a day, skipping breakfast and cutting out carbs and sugar.
I used to get up very early and exercise on my bedroom floor, walk to school, walk home, walk to the gym, study until late and sleep just for a few hours. That lifestyle, combined with zero social life and a drastic lost of all my interests brought me to my lowest weight in six months.
Being a girl of 40 kilos was more difficult than I imagined: I kept stumbling on the streets, I couldn’t expose my legs to the sun because it hurt my veins, my skin got too delicate, I was always cold -I used to keep two hot water bottles between my legs and I got bruises everywhere. I started grow hairs behind my neck, I lost 2/3 of the amount of hair I had, I couldn’t shave my armpits if I wanted to because they were too small and I couldn’t find the flesh under my bones. I was always tired, sometimes I fainted and at night I found it hard to sleep: I thought my body was too tiny to contain the beats of my heart.
And then I was hungry. Damn hungry and sad. At school things were still going well, except for the fact I couldn’t run anymore and I had to stop doing sport. I wasn’t hanging out with my mates anymore and I really missed my old life.
I had no friends not because I didn’t want them, but because I couldn’t allow myself to have any. I sadly said ‘no’ to hundreds of dinners, parties, trips, happy hours, movie nights -and lots of things teens love to do- just because of my irrational but terrible and incredible fear of food and people.
And I felt guilty. Guilty for losing those friends, for coming across as a ‘snob’ and for keeping far away from human heat.
Deep down I wanted them both -pizza and friends, life and love, just like all the girls of my age- but the more I got into the tunnel, the more I got unused to happiness.
One day -it was my mom’s birthday- I woke up and I felt something inside me was dying to come out: maybe the old me, maybe the real me.
I decided to listen to her and I ate my first biscuit in months.
The Road to recovery had its ups and downs, it was long, hard and way more challenging than I could ever have imagined but it was so worth it.
I’ll never thank my mum enough: she gave me life not just one time, but twice. She stayed with me for all those years, kept me company every single day and helped me through the hardest battle of my life, giving me hope and love.
During that period I made some new friends but none of them were like the ones I had before, the ones I met and knew when I was a happy girl, the ones who loved me for how I was and made me feel funny, pretty, smart and interesting for how I was. I missed them along with my freedom.
Gaining weight was hard not least because of how society started influencing my own perception. When I reached the point of 46 – 48 kilos many people would compliment me and tell me I was beautiful and had a wonderful “healthy” body. They said I could become a model. When you’re already insecure and fragile inside and people tell you such things it’s difficult to ignore them and keep going.
A few fashion photographers contacted me on instagram asking if I wanted to pose for pictures. I had the body worshipped by the fashion industry, envied by other women and portrayed in famous campaigns… But I couldn’t maintain it without suffering. Knowing I was being offered ‘modelling’ jobs because of my unhealthy weight made me sadder still. It felt wrong to me. I said no to photographers. I felt like they didn’t want me for what I was, but for what I was not.
Why I should I put my human value and beauty on a scale? What does a scale say about me? What about my smile and my eyes?
I knew I had to gain some more weight for my health but I still felt like the skinny body was the one I had to have in order to look cute and be noticed. I actually felt I had a responsibility of being what people seemed to be asking me to be – skinny – skinny so I could be be acceptable. So I tried to maintain myself at 48 kilos: it was impossible and painful.
I let it go.
I gained what I had to gain, I looked for a therapist until I found the best I could ask for and I felt comfortable enough to speak my heart.
Any healing process is incredibly slow. It feels never ending. Recovery is not that happy eden of free food the magazines want you to believe either, it’s a constant challenge.
But I was lucky enough to reconnect with some of the old friends I had had in my happiest times. I kept seeing my therapist, re-discovering all my passions and dreams and I was open to meeting new people who encouraged my recovery.
Slowly I came to the conclusion that life’s way too short to be spent at war with yourself and your body is never the cause of anything, it’s just the consequence. We are way more than our flesh but since we have it we should love it and do our best to look healthy. For ourselves, not for others. Others don’t really value it. Nobody falls in or out of love with you because of your thighs, nobody wants to be friend with you because of your flat stomach: it means zero.
I learnt life’s imperfections are what makes it unique and the unpredictable journey it is, and the same goes for our bodies.
I love being the person I am, I’m proud of who I was and who I am now, of what I felt, of whom I loved, of how I lived, of what I believed in, of what I did. Even all the mistakes I made: we never learn enough, we should just accept that.
I love all the people I’ve had the pleasure of having in my life, since the beginning -the ones who stayed and the ones who left too, every single one- and I’m grateful to each and every one of them for the good and bad times.
Every person invited to take part on my journey is imprinted in my heart and every moment I lived exists engraved in my mind for ever. I have only beautiful memories of all my life before and after anorexia. I feel incredibly blessed for what I have now and what I had before the illness. Without the sweetest memories to hold on to, I would never have made it.
Life’s long enough to make peace with your past, with people you thought you had lost -and most of all with yourself. The scales are no longer invited on my journey, And anorexia is not expected either…..
I’m somehow glad and grateful for what I’ve been through, even if it made me lose my later teen years. It made me grow a lot inside, helped me appreciate life, helped me forgive people (everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about). I hope it’s made me more loving and kind and willing to help where I can.
Now, when people ask me to pose as a model for pictures or take part in a project or to go for something to eat, I accept. I say yes.
I’m still trying to get into films, I’m still trying to finish my studies, I’m still struggling with life in general, but we all are, to some extent. There’s so much to worry about, there are so many things to think of, people to love, places to visit, songs to sing and movies to see.. I can’t really worry about something that does not define me. We all just want to love and be loved.
For who and how we are.