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Anorexia Made Me Empathetic

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I confused sickly and sexy for too many years. Now, I'm convinced you're doing it, and I don't want to be an accessory in your rendezvous with sickness.

Because I know that boat neck collar used to not be so big. I knew you when your collar didn't slip and fall in a way so your right shoulder jutted out like an alabaster boulder, as if to say, "I'm casual," in a way you thought couture. But instead of speaking my mind -- of preaching, of mothering -- I turn to my boyfriend and say how I don't want you to die, and he looks at me, all shaken, and carefully says, "you can't save the world."

But it kills me to see your obsession eat up your life.

So in recognition of Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb. 21-27), when courageous men and women share their ongoing survival stories, I write this post for me, I write this post for you, but truly, friend, I write this post for we:

We know that coffee is not a meal, but we do it anyways, because we want our energy low cal, or rather, Venti Skinny Mocha half soy with two Splendas.

We tell our parents how much we've eaten that day -- we even send them pictures to prove it -- because they ask us to. We pretend it's normal for parents to ask.

We get asked all the time to see a picture of what we looked like when we were anorexic, as if they can't believe that WE were ever thin mints. We show them pictures of our once-lanky frame because it secretly brings us joy. We sense that precarious boiling point when joy too-quickly becomes nostalgia. We know joy can sometimes be unhealthy because we've been burned by it too often.

We know what a single sprinkle tastes like, what it's like to take a veggie patty between two napkins and squeeze out all the excess oil. We know which stairs creek at night -- which ones to avoid when foresting in the freezer.

We know what it's like for a girl to look us up and down on our first day of junior year in high school, when everyone's hugging and squealing in the background, and tell us to go eat a sandwich.

We know how many carbohydrates are in a piece of Breadsmith whole wheat bread. We also know we've already used our daily carb allowance on Fiber One Originals.

Fiber One brownies are not brownies, they're imposters. We've also forgotten what brownies taste like.

We know what it's like to forget our favorite food. We remember when "food" used to not be a "touchy" subject in the house.

We know what discomfort looks like in our best friend's eyes. We know that pulled smile that isn't so much a smile, but a face-tug, when they have nothing to say and they don't have to.

We know what it's like to ask waiters lots and lots of questions, and to disqualify 40 entree options instantly by the terms "saucy," "fried," "smothered," or "cheesy." We've memorized the lines "I'm not so hungry" when we return the menu to the waiter, and know to expect that look from friends.

We know what it's like to disappoint.

We know what it's like to buy more batteries for the green scale in the bathroom. We know what it's like to buy more than one pack at a time.

We know what it's like to have a bony pelvis peek out above your jeans -- the sexy stuff Abercrombie and Fitch uses to sell sweatshirts on shopping bags. We know what it's like to think you're hot shit and to think others think you're hot shit.

We know what it's like to scream in pillows. We know the sticky feeling when we shower in tears, when hair sticks to the front of the chin as we decide to get up and become a person again.

We know what it's like to fall in love. We know what it's like to gain 30 pounds and eat ice cream cake at 2 a.m. while being the happiest we've ever been. Still, we know what it's like to think his legs are nicer than yours.

We know what it's like to fill up a bra and say, "okay, maybe this isn't all that bad." We know what it's like to discover that jeans actually look better, for cheeks to glow instead of sucked sallow. We know what it's like to go weeks without makeup, to feel raw and real and released.

We know what it's like to share our stories again and again so that others won't make the same mistakes, so that others know they're not alone.

We know what it's like to have popcorn nights and pillow fights, to hike all day without feeling weak-kneed and feel like we've conquered the world.

We know what it's like to slip, and what it's like to stand back up, and what it's like to fall in love, and what it's like for love to fall in you.

We know what it's like to try to be superwoman, when really, we already are.


**This post was inspired by a good friend and fellow ED survivor, Kayla Rosen. Her vulnerability and authenticity to share her story of struggle and Herculean triumph is, without a doubt, impressive.


Looking for help?

Clinicians at Jewish Child & Family Services' Counseling Centers work with both adults and teens on eating issues. In addition, Response, the teen center at JCFS, also offers programs to schools and synagogues that focus on the most common forms of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating) and provide a safe environment for teens to explore the reality of these serious illnesses and ways to build their self-confidence. For more information and to make an appointment, contact a JCFS counselor at 855-275-5237. For information about programs through Response, call 847-676-0078 or visit responsecenter.org.

Also, visit the National Eating Disorders Association for more information.

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