When you break

EDITORâÄôS NOTE: This is the second column in a four part series about recovering from an eating disorder. Anorexia is a life of two halves that donâÄôt fit together to make a whole. ItâÄôs an existence of insulting dichotomies that play games of tug-of-war between reality and insanity. ItâÄôs a spectacle of inconsolable shame, which is glamorized into something erotic for others to whisper about and judge. A life with anorexia is essentially a life of mismatched fabrications and I bought into the biggest lie of all. Much had changed between my high school summer and my college freshman fall. Determined to shed my bodily imperfections, I dropped pound after pound in search of an identity that suited my coveted neurosis. My family was aware of my problematic eating habits, which I had previously masked behind excuses of mysterious digestive problems, but couldnâÄôt do much else besides plea to take another bite of my dinner. âÄúIâÄôm fine,âÄù I would snarl back, âÄúIâÄôm not hungry.âÄù That was a complete lie. I was always hungry. But my hunger pains were far more welcome than the deep, all-enveloping shame I experienced when divulging in the sinful act of eating. That September, I left my parentâÄôs home in south Minneapolis for dormitory life on campus. I lived with four formerly unknown girls in a room that resembled a concrete sauna. I tried to play it cool with my roommates, abstaining from food for the day so we could all eat dinner together and buying a thick pink robe to wear to the shower, so they couldnâÄôt see my jutting shoulder blades. It never occurred to me that I had a problem with eating, even though my journal entries from that fall are full of incoherent scribbles about needing to be thinner, more invisible. I thought anorexic women always look skeletal, papery, skin and bones, and I certainly did not look like that. I looked normal, I thought, and I continued with my little charade of perfection, slowly growing more and more frenzied by the week. Prolonged starvation violently disturbs the heart and brain, causing excruciating chest pains, low blood pressure, irregular beating, confusion and memory loss, among many other things. I remember that autumn was particularly frigid, with wind that sliced through my body with such ferocity that I couldnâÄôt help but stack layers upon layers on top of my bones. My perception of time and reality became skewed, only allowing me to recall small snapshots of the dayâÄôs events in jumbled, crisscrossed language. Somewhere between October and December, I became completely indulged in my own world of obsession and refused to connect with any sort of sanity. I romanticized anorexia, thinking the whole situation was wonderfully tortured, believing other women were jealous of my limitless self-control. I worshiped my rice cooker, and spent countless afternoons sitting on my speckled cement floor scooping spoonfuls of Jasmine rice dowsed in Soy Sauce from the metal container into my mouth. I felt a strange disconnection with myself, as if I was watching the culmination of a lifetimeâÄôs worth of pain manifest itself in someone elseâÄôs body. But despite my greatest efforts, I could only starve myself so much. It was a bitter fall morning when I blacked out in the dorm shower, nearly splitting my head open on the white Formica walls, only to be caught mid-fall by buckled knees. My skin had turned a matt purple and my blue veins snaked across my tracing-paper skin. Hair fell out in tiny straw clumps gathered in the teeth of my comb. I was in sad state of affairs, though in retrospect, definitely not alone. That semester there were frequent plumbing backups in the womenâÄôs bathroom, caused by excessive vomit flowing inside the pipes. No one seemed to notice, aside from the janitors who had to mop up the mess year after year in every womenâÄôs restroom on campus. Halloween passed without much hoopla. I was wrapped up in a number of blankets, too cold to even imagine venturing outside in a thin costume. My only tie to the outside was from my boyfriend, whom I met a few weeks previous, and has never left my side since. I have no memories of Thanksgiving that year. One night, it became too much for me to deal with. I started crying on the phone to my mother that something was very wrong with me and I didnâÄôt stop until she promised I would be okay. My mother later admitted to me that she consulted several doctors (a year before my hospitalization) about my possible eating disorder, but was reassured that I âÄúweighed too much to be anorexic.âÄù Four days before Christmas I was admitted to Methodist Hospital, on the eighth floor. I remember feeling immensely guilty that I was ruining everyoneâÄôs Christmas with my immature antics, but was also quite sure I would be released within a week because I really wasnâÄôt that sick. It was just a big misunderstanding. Apparently the doctors didnâÄôt agree. My next three months were spent tediously recuperating behind hospital walls. Surprisingly, I didnâÄôt actually mind being there as it provided a safe place to focus on the things I had been neglecting for so many years. That isnâÄôt to say it was a fantastic experience either, but most of the patients tried to make the best of a very unpleasant situation. When my clinical team suggested it was time for me to transition out of the hospital, I refused. I appealed to my dietitian to stay an extra week to avoid the anxiety of being released into a society that was sure to judge me as a superficial, narcissistic, bratty girl with low self-esteem. I had no greater fear then for my peers to criticize me as being dependent, needy or weak, especially because I felt more grounded than I had in years. But there was simply no other choice. I had to move forward. Kathryn Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]