CW: Eating disorders.
I started this essay at the beginning of May, when I still had dreams and when the state of our country was only Very Bad…not yet This Bad. Since then, deaths from COVID-19 reached and quickly surpassed 150,000. Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd were murdered in broad daylight, and new information came to light about dozens of other Black folks who were murdered at the hands of the police, sparking more than 60 consecutive days of Black Lives Matter protests. Also, climate change, Jeffrey Epstein, the election, Lebanon, voter fraud, I could go on. But I presume you, like me, are hip with the times and have been constantly plugged in these days.
Needless to say, writing about my eating disorder as an able-bodied, cisgender white woman didn’t feel like a priority. Honestly, it still doesn’t. But I feel a nagging sense to write this, to get this off my chest so I can continue finding ways to help the world heal. So if you’re still down for reading about me, the gate is open wide for you to enter. I promise it comes full circle.
— — —
I had undiagnosed orthorexia from my senior year of high school until well into my college years. In college, I was able to disguise obsessive-compulsive eating disorder habits, like meticulously planning my workouts and everything that passed my lips, because everyone was busy doing their own thing. Also, I’m a Type-A Virgo, so all of the folks I hung around with thought I was just being on-brand.
I planned everything. I was involved in multiple student organizations, worked two jobs, had an internship almost every semester, and also ran a magazine. I literally wrote a to-do list for staying in on a Friday night and scheduled coffee with friends four weeks in advance.
(Yes, I’m insufferable to be around, but that is surprisingly not the point here.)
When I moved to New York City after graduation, I kept up that behavior. I was told by professors, internship supervisors, and mentors that you have to HUSTLE. You have to GRIND. You have to say “yes” to everything because New York stops for NO ONE (neither do the doors on the A train) so you better sprint, sister.
And sprint I did.
Bear in mind that my body was not built for running. It burns out quickly.
After somehow managing to nab an instructor position at Equinox and my First Real Media Job, I was feeling like maybe I had conditioned myself to become a runner, after all. I was home to sleep and eat breakfast on the weekdays, and to clean and do laundry on the weekends. I was even dipping my toes into the abyss of 20-something men. On the outside, I was thriving. Inside, I was burning out. My PCOS symptoms flared up, I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t fueling my body properly, and I was extremely lonely.
Like I said, I wasn’t built for running.
And then, well, you know. COVID.
The sprint was put to a grinding halt just as I began gasping for air. In a twisted sense, I felt relieved.
I decided that it was in my best interest for my mental and physical health to ride this baby out in Pennsylvania with my parents. I quickly fell into a consistent quaroutine: wake up, coffee, work, work out, dinner, family time, sleep. I didn’t wear makeup or put on nice clothes. I left the house only to walk and get groceries. I watched everything on my Netflix list within a month and suddenly lost the ability to retain information from books. There came a point where there was nothing I could do to distract myself from thinking. And thinking. And thinkingandthinkingandthinking.
I looked back on my habit of constantly distracting myself and saw it for what it was: a coping mechanism. I thought I was recovering for the past few years, given that I wasn’t engaging in over-exercising and calorie restriction. In reality, I was just repressing all my uncomfortable feelings about food and my body—the very things that led me to my eating disorder in the first place.
Hate to break it to you, friends, but that’s not recovery. It’s actually just a cover-up. And it took a literal pandemic for me to figure that out.
You gotta lean in. Feel that shit.
If you also have a strained relationship with your body, it’s well worth it to do some introspection. When something makes you feel some type of way, put on your archaeology gear and excavate it. Sit with it. Practice mindfulness and constantly ask yourself: what would make me feel good right now? Not, “What would look good on Instagram?” or “How does this trainer work out?”
Another such question to ask yourself is this:
Seriously, write that down. It’ll change your life.
It is a great privilege to say that being in quarantine has given me a safe space to deeply understand where my anxieties lie so that I can do the work of unlearning old habits. It is a privilege to be able to devote time to my mental health instead of figuring out how to meet my basic needs like millions of other Americans right now.
And it’s easy to feel guilty about having that time when so many are suffering. But one thing I’m often reminded of is the (overused) sentiment that you can’t pour from an empty cup. A few months ago, when I was caught up in that distraction mindset, I was of absolutely no use as an activist. Probably 80 percent of my brain capacity was taken up by what I looked like when I sat like that, if my meals had been balanced enough, if I did too many HIIT workouts, and how my physical body was perceived by others.
That leaves 20 percent for everything else.
So when you stop sprinting for just a minute and do the inner work of healing yourself, you become a more effective vessel of service, activism, and love. Your heart is more open to the needs of others because you’re attentive to the needs of yourself.
Taking care of yourself, my friends, is a political action.