In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, TBINAA will feature stories that explore eating disorders at the intersections of our identities, sharing stories about ED from the groups that are often absent from the discussion. We believe that there must be space to tell the story of EVERY body and we are grateful to those who have shared their stories with us, so that we might share them with you. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, there is help. Toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You are not alone.
I haven’t written much the past few months. The last time I really wrote, my world imploded and extinguished my ability to cope with anything. Writing was supposed to be an outlet for me. In the past writing, reading, music, even watching television would snap me out of whatever this is. I don’t know what “this” is. I know I am miserable. I know I can’t keep doing this. I know I have to eat. I have to drink. I have to take care of my children. I have to take care of my husband. I have to care of my dog. I have to take care of my cat. I have to take care of my bills. I have to take care of everything. Problem is I don’t care at all right now. Maybe this is a nervous breakdown. My eating disorder is the worst it has been. I spent so much time taking care of so many people I lost the ability to recognize my own needs. Last week, I was so dehydrated I lost my voice.
During the weeks prior, my time was spent researching a no sodium diet for my husband’s uncle. Everyone around me comes to me with questions or for support. I’m used to this. I love it, feeling wanted, appreciated, most especially recognized for what I do best. I fell apart when all my research was discarded. Ignored. Pushed away. Why ask me for help to only disregard it all? I stopped eating and drinking, driving my eating disorder back into a rock-bottom-go-to-the-
To be honest, I ate a half piece of toast with a bottle of Gatorade today. That is still the bare minimum. Still unhealthy. If I continue at this rate, I will land myself back in a coma as I did several years ago. Why is this happening? I’ve had a lot of time to think about this while the doctors examined me. I’m lucky. Since my coma, collapsed lung, and that God awful septic shock ravished my body, I have been on a restricted “activity” order by the doctors. I gained weight when I stopped running. When my eating disorder reared its ugly head, this time I was overweight enough allowing me time to recognize what I was doing to myself. Why did I stop eating? Stop writing? Stop caring?
I blame myself for the actions/reactions of others around me. I failed to see something so simple. I always lend my support to others. Services I should charge for I provide out of kindness. I donate my time, even money to others who need it. I let myself get used. The truth is I am really pissed off right now. When someone asks a favor of me or advice, I go out of my way to make sure I am giving the best of me to them. I am pissed because I feel betrayed. I feel raped. I feel lost. I feel beaten. Turns out I do have feelings. Saying I don’t care is all a lie. I like to make people happy. No, I need to make people happy or better or sane or relaxed. My world revolves around everyone around me.
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I’m going to be honest here. Only a few of my friends have ever done anything to actually help me. Two friends/family members knew I was hurting, wrote beautiful poems for me. Another friend texts me daily to make sure I am ok, even calls my husband if I don’t answer her right away. My oldest friend texts me “Wood” at least four times a day as an inside joke we’ve shared for over 15 years. I do feel used. I feel taken advantage of. I give so much of me so freely I forget I am disabling myself. One friend came to the hospital, even went to court with me when a friend I had to quit thought everything I wrote was about her. It wasn’t. It was creative nonfiction. I had to request a Protection From Stalking Order against her.
I care so much about not hurting others that on the day we went to court, despite all the “unfortunate incidents,” damage of my property, and harassing calls that had been going on for weeks, I asked the judge to dismiss my request for the PFS so that she could get well in order to have her children back in her life. She agreed to leave me alone, to not harass me only to have one of her friends later send me message on Facebook trying to extort and threaten me.
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Let me come clean on a few things here: No one can hurt me if I tell the truth.
The threats she levied against me don’t bother me because they are lies. Easily disproven by professionals and witnesses. Not even friends of mine. A random poll of people around me would disprove everything she thought she “had” on me. Why am I feeling so hurt? So lost?
Right now, I am not lost. I know exactly what is happening and why. I let myself be used. People I trusted never offered to donate their time to help me. Never did anything because it was the right thing to do. Never did it without tallying up what I owed if they did it. I wasn’t keeping tabs. The hours I spent, the energy, the research, even the inspiration I provided helped them while killing me.
What have I learned from this? I’ve learned that I stopped eating because my mouth is part of the communication process. I did not want to open or use my mouth at all. I felt I had to gag myself, even stop eating because if I don’t communicate in any way no one can use me anymore.
The deepest betrayal comes from those you trust the most. That’s what happened to me. I did not know how to ask for help. I reached out to another blogger/friend, a person so articulate, so brilliant, so compassionate. I reached out to say I need help. I don’t know how to ask. I don’t know what I need. I’m not eating. I am dying slowly. Within seconds she was shooting it straight. Take care of you. Whatever you need, I will help. Fuck writing, she said. Take care of you. Let’s see if we can work together to get you what you need.
I felt I had to ask permission to ask for help. To ask for a break. Permission to shut down, deal with my health. My fears, my pain, my real tragedies happening around me. My severe anxiety disorder off the charts as I was texting her, my heart raced to 155 BPM. I was still wearing my Garmin Heart Rate Monitor and Forerunner. I was pacing. I wasn’t chewing my nails. Chewing my nails would mean using my mouth. Instead I used nippers, shredding my fingers till they bled. Fingers like raw meat, blood on my nightgown, blood on my phone.
I had thrown my phone outside earlier in the evening. Placed my MacBook Pro in the composite bin shortly after that. I wasn’t going to write or communicate. I felt someone had raped me again; this time the rape was of my mind, my advice. I knew I was giving more than I was getting.
Luckily, my husband saw me sobbing in the corner of our bedroom. Watched as my dog whimpered, pawing at me, licking my tears as they gurgled and sputtered out of me. Luckily, I trusted my friend, I reached out to others who knew me, really knew me.
I asked for help for the first time in my life. That’s it. I reached out to find several hands ready to pull me out of the fire I was burning in.
Today, today is an okay day. I know I am not “well.” I know I have to set alarms to eat, drink, sleep, rest, cook, thrive. I added “thrive” there at the end. In order for me to thrive I have to stop giving so much of me away. . . I’m an all or nothing person. I am working on the middle now. I want to thrive, see my children, feel them, connect with those that matter to me.
Starting today I end my fear of asking. I end my fear of saying “No.” I start fresh, expressing myself as I always have, with honesty and humor. I don’t have to throw myself away to be me. I just need to recognize that I am more than “useful.”
I am allowed to feel overwhelmed.
I am allowed to break.
I am resilient.
Shareen Mansfield is the publisher of On the Verge (otvmagazine.com). Mansfield’s work has previously been published on The Honeyed Quill and Feminine Collective.
[Feature Image: Black and white portrait of a person with their back facing the camera and head leaning down. They have long dark hair falling over bare shoulders. Pexels.com]