Content Warning: Disorderly Eating
Writing was how I defined myself before food was all that mattered. I was a writer. It was the part of me that connected to the world outside myself, what I was thinking and what I wanted to do. I lived to tell stories. These could be stories I made up, stories of other people, or my own stories. It wasn’t something I questioned or decided to care about; he had always been there, as much in me as in my arms, my hair and my stomach.
I have repeatedly thought about the cause of the descent that stripped me of everything I once cared about, including my art.
I hated getting fat for as long as I can remember. I have compared myself to everyone at least as far as my time on a gymnastics team. In middle school and high school, I was shy and not good at getting in touch with people, and instead of trying to improve myself, I told myself that I had nothing to offer. My personality was not enough. Being good at writing was certainly not enough. I didn’t know how to improve these things, but people told me I was pretty, so I clung to the hope of finding respect and friendship by being “the pretty” one. I thought since people were commenting on it, if I could improve my body, make it perfect, that would somehow solve all my problems.
My body counted before food, but then the two became tangled and impossible to separate. Creativity ceased to matter and became scary. It was something I couldn’t control. I never knew if it would come to my rescue or push me away, making me feel worthless. I stopped hoping for inspiration in favor of control. So the mirror and the scale and whether I had only eaten soup for dinner the night before became ways of determining how I was allowed to feel, what I was allowed to do, what I could eat and what stricter rules I would implement for myself.
It may seem that a messy diet will give you more time. If I ate less, became less, food would take up less space in my life. Instead, he took over and erased every other part of me. I spent less time eating, but I spent every second of every day thinking about food, and everything that once mattered has vanished. How can something as small as my artistic endeavors matter when I was missing something I needed to survive?
I didn’t know I was drained of my passion for writing at first. There was a faded part of my brain that still loved the idea of telling stories, but I had no energy to do it on my own, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have known about what to write.
I still said I liked to write, but when I finished high school, when the writing program I was in ended, I had no intention of continuing the craft. I was concerned with scheduling hours to hit the gym and filling the tiring afternoon hours trying to satisfy my hunger with vivid images of eating chocolate cake. The world around me that had once sparked ideas in my mind was dark, and I didn’t notice that I had stopped having ideas because there was no free room in my head to they.
The writers’ advice books said “write what you know” and “find a topic that interests you”, but the only thing I knew was the pain of being consumed by thoughts of food, and I couldn’t write about it, because I didn’t want it to matter.
I hated the part of me that cared so much about it and, beyond not finding a subject that I liked, the writing itself was no longer a part of me or a way to explore my world. Plus, this world had turned so inward and focused on something I couldn’t write about, even if I wanted to.
During my second semester in college, years after I started losing my passion for writing, I could go several hours at a stretch without thinking about when and what to eat next. I still worried about my eating disorders, but my fascination involved looking back on my experience on the other side. I wanted to express myself again, to say what I felt when I was trapped in a body that I refused to love.
But even when my experience was easier to relate, it wasn’t worth talking about. I considered discussing eating disorders on the YouTube channel I had at the time or working my experiences on open-ended schoolwork involving writing. But when I tried to do research, it upset me and wanted to get away from the topic altogether.
Getting over my ruinous relationship with food hasn’t brought back my passion for writing. It left a blank space and my brain was not used to feeling the joy of any activity other than eating after being starved. My art has become strictly programmed. I finished a draft novel, a thousand and then five hundred words at a time, over the summer. I wasn’t sure if I was interested in the novel – I still don’t care – but I enjoyed some of the writing.
Going into the descriptions brought me joy. I never wrote more than necessary, I never continued because I was enveloped in a scene. I worried that if I didn’t force myself to do the things I pretended to like, I wouldn’t be doing them out of my own desire. The constant anxious tension that accompanied a disorderly eating was gone, but nothing had taken its place.
A few nights ago I was having a good night’s sleep. My work was done and I allowed myself to relax and do nothing at all for the next few hours before going to bed. I considered watching a show or reading a book, but I wanted something else and knew it wouldn’t be satisfying. I wanted to to do something, something to me. I wanted to create something and bring it into the world instead of just taking things. It was a new feeling, and I had to test it to make sure it was real.
The process of opening a blank Word document is usually accompanied by a pep talk: “You’ll be fine as soon as you get in there.” I didn’t need that this time. I didn’t have a project I was working on, but I had the idea a while ago for another story that I wanted to turn into a novel one day.
So I started to write. I haven’t tried to make it good, and after several pages I wasn’t sure I liked anything. I stopped and shut down my computer. It wasn’t much. I still don’t have that desire often, but having felt it at all let me know that no matter how far I got from it, the writing was never completely washed away from me. I will collect this piece of myself.
Daily arts contributor Erin Evans can be contacted at [email protected]