[CW: eating disorders]
This is how most of my friends handle a breakup: we get together as a group, we cry, we yell, we go out dancing, we send a lot of GIFs of trash on fire, and a few weeks later they’re giving their dating apps a once-over. They have a Something inside that allows them to pick themselves up and lean on their support and go forth once more, wiser and stronger, seeking love and happiness.
This is how I handle a break-up: I shatter. I twist around and around the idea like a spinning kite, whipping through all the things I thought were true that turned out to be polite fictions for my “benefit, because you seemed to need them.” I am dramatic A.F., tossing around phrases like “men are garbage” and “old maids for life!!” I careen through emotions, I lose a piece of my soul. I wake up crying in the middle of the night. Nothing seems to settle. I drink a little more than I should.
I eat less than I should.
About 3 weeks in, my friends start asking if I want to get lunch instead of after work drinks. They watch me pick at whatever I’ve ordered, dutifully eating half because I'm planning to take the rest home for dinner. On the way back to my office, I realize I’m sick to my stomach and discreetly hand the box of leftovers to the person who lives on whichever corner I’m at.
At 5 weeks in, my coworkers - the ones with whom I am friendly but who aren’t my friends - start asking enthusiastically if I’ve lost weight. “You must be spending a lot of time at the gym; you look great!” “Thanks,” I say, with a flat smile. Sometimes I don’t eat because it makes me a little high and the time passes differently. I try really hard not to do this.
Seven weeks in, I am filled with helpless rage. My collar bones show in uncomfortable ways in photos. My eyes are tired of tears, and I look haunted. I’ve been eating at least twice a day, actual meals! Most days, three times. Some days? Four! I’m furious because of course this is triggered by a breakup - of all the stupid, mundane things for a shrieking feminist harpy to be taken out by.
I make an appointment with a therapist, saying “I want to get a handle on this before it’s a problem.” Everyone nods and agrees that I’m Very Responsible. It is already a problem. Why aren’t I over this already? It was only 4 months. It’s not like you thought… well. You did think that, didn’t you?
Roughly nine weeks in, my friends look me up and down and say, pointedly, “how… ARE you?” “I’m okay,” I answer quietly. This is a far cry from my standard of “I’m really great, thanks! How are you? Tell me about YOU!” I’m so bored of my mind loops that I could scream.
“Are you sure?” my friends ask, “Because… I can see your sternum.” My shoes are too big. Did you know there’s fat in your feet? Did you know you can lose it? Why did you ever agree to that date in the first place? A coworker uses the word “slender.” I am enraged with my brain and my body for betraying Me like this, even while I wonder whether it’s possible to get so thin I simply… disappear.
When your brain is demanding you starve yourself, you also starve your brain - it is the literal definition of self-destructive. It is also nigh impossible for your subconscious not to travel in loops and swirls; a never-ending twist of “was that even real?” In the flickering gaslight of your mind, you can’t escape, much less move forward. You have to act, or you will be here forever.
It has been almost twelve weeks. I’m a weight I haven’t been since I was 22 - which is how old I was when this happened the first time, although not the last. I’ve got a schedule worked out with the therapist, and excellent friends who shove ice cream into my hands at every opportunity. I only cry a few tears at a time; they well up and overflow and then I’m okay for longer and longer stretches. I don’t mind tears; someone once told me that they are the glue that hold us together, so there’s no sense in holding them back. You knew how this would go. Let’s not do this again, okay? Not EVER. I re-examine my spreadsheet for How To Finance A Single Life. It turns out it’s expensive, but it is not in any way solitary. I make red sauce and pasta for a girlfriend going through a break up of her own. We are taking things ten seconds at a time.
I haven’t spoken to him, which is probably for the best. He’s unfailingly well-mannered; if I saw him he’d say, “you look great.”
“Thanks;” I am petty and he was unforgivably reckless with my heart, so I would be unable to keep myself from twisting a knife. “I’ve lost weight.”
Eating disorders aren’t always about wanting to be thinner or about body dysmorphia. Sometimes they are about viciously controlling what goes into your body because you have no control over what is happening in your life or to your heart. Sometimes they are a way of punishing yourself for being human.
If you think you have an eating disorder, please reach out. This is the National Eating Disorder Hotline: 800-931-2237. They have a chat/text service here if you’re not up for saying things out loud yet. Also, you can email me; I'm on your side.