I thought this would be my last post of this series of WAMM (what anorexia made me) WIAN (yet what I am not) but it is not. I have a few more edited already. I am not sure if I will post them though, because this is already a ‘nice ending’. However, if I do put them up, I will stop after those few. The time is there to move on.
I must say though, doing these posts has helped me a lot. I have been a healthy BMI19 for quite a while now, and still going up (ahh). Cuba for me was rebirth in so many ways. I hope I can find the time to write about this a bit more in depth soon. But writing out what I am not has brought me closer to finding (and accepting) what I am (again). So after I finish this series, that’s where the focus will shift to. What I am, instead of what I am not. But for now, here’s number five of WAMM. And a little warning; It’s Sooz-style. Meaning; LONG (don’t say I didn’t warn ya!)
The things that anorexia made me, part V: A scared little mouse
When I realized I started to feel like I was compromising because things had to be a ‘certain way’ (as I mentioned in my hoarding-post), I realized something needed to change. And it wasn’t as if the world would soon conform to all of my made-up rules, so the thing that had to change, was me.
The day after that realization, I bought fireman-red paint. I asked my dad to help me paint my wall that weekend. That weekend I also decided I would take a year off after graduation and buy a one-way ticket to Asia.
If I was gonna break my rules and patterns, I was gonna break them hardcore.
My year of traveling through Asia meant a lot of ‘news’ and ‘firsts’. I had no safety net to fall back on, nor any ‘own’ (brands/toilets/gadgets/foods/etc) things to make me ‘feel safe’. I was now amongst people who had never met or even seen me before, and their opinion of me would solely rely on who I was right then and right there. I only had myself to blame if they didn’t like me, it was never due to stories they heard or to other people’s opinions.
It was a revelation. I had always lived in the dread and fear of people judging me for what other people had made me to be.
They had turned me into the girl that was picked on, spit at, either ignored or scolded. The girl that either kept quiet or spoke too much because she was so anxious. The girl that would sneak off and cry, yet never tell an adult. The girl who would faint on the middle of the streets because of God knows what. The girl who’d rather play with the 5 year olds kids on the playground because at least they did not understand who she was. Or the girl who stayed in school during break, helping the teacher organize his things. The girl who was threatened with a knife against the fence around her very own house, just because she was ‘that girl’. The girl that would get lost in the tiny town she was born and raised in, because anxiety would make her black out when she walked home after school. The one whose classmates had gathered for, to ritually rip and burn every picture of her they had gotten their hands on. The one who they never went looking for when playing hide and seek. The one who served as an ashtray for cigarette buds. And being a small town girl, the kids my age were either actively involved in all of the above mentioned, or they were friends with some of them. Either way, they’d know me as ‘that girl’.
Even when I left for high school (after a long summer because I left primary school earlier because I could no longer take it), the fear was always there. I picked my high school because it was the nerdy one, and therefore the uncool one, where none of my old classmates went to. I had a fresh start, and made friends. But the other kids were still never far away, and there were plenty of moments where they made a reappearance in my life. The fear was always there.
In Asia, I was the tall blonde chick. The teenager on the other side of the world. The one who booked a one way ticket and did not have a plan, nor did she want one have one. The one with the big brown eyes staring right back at you, but with an openness to invite you in. The one who laughed, tried, talked, cared. I bloomed and blossomed. For the first time, I found peace in being me.
Back in Holland I moved to Amsterdam and started Uni. I made friends right away and I continued the new found feeling of Sooz-ness. Until my ED hit hard.
I had lost a lot of weight when I was traveling. Not because I chose to, but because I was traveling in very poor places without proper food. And then I got sick on top of that. I managed to gain most of it back, but the 2 months of malnutrition did something to my brain. I did not realize this at the time, but with hindsight I can see how, at that point, things had already started to ‘shift’.
When I moved back to Holland, things were fine at first. I started Uni in September, but around November I started feeling weak. I didn’t give it much thought at first. A month later I went to my GP, and then I returned again and again. Nobody knew what was wrong, I was given multiple rounds of antibiotics yet nothing seemed to work. Winter was tough that year, and already feeling sick and weak, it made me feel even colder, smaller and more down. It wasn’t until late February they found out I had pneumonia. I was put on codeine, more antibiotics and prednisone. Within 5 months I had lost all the re-gained weight again, and a little more. Whereas when I first got sick I could eat and eat and eat and felt the food had vanished before I could even swallow it (I was always hungry and eating yet I still lost weight), by the time all the meds were finished, I had lost all appetite. That plus midterms, many many missed classes to catch up on and a law-suit concerning my new apartment did not make things better. That summer I got a fulltime job on the side to make ends meet, and working every day from 4PM to 1AM and cycling at least 12km on top did not help either.
But I finally felt like I had things going for me again; I managed to finish my first year of Uni with an honours-average, I had a job that paid well enough to be financially independent and I was living the big city life.
I wasn’t though. I had lost all new friends at this point. Some of them expressed their concerns about how I looked, and it made me mad. I knew I didn’t gain my weight back yet, but to make my weight a reason not to stay friends with me was so infuriating. And the fact my world was closing in on me, made my eating even worse. I was eating less and less, sleeping less and less, socializing less and less while at the same time continuing to be busy at the same rate. A recipe for disaster, which is exactly what anorexia is.
It wasn’t until I had an accident that my world truly crashed. I don’t know how long I could have continued to live the way I was living, because my body was already failing on me. I didn’t realize that though, until the accident made me immobile for weeks. I had to move back in with my parents because I could no longer even walk the stairs, let alone cycle 12km to town. And being at their place, my world became so so small. I could no longer go anywhere, was confined to their living room 24/7 while they had their own lives. My friends were either no longer my friends, or they were miles away and busy. Christmas time was coming up and while everyone was getting ready for a month of joy and merry, I felt lonely, stuck and helpless.
Even after I was able to walk again, my life had completely changed. Me included. Leaving the house became something I would completely freak out over. If I had a party to attend or a friend to meet, I would not be able to sleep for nights in a row. I would not eat for days if I knew I had a dinnerparty somewhere, because that was the only way I could allow myself to eat freely when in company. In reality I would never eat freely though; I would either feel like a deer in the headlights and freeze up or stuff myself beyond extremes just to prove a point.
If I was meeting anyone somewhere that week I would lie awake night after night figuring out what to wear –What did I own that would make me look less skinny? Yes, that was my major concern; I did not want people to truly realize how emaciated I had become. And if the gathering of whatever kind was over and I returned back to my parents place, I would lie awake again for nights in a row overthinking every step I took and every word I said, in complete terror of what the other would think of me now.
I was 21, living at my parents place while my father slept in my bed and I slept next to my mother.
Her stroking me was the only way I could calm down enough to actually stay in bed. When I was alone I would leave my bed ASAP and stay up, cutting pictures out of magazines all night long because reading them had become impossible.
I was 21 and even walking to my aunts’, who lives 5 houses away, became an undertaking that would take me at least 3hrs to prepare for and 2hrs to recuperate from, if I managed to find the courage to leave the house at all.
I was 21, and I wished that, if I managed to fall asleep (which rarely ever happened) I would not have to wake up again. Which was also part of the reason I could not fall sleep in the first place; I was so afraid of dying in my sleep that I’d rather stay awake. Because even though I’d rather not wake up than having to live another day, the thought of my mother waking up in bed next to her dead daughter was more than I could handle.
When New Year’s came around, my friends had made the plan to go to Amsterdam and party hardy. I was, ofcourse, welcome to join. Going to Amsterdam meant a 3hr trainride there and a 3hr trainride back. It meant sleeping with 5 friends at someone else’s house. It meant spending a night partying with God knows how many strangers. It meant alcohol, snacks, drugs, food. It meant judging looks and concerned ones. It meant weeks of stress and terror and anxiety, but I went there anyway.
Why, you could ask? Because to me it was my make or break.
(“If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it well”)
The week before I had hit an ultimate low weight-wise, and I decided that íf I’d make it through New Years night and íf I would wake up again, something had to change.
That night I tried to forget about it all and enjoy my time. I wore 2 sweaters all night because I was terrified of getting the flu since it was so damn cold. I knew that if I’d get the flu, let alone another round of pneumonia, that that’d be it. I still have pictures from that night and they can still bring tears to my eyes; I am so tiny and fragile and my eyes are so hollow. I feel the pain in those eyes even more so now than I did then.
And on January 1st , I woke up. When I got back home I told my parents about my plan. Change had to happen. That night my heart almost stopped (again) and this time I woke up my mother; I needed to go to the ER now.
I cannot put to words the difference between the girl then and the girl now. It has been over a year and a half and while it feels like a million and a half years to me, I realize that I am lucky it has ‘only’ been that much. That fragile, hollow, scared little mouse with absolutely no joy, life or zest left in her eyes is so far yet still so close. I am reminded of her daily, through the wonders I get to experience and savor again, but also in the approving and confirming looks of others.
Back then, leaving the house to visit my aunt five doors down was too much, whereas now I just got back from 6 weeks of backpacking in Cuba and I am already busy booking tickets for Malaysia this winter.
Back then, walking up the stairs had become impossible, so I had to sleep in my parents living room, whereas now I jumped out of a plane with 35seconds of free-fall (without my body failing and having a heart-attack or breaking my fragile bones when landing) and smiling my ears off while doing it.
Back then, meeting my bestie would mean a week of insomnia before and a week of sleeplessness after, whereas now I have danced, flirted and partied at least 3x a week for 3 months straight.
Back then, cutting out pictures from magazines was cognitively challenging enough since I could no longer even comprehend kids cartoons, whereas now I just started a new year of Uni with 50 credits the first semester alone (while 25 is recommended. Oops).
Back then, I felt anxiety flooding through my veins. I could feel it going from toe to finger to head to back, taking that cold sensation through my entire body. Now, I feel life flooding through my veins again. They are both a tingly feeling, only this is a warm sensation. Like a fire in my heart. The warm shudder and goosebumps feeling of a long-desired, yet still unexpected kiss. The feeling that makes you wanna do it all over again. That makes you long for more. This is what life feels like. And it is good.
One day, maybe, I will have the balls to show you the pictures. Some say a picture says more than a thousand words. I have been apprehensive in doing so, only showing bits and pieces, and writing well over a thousand words. But in this case, I do not think a picture could show you how amazing it is to feel the love for life ignited in me again. I feel alive. And I love it.