It started when I was fifteen, maybe sixteen at a push. It’s strange that I can’t really remember exactly when it started. I had always felt lost in my body, uncomfortable with my size, a lump next to the other girls. I remember the first time I tried to see how long I could go without eating. I was taking a flight with some family members, I remember them ordering food at the airport, and I claimed not to be hungry. I was hungry, but something told me to try. I think I managed maybe 10 hours, giving in when we finally got home. Not that long, but already enough to breed that excited feeling of control, the one that I would grow addicted to. This food restriction began to happen more and more, delighting me endlessly, but never being enough.
I even remember the first time that I tried to make myself sick. I was alone at home, a common occurrence. I ate an entire oven pizza, just to fill the emptiness inside me. Then I felt disgusted with myself. I had been working out almost daily and just thrown it all away. The thought arrived in my head, I couldn’t tell where from. Had I seen it in a film? Had I heard of someone else doing it? It didn’t work that evening, I never realised how difficult it is to make yourself sick, I think many don’t realise.
But with some research that I sadly found easily on the internet, it worked next time. And the time after, the time after that too. It became a habit, but more than that since it was almost pleasurable. It was my control in a world that was collapsing around me. It was something concrete to hold onto. Years passed, and I would do it weekly, sometimes daily. Once I did it three times a day, that didn’t feel so good.
I left home for university, and I told myself that I was better now. But then I needed it just once. Not really for overeating, but more for sadness. It felt less harmful than physically hurting myself. So I did it. Knowing that my housemates might hear me, probably heard me one time. And then it became easy again.
I decided to run a half-marathon. I loved exercise, or at least I always told myself I did. I was a sporty person, that’s why I push myself so hard, that’s why I workout and feel dreadful if I miss it. I don’t have any clue how to run a half-marathon, I signed up but then felt lost at where to begin. I liked running, I ran weekly and I increased the distance each time. I reached ten kilometres, I reached twelves kilometres.
It was starting to feel good. Not just because I was running off calories, but the running itself began to feel cathartic. I felt less heavy than I did in every other moment of my life. I didn’t look at the calories burned as much as I did at the distance and time. My mind felt calm, I didn’t get that often. I ran through forests, I let myself get lost and not overthink constantly. I listened to songs and podcasts. I spent so much time alone, something I’ve never been able to do.
But then sometimes I would still throw up. And that felt increasingly difficult with the extent that I was pushing my body. I felt tired afterwards, it would drag me down during my next run. It didn’t feel as good as it used to. I read about nutrition, fuelling my body to complete the half-marathon. It needed much more than I was willing to give, especially with all that I kept taking away.
I realised that I had to choose. I had to stop the eating disorder that had plagued me for about four years. She was my greatest enemy but also my only real friend. She knew the worst of me, maybe because she was the worst of me. She was my biggest shame, something people would never approve of, yet they do approve of the figure she crafted me. She was my coping, my lifeline through a mental state that deteriorated before me. I didn’t know myself without her. I had this big ball of sadness inside of me, and she smoothed the edges of it enough for me to get up. I was scared of wanting to give up again, and she helped me to be someone I liked just enough to stay.
But it was a toxic relationship if there ever was one. Because she was greedy, she was never satisfied. She always wanted more. No weight, no workout, no purging was ever enough for her. She said she loved what I could be, but she only loved controlling me. She wasn’t even about my body really, she was about making me hers and no one else's. Because as long as I had her, I couldn’t have anyone else. And I really wanted someone else.
I wanted to run. I wanted the freedom that it gave me, the way it cleared my mind and shushed the voices within. I wanted to feel my legs under me, not look at their size but focus on their strength. As they carry me to a finish line. I wanted to love them, not even in spite of how they look, but simply because I have them. Because I am so lucky to have legs that can carry me as mine do. To have a body that works as mine does, and be so ungrateful and torture it as I did. I wanted to be free of the secrets, free of the weight of my conscience.
I wanted to run.
And so I did. I stopped purging that day. In the four years since, I have slipped up once or twice, isolated incidents always. But I could count them on my fingertips with ease. And I am so thankful to have placed her away. She isn’t gone, she never will be. She will be there at the back of my mind, stirring up guilt and reminding me how many calories are in a boiled egg. But that is okay. Because I am in the driver's seat.
I ran my first half-marathon in 2016 in 2 hours and 19 minutes. My father came to watch, he was so proud of me. It’s a moment that I will always cherish.
I ran my second half-marathon in 2019 in 2 hours and 13 minutes. I raised €1680 for the “HartStichting” in honour of my father, who passed away the year before of heart failure.
Next? I want to run a full marathon. I have no idea how, especially post COVID-19 isolation. I can barely run five kilometres without aching. My body is the largest that it’s been. But I am the happiest that I have ever been, despite grief, despite self-isolation, despite feeling so lost in where I’m going. My body has carried me this far, and I reward it with strength and health. And so let’s see if 2021 can bring a full marathon.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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