Nonfiction from Julia Edinger
The Manifestation of an Eating Disorder
It is only when you are vulnerable that she appears. When you are cowering, helpless, and desperate, she comes in the night and shows herself. Little by little, she manifests herself into a being, or rather a beast, and becomes a part of you. She is powerful, and relentless. She feeds off of your insecurities, and she works her way into your thoughts. Soon, she is everywhere. She is everything. She takes over your world, your life, and any remnants of who you once were.
“Come with me,” she whispers from the mirror, “I will show you happiness.”
If I could go back to that moment, I would disappear in the opposite direction. Maybe I would fight, I would scream, I would cry and beg her to leave me alone. I would punch the glass and shatter the monster. But I was only twelve years old. I was vulnerable. I listened to the voice. I gave her the power to continue.
“You’re worthless,” she taunts, “but I can change that.”
“I’m worthless?” I ask, helplessly. I am flawed, and I understand that. I am weak, and I have accepted that. I had not contemplated worthlessness. Is it true?
“You are a waste of space,” she grins, maliciously. “You have no value, and you benefit nobody. The world would be better off if you just disappeared.”
Tears leak from my eyes. Their salty taste enters my mouth. I look into the mirror, watching my face contort. My eyes are wrinkled, my nose is too big, my mouth is not the right shape…
“You hate yourself,” she states. “You may not have known that before, but you do.”
“I hate myself?” Everything she says is unknown to me, but as soon as she says it I start to believe it. “Maybe I do.”
“You’ve always been the ugly one, the fat one, the weird one. Haven’t you noticed you’re different? Haven’t you felt that distance? You will never fit in like the other girls do. Don’t you want it to stop? Don’t you want to feel better about yourself?”
I should have told her to go away. I should have told her I was happy. I should have told her I didn’t need her. Instead—
“Show me the way.”
Weeks pass. I follow her orders. I pick at my breakfast. I throw away my lunch. I do everything she tells me to do. I dare to believe in her promises.
“I will make you strong,” she swears.
She tells me that soon I will feel my strength, but I continue to feel weaker and weaker. I feel empty, as if I am becoming a shadow of myself. I start to forget how I used to be happy, and what I used to like about myself. She points out all of the things that are wrong with me, things I didn’t see before. She makes me rethink everything I thought I liked about myself.
When I follow her orders, she seems proud. When I skip a meal, she smiles at me through the mirror, impressed. It is when I eat that she gets angry. When she is angry, she is cruel.
“Did you really just eat that?” she hisses, furiously.
“I’m sorry!” I cry, “I was so hungry… I’m sorry…”
“Do you think you deserve that, fat ass? Do you think you will ever be happy if you continue to stuff your face like an animal? Don’t you have any self-control?”
I fall to the bathroom floor. My reflection is my enemy. When I see her, I see myself for who I really am. She is the one who shows me the truth—the only one who can save me. I can’t go on being this hideous being, taking up room and inconveniencing those I love. I will be strong. I will be beautiful. I will follow all of her orders until I am finally happy.
“I’m sorry,” I say, finally facing myself in the mirror, “I will do better.”
Months pass. She becomes a greater part of my life. Honestly, she is becoming the center of my life. We are developing a relationship, and I think I love her. She has helped me so much in so little time. I have lost ten pounds since we have met, and I continue to lose more. She has shown me the way.
I am becoming the person I want to be, the person I did not know I wasn’t until she showed me the truth. I constantly try to please her. She has given me so much. She has saved me from myself. I owe her my life.
“How do I look?” I say, smiling confidently into the mirror. She laughs at me.
“Do you actually think you look good?” She smirks, “I mean, you’re tolerable now. But you have a long way to go.”
My smile fades, as I look long and hard into the mirror. She is right. The progress was in my mind. I disgust myself. My face is fat, my arms and legs are fat, my stomach is fat…
“Please fix me,” I whimper, touching the glass. “Please, make me beautiful?”
Time continues to pass, but the only thing relevant in my life is my progress. I have not made enough. I need to lose more. I need to disappear. My friends and family are beginning to worry. They do not understand. They don’t realize that my whole life has changed. Neither my grades nor my friends feel important anymore. All I can think about is making myself disappear.
She showed me that. She helped me understand. She is no longer stuck within the mirror. She is no longer just a sick voice in the back of my head. She walks beside me and guides me in the direction I need to go. She shows me what to do, and what not to do. She tells me what to say, and sometimes I let her speak for me. She lives through me. She has taken over everything, but she told me I should let her. I trust her. She has done so much already.
“Why did you eat that?” she shouts, after I eat a muffin. It is the only thing I have eaten in days.
“I had to,” I whisper. I am so weak. She is right. Why do I do this to myself? I am only hurting myself when I eat like this. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have.”
“Don’t worry, Dear,” she whispers, tucking my hair behind my ear, “I can help you with that, too.”
She shows me a trick. She takes me to the bathroom, leads me over to the toilet. She puts a finger into my throat and relieves me of the food. It is gone. I am okay. I have not regressed.
I owe her everything. I owe her my life. I am the shadow of her, an alter ego, and I follow her lead. If I stay on this path, I will be beautiful. If I stay with her, I will be happy.
It has been so long since she first came to me, first showed me. But I barely remember this year with her. I could list all of the things I have eaten for months, but I could not describe any outings I have had with friends or family. They say I have been absent and preoccupied. My mind rests with her, with her orders, and her promises.
She promised me that I would be strong now. I am not. My skin is becoming very pale, and my arms are becoming bony. The scale says I am incredibly underweight, but she tells me otherwise. She convinces me that the scale is wrong. She tells me I must continue, or I will go back to the horrid version of me I was before she came along. I’m dizzy and weak and cold in spite of the three sweaters hugging my bones.
“Leave me alone,” I cry, cowering in the corner of the bathroom in which it began, but for a different reason this time.
“You don’t want that,” she assures me. “You need me. You are nothing without me.”
“You can’t control me anymore,” I say firmly. “I can do this on my own.”
This is not the first time I have tried to escape from her power, but she is so much stronger than me. She replaced my longing for food with insults and her demeaning criticism. She told me how awful I was. I would never be beautiful without her.
“I made you,” she laughs carelessly. “If you want to do this on your own, fine. But I promise, you will go back to the worthless piece of shit you were before.”
I freeze, considering. Did she make me? I try to remember who I was before it all began. I can barely recall, but I do remember being happier. I remember feeling lighter. I remember having dreams greater than my appearance. Now, I wake up each day dreaming of the sweet taste of a slice of plain wheat bread, but reminding myself how bad it will taste coming back up. I grip the memory of the bile taste in my mouth and wrap my tongue around it, grimacing, sucking it in for strength.
“You’ve promised me a lot of things,” I spit. There has not been this much confidence or certainty in anything I have said for a long time. “It ends now.”
Years later, I am healthy, but I still don’t know if I ever learned how to be strong. I am happy, but I never learned to feel beautiful. The ghost of her haunts me. Her cruel words echo through me as I lay in bed waiting for sleep.
She comes to me still, even now, when I am vulnerable. Some days, she wants me to kill myself. Some days, she wants me to let her back in. And on my worst days, I think about taking her back.
When something goes wrong and I begin to backslide, I see her grinning from the mirror. I hear her voice, menacingly asking me to come with her. She tells me I am not worthy of love, but that she can change it. She tells me I will never be enough, but that she can help. She reminds me of my worthlessness, but promises me I can be beautiful. I do want that. But I am stronger than I was. I will not let her back in.
She will always be there: watching me, taunting me. She is ever-present, laughing at my failures and mocking my successes. A part of me forever, she is a benign tumor, lurking within. The fight will never be over, but I will not lose myself again.
Julia Edinger is an emerging writer who has published work in Mind Murals, The Buzz Book, Pamplemousse, and Bridge. She graduated with an English degree from The University of Toledo in May, 2018. She was a member of Sigma Tau Delta, an international English honors society. She is currently seeking a job in publishing. For more information, visit juliaedinger.wixsite.com/write.