By Shruti Vijay
I do not remember the first time I made myself throw up, or the first time I went on a 90-minute run. I remember doing it because I overate that day, and I remember the feelings I felt after. I felt free, unattached, liberated. I did not do it again. It is not a problem if you don’t do it repeatedly, right?
Until you overeat again, and the feeling of fullness gets so uncomfortable that you can’t possibly breathe. When your lungs and stomach feel like they might explode, when your back starts to ache and hunch because the heaviness is pulling, dragging you down. So you throw up, to feel better, to feel less uncomfortable, to feel normal. It’s not a problem because I did not do it again.
It struck me as weird that no one ever talks about this completely normal activity. Don’t you ever feel like completely emptying yourself? To feel as empty and light as air? To feel free? Maybe no one talks about it because it happens on such rare occasions that it does not need to be talked about, and it’s not a problem since it happens so rarely.
I do not remember when occasionally became repeatedly. I do not remember when going without four hours of eating became eight which became 12, 16, 24. It’s is not a problem if it happens only once in a while.
But it happens again, and again, and again. It is not a problem until you convince yourself it is a problem. Until you look in the mirror and you see just a shell of a woman, just a bag of bones. I have been robbed of warmth, I am always cold, even when I sweat after hours of exhaustive exercise, after strolling in this summer heat.
I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at its severe stage, and I was hospitalised thereafter. What followed were three weeks of closely monitored, in-patient care with a team comprising a psychiatrist, dietician and nutritionist, cardiologist and a general physician.
Sometimes I feel it is as though I do not want to get better. I am afraid if I do get better, the world will start to expect more out of me. This does not mean I do not want to get better, I do. Every second of every day I wish to get better, to be normal. But how can I be normal when the very idea and concept of normalcy frightens and bores me? I see how selfish I am.
I see the pain in my father’s eyes as he watches the deterioration of his child. I do not want to see this. You see, suffering and feeling pain yourself is much easier than seeing your parents suffer. It is this sight that makes me want to change, want to become better.
My mental health is still not in the position where I feel like I deserve to eat, but I will do it to make them happy. I make them laugh and they say I am the light of the house, that when I am in the hospital, the house does not feel like home. I would rather die myself than watch the light in their eyes fade.
The war against weight is not the same as the war against food. Maybe the battle begins with weight, but the war is against food. A higher power. Weight is the village you seize and capture en route to conquer the kingdom.
This war, I have realised, will never end. It’s slow, it is painful, it is tiring. Every day is a struggle, every day is a fight. But the rewards – eating with others, joking with your family at the dinner table, feeling good, neither over-stuffed nor starved, seeing your parents smile as the doctors assures them that you’re gonna make it. The rewards are so worth it.
I am not blaming anyone but myself for my state, but if I were given the right help at the right time, I do believe I could have avoided and overcome the worst. I am speaking out about my condition not because I am looking for sympathy, but because I do not want anyone else fighting the same war as me.
The lack of awareness and resources in our country regarding mental health is appalling, particularly for eating disorders. It is time to shed some light on these subjects. It is time to talk about the uncomfortable, the difficult conversations.
Coming out about this issue is only step one. There is not much I alone can do to change an entire society, but together, we can help everyone who needs it. Creating awareness is where it begins.
The more people talk about it, the more people know about it, only then will they know that this is a problem that needs to be addressed and dealt with. This is just the beginning; we must work together to change the course. The war is not against eating, but against eating disorders.
Shruti Vijay, 22, is a Chennai-based yoga instructor with a degree in business administration. Currently in remission from anorexia nervosa, she is on a mission to create awareness the importance of nutrition for mental health.