Eyes open. Hands tremble. Stomach sinks. Heart slows – or quickens – I can’t tell. Mind awakens in the midst of withering away. I call these moments waking up alive, because before I fall asleep, I feel like I’m dying. I’ve exercised to the point of exhaustion. Burned hundreds of non-existent calories on a day where my only meal was a mere sip of water. And when I started seeing stars and feeling nauseous, I lay down and used whatever energy I had left to convince myself it was okay to take a break from my months-long dying to sleep. Then I woke up alive – just well enough to exist – ready to do it all again.
I’d spent the months before and after my thirteenth birthday convinced I was really bettering myself, and each pound shed was freeing me in some sick way. In reality, I was deteriorating. Each pound lost brought a small victory but an even bigger heartbreak; I knew I was growing sicker. It wasn’t until my first emergency room and psych ward visit – my bony body, scarred body weighing in at much too low – that I knew I had to find myself again. I had to lose the cruel, demonic disease that had crept through the cracks of me, slowly but thoroughly throwing away any resistance I put up until there was nothing left but a nearly hollow shell – but not hollow enough to give up.
Months passed with dreaded nutritionist appointments, cumbersome meal logs, and steady caloric increases. X pounds. XY, XZ,… I was told I just had to get to that number. X pounds. That’d be enough. Enough. If I got to 100 pounds, that was enough. I took that news with a tinge of sadness at the loss of the “friendship” I’d developed with my illness, but thankfully, more pride that I’d conquered it. And then the confusion hit. Did my “good enough” weight mean I was healthy? Physically, sure. Mentally, I was getting there. But was X pounds the magic number that meant I was healthy? I accepted that, but a pit in my stomach lingered. I questioned why I was suddenly “healthy” simply because the scale showed three digits. Because I ate adequately, didn’t fear mealtimes or calories anymore, and was no longer hurting myself – I was healthy?
Time passed and food no longer controlled my life. It became neutral, mundane. Like getting dressed or brushing my teeth, eating was just something I did daily without much thought. I considered myself healthy – well enough to happily exist, and I thought that meant I was done. It was then that I became painfully aware of my blind acceptance of the societal belief that health is a purely physical state: the absences of ailments, a not-too-high or not-too-low weight, a universally prescribed amount of exercise, three “clean” meals a day… I’d come to believe that was what healthy meant – that and nothing more. Hardly any regard for mental health or self-care seemed to exist in this global definition of health. This realization pushed me so far towards self-discovery.
I challenged this concept of what it means to be healthy – a concept I’d so easily absorbed. I began to delve deeply into what being healthy meant for me. How important was mental wellness? Physical wellness? Why did I want to eat healthy – for my body or my mind? For both? Were there times I needed to pay more attention to my mental wellness than physical? Times when it was the other way around?
This reflection brought to me an incredible practice of self-awareness. In challenging such a widely accepted idea, I learned what aspects of my health I valued most, and on what aspects I needed to focus my energy. I learned how important mental clarity was in times of stress and hormonal changes. I learned the huge benefits exercising had on my brain and emotions. I learned how different foods made me feel different ways. I learned how incredible it was to have more control over my mind than my mind had over me. All of these concepts of wellness have intertwined to help me find my own unique definition of health, and, in turn, helped me learn to embrace and better mine.
Artwork by ©2016 defectivebarbie