When people hear that I have anorexia and am scared of gaining weight or scared to maintain a healthy weight, they always assume that this is because I am scared of getting (or eventually being), “fat”. In actual fact, this is not because I fear getting or being thought of as fat or large at all, and funnily enough being fat is probably one of the things I worry about the least when it comes to anorexia.
The majority of my friends are a healthy weight, (by which I mean a healthy BMI which is of course not a foolproof way to measure anyone’s health due to all the many variables at play, but for now it is the best we have). Some of them have always been a healthy weight and have never had an eating disorder, but there are others I have met in treatment during times in which they were very underweight, that have since regained to a healthy place in their quest for recovery. Sometimes I was in hospital with them for the entire weight restoration process, but never at any point did I ever look at them gaining back the weight they never should have lost and think that they are “fat” once their BMI has returned to a healthy range. On the contrary, without exception, I always think people look more beautiful and fabulous than ever before when they have gained the weight. It is like seeing a shrivelled up flower come back to life again and bloom brightly coloured petals all over the place, and in seeing this surely I shouldn’t fear being a healthy weight myself? After all, who would want to look like a shrivelled up flower when you could look like a fresh one at the peak of its colour? I know I certainly don’t, so why do I fear being a healthy weight?
When it comes down to it, it is all to do with the way I feel on the inside and the way in which people perceive me. Inside, I feel broken, scared, weak, sad and very much shrivelled in every sense of the word. When I am underweight people treat me as if they know all of these things. They don’t ask me what I am doing with my life or how I am because they know I am too unwell to be doing anything in life, which saves me having to tell them these things and acknowledge the catastrophe that is my current situation myself. When I am healthy however, they assume that my mind is naturally in the same corresponding state, and when that isn’t the case, it can be incredibly frustrating, confusing and dysphoric.
To explain it in another way, I would like you to imagine that I am a penguin (and if you know me well enough that will not be too much of a stretch. Literally all you need to do is add a beak and the ability to eat raw fish, I mastered waddling before I could talk.)
Inside I know I am a penguin, and I feel like a penguin. I know that I like sliding across sheets of ice on my tummy, I know that I can swim faster than an olympic athlete, I know I can catch fish with ease, I have fully accepted the fact that no matter how hard I flap I will never be able to fly and I know that in terms of career, my goals are to waddle around various agencies to pursue my dream of becoming an extra in the children television show “Pingu” or to model on the front of the wrapper of a chocolate biscuit that is named after me. When I am underweight, everyone else around me can see that I am a penguin. Fellow penguins nod to me in the street to acknowledge our solidarity in species, when I go to a pub the bar keeper knows I will want ice in my drink without me having to ask and friends compliment me on the elegance of my waddle and ask how I achieve such shine on my beak. If they hear about an audition for an actor to play Pingu’s second cousin twice removed, they call me right away and offer to give me a lift, but when I am a healthy weight, they see that audition sheet and don’t even think of me.
When I am a healthy weight, nobody can see that I am a penguin, instead, they see a meerkat and treat me accordingly. When I nod at my fellow penguins knowing that I am one of them they look at each other aghast as to what this fluffy stranger is trying to say. People keep putting me in sand pits so that I will feel more at home, they buy me air conditioning systems to install in my desert home because they know how hot it is in my country of origin, I am offered jackal repellent to help me avoid predators and passers by ask me for help comparing different offers they have received on their car insurance. Nobody is unpleasant or horrible, but still I hate it and want to scream at them because inside I know that I am a penguin. Jackals don’t hunt me in the arctic! I hate sand because it gets stuck in my flippers, I am cold enough as it is without air conditioning units in my igloo and I know nothing about car insurance! When I am a healthy weight there is such a disconnect between the meerkat people see and talk to on the outside and the broken, cold little penguin on the inside that it almost feels like being two different people or that people can’t really see me at all. I feel I have to try and act like a meerkat to live up to their expectations yet I don’t know how. When I am underweight, people see the penguin I know and feel that I am, I don’t have to pretend, I am instantly understood and treated as the waddling little creature I am.
That is why I fear being a healthy weight, and from what I gather from friends with eating disorders that is also why they fear it too. It is nothing about fearing being fat or looking unattractive, it is fearing being seen and treated as something or someone that is totally different to the person you know you are in your heart, it is fearing being put in a sand pit that burns your flippers rather than being taken ice skating for a pleasant afternoon of sliding on your tummy.
I realise this whole thing is a really difficult thing to understand (and as you can probably tell, a difficult thing to explain what with all this talk about penguins and meerkats), but I hope I have helped it make some sense. I have anorexia, but I am not scared of being fat, I am scared of people thinking that I am “ok” when inside I feel anything but.
Take care everyone x