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Behind closed doors

Displays of vulnerability—even anonymously—can be a crucial part of dealing with an eating disorder.

There is a list written on a certain stall in the women’s bathroom on the second floor of Harper that starts with the prompt, “All I want is….” At the start of the quarter, the list contained humorous lines like “All I want is a hot boyfriend,” or “All I want is an ice cream sundae” (or something to that effect—my memory fails me). But as the lines grew in number over the weeks, the content got darker and more personal.

“All I want is to be thin.”

Somehow the line inflicts what feels like real physical pain in my chest. I have been thin and I have been fat, but no matter what body size I possessed, I was never happy. I always felt like there was more of me I could lose, like I was greedily taking up too much space in the world. Now I binge, and after I binge I sit in the stall and contemplate my fatness, my eating disorder, and the utter repulsiveness of my existence.

“All I want is to get over my eating disorder.”

When did that get written? I don’t know but I add with my pen, “x2.”

A few days pass and I return to the stall. Now on top of my “x2,” there is an “x3,” “x4,” “x5.” I feel tears welling up in my eyes. So many of us strive so hard to appear perfect and in control; that is partly the reason why we were able to enter this school in the first place. I’ve constructed this unachievable ideal of perfection. I see those around me who seem to function effortlessly. I yearn to be like them, but it seems that quite a few of us are merely putting up façades of normalcy and are quite good at it.

Over Thanksgiving, one of my closest friends from high school discovered that I have an eating disorder. She is bulimic herself and is resigned to fact that she will never recover. When she found out about me, she was surprised.

“You always seemed so normal.”

The fact is eating disorders are more prevalent than we think. At a school with such academic focus and intensity, it almost seems like it is my fault that I would even have the time and energy to develop an eating disorder. I feel guilty and ashamed; it almost seems indulgent to put so much focus on myself, when really I should be focusing on school and work.

To be honest, I still do not know how I am going to deal with this problem, who I will be in 12 months, but every day the possibility of recovery seems a little bit closer. It is easy to feel lonely—battling an eating disorder is largely dependent on the self. I just wonder how many more of us are out there and how wonderful it would be to be able to embrace our imperfections together.

But at least for now, I have gained solace from words written on a bathroom stall.

Annie Hao is a first-year in the College.

1 comment on “Behind closed doors

  1. reply

    It’s funny, the paradox. How it takes more guts to be vulnerable than to be untouchable. How it takes more to be brave, than to seem brave. Even when you’re the only one who will ever know you were.

    This article – you’ve been pretty damn brave, Annie.

    And it’s surprising, too. How you can go for years wearing armor, and nobody will even notice the slight clatter of chain mail until you tell them it’s there. I wrote a memoir focused on life in my eating disorder, and even close friends and relatives, after they read it, would say the same thing – “there’s so much in here, that I never knew.”

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