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Just In My Head
by Traci Seelye
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

When you live through an eating disorder, something happens inside of you when you finally make it out alive. At least that’s the way I’ve experienced it. Today, I’m recovered, but this experience is never far from my mind. It’s an old sweatshirt that I don’t wear anymore, but can’t exactly throw away. Every once in awhile, I open the drawer and see it there, like a part of my story in a scrapbook. Then I close the drawer again. Residual pieces of evidence still remain, evidence that it ever existed at all. The most apparent is that I don’t step on a scale, that I won’t. Today, I go to the doctor and say, “I don’t want to be weighed.” They look at me and they don’t push it. Scales are for the overly thin or the obese. And I am neither, I am healthy, they see. Oh, how I used to hate the word healthy, but now… now it’s actually what I want to be, what I hope to stay.

The 70s
Grandma is visiting. She lives close by and visits regularly. I’m seven years old. I am “the healthy one.” I hear it all the time. It seems to come up when Grandma is over. Maybe because my mom and grandma can’t talk about anything real so they talk about the size of me and my older sister. My sister is nicknamed “skinny minny” and along side her I am “healthy.” Maybe there has to be a contrast, a comparison in my family. It seems that “healthy” is synonymous with “chubby” though. At times, the word chubby slips out of someone’s mouth and is directed towards me, as if it’s not a bad thing. My mom always speaks out in my defense quickly, “she’s not chubby; she’s healthy.” They talk about me as if I’m not there.

The 80s
I’m in my underwear, and I’m 15. I lie on my back in bed and stare at the skin scooping down between my hip bones. There’s a bigger space there now, less fat, more bone. That’s definitely what I’ve been going for… more bone. I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Just minutes ago when I blinked open my eyes, I weighed myself. It’s become a morning ritual… wake up, take off every centimeter of my pajamas, but leave on my underwear, and jump on the scale. I’ve lost another pound. It gives me an indescribable high to know that I’ve lost yet another pound. I lie back down on my bed and run my fingers along the edge of my hipbones and my stomach rumbles; I love that sound.

I get up and put on grey sweats and my favorite t-shirt worn thin, and then I bounce down the stairs. My mother glances up, eyes my baggy grey sweats and watches me as I take out the cheerios and measure it in a cup. This is new, the way my mother watches me around food. I suppose she knows my routine by now… a cup of cereal, a half a banana, and milk.
As I’m eating, she still watches, and as usual it starts to annoy me. “What?” I say letting her know she’s bugging me. She walks over to me, and with wet dishtowel hands, she pinches my fat and says, “You’re getting too thin.”

I squirm away from her, and yell, “Don’t!” I am ashamed and then angry that she’s been able to pinch anything at all… fat, skin, whatever it is, it feels absolutely disgusting to me. And for some reason, I feel violated, infringed upon. How dare she!
“I am not.” I say. And I pick up my bowl of cereal and walk upstairs.
“You look sick,” she yells after me.

I answer her with stomps on the stairs. I want to be thin. And if I “look sick” to my mother, then I must be getting somewhere. Something is working, the exercising, the way I’m eating, or my routine. Still, it doesn’t seem to be enough; I don’t feel thin yet, and I need to feel it.Just a few more pounds and it will be enough.

Half an hour later, I walk through the kitchen in my Nikes. I tell my mom I’m going running. Why is she always in the kitchen? Always hovering?

“Fine, but be back in an hour, because I need your help in the garden.”

I don’t say anything back, because it won’t do any good. I decide that my mom wants me near so she can keep an eye on me, and stuff food down my throat when I’m not looking or something. She wants me fat, I know. She doesn’t like this thinner version of me.

Two hours later, I arrive home. I hear the lawn mower running so someone is mowing the lawn, probably my sister. The garden is at the top of the hill above the house, and I don’t expect mom to be out there. But there she is… so I brace myself. Again, I have to walk right past her. When she sees me, I can tell she’s livid. She yells at me, not to me, but at me. “Get over here and start weeding these carrots!” She starts walking toward me.

“Can I go get a drink of water?” I yell back the question. She’s a little scary like this. We both stand still. She considers this for a minute, breathing steam. “Fine! Go get a drink, but if you’re not out here in ten minutes, I’m coming inside to drag you by your scrawny little arm, and don’t think I won’t!” I know she will. She’s still yelling, but she turns to walk back toward the garden. I believe her because she’s dragged me out there before, more or less. Back when I was fat and lazy, and would argue more, she would come to get me and chase me out to the garden with a wooden spoon. I’ve become more obedient lately, just doing what she says, moving any direction she says. I remember this as I gulp three glasses of cold water, then turn around and head up to the garden. I listen to my mother, I know, except when it comes to food. I will have this one area that is my own now. I won’t let her tell me what to eat. When she does, I’ll be a rock, unmovable, unbending.

This makes me feel, though I would never tell my mom, amazing somehow, and powerful and strong. It’s a feeling I can’t explain, but one I want more of. My mother can tell to me when to work, when to get up, sit up, go to bed, or when to turn this way or that. She can move me to a new school, and even bring a loser step-father into my life who will slap me on occasion. But I’ve discovered, she can’t tell me what to eat. She seems even confounded by the problem of me and food, confused about what to say or do. And I don’t know why, but this pleases me a little, the fact that she’s perplexed. I’ve never seen my mother even slightly at a loss. I arrive at the garden and my mom and I make brief eye contact. She points at the rows of green beans, while she’s absentmindedly weeding the tomatoes. “Start there,” she says. And I do.

Published: Jul 16,2008 14:55
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