I will be doing two posts for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This one is a rant. Tomorrow’s will be practical advice. Thank you for reading.
The other day I saw a trailer for a movie called “ParaNorman”. The trailer ended with the movie’s slogan: “You don’t become a hero by being normal”. And until the day that I meet William Shatner and he decides to adopt me, I can safely say that this trailer was the coolest fucking thing I have ever seen in my life. I sat in that theater and thought to myself, “This is how we’re going to fight eating disorders.”
I had an eating disorder from the age of 13 until I was hospitalized a little over a year ago. Here is what I can tell you about them. Eating disorders are not about food. Not remotely. They have about as much to do with food and weight as actual singing talent had to do with Justin Bieber’s success. The food issues are just a symptom (albeit a very dangerous symptom) of a deeper sickness. Under the eating disorder is a cruel voice inside you that whispers that something about you is wrong. You are different. You do not belong.
And the worst part is that the voice is usually right. People with eating disorders are different. That’s the ultimate goal of an eating disorder: to starve or purge yourself into a more acceptable person. Someone prettier, smarter, more successful, more lovable. Who gets eating disorders? Weirdos. Losers. LGBT individuals. Immigrants. People with autism spectrum disorders (which includes me and an estimated 20% of all anorexics). People with other mental illnesses. My beloved high school friend who spent years hiding his sexuality from his friends and conservative Jewish family. The 19-year-old Chinese college student that I met in the hospital who barely spoke English and felt utterly overwhelmed in this country.
The physical aspect of my eating disorder recovery was surprisingly difficult. I was put on 3,500 calories a day, which my stomach literally could not handle after many years of starvation. I was in immense pain after every meal. I once unwillingly threw up at the table in front of everyone, only to be handed 700 calories worth of protein shakes five minutes later. I gained 15 pounds in one month.
All of that was nothing compared to the real challenge of recovery: realizing that the things that you tried to starve out of yourself are still there, and figuring out how to live with them. True eating disorder recovery does not simply mean that you have stopped starving yourself. It means that you feel g00d enough about yourself that you no longer feel the need to punish yourself through starvation. And thanks to “ParaNorman”, I finally know how we’re going to do it.
When I was writing this post, I thought about an old piece called “One Day I Will Be Normal” by legendary writer The Bloggess. It was a beautiful post about her experiences with depression and anxiety, but that title! That title just pissed me off. You know what? I will never be normal. There are five different versions of Pokémon on my computer. I have a strange, flat voice that everyone thinks is a Bulgarian accent but is actually just Asperger’s. I have a cat named after a schizophrenic writer and a turtle named after an Elvish princess. Sometimes I make comics about Oedipus. I spend about an hour a day writing about fragranced alcohol. Without medication, I have hardcore panic attacks every time I have to throw away something that could potentially be recycled.
And all of that? That’s okay. Because you know what else isn’t normal? The number of pages I can read per hour (150). The number of scientific publications in which I was published by the age of 17 (three). The notes that my voice can hit. How much of myself I give to the people and causes I care about. Normal’s not looking so great now, is it?
I will never be normal. It’s just not on the schedule. And I think it’s about fucking time that we stop making normal something to aspire to. What the fuck is so great about being normal? Have you ever heard of a superhero called NormalGirl? Of course not, because that would be incredibly lame. “In today’s adventures of NormalGirl, NormalGirl finally confronts her mortal enemy, BaristaMan, who totally always puts too much creamer in her latte. Tune in next time to watch NormalGirl meet up with her coworkers to catch the latest Katherine Heigl movie! Try not to eat too much popcorn this time, NormalGirl!”
You know what nobody ever says? “Hey, what if instead of being an apocalyptic epic, The Lord of the Rings was actually just 1,000 pages of Sam Gamgee gardening and trying to work up the courage to hit on Rosie Cotton?” If I wrote about how I was a cheerleader in high school and everyone was super nice to me and never made fun of my face-sized glasses, no one would read it! Do you know why? Because it would be boring as shit.