Content warning: Disordered eating
Writing was how I defined myself before food was all that mattered. I was a writer. This was the part of me that connected to the world outside of myself, what I thought about and what I wanted to do. I lived to tell stories. They could be stories I made up, stories of other people or stories of my own. It wasn’t something I questioned or decided to care about; it had always been there, as much a part of me as my arms and hair and stomach.
I have thought many times about what caused the descent that stripped me of everything I once cared for, including my art.
I hated getting bigger from as long ago as I can remember. I compared myself to everyone at least as far back as my time on a gymnastics team. In middle and high school, I was shy and not good at connecting with people, and instead of trying to get better, I told myself I had nothing to offer. My personality was not enough. Being good at writing certainly wasn’t enough. I didn’t know how to improve those things, but people told me I was pretty, so I clung to the hope that I would find respect and friendship by being “the pretty one.” I thought that since people commented on it, if I could improve my body, make it perfect, then it would somehow solve all my problems.
My body mattered before food did, but then the two became tangled together and impossible to separate. Creativity stopped mattering and turned scary. It was something I couldn’t control. I never knew if it would come to my rescue or push me away, making me feel worthless. I stopped hoping for inspiration in favor of control. So the mirror and the scale and whether I ate only soup for dinner the night before became ways of determining how I was allowed to feel, what I was allowed to do, what I could eat and what stricter rules I would implement for myself.
It might seem like disordered eating would leave you with more time. If I was eating less, becoming less, food would take up less space in my life. Instead, it took over and erased every other part of me. I spent less time eating, but I spent every second of every day thinking about food, and everything else that once mattered faded away. How could something as trivial as my artistic pursuits matter when I was missing something I needed to survive?
I did not realize I was being drained of my passion for writing at first. There was a wilting part of my brain that still liked the idea of telling stories, but I had no energy to do it myself, and even if I had, I would not have known what to write about.
I still said that I liked writing, but at the end of high school, when the writing program I was in concluded, I had no plans to continue the craft. I was preoccupied with scheduling times to go to the gym and filling the tiring hours of the afternoons trying to satisfy my hunger with vivid images of eating chocolate cake. The world around me that had once ignited ideas in my mind was bleak, and I didn’t notice that I stopped having ideas because there was no spare room in my head for them.
Advice books for writers said to “write what you know” and “find a subject you care about,” but the only thing I knew was the pain of being consumed by thoughts of food, and I couldn’t write about it, because I didn’t want it to matter.
I hated the part of me that cared so much about it and, beyond not finding a subject I loved, writing itself was no longer a part of me or a way to explore my world. Besides, that world had turned so far inward and became focused on something I couldn’t write about, even if I wanted to.
In my second semester of college, years after I started to lose my passion for writing, I could go several hours at a time without thinking about when and what I would eat next. I still cared about my disordered eating, but my fascination involved looking back on my experience from the other side. I wanted to express myself again, to say what I had felt when I was trapped inside a body I refused to love.
But even when my experience was easier to talk about, it didn’t feel worth writing about. I considered discussing eating disorders on the YouTube channel I had at the time or working my experiences into open-ended school assignments involving writing. But when I tried to do any research, it upset me and I wanted to distance myself from the topic completely.
Getting over my ruinous relationship with food did not bring my passion for writing back. It left an empty space, and my brain was not accustomed to feeling joy from an activity other than eating after starving. My art became strictly scheduled. I finished a draft of a novel, a thousand and then five hundred words at a time, over the course of the summer. I didn’t know if I cared about the novel — I still don’t — but I enjoyed some of the writing.
Getting into descriptions brought me joy. I never wrote more than I had to, never kept going because I was enveloped by a scene. I worried about the fact that if I didn’t force myself to do the things I claimed to love, I would not do them out of my own desire. The constant anxious tension that came with disordered eating had left, but nothing had taken its place.
A few nights ago, I was having a good night. My work was done, and I gave myself permission to relax and do nothing at all for the next few hours before I went to bed. I considered watching a show or reading a book, but I was itching for something else, and I knew that wouldn’t be satisfying. I wanted to do something, something of my own. I wanted to create something and put it out into the world instead of just taking things in. This was a new feeling, and I had to test it to make sure it was real.
The process of opening a blank Word document is usually accompanied by a pep-talk — “It will be fine as soon as you get into it.” I didn’t need that this time. I didn’t have a project I was working on, but I had had an idea a while before for another story I wanted to turn into a novel one day.
So I started writing. I didn’t try to make it good, and after several pages, I wasn’t sure I liked any of it. I stopped and closed my computer. It wasn’t much. I still don’t get that desire often, but having felt it at all let me know that, no matter how distant I grew from it, writing was never completely washed out of me. I will get this piece of myself back.
Daily Arts Contributor Erin Evans can be reached at email@example.com.