Only a couple more weeks to donate to Sylvie Mae Baldwin’s skinny crazy small. Go here ! And now more about the playwright and actress, in her words:
From my eleventh birthday until the year I turned nineteen, I woke up every morning terrified – terrified that I was going to die of anorexia nervosa. This wasn’t an entirely illogical fear. I had been diagnosed with the disease the summer before I entered seventh grade. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of my parents, I was quickly weight restored and deemed “healthy” once again.
So, why was I frightened? I’ll tell you why. Anorexia is deadly. Of all mental illnesses, it claims the most deaths each year – roughly half due to suicide and the other half due to heart failure. Anorexia is particularly vicious, because the disorder compels individuals to avoid the only effective treatment. Imagine if contracting cancer drove a person to avoid chemotherapy at all costs – that is how anorexia works, but with food.
As a young girl I feared that the illness would sneak up on me once again. I felt powerless over its sneaky and coercive tactics. And, despite many therapy sessions and doctor visits, my own unwillingness to talk about my problems allowed disordered thoughts to plague me even after I appeared “recovered” from anorexia.
When I entered college, my restrictive eating habits resurfaced and spiraled out of control. The loud, boisterous voice of anorexia pounded in my ears: “Keep cutting calories! Exercise! Stay healthy! You know what happens to people who eat fat – they become ugly, unhappy, and unloved.” I would lay awake on my hard dormitory bed, counting my faint, slow heartbeats. I was confused – entirely fixated on my health and happiness, yet the captive of an illness that made me take terrible care of myself and feel desperately despondent.
It was a Friday night in early October when the realization hit me. My whole body was tingling and shaky. “I am dying. Anorexia is killing me,” I told myself. “My own worst nightmare has become my reality.” I placed one of my hands on the wall beside my bed, the cool surface steadying my uneven pulse. I resolved not to sleep. I couldn’t. I knew that if I closed my eyes, if I drifted off, I might never wake up again. Instead, I ate – one protein bar after another, from a small stash of emergency provisions I had stored underneath my bed. I consumed the bars tentatively, not voraciously, not with any sense of joy, pleasure, or ease, but because I knew I had to.
When I reflect back on that night in October, the night I became convinced that I must and could recover from my eating disorder once and for all, I am sometimes overwhelmed with a feeling of total idiocy. Why did I ever restrict my eating? Why did anorexia consume my life and my thoughts for so many years when all I had to do was make the decision that I would eat fully and live fully?
The reality is that on that fall night, I reached a critical moment in my young life. I had to choose between life and death, between eating or anorexia. For the first time, my choice seemed simple, concrete, and clear. My eating disorder had spent years convincing me it was helpful, fooling me into the belief that excessive calorie restriction was my key to happiness and success. But I finally saw anorexia for what it was, nothing more than death. Death repackaged to look like a shiny can of diet soda and a single cup of non-fat yogurt.
If we are lucky, life is long. Seconds become minutes, minutes become hours, hours become days, and days become years. However, it is the moments that count, the moments that shape our lives and decide our fate. All it took was a moment – a moment, perfectly situated between life and death – for me to decide that anorexia would no longer rule my life. That moment, when I decided to eat, lasted no more than a heartbeat. It was short, a flash, the blink of an eye. However, that moment gave me life – years of life, for which I am eternally grateful.
Today, I no longer fear that anorexia will kill me. I no longer feel powerless against its tactics or consumed by disordered thoughts. Those days are behind me, thanks to the power of a single moment. A moment of clarity in which I realized I had to eat or I would die, a moment in which I chose life.