OPINION: Who are anorexic people?

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By Susan Katherine Corkran, Columnist

I was Googling information about anorexia and fear when I saw this question under Google’s frequent searches for the keyword anorexia. It stopped me in my tracks. I had turned to the internet before when I needed information, forums and support during anorexia recovery. There are resources full of hope, advice and sympathy where those suffering and those with medical expertise can share experiences and suggestions. The trauma that comes with this disease leaves scars that fade slowly even after you have begun to rebuild your body. There are layers of pain and fear that require an enormous amount of strength and patience to overcome. None of this is easy. Not for those of us suffering with anorexia and not for the people who want to see us made healthy because they love us.

And here’s this question—who are we?

Who are anorexic people? Why are there anorexic people, more to the point? Why is the most basic instinct of all living creatures—nourishment—something of which we are incapable? Should we blame Barbie Dolls and photoshopped magazine covers? Should we wage a war against “fat-shaming” in comment sections all over the internet? What causes our obsession with thinness and why does it kill some of us? Why do I feel fear and guilt when I give my body the calories I know it needs? Why is the image I see in the mirror that of a girl distorted by terror?

Which parts of my self-worth are really my own and which parts are controlled by my eating disorder?

So much of this keeps me awake at night, yet it remains unanswerable. Right now, as I am writing this, I know how many calories I have eaten today. I am aware of the number, the percentage of nutrients, and the way those numbers are making me feel about my body. Some days are easier than others, but today is not one of those days. I want to find the words to help myself understand even as I try to make others understand too. To explain this sickness to someone who has never endured it is no simple task. You could think of it as slowly drowning. There is an overwhelming, all-encompassing sea around you. You flail about, trying to keep your head floating above the water as you are battered about by towering waves crashing over your small body. Each attempt you make to swim only leaves you fatigued. Your head slips under the waves time and time again. You choke on water, your lungs ache, and every inch of you hurts as the panic sets in. You want to live. You are tired enough to want to die. You are all at once a contradiction of every emotion and impulse in your mind.

You refuse to eat, so your mind eats itself. Your thoughts are consumed as you sink deeper, and while you wonder if you are doomed to lose your health and life, you also wonder if you’ve lost yourself too.

That’s what the most desperate stage of anorexia feels like. That’s what I was reduced to when I had starved myself down to a shred of person who would cry in fear at the slightest provocation. It was the darkest point of my life, and I am not the only one who has been there in that deep ocean.

So who are we?  

We are your classmates. We are your students. We are your friends. We are your significant others. We are your sisters. We are your brothers. We are. We exist. And we are fighting, constantly, to recover. That’s who we are.