“Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I’ve got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?”
– Lana Del Rey, Will You Still Love Me?
There’s been a little movie clip running through my head for about a week. A memory of something stupid and meaningless, but something that won’t stop stabbing me in the heart.
We went to the opening party at WPPI, the photography conference in Vegas. It was at Hakkasan, a club inside MGM that celebs frequent. Huge, pulsing dance floors, light shows, open bars, laughing, dancing, a grandiose spectacle that is Las Vegas. We hadn’t gone the previous year and I was excited about it. I bought my dream dress, a BCBG with a leather bodice, spaghetti straps, and a flowing short-to-long skirt. Six inch heels. Leather cuff.
In the bathroom I was washing my hands and I recognized a photographer I’ve been following online and had met the previous year at WPPI. You can’t miss her really, with her height, and violet hair. I called her name and she replied, “Dawn Kelly!” and we hugged. Hi how are you, I’m good, yeah I’ve been busy too, etc. She’s very sweet and incredibly talented. A short, black dress draped over her statuesque figure, all legs and boobs, and I said, “You look GORGEOUS!” because she really did. “Stunning.”
She said, “Thank you!” with a grin.
And I stood there while she said nothing. Silence can be so loud sometimes. I waited several uncomfortable seconds, then I started to fidget and I said, “Have fun!” and hugged her goodbye. Then that little voice in my head laughed and said, “You’re a joke. No one thinks you’re pretty. You look ridiculous.”
I have that little voice in my head that speaks to me every day of my life. Every single day, she’s there, whispering in my ear. It’s not the voice of my mother saying, “No one will marry you if you’re fat.” It’s not the voice of my high school boyfriend who said, “You have a pretty face, you’re just overweight.” It’s not even the voice of my father saying, “Life’s not fair, Babe.”
This voice is named Anorexia, and she’s with me always. Always, whispering in my ear. “Everyone’s looking at your thighs. You think you look good? You’re a joke.” She has a taunting laugh that makes me stop what I’m doing, close my eyes, and take a breath. My husband knows when it happens, having been with me for over twelve years. He knows she’s there, and he loves me anyway.
It started when I was a senior in high school. I was sneaky about it, taking one bite of a sandwich and then giving it away. Eating two spoon fulls of cereal at breakfast in the cafeteria, then dumping it into the trash. Kneeling over the toilet at home after eating macaroni and cheese, pissed off that I couldn’t throw it up. So I ate less and less. I cut my fat down to five grams or less per day. And by college, my clothes from seventh grade were fitting me again. Hanging off of me actually. The starving would come and go. The times when I was happy, in the college cafe with my very best friend, we would eat the fresh-made pizza and laugh, and I’d be happy. Other times, when my mom was out of control, or when I felt lonely, or confused, or anything at all that was hard, I looked at my food and tried to eat it, put it in my mouth, and force myself to swallow it, like glass down my throat. I cried in my room and knew I needed help. I was so thin, my hip bones jutting out, but the boys loved me. A guy actually carried my books for me one day. That never happened when I was fat. But I knew if I didn’t stop, I’d die. So I tried to suck it up, but it was a roller coaster until I moved out of my parents’ house, away from the turmoil that was my parents’ marriage. It still came and went, but mostly, I was doing pretty well.
But then I couldn’t hold it together any more. I relapsed in 2011, working out for hours at a time, refusing to eat, fighting with my husband when I fell down in the hallway. And I would eat, but I would cry, that glass in my throat again, the fear that I wouldn’t be able to work off the calories, the pretending in front of friends that I was okay. The smallest amounts of food I could get away with. If I felt like I was going to pass out after getting off the treadmill, I knew I’d done something right. The voice was still too strong. I sat in my therapist’s office and said, “You can’t make me eat.” And he said, “You’re right, I can’t.” But I knew if I didn’t start getting better, he’d tell my doctor and they’d put me away. So I fought. Hard. Really hard. I see a dietitian every two weeks so my doctor can watch me, and I work with my therapist twice a month. But the voice … is still there. Always.
This week has been hard, because I had to get in front of the camera, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened in the bathroom at Hakkasan in Vegas, and the voice kept laughing and saying, “You think you look good? You’re a joke.” I was to wear the same dress with the leather bodice in our photos, and I kept thinking about it, a movie clip running like a loop in my head. But now I can talk back to the voice. I said, “No. I will be brave. I trust our photographer. I trust our photographer. I can do this.” And I am proud of that. I talk about it because my clients are brave in front of my camera, and I want to be brave too.
Every single day of my life, that little voice is in my ear. It always will be. It’s part of the illness. But then I talk to my husband, he makes me laugh, we spend time together, and I see the way he looks at me, and the voice hushes for a while. Then the next day, I get up and do it all over again.
** Mark here, highjacking the end of this post. Be sure to read my comments below, along with the links.