"I only eat apples on Sundays..."
©White bear studio / Adobe Stock
“Kate. See, um … there’s something I have to get off my chest. I have anorexia.”
We’d spent the day watching her two-year-old cousin play with dolls. I’d been trying for hours to craft my confession. That same sentence, confessing my anorexia, had bounced around inside my brain as if it were trying out all the buttons to find the one connected to the mouth. I went to the bathroom twice and told the mirror, sounding out the words: “I have an eating disorder.”
So when it finally came out. I was shocked. I looked into Kate’s eyes. They were steady.
“I know,” she said.
I remember saying nothing. I remember feeling numb as she continued.
“Well Roseanne, it was fairly obvious. You never brought sandwiches to school, never ate out with us. Somehow you’re always full, or you’ve already eaten. Sure the girls always talked about it. We were worried”.
I was stunned. Especially at the last part: “we were worried.”
“What do you mean? But, no one knew. I didn’t even know! I only found out a few weeks ago.”
That’s when bewilderment crossed her face.
I repeated that I was, until recently, ignorant of my illness.
“How could you not know?” Kate asked incredulously.
And I then told her everything. Once I jumped the first mammoth hurdle, the truth eagerly flowed over the deluge of lies; a blind attempt to heal the disconnect my deceit had caused.
After a short while, things lightened. We played a game, of sorts.
What Roseanne Can and Cannot Eat
“No, I only eat apples on Sundays.”
“Ok, ok what about, like, butter?”
“Ew, no, no.”
I shuddered. But I was smiling. Kate was enjoying it too. We were playing a game of Guess Who on my dietary preferences.
She was quickly mowing through the irrational beliefs that the eating disorder had instilled. All teenage girls think this way. But they didn’t. Bananas didn’t petrify them. Or the majority of foods that had fallen into a deep landfill of what the psycho-therapists dub “fear foods.”
It was a beautiful moment, not something I expected in all of the times I envisioned opening up to her. Sure, I was hiding it under a thick wall of comedy. But I think that’s something we all do when matters seem too dire. It could’ve gone very differently.
It was undoubtedly going to be very different if my parents found out. For years I tried to hide my anorexia from my parents.
I tried to hide my anorexia from my parents: but the truth came out
I tried to hide my anorexia from my parents. I’d never intended on telling my parents I had an eating disorder. I’d moved out, was living in England and although I missed events and passages of time, it was nothing I was particularly moved to write home about.
I don’t think it could have been more “uncomfortable” thinking back.
I was busying myself by regurgitating the Sunday roast into the utility sink. I preferred toilets but they were too close to the bedrooms, and someone would hear.
But someone did hear. I turned to look at my mother, snot streaming out my nose, eyes reddened and watery, bile dribbling down my chin. I was a sight to behold.
“This is ridiculous!”
“Mam, no. I’m fine, I- I have a tummy bug.”
I had never seen her so furious as in that moment. I would later find out that she was trying to mask the fright. She slammed the door and left me in the room. My heart throbbed, from the exertion of purging and the dread of her taking away my secret. Expose it. Make me … better. And that was the most frightening thing of all.
“Why I tried to hide my anorexia from my parents I'll never know”
Only one person knew the whole story, Kate. Once I’d removed all of the gunk from my face, I ran into my room and attacked my phone, my thumbs doing overtime.
“Mam found out. She caught me. What am I going to do?”
She sent all the soothing energy she could without actually being there. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t believe I’d been that stupid. Never, ever do that again. Not without a locked door. The harsh thoughts were much more welcome than the guilty, scared ones. But they still slipped in.
You shouldn’t be doing this to yourself. Now you’ve worried her sick.
Stop pretending you have problems; you don’t. Pull yourself together.
I counted the cars pulling out in the morning. The first signaled my older brother off to college, the second a lift for my younger brother. But the third never left. Dad was still in the house.
I sent a text to Mam: “Tell him to go. I’ll tell you everything.”
As if I had bargaining power. As if I were a criminal.
Conspiratorial whispers murmured from the bedroom across the hall.
Mam marched in. “Dad’s not leaving unless you promise to be honest.” And that’s when I saw it. She no longer trusted me.
That moment waters my eyes and fogs my vision of the screen as I type. It was worse than any mourning I had gone through or exam I had anxiously sat. The one person who sacrificed so much for me, and I had thrown it back in her face.
Anorexia – why don’t we talk about it?
The thing is; if there had been more exposure to the reality of eating disorders I don’t think she would have been angry …
Kate’s eyes squint at me in mock seriousness. “Wait now, hang on a second. You love baking”, she was like a detective, sniffing out flaws in my story. It wasn’t a matter of belief and trust but understanding.
“Oh yeah. This one is good. I don’t know what any of my them taste like. I haven’t eaten those cakes in years. I like the smell of baking though, feels like I’m eating it.”
Everything seemed so ridiculous when I said it out loud: it was so liberating; I was drunk on it.
But as I went home the truth of it hit me; they had always known. But no one had thought to let me in on the secret.
If I were approached then, if they’d brought it up with a teacher, or my mam, then maybe it wouldn’t have gotten so bad. They were only teenagers. I didn’t feel let down by them. I felt abandoned by a lack of mental health education funding. All Kate had needed was a phone number, a professional, some route she could take to save her friend’s suffering.
There should’ve been someone to go to, early intervention and all that.
So even though the day had been soul-bearing, the first rinse of my shame and secrets – one of all too many. Years followed of me stripping back the dark, murky shades of lies, deceit, pain, and turbulent emotions. Stripping all the way back to my concrete self, so I could recreate myself to the person I want to become.
I couldn’t ignore the sorrow for my teenage self who was scared of bananas, and the woman that lay down her head that very night, sobbing because she ate a flapjack.
So as uncomfortable as conversations can be if you think it could save someone from starving themselves close to the brink, swallow your nerves, open the dialogue. It can be difficult with anorexia given the perverse “my illness is my sanctuary” ideologies that come with a starved mind. If they are not ready to listen to you: ring a professional, seek online help from health organizations, get help.
Because even if you’re wrong, all you’ve done is show yourself to be a compassionate person. If you’re right, you very may well have saved a life.