Written by Gabi Morris
Photographs by Amber Schormans / Amber Magazine
So I wasn’t originally going to share anything for #NEDA awareness week, because of so many choices and changes chaptering me so far away from that sick, sad part of my story. You see- here I’m healthy. The healthiest I’ve been since anorexia nervosa started sickening a very different version of me around eight years ago. But only around two years prior to this shot being taken, I was barely half this weight and in a wheelchair on a ward rather than walking between works of art on walls. I looked distinctly different, but mainly so did my life. So I’ve decided I’ll share a little (okay-big) something. It’s a longer ass piece of a post as per, but I feel it’s long due to dig out something really deep about this disorder and the literally ill lit life I once wasn’t living but just breathing and existing in- so as to also shed a light over the ill lit light stereotyping and stigmatising invisible illnesses. I wrote what follows from a paediatric bed- yellow skinned, severely underweight and suffering from black outs, a palpitating pulse, and on a mental health section with a 2:1 of nurses, each within an elbow reach of me at every second whilst another one scrawled down my every move and each meal time tray I trashed the curtains and corridors with in my tantrums- all as I waited to be transferred for what would be fifteen months of force feeding and my final stay in a psychiatric ward. The docs defined it my death bed. My dad was told if they hadn’t detained me that day then my refusal to neither eat nor drink even water and the decreasing kilos they were constantly calculating me at would have killed me off within the week. But from this I want to share my version of my journey, not just the one of the shrinking girl that all the shrinks saw. This is some of the journaled and jumbled jargon from what I didn’t yet realise was a journey in my fancied destination of a dead end. I’ve tweaked what I’ve typed up so that it’s me reflecting from my frame of mind now, rather than the senseless spilled ink of the specific time frame its from. But THIS is the verisimilitude of anorexia nervosa:
It was seven years. Seven years of inpatients and outpatients- the first admission and the slippery sliding of a wheelchair down the narrow corridors of hell. Seven years of mayhem, of watered down soup bowls replaced with piled plates, trembling cutlery and spoonfuls of trepidation, tears blending with fatty tides of milk, spicy havoc, oil greasing my mind and the slippy ground I paced upon, torrential tantrums and white washed walls painted with bloody tomato sauce. The meticulous meal plans and mantra of eat, rest, repeat. The manipulative mayhem, crumb stuffed bras, defiance and devious deceit in the chocolate squares up sneaking sleeves.
Seven years dominated by petty numbers, scrutinising tea bag boxes and the back of toothpaste tubes, four times on the scales and four times off, constantly calculating calorie after calorie after calamitous calorie, living by different equations and the same old ridiculed routine- just checking, double checking, figuring figures, rationing macronutrients, quantifying each mouthful and ripping the crust from a slice of bread that was nought point three grams overweight in my angst of becoming that too. The sin of sitting, 100 star jumps and 57 more just to make sure, running through the streets like a maniac into the dead of the autumn nights-falling through fall, snowdrifts of confusion throughout winter and alopecia like dead leaves dropping in spring.
Constantly working out. Working out the footsteps traipsed and quantifying every movement. Dizzying sit ups, ticking timers and endless exercise regimes. The looking glasses and distorted perceptions, a dependency on an airy nothingness, standing at each and every possible angle to get a glimpse of a hollow void of daylight between my thighs. All this time with the same sounds- a keyboard ribcage with no tune, creaking floorboards before 5am, the crunching of dry crackers and clicking of brittle bones, the beep beep beeping of hospital wards and the groan of the blood pressure cuff... that drumming heartbeat in between breathlessness, jingling pockets coined full of fake weight and the tap tap tapping of the walking calculator I had become.
It was seven years being caught between who I was and who I believed I wanted to be, dismantling my body and erasing it into a blank canvas of sickly paper skin- tinged with the yellow of liver failure, splattered with purple bruises, scarred etchings of red, stained blue on the toes, tips and lips, smudged shades of grey balancing lifeless eyes. And with one two word diagnosis there was dancing with ALL the demons anorexia used as it’s ammo- every excuse after excuse to let my body eat away at itself.
It was a seven year dinner dance and not just one with the feuds with food and the dishevelled flare ups dished up both with and by them. Seven years of an eating disorder digging its nails into the nitty gritty of the little girl me. Digging my grave and stopping me growing up. Like a long term temper tantrum of that toddler- gyrating round and grating what’s skin deep due to grudge holding in her head, and heartlessly hating on the whole world she walled off and wouldn’t let in due to traumas with two or three other people.
It was seven years of the same old song and dance in every sense, singing empty promises to people begging me to just have one bite of bread. Dancing round to body toning tunes and fat blasting beats- playlisted for my malady rather than the melody. Choreographing the chaos by the kicked up heels of a control freak on full show, and it’s invisible illness ingrained and instructing inside. Like the prance of a puppeteering pathosis and the plagued person.
And a seven year dinner date with empty plates to tremoring tables- plattered with hollow hunger and hopelessness to hospital provision and meal planned mouthfuls. All calorie controlled and alphabetically ordered from A-G, crammed with caked cutlery and cups of ensure compact. Going from the “gross” weight gain to the getaway, and then the goosebumps like scattered stepping stones on the footpath to hypothermia, before being bedridden and hospital cornered in those covers once again. From wall climbing and sprinting up and down clinical corridors at every o clock, to being pricked in the butt for picking the locks and losing my shit- before rock bottoming my brain and body back to that famished pit of a stomach and self from the second the discharge papers were signed.
Less than ten syllables worth of time wasted on shivering muscles and aching bottoms, chipped tea cups, ink stained ramblings, fragmented wings and fluttering heartbeats. “No thank you” to Haribos rolling off my tongue as swiftly as half the Christmas dinner slipped from my plate to the plastic waste bin that first year. Over half a decade on a battleground in my brain- be it bed bound or in bony cages. Ribbed lies leading to loss of true friends. Found or not after the first, second or fifth time fainting on the bathroom floor. Feet and thoughts toppling over the catcalling self criticisms, and creating self consciousness by measuring myself against the catwalk queens. Tripping over what’s head to toe, falling from face to feet in the floor length mirror, and caught up in the comparison games that kept me in a standstill there, whilst simultaneously running away from who I refused to be.
And water water water...empty bottles, filled excuses, eating the egg then treading on egg shells...chew, swallow, quiver, and the taste of shame. Frozen and ghostly mid summer, never satisfied, “Just a kilogram more to lose”, the numbness in escaping a realm of emotions, and then to the little ants of energy swimming in the guilt gushing through my bloodstream. Scuttling skeletons and skin and bone to health and then back to skin and bone again. Then tip toeing somewhere in between and just dancing on the edge of what could be, taking tiny bites of life and then ruining the taste for myself- letting old habits and persistent notions in through the wounded cracks and allowing them to spill over the surface of some beautiful memories.
Paralysed by a perfectionist perception, and the breaking body I was burning to the ground in my pursuit of being like the people I put on pedestals. Losing weight and losing everything I loved doing by dedicating everyday to the quest of becoming a lookbook lookalike. Scrolling through social media’s smoke and mirrors for my daily dose of motivation...for moving the mountains I made in my own mind by making role models out of mannequins. By aweing and aspiring to every photoshopped thigh gap, each fragile framework, or the beautified blogged boxes all prinked to picturesqueness- all the perfect people and places I could find through the highlight reel, which hides the #highlightREAL . Creating the “aesthetic” of an anorexic or an Auschwitz victim, and all for the sake of some Barbie figurine and the make believe magical solution to sustaining 24/7 starvation, the prize size 0, a social life, acting shows and studies with straight A grades… but without becoming sick bodied and sick minded and SICK OF BEING SICK OF BEING BLOODY SICK.
Seven years of rampaging on a rock bottom- the foundation slathered with the conundrums and fears of the ‘recovery’ that I rambled through in my relentlessness to remain in the malady which I believed to be a melody. Cautiously clambering up that life ladder a little, and then settling for the borderline in between. Months spent merely traipsing the alleyways of an unshifting mindset on a mental ward, before beginning once again to dig my own grave as soon I waltzed out of the gates- again and again and again. Wandering a walkway of wretched routine every single day- beginning each morning with tip toes to the mirror to glare at this control freak that was so tangled in the strings of delusion and messy chaos… A girl whose fire died a little more every time she blew out the candles and refused a slice of cake, a stranger with a scatterbrain who I had lived with for far too long. Someone inside of me coercing me into carrying the mountains I was supposed to be climbing. Someone with no friends but MyFitnessPal. Something inside that blast from the pasts thoughts, which had to be taken out of real school and taught over the top of on how to put a fricking forkful of food in a mouth after months of being in a brainwashed into believing there was genuinely no need nor deserving of it. Six scoops of this not that and six dinner tables a day instead of school desks. A girl with her oh so precious golden grades who was going nowhere. In an infantile body and back to the basics of baby feeding instead- because of being stuck on the same prison pages, refusing to read between the lines of and look overleaf at the leaps of faith over fear that would land her into learning how to have candid fun and laugh out loud like I do now... And learn how to real life this thing that is life, with acceptance and embracing of both its ebbs and and flows and the body that does the dips and troughs with it. Because she refused to learn how to love the world, and learn the art of letting go.
That’s the nitty gritty of anorexia nervosa. And not in a nutshell, no. I could downsize it to the size zero talk. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt… and guess what? They themselves were all too baggy for the bag of bones beneath them. And did it make me happy? Nope. I couldn’t even see it- because of that body dysmorphic self deception actually deluding me to the point where I can hand on heart say that I saw fat rolls when I glared into the looking glass… and wanted to tear at the tracing paper skin I’d starved for every time I got a glimpse of the big fat F word of a monster that I made up in the mirror.
And it’s exactly the same as how I couldn’t see that my whole world was crumpling down around me, just like the crumbling bones and the dropping half a stones here and there. Because this disease may shrink you into a shell per se of yourself, but there’s a whole shitstorm that snowballs in the surroundings of someone spending every second inside an invisible illnesses prison perception. There’s sheer shitastrophes amongst becoming a shadow of yourself- and then the dilemmas that you don’t even see, because all you see is the skeleton. The stick insect. The bony butt, concave tum and twig legs that look like your typical anorexic or diagnosis of an eating disorder. Or the “weight restored” and seemingly bull shitting body because they “look healthy”, or because that wretched BMI measurement marries their mass and height up with “healthy”. But what about the head? And the heart?
This invisible illness ruined the life of mine and my families and friends, whether I was an invisible ghost of the Gabz that I once was or the one I’ve grown into, and am embracing, expressing and still creating now. It wreaked havoc in my head and in any place I called home when I was both in the mindset and non stop movement of marathon runs in the middle of the streets at night, and when I cut to the chase and played by the nurses rules of no nonsense.
Oh, and btw, you would have never seen me in a patterned playsuit or coloured clothes back then. When I was in that dark place, so was the attire on my appearance. I probably looked like a bin bag in my attempt to hide the bag of bones of my body in baggy black clothing. And here I stand not only healthy, but in skin which- both skin deep and inside- slays societies body and beauty standards and it’s mahoosive small print that I refuse to sign up to nor shrink down for and sell myself to again. Because I’ve realised through all of this that if I rubbed all my flaws away there would be nothing left. And I feel that is synonymous for every striving perfectionist and every human being hating on who or what they are. I once reached that size zero, that number, that body that I strived for so frantically and fiercely. And it gave me exactly what it is. Nothing. I sacrificed every piece of the puzzle I am for a peace of mind I never achieved. I fed it all my elements and it indulged in them and starved me into nothing. That’s what me at size 0 was… Nothing. And now that I amount to something I’m doing my damndest to make use of it.
I actually love fashion now. MY fashion and others. Of all sorts. If I see something (and I’m not bankrupt lmao) I buy it and I don’t rate it by what was once a routine “body check”. I actually love the fact that I fit into clothes that don’t just come from the kids corner, and the freedom I've given myself through my own fashion to self express rather than do the whole dress to impress that used to dominate my days out. And I love the fact that I can now go into a changing room and not have a mental breakdown about my flaws in front of their full length mirrors. Yes, I love these things. Because they’re things I now appreciate and have an attitude of gratitude for after turning them into toxic to-dos and stupid reasons to rip myself apart and ruin my future. I talk about my faSHUN now for the fun of it, but what was once a true faSHUN was my failure to both follow or actually feel my own body’s signals, by spoon feeding myself the in vogue over the vitamins and vitality it needed. And that’s when I looked my worst with this whole Who What Wearing idée fixe which we chase and base our choices on.
Plus I freaking love this @freepeople playsuit, which I feel is a kind of appropriate brand name for how I feel looking back at the verisimilitude of anorexia nervosa from the here and now. And also how much I’ve metamorphosed from this moment to all of those ones- not only in recovery, but in this living and breathing thing called life that I was once struggling to skeletally exist in.
And one final thing. Have you ever heard the phrase “I have anorexia, but it doesn’t have me.”?
Well, I read it a long long time ago and thought I would never be able to even utter that line in my mind let alone let it leave my lips. But I can now. This is now where I’m at. I guess some could call it healing. But I know I’m neither healed nor healing. Because I don’t associate mySELF with anorexia anymore. It’s this ingrained irk that I refuse to let threaten my future through the here and now, and the choices I make which chapter, chop and change my life in both the beautiful and ugly ways. It’s a monster that both made me into a monster and caused monstrosities in every moment I based my behaviours and beliefs on it. And I know its still lurking and on the lookout for a depressive enough dip. For its invite via an ill-starred incident to make me ill again. Or what it would call the perfect climate creating catastrophe for me to come crawling back into its comfort zone of coping mechanisms. But here’s what else I know. I know I have a future worth the feud with food, the backbone I held up against my own brain and the fight with my own figure and framework. But then I always would have. Because I’m a human who- like many others- just hadn’t yet tried flicking their middle finger up to the fashion of fake it til you (don’t) make it… And wearing their head, heart, soul and SELF on their sleeve.
But hey ho, I’ll say it loud and proud- I have anorexia. And that mofo does not mother f*cking have me.
For more from the wonderful Gabi check out her Instagram @gabu1ously.
In addition here are some other women on Instagram who also talk about eating disorders, mental health and recovery:
If you or someone you know may be struggling, have a look at these charities/organisations for support:
@samaritanscharity (for all mental health support)