I Changed My Mind, Now I Feel Different

by dhaaruni

I keep on thinking about that article which discusses the prevalence of the first person narrative in the age of the Internet. I fundamentally cannot be vulnerable and brave in that way to write about the worst things that have happened to me, and I don’t think it’s fair that it’s expected of me as a writer even in this day and age. I value my privacy in a way that seems contradictory given the nature of what I fall back to writing about on my personal blog and on here, and I’ve been reading books that pique my deepest fears and express some of my most open secrets that I still will refuse to openly discuss. In 2015, I have read 99 books so far, one away from my goal of 100 and in the last few months, my concentration has shifted away from fantastical escape and morbidity to something more about self-actualization, what is most personal to me and what strikes me as most important in my emotional growth. I read all the books that are on the top 10 lists (and hated some of them in turn) but I also seek out the books that I know were written with me in mind, and not only the me of the present who is far more stable and balanced than I ever have been but the me of my past who was nothing if not a wreckage with sharp glass pieces sticking out waiting to explode. I read Marya Hornbacher’s “Wasted” and Kate Zambreno’s “Green Girl” in the last month and the former was surprisingly enough a more engaging read than the latter albeit far more difficult to read on an emotional level.

“Wasted” was written when Marya Hornbacher was 23 and is the account of her decade long struggle with anorexia and bulimia. When reading the reviews of it, I was slightly put off by the criticism that she came across as not being entirely over her illness because to me, the fact she was still struggling with made it all the more poignant. When it comes to chronic mental illnesses like eating disorders, what is all the more bolstering than the rosy diagnosis story is the tale of survival because life doesn’t end with a label, and it has to go on after the dust settles and the well wishers dissipate and all you’re left with is the “crazy girl” label. I don’t know what’s really wrong with me with regards to my eating habits since I’ve never had a formal diagnosis which has been an utter relief to me when attempting to not discuss it. I’m not anorexic because I was never thin enough to fall under the criteria even though I was barely eating, and I was one of those stereotypical figures at risk for an eating disorder, upper middle class, pretty, and in the words of Hornbacher “Extreme people, highly competitive, incredibly self-critical, perfectionistic, tending towards excess” all of which look they were written precisely about my during certain terrible times in my life.

I was both an extreme control freak and absolutely terrified of not having an out, which leads to acting out in ways that are both inappropriate and dangerous for my health. As Hornbacher says, those who are most susceptible to eating disorders are both high achieving and competitive but will also quit without warning because they are terrified of being found out and they are terrified of being reproached for their behavior which they’re well aware is wrong. It’s not as if they’re children, unaware that they’re hurting themselves, they simply reason that they’re doing it for a reason, to be beautiful or more in control and the voice inside their head goes ignored. The reason that eating disorders are so dangerous is that they are not only an exercise in control but also a self-imposed suicide in a way that is resolutely refusing to call itself as such. When it comes to cutting or other physical forms of self-harm, there are physical signs people are not okay with themselves, but with eating disorders, it often takes time for others to notice, and thinness is so pervasive in our society, people are even lauded for their behavior. There is no precise recovery for an eating disorder, like pills for bipolar disorder or depression or surgery for other physical ailments, because it takes the subject to make the conscious decision that they don’t want to die anymore, which is easier said then done when it’s not even a habit, but abjectly a lifestyle.

“Green Girl” is about a different type of malaise although it goes hand-in-hand with the gory destruction of eating disorders and their after effects discussed in “Wasted.” Zambreno’s work took me some time to get through, surprising in that it’s such a short narrative and it was almost boring to me despite the interest I have in the subject material. There was a certain discomfort I had in reading the novel though because it seemed so akin to my frustrations with womanhood and femininity, all of the same struggles I have with control in my own personal life. There is a decided feeling of being watched all of the time when you’re a woman and feeling obligated to fixate on the image of things, how they were and how they seem and how they ought to be, and that’s what this novel conveys.

“The green girl necessarily pines for the past, because the present is too uncomfortable to be present in and the future, unimaginable. The need to long, to desire that which she cannot have, that which has eluded her, because she deceives herself that it was this person, this chance, where she would have found happiness.”

I was obsessive about people from my past, former lovers and old best friends I’d now cross the street to avoid, and it fundamentally wasn’t healthy for my own self-esteem or in turn even my physical health. I grew so angry with it that I deactivated a lot of my social media, my Facebook and my Instagram in particular because I didn’t want to be eternally comparing the worst parts of my life to the best parts of other people’s. So what if some girl gets 200 likes on her profile picture and I only got 75? I shouldn’t be panicking about things like that but yet I was, and I saved myself from that turmoil by removing myself from the narrative. I have my Twitter and my blogs but they’re more of a study in my mind and not in my body and face so they feel more in my control; I like my face and my body most of the time but still, they’re not my entire being.

The book “Green Girl” is about being watched, during our best and our worst. “She is such a trainwreck. But that’s why we like to watch. The spectacle of the unstable girl-woman. Look at her losing it in public.” And I was that girl once, we all were that girl at different times in our life unless we have been extraordinarily lucky, and we almost want to see other people fall down because we are never entirely aware of their own fallacies and insecurities and we only see what they want us to see. Sometimes it isn’t even that people like to watch other people fall; they like to watch others fall and skin their knees and force themselves to get up, wincing all the while because pain is what defines our humanity and pain is what makes us relatable, or so we assume. The question at hand was uncomfortably the same question that society asks women with eating disorders, “Were you trying to kill yourself or just get a reaction?” To this day, I don’t particularly know what the answer is because it feels like the only response was “both;” I wanted to be understood in my multitudinous but I also wanted to be left alone, free to stew in my own self-destruction.

It was fortuitous that I came to the realization that my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable or healthy in the long term, and I abided by that realization unlike many others. I regress and I move forward in equal amounts sometimes, and it feels like my progress is stagnant but I’m still alive and I intend to remain so which is a lot more than I used to be able to say about myself. I keep on telling myself “Things will be okay, and if they’re not okay, it’s not the end, it’s the low point of my story and there will be some metaphorical fairy godmother or twist of fate, because I’m not allowed to have a miserable ending, because that is not what I’m meant for.” It’s a borderline immature line of thought but it works at keeping me motivated and sometimes, that’s all that I can ask for from myself.