*THIS ESSAY CONTAINS SENSTIVE CONTENT AND EXPLICIT DETAILS OF EATING DISORDERS, SEXUAL ABUSE REFERENCES – READ WITH CAUTION*
Ana: A Sketch Essay
She is present and she is absent. She is cold and unforgiving. She is bold, and unwanted. She is thoughtless, careless and the saddest creature you will ever encounter. She is the mistress of manipulation. She is inside my head.
Think of a tangled mess of bare branches that are attached to an aging, creaking, once flourishing- now spiky Red Wood tree carcass. Nails on a chalkboard, her bones creak and break with every step she takes. Skin as white as snow, eyes black as holes with tear ducts streaming a nile of endless sorrow. Her hair is long, black and stringing with grease. A grotesque little thing she is. Her smile sends shivers down spines – reaching earlobe to earlobe and curling at her gums, exposing yellow pointed teeth and a slight empty laugh -Ana’s smile is frightening enough to make anyone run. Her official name is Anorexia, though I personally know her as Ana. She does not appear this way physically to the world, and is constantly attempting to dismantle my confidence into fragmented pieces.
Ana reminds me of the pretty girl who I used to walk by in the hallways of my highschool. That outwardly looks like she had absolutely everything at her perfectly polished fingertips. This girl had eyes that were as bright blue as a California spring day, that were always overcast due to the pain I saw herself putting through. That same girl walked through the doors of one of my group therapy treatments when I was a sophomore in high school, hand in hand with her laxative addiction. She was a perfect abstraction of outwardly false confidence, but still one of the most striking girls I have ever seen. It does take one to know one. Some people kill for beauty, even if it means themselves.
Ana and I have known each other for quite some time, for ongoing ten years. I first met Ana, diagnostically, when I was fifteen, in my personally infamous year of 2012, though I now have presumptions that she and I had been acquainted for some years before that. I met her on a first name basis in a tiny doctors office – a day that is forever in my mind as a core memory. Of course, Ana did not reveal the horror of her true identity to me all at once. It was only after she was identified, named and defined as a negative narrative that I now live with for the rest of my life, that she revealed how ugly she can get.
I wondered as I got older where Ana came from. Did she come from the inhumanly disproportionate, plastic Barbies my mother used to get for me? I had always secretly wished as a little girl to grow up to be as beautiful as those late 90’s Mattel manufactured Barbie dolls. Was it the Victoria Secret catalogs that would come in my family’s mail? Could it have been watching my mother, going through the blood, sweat and pain of the 2000’s toxic diet culture trends? Thinking to myself whenever she broke out in a hungry induced fit of anger, that I would never want to end up in her condition and having to go through the same thing.
I had grown up with pretty things all around me. Princess this and pink that during childhood. Now almost grown up, I have developed a love for fashion, dresses and fragrances. I am considered to be a girly girl, and do take care of myself routinely. One of my greatest fears is that I am as ugly as Ana. How can I not be? I heard the saying “what is psychological is also physiological” from an old psych teacher once and for a longtime, I had applied it to be the logic behind my insecurities. Anorexia (Ana) is a life-long diagnosis with no cure and no medications to cleanse her from the person she inhabits. Only treatments, programs, the threat of being fed through a tube, and constant care repetitions. Having Ana in my mind feels like a minefield inside of my own head – being triggered to the front of my consciousness at the drop of the right pin.
My entire life I have had my parents and loved ones comment on what a pretty and petite thing I am – though it doesn’t penetrate Ana’s smoke screen around my self-confidence. I was even a child model and actor for quite some time, shouldn’t that tell me something? For a disorder that is rumored to be motivated by fat-phobia and vanity, Ana is quite in fact a gruesome thing to the host she resides in. She is a personalized deadly energy for said individual, if fed enough attention. She has no remorse and will relentlessly attempt to anchor me, or anyone she inhabits in her many demonistic forms down, if given even the slightest amount of time. I constantly find myself worrying: Do I look like this Ana on the outside?
Having Anorexia does not mean that I am fearful of becoming overweight (all the time) but it does mean that there are more days than I would like to admit where I avoid my own reflection in the funhouse mirrors that seem to follow me everywhere I go. Body Dysmorphic Disorder comes as a buy one get one free with having an ED. Just the other day while exercising we were asked to place our feet hip distance apart. My instructor came by and corrected me – pulling my feet from 7 inches to about an inch and a half apart and said “Julia, your hips are not that big”. I felt embarrassed knowing that was a body dysmorphic disorder move, at its finest.
The amount of times I have put makeup on and heard Ana’s taunting voice in the back of my head is tragically sad:
“You think that concealer can cover those fine lines?”
“Is that a double chin I see forming?”
“You’re the ugliest thing I have ever seen”
“Give up Julia, you’re just not good at this pretty girl shit”
I then cap my Chanel lipstick and take a deep breath as I take a step away from the mirror and feel warmth flush over my face as tears swell into my eyes. I just want to feel pretty. I wish I could just like myself at this moment, but even though I don’t – I go back to applying my makeup to the taunting tune of Ana’s nasty and untrue comments.
I hate to admit that Ana knows me very well, but not all of me. She knows nothing of my true self. A happy, ambitious and loving individual who is confidently excited for everyday I get to live. I am the friend who always has a smile on her face, rings any environment I am in with laughter and will always go out of my way to help those who I love and need it. Ana only knows my vulnerabilities, my triggers, destructive coping mechanisms and what presses my anger. I hate to say that on the days where I see her lurking in my shadow – there is a battle of self conflict between myself and Ana.
She tries to remind me that she was trying to save me when we first met – I was diagnosed with Anorexia when I was also unknowingly being molested, in that infamous year of 2012, at just fifteen years of age. Ana came to my as demon disguised angel who planted the toxic and permanent seed in my head:
“Starve yourself till you are so small, no one will be able to touch you, see you, he won’t be able to touch you anymore – you’ll be invisible”
Today I am twenty-five and Ana is still a chip on my shoulder, a pain in my ass and an unfortunate part of me. As I have grown older, I have learned to treat myself better. Exercise, eat well, practice mindfulness. Ana’s kryptonite is positivity and self love – light. It is me versus Ana on the days where she comes crashing into my psyche, attempting to poison and pick apart everything I have done to build myself into an independent person away from the engraved attachment she and I have.
I tell you, Dear reader, of the horror that is having Anorexia to attempt breaking the stigma that Eating Disorders are a form of fatphobia – and remind society – eating disorders do in fact exist. There are many examples in my life where I have gotten unwanted comments on my body that I know come from these assumptions, somewhere.
“Her waist is as big as my thigh”
“Aren’t you just the teenisest, tiniest person I have ever seen?”
“You don’t need to workout, you’re so skinny already!”
“Yea, all ten pounds of her couldn’t help me”
My eating disorder was manifested from a series of traumatic events that started from an extremely young age and that was born during one of the hardest times of my life. In no way do I look at other people who are bigger than me and think to skip a meal so I won’t end up looking like them. I don’t keep certain foods out of my diet to look like anybody else – and certainly do not choose to be mentally berated inside my own head, just to keep a slim waistline.
There are some days where I feel as small as Thumblina. The unprecedented commentary from other women just feeds into Ana’s darkness in ways that I have yet to figure out. And that is what I intended to do, confront Ana time and time again until I can look in mirrors without seeing a false reflection. I want to enjoy a treat and not rip myself apart from eating it later, I don’t want to skip meals because of a bad day or stressful situation. Eventually I want to bring awareness to the Eating Disorder community and society: that instead of treatments and therapy, consisting of increased calories and limited physical activity – that we need to learn how to be confident and love ourselves. We need to know how to ease the clench around our throats in order to speak to ourselves nicer inside our own heads and most importantly, find healthy coping mechanisms when things get tough.
At the end of the day I am strong enough to know that this is my life, not Ana’s. And though living with her some days feel as though I am as haunting looking as she is, I soak up every moment I get where she is not present inside of the day or thoughts. I take advantage of these moments by writing mantras to myself, finding new things to experiment with in fashion that are both comfortable and to my liking. I shake off the comments from others because I know they have no idea who I truly am, where I have been and what I live with. With everything that I have been through, I know one day I’ll be able to live in health and clarity with myself – and even smile at my own reflection. Later to become an active voice, guiding those who relate to my story to light and love in the ED community.
Ana is a ghastly creature, but that doesn’t mean I am or have to be either. Exuding kindness and graciousness in all areas of my life is what keeps me going. As well as knowing that I too will tell my story and have it be widely known as a learning lesson: We truly do not see ourselves as others think we do. And to always, speak to yourself as kind as you would to someone you love.
Julia Katherine Publications – Copyright 2022