“If the heart is a muscle,” I said to my psychologist, “and it atrophies without use, can it be built back up again, like any other muscle, with exercise?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I believe it can. Is that something you want to do?”
Although I had experienced physical heart problems as a consequence of anorexia, that wasn’t what I was worried about. As I had become weight restored, I’d started to notice that people around me felt things. And not just sad things but a whole range of emotions. They felt joy. And grief. And anger. And heartbreak. They felt gratitude. Amusement. Disappointment. And hope.
But the thing they felt that I coveted most was love. Love was not something I had a lot of experience with. Marriage, well, I had experience with that. But that was different to love.
Those early days of recovery were hard. My heart was a mess. I had no idea how to use it. Sometimes, I’d spill it everywhere. Sometimes, it would jam shut and I’d be unable to prise it open.
But slowly, and with practice, my heart became stronger. More resilient. And softer.
And it was in that softness, the same softness I’d always believed to be weakness, that I found strength. Courage. Compassion. And love.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written publicly about my struggle with anorexia. But then again, it’s been a long time since I’ve been ill. And while occasionally there are still days where I feel a bit unhappy with how I look, there are no days where I feel so worthless that anorexia has any hold over me.
Years ago, on the edges of recovery and still nostalgic about my eating disorder, I wrote the below poem and posted it here with the song “Someone You’d Admire” by Fleet Foxes. Today, I’m remembering my old self. This is today’s Music Monday.
And in the distance
As barren hills are touched by black-tipped fingers
The fading light reminisces about the days it lingered
Over pots of tea with toast
Whispering sweet nothings to its only ghost
Then the moon rolls across the inky sky
With a gut full of ache and his upside down smile
And he stops to rest in the furthest corner
Heaves in gasps as the solitary mourner
Closes his eyes just for a minute and
Imagines the days when he was thinner.
All that I hoped would change within me stayed
Like a huddled moonlit exile on the shore
Warming his hands, a thousand years ago
Claw at my skin and gnash their teeth and shout
One of them wants only to be someone you’d admire
One would as soon just throw you on the fire
God only knows which of them I’ll become