I saw you standing there in the supermarket and I recognised you immediately, even though we had never met. Your painfully thin frame draping in clothes that were far too big yet to you they were a comfort blanket of protection between yourself and the world.
You were staring anxiously at a box of pastries in your hand as though you were willing them to spontaneously combust and remove the agonising choice that lay before you. You put it down, spun around and walked five paces before spinning back and picking it up again. You turned it over looking at the nutritional label again, praying for it to somehow change to reveal numbers that you could be okay with.
I glanced to the side and saw another girl watching you, she was pushing a trolley filled with the regular things people buy at the supermarket, her face, her hair looked a lot like yours, I presume she was your sister. She wore a sad expression as she went to approach you and then thought better of it, leaving you alone with your anxieties as she slowly meandered off down the next aisle to buy what needed to be bought.
Pacing the store, I slowly filled my basket with things for my family, things still mostly forbidden to cross my own lips. I thought about how far I had come from that place you are in right now, I could now place those forbidden items into my basket, I could have them near me without fear.
It hurt seeing you, I remember spending hours in Woolworths just staring at labels, picking things up and putting them back over and over, hating myself, hating my body even more, eventually leaving the store empty handed, tears stinging my eyes with a resolve to punish myself harshly for even considering eating any one of those things I had handled, then washing my hands furiously in case those calories had somehow transferred through the packaging and seeped into my skin…
As I made my way back through the store today searching for something I had forgotten, I saw you again, still in the same place, staring at the pastries which you had once more placed back on the shelf, looking like all you wanted in the world was for the ground to swallow you up and take away the pain. Part of me wanted to run over and hug you, tell you it was going to be alright, but anorexia is such a private illness, such a deep and secret pain.
I don’t know if you bought those pastries in the end, let alone ever actually ate them. I’m sure I left that store long before you and your sister did. I drove home crying for you, crying for me, for all the years I lost to my eating disorder, silently praying that one day both of us will be able to just eat a meal without even thinking about it.
To look at my body now, you would never believe I was ever ill, these days I’m quite plump, though in my mind I was never thin, even when I see the photos that tell a different story. I still hate my body with unbridled passion, I still feel intensely guilty after every morsel of food passes my lips, but now at least I can eat, I can even eat in public without dissolving into a quivering mess, I can go to the supermarket without having a panic attack and I can see you and feel empathy for the pain I know you are in, rather than jealousy for the visibility of your bones.
It’s a long and lonely journey but I am making progress, through therapy and online communities I have learned that I am not alone and I have been given a platform to share both my insecurities and my triumphs.
The fight is hard, and the road to recovery is long but it’s so, so worth it. You really can have life after Anorexia.