Live Through This

Rising Tides and Weightlessness

Dragging myself into the light.

Illustration by Ruby A.

Illustration by Ruby A.

This essay has been edited since it was originally published.

I went on my first diet right after I turned 15. South Asia in the ’90s was not exactly what you would call fat friendly, but I don’t remember hearing about diets until I was in my early teens. At 14 I was bigger than my peers and the recipient of well-meaning advice from friends about how I had “such a pretty face” and how good I would look if only I lost weight. I had enough self-confidence at that point that I didn’t take any of it to heart. That changed the following year, when I had my first crush on a boy. He rejected me with four words: “Not interested. Direct answer.” He didn’t say why he wasn’t interested, which kind of drove me crazy. In the absence of actual information, I racked my brain and came back with the criticism I’d gotten most frequently from peers (this is where you’d hear the voices of my friends in echo-y flashback: “Such a pretty face…face…face…”)—I had to lose weight, I decided. I went on my first diet that day.

When I started the diet, my mother egged me on. She was on a diet too, also in an attempt to woo a certain man (it worked—he became my stepfather). Together we entered a world of bland food, calisthenics in the bathroom, and a growing obsession with our love interests—all of it underscored by a persistent gnawing ache in our stomachs. My mother had started treating me as her competition ever since I hit puberty, and in this new pursuit it was no different. She was constantly comparing how much weight each of us had lost, monitoring how much I ate so she wouldn’t eat more. I remember one day she came home with a box of chicken-and-onion kebabs for me. Spontaneous acts of kindness were so out of character for her that I suspected her motive was to keep me fat (or at least fatter than her).

One day, out of nowhere, she asked me how people managed to throw up forcibly after a meal. I recalled something I had read in a book, and told her that it was an eating disorder called bulimia. I avoided the topic after that, but my interest was piqued. I was hungry, and I missed food so badly, but I didn’t want to gain any weight. The idea that I could eat all my favorite foods again—crisps and shrikhand and Swiss chocolate and pulaos and the deep-fried spiced goat fat—then just bring it all back up seemed like a perfect solution. It seemed like magic. And that’s how my eating disorder began. I didn’t know it would end with esophageal damage, acid reflux, and stomach ulcers that would plague me for the rest of my life.

After the first time I threw up on purpose, I was wracked with pain. My throat was raw and my stomach hurt. I felt like dying. This is the pain I have to go through in order to be thin, I told myself. I had fantasies of going back to school after a summer’s drastic weight loss and being the object of lust and envy, of getting back at the guy I was still madly crushing on, of having him “propose to me” (as high school kids in India called “getting together with someone”) and then cruelly and dramatically rejecting him.

I should say here that I have bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, two mood-related mental illnesses that are characterized by vacillations between very high manic episodes followed by crashes into very dark low periods. Neither disorder makes it easy to do anything in moderation. When I started my first diet I was riding my third bout of mania, which may help to explain how a diet turned so quickly into a full-blown eating disorder.

I started to lose weight, which felt good, but then came that crash I talked about that follows a bipolar manic episode. I got really, really depressed. I felt like I was sinking into a swamp. I thought I would never be happy again—I forgot what happiness even felt like. Every evening I would lock myself in my room and write in my journal while crying continuously. My mother thought that I was studying, but all I did was cry, eat, and throw up. Throwing up made me feel in control, so I clung to bulimia for dear life. Every time I threw up, I told myself that I was in control of some aspect of my life, even if it was just what I ate. I started cutting, too, and then one day I slit my wrists and hoped to die.

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38 Comments

  • TessAnnesley July 4th, 2013 7:48 PM

    goosebumps everywhere

  • MeBeKi July 4th, 2013 8:20 PM

    This was absolutely beautiful. For a long time, I’ve struggled with weight and self-esteem issues. While I’ve never experienced anything like you have, I can relate to your story. Thank you for sharing!

    http://theoriesabound.wordpress.com

  • Samara July 4th, 2013 8:27 PM

    This was beautiful, but Rookie PLEASE PLEASE start trigger warning posts. Tags aren’t enough!

  • starsinyourheart July 4th, 2013 8:40 PM

    this is too close to home for tears. i wish I could find comfort in a way that was not harming myself – I’m still working on it. this is so beautiful and that is an achievement considering how unbeautiful living life so sick sad is <3

  • photi July 4th, 2013 8:48 PM

    just want to express my gratitude for somebody of an Indian background writing this. I don’t mean to categorise or limit your article based on your race, but as an Indian myself (albeit born and brought up in Australia), it’s really hard to identify with most writers. From my experience of Indian culture, or what i know from my family at least, a lot of issues like the ones you’ve addressed aren’t only taboo, but subsequently a non-issue. Obviously mental illness affects Indians as much the next culture, but until i read this, i was pretty naive to think it wasn’t actually something which widely affected people in India. Even in a western environment, the Indian community doesn’t shed light on issues which are apparently more prevalent here. Actual problems are never discussed because they’re shrouded by conservatism, which really frustrates me. Gahhh not even making sense any more. But I’m so glad i read this. I wouldn’t hesitate to says it’s given me confidence

  • Runaway July 4th, 2013 10:13 PM

    This is beautiful, or rather, it’s beautifully written, ’cause I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. My experiences aren’t so hardcore, but I can definitely relate.

  • eccentricbombshell.878 July 4th, 2013 10:41 PM

    Wow, this article really touched me, and made me feel not alone. From the hospitalization to feeling like a zombie to cutting to being too hard in myself to the inadequacy of depressive episodes and manic in between just because of an unrequited crush was very relatable. And this is also someone from an Asian background. Thank you so much.

  • Pearl July 4th, 2013 10:50 PM

    This was so beautiful & thank you for sharing your experience with bulimia & anorexia. I’ve never experienced anything of that sort but being an Indian & living in India I’d have to agree that our society is never kind to the “big boned.” I see people giggle or pass comments, albeit privately, every time they saw a fat person (I’m sure it happens all over the world) but I’m so glad my parents brought me up the way they did. Our society has improved but rather at a slow pace. I’m so glad you’ve overcome these demons & please do continue to write touching articles like these, Ragini. Great to see an Indian writer on Rookie!
    http://www.pforpearl.blogspot.com

  • Octopus July 4th, 2013 11:03 PM

    I agree, I think it would be best if Rookie had trigger warnings.

    • Anaheed July 4th, 2013 11:50 PM

      Can I ask you guys which part was too vivid for you? I’m asking because our philosophy on trigger warnings is just not to publish anything that feels descriptive or specific enough to be triggery. Of course that is totally subjective, but so are triggers in general. Because, like, when I had an ED, I WANTED to be triggered. I wanted to get better at my ED, you know? So while trigger warnings work on people who are committed to self-care, there are so many people who aren’t there yet, and I don’t want to give them the ammo they’re craving to use against themselves. We try to be really careful about what gets said and described here instead of just publishing whatever we want and slapping a trigger warning on it. But of course our gauge isn’t perfect and sometimes we fuck up, and I’m really happy that you guys are willing to talk to us about it when we do. So I would really appreciate your help & guidance on this one!

      • Lisi Marie July 8th, 2013 7:33 PM

        When I started reading this I immediately wished there was a trigger warning. I finished the article and truly appreciate the personal story, and I probably would still have read it, but a trigger warning can help people to mentally prepare for something so intense. I survived a five-year struggle with bulimia, and was eating a bowl of pasta while I read this article. A part of me immediately felt guilty for enjoying the meal I had made for myself, felt the desire to get rid of it, and felt guilty for those feelings. The rational part of me quieted those old voices, but I may have skipped this article and gone back to it later. Since Rookie has such a wide variety of content, from silly and funny to very serious, and many readers (like myself) just go through all of the recent articles when they update, a trigger warning can help people to pause and think about whether they are in a headspace where they can handle reading it, want to skip it, or maybe come back to it later. I hope this helps.

  • ColoredSoft July 5th, 2013 12:44 AM

    I cried. This is so sad, but uplifting.

  • Monq July 5th, 2013 1:17 AM

    Wow! This story was absolutely amazing. For a long time, I’ve also struggled with weight and self-esteem issues (and occasionally still do, but I am working on it). While I must admit I have never experienced anything like you have, I can still relate to your story. Thank you for being so brave to share with us!

    xoox

  • izzybee July 5th, 2013 2:18 AM

    As someone who is trying to recover from an ED this was quite nice to read but I also felt quite triggered by it. I don’t know why. Great article though x

    • izzybee July 5th, 2013 10:22 AM

      also, I’m sorry you went through that, that’s nothing near to my problems, stay strong xx

  • Elenor1996 July 5th, 2013 6:34 AM

    I found this very triggering because the author says swimming was the reason she recovered – some of us, however, myself included, do not have the option of exercise in recovery (I haven’t had my period for over a year now and the only exercise I am allowed to do is light yoga). I mean, I would love to be developing muscle instead of gaining fat, but I don’t have this luxury. I only starved for about two months and yet I’ve been stuck in a recovery battle for a year and a half. I really do not want to in any way “invalidate” the author’s ED, but descriptions of what sound like very smooth, quick, painless recoveries are extremely hard to read.

    • Ragini July 5th, 2013 12:05 PM

      Hi Elanor1996,

      first off I am so, so sorry that reading this was triggering for you. Unfortunately it’s not in my power to place a trigger warning on this piece or anything else I write. This is not the full story of my ED, however. I did start eating and it got better but it didn’t go away completely till I was around 23 and I got into fat acceptance. It was a long, complex and painful process but I chose to end the piece where I did because starving myself was something that stopped around then. I don’t know why it worked that way. I am really, genuinely sorry that I made things worse for you in such a difficult situation. If there’s any way I can help you, please feel free to contact me; my email is up on my blog. I really wish you the best in recovering.

    • Anaheed July 5th, 2013 1:19 PM

      Oh, interesting, I totally paused there too. Let me think about this some more and talk with Ragini — thank you so much for this. It totally makes sense to me.

    • Violet July 5th, 2013 2:59 PM

      Maybe it is a matter of Ragini getting into more detail about how she recovered, and analyzing the possible reasons?
      I don’t know how I would have felt if I had read this while still having ED – when it is just sooo hard to see anything else than your current situation.
      As somebody who recovered a few years ago, I can say though, that maybe knowing that it can get better little by little, seemingly easily (other mecanisms are at work in the background of your life), and sort of on its own (because you’ve actually stopped obsessing about it), might also be a source of reassurance for you? Like it could happen to you too, and you wouldn’t have to suffer more before it gets better.

      Know what I mean?

      Love,
      V

      • Anaheed July 5th, 2013 3:45 PM

        She did get into all that here. I didn’t edit the piece above, but I’m guessing that Ragini and her editor didn’t want to repeat too much stuff from that earlier essay. I’m thinking about everything you guys are saying and it’s very very helpful and thank you so much for offering actually constructive criticism when you disagree with a choice we’ve made instead of just slamming us. Rookie commenters are a rare marvel. ♥♥♥

  • Sophie ❤ July 5th, 2013 6:49 AM

    Beautifully written, though I would also go for trigger warnings… :)

    http://plainlysophie.com

  • HeartPlant July 5th, 2013 7:33 AM

    Sending all the love to my fellow BPDs! I haven’t been hospitalised, but I have shared these experiences and it’s good to see other people talking and sharing their stories.

  • Chloe22 July 5th, 2013 11:18 AM

    I can totally understand girls being concerned about triggers and trigger warnings, but lets not talk about others as impulsive wackos who can’t help themselves. Girls and guys with eating disorders are people, too. I have OCD, and in the past I have had impulsive habits. But I still had will power, and I helped myself out of my situation. Personally, for me? This article did not make eating disorders appealing to me AT ALL. When writing an article like this, I agree, you shouldn’t have step by step descriptions. But just remember that someone with a disorder is a person in trouble, not a troubled person.
    http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

    • abby111039 July 5th, 2013 4:58 PM

      “But just remember that someone with a disorder is a person in trouble, not a troubled person.”

      That is a really awesome statement. I wish everyone could see that.

    • Ragini July 6th, 2013 9:19 AM

      Hi Chloe22,

      I am sorry that reading this made you feel bad (or at least, that is the impression I get from your comment; please correct me if I am wrong!) I was just talking about myself and my own journey, though. I wasn’t talking about anyone else, so it’s a bit confusing to hear you say “lets not talk about others as impulsive wackos who can’t help themselves.” Maybe if you could clarify that a bit, it would be of great help to me! I don’t want to hurt anyone with my writing. You also say “This article did not make eating disorders appealing to me AT ALL.” My point was never to make EDs appealing, because EDs are mental illness, and mental illness is NOT appealing. My point was to share my own story and hopefully give some hope to other girls and women who are in the same position. I hope I haven’t offended you with this comment, because that was not my intention.

      • Chloe22 July 6th, 2013 2:05 PM

        I actually was particularly addressing commenters. Your article actually was really beautiful and inspiring, the way you were so brave and saved yourself. I just didn’t want some girls to talk with fake pity or act like someone with a disability or disorder as impulsive or crazy. In saying an article could cause triggers, is someone saying someone has no self control? Or have they been through an ED, and know where their coming from? Me, personally? I’ve never had an eating disorder. But I just know anyone with any problem hates fake pity or someone seeing them just as an eating disorder/deaf/blind/ OCD/anything. As Lena Dunham said, people are a bundle of contradictions. I have OCD. I’ve told friends before, and then constantly they’ll ask me if I need hand sanitizer. I am more then one problem I have. I have musical tastes, favorite books.

        • Ragini July 7th, 2013 9:29 AM

          Ah, okay, now I get it! Back in my ED days, I would find any sort of talk about EDs triggering, in that I would feel more “inspired”, so I get where some of the commenters are coming from. But I agree with you, fake sympathy in general doesn’t help in any way. With my mental illnesses, I do feel that I am my illnesses sometimes, but I know I am more than that.

  • abby111039 July 5th, 2013 4:56 PM

    I don’t know about you guys, but I was most triggered by the bit about self-injury.

    Other than that, lovely article.

  • Scaramoosh July 5th, 2013 5:47 PM

    This is a really important story because it creates a lot of AWARENESS around a very common obstacle in people’s lives making us not feel so alone. Everyone who shares their story helps to make it easier for the next person going through any degree of disordered eating. I especially love that Ragini’s story brings so much HOPE because you see her experience was far down the spectrum but she still came out the other side to live a happy life and give back through her writing.
    http://www.the10principles.com/

  • kolumbia July 5th, 2013 6:05 PM

    I didn’t think this article was especially triggering, because I knew what it was about from the tags, but also because Rookie doesn’t publish stuff like “My lowest weight was X, I was eating X calories a day” or “Here’s a picture of me at my lowest weight.” I agree with Anaheed that a trigger warning could easily be a sign for someone looking to trigger themselves.

    What I didn’t like about the article was that it depicts recovery from an eating disorder as something that happens all at once. It’s not just this piece, but most things I’ve read about ED recovery that makes it seem like once you have that moment where you start to recover, it only goes up from there. In my recovery, and the recoveries of everyone I know with an ED, there were slips, relapses, multiple hospitalizations, moments of crippling self-doubt, and times where recovery seemed undesirable or downright impossible. I think recovering from an ED is not something you do once and then move on with your life, but something that you have to work at every day so that you’ll have a life at all. I would love to see more writing that shows recovery as a gradual process, not a giant epiphany or a single moment.

    That being said, this was a wonderfully written piece, and I was happy to see it end with loving your body for what it can do, rather than finding a partner who made you feel like it was okay to love your body, as a lot of stories about EDs do.

  • Scaramoosh July 5th, 2013 10:25 PM

    I’ve been thinking about this story all day (sign of a good story!) and have been reading the comments and there has been a big focus on ‘recovery’.

    An important point Ragini makes about recovery is that she started her recovery when she found something she LOVED to do (swimming and animals).

    Something that got her out of bed in the morning. A Raison d’être!

    THIS is a solution.

    I was sick for 10 years and didn’t recover until I stopped focusing on my eating disorder and started focusing on something I loved.

    I was in teachers college at the time and was falling in love with the kids. And as kids do, they loved their practice-teacher. It made me feel part of something. It gave me a sense of purpose and belonging.

    Slowly over my practice teaching year the different kids I met became more important than all the hang-ups I had around eating. I got busy with them and their problems which helped to pull me out of mine.

    It wasn’t until 15 years later that I realized what a huge role ‘finding my passion’ played in my recovery. It was a slow shift but it shifted me.

    So in a short story like this one I think Ragini shed light on a hugely important element of recovery:

    Focusing on an interest outside of your eating disorder (or really, any obstacle in your life) and give it some love. And little by little it will start to become part of your day and your recovery.

    http://www.the10principles.com/

  • jessie77 July 8th, 2013 8:13 PM

    ‘I was 17 and already, life had broken me.’ This is where i am in my life right now- that line means to world to me and makes me feel like i’m not the only one <3 thank you writing this

  • loonylizzy July 12th, 2013 8:39 PM

    chills. so haunting and beautiful.

  • jujuliaaaaa July 15th, 2013 5:46 AM

    This article was so beautiful. For the past 4 months I have been struggling with an eating disorder. It’s hard. It’s difficult. But articles like these remind me that I’m not the only one. Thank you :)

  • atinybitquiet July 17th, 2013 11:50 PM

    Reading all the comments makes me love Rookie and Rookie readers even more–there are some great discussions going on here.

  • Kal July 18th, 2013 1:33 AM

    This is beautiful but a bit hard to read because it hits so close to home. It is interesting that you didn’t know anyone with eating disorders, I feel like half of my friends have struggled with them; maybe victims just typically lurk behind closed doors.

    Stay strong.

    zymurgyprocess.com

  • Little Madison August 15th, 2013 5:27 PM

    I totally relate to this. I’m a ballet dancer taking 5 classes a week, and in my ballet school girls are recommended to lose weight (By the effin teachers!) And just a few days ago in class I was laughed and pointed at by a group of girls because I don’t throw my lunch up. I love dance, but it makes me feel so self conscious about my weight. At school and at home, people call me anorexic because I’m thin, and at dance I’m called fat.
    In this article, your mother is kinda like my friends, and the man she is trying to impress are the dance teachers (It works, too. The lead roles in shows are skeletal.)

    Stay perfect, Rookie. And please promise never to post a bikini body article. Ever.