How far do I go back? How far do I need to go back?
Photo Credit: Dave Martyn
TRIGGER WARNING: the following material may be triggering for some individuals - please read with caution.
There are years that all swirl and blend into a weird, sad twisted story that really goes nowhere but deeper and deeper.
It was like walking into shadows for all those years, at first I fought it, wrestled with it, then let myself sink deeper down and gave into all those urges and destructions that ran through me. My entire life feels like one big waiting game. Waiting for death; waiting for life to begin; waiting for help; waiting for people to leave me alone; waiting to be saved. Through all of this waiting I’ve managed to have some semblance of a life. I’ve been to the edge; the absolute bottom; taunted death and pleaded with it to take me. There was no light at the end and I was tired of looking for it. The darkness, to me, is comfort. It’s where I’ve spent most of my life. It’s a place where my creativity has bloomed; like a night plant. My eating disorders have ranged from severe to manageable.I have lost friends; I have lost respect and trust. I have lost myself in this disorder. I have a hard time picturing my life without it. I have wasted away nearly 18 years of my life, flushing countless time, energy and money down the toilet. There was a time when my doctor told me I wouldn’t live to see Christmas that year. When I was so malnourished I couldn’t manage daily life; there was also a time when I was engaging in eating disorder behavior less than once per week, where I was normal weight. Where to begin?
When I began dieting in 2001, the feeling of wanting to change my body was nothing new to me. I can remember in grades 4, 5, and 6 feeling so badly about my body and how I looked that it manifested itself into me feeling physically sick and not wanting to go to school. It was an unease that I constantly carried around; I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I knew I didn’t feel good. In 2000, at 13 years old I entered high school. Grade 9 was a time of trying to fit in and wanting the older boys to like me, wearing high heels and makeup. I thought my life was beginning. The summer of 2001, after finishing grade 9, I began to eat less. It was a deliberate act that set the tone for the rest of my life. The less I ate the more concern and what I thought was admiration grew in the people around me. (Side note: being almost 30 now and wanting children of my own soon I can’t imagine the turmoil my mom went through. I am sorry, mom.) I’m not sure if I knew this was going to be a forever thing; in my 13 year old mind I didn’t look too far ahead; I just needed to get through another meal, another day without eating. Dieting quickly developed into anorexia. I was a shell of my former self, unable to function at school or at home. A brief three month stint in Sick Kids hospital in 2002 did little but made me gain 15 pounds and earned me a new diagnosis.
Fast forward four years; I am 17, finished high school and now a very angry teenager with severe bulimia. Moving away from home to Toronto felt like the answer to all my problems. I figured I would disappear into nothing; wanting to fall back into anorexia. The absolute opposite happened. I moved into residence and started my baking and pastry arts course and my bulimia seemingly went into remission. I was able to eat normally, or normal compared to my usual. I had friends, I laughed a lot, I felt better. My mind didn’t settle here for too long. To date, this year and a half at school has been the only reprieve I’ve experienced in my lifelong battle.
Normal eating and college life came with weight gain, which scared the shit out of me, and depression set in; hard and deep and fast. I couldn’t cope; I couldn’t live on my own. I lasted a little under two years in Toronto. My mom took me home and I spiralled into some of the darkest places imaginable. The next couple years were a blur of hospitalizations and overdoses; cutting and bingeing and purging. Endless therapy and doctors’ appointments and crises. Confinement and utter desperation. In 2007 when I had been away from Toronto for almost two years I decided it was time to move back. I knew I wasn’t better at all, but I was getting antsy and angry being at home; mine and my mom’s relationship pushed to the very edge. We loved each other but living with someone who eats everything in the house constantly and the stress that comes along with your child trying to kill herself every other week really tested our relationship. Within a month of being back in the city I was eating next to nothing and was exercising several hours a day. I stopped being able to function as a person. I had no strength. This was the year my doctor and therapist told me I wouldn’t last until Christmas (this was June or July). My body image was so distorted I couldn’t see what everyone else saw. My sister told me it hurt to hug me, often looking at me like it was the last time she would see me alive. My brother, who I was living with at the time, didn’t think I was trying to get better at all. In reality, I wasn’t. My mom didn’t know what to do; she cried on the phone and wrote letters to the government trying to get special funding for me to go to the States for treatment. Her exact words were “she looks like a prisoner in Auschwitz”. Everyone was at a loss, and I couldn’t care less. I had resigned myself to dying at the age of 22. I would call my mom every night after I’d purged; when my blood sugar would drop so quickly, so intensely that it would leave me in a catatonic state. I couldn’t talk properly and my eyes would go black. My heart would race and palpitate and my emaciated body would sweat buckets. I always wanted to be near my mom in case it was the end. But, the end never came. I feel my body is resilient, invincible; how could it not be? If I gave you the numbers; my weights, my blood tests, my bone densities, my suicide attempts, my hospitalizations, the hundreds of hours spent in therapies, the thousands of scars and cuts that denote my body; you would think the same. Am I lucky? Definitely, no question.
I paint a bleak picture. Is my story unique? In some ways yes; but in a lot of ways, no. That is a horrifying fact; that other people-woman-men-children, have felt or will feel like I have. Will go through life hating themselves and being self-destructive; will go down paths that are seemingly endless and solitary. To those people I ask; is it worth it? It’s a funny question because if I ask myself the same question I think ‘well I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t gone through every single shitty event I have’. But to those young people out there contemplating dieting or eating disorder behaviours; please rethink what is important to you. Eating disorders take you nowhere but down. They are not fun or glamorous or cool. They are a life sentence in most cases; death sentences far too often. There is so much more to life. I know.
But I think about the young girls, especially those who are just starting puberty; who are just realising that their bodies are changing and will change; who are feeling that they are not good enough; like the only worth they have is what they look like; and it breaks my heart. I can’t imagine growing up today in the world of technology and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. It must be horrible and hard and must make you feel that looks are the only thing that matter or that the number of likes you get on a photo determines how you feel about yourself. But in truth; in the truth that I have learned through all my ups and downs, through the battles I’ve waged with myself, the years of struggling; the way you look, the size of your body is overshadowed by your heart, your spirit, your kindness, your empathy towards others and being true to who you are. It’s different for everyone; to me I am defined not by my body and the way I look, but by what I can offer other people; the stories that I can tell and advocacy I can do for those who can’t. I have a voice; we all have a voice even in the bleakest of times. Use your voice, stand up for what you believe in; stand up for healthy eating and healthy body image. Make your own standards and don’t let anyone tell you any different.
My last thought is a quote which rings true to me; “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”– Abraham Maslow.
I’m choosing to step forward into growth no matter how hard it is. There is no normal. Only who you are.
Image Credit: Dave Martyn
Nadine Espinoza is a Toronto-based filmmaker and artist who have spent the last 10 years exploring the visualization of her personal struggles through art and film. “Flush” is her first fully involved work as a writer/director; and comes from a deeply personal exploration of her long struggle with an eating disorder, self-harming tendencies and mental health disorders. Nadine is currently in the process of showing her art in venues around the city; working towards a large upcoming gallery show; an autobiographical novel; and further future film projects. Mental health and eating disorder advocacy has taken on a bigger role in Nadine’s life in the past two years as her story telling and openness resonates with those who are and have struggled with similar experiences. Working on the youth mental health project is a deeply important task to her, as there are so many young people who need our support and need a voice.