Where do I begin?
Do I start with the IV drips, the hormone injections, the hypnotherapy sessions?
Or do I start from almost nine years ago, when all I wanted was to “lose some weight” to fit into a dress for a gala night in my second year at university?
I always welcome talks about my past with anorexia, but when it comes to putting pen to paper, somehow, I realised that, a) I have never done this before, and b) I really don’t know where to start.
Because the story is always a toss-up of both the dark and stormy nights, and the bright and luminous days – it all comes down to how I want to see it.
I had a mind to call up my editor and tell her that I cannot do this, that this cannot be written.
But I trod on anyway.
And that is the thing about my story – I keep trodding on. So, perhaps you could trod on with me, and see where my mix trail of anecdotes may end?
I was asked to talk about my eating disorder past, but I want to also start off by saying that an eating disorder will always be present, whether we are “healed” or not. It is always there and on good days, I talk to that voice and soothe it to somnolence; on bad days, it can be a battle, a fight to hold onto the ledge so that I will not fall back into that black hole of self-harm, harangues, and ultimately, self-flagellating actions that often manifests itself in starvation and overexercising for me.
I guess it just slowly became a very strict form of calorie restriction gone too far. I initially just wanted to fit into a dress for a dinner party, back when I was in uni, but eventually I started exercising more, eating less, and then, when I came back from the UK (where I studied for 3 years) and started working in a job for which I had no passion and fresh out of of a relationship, I also developed the one meal per day habit. Honestly, it is quite amazing thinking back because really, I knew no hunger. I ran two to three hours in the park before heading off to work – and that meant waking up every single morning at 4am or 5am – and I sustained myself on dried fruits that I would masticate and then throw back out into the bin. When it caused a major tooth and gum problem, I switched and sustained purely on water all day and ate a bowl of cereal at night before bed. I slept every afternoon in the weekends, as I was sapped of energy once I finished working out.
And that speaks volumes of what a human mind is capable of. Our bodies can be pushed very, very far if we put our minds to it, and in its bid for survival it can do so, very much – and yet, all I was doing was flagellating it by burning my muscles without allowing them time to heal; by telling myself over and over again how disgusting I was, how imperfect I was and what a failure I was if I did not complete this circuit, or if I ate more than intended.
But that was not even the point at which I dropped to my lowest weight. I had struggled for one and a half years working at a marketing job, and finally threw in the towel and went to intern at a prominent international fashion magazine. In a strange twist of events, I would forever be indebted to my editor-in-chief, who somehow saw something in me and gave me so many opportunities to write and finally, make my aspirations for a writing career become a reality.
A year later, I decided to try my luck and was accepted into a creative residency in Paris for the summer. I went ahead to pursue this opportunity, and it also became a life-changing event in terms of my eating disorder – this was when I dropped to my lowest weight, 32kg, and also when I seriously injured my foot due to overexercising and walking around the city (I would walk from the Louvre to Luxembourg, without taking any transportation). I returned to Kuala Lumpur, and at first sight, my mother broke down in tears, urging me to seek help.
I still did not see what was wrong with me. I agreed but still had no mind to change my habits. The nutritionist spoke to my parents, and in my presence they both shed tears – a sight that was thoroughly foreign to me. My parents, from whom I have constantly sought approval all my life, crying before me, spending time trying to find a solution to cure me? I realised the illness went deeper than skin-deep – it went way back to my upbringing, my mind’s programming.
I had to go for my IV drips every weekend, and take tonnes of pills and injections and creams for my hormones and vitamin deficiencies. My foot injury inhibited me from exercising, which was a real cause for distress because the treatments had opened up the floodgates. In my eyes, it was my worst nightmare materialised – I cannot exercise, but I am eating like a glutton! How terrified, how lost I was. I would have no satiation levels – I knew only hunger, and would eat everything that came into my sightline. One time, my father found me half-unconscious next to the toilet bowl. I had finished a whole loaf of baguette.
This went on for months, until one day, I came across a book by the nutritionist Kimberly Snyder. I had also stopped seeing the aforementioned nutritionist because she had less of my interest at heart and more of just thoughts of putting me on new medications to see how I would react. I was however, seeing a hypnotherapist, Kate. We did not kick things off well at first, for I was as closed off as a clam, and was sceptical – I was one of those who has never succumbed to a self-help book, and now I was to believe that psychotherapy would heal me? Pfft, I thought.
But here is the thing – Kate helped me overcome my fears and my past. She brought to light all the nitty gritty things that had caused me to feel that perfection was the world. But perfection is unattainable, I realise now, and it is okay to be wrong, it is okay to make mistakes. We own our faults and imperfections, and build our days from these foundations. I learned the art of letting go, and believing that I can be loved; that I am worthy of love. So many years of desperation, of seeking for approval, crumbled and were swept away like dust. It was a revelation that shone light onto my dystopian world – it was a light at the end of the tunnel, in other words.
I have my ups and downs these days – for the past six months, I have slowly picked up a habit of eating when I am hungry, stopping when I am full. I repeat mantras every night before bed, to remind me that I can have it all; that food is not going to take over my life, for there is so much to live for out there – I have so many things to do, so many goals to achieve, and so many friends and family with whom I should spend time. I will not allow my fear for food take all of those things away from me. I have lost so many friends in those dark years; I will not let that happen ever again. Practising the fine art of gratitude also helps me overcome the morbidness that tends to assail me on certain days – try it: I list three things to be grateful about every day. Being grateful simply for being alive, for being healthy and for having such supportive friends and family, can truly turn your perspective around. I hope you can see it, if not now, in time.
And I suppose, these thoughts have helped to strengthen my will to live. To truly, live and savour every present moment. If you think you can never get out of this deep, black hole, I hope you know and gained from my story that you can. When you see the beauty of life, when you hold it within your hands and see all the beautiful things your body is doing, striving so hard to keep you alive every hour, every second of the day, you can start to treasure yourself, love yourself, and care for yourself – because that is the best you can do to live every single day to the fullest.
By Lim Li Ying
My struggle with anorexia began in 2008 and I started getting help in 2011. I cannot say I am fully recovered but “consciously recovering” – it has been a rollercoaster ride but I am hopeful. 🙂 I am happy to help. Please feel free to reach out to me on my Instagram or Twitter @liyingscribbles.
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