Note: This open letter was originally published on The Invisible Illnesses Project.
You’re only 14, but your soul has been weathered by more years than you’ve seen on this earth.
From the time you were old enough to walk, you were old enough to worry. You worried about being smart enough. You worried about the way your body looked and how it didn’t look like other girls’ bodies. You worried about what other people thought about you. You worried about death… oh, how you worried about death. Those panic attacks over every ache and pain that made others call you a “worry wart” made you obsessed with your own mortality when your biggest worry should have been what doll you wanted to play with that day.
The anxiety made room for depression. And then the depression made room for the fork-in-the-road between life or death: the eating disorder you’d carry shadows of with you for the rest of your life. It would creep into the hallowed holes years of anxiety had dug into your soul, whisper promises of worthiness and tear you down enough to believe you deserved the punishment it doled out. It would make so many promises, Maris, that it could never keep. And yet, you believed them all.
I wish I could tell you now how much of a liar your disorder was, and is. How no matter how small it coaxed you into becoming you would never disappear from your fears like you thought you might. How no matter how beautiful it promised it would make your body it would never make your heart as beautiful as it has the potential to be. How it would shrink you into becoming selfishly obsessed with a life of miniscule manipulations, unable to fathom a world where, perhaps, there were things more important than your edible obsessions.
But it would never give you the relief you thought it would.
You were tricked, Maris. Seduced, coaxed, manipulated. That disorder is not your own voice speaking within your head, it is an illness manifesting into something loud enough to drown out the beauty of your own existence. If I could drill one thing into your head, Maris, it would be that you are not your disorder. You didn’t wake up one day a shadow of a person who cries at the thought of drinking sugared almond milk and is consumed by their lack of consumption. You weren’t born “broken,” you weren’t born destined to live the cage of their mind. You were overtaken by a promise so many fall prey to: the promise that a disorder will fill you back up with just as much as it drains out of you. That people will think you’re confident, controlled, disciplined.
But it’s a lie. It was all a lie. And you weren’t just starving your body, you were starving your spirit. You were robbing the world of how much power already exists within you. Below the worrying, below the depression, below the compulsion, you are and always have been enough. There is no amount of fasting or starving or hiding that can make you more.
If I could go back in time, I still wouldn’t stop you from going to the hospital. You needed to go, I think, to spend time in that sterile segment of hell. It was awful, to be sure, to be surrounded by so many others just as ill as you were. But, it was a wakeup call: like watching your own funeral through a foggy glass window. To watch your mom cry. To watch your brother lose the attention on his birthday he deserved. To have doctor after doctor stroll through your room like a funeral march, reminding you that yes, this was as serious as they were making it out to be.
Because an eating disorder is not the glamour some suppose it is. Never, no matter how many glimmering celebrities drone on about how “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” It’s not just sipping diet coke and curbing craves with Hollywood cigarettes, it’s not just skimpy black dresses and perfect lipstick untouched by gluttonous eating. It’s ugly. It’s bad breath and long, downy hair growing on your back to keep you warm. It’s your body eating away at itself, shutting your organs down to try and keep you running. It’s saying hurtful things you don’t mean to people you don’t hate. It’s not eating food at your own birthday party and pretending you like it that way. It’s lying through your teeth about how happy you are, hoping that all the truth you swallow will keep you full.
It is not worth holding onto.
I don’t think you chose to have a disorder. I think, I know that life was carved out this way for you. That the anxiety you were born with kept growing like weeds inside your soul, uncontained, until you were no longer able to handle it. But, Maris, it’s okay to let go now. It’s okay to admit that you’re scared of the disorder you’ve confused with yourself for so long. It’s okay to admit that you want, desperately, to not hold onto it anymore but you’re scared that once you let go there will be nothing left. It’s okay to ask for help in shedding this parasite on your life.
I promise, a hundred times over, that you are still you without your disease. You are more than an amalgamation of diet rules and exercise obsessions. You are creative and spirited and talented in ways you never believed before. You are powerful enough to change the world, even in ways that can feel small. You are Maris. You are not your disorder. You are Maris. You are not your disorder.
You are Maris. You are not your disorder.