Imagine that you were afraid of spiders. Not just “get-your-roommate-to-squash-it-with-a-shoe-because-you’re-too-scared-to-do-it-yourself,” but also “too-scared-to-venture-out-of-the-house-without-a-can-of-RAID-just-in-case.” The kind of afraid that leaves you physically unable to function at the very thought of leaving the house and entering a world where spiders could potentially jump out at you from any corner or fall on your head as you walked through your front door. Sounds like a pretty miserable existence, right?
Well, by mid-summer 2010, life outside of my kitchen had become a giant effing spider.
By late July, ED and I had taken up residence in the corner of the kitchen. We two spent nearly all of our waking hours standing at the counter and surfing bodybuilding and fitness meal plan blogs.* Even when I wanted to leave, I had nowhere to go–the other areas of my house were filled with mirrors (from which ED would leer at my not-yet-perfect body), and to leave the kitchen meant that I was separated from my food. To go anywhere but the gym would send me into a panic that left me nearly incapacitated and suicidal.
At the suggestion of my poor, beleaguered psychologist in NYC (and much encouraged by my parents), I found a therapist who practiced “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” I figured I would try it, since CBT is intended to help lessen anxiety through exposure.
To give you an idea of how CBT works, we can use our fear-of-spiders example: In the first few sessions, you might talk about spiders. Eventually your therapist might bring in a picture of a spider. Soon, you’d have your sessions with an actual spider in a cage on the other side of the room. Perhaps one day you’d be able to go up to the cage, or even touch the spider.
For me, CBT meant leaving my house for something other than a trip to the gym or Publix. CBT meant attending group sessions and building relationships with the other women who attended. CBT meant being okay with leaving the house without a cooler filled with snacks just in case. CBT also meant letting go of my obsession with becoming a bikini competitor.
The problem with therapy was that, while I wanted help, I was still in love with the ideas that ED had planted in my head. Why couldn’t I be healthy and also a Bikini competitor? If the way I was behaving was keeping me thin, what would happen to me if I gave up those behaviors? Though I wanted help, I wasn’t ready for it.**
I argued with my therapist in every session. I attended the group CBT classes grudgingly, and I refused my therapist’s repeated assertions that I should come to her weekend eating disorder meetings. I had no faith in her methods; she was beautiful but overweight, and therefore a repulsive example of what I could become if I listened to her. She and I disagreed on what foods could be considered “carbs” (she said that vegetables weren’t carbohydrates, and her ignorance made me hate her). She wanted me to go out and make friends. I wanted to stay in and build muscle.
She wanted me to go to a physician so that she could have tests run to prove that I was an anorexic. But first, I needed insurance. And that meant I needed a job.
I had been putting my resume out various places, and was finally hired by a gym to work the front desk. This was a part-time, no benefits position, but at least if I had to go out I was going somewhere I felt comfortable. At the gym, people understood me. There were bodybuilders who ate every three hours like me, men who brought in tupperwares of tuna and steamed broccoli or downed their whey protein during their 15 minute post-exercise window for optimal protein uptake by the muscles. There were the spin and boot camp devotees who were as addicted to their post-cardio endorphin highs as any druggie. There were the women who would stop me in the locker room and beg me to tell them my “secret” for looking “so fit.” (And I would smirk, because I knew that no one else had the dedication to do what I was doing, so they would never be as thin as I was.)
I would wake up at 4 am, get to the gym by 4:30, have the coffee brewing and the doors open by 5, make small talk with the old men who came to “work out” (read: do a couple of pec-deck flyes and then socialize for a few hours before going home), and then exercise as soon as my shift ended at 10. It was an almost perfect arrangement. I just needed that insurance.
As August drew to a close, I got an email inviting me to interview for a part time retail position. This wasn’t just any retail position, however; this was a position with a Very Important Technology Company. One that doesn’t just grant interviews willy-nilly, and one that even more rarely grants the interviewee a job. Since I had no background in either sales or technology, I was ready to write this one off.
But I went to the interview anyway. Just in case.
*So many of these blogs were just thinspo/pro-ana in disguise–often unbeknownst to the women who where writing them. Looking back at my bookmarked and most-visited pages now, I realize just how sick so many of these women actually are. It’s one thing to have a healthy interest in food and its effects on the body/body composition, and it’s another to spend one’s entire day obsessing about manipulating macronutrients and photographing tupperwares filled with protein powder pudding.
**If you’re in the same place I was–where you can acknowledge that you have a problem but aren’t yet ready to change–don’t despair! If you can, try to find a therapist or a person who you can talk to. Sometimes, just talking helps. Eventually, you will be ready to accept change, progress, and hope for your future.