“You’re so strong! You inspire me.” From a young age, I was told these words. They followed me to the grocery store, school, the track, and the gym.
Strong was what I was supposed to be when I ate breakfast or went for a walk. I existed to exemplify “human perseverance” to those around me. I had to smile—to radiate positivity and pure joy no matter what I was feeling. If not, I would be disabled and unpleasant.
Able-bodies like it when disabled people exercise because if a disabled person can run or lift weight, there is no fathomable reason why an able-bodied person cannot. Any time I stepped into a gym, people would exclaim, “Seeing you here motivates me! You work so hard.” Even after two hours of exercise left my body limp, people would praise me. I was strong. I was positive. I was exactly how I was supposed to be.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I was “strong” for never bringing it up or complaining. I was “strong” for going to school and graduating. I was “strong” for going away to college. I was an example for everyone else; everyone ought to follow my lead.
Instead, I devoted my time to becoming weak. I ate as little as possible, stayed up all hours of the night, and tested my body’s limits with less than a glass of water a day. Of course, I did not consciously realize that I was weakening my body and mind in order to rebel against society’s expectations for me, and that was not the “cause” of my eating disorder, yet it contributed to my emotional instability.
Within a few weeks, my floor was covered in clumps of dry, gray-blonde hair despite being vacuumed incessantly. The skin of my hands became scaly and would peel off if I spent more than 15 minutes outside. My stomach growled until I could not distinguish the pangs of hunger from nausea. My muscles cramped every time I sat down, and if I sat for too long, my legs would go numb. My voice became hoarse from forced vomiting, and my fingers were decorated with teeth marks. My vision blurred, and my head felt light.
After six weeks of eating disorder treatment and nearly another full semester of school, I still struggle with finding strength. I tend to be strong for the sake of pleasing others instead of being strong for myself. I forget that even the strongest people need rest, an outlet for their emotions, and fuel in the form of food and water. This, I have learned, is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that I am still learning.