By: Lena Twichell
DEAR FRESHMAN SELF-
Get help now. Please don’t wait for the traumatic experience that’s coming to make you realize you how far gone you are. Don’t wait for the screaming and the crying and the sense of purposeless to realize that you have stopped feeling. Feeling anything but the fixation. The obsession.
Right now, as you take your first steps on this campus, you have the traits ingrained in you, the habits and cravings, control and coping mechanisms. You will reach for them consciously and unconsciously. The thinking has already infiltrated your daily thoughts. But for the time being, you also have somewhat of a separateness from it. You and it have not become one and the same. Don’t wait. Don’t wait for the day two years from now-- you couldn’t stop thinking about how uncomfortable you felt in your goddamn bikini, and how hard you were going to run when you got back to the gym-- when then that sound pierced the air.
“God oh god nooo, goddd,” screams the captain of the catamaran carrying 40 spring breakers, many of them your closest friends, the drunkest you’ve ever seen them. The captain dives off the boat and you hear the people on that side of the deck begin yelling, too. You know that this means something terrible has happened. You just have to wait as the seconds unwind, to reveal how bad the damage is, and just how different your entire fucking life is about to be. The biggest question in your head is who who who. It’s Leslie, someone yells. Your stomach drops.
Her limp body is pulled out of the water and onto the boat, someone shouts to call an ambulance. Everyone is swarming, doing CPR, yelling for a towel to contain the blood, put pressure on the wound. She’s strapped to a board, brought to shore, and put into the back of a small island van. Even then, you are so sure she is going to be okay. You haven’t seen how deep the propeller gashes went into her body. You don’t know Jessica is in the van literally holding Leslie’s skull together as you gather your drunken friend together for a prayer circle. You believe Leslie was breathing with a heartbeat, Zack promised you she was. There is no other possible outcome.
Which is why it doesn’t make sense when they tell you she didn’t make it. She’s dead. Leslie is dead. But what makes even less sense is why you can’t stop thinking about the goddamn treadmill, about your goddamn running shoes, about how you can’t break your routine, about how you are getting bigger and bigger every day. Little do you know that your body dysmorphia is playing a trick and you are 15 pounds lighter than what you see in the mirror.
My dearest freshman self, right now you know how it feels to not have a normal concept of your weight, but you don’t know it quite like this. It’s not that bad, you’d tell me. If I recognize I have a problem, it will go away, right? My love, that is simply not enough. You need real help. A therapist at least, a nutritionist, someone to talk to you about your over-exercising. To know is not enough to recover. I’m aware that right now you don’t care about the harm it’s doing to your body. But do you understand what its doing to your soul? To your experience of life? This isn’t just some battle you fight in your head; it seeps into every aspect of your life, pushing you into isolation. Physical isolation and mental isolation. I think you understand the physical isolation…. the fear of social situations involving food, which makes you simply avoid them all together. Do you realize that this often means memories lost? Going to grab froyo with a friend, indulging in drinks at a mixer— these are the little moments that make up your college memories and you will miss too many of them on purpose if you are not careful— all in an panicked effort to avoid calories.
What’s worse than the physical isolation is the mental isolation, especially when it reaches its extreme. It makes it so that even when you are surrounded by friends and family, you aren’t actually there. You are stuck in your head because you can’t be fully present in a moment when all you can think about is the fact that you are hungry, when the only thing your focus is going toward is not eating a second slice of pizza. This disease will take away who you are. The parts you prize yourself on. Your empathy, your motivation. It welcomes depression and low self-worth. Loneliness and a sense of separation. You will stop caring… about just about everything. And then I dare you to say at least your skinny. I dare you to tell me it was all fucking worth it.
During the memorial as you hear people speak of their love for Leslie, when they account memory after memory with a girl you thought you knew and realize you were absent for so much of it— finally, finally you burst. I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I am so sorry. The deepest part of your soul cries out and the tears start to stream. I never loved you hard enough, Leslie. I knew you and I enjoyed our friendship, I appreciated our interactions, but I didn’t love you hard enough.
There you will sit in this body wanting nothing more than to escape its flesh, its fat you feel encasing you, without recognizing that it is only through this body you are able to experience life. Hands and flesh to feel things and a heart to love them ever harder. Love harder, heart of mine.Love so hard that it hurts when it's gone.So at least you can be sure it was once there.Because hurt is nothing more than the measure of how much something meant to you. Because mourning is only a representation of how well we attached ourselves to the life we are living.
As the memorial progresses, you keep silent through stifled gasps for air from a tight throat and sticky, thick spit. Wiping away the snot with tissue after tissue. But your heart will be throbbing so loudly you will swear the room can heart it-- I’m SORRY, Leslie. You will feel dehumanized by your inability to get it until now. I’m sorry and I’m so fucked up and I don’t know how I got here. I so am sorry I didn’t recognize what I had in front of me.
Freshman self, get help now because the pain of realizing all that you have lost to this disorder, that not all that you lost was taken from you by circumstances, that your mental state took much of it away from you, too-- that pain is more than anything you every want to burden yourself with.
About Lena: I believe that, in life, we need to show enough of our own vulnerabilities that others do not feel the need to hide their own. My hope is to share personal narratives that others can connect with, grow from, and feel comforted by. Follow my blog "College Outside the Classroom: As Told By an Undergrad" at www.tumblr.com/blog/thetwenty-something for more pieces/posts on body image, as well as identity, social life, relationships, life lessons, advocacy, and gender issues.