Written by Amy Kim. Edited by Lasya Ramakrishnan and Ehsas Kakkar.
Artwork by Thanh Le.
Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders
As Chloe Ting workouts were sweeping the nation in March, I was sweeping out my refrigerator instead. In the first few weeks of quarantine, even Google Classroom notifications couldn’t persuade me to abdicate my throne in front of the fridge. After all, my finger-licking subjects were patiently awaiting my arrival into their fluorescent light-washed kingdom.
My inability to relinquish my close proximity to food was indisputably rooted in the extreme hunger that had newly possessed me. After a long-overdue acceptance of my eating disorder, and tear-infiltrated conversations with those I entrusted with what I then felt was a shameful diagnosis, I finally dove headfirst into recovery. Though a mere eight letters can’t do justice to what “recovery” truly encompasses, my definition of the word began small. Gradually, I was able to reach a stage where I could mightily bestow the permission to feed my extreme hunger, upon myself. A monstrous result of undereating.
Extreme hunger is a common phenomenon experienced by individuals that have been severely restricting their food intake. When individuals with restrictive eating disorders embark on their journey to recovery, many often discover that, due to suppression, their hunger cues aren’t there to guide them anymore. Instead, their bodies become so malnourished and desperate for additional calories, that the hunger persists, even after a traditionally-portioned meal has been eaten. After promising myself to listen to my body’s needs, I came face-to-face with extreme hunger myself. A Boston cream doughnut often accompanied my morning bowl of oatmeal, accompanied by three bagels. By the time I was done with the stack of pancakes that followed, it was time to repeat the process for lunch.
Initially, I expected shame to course throughout my body at the immense amount of food I was consuming. Though I knew I was prepared to battle the impending feeling, my previous intimacy with self-consciousness had already programmed a far too deep understanding of how gut-wrenching insecurities could actually be. Even in recovery, fear was left unabated.
However, the shame I so dreadfully anticipated never arrived. With in-person learning suddenly a relic of the past, the fear of weight gain that had tyrannised my life, no longer wielded the same power. Who could know what my body looked like through a miniscule rectangle on Zoom? With the weight of other’s opinions no longer on my shoulders, I was unshackled from the self-imposed chains that had been tying me down to my eating disorder. Embracing the weight gain just around the corner that I was prepared to greet, I reinvented my closet with loose-fitting pieces to accommodate my new self, that I looked forward to discovering. I became my personal chef, recreating butter and oil-rich dishes with an ease that their high calories had previously impeded me from feeling. And in due time, the extreme hunger, along with the scale I had once religiously lived by, went away.
In hindsight, this mentality of distancing myself from reality can be perceived as unsustainable at best, even toxic at worst. Life will eventually return to normal, and we have to come out of hiding behind our Zoom screens. However, the silver lining of my quarantine wasn’t merely that I physically recovered from my eating disorder. It was the fact that I finally underwent the mental healing that I sought. My realisation that others’ opinions of me are inconsequential, wasn’t a fleeting idea that comforted me during the height of quarantine and recovery. It is an epiphany that has been ingrained within me, permanently. Quarantine, despite the tragedy and devastation that catalyzed it, gave me an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on my own self-worth in my most raw and vulnerable state. Isolation. No longer was my perception of self tainted with the view of others. In the comfort of my own room, the only opinions that mattered were my own. The pivotal connection that I had to make was that this sentiment rings true, even when the four walls of my bedroom aren’t there to shield me.
Thus, my initial leap into recovery happened regardless of the pandemic, but my ability to rescue my recovery process and persist despite the insecurities that threatened to creep in, was made significantly more straight-foward and peaceful by the quarantine. So, even as whispers of in-person learning now fill the halls of our virtual schools, I no longer find myself fearing the inevitable reunion with my classmates, even thoughI know that the scrutiny of high school students will return. I can proudly say that, amidst the chaos of quarantine, I discovered my own order.