So I write a lot. I keep a recovery blog, I write and content edit for a body-positivity website, I’m one semester away from an honors degree in creative writing, which requires me to more or less finish a novel by April. I’ve learned from personal experience that the Microsoft Word word count widget ceases to function after you pass 100,000.
You know what I do way less? Speak.
I didn’t think it was going to be that different. I mean, everybody who reads this blog, whether I’ve ever met you or not in real life, knows that I’m in recovery from an eating disorder. I make absolutely no attempt to hide that. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: there shouldn’t be any stigma around mental illness and eating disorders, because it only makes it that much more difficult to seek treatment and pursue recovery. If we’re struggling with deeply personal problems, the last thing we should be doing is shaming those problems and driving them farther underground. Which is why I write about my journey, and why I’m open about answering questions and having conversations with others about anorexia, depression, and recovery.
But you know what? It actually is different.
It’s really freaking different.
This February, I’ll be participating in a spoken-word performance on my campus called The Body Monologues. Modeled after Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, there will be about twenty of us standing on stage in about six weeks, telling our stories and our truth through prose, poetry, rants, and music. I’m a creative writing major, like I said, so I’m doing a bit of slam poetry that makes ample use of some of my favorite swear words. We had our first meeting yesterday evening.
It was my turn to do a reading of my piece in front of the group, to get feedback and work through consecutive drafts. And you know what was the most surprising part of the whole ordeal?
From the moment I walked into that room, I was scared shitless.
Why? I thought I had broken down the stigma in my head around talking about my ED. For God’s sake, the amount of time I spend writing and reading and editing other people’s writing about it is staggering. I’m currently organizing a Twitter event to break down that stigma even farther by encouraging open and honest discussion. I sound right now like a tape-recorded message for eating disorder awareness and support. Why was I so nervous about telling my story, when I’m so comfortable writing this post?
There’s a huge difference, I’m learning, between writing to a nameless, faceless audience and speaking to a room full of people who will respond to you immediately, and who will see you again in real life. It’s why I post some of the pieces from this blog onto Facebook, but not all of them. It’s why I still hesitate sometimes when talking face-to-face with someone who’s said something problematic about someone else’s weight, size, or mental illness. It’s because, deep down, though I’ve made tons of progress and am working through my own recovery through words on a regular basis, I’m still scared shitless that someone will look at me differently, once they know.
I shouldn’t be. I don’t want to be. If I’m around someone who judges me negatively or looks at me askance because I’ve been fighting a gladiator-style battle with anorexia since I was sixteen, I don’t want to be around this person anymore. But there’s still that fear of rejection, of judgment, of people looking at me and saying, “You? You don’t look like someone who’s had an eating disorder. Your thighs don’t touch. You do well in school. You eat stuff. You’re too smart for that. Only stupid self-absorbed rich white girls have eating disorders, and it’s because they’re too dumb to diet.” It’s scary as hell.
Put aside that I get a little nervous reading poetry in front of anybody anyway. Make it about my body and my mind, and it’s amazing that I didn’t get up and run out that door.
But I didn’t. And I didn’t just read my piece, I slammed it. I don’t know how it’ll work when I can’t do it staring at the page, when I’m supposed to have it memorized and I don’t have that white piece of computer paper to hold onto like a life preserver anymore. But I’m glad I’m doing this, and I’m glad I’m challenging myself.
And the stunning part was, of the twenty people in that room who shared their stories… You’d be stunned how many had stories similar to mine.
I was touched by their words, by their experiences, and by how much their words reminded me of how far we all, individually, had come, and how far we all, individually and as a society, have to go. But that might be the force that helps me to get on that stage on February 4 and not die of nerves beneath the spotlight.
The knowledge that no matter how scary it is, no matter how absolutely goddamn fucking terrifying it is, I’m not alone.
None of us are ever alone.
And that’s what sharing our stories is all about.