Have you ever seen an anorexic man? Dressed in a smart cardigan, Tom resembled a human walking stick with the same labored gait as men in grainy film footage of Auschwitz.
For the life of me, I could not figure out "manorexia." I had to ask a nurse what Tom's deal was. While I don’t recall her exact explanation, I believe it went like this: eating disorders aren’t about skinny or fat and they aren't about food either.
Blah, blah, blah ... It's not about the food. It's about control, it's this and it's that and obviously it's complicated.
The learned PhDs, MDs and MSWs who had consulted on my lame case had always maintained that there was more to me than the wanting to be skinny part, yet not a one had been able to call bullsh*t on my bullsh*t and make me well. Where was the magical eating-disorder whisperer? When was my Lifetime Movie moment of clarity scheduled to arrive compliments of some white-coat-wearing expert who'd waltz in to bemoan how exhausting it was to watch little girls starve to death before they'd been able to vote in more than one presidential election? That strikingly attractive person, who wasn't a doctor but played one in my imagination, would wax poetic about the imminent danger I was in. That someone would shake his or her head in dismissive disgust and say:
I'll leave you to it, kid. My job's depressing enough. Even though Tom's probably going to die, at least he's not an entitled little sh*t like you.
Then, I'd see Tom through the crack in my hospital room door right before the white-coat slammed it. And, Scene!
Tom, who I later learned suffered from depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, had started eating less and less over time—he didn’t even think about food or not eating, he just didn't eat. I thought about food morning, noon and night. I thought of literally nothing else. He didn't even think about it?
Well, that's swell, Tom in your Mr. Rogers' cardigan. Good on you, Tom of purposeful hallway walks, one of which would probably lead to a hip fracture. Hey silly f*cking Tom, who nearly died a lonely anorexic death, what fun is being skinny in your world? Part of getting skinny is being able to be skinny in public ... in a bikini ... for all the world (especially the f*ckers who called you fat in middle school) to see. Here's a tip from a teenage girl who's supposed to fall prey to this sh*t: if you don't have the fun, all that's left is the crazy.
As I saw it, there was zero anorexia upside for middle-aged Tom. Nobody was gonna say: looking sharp, Tom—like literally, your clavicle could put someone's eye out!
Obviously Tom's anorexia wasn't a vanity ego trip like mine. My disorder was cliche and white-girl—the stuff of triggering Young Adult Fiction novels. Tom's was too disturbing to hold any pop-culture intrigue. Tom, did however, open a window into some sh*t that I'd never quite explored, namely that men suffer, too, and sometimes that suffering shows up in how they treat their bodies.
Yes ma'am, boys and men harm themselves by overeating, undereating and becoming consumed with achieving the “perfect physique.” I bet you've met a bodybuilder or two who can't miss "leg day." I'm sure you know a distance runner who must get his 10 miles in.
Obsession's not just for women folk!
I was already bored with stupid Tom when Dana walked in looking the kind of sad that lands people on suicide watch. In her mid-30s, bright and very heavy, Dana proceeded to share her story of overcoming drugs and alcohol only to find a new drug of choice: food.
Well that’s f*cking troubling, I thought. The prospect of getting better from one thing only to have something else crop up on its heels.
I was daydreaming about how bad I needed a cigarette when I heard Dana say, "It’s hard for me to be in this room with these skinny, pretty girls who hate themselves. I think they're perfect. I must look like a monster to them.”
Oh. My. God. Was I Dana’s Erin? Did she look at me and see someone too cute to be such a mess?
The thought that she wanted to be me, and I had recently wanted to be dead, was too much.
“You think you are my worst nightmare and I think I’m Erin’s," I fumed. "No matter what the scale says, we're not so different. I'm not afraid of becoming you. I'm already you."
It was an interesting group therapy session and probably the first in which I had expressed any interest in the proceedings. Maybe it was the first time I identified with something.
Dana and I avoided each other for the remainder of our stays. She made me think too much. Although I had spent the last few years sitting in many a therapist’s office, I had shunned self-examination and exercised my right to remain silent. Hiding in plain sight, I probably appeared uncomfortably numb. Occasionally my anger came out of nowhere like it had with Dana, but because I didn’t think I had a valid reason to be angry, I never saw fit to acknowledge or address it.
I will always remember the insightful social worker who noted during my stay: depression is just anger turned inward. In that moment, time stood still. You might even say it was like a scene out of a Lifetime Movie.