We Deserve to be Free: Stories About Living with Disordered Eating (4/4)
For the fourth (and final) installment of “We Deserve to be Free: Stories About Living with Disordered Eating” featured on Wordgathering’s website, I’ve included one of my own pieces entitled “i am awake,” which tells my story of living with multiple mental illnesses. In my world the intricacies of life with anorexia and bipolar disorder are further complicated by bouts of psychosis which fracture my reality and put me at war with a brain that’s betrayed me and a body that weighs me down. There have been numerous times throughout my life when this feeling of being trapped in a vessel that both frightens and disgusts me has made me suicidal. Thankfully I have the supports and resources to not only manage my care, but also enable me to learn how to be an advocate. I chose this topic because I have the power and privilege to amplify these narratives and I believe it is a matter of social justice to embrace those living with disordered eating and commit to toppling oppressive infrastructures. If we don’t learn from one another we will never improve our world. If we don’t keep raising our voices we will forget about each other.
Narrative 4: “i am awake”
My eyes are like opalescent eggs and I sigh and slash them into crescent moons.
When I’m bipolar-tired my skin cells scream and my teeth itch. The tips of my fingers ignite. The seeping tender pulp where my teeth are anchored in the halo of my mouth just begs to be picked apart by long flaming fingernails.
I’m blurry at every corner and my mind buzzes with radiation and it’s like I’m sentencing myself to the electric chair and I don’t even care. The zapping and spitting in my skull forces me awake even though I’m exhausted and jam-packed with medication. I’m too tired to sleep. I’m wired against my will.
I lie in bed and in an insomniac’s stupor I grab the soft fat on my stomach and I’m all about body checking myself throughout the night. I drift asleep but suddenly wake up to pinch my excess pounds on my too big frame and it’s like a nightmare. In the middle of bipolar nights my anorexia narrates my dreams. The self-torture of squeezing my extra meat. The fear of fatness boring red-hot pokers into my eyes so I can’t sleep in between the fire. If I fall asleep I’ll wake up and be fat.
I ferociously scratch my skin to see how it feels and the sound of my nails furrowing track marks in my forearm is like an odd, throbbing lullaby. I’m plowing crop circles in my skin and the wet hum of divining lazy blood rivers helps me keep time to the heaving of my madness. I whisper softly to myself in between the scratches — not sure of what I’m saying — but I can’t slip into a sounder sleep. So I rip and pinch until my brain is evicted from this cluttered body. I grab my worn, weeping suitcases and go. I don’t get my deposit back because there’s too much damage. The before and after scratches are too severe.
The next-day medication hang over is brutal. I took pill after pill, stocked like a Pez dispenser, but it didn’t deliver the sleep I signed up for so I’m infuriatingly fuzzy from the sedative powers of my white tablets, usually my white knights, the Seroquel I thought I could trust. My eyelids are dredged open and I peek out of my jittery slits. My slimy eyes are vibrating like I plugged my lashes into a wall socket. I needed sleep and I didn’t get it and the meds in me that failed to do their job still linger in the front of my brain weighing it down with wet lies and I’m so frustrated and sick. My bipolar giggles in the empty chamber of my mouth and my anorexic ideas strangle me so no food can get in.
I am awake.
Nobody look at me.
Rachel Kallem Whitman is a freshly minted doctor, educator, self-advocate, and writer who has been shacking up with bipolar disorder since 2000. Through raw, honest, and emotional storytelling Rachel seeks to narrate her own journey, navigate her own recovery, and kindle hope for those impacted by mental illness. A reader once emailed her to say that the most beautiful words in any language are “you are not alone.” This sentiment drives Rachel’s mission to create a safe community to empower individuals to look beyond their illness to find themselves. Rachel has over three thousand followers at medium.com/@RKallemWhitman and her speeches, interviews, and writings have garnered acclaim locally in Pittsburgh, PA, across the United States, and internationally.