Feeding Piper by Melissa Woods

My Edinburgh IX By Seigar

*Featured Photography: My Edinburgh By Seigar

Feeding Piper

By Melissa Woods

Anorexia is a mind-boggling illness, in that we feel less guilty for choosing the disease than we do in choosing to eat.

Maybe I am writing, my fingers flying across the keyboard, click-clacking like a melody. Maybe I am at the gym, darting around the track in a burst of frenetic energy. What I am not doing is eating out, which is where my family has gone. I am not sitting in a restaurant, with steaming plates of unknown food and mysterious calorie counts staring back at me, at least until I pick up my phone and start googling. The bright lights and bustling crowds and people, oh so many people! And every time my husband raises his eyebrows and sighs, half concerned, half annoyed, I meet his eyes. “At least I came, right? Isn’t that progress?” He scans my body and doesn’t reply. To him, progress is measured by cheekbones filled out, less bone, more flesh. To me, progress is the when the voice in my head stops screaming and relegates to a low hum, a background noise.

I do not eat in public.

They have left. I run through the forested area behind the treatment center. It is before breakfast. I am not supposed to be exercising, but they are making me eat, and anxiety flows through me like an electric current, an unyielding seizure. I do not notice that I need to exercise, until I am forced not to. It is physical, the restlessness from starvation. Like an animal foraging for survival, the starving individual has heightened senses, increased activity, and an inability to sit still. And this of course, perpetuates the disorder, because exercise begins as purposeful and then it is not. Still, I am unaware of this, and so I run, longer and stronger, making up for the twelve hours a day we spend sitting.

The autumn wind ripples through my hair, and the leaves of the cherry wood trees have begun to turn light yellow at the fringes. The sun has risen and pours through the path, illuminating the shadowed areas. I keep track of my feet. I am five months pregnant. I spend my days in therapy with other anorexics, but as far as I have seen, I’m the only pregnant one. I listen to their stories as well as I can, but in these early days my cognitive abilities are still bleary from starvation. I will stay in this disconnect, along a silent chasm in the lithosphere. There’s me, and there’s them. But I don’t notice that now. The flowers have long fallen, smashed into pink splotches on the trail. The creek trickles by, and the pine trees, strong and serene, will stay green through the winter. I will be here for three months, from six a.m to six p.m. at the center, and I will spend my evenings in a nearby apartment. I visit my family on Saturday nights and return Sunday morning. Our children are young and my husband is weary. I watch them. They watch me. He cares for them all alone, with no one to confide in. We are strangers, these humans I carried and birthed and this man that I married. We are a together split apart family and he does not know if I will ever return.

I have left.

I am uncomfortable in my skin, trapped in a body I cannot accept. This is not working, I scream. I cry. I will not let you take this from me. What? What do you really think we’re trying to take that does you any good?

Anorexia is a mind-boggling illness, in that we feel less guilty for choosing the disease than we do in choosing to eat.

There is a sense of accomplishment, of discipline, of winning, that is embedded in pain. It is an identity, the friend you don’t believe is trying to kill you. And this, all of these delusions and fears, will be celebrated in this society we live in. Food, in our culture, is a moral issue. “You are all belly!” they say, “You haven’t gained weight anywhere else.”

You Want a Piece of Me (London) by Seigar
You Want a Piece of Me (London) by Seigar

“How did you lose the baby weight so fast?” they say.

“I’m jealous of your willpower.”

No, if for no other reason than this: my mind is a maelstrom, a stream of never-ending rules, and I scream at myself about food, exercise, or some combination of both, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It is unrelenting mental agony unlike anything else I’ve experienced, ever. And you don’t want this.

In my life, I am applauded for being underweight. It isn’t until it becomes visible that anyone outside the world of treatment professionals takes issue with it. No wonder I spend this pregnancy, in this place, still believing they’re all just trying to make me fat.

The table where we eat is supposed to be calming, I think. There is a painting of Pacific Northwest conifer trees over a tranquil, mint colored wall. On the opposite side, there is a bubbling blue river tumbling over stones. The dining area overlooks the creek and the path where I run.[su_pullquote align=”right”]I must accept that if I choose to keep my body weight at the razor’s edge, my brain will probably still be a cycle of obsessive compulsive anxiety. And I will make the wrong choice, over and over again.[/su_pullquote] Sometimes, a person or two is out there on some type of canoe, and everyone comments on it. I think it is all supposed to be distracting, like the ridiculous card games that we play, knowing we have thirty minutes to eat this meal and that a timer is ticking. We are supposed to pretend or forget its existence. We are not to cut food into tiny pieces, we cannot wear jackets to the table, lest someone should sneak food in the pockets to throw out at the first opportunity. We are not to engage in a whole other list of disordered behaviors I didn’t know were disordered until today. You do not cut up a sandwich and eat it with a fork and knife; a sandwich is finger food. You do not pick apart food, wipe off what appears to be sauce of some kind, eat in some kind of preconceived order; a salad is not a meal. Some of it seems normal enough, but what is considered normal in a quirky kind of way is okay for the non-disordered, but not for us. Life is a whirl of double standards that I best get used to right now, because that’s just how it is. I will never again have the dubious luxury of skipping a meal because I feel fat, or having just a salad (with one teaspoon of olive oil measured, thank you much) because I’m not that hungry. I must accept that if I choose to keep my body weight at the razor’s edge, my brain will probably still be a cycle of obsessive compulsive anxiety. And I will make the wrong choice, over and over again.

Now it is October. Sometimes we see the sunset during dinner, or the sunrise during breakfast, but it gets dark earlier. It is chilly in that Seattle way, where the breeze from the Puget Sound brings a damp, pleasant scent to the air.

My Edinburgh IX By Seigar
My Edinburgh IX By Seigar

There is a way the breeze intermingles with the pine trees and gray sky that can be comforting or impenetrably depressing on any given day. When the rain pours through the glass, it’s less depressing to be stuck there. It isn’t just a window. The view outside is so large it feels like we, at our table, are staring at a stage, that the glass leads to the fourth wall of the proscenium. At this table, we are stagnant, with the same plastic utensils and paper plates and tears on dessert day. Life happens on the other side of the glass.

I stop running outdoors and join a gym down the street. It is dark, and I am very pregnant. My treatment team has resigned themselves to my insistence on exercise, however, they theorize that I am safer in a well-lit, staffed environment.

Sometimes it’s all too much and I refuse to eat, and they pour the supplement and I refuse to drink that, too. Actually, I do that lots of times. In some ways eating disorder treatment in one’s thirties is more difficult than for our teen-aged counterparts. We aren’t required to accept anyone’s authority; we aren’t here because our parents forced us to be. This is beneficial in that yes, we chose recovery. It is not when the disease drowns out all reason, and it occurs to us that we can get up and walk out. We must write a short explanation as to why we are not drinking the damn Ensure, and I finally lose it and write a four page journal entry of expletives, ending with, “I am not eating or drinking supplement today because I am full. I am full of the bullshit that has been shoveled down my throat, day in and day out, for the past ten weeks.”

They bring up Piper. A lot. You need to feed your daughter, if not yourself. I feel the swell of my belly and the flutter of her movement, and I think, “Ok, I will stay here one more day,” although I hesitate to trust them, thinking perhaps this is just one big overreaction.

It is November. Every morning at breakfast, it is still dark. Every evening at dinner, the sun has set. It is cold and dank, at least by Washington standards. I am eight months pregnant and I go home. Wobbly with meals and chaos, I am used to a controlled environment. Unaccustomed to loudness, to overstimulation, I now have to choose three meals and three snacks a day, but somehow, I adjust. My body is unrecognizable, my other children are loud and I am done being pregnant, but I have returned. My love for my husband swells. We navigate life together; we move through this journey of anorexia and parenthood and marriage and all of the crazy complicated stuff we have been given to work with.

She arrives. He puts pressure on my back when I need it; moves away when I scream ‘don’t touch me’ just before she descends, understands in that silent way that he knows me, that this birth must be mine. He holds the straw to my lips when I demand water and the bucket towards me when I vomit five seconds later. He videotapes the right moments and knows the ones I’d rather keep between the two of us. It is painful, it is intense, but I want it that way. I want to feel something, to make my way out of the self-imposed numbness I’ve inhabited for the entire pregnancy. I pull her from inside me, onto my chest. She begins to cry, and then melds to my skin, clutching me with tiny wrinkled fingers. She stares, blinking and still covered in smooth waxy vernix. She is smooshy and warm, and nurses immediately while I sing to her. She is big and perfect and does not leave my arms for weeks. Her name is Piper.

She is six months old, and cuddled against me. Her warm body comforts me. I have lost everything I gained during the pregnancy and more. My hips dig painfully into the mattress as she nurses. My head pounds, and I shake from low blood sugar. She gets milk, but there are no nutrients left for me. I will be sent back to treatment or die if I don’t do something. My treatment team is pushing for inpatient. They say I will have to forcibly wean her.

I am not leaving again.

My Edinburgh VIII By Seigar
My Edinburgh VIII By Seigar

When she falls asleep, her breathing soft and contented, I crawl through the dark crying. I cannot think as I have rendered myself out of control. I find a piece of paper. I have something to write. First, eat. Somehow. Get back on food. And then a thought strikes me. It is more powerful than the pain searing my starving body, and the wreck of misfiring neurons in my brain. You see, you have to recover to have a life. Everyone knows that. The problem is you have to have a life to recover. And that is some really hard shit. I send my dietitian an email asking for a very clear meal plan because I am so far off track I need it put in the most elementary terms. Eating, for me, is not an intuitive endeavor.

And I write in red Sharpie, and underline it twice: Find something else.

Another passion, some other identity. Something I will figure out someday. When she asks why I am finally trying to recover, I say, “Because I am feeding Piper.”

She replies, “You always were.”


"I believe it is important to convey to the general public how eating disorders affect the brain of sufferers, and that they can strike even during pregnancy."

Melissa Woods is a mother of six, a creative writing student at Boise State University, and is in the revision process of a novel. Writing is her bridge of communication with the neurotypical world.

Seigar is an English philologist, a high school teacher, and a curious photographer. He has participated in several exhibitions, and his works have also been featured in international publications, such as, Dodho Magazine, Studio La Primitive Arts Zine, Photofoto Mag, Boshemia Magazine, Blanc Magazine, Latent Image Magazine, NOTLA Digital, Ink Space Magazine, Semi Zine and Porridge Magazine, among others. He writes for The Cultural Magazine (Spain) about photography and for Memoir Mixtapes (Los Angeles) about music. His website is: www.seigar.wordpress.com

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