Jacob Roth (2L)
I used to be anorexic.
Anybody close to me knows I do not hide that part of my life and that I enjoy making jokes about it. While I recovered from anorexia years ago, my past remains an integral component of my present identity. At a minimum, it is an excellent source of shock humour and an excuse not to fast on Yom Kippur.
Many people who are much smarter than I, and who have more experience in firm recruitment, have advised me that being open about my ano days is misguided. I have published an article in Toronto Life and have a memoir coming out this year (you should buy my book, as I’m going to need the money after I torpedo my employability). Some legal industry experts have taken the position that publishing a work called “Charles Manson is My Hero” would be preferable to sharing my history of mental illness.
I have been unable to reconcile this approach with my conscience. Men with eating disorders frequently conceal their struggles, as they are socialized to believe that body image issues are feminine. Even when resources are available, sufferers may not use them. Availability does not mean access. I have published my story to contribute to changing a discourse that impedes access to these resources.
So, here is a map of my anorexia.
My mind became an incubator for anorexia early in my life. I hated myself when I was a child. I took life too seriously and felt socially isolated. For years, I hid my anxiety and depression from the world, sentencing myself to an adolescence and early adulthood behind the bars of my own mind.
Near the end of twelfth grade, I became vegetarian. I swapped greasy stuffed crust pizza for fruits and salad. Naturally, I lost weight. After I shed about twenty pounds, my mass plateaued.
But I had become addicted to the weight loss. Bodily control substituted for the lack of control I felt over my emotions and how my peers perceived me. Anorexia was like a fanatical religious conviction. I dedicated all of my energy to a lifestyle I believed promised me bliss. I had a purpose: if I consumed one too many calories, ate one too many grams of fat, or weighed one too many pounds, I felt that I had defied my religious obligation. For weeks at a time, I survived on water and calorie-free foods.
My friends and family begged me to get help. “You’re dying in front of our eyes,” my parents would tell me. “How could you do this to yourself?”
I ignored them. The Anorexia God was too persuasive. “We’re so close to accomplishing something great together,” the voice would say. “Let the weight melt away. Be strong, Jake.”
The Anorexia God encouraged me to set moving targets. I did not have an ideal weight. I would establish five-pound weight loss goals, fast for a few days, and then try to lose another five pounds. Sometimes I stared at food to test my willpower.
But, after dieting for almost eight months, I felt more hopeless than ever. My body was always sore. I was too sick to write exams and too feeble to stand for more than a few minutes. My family doctor had to breach confidentiality to inform my parents that my life was at risk. I was close to starvation.
My weakness undermined the appeal of anorexia. I began to see that what I had thought was control was the opposite. My body was failing. At the same time, my family and friends constantly checked in on me. I developed self-worth while learning that the Anorexia God promised false rewards.
I did not immediately recover. Normalizing eating was difficult. My mind would try to build a case for self-loathing: “People don’t like you. You’re a waste of space.” However, over the summer, I defeated the voice in my head. I realized that nothing would happen when I exceeded calorie thresholds. I was a member of a doomsday cult on the day after my leader predicted the world would end.
I did not seek external help, other than a few sessions with an occupational therapist and one session with a spiritual healer whom I found on Kijiji. The latter put me in a dark room where he played the harmonium and chanted “ommmmmmmm” for an hour. He was a walking advertisement for saying “no” to drugs.
I do not suggest that sufferers should not use mental health resources available to them. My self-directed recovery is not a model. But for me, it was effective. By the beginning of my second year, my mass was back to being healthy. Although I had put on twenty pounds, I carried less weight than I had ever carried before.
Now, almost two American presidential terms removed from my ano days, I still reflect on those experiences. I have not removed my mental health advocacy work from my résumé, but it is not a focal point of my job profile. My publications about anorexia have come up in only one interview—and I got the position.
I do not know whether sharing my experiences has harmed my job prospects. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that the bar will continue its progression towards acceptance. If this student body’s attitude towards mental health typifies what we can expect in the future, then my optimism will have been well-founded.