The Monsters Inside

Some days are good. Some days I have complete control, control of every bite that goes in my mouth, control of every calorie, every number. But other days are bad. Other days consist of self-destruction and self-loathing and inexplicable mood swings. Those days are the worst. Those are the days that I spiral out of control. A single remark, a seemingly harmless comment, on those days that's all it takes to send me rushing to the nearest room in an effort to hide the tears streaming down my face.

Sometimes I think there's something seriously wrong with me. You know, some chemical imbalance in the brain that can be fixed with drugs. Something, anything, that would explain why I'm like this. Maybe I'm bipolar. Manic depressive. Maybe it's not actually my fault that I act this way. Maybe I can't help it.

But then I come to my senses and realize that I'm just trying to take the easy way out. There's nothing wrong with me, nothing like that at least. I can't blame my problems on anyone or anything but me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It didn't start like this, it started as a single thought.

I'm fat.

I'd like to say it all started that summer. I'd love to blame it all on her, but I can't. This thought was nothing new. It had been on my mind for a long time, a little voice inside my head that felt the need to remind me of this daily.

You're fat. Your thighs jiggle. Your legs are too big.

I was an accident waiting to happen and all she did was push me over the edge.

Her name was Minnie. We met at the beginning of summer. I was a fat mess and she was the epitome of control. They say opposites attract, and it's true. We were perfect together.

I was walking around my neighbourhood when I first saw her. She seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“Hey,” she said. “I'm Minnie.”

“I'm Fiona.” I gave her the once-over. She was stunning, tiny, with a mop of fiery red hair and a body to kill for. But what really made me stop and do a double-take were her eyes. I think, in that moment, I saw a glimmer of myself in them and it startled me.

She gave me a tentative smile. “I'm new here,” she said.

I smiled back. “I figured. I haven't seen you around before, but it's about time I had a new neighbour. I swear, everyone that lives around here is on their deathbed.”

It was as if fate had brought her to me, as if she had somehow known how badly I needed someone right then. From that moment on, we were inseparable. We were practically attached at the hip and there were no secrets between us. I still can't decide if she saved me or destroyed me, but ultimately it didn't matter. In some twisted way, she was exactly what I needed.

It wasn't long after Minnie came into my life that everything started to change. Suddenly the disordered world that I had always been on the verge of entering became my reality. How it came about wasn't exactly her fault, but it all happened in such a way that I can't help wondering if it was her plan all along.

It was triggered by a shopping expedition, which in my opinion is always something to be feared, but this time it was a hundred times worse.

At 5'6” and 110 lbs, she was the walking definition of perfection.

At 5'6” and 140 lbs, I was a beached whale.

Fat. That word had the habit of constantly popping into my head when I least wanted it to, but after years of practice, I had become good at pushing it away and keeping it locked up inside. People tend to react in one of two ways when the phrase “I'm fat” is uttered. If you actually are fat, they plaster a big fake smile on their face and counter with an overly enthusiastic “No you're not!”, as if lying to your face is somehow going to make you feel better. If you're not really fat, then chances are people will think you're just looking for attention. That's what people thought I was doing.

They were wrong. I never wanted attention.

There's one instance in particular that has always stood out in my mind as being particularly traumatic. Maybe it's because it was my mom, maybe it's because her reaction honestly shocked me, or maybe I'm just completely overreacting. Either way, from that moment on, I made it a point never to call myself fat in front of anyone.

It happened when we were shopping.

“Nothing fits.” I came out of the dressing room and walked over to my mom, who was waiting for me. A pile of jeans was slung over my arm. “I look fat in everything.” I said it almost unconsciously. To me, it was simply a fact, as undebatable as the sky being blue or the grass being green.

“Oh, grow up, Fiona,” my mom snapped at me. “When are you going to get over yourself.”

Her words were like a slap across the face. Was that supposed to make me feel better or something? It took everything I had to hold in my tears until we got home and I could dart to the safety of my room. That was the last time I ever dared to utter that word around my family again, because I knew people would assume that I was just looking for attention. That was hardly the case.

I just wanted to disappear.

Fat. The word was poison, like some infectious disease that no one wanted to hear about. No one but Minnie. As we stood there in the dressing room, side by side in front of the full length mirror, tears welled up in my eyes as my self-esteem dropped by the minute.

“I'm so fat,” I whispered, hating myself. “I can't do this anymore.”

Minnie reached over and squeezed my hand. “I know.” Of course she did, she understood me like no one else ever had. “I'm huge, too.”

She was crazy and I was desperate. Together, it was a lethal combination, one that pushed us past the point of no return and put us on a one way path to destruction.

“Let's stop eating.” She turned and whispered it in my ear, like it was some huge secret.

When she said it, it sounded so glamorous. I could picture us lounging around in our size 0 skinny jeans and baggy t-shirts, not a care in the world. As skinny as models. It was so appealing.

I smiled. I didn't need any convincing. “Let's do it.” She held out her hand and we pinky swore we wouldn't stop until we were lighter than air.

The first time we stopped eating, it lasted five days. But each time it got longer, and even on the days we did eat, it wasn't much. By the end of summer, my size 6 shorts and tank tops were falling off me and I was on top of the world. I felt like I could do this forever. I entered junior year with new-found confidence. This was going to be the best year of my life.
***

This was without a doubt the worst year of my life.

I should've known it was too good to be true. By December, the high that I had started off the year with was quickly fading and I was left with an empty shell of the person I used to be. I was exhausted and it was as if everything was finally catching up to me. Friendships I had once cherished receded into the background, and most days I couldn't be bothered to do much of anything. Even getting out of bed was an effort and every morning I would lay there with tears streaming down my face, wondering why I had to be alive to face another day.

Through all of that, Minnie was there for me. She stuck around as I pushed everyone else away because she understood. And in those moments when life became so hard to deal with, in those moments when I had no one to turn to, when food became my only solace, she showed me how to flush it all down the toilet.

She was literally my better half. Together we wasted away into nothing. It was what I had wanted, and I should've been happy, but it wasn't enough. It was never enough. She always managed to stay one step ahead of me; no matter how thin I got, she was always thinner, and I hated her and loved her for it all at the same time. That was what motivated me to keep going. The less space I took up in this world, the better. I had to keep going.

We had promised we wouldn't stop.
***

By March, everything was a haze. I was half a person, barely there anymore, and it took everything I had just to function. My parents knew, I'm sure everyone knew. I didn't care about hiding it like I used to. I didn't care about anything like I used to.

I think the last straw came mid-March. March is always a dreary month, with too much snow to be spring and too much rain to be winter. I sunk deeper and deeper into my disorder and the only person I even bothered to make an effort with anymore was Minnie. It was the 17th and the two of us were laying on my bed as usual, just talking. We never went to her place, she always claimed that my house was better.

“Dinner's ready!” Good thing my mom's voice was easy to block out. I rolled over and Minnie gave me a sympathetic smile.

“Is your mom catching on?”

“I don't know, probably. I'm not sure I can get out of dinner again tonight, I've already made excuses not to eat every night this week.” It was so annoying, I was so sick of my family trying to force food down my throat. “I can't wait till I live on my own and I don't have anyone telling me what to do and what to eat.”

“I hear ya.”

“Fiona! Get down here, it's time for dinner!”

Lovely. It didn't look like there was any getting out of this one.

“Alright,” I told Minnie. “I should go down.”

“Remember, they can make you eat but they can't make you keep it down!” Were Minnie's parting words to me.

I had planned on eating the bare minimum, as little as I could get away with. But after taking one bite of pasta, it was like another force took over me, one I had no control over. I wolfed down my dinner and went back for seconds. I could feel my parent's eyes on me. They were always watching me, analyzing my every move, waiting for me to slip up. I could feel my face heat up. I was a pig. A fat pig. Everyone was thinking it. But it didn't matter. Now that I had started eating, I couldn't stop. When dinner was over, I went back upstairs. Minnie was still there. I threw myself on my bed and clutched my stomach in shame.

“I lost control.”

She leaned over and put her arms around me. “It's okay,” she whispered. “You know what to do.”

Of course I did. After Minnie left, after my parents went to bed, I snuck downstairs.

Granola bars, sandwiches, muffins. I had already completely screwed up the day, so why not just screw it up some more?

Cake, brownies, ice-cream.

I was so good at this. I didn't take enough of any one thing for it to be noticeable.

More, more, more.

I was too good at this.

I stood there at the kitchen counter, stuffing my face with food. This isn't me doing this, I swear. Some crazy person has taken over my body. I have no control over this. This isn't me.

When I had eaten so much it felt like my stomach was about to burst, I rushed to the bathroom. Everything had to come out. There was no way I could leave even a single bit of food, a single calorie, a single anything inside.

Tonight it was bad. My throat felt like it was on fire and tears were streaming down my cheeks as I bent over the toilet. But I deserved it. I wasn't about to use a little pain as an excuse to get fat.

I knew it was a bad sign when I saw the blood.

I knew it should've set off alarms, but it didn't.

I knew something was wrong when the toilet I was looking into started to blur and spin.

I knew that should've stopped me.

But I didn't care. I had to get rid of everything, purge all of my mistakes. Even as the floor rose up to meet me, the last thought on my mind was I hope I got it all out...

When I woke up, I had no idea where I was. It was too bright to be my room, too white, too sterile. It smelled of disinfectant and as I moved my head to try and get a better grasp of my surroundings, I heard a gasp.

“She's awake!” It was my mom. I felt her grab my hand and she slowly came into focus. That was when it started to make sense.

I was in a hospital.

S***. This was really bad. What had happened?

S***. I tried to swallow but my mouth felt like it was full of cotton and my throat was burning.

I struggled to sit up but a tangle of tubes held me down. I tried to rip them out, tried to free myself, but my mom grabbed my hands before I could do any damage.

“Fiona, stop it!”

“No!” I struggled against her. “No, get me out of here! Where's Minnie?”

“Who?” My mom gave me a quizzical look.

“Minnie! My best friend, where is she? I want her.”

“Honey, I don't know anyone named Minnie.”

That stopped my struggles. “Yeah you do, Mom. She's our neighbour. She moved in next door last summer.”

“Fiona. No one's lived in that house for over a year. You know that.” I could hear the worry in her voice and it made my blood boil. She thought I was crazy. She didn't believe me. She was looking at me with that pitying expression on her face that made me just want to smack her. She dropped my hand and stood up as a doctor came into the room. The two of them walked away from me and engaged in a hushed conversation. I knew they didn't want me to hear them, but they weren't talking that quietly.

“Her potassium levels are dangerously low,” the doctor was saying, “Let's just say that this isn't the first time she's made herself throw up.”

“How could I have missed this?” My mom sounded like she was on the verge of tears.

“It's not your fault,” he tried to reassure her. “Girls like this are usually very sneaky. They're good at hiding what they do. You can't blame yourself for this. We'll need more information to make a specific diagnosis, but I think we may be looking at some kind of eating disorder.”

He thinks I may have some kind of eating disorder?

He thinks I may have some kind of eating disorder.

Well, I think I may be lying in hospital because I passed while I was shoving my fingers down my throat, but what do I know. Clearly something's not right in my head.

I glanced back over at my mom and the doctor. They were still talking. I rolled over in bed so I didn't have to face them. Minnie was sitting in the chair that my mom had previously occupied and I gasped.

“Minnie! Wow, you scared me, when did you get here?”

“I've been here the whole time.” She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. “You shouldn't have let yourself pass out.”

The coldness in her voice shocked me. “You think I did this on purpose? You think I wanted to just collapse on the bathroom floor?”

“I think you should have been more careful. I think it could have been prevented. Now look where you are. You're in a hospital, Fiona. They're on to you. They know what you're doing and they're going to make you stop. They don't understand, they think there's something wrong with you. They think that you're broken and need to be fixed. They want you to be fat. They're going to force food down your throat and stuff you until you burst. Is that what you want?”

Tears sprang to my eyes and I could feel my throat constricting. “No. No, of course not. I don't want to be fat. I don't want to get better.”

“You don't need to get better,” she corrected me. “There's nothing wrong with you. You're not even thin yet.”

Her words made my breath catch in my throat. I looked down at myself. The flimsy hospital blanket that was draped limply over me did nothing to conceal the shape of my body. The shape of my fat. Minnie was right, as usual. I couldn't afford to “get better” if getting better meant getting fatter.

My mom chose that moment to come over. “Honey, did I hear you talking to someone?”

“Yeah. Minnie. I told you she would come.” I looked up but Minnie was no longer sitting in the chair. My mom gave the doctor a pleading look and he stepped in.

“There wasn't anyone here, Fiona. You're extremely underweight and I think that may be causing you to have hallucinations. Your brain is literally starving.”

“No. No.” He was wrong. He HAD to be wrong. “I KNOW she was here. And—” I gave a harsh laugh. “—I think you mean OVERweight.”

My mom reached out and placed her hand over mine. “Honey, the doctor says you're 91 pounds.” She looked on the verge of tears, as if she couldn't believe this had happened to her own daughter, right under her very nose.

I pulled my hand out from under her's.

It wasn't her fault, not exactly, and I knew that. But I couldn't help getting a sort of perverse satisfaction from her guilt. You told me to grow up, Mom. And I did.

When had I become so twisted?

I must've missed that part, it probably got lost somewhere between the cutting and the purging. A sardonic laugh bubbled up inside me and I bit it back.

I am a sick, twisted person.

I deserve to die.

I want to die.

I want to die.

I want to die.

It became like a chant inside my head. I want to die. I looked over at the doctor and my mom and I knew they must still be talking because their lips were moving, but I couldn't hear a thing. I want to die. My chest was tightening. It was as if someone had reached their hand inside and was trying to squeeze my heart. I want to die.

Vaguely, I heard a loud beeping sound. But it was coming from far away and it didn't seem important. People swarmed my bed, they must've been doctors and nurses, and I think I heard a scream but I didn't have the energy to care. My vision was blurring and it took too much effort to try to focus on anything anymore. The noise in my head was deafening. I squeezed my eyes shut. I want to die. I just want it to all go away.

And it did. Just like that, everything stopped. The voices, the noises, all of it. I opened my eyes to the silence and found myself looking down at me, laying there in that hospital bed. Lights on the machines by the bed were flashing, and so many people were hovering over me. I looked pathetic, just laying there, not moving.

I looked to my left, and there was Minnie. She smiled at me.

“You did it,” she said. “You didn't give in, I'm so proud of you.”

She reached out to take my hand and I smiled back at her. Somehow, this felt so right. Finally, I was lighter than air. I started to follow her out of the room, but then I stopped. There was one last thing I needed to know.

“Am I perfect now?”

She turned. “Yes,” she said.

That was all I needed to hear. For the first time in forever, all the thoughts and voices and monsters that had cluttered up my mind for so long were gone.

Finally, I was perfect.

Finally, I was free.





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