In Kindergarten, I was praised by my teacher for dotting every single lowercase “i” in the alphabet workbook. She showed my perfectly dotted i’s to the whole class, and I sat indian style on the colored carpet, inwardly beaming with pride. In first grade, I won the award for the most book reports written over the course of the whole school year. I had planned this win from day 1, when the class was told it was a contest and was more relieved than excited when I was announced as the winner. The following year I never brought home homework home because I finished it while the teacher was talking. When I was 9, I tested into the gifted education program.
And then there was 4th grade. I was 10, and I had received my final report card. I opened it and saw “above average” for everything except math. A big, red, horrifying cursive “S” was next to the subject. S for Satisfactory. I quietly sobbed in the alleyway next to the playground after school. I knew I had plenty of time to process the Satisfactory stamp of disapproval, alone, as I was waiting for my mother to wrap up her day in her own classroom. I went back to my 4th grade teacher’s classroom and tearfully demanded a solid reason for the grade. She wouldn’t change the grade.
After that day, I hated math. I decided I was never going to be good at math and would get so frustrated-to the point of tears-when I didn’t get something before my other above-average-grade-getting-peers. I would spend the next 4 years dreading playing the card game UNO with my family because my dad would make my brother and I count the points from each hand and I could never do it fast enough.
I don’t remember being the best at anything in 5th or 6th grade. My fear of failure was high, which fueled straight-A’s and various other achievements, but I never thought I was particularly good at anything. I remember wanting to fit in and being embarrassed that my jeans were not the “cool” jeans. I remember realizing I was big enough to shop in the juniors section of clothing stores, but wishing to still fit into the clothes in the girls section. I remember truly and vividly hating my body in a PacSun store, staring at the mirror trying on bikinis.
In 7th grade, I was the best at going hours and hours without eating. I became a master liar. I rarely ate lunch, and joined the track team with the sole purpose of losing weight. Although not my primary intention, it stung pretty bad when no one noticed. None of my friends were concerned. None of my teachers observed my behavior. I stopped going to the cafeteria altogether and volunteered to work the snack shack during lunch, instead.
The first time I went more than 24 hours without food, I was 13, and I had–for the first time–convinced my mom I ate dinner when I hadn’t. My dad and brother were at a baseball practice, and my mom was enthralled with something on the television. I’m sure she said there was something in the fridge for me to eat. I walked into the kitchen and pretended to eat by opening the fridge, grabbing a dish, clanking silverware, and waiting the appropriate amount of time before washing the dishes. I went 36 hours, and I was elated. Finally, I was successful at something. I remember getting down to 86 pounds and having the same feeling. I obsessively analyzed height and weight charts for girls my age and reveled in the fact that I dropped below the acceptable weight line.
Now I am 26 and I still hate math and don’t know what I’m good at. I’m still proud of my 36-hour and 86-pound accomplishments. I’m still 13, trying so hard to make everything look perfect, but secretly falling apart.
I have been doing a lot of eating disorder related reading lately, in an attempt to understand myself–I think. The result is an emotional mess of; desiring to be the anorexics in the books, wishing to be fully and forever recovered, hoping to be able to openly talk about it with someone, being scared that I have damaged my body beyond repair and am unaware of it, and wanting to get help so bad but not believing that I am, or ever was, sick enough to warrant such help.