Within the last decade, awareness of eating disorders has exploded, and pictures of women with spines jutting out like spikes and arms hanging like rails have become common. If Angelina Jolie shows up with veiny arms, tabloids speculate about her weight. The disease fills gossip columns, but the deeper stories remain misunderstood. I've gone into five of those stories.
One is the story of 25-year-old Jessica Perez from upstate New York, now with cropped and jet-black hair, gray-blue eyes, and 10 piercings stamped into her ears, lips, nose, and belly button. She also has five hand-inked tattoos, thin X-shaped scars stretched across her chest, and a waist that bears Harry Potter's Horcrux symbol--remnants of her self-cutting days.
Severely depressed and self-hating, Jessi cut and starved herself because that was the only way she knew to stop her emotional pain: "The physical pain is something you control. You can start it, and you can make it stop. It's something you can't do with depression."
Jessi was about 11 when her father abandoned the family without explanation, leaving her mother distraught and Jessi gradually curtailing her food intake to stifle her anger and sadness. By 13, she had full-fledged anorexia and an addiction to cutting herself. At school, she hung out with a bunch of "severely depressed" misfits. At home, she tiptoed around her new stepdad and stepsiblings.
Eleven years later, Jessi has gone through four hospitalizations and one eating disorder treatment center. In all those years she never had a period. It takes months for her to recover from an illness. Her body involuntarily regurgitates rich, heavy foods, so she spends hot summers sucking on fruity push-up popsicles, chewing on Twizzlers, and sipping fat-free milk.
Jessi is 5-foot-5 and barely weighs 55 pounds. She says she feels comfortable at that "good, functioning weight" because she can get by without panicking about her weight. She can't cartwheel or run up the stairs, but she can dig up sod in the garden and mop the floor.
At times, Jessi wonders what she's living for: "I'm very lost." She thinks about God but doesn't exactly know who He is: "I feel so helpless ... I've always tried to be a good person. I feel like I would not have suffered the way I have without some kind of purpose behind it. If God doesn't have a purpose for this, then this universe sucks."
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SOURCE: WORLD Mag