Anorexia: Miniature Giants

Anorexia: Miniature Giants: an insider’s attempt to illustrate the complexity of anorexia and how insidious, intricate, and hidden the illness becomes. This short story is used to define what anorexia looks like.

The city was vast, expanding beyond what the eye could envision.  Its buildings were elaborate covered in etched stone, turrets, glass mosaics, and pediments. The streets were laden with gold and the lights guiding these pathways were ten-foot-tall barrel torches whose diameter expanded nearly five feet.  The torches became campfires illuminated above the heads of any passerby.  The city was majestic and magical, having the appearance of a world built for a movie’s screen.  This city was Guardia.

But as with any beautiful thing, there were some not so attractive aspects of Guardia.  Like the fact that Guardia seemed to be suspended in this perpetual silence.  A silence so deafening it was loud.  A silence so encapsulating it was suffocating. It left any passerby with a crushing sensation on his or her chest because the air held tangible, solid, heavy weight that with each step fell down with more intensity on his or her shoulders. The silence stemmed from the lack of activity.  More so than silence, the city was frozen in the moments it was built patiently awaiting the day when breath would enter the buildings’ halls or the golden streets. But nothing had come.  Silent, frozen abyss of beauty with no one around to experience it.

No one is an overstatement because there are three persons who reside in Guardia.  Daisy the designer, Bambi the builder, and Mikey the maintainer. As one could have guessed, Daisy designs the next additions for Guardia, Bambi builds them, and Mikey maintains their perfection.  The process takes years, but Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey’s lack of additional commitments leaves them without any time constraints. Every day, every moment, every breath of theirs supports their role in the construction of Guardia. A never ending project with a never ending list of goals to achieve.

Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey live in the far east corner of Guardia in three small townhomes lined up next to one another.  Mikey thought it best to live on the outskirts, in the hills, in the dark streets where torches have yet to be laid so as to not interfere with the perfection of Guardia.  And so the townhomes are dry and boring with no pediments or mosaics, just three brick boxes lined up next to one another so that when the day comes that Guardia has expanded to these east hills there would be no problems tearing down the townhomes to make room for the next addition of Guardia’s majestic streets.

Where the resources for Guardia come from is a mystery whose answers lie nestled in the center of the golden streets in a building called Central Station.  Except it isn’t a station at all, but rather a massive silver tube where the endless mounds of supplies come pouring out.  Marble slabs for building facades and colored glass for mosaics, gold leaf for the streets and chisels to etch the stone, all flood from the massive silver tube in the center of a dome in the center of Central Station in the center of Guardia.  The mystery of this lies both in the Giver and their location.  Because this massive silver tube that spits the resources to keep the city ever expanding and suspended has no starting point.  Meaning, when Daisy or Bambi or Mikey walk outside of Central Station and look up into the sky the tube does not expand upwards, but instead cuts off at the roof.  The only thing understood about this tube is its destination and the continuous mystery of contents being poured into Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey’s work.

As time went on, the resources purged from the tube exponentially grew.  More and more times throughout the day it emptied into Central Station.  At first, Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey were flattered by the tube’s increased activity, taking it as a compliment from the Giver saying “you are doing such wonderful work. I think you can handle even larger tasks”.  But as the tube continued to empty and the contents continued to grow, Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey became more and more aware of their inability to keep up.  They didn’t have enough hours in the day, enough energy in their bodies, or enough hands to use up all of the tube’s resources each day.  And so, Daisy designed a dump next to their townhomes in the east hills on the outskirts of the city.  The dump was a place to store, discard, and set aside excess resources at the end of the day.  It seemed a brilliant plan and a simple solution to the tube problem.

Except, the tube’s purging continued to increase and so the dump continued to grow.  Larger and larger became the mound next to the townhouses until it not only swallowed up Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey’s homes, but began leaking down the hills into the frozen abyss of Guardia.   For the first time, the silent seal surrounding Guardia was broken and a stench buzzing with the noise of overproduction echoed through the golden streets. Time started moving again as the excess glass and marble and gold leaf interacted with the ageless illusion of Guardia’s buildings. Quickly, the dump overtook the entire city and even when the tube in Central Station dropped off the resources for the day, neither Daisy, nor Bambi, nor Mikey could reach them, blocked off by the piles and piles of garbage filling the once pristinely golden streets.

There was nothing left for the three of them to do, but also there was no where for them to go. They had forgotten what life looked like before Guardia, before the endless cycle of designing, building, and maintaining.  None of them could remember if there were other cities out there and, if so, how would they manage to find them? Guardia expanded in every direction to every horizon.  As far as they knew, this was it.  Guardia, the tube, their jobs, and now the dump.  And so, Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey wandered each in separate directions deep into Guardia’s streets only to become buried between the piles of garbage and the mystery of otherness.

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Eliza was young and beautiful.  Her soul leaked from her eyes and ears a bluish green color onto every person that she came in contact with, the color of peace, healing, and tranquility. A “radiant spirit” her fiancé called it and “that is why I fell in love with you”.  Eliza’s hair was long and golden and when she would run through the field behind her and her fiancé’s home towards the lake, it would bounce up and down in stunning ringlets that made even the most cynical heart skip. Eliza was always laughing with her students when she was teaching the second grade, always singing the loudest when she was participating in the church choir on the weekends, always running up and down the stairs into her craft room to grab ribbons to tie in her hair.  She was a real life princess who created for herself a persona of peace and ease.  She was self made, self taught, and everyone knew it.  Because, an energy like Eliza’s was unnaturally alluring.  Not a cloud existed in her world and, for that reason, everyone seemed to want to be a part of it.

The students in Eliza’s class would brag in the halls to the other second graders of their fortune and on teacher appreciation day Eliza was showered with chocolates, flowers, and gift cards while the other teachers were only given a card or an apple.

Eliza’s fiancé had fallen in love with her over her fascination with water. She would run along the trail surrounding the lake and one day locked herself out of her car.  She didn’t have her phone and asked him to borrow his.  And, he felt he was the luckiest man in the world to have had a reason to start a conversation with her.

They were going to be married in the fall and bought the little bungalow on the lake last month to celebrate.  The sounds of the water splashing against the rocky shore were especially pronounced during the night when everything fell silent and Eliza and her fiancé sat on their porch staring into the darkness. It was in these hours of reflection that the mystery of Eliza came into question.  Her fiancé would stare at her profile from the corner of his eye and attempt to conceptualize what she was thinking about, but no matter how much he excavated his imaginative mind he could not come up with an answer. The issue lied in this humble truth.  Eliza’s life was simple, but she was vastly complex beyond what anyone knew.

As the years passed, Eliza began aging and shedding. Her white, perfect skin started to peel from her arms, legs, and face. Her, now, husband started finding these skins in the trash or clogging the bathroom drain and became increasingly concerned.  The Eliza that he knew was not the Eliza running around the lake or sitting next to him on the porch at night. Her golden hair faded to a mousy brown and her blue eyes dulled to a pale grey.  Eliza no longer wore ribbons in her hair or sung in the choir.  She still taught but getting to school every day was a chore and a bother.  There was no laughter in the classroom and the students had started wishing they had been placed with the other second grade teacher.

“Eliza, tell me what is wrong?” her fiancé begged one evening as they sat together on the couch.

Eliza’s head was resting on his lap as she peered up at him with her grey eyes.  She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out.

“Eliza, please” her fiancé whispered.

“There is something wrong.  I just don’t know what.”

The next morning, Eliza’s fiancé drove her from their small little bungalow on the lake downtown to see a doctor.  Silence filled the car ride and annoyance pledged the space between their chairs in the waiting room.  The ticking of the clock on the stark white wall marked the unraveling of both their sanities.  How had they come to this place, both their minds recounted with each tick of the clock’s hand?

The doctor came into the room where Eliza was perched atop the paper on the table and her fiancé was seated in the corner.

“What is it, doctor? What is wrong with her?” the fiancé begged, staring into his clenched fists believing that looking into Eliza’s grey eyes one more time would suck out what little life either of them had left.

The doctor walked over and stood directly in front of Eliza, peering intensely into her eyes.  Eliza breathed deeply and with the exhale heard the doctor say with conviction.

“There is a city being built in your gut, Eliza.”

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Commentary

I have decided to add at the end of the short stories a brief explanation of how the story relates to the mental illness it was written to portray. For those of you who enjoy figuring out for yourself the metaphor I have created and connected with the characters/plot in a more personal way, this commentary is not for you and should be disregarded.  But for those of you who are a little confused or simply curious about my thoughts surrounding the creation of the stories this section will be beneficial.

In writing “Anorexia: Miniature Giants”, I was thinking about the complexity of the disease and how insidious, intricate, and hidden the illness becomes. So much so, that unless you or someone extremely close to you has personally struggled with the illness, it is nearly impossible to understand.  I took my own personal experience and tried to envision a metaphor that would accurately depict what the struggle felt like.  That is where I landed on the idea of a city being built inside a gut.

The story begins with a picture of a fictional, majestic, otherworldly city called Guardia.  This space works to symbolize the control and perfectionism that aid in the development of anorexia.  The illness doesn’t start off insidiously, but instead presents itself as a wonderful lifestyle choice, acceptable by society and complimented by friends and family. “You look so good.” “You have so much self-control.” “Have you lost weight? You look great. What is your secret.”  All were comments that would fly my way each time that the illness began to take hold.  The praise I received from my behaviors symbolically refers to the etching of the stones and laying of the golden streets of Guardia.  The illness felt like I was building a city.  There was a formula for it, a science, and always room for expansion.

The silver tube in the center of Guardia is meant to represent the illness itself. It is that tube that is anorexia, the gene, the brain chemistry, and neurological pathways that cannot be turned off.  The tube is just there, spitting out all of the supplies needed to build the anorexic a city.  So what else was I suppose to do with marble and gold and chisels my mind was giving me, but sit down and start building? The thing is I didn’t think to question the tube in the same way that Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey never tried to figure out who the Giver of the supplies were.  It was just always there, demanding that I continue to use up its supplies.

At the point where the tube starts to exponentially grow in its contents is the point in my anorexia journey that I started to lose control.  It was the point where the restricting of my food and the hours at the gym and the layers upon layers of clothes were not a result of the careful intention of planning the beautiful Guardia.  This was the point when of excess garbage being piled around the illusion of perfection was the result of the tube, or anorexia, being more powerful than I was.

In the story there was only three residents meant to discharge all of the resources the tube purged.  But when, by the end of the story, they needed nothing short of an army to organize and use all the tube was throwing out at them.  Anorexia is the same.  It starts as a methodical beautiful city frozen in an illusion of perfection and then it all becomes buried in garbage as the illness becomes greedy, sending too many demands your way.  “Loose more, run more, do more,” it says.

It is no wonder the character Eliza started to fall apart because Eliza is the one holding this city inside of her.  The city is unable to be seen by her husband or her class, but it has been in the making for years and years.  Eliza was even unaware of the residents Daisy, Bambi, and Mikey living inside of her.  Who, by the way, are meant to represent different anorexia behaviors such as restriction, over exercising, and diet pills abuse.  It wasn’t until the city was piled in garbage that she and everyone else started to question that something was wrong, which was a theme in my journey as it is with so many others.  The illness goes undetected because it is unable to be seen.

The last element of the story that I feel as though needs to be explained is the part where Eliza’s skin starts shedding.  Though it borders on self explanatory, I do think there is something to be said about the fact that it is her actual skin that is peeling off.  This isn’t me saying that Eliza was wearing a costume and faking her happiness and free-spirited energy to her husband and class.  This is me saying that as Guardia fell apart inside of her gut, her own self started to fall away with it.  Anorexia took me far far away, swallowing my entire identity. I, like Eliza, lost every layer of my authentic skin.

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