You eat to fill the burning void that’s inside of you, that won’t go away by thoughts alone. You feel it festering in your soul, sometimes like a little mouse chewing on the sides of a live wire, little crackles and sparks of foreboding running through your limbs, merely a hint at the deeper danger that lies just millimeters away. Sometimes it’s like a rotting, gaping hole in the center of your chest—but not just any hole: a black hole, a vortex, drawing everything that is good down with it into its spiraling depths. You hate this feeling, but more than that, you fear it. You fear what it makes you want to do to avoid it.
So you eat. Compulsively. With a borderline desperation that makes you fear you are losing control. Or you don’t eat, instead opting to let the woozy feeling of weightlessness bring you a little closer to something that society deems “perfect.” Maybe if you can control your body, you can control the darkness inside it. Or perhaps you cut yourself, to numb the pain that you feel inside with something sharper, a little more direct. You might also drink, to blur the lines of reality into something manageable, to dull the throbbing vacancy inside your chest that you just don’t know what else to do with. Or you may distract yourself with a “meaningless” array of men or women, investing in quick, unsteady relationships that may cloud the void for a moment, but only end up making you feel worse.
Perhaps you take a drug—any drug. You’ve tried stimulants, know your way around antidepressants, and have dabbled in the likes of pot, “blow,” and a smattering of other hard drugs. These make you feel good for a time, but you’re not sure if the letdown afterward is worth it. You might also zone out with something mundane, such as episode after episode on Netflix, or run on the treadmill until your legs and lungs are screaming for mercy. Maybe you lean on friends, or a family member, clutching closer to them than what would be considered healthy. You can’t stand the thought of anyone leaving you, leaving another empty hole inside, so you dig in your heels and desperately tell yourself that you need these people to survive.
You won’t let them go.
You won’t let any of it go.
Because that feeling— that dark, raging hunger—it won’t leave you alone if you do. You have to choose a way to cope with it, to live with it. And instead of turning to look into the depths of that blackness, its darkness so stark and complete that even the thought of it makes you want to spiral downward forever, you resolutely turn your head away, and continue on with the hope that one day—one day—what you’re doing will be enough.
This story is meant to show the feelings and difficulties that people with mental illnesses and addiction go through, although I know it is only brushing the surface. I wrote this in the spirit of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 26-March 4, 2018), and, having suffered from an eating disorder myself, I can relate to that "void" feeling that you feel you must fill (as I know many of us can). If you or a friend is suffering, don't hesitate to reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at 800-931-2237 or the National Alliance of Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-950-6264.
Kayla Maneen received her BFA in Creative Writing and minored in adventure and fun. After graduation, she worked on an organic farm in Ireland and taught English in Italy, and learned all there is to know about chasing sheep and eating long, leisurely meals with family. She is adamant about people living out their passions and reaching their highest potentials. Always follow that fire in your heart!