I feel like there is too much of me in the world. Too many pictures on Instagram. Too many Facebook posts, perfectly crafted to persuade my friends that my life is worth living. I expand outwards into this online wasteland, haemorrhaging data. I cast a long digital shadow.
And when I look in the mirror, there’s too much of me there, too. I turn sideways, pressing my hands into my stomach, willing myself to disappear.
I can’t stop looking. I can’t stop feeling seen. When I walk past shop windows, I watch myself like a stranger, and when I go on Instagram, I return, compulsively, to my own profile. What do people see when they see me?
When I was 16, my mother said to me, ‘All of the women in this family have suffered.’ So maybe I was born with too much. I came into the world already collapsing under the weight of all these suffering women.
It was around that time that I stopped eating. I was ready to suffer, too. Hunger seduced me, wrapping me in its spindly embrace. I gorged myself on the emptiness. It was also around that time that I began to withdraw into online life. As I shrank, my digital double grew – clicks, pictures, words.
I began to hate my online shadow for the space it took up. I wanted to reel it back in and stuff it inside me, fill myself up with it. But there was nothing I could do. The shadow had been sliced up and packaged into little pieces of me, to be sold to someone who wanted to sell me back to myself.
Everywhere, products called to me – buy me and put your self back together.
It’s an addiction.
Four years of it now.
A spiral of control and the loss of it.
Carefully cultivating the perfect online life, while my own is spent glued to a screen, obsessively refreshing the page to see the likes adding up.
Denying myself food, enjoying the discipline of hunger. But scared of the fact I cannot fulfil that most basic human drive, to eat.
Who is in control here? It or me?
My older sister is home for Christmas. She knocks on my door, sits on the edge of my bed.
‘I want to talk to you.’
She says she’s noticed it from afar. The sequence of my Instagram photos. Limbs whittled down to almost nothing. The long shadows cast down my body by my protruding ribs.
‘Are you ok?’
‘It doesn’t look like it. I think you have a problem.’
No. That can’t be right. ‘Everyone feels like this. Everyone wants to disappear.’ I wrap my arms around myself, drowning in my two-sizes-too-big jumper.
She shakes her head. ‘No. They don’t. You need help.’
It’s what I wanted. It’s what I feared. I’ve been seen.
I pause on my way out of the hospital. My fingers hover over my phone (always in my hand).
Just been diagnosed with anorexia.
I can already picture the comments flooding in. Praising my bravery, my honesty, my choice to share.
I delete the words. I pocket my phone.
This one is just for me. For now.
I wish I could tell you I deleted all social media. I wish I could tell you I recovered from my anorexia. It’s not so easy.
I still use Facebook and Instagram. I still look in the mirror sometimes and suck my stomach in as far as it can go.
But I am a little healthier and a little happier. Whole days go by where I don’t think about my body at all, expect as a means to all the ends I can achieve in the world. I can spend hours talking to a friend over dinner, with my phone lying ignored on the kitchen counter.
I am not perfect. I still get a little thrill out of seeing a new notification. I do not always eat when I am hungry. I still try to see myself from the outside, yearning to be a little more or a little less than I am.
And yet. I am coming round to the idea that I am
Eleanor Shearer is a mixed-race writer living in London. She has suffered from anorexia since she was a teenager, and uses writing as part of her recovery to explore her relationship with this illness. When not writing, she works as a consultant helping governments make sense of Artificial Intelligence. You can follow her on Twitter here.