I heard the garage door thunder open, even from the other end of the house. There was a pause, a stillness in the air in which I imagined my mother shifting on the couch, preparing to resume her domestic duties. The door into the kitchen opened with its familiar squish, the sound of the overly aggressive rubber sealant separating from the heavy door. My father announced his arrival home from work, “Hello! I’m home!” I heard my mom greet him, the subdued tones of her voice indicating all was well; all was normal. Presumably, my brother answered impatiently from on high, holed up in the upstairs game room in front of a computer or video game. I stayed silent.
“Elle?” Sounds of my dad shuffling, grabbing the cheddar Chex Mix bag from the pantry, per usual. “Elle?” To my mom: “Is Elle here?” I assumed she answered in the affirmative, probably with the beginnings of confusion and doubt: she thought so. Above my head, my dad’s heavy footsteps pounded upwards, checking my room, calling my name. Emotion began to creep into his voice as it rose – anger, worry, I’m not sure what. My name became a chant as, now, multiple pairs of footsteps sketched an auditory blueprint of our house.
In the back of my parents’ walk-in closet, partially concealed by my dad’s hanging dress shirts and my mom’s seldom-worn skirts, I stayed silent.
I had been in the closet for about two hours when the light finally switched on and my dad ventured far enough in to actually see me. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I responded with tears, sobs, and an emotionally charged confession that I detested myself, that I hated being fat, and that all I wanted was to shed the misery and be normal.
Confessions of this sort – the self-loathing, the shame, the disgust directed inward and manifested outward in tears – were not unknown to me, or to my parents. I had struggled with weight my entire life, and hazy recollections of visiting “special doctors” and getting tested for potential thyroid issues linger in between memories of family birthday parties and sleepovers. Moving from the Midwest to the Midsouth in middle school, I had not hesitated to self-diagnose my “new kid” loneliness as a product of my appearance.
But this closet experience, holing up and refusing to answer when called and sought, was a new dramatic extreme. Thinking back, though, my moments of depression and despair are often characterized by retreat. I used to watch a romantic drama and, in my self-centric thinking, turn the emotion in on myself, beginning to cry in fears that a relationship would never happen to me. As I lay on the couch, my legs would inch into my abdomen, my back would curve, and then I actively tried to sink into the cushions. I drew myself into the fetal position as closely as I could, possibly trying to convince myself that, at least in this way, I could shrink. Often I would lie there, squeezing my legs in tighter and tighter against my abhorrent stomach, waiting for the other person in the room (usually my mom) to notice, to come over and comfort me.
The shrinking, the closet: they’re both a complicated mixture of seeking to hide and wanting to be noticed. I was ashamed of myself and upset about the way I looked, and the emotions only increased each time I broke down, for I was haunted by yet another time that I had acted this way and no change had resulted. I wanted to hide people from those feelings and shield them from the emotional turbulence that they couldn’t ease. But at the same time, I was so afraid of this despair that I longed for somebody to show they loved and accepted me enough to pursue me into that dark place, and hopefully to pull me out of it.
As Hurricane Sandy blew through New York this past week, leaving behind a trail of destroyed homes, displaced people, and disrupted lives, I once again retreated. Work was closed due to loss of power, and the suspension of mass transit lines rendered life virtually immobile. I rented books and read them in one prolonged sitting. I lay on my back and watched Netflix until backaches and boredom drew me out of its stupor; then I watched more. And I ate. I binged and I retreated. I left my room only a handful of times, and only because others expected me.
In truth, I’ve been retreating for several months now, retreating into the psychological causes and consequences of my poor body image, my recurring attempts to diet, my unwelcome but increasing binges, my tendency to accept responsibility as stress, even when it’s responsibility to blog readers I’ve never met but who have been kind and encouraging. I feel the weight of myself and of failure, allowing myself to feel that it will never change, yet meditating on my struggles so much in counseling and out that the not-changing will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, readers, I have once again retreated into a closet. I have been lax on the blog because I have been afraid to admit my struggles (what I view as failures). I have tried to hide in silence, not allowing the possibilities of this blog – the very reasons we started it! – to offer me a place of healing by finally letting me talk about these issues and connecting with those who might also struggle. But I want to come out.
The day my dad found me in his closet, we talked. We cried together. We committed to Weight Watchers and to each other. We began a healthy weight loss journey together, one that initially resulted in great success but that I later manipulated into mild anorexia. But that needs to be explicated in blogs to come.
For now, I’m seeking the strength to emerge. Bear with me.
*Obviously, this title may be a little misleading – but that’s the point of a great “hook,” right? For more insight or background, check out my introductory biography or our About Me links.