In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a close friend of Dating & Hookup and a respected journalist, ”Nate Milsham,” writes on his relationship to his wife’s debilitating sickness.
It was a Saturday morning and we’d slept too late; that was the crux of it. Emily wanted pancakes, but wouldn’t let me make them, or make them herself, or go out to get them from the diner across the street. She just folded herself deeper and deeper into her bathrobe—my wife is a small woman who likes to be noticed least when she’s upset—and just said, “Breakfast is over.” She started to cry. “Breakfast is over, breakfast is over, breakfast is over.”
Emily Milsham is a genius. She has one terminal degree in art history and is working on a second, both from top-tier universities. She drags the lazy, privileged shits in her packed-to-capacity undergraduate classes kicking and screaming into the beautiful worlds created by Picasso and Rembrandt and Robert Mapplethorpe (and let me tell you, I would not do that for those students, because they do not fucking deserve it. I speak once a semester in her classes and I brought my last lecture to a dead halt just so I could tell one of the little bastards to stop talking to his buddy as though I wasn’t even in the room) and at the end, they thank her for it. She is funny as hell, a sparkling conversationalist, a good Christian, and incredible fun to go to bed with. She has a chili pepper on her RateMyProfessor page, and that chili pepper is absolutely correct.
Emily was also a ballet dancer starting at age two and a half; her mother is not an intentionally mean person, but her daughter baffles her and she has spent most of Emily’s life trying to make her do one thing or another, usually successfully. Until a year or two ago she would send Emily “care packages” of diet bars and clothes that were too small; Emily has always tried to play them off as though they were no big deal but you can’t keep abject misery from showing up in your eyes even if you keep your face still.
It’s worth noting, although I hesitate to say it, that my mother-in-law, Enid, is overweight. She is a very fun, rambunctious, upbeat old lady and I like her a lot, but she is heavy past the point of euphemism and it obviously is one of the few things in her life that she can’t control. It makes her very unhappy. For most people who are not her daughter, she’s really fun, but Enid knows bone-deep that fat people are unhappy and she doesn’t want her daughter to be unhappy, therefore she will do anything she can to keep her from being fat. Emily is not fat, therefore she must be happy. QED. Emily’s brother, Tom, has mostly gotten out of dealing with his mother’s expectations by doing exactly what he wants all the time, and while this strategy doesn’t exactly win him friends, it does keep his mother off his back. He’s not fat, either. Emily is much more anxious to please, or better yet, to do a good enough job to avoid being noticed.
Men know absolutely nothing about ballet dancers. I think most of us start off thinking that it’s probably a hop, skip and a jump to more interesting kinds of dancing, but actually ballet is about exercising total, utter control over your body, and for a woman constantly bullied and coerced into pleasing someone else, control becomes an end, rather than a means. Ballet becomes about being cussed enough to hold your fucking arms in a goddamn port de bras without shaking until the music is over and not an eighth of a note less. It puts you into conflict with the one person who is always letting you down, fucking up, and keeping you from getting what you want: yourself. And when you win, you force your body to do what you tell it to do and the reward is acclaim from other people.
I suppose you could describe any physically taxiing sport this way, but ballet dancers are a breed apart. Their rituals are, even for sportspeople, punishing and masochistic, and the practice and drills required to master the routines usually cause the practitioners to fall apart. They are to tennis pros and football players as SEALs are to the rest of the Navy. I’m not exaggerating—ballet dancers plie, they go en pointe, they generally do things no human being should do to her body, and 95% of those bodies pay the price in repetitive stress injuries like tendonitis and damage to soft tissues like cartilage; shin splints; labral tears; and, of course, the ever-present eating disorders. Their toenails fall out all the time. That is fine with many of the dancers I’ve met in my life, because these dancers hate their bodies very much.
Emily, obviously, has an eating disorder. It is neither anorexia nor bulimia because it includes symptoms considered exclusive to both and is instead categorized under the heading “eating disorder—other.” Food stresses her out. We have spent literally 45 minutes in a restaurant batting away increasingly brittle waiters as politely as possible until she can figure out what to order; on more than one occasion, the waiter has snapped at us and we’ve just had to get up and leave because people start to stare, which makes Emily even more nervous than she already is.
The leaving utterly mortifies her; one of Emily’s darkest nightmares is that she would be a bother to someone, but even worse than that is the feeling, in her words, that “if I get fat again, I’ll die.” I used to think she was being hyperbolic until I finally realized that she really did think she’d die if she gained five pounds—not of anything specific, just of being fat. Again, my wife is freakishly smart. She knows people don’t die from gaining five pounds. But she is certain, though she knows intellectually that this is not the case, that she will be the exception.
Part II here.
Thanks for the image jackandjasons.
"Nate Milsham" is some version of the persona and pseudonym Nate Milsham. He is a New York City-based writer and stand-up comic. He holds degrees from Wheaton College and Penn University, has lived in New York since 2004, and reads more science fiction than is healthy for an adult human being. He was born and raised in the deep South and is not about to go back there. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, who can fly and shoot laser beams out of her eyes.
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