I know I can’t do it.
I gesture him to not fill my plate much, at all even, but he doesn’t listen. Betrayal bites my heart bitterly, but I’m in public. Surrounded with friends and strangers, and I cannot let them see. I have to keep the appearances up. It feels like betrayal for the second time, when tears fill my eyes, and my body refuses stubbornly to pretend.
I can’t eat, and they all notice something is wrong with me.
I am unable to point out the exact moment it started, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. I’ve had severe anxiety since my early childhood, without ever it being named or being diagnosed. I thought it was a normal state of being, but my body knew better. It sent signs. Crisis. 24/7 dissociation, making it feel like I’m watching my own existence from a glass prison. And still, I refused to acknowledge I wasn’t fine.
How does a phobia start?
I can’t tell, I didn’t realize this was one before it became out of control, but it took months.
There was food I couldn’t eat anymore, and insidiously, the list grew. Meat, candies, fruits… Everything my deeply anxious brain judged as too dangerous. Eggs because they didn’t turn to complete mush once chewed. Green beans because they were too stringy. Marshmallows because, what if they stayed stuck in my throat?
What if I swallowed wrong and choked to death?
A journey on the Internet taught me it was named Phagophobia.
It also threw in front of me the several stories of people having dealt with it for years, decades. Deep in my own issue, it seemed to me as I could never heal.
These months taught me how to pretend I ate while I didn’t. I tried to fight back sometimes; I always was a warrior. Waking up at night, to gnaw on a slice of whatever out of pure rage. It wasn’t enough to heal, though.
It got worse. Worse until it peaked on that day. I was unable to eat the smallest bite, and I couldn’t hide anymore.
It was a terrible feeling, and I was angry at myself. I had the sentiment my body had betrayed me by giving away my secret in front of those people, by forcing me to break down, and having to explain the truth of my struggle.
Now, I finally understand my body knew better and was helping me – it saved me.
It didn’t think I was weak; it knew I was strong enough to heal, but that I couldn’t do it alone, in the secrecy of my own mind. Because my mind was the issue here, anxious until it shattered and transformed a daily necessity into a deadly danger.
I would lie if I said I healed overnight, that it happened smoothly or that my loved ones were always understanding.
It was war, and I had to fight my fear twice per day. When it paralyzed me, screaming I was going to choke and die, I had to clench my teeth and go for another bite.
Gradually, it became easier. After weeks surviving on milk and sugar, I could eat mush, then I could eat vegetable. Nowadays, I eat freely. It isn’t gone entirely, when I’m under stress it peaks again, as a threatening shadow, but I don’t care.
I don’t care because what I gained from that challenge was immensely valuable.
It taught me I was so much stronger than I believed. But not a strength hidden inside a secret, one which is proudly out and visible to the world. I’m strong because I learned to not be ashamed of my struggles.
Mental illness, nightmares, and fears love darkness; they’re like vampires. Put them under the daylight, share them with trusted ones and they are suddenly weakened. To express, to pour the content of our heart in front of the world is an act of so much bravery that once it’s done, we know we can conquer.
Thanks to that time my body chose for me to reveal my secret, I could go to a therapist, and I was diagnosed with anxiety. I’ve learned that no, over worrying isn’t normal, and yes, it can be helped.
It was only one victory on my journey. Anxiety is still here, with body image issues. Dissociation isn’t gone.
Because this too shall pass, and I know that my body isn’t my foe, that my vulnerabilities are valuable.
Finally, I can do it.
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