It’s been two-thirds of my life that I have been listening to this harassment in my head. I’ve talked back, I’ve fought back, I’ve negotiated, and yet I still suffer. It’s like a permanently playing radio, sometimes louder, sometimes more quiet, but always there as the background sound of my life. It is exhausting, but not as exhausting as it is to try to turn it off and keep it off. Sadly, I’m just used to it now. It’s become so normalized that I don’t really recall what it’s like to not have it there, my chronic and badgering anorexia.

I know that it’s in my genes because I have relatives who, although never diagnosed, have struggled with eating issues as long as I can remember.

Many people know about my disease, yet many do not. I don’t know what they think about me. I am a master of making excuses for missing meals, and people don’t realize that my obsession with exercise is not something to be admired.

Since the very first signs of an eating disorder, my parents had me in therapy. I’ve devoted my life to animals, but so much time and effort has been consumed with therapy, doctors, dietitians, medication, inpatient treatment and hospitalizations. Nobody can cure me — or anybody — of this. But people can get better. Or not. Chronic anorexia (also known as Severe and Enduring Anorexia Nervosa) feels like handcuffs and, sadly, like something I will always live with.

My mind started the anorexia harassment when most people are starting puberty. It stunted my growth and stole away my adolescence, causing lifelong and terrifying damage to myself. That’s what people don’t realize — I’m not naturally this small; I have forced myself to maintain this body since I was a child. And it didn’t help that I was a pretty serious gymnast. But this body isn’t who I was meant to be. Who knows who I was meant to be.

So I go about my life, missing out on so many foods that I know I would love but aren’t worth the anguish of listening to that damn voice in my head. I’m somehow different. I can’t have them. I don’t know what it’s like to eat what I want, when I want. Anything outside of my “safe foods” makes me feel like I’m gaining weight and like I’m bad, for I have disobeyed my eating disorder. Challenging it is simply too exhausting. And I punish myself with exercise, no matter the weather, no matter the pain. It’s the only thing that quiets and calms me.

I am constantly shocked how people can be so incredibly stupid, especially when they think they are trying to help me. The comments they have made send me backwards and out of control, back into the comforting arms of anorexia. “You look healthy.” “You look great.” “You look like you put some meat on your bones.” I’m thirty pounds underweight. Who on earth would think these are helpful things to say? I don’t want to look “healthy,” and saying so to an anorexic person thinking it will make me feel better can be damaging. Healthy means fat to me, great means that clearly thirty pounds underweight isn’t enough. And yet other people make very concerned comments to my mom, as if she hasn’t been spending years trying to help me get better.

You don’t know what somebody else is going through. Be careful what you say. I’d like to be more open with people, but I fear that they will think I’m judging their diet, their weight. I’m not, I don’t. It’s only me who sees myself and hears myself the way I do. And if you are familiar with these same harassing voices, like a conscience gone awry, seek help. At least there’s more knowledge of the causes (biological, genetics) and so maybe some better treatment options than when I fell into this trap about 23 years ago.

So now all I can do is persist in life, doing the very best I can to give back to the world despite the buzzing radio static of anorexia nervosa. I have hope, but there is no cure yet.