“Just go eat a sandwich,” the man said to me.
I’m the human form of a funeral pyre, the spark as my steady shame and self-hate. My anger boils and I clench my toes as I walk beside him.
And yet I nod in silence, acquiescing to his flippancy. I nod because I don’t know better. I nod because I’m full of struggle and pain, and just trying to pass as normal. I nod because I almost died once from not eating anything—let alone sandwiches.
A year earlier, a Welsh doctor told me my heart would stop unless I made a life-altering shift. Like fully S-T-O-P, a sack of maroon mush in a gaunt vessel.
But my heart kept thumping its melody, despite my best efforts to kill the choir. And I made the shift the doctor seemed to want: from a boy swiftly dying to a boy slowly living.
I didn’t want my heart to stop. Not really. But what’s a heart without understanding what the heart’s for?
I had lived my life up until that point in a place of unknowing, an impenetrable cage around my heart, masked and fueled by repressed emotions, undiagnosed and unseen depression and anxiety, and a familial framework that made me feel I was alone.
So when the doctor delivered the life vs. non-life choice I had to make, I felt a sense of relief but also a tremendous amount of fear and uncertainty about a future I never thought I’d have…or deserved.
* * *
A year later, when the man told me to “just go eat a sandwich,” I was a faintly beating heart learning how to live for the first time. I was a year into recovery from disordered eating but still years away from knowing who I was.
When I heard the man say those words then, I was angry at him for not knowing my pain; I was angry at him for not understanding; I was angry at him for his triggering, stigmatizing retort.
But when I hear him now, replaying that exchange in my head fifteen years later, I realize that he didn’t know better—just as I didn’t know.
And there is so much pain in not knowing. For decades, I didn’t know myself, and with that unknowing came heaps and bucket loads of anguish, heartache, self-destruction and self-hate. But I’ve been working on that for the past few years.
At 38 years old, I’m learning to fully know myself for the first time. Through therapy and introspection, through empathy and connection, through vulnerability and storytelling, through learning how to be witness to and honoring of my feelings, through looking back with compassion at my childhood aches, through creating difficult but self-loving boundaries, through finally recognizing (but still struggling with—because hey, I’m a feely human like you) that I am worthy, that I deserve love, and that I don’t need to be in pain.
I’ll tell you this: I know that my heart beats, I know that sandwiches can be freaking amazing with the right kind of spicy mustard, and that the knowing journey is a lifelong one, and it’s one worth seeking with all your feely heart.
Here’s to knowing.