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Have the lambs stopped screaming?

Amanda Peña | Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I remember the heat that hit me like a wave and rushed out of my body like a tide pulling back from the shore. Then I was cold. That day, I passed out at basketball practice. It was a hot, humid summer day in a stuffy gym and when I awoke, I explained to my coaches that I was dehydrated. They bought it.
I passed out again at practice the next day. My friend’s mom called my parents and took me to the hospital. She thought I was dehydrated again. Then the doctors explained that I was malnourished. I felt the bright light of the investigation room burning above me as I anticipated the questioning.
“It was really hot in the gym. I didn’t drink enough water. That’s it!”
Then the doctor weighed me. I couldn’t hide it anymore. My eating disorder was no longer my secret.
That marked the day I began to recognize the power of silence. I quietly starved myself for days at a time, pretended to eat when others were watching and dedicated myself to intensive workout regimes to reach a negative calorie intake. No one could hear my silent screams over the sounds of the ball dribbling and my sneakers shuffling across the court. It’s a sickening reality, but when you have an eating disorder, you will do anything to prevent people from stopping it. Even when, deep down, you desperately wish they knew.
It’s been years since I’ve had a physical eating disorder, but that doesn’t mean the thoughts aren’t there every day. Every mirror I pass, every outfit I try on and each look I get or don’t get triggers memories of the person my younger self tried to be. A friend of mine recently found a picture we took together in eighth grade when I was in the middle of the eating disorder. She didn’t know I had it, but when I saw the photo, I was shocked by how disproportionally skinny I was compared to how fat I used to think I looked at that time.
I shared the picture with some friends here. I laughed it off and agreed with them when they said I was too skinny. Then the silence returned. I silently began wishing I could be that skinny again. Thankfully, I’ve developed a tough barrier that doesn’t allow those thoughts to resonate or take root. They bounce around in the walls of my mind and escape through the windows I’ve learned to keep open. But not everyone can do that. Sometimes, people’s windows are bolted shut by their own silence.
In college, it’s easy to get sidetracked from others’ problems when you have essays to write and exams to study for. But we have to learn how to listen to their screaming in the silence.
My friend is at a delicate stage in her life where she is still developing her identity and discovering who she wants to be Рheck, we all are still learning and will continue to learn about ourselves until the day we die. She has this fa̤ade, though, that keeps people from knowing whom she is deep down, entangled in her insecurities.
It’s the silence. How she smiles, laughs and exudes a contagious, positive energy while silently holding back her pain. I remember how much she projected her love of food by baking delicious cookies. But then I remember the popped blood vessels in her eyes and the blond streak in her hair from color pigment loss when she told me she was bulimic.
How did I not know? I spent every day with her! I should have noticed, considering my own history with an eating disorder.
She’s not bulimic anymore, but her self-esteem issues will always be there, the same way mine still are. I can’t protect her. I’m not there to follow her to the bathroom and listen for purging. I can’t talk her through her problems anymore, not until she comes to me with them. And that kills me.
It’s hard for me sometimes to understand that validating her beauty isn’t enough to keep her from spiraling deeper into the darkness that blinds her. It’s even harder for me to remember to check how’s she’s doing when I’m busy with my own life and problems. Distance and silence – they’re blind spots that keep us from seeing a potential crash on our journey down the highway of life. We have to remind ourselves to look over our shoulders and pull over when we see someone needing our help (whether or not they ask for it). The signs are all around us, but until we turn down the music and lower our windows, we might miss the silent screams caught in the wind outside.

Amanda Peña is a junior and a
sustainable development studies
major with a poverty studies minor. She can be contacted at
[email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.