I’m the kind of person who finds it difficult recalling memories.
I often listen to my brother tell stories of trips we took as kids or things we got for Christmas. They are great stories, and I find myself eager to hear the end — forgetting that I’m the other kid in the story.
But, there are some memories I could recall for you in a flash.
I remember when I was 10 and my uncle’s girlfriend told me that I was a “good eater,” and I remember thinking that I shouldn’t be.
I remember when I was 12, and I went on a poetry retreat at this huge Manor House. We were playing tag outside, I was running and a boy told me I was “heavy footed.”
I remember being quiet on the drive home and not being able to explain to my mum why. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t know the boy’s name, and I really didn’t even understand the comment. But I heard heavy. And I felt all of that weight.
I don’t know why my mind clings to these moments. I don’t know why it pays so much attention to throwaway comments made fairly innocently.
People can be vicious with their words, but these aren’t examples of that. Somehow though, my mind managed to map some truly challenging years out of these and other words.
I thought an eating disorder must just be in my makeup.
But, also, I didn’t think that.
Because the one thing I had never heard about being a guy with an eating disorder is that you can be a guy with an eating disorder.
I felt broken and — at the same time — like I was broken at being broken.
Because to have something that no other dude has, it sounds pretty special, right? Only I didn’t feel worthy of special. And so I didn’t feel “worthy” of having an eating disorder.
I was terrified of being known. Not because of the fear people would see my illness, but in case there wasn’t an illness to see.
It was lonely.
Then, I found people. And with people came laughter and security and acceptance and honest conversation.
My best friend Oakley was one of the first of our friends to learn how to drive. He’d drive me home after hanging out with a group of people, but after reaching my house he’d come inside and just listen to me. For hours. I’d say things out loud that I’d only been thinking in my head. Thoughts that felt truthful and real became illogical when spoken. From week to week I’d contradict myself a hundred times over as I attempted to convey what I was experiencing on the inside.
But Oakley never questioned or criticized or invalidated my words. He was the first person I told. And he stayed. We continue to talk to this day. I even get to listen to him talk now. He asked me to stand next to him when he gets married later this year. These are the memories I deserve to remember.
I never expected that anyone would stay. But I’m glad I was proven wrong time and time again.
Oakley allowed me to realize that my struggle was valid and I deserved to be heard.
There is no joy in the struggle. But there is joy in being known, fully known, in the struggle, the battle, and the victory.
There is joy in having another person see you, listen to you, be there for you. There is joy in realizing that you are not alone.
I realize that the significance of these words will waver, but to those that need to hear it: I’m sorry. You don’t deserve this pain, but you’re allowed to have it. This isn’t just a “girl problem.” We may be in the minority, but that just amplifies the need for us to stand up for ourselves and one another. I’ve not yet met another guy whose struggles look like mine. But I exist, so you must exist, too.
You deserve to feel and to exist and to be known just as I am. I stand with you. If you think you need help, then that’s enough of a reason for you to get it. No boxes to tick, no hoops to jump through, and no correct gender to be.
Your struggle is real, but so are you.