Running on Empty


Perfectionism, sleep deprivation, and eating disorders are all linked in my mind. Perfectionism doesn’t always look like people expect. Sure, sometimes it looks like organization and schedule and straight As. But sometimes it also looks like chaos and sloth and ditching class to smoke weed while watching The Price is Right. Sometimes it’s a blend. 

In high school, my perfectionism took the form of denying my body had needs. I’m beginning to suspect it’s no coincidence this happened the same year my bad hip was dislocated and I needed a cane to walk. It’s not like anyone else treated my pain or disability as real; why should I? 

I became obsessed with the idea of “running on empty”. I decided I was better than everyone else, all those mere mortals who needed food and sleep to function. Caffeine pills, diet energy drinks, and an over full schedule kept me hopping all day, from school to work, to a Dungeons and Dragons game I ran, to swing dancing, to church, to my boyfriend of the week. 

I kept careful track of calories consumed and burned. I was able to let go of being a perfect daughter or a perfect student, and focus all my efforts on being perfectly thin. It became easy to know if I was a success or a failure, based on the scale’s reading. More challenging issues of maturity and self growth were shelved right next to sleep as “things to do when I’m dead”. 

I can’t really explain that unhealthy pride, and the necessary contempt for others it contained. Because I was ” competing ” with others in my mind, like my siblings and the popular girls at school, “progress” meant achieving a closer imitation of them. The thinner I was, the more busy tasks I had, the more boys I dated, the “better” I was. I had no female friends then, because I didn’t want to be like “other girls”. 

I believed that I truly was different, special, and not human. That I didn’t have or deserve to have human needs. That I needed to be perfect, or at least better than everyone else, to justify my existence. And I needed to not be disabled, member of a faith healing cult that I was. So I learned to stop listening to my body, stop registering signals of pain or hunger. And I thought that would keep me safe. 

I tend to think of April 2009, when I lost my last job and didn’t have the strength or resources to find another, as when I “became” disabled. But that’s just when I could no longer run on empty. It’s when the realities that I am disabled and that I am human hit me. It’s when I had to stop lying to myself. I’ve been disabled at least since 1998. I just denied it for the first decade. 

Running on empty didn’t work, at least not for long . I thought I was special, but really I was just robbing my future to have extra energy in those days. Now the bill has come and I’m paying the price for my insecure arrogance. Now I can finally work on me. 

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