My head is below my arms, and my face is drooped low into the toilet bowl. My hands, which were once gripping tightly onto the sides of the toilet bowl, are now placed gently on the rims. Sometimes it’s different; sometimes I am hunched over the sink with my toothbrush in my hand. If I don’t want the hardness of it, I use my middle finger instead, pressed tightly against my index finger. Right before I do anything, I look at myself in the mirror and convince myself one last time why I need to do this, and that it’s more than a need: it’s a cure that will jump-start my day, a way to get rid of the bad juju in my mind that made its way to my stomach and nauseated me. I had reached the pinnacle of bad habits. Biting my nails was amateurish, watching endless hours of TV was forgivable, and smoking wasn’t an option. But purging myself after every anxious thought? That seemed to do the trick.
My fingers make their way into my mouth, and I see how deep and far they need to go for me to finally feel anything, to make me less numb. It is as if I am pressing a button, deep down inside of me, and all at once, my body convulses forward, and I gag, but nothing comes out. An accumulation of thoughts and intense stares into the mirror have given me the courage to go through with it, but I have nothing to show for my efforts. It’s a compulsion that has tricked my mind into concentrating on the made up pros of the act rather than coming to terms with how disgusting and unsustainable it actually is.
My stomach clenches and my belly folds into itself; it is building muscle, I tell myself. As I do the deed, images of why I am upset flash forward and I get more nauseated, angry. When I’m done, I feel a bit lighter to a certain extent. I’m not sure if I hate myself more or less after this; it’s something I will dwell on for the rest of the day. The lump in my throat disintegrates, but the images that keep me in this vicious habit still flash in front of me: ex-boyfriends with new girlfriends, exams I have to sit for blank-faced and sleep deprived, and my parents questioning and battling the life choices I’ve made so far. I have to get rid of them somehow. I caress my belly staring at the green mucous-ey lump of bile on the white porcelain sink. It flows over the stainless steel corner of the drain cover. That’s all I had in me: cheap special effects of a monster that I had forced myself to purge multiple times. I stare at it and watch its slow journey down to the black unknown, the drainage system of my building. Will it make it all the way to the sea? Will my bad juju enter the Mediterranean and contaminate it like an oil spill? Will the fish then lunge into deep depression and have the same flashing images I had when I purged my flaws and self-hate?
I imagine myself walking in university. I say hello to acquaintances, friends, professors, cafeteria staff, janitors, twice-removed and once-added relatives whom I’ve probably seen once or twice at traditional family dinners. At times, people say hello to me, and I don’t know who they are. When I greet people, I wonder if they can read certain things on my face, if they look into my eyes for long enough to know what I do in private – not only in the comfort of my own home, but also in the library bathroom, or the dirty stalls next to the old chapel. Does my breath smell? Have I remembered to change my shirt, or has some of my anxiety dripped down from my chin onto it too? I walk back to my room, my back and shoulders doubled over. Sleep has overcome me, and I wrap myself in a blanket, which is the closest thing I can get to a hug at the moment. No one else is home, and I sleep for a few more minutes before I wake up again. I consider it a second morning, another revival. Now I am ready to start my day as if nothing had happened. I stare up at my ceiling and I think of what’s ahead of me, feeling a little more energized, although the dread hangs over my bed like a pathetic rain cloud that could easily be blown away, if I gave an effort. As I walk out the door, I look at my painted face and fluffed up hair, I give myself a little smile and take a breath that isn’t really a breath, but the act of it.
Maya Ayache is a radio host, agriculture graduate, podcast enthusiast, amateur cook and published writer. She is currently the space manager at Barzakh, Beirut.