I’ve always felt anxiety and pressure in social situations. It wasn’t that I disliked the people around me. Far from it. But something about the expectation to perform in a social capacity always filled me with dread.
For a while, I thought I was broken. Everyone I knew loved hanging out and being around one another. In one of my peaceful moments of alone time, I decided to do a little research to find out if something was wrong with me.
I learned about introversion. I learned about countless millions of people just like me. It became my mission to discover and understand the ins and outs of that mindset so I could better myself. I finally realized I didn’t have to change who I was. I could embrace it.
Over the years, I’ve cultivated knowledge I feel may be helpful to other introverts who don’t know there are people like them. I want to share with you some examples of situations where I felt uncomfortable and how I handled them. I don’t expect everyone to encounter the exact same situations or react the same way, but I think this will be a good template for other introverts to use. Continue reading “Three signs you may be an introvert and how to cope.”
The Craigslist ad wanted a male companion for 6 hours. No sex, nothing illegal, and, get this: it paid $10,000. Who wouldn’t jump at 10k?
We met at his house. His handshake was firm. He seemed solidly middle-class; modest home, basic decor, nothing ostentatious. A suburban bachelor pad. After our hellos, he asked if I’d like something to drink. His fridge was stocked with microbrews. Good stuff! I grabbed a Dogfish Head 90 and he guided me to the basement. “That’s where we’ll be working,” he said.
I didn’t understand. I had those floaty things. My teacher said everyone did. An artifact of our eyes developing, or something like that. I guess he’d been told the same thing, but it did him little good. His parents were concerned, of course, and they brought him to ophthalmologists who were all in agreement: his eyes were fine. When he denied the experts’ claims and doubled down on his insistence that something was wrong, his worried parents got him into therapy.
I guess the therapist helped him a little bit. Malcolm’s paranoia seemed to diminish somewhat and his anxious habits like twitching and blinking weren’t as pronounced. That was good – a lot of kids made fun of the way he blinked. He told me it helped push the things out of sight for a couple seconds.
When I was a kid, I used to play games like “The Floor is Lava” with my brother, Greg. I didn’t like it too much. Greg was far more athletic than I. Older, too. He’d do all these graceful steps and great, balletic leaps that were way beyond anything my pudgy body could do. When I’d fall and lose the game, he’d gloat for a while and then we’d go off and play something else.
My neighbor, Mr. Clayton, would always watch us from the other side of the fence that separated our backyards. Mom said to stay away from him, but she couldn’t stop the guy from watching us play. He seemed harmless, if not a little weird. We didn’t pay him much attention. All afternoon, he’d watch us run races or throw the football around, only leaving his place behind the fence if he wanted to refresh his drink. Every so often, Greg would say, “hi Mr. Clayton” and give a big, exaggerated wave. Mr. Clayton just smiled awkwardly and looked down at the ground. To be honest, I felt a little bad for the man.
On an afternoon in late June, right after we’d gotten out of school and the day after Greg’s 15th birthday, he and I were roughhousing outside. We did that often. Even though he was older and taller, because of my extra heft, we were roughly the same weight. He was still much stronger and more agile, though, so he always got the better of me and pinned me down. After another win by Greg, he had me helpless on the ground while he crowed over me. While I waited for him to get off, I glanced over to the side. I could see Mr. Clayton watching us with rapt attention. His right shoulder was moving back and forth. Even though I was 11, I had a pretty good idea what he was doing.
The best part of starving to death is the knowledge that, right before I die, the person I see in the mirror will be the most beautiful person I can possibly be. No extraneous fat; no extraneous skin; no extraneous me. Just a pure distillation of my soul before it’s freed from the body that imprisons it. It’s what I look forward to more than anything in the world. But I can’t celebrate yet. There’s still too much of me. I have a lot of work to do.
Elaine was my ana buddy. We both knew I was better at it than she was. She told me how much I inspired her, and I believed it. It felt good to help my friend. That’s how it had been for the last couple years. When she started ranting and raving about this amazing girl Aida she met online who’s the most inspirational person she’d ever met, though, I felt a twinge of betrayal. Who was this girl and what was she telling my friend?
Elaine said Aida was a new member on our pro-ana message board. She likes to hang around in the “Every Step Makes You Smaller” fitness section. A runner, apparently. I’d never needed to visit that section of the site, so I never noticed her. When Elaine started running, I only found out a week later when she arrived at my place unannounced. I was surprised. I live 30 miles from her. She didn’t have a car and would refuse to take public transportation for some reason, so when she told me she ran, I believed her. Plus she was covered in sweat and panting like she was about to keel over.
You have to realize something: I’m better than Elaine. I’m lighter and more dedicated. I run on my treadmill three times a day until I make sure I burn every single calorie I’ve eaten, plus another hundred. But never 30 miles. And Elaine was huge compared to me. Over 100lbs. She’d just burned 2300 calories in one run. That’s more than I eat in four or five days. She couldn’t tell how jealous and angry I was through her exhaustion, which was good, because I needed to find out how she managed to do that.
This was the point Elaine mentioned Aida. She said Aida not only gave her amazing advice about how to run, but told her how to make a supplement that gave her so much energy and made each step feel like an amazing accomplishment. Like I said, I didn’t know who Aida was, but when I heard this, I hated her. I hate shortcuts. I don’t take supplements. Every pound I’ve lost was through sheer determination and willpower. Shortcuts make you soft. I’m not soft. I’m not.
I am soft. If I’m going to be honest, I’ll admit to one shortcut. Mia. There are days I can’t control myself and I’ll eat a whole bag of gummi bears or two yogurts. Both fat free, but still too much. I could feel the space between my ribs filling in like canyons during a flash flood. There’s no worse feeling in the world than becoming more when all you dream about is being less.
My index and middle fingers would manipulate the dime-sized, scarred spot on the back of my throat. It took so, so long. I’d have to push hard and claw at the spot with my fingernails for ten straight minutes. It felt like I was reaching in and pulling the food up and out of me. Elaine was the only one who knew about it. She’d been doing that long enough to notice my Russell’s sign and even though she hadn’t said anything to me or asked for tips, I was fairly certain she took some comfort in the fact she wasn’t alone with mia.
That’s something I hated about her. I bet it sounds like I was a bad friend, doesn’t it? But I can’t help it. Elaine thought she was like me when she wasn’t. I’m pure. My successes are through restriction. Through the abnegation of pleasure. I’m an ascetic. Strong. Pure. Holy.
Elaine… Elaine was a disaster. She was corporeal and weak; she couldn’t control her urges. After she stuffed herself, if her fingers weren’t down her throat trying to tickle the food out of her belly, a handful of laxatives were splashing in so she can shit everything out. Her teeth were brown and her cheeks were swollen with fluids. She thought we were the same. I am better.
And then she ran to my house. 30 miles. When the doorbell rang, I was washing multicolored jellybean vomit from my hand and wrist and forearm. 30 miles. I’d scratched the surface off my scar so the back of my throat was bleeding and the cut was coated with stinging stomach acid. 30 miles and 2300 calories. I hadn’t shit in 13 days and my disgusting, fat belly was distended like I was pregnant even though it’d been two years since my last period. 30 miles, 2300 calories, and more excited than exhausted.
Elaine was winning. I had to let her tell me all about Aida and the supplements.
Aida was very private and didn’t post progress pics. To me, I assumed that meant she was fat. That alone made me skeptical of any advice she’d have to give. But 30 miles. Elaine and I browsed through Aida’s post history and I learned a few things like how to run to minimize impact so you could run farther without injury. More running meant more calories burned. I made a mental note to incorporate that change into my running style. I also learned about sugar. I’d been puking up all the extra sugar I’d eat, but Aida said to run it off. If I made the changes to my running style and ran off the extra sugar rather than throwing it up, I’d burn off what I’d eaten, plus extra that would have just stayed as fat if I’d thrown it up instead.
There were a few other, small tweaks. But the supplement was what I wanted to hear about. The shortcut. And I hated myself for it. But 30 miles. The supplement was pretty simple. It was a certain kind of mushroom mixed with caffeine powder and ephedra. Aida provided a link where we could get the chemicals online. We’d have to find the mushroom for ourselves. Elaine, however, already had all the stuff.
Elaine was beaming with pride and self-satisfaction. I knew she was delighted to finally be the one to provide inspiration. She’d followed me for so long. But now she was in the lead. Even though she was 100lbs to my 85, she was winning. Even though her cheeks were bouncy and fat while mine were streamlined and gaunt, she was winning. I asked if we could go back to her place so I could try the supplement. She grinned and said yes. We got into my car and headed over.
Elaine’s apartment was a disaster; food containers everywhere, photos of models and singers stapled to the walls, dishes piled on the counter next to the full sink, and the unmistakable, cloying scent of old vomit. I didn’t care. My focus was on the supplement. I sat on her couch and waited while she went in the kitchen.
She emerged with two spoons perched on a plate. Inside each spoon was a paste of the mixture Aida had taught Elaine how to make. Mushrooms, caffeine, and ephedra. I asked her if she was going to run with me. She nodded. I didn’t know how to feel about that. Elaine was going to do more than 30 miles and I had no idea how far I’d go. I hoped I’d be able to outrun her.
We swallowed the awful-tasting concoction and Elaine let me borrow some running clothes. They were extremely baggy. It wasn’t long before I felt the effect of the supplement. It was not altogether unpleasant, but it was speedy. Like I’d had too much coffee.
Once she felt it kick in, we headed out. We ran at a brisk pace, keeping up with one another and not talking as we went. The effect of the supplement grew stronger. The speedy feeling remained, but another started to come in alongside it: satisfaction. Every step felt like it was making a huge, positive difference in my life. It reinforced my drive to take more and more steps. The sensation was wonderful.
My knee, which had been bothering me for the last few months, was perfectly fine after I’d adjusted my stride to fit Aida’s recommendation. Elaine chugged along next to me, staring straight ahead, with a trace of a smile on her lips.
We’d planned to run all the way back to my place. I figured if we couldn’t make it, I’d take the subway or a bus to Elaine’s to get my car and then I’d pick her up. But I could tell, after the first three or four miles, we wouldn’t be needing a car.
Our feet slapped against the pavement and we picked up speed as we went. It was a powerful stride just like I’d been capable of back when I ran track in high school. Before I realized I had to get smaller. Before I realized how much space I took up. But now, as the wind whistled by my ears, I knew this was how it would all end for me. This was the key to the success that had eluded me as I hovered pathetically between 83 and 86 pounds.
I was all energy. I could feel my flesh clinging to my ribs and hips and collarbones and drawing ever inward; each protrusive bone an indication of my hard work and dedication. I was lost in my head for countless miles. I imagined running forever as my skin melted away and left a trail of useless waste behind me. I’d be a perfect girl if I ran far enough – a creature of bone and momentum. Perfect, perfect me. And once I couldn’t run anymore – once my body had given everything it had and I’d traversed the world and shown every living person the power of my will – the last fragments of bone would splinter away and my soul would finally rise. I would be free.
A hand on my arm brought me back into reality. Elaine had grabbed me. We were in front of my apartment. I looked down at myself. My body was still there. Hatred and disappointment danced in a peristaltic wave through the sweating meat that trapped me. I plodded up the steps, took my key from around my neck, and we went inside.
Elaine stayed with me that night. As the days went by, we would run a lot together. When our feet ached and our shins felt as if they’d crumble from the relentless pressure of our motion, we’d consult Aida, who was always there. Always online, as if she’d been waiting for us.
Over time, the word got out to other ana girls in our city who used the forum. Sometimes there would be six or seven of us running together, all clattering bones and grim determination. All rushing toward our goal of zero.
When Elaine and I weren’t collecting our disability checks, we were running. Every day, we would meet up and run together. My disdain for her began to evaporate as I watched her working as hard as I was. We inspired one another to go farther and farther, harder and harder. I was 74lbs. Elaine was still 100. The knuckles on her right hand were always freshly scabbed.
Today, the morning my scale hit 70 for the first time since I was 11 years old, I drove to Elaine’s. She didn’t answer the door when I knocked. When I called her cell phone, she didn’t answer. I let myself in using the key she kept hidden. I found what I’d long anticipated.
Elaine’s gray face was hanging onto the toilet by her chin. The rest of her was curled in a loose ball. Vomit and dark blood covered the toilet and the floor around her. Textbook gastric rupture.
I felt very little while I looked at her corpse. She wasn’t wearing clothes, and I found myself inspecting the curvature of her ribs and hips and comparing them to my own. Mine were more angular and obvious. She’d lost.
I headed over to Elaine’s computer. The pro-ana forum was onscreen. I clicked over to “Every Step Makes You Smaller” and found Aida there messaging with some young teens about how to run really far without their parents getting worried. When I interjected the news of Elaine’s death into the chat thread, the subject predictably changed to her. The teens made a big show of it, the older users said they’d pray or send positive vibes; all the obvious stuff.
Aida, though, sent me a private message. All it said was, “don’t call the police yet – watch what happens.” So I did.
I went for a run. 45 miles. When I came back a few hours later, Elaine was different. Her skin was deeply porous and thin, wiry stalks pushed themselves from the center of each hole. Stringy, white stuff was growing out of her mouth and butt in thick clumps; one clump dangling in the bloody toilet water, the other pushing out across the floor.
I messaged Aida. The reply was instantaneous. “Cut off the stalks and eat them. Don’t worry, there are no real cals. Then you can go for a run. I promise, by the time you’re done, you’ll be the person you want to be.”
The last sentence was the most beautiful thing I’d ever read. I cut the clumps, which I discovered were mushrooms, out of Elaine. I washed them, sliced them up, and ate them. I did my best to believe Aida that they didn’t have calories.
Now I’m going to do the next part. I wrote to the people on the forum and told them what I was going to do. They told me good luck and be safe; the default reply of the jealous people there who haven’t reached the point they dream about. I’d given that reply before many times. All the while, though, I knew I’d get there eventually. And now I’m here.
I feel more energy than I’ve ever felt in my life. My skin is different; it’s sticky and delicate. It’s almost like it wants to come off. And that’s what I’ve worked so hard for. A girl of bones who runs away from the skin that traps her. By the time you read this – by the time I’ve gone the hundreds or maybe even thousands of miles I know I’ll be able to go – I’ll be who I’ve always wanted to be: no one at all. Perfect, weightless zero.
There was something unbelievable about the stuffing my grandmother made every Thanksgiving. It wasn’t just good – it was beyond amazing. Every morsel of meat and bread and vegetable was flavored to perfection. The meticulousness and love involved in the preparation process shone through with every bite. We’d eat until we were stuffed (pun intended) and still felt great afterward. Hell, we even felt invigorated, which was the last thing one would expect after Thanksgiving dinner.
Our family had been trying to get her to tell us the recipe for years. She wouldn’t even give us a hint.
I’m chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s personal espresso maker and latte-foam artist. Yes, that’s a real job. With benefits, in fact. Great health and dental.
One of the perks of my occupation, aside from hanging out with GZ and getting to eat many of my weekly meals at his outstanding restaurant, The Lamb’s Club, is the access I enjoy at The Food Network’s studios and associated properties.
GZ is a pretty big deal over there, which I’m sure you know if you’ve watched the network for more than a few hours. Aside from Chopped!, which is his best-known show, he’s building a new audience with the Saturday morning feature, The Kitchen. His personality fits so well with whatever he’s in, though, and it’s just great to be a part of it.
I’m totally fanboying right now. Sorry. I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful in the face of what happened.