Art by Hannah Parsons
Story by Mehrnaz Tiv
“I feel like I’m suffocating.”
“Yeah, I feel stuck.”
“I rearranged all my furniture. I pushed my desk across the floor, moved the bed to the other side of the room and put the dresser across from the window. I’ve been sleeping better this way…There are still too many mirrors.”
I am currently a university student, which makes my “stay at home” situation a “go back home” situation. For the past three years, I’ve been living the same lie any New York City college kid tells themselves: New York me is the real me, the version of myself I don’t have to hide. Anything before this move I can erase, I can delete. In a city so dense, where do you have room to wallow in the past? It’s so fast, it’s distracting. What am I distracting myself from?
I don’t think many move to New York because they’re necessarily happy where they currently reside. We all leave our hometowns for different reasons, but if you end up in New York, you didn’t just leave, you wanted to escape, to be free. It’s virtually unjustifiable to move here. That’s why we do it.
Now, believe me, I am aware of how stupidly fortunate and privileged I am to be able to just pack up a bag and leave the global epicenter of a deadly virus to arrive in lush western Pennsylvania with a family, a bed and a fridge all waiting for me. The reality of so many other young adults stuck in New York includes financial dependence from a job they can’t do and isolating in an apartment the size of our foyer in Pennsylvania. Yeah, I am part of the problem.
At the start of all this, during one of my pity parties, I told my mother these exact words:
“If I don’t come out of this the hottest, skinniest, acne-less, tannest, prettiest that I have ever been before I go back to New York, I’m going to be pissed.”
I’m annoyingly selfish, I know. Kim, there’s people that are dying. And God, I meant that with so much sincerity. What’s my excuse? What could possibly distract me? If I don’t use all this extra time to improve myself, when will I? I saw the jokes about the “Quarantine 15,” completely annihilating quarantine snacks in two days and moving from the bed to the kitchen being our daily exercise. And as hard as it is to admit, these jokes scared me. It was a fear I knew, a fear I remembered. A fear I thought was gone, but it wasn’t. It was still here, in my childhood bedroom. In the eyes of my old stuffed animals, in the threads of my old lace curtains.
I call my college friends whenever I can. They remind me of how far I’ve come, how I am no longer the lonely teenager trapped in this room. I FaceTimed my friend from the midwest:
“This house has too many fucking mirrors,” she confesses. “The vanity wakes me up to see the morning flat tummy warped too wide, the hallway mirror gives me a better angle of my waist, the bathroom one is too close and I try not to sneak glances, the large one on the living room wall swallows me up and spits me back out.”
Routines are good for recovery and changing those routines so suddenly and severely can really affect progress. It’s amazing how quickly we were back in high school. Obsessively staring at my every angle, hate and resentment staring right back. I’m back in this silent white town I didn’t think could be any more vacant. But these empty streets welcome too many thoughts that took years to drown away. Like before, I am fantasizing escape, dreaming of a perfect future very far away.
“I’m used to the tiny oval makeup mirror in college and the too-high bathroom reflection that’s only good for brushing my teeth,” my friend tells me. “I’m used to seeing myself through fragmented glimpses that I put together into something I like. I’m used to the ways of coping that I built around me, things that were reliable.”
I normally don’t workout with any sort of consistency, but all of a sudden 30-day workout challenges were flooding my planner and guilt-free recipes were puking out of my printer. These aren’t things I normally do. My once meme-dominant Instagram explore page is now videos of hot girls at-home workouts and #NOEXCUSES motivational texts. Look at what everyone else is doing! Wow, they are so productive! Getting so much done!
I used the blanket of self-care to smother the red flags I was sensing. We need to focus on ourselves during this stressful time. We need to take care of ourselves. But for some of us, how we take care of our bodies doesn’t involve much…care.
I think what snapped me out of it was Instagram suggesting I follow an influencer I had to spend years trying to forget. When I was younger, I would have killed to be as skinny as her. Her body is so thin and I would stare at her photos for hours. Yeah, pathetic, I know. Hours. I had to unfollow her for my own sanity. And when I saw her name again after years of thinking I forgot about her, years of accepting my natural body shape, I realized what was happening.
Hindsight is a helpful tool. I can see the patterns that lead to chaos. And what I am realizing is this space may be where the demons were born, but it isn’t where the demons died. Sure, university could give me a temporary break from this noise in my head, but it didn’t make the sound completely silent. My friend and I both faced this ugly reality together. I think that makes it a little more real.
“In college, walking everywhere meant burning calories, I could walk past a mirror and just keep fucking walking. Being so busy meant conveniently skipping snacks until I was starving, surrounding myself with people who genuinely thought I was beautiful meant that I loved myself, too.” But now we’re home, now we’re alone again.
These are problems I never fully faced or worked through, so I’m starting to accept they never went away, no matter how hard or far I tried to run from them. I think I am lost as to who I am in this space, but I know there is nothing hiding inside of us that we can really run away from.
A common motivation for these thoughts and actions stem from the concept of control. We can control our bodies and what goes into them. We can control exercise regimens, we can control calories. So, in a moment where so much is out of our control, it makes sense that I am resorting back to old habits. I think the lack of control over what will happen to the world, to the people I love and to my future, is making me control the one thing no one can take away from me, my own body. When can I go back to the city? I can’t control that. When will I see my friends again? I can’t control that. When will jobs be available again? I can’t control that. Should I eat today? I can control that.
I grew up in this house. We moved here when I was eight. I wrote Sharpie secrets on my bed frame when I would hide under my bed during hide-and-go-seek. There are paint stains on my carpet from my middle school Tumblr days. I screamed so loudly into these pillows when that boy just didn’t like me back. This house has served me in so many ways I definitely take for granted. And I don’t truly believe this yet, but so has my body. I no longer feel like I’m running away and I’m actively using the rest of my time isolating here to catch my breath. And here the air is so clean; I shouldn’t take that for granted.