Every Time I've Been Skinny, I've Been Miserable

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sad woman

In the fall of 2019, I broke my stupid face by falling off a Bird scooter. Of course, I was drunk.

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I was with my now-boyfriend, Joey, who was, at the time, only a friend (who I had definitely banged). He had recently moved from Brooklyn (where we first met and banged) to Los Angeles, and it was the first night we had the chance to finally hang out and reconnect (bang). (I will let you guess what ended up NOT happening that night.)

What was supposed to be a quiet night smoking pot and getting down was destroyed the second my chin smacked against the pavement with such force I blacked out, came to, and stood up, cradling my face with the palm of my hand, shouting, “I’M OK!!!” In hindsight, I probably had a concussion.

I even went to Trader Joe’s earlier and loaded up on fun snacks to prepare for that night.

But let's switch to present-tense, shall we?

When Joey actually shows up, here, in L.A., at my apartment, and on my couch, and the potential to build an authentic connection with someone is REAL (beyond banging), I insist we go “get quesadillas” at the ‘70s-themed bar nearby. This bar also happens to have excellent Old Fashions.

After we “eat quesadillas” and drink-drink-drink, I insist on going to my favorite dive bar right around the corner, an absolute Hollywood institution with a big neon sign out front, a mural from the ‘60s protected by plexiglass inside, and a few barflies who hang around all hours of the day and who are all named Tony.

I only remember what happens next because I’ve forced myself to replay the scene in my head so many times: Joey asks me to remove my hand from my chin. A stream of blood shoots out in his direction. 

“I think we need to go to the hospital,” he says.

A homeless man comes out from beneath the overpass where I almost literally ate cement and offers his bottled water to help rinse off the blood that’s now all over my face, neck, chest, and legs. Joey calls an Uber. I remember thinking that I’ll probably be going to the hospital alone.

I remember the CAT scan, and the look the doctor gives me when he says, “You broke your jaw, and you’re going to have to get it wired shut.”

I remember asking, “What if I didn’t do that?” 

“Well, you’re going to have to,” he says. I remember Joey standing over me at the hospital.

Weeks later, my jaw is wired shut after the most painful surgery I’ve ever been FULLY CONSCIOUS FOR (a story for another time). I’m on a liquid diet, subsisting on the most nutrient-dense liquids I know: bone broth, Soylent, and green smoothies.

My stomach physically hurts every night. I fall asleep to the sound of it moaning.

Out of all the stupid things I’ve done when I was drunk, this, I decide, is my rock bottom. To not be able to chew, savor, and swallow your food was something I took for granted before. You won’t find that one on any of my gratitude lists pre-2019.

I rapidly lost weight. On top of not eating, the shock from the surgery made me sick, almost like I had the flu.

Painkillers on an empty stomach probably didn’t help. My extremely nice neighbor who really likes the Grateful Dead ran to the store to get me sugar-filled drinks like Naked Juice and Gatorade so I had the energy to recover. I kept a pair of wire cutters close by in case I vomited. With my mouth wired shut, I’d choke. I lived alone at the time.

At one point, I stepped on the scale and cried. I was hovering just above a number I hadn’t seen since I went through puberty. I was afraid that if I lost too much weight I wouldn’t be able to fully heal, meaning my jaw would have to stay shut longer than 6 weeks. I really missed being able to talk.

After the 3- or 4-week mark, I went to the specialist’s office where I had the surgery for a checkup. “Caitlin…” the nurses cooed from behind the front desk as they sprung to their feet when I walked through the front door. They looked so happy to see me.

“How much weight have you lost?” one asked. I swear there was a shimmer in her eye.

“About 20 so far,” I told them.

“Ugh, I’m SO jealous,” said another. I felt like I was dying.

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Eventually, I regained my ability to think clearly and re-downloaded MyFitnessPal like any other person who’s obsessed with tracking calories — this time, to ensure I was eating enough.

I started blending mashed potatoes and chicken tortilla soup from El Pollo Loco and blasting it into the back of my throat with a mini turkey baster. I’ll never forget appreciating the heaviness and warmth in my stomach the first time I did that. My weight stabilized.

And eventually, the wires came off. It took me a few more months to regain full control of my jaw and not have to place pieces of food between my front teeth, push them into my mouth with a fork, and carefully and painfully chew. A couple of months after that, we were in lockdown due to the pandemic.

I gained weight during that time, just like everyone gained weight. (I realize there are some outliers here, but I think we can all agree they are FREAKS and ANOMALIES!)

Because I had lost so much with my jaw wired shut, I decided to ignore the scale. I also considered eating food to be one of the only pleasures we had easy access to (again, I will never take the ability to enjoy food for granted!), so EFF IT! IMMA EAT! I thought.

And then things started opening back up again and I realized none of my clothes fit.

To tell you that I laid in bed and cried because I thought I looked “so bad” and was “fat” after trying on my clothes a few months ago is even more embarrassing to me than telling you I broke my face by falling off a Bird scooter.

Do you want to know what solution I landed on to solve that HORRIFIC problem? I bought some new clothes! Ones that fit, and that are cute, and that make me feel good while wearing them.

Last week, news circulated of a procedure where patients can opt-in on having their jaw locked shut, forcing them to go on a liquid diet to lose weight — in this case, with a magnetic device. You bet your ass like 6 people who know of “The Bird Incident” sent me the article. It made me want to throw up (and not have to clip any wires so I wouldn’t choke on my vomit and die).

I know many of us to struggle with the concept of our appearance (I’m here to remind you that it IS a concept and not reality), our body image, our eating, — and also our restricting. I will never, ever pretend to know a one-type-fits-all solution to alleviate your pain and anxiety and make you happy and whole (now I’m here to remind you to go to therapy!).

But when I reflect on my own experience, I know one thing for sure: every time I’ve been skinny, I’ve been miserable.

“Oh, but Caitlin, you ARE so skinny!” you might say, because you’re trying to be nice, and also because you’re super-annoyed I look the way I do and I call myself fat. First of all, SAME. It’s ridiculous. My head is warped! I’m working on it! 

And I know there’s NOTHING wrong with being fat, OK?! The fact that I sometimes equate it with being “bad” or use the word to berate myself is society’s fault! (And also, maybe my mom’s.) I’ve realized how you're raised to think and talk about your body becomes how you think and talk about your body — and woo-hee, her body image was HELLA WARPED. (I'm working on it, too! I swear!)

My use of the word “skinny” here is subjective. Like, there’s a baseline, and I dipped below it.

Really, that’s all I want to urge: find your baseline. It’s not a number, it’s a feeling. At what weight [range, especially for women] are you happiest? Like truly, undeniably happy? Where you feel strong and active, sure, but where you’re also SATIATED and not denying yourself the pleasure of eating delicious food?

At the thinnest points in my life, I was chain-smoking cigarettes, binging and purging, working out to the point of injury, and I had my fucking JAW WIRED SHUT. I was depressed. I thought about killing myself.

There were times when I weighed more and I was traveling the world, giving myself permission to take a break and let my body rest, and falling in love.

I laugh now thinking about how my “goal weight” was once a number I hadn’t been since high school.

Part of me thinks I made it unattainable as an excuse to constantly punish myself. (My favorite thing to do!) After “The Bird Incident,” I now know what being this weight looks like, for me. And I am NOT interested in that.

Kate Moss infamously once said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” But girlfriend never broke her jaw — because yes, it freaking does.

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Caitlin Thornton is a Los Angeles-based blogger, who covers personal stories. You can follow her blog, Strange Age.

This article was originally published at Strange Age. Reprinted with permission from the author.