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Hidden Secret

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It hurts, the pain in my stomach, it aches so bad. I need this though, the pain. The pain lets me know that it’s working, that I’m doing well. I know it should be worrying, to enjoy hunger pains like this, but I can’t help it. It’s become completely normal not to eat for two or three days now. That’s where these pains have come from; I’ve been getting them the past two or three months, ever since I started this diet. Sometimes I really can’t get out of eating, but I can just get rid of it after. I don’t enjoy it, but it has to be done.

“Come on Donghyuk, we’re going on soon,” I am snapped out of my thoughts by Renjun, who’s standing over me holding out his hand. I let him pull me up, ignoring the slight dizziness that accompanies it, I’ve gotten used to it by now. We’re in the midst of promotions for our new song, making it easier than ever to get out of eating. It’s so hectic and rushed that nobody will notice if I skip a meal. Today we’ve already done two photo shoots, a performance at music bank and right now we’re about to go on for a concert. This is already my second performance of the night, I had to perform with NCT 127 about an hour ago and if I’m being honest I’m exhausted. I try and push those feelings to the back of mind as the intro kicks in, instead focusing on nailing the complicated dance routines that feel like muscle memory at this point. It’s somewhere around the end of the first chorus when the dizziness kicks in in full force. I try to ignore it, but it’s starting to reach the point where I can barely stand upright. I begin to sing my part, but the room is spinning. I hear my voice stutter out, briefly note that the lights are too bright and then nothing.

When I come to I’m lying on a sofa in the waiting room. I squint up at Taeyong Hyung in surprise, he’s crouched beside me absentmindedly stroking my hair, but his attention is on the conversation he seems to be having with the other people in the room. I let my eyes close again, still feeling weird. I’m happy to just enjoy the attention for a little while longer. Instead I try to tune into what is being said about me. “So nobody has any idea why he collapsed?” Doyoung asks the room, sounding worried. “Has he been sleeping ok Mark?” Taeil prompts. “Yeah, if anything he’s sleeping more than usual. He’s the first person to go to bed and is always sound asleep whenever I come in,” Mark tells the group. No wonder the Hyungs sound concerned, I haven’t been around them as much as Mark and I are staying at the Dream dorm for the duration of our comeback and the first time I really get to see them in almost a week I’m out cold. “He’s looking a bit...well...gaunt,” one of the Coordi Noonas interjects, “I’ve had to give him some shorts of Jisung's because I didn’t have time to tailor his.” “How long ago was the fitting?” a manager asks. “Less than a month ago, and he’d already lost some weight by that point, but it wasn’t as drastic as this,” she replies. “I mean, I know we all skip meals a lot when we’re having a comeback, but none of us have lost more than five or so pounds over the last month, nothing like what Donghyuk has,” Jeno tells the group, sounding confused.

Taeyong is still stroking my hair, and I decide that it’s about time I “awaken”. I don’t want to give them enough time to put the pieces together. I start to shift slightly, and lean up into Taeyong Hyung’s hand. I need to play this like I’m not well. I hear a “he’s waking up,” from somewhere in the room, and Taeyong Hyung immediately begins to coo at me “Donghyukkie, wake up baby, it’s ok just open your eyes.” I start to squirm slightly, and turn my face away from his hand. “Come on baby, just open those eyes for Hyung,” he says gently, stroking my cheek. Shit, I feel so guilty. He must be so worried, they all must be worried. I’m wasting everyone’s time, and yet I’m going to keep on manipulating their kindness and trust in me. “Hyukkie why are you crying?” What? Oh, that’s the reason behind the burning feeling in my chest. I let my eyes flutter open, still sobbing, and I look up into his alarmed gaze. As soon as he sees my eyes are open he immediately begins bombarding me with questions. I feel myself shrinking back into the sofa in alarm, but before he can ask any more questions, Yuta Hyung is by his side. In one fluid motion he scoops me up and into his lap, letting me cry into his chest as he strokes my back. “Do you not feel well Donghyuk?” Taeyong asks me, keeping his voice low and soothing. I shake my head, refusing to look at him out of sheer guilt. “Should we get a medic to come?” I hear one of the managers ask quietly. I stay quiet, soaking up the warmth Yuta provides. “Do you remember what happened, why you fainted?” Johnny comes forward to ask me. “I...I felt dizzy before we went on stage. I haven’t had the chance to eat much today, and I wasn’t hungry yesterday either. I thought I could deal with it but it came back really strongly when I was on stage,” I reply, making sure to keep my voice sounding weak and slightly confused. Someone presses a bar into my hand. A flash of fear runs through me, but then I think about the long term goal. I need to do this in order to keep suspicion at bay. Apparently I didn’t need to fake the weak part, as when I try to open the wrapper I can’t find the strength. Taeyong Hyung gently takes it out of my grasp to open it for me. He even goes as far as to break it into bite size chunks and feed it to me bit by bit. I am so exhausted, physically and mentally. I end up just leaning against Yuta Hyung’s chest, eyes shut, opening my mouth whenever Taeyongie Hyung pressed a piece against my lips. When the bar finishes I feel a bottle press against my lips, and I drink the liquid greedily. I didn’t realise my mouth was so dry until the first drop of the sports drink hit my tongue. I know I must look like a baby, letting my Hyung hold a bottle to my lips as I drink, but I don’t have the energy to care. Once I’ve had a few gulps, he presses a tissue to my mouth, going as far as to dry it for me. I honestly could use a nap right now, and I feel like that’s something he should know. “Hyungie, I’m tired,” I mumble, eyes remaining closed. “Yeah we definitely need a doctor,” I hear Taeil inform the managers, “he might be concussed, did he hit his head when he fell?” “Yeah, I think so,” Renjun tells him, sounding scared. I do open my eyes blearily when I feel myself being lifted up and out of Yuta’s lap, but I shut them again when I note that it’s only Manager Hyung picking me up. I rest my head on his shoulder, content to drift into nothingness, despite all the voices telling me to open my eyes and not to sleep.

The next time I open my eyes I am greeted by bright lights and the beeping of a machine. However the thing that grounds me is, yet again, a hand in my hair. This is starting to feel like Deja Vu. “Donghyukkie, Donghyuk are you awake?” a voice asks. I gingerly shift towards the voice, and yet again it’s Taeyong Hyung by my bedside. “Hyung?” I ask, confused as to why I’m in a hospital bed. “Shhh, you’re ok. Don’t stress yourself out,” he says soothingly, but his eyes are red, as if he’s been crying. “Hyung, what’s wrong?” I ask, shakily extending a hand to rest on his cheek. “You’ve been asleep a fair while baby,” he tells me, trying to smile but I see tears welling up again. “How long?” I whisper, not sure if I want to hear the answer. “Just under a day,” is the response I get. “I’m sorry,” I tell him, but if anything that makes him cry harder. “Hyukkie, what have you done to yourself?” he sobs, looking at me like I’m about to break. “What do you mean?” “Sweetheart, we know. We know that you haven’t been eating.” How the fuck can he know? How? I can’t let them stop me, they’ll make me get fat again, I can’t do it. I’ll lose everything, I’ll be a fat loser.
“Breathe Donghyuk breathe,” I am snapped out of my thoughts by Hyung shaking me. I didn’t realise I was panicking, but now I can’t stop. A nurse runs in to try and help calm me down, but when it becomes clear that I’m having a panic attack, she slams the panic button next to my bed. A doctor and two more nurses rush in, and one of them injects my arm with something. I feel the effects almost immediately, my heart rate slows and I feel myself relax. The doctor performs a quick checkup before patting my shoulder gently. As soon as she exits however she is replaced by Johnny, Taeil and Jaehyun. They all approach the bed calmly, smiling gently as they all take seats around my bed. It’s Johnny Hyung who speaks first, saying “Hyuk, when we brought you in, they did lots of tests to try and find out what’s wrong with you. They came to us saying that your weight was far too low, as was your blood sugar level. The blood sugar level could have been partially explained by you not eating today, but the weight loss? You weigh 103lbs Donghyuk, that’s critically low.” I stare at him in shock, he must be lying. There’s no way I could ever weigh that, I’m far too fat. The look on his face when I tell him as much makes me regret ever opening my mouth though. “You don’t really believe that you’re fat, do you Donghyuk?” Jaehyun asks me, sounding confused. I nod unsurely, looking at everyone in turn. They’re all focused on me, apart from Taeyong who’s crying into Taeil’s shoulder, the elder stroking his back soothingly. I feel my eyes begin to well up, I’m so confused. “I don’t understand,” I tell them, tears beginning to drip down my face. “Sweetheart you’re not well,” this time it’s Taeil who speaks, “but we’re going to get you help, you’re going to be ok.” I just cry harder, fear and relief and guilt all just spilling out of me in waves. “I’m sorry,” I tell them, still in tears. Jaehyun is instantly holding me in his arms, “you’re ok, you’ve got nothing to apologise for, nobody’s angry.” “I’ve lied to you Hyung, I’ve lied to you all.” “About eating?” I nod. “I haven’t been eating at all, I’m sorry.” “Sweetheart you’ve got an eating disorder, nobody blames you for that, we just want to help you get better.” An eating disorder. Hearing it out loud like that hurts. I cry in his arms, unsure of whether or not I can truly get better.


Thing is, I did get better. It took a long time, but I recovered. The first night home after my two week hospital stay was rough. I remember dinner being a disaster. I could barely eat any of it, even less than I’d managed during my hospital stay. I ended up in tears on Taeyong’s lap, wailing apologies again and again as he tried to soothe me. In the end he put some random film on and hand fed me cashew nuts as I remained on his lap. For some reason my brain had decided that cashews were a safe food, despite not being particularly low calorie, and I was willing to eat a fair few of them with some gentle coaxing. I ended up sitting down with Doyoung and Taeil to work out what sort of foods I thought I would actually be able to eat, whilst still consulting my food plan. If I’m being honest my recovery has been a serious group effort. Our last comeback was with NCT Dream, and everyone was nervous about me not living with the Hyungs. To be fair, considering the amount of texts I received daily from Taeyong I basically was living with them but still. They didn’t need to worry, both the managers and other members took it upon themselves to make sure that I was eating. We all ate every meal together, and the managers made sure that we ate three meals a day. There were a couple of rough days, more so than usual considering the stress of a comeback and the lack of sleep, but nothing too drastic. The worst of them was about a week into the comeback, and I had woken up just not feeling right. I felt fat and ugly and like I would bring the whole group down. It ended with Mark Hyung having to pretty much force me to eat about a quarter of my designated lunch box, resulting in a full on breakdown. I ended up sobbing into Jeno’s shoulder and he hugged me tightly, rocking us both back and forth. Once I eventually calmed down Mark gingerly asked me if I wanted to go home, and I nodded, accepting the hug he was offering. Manager Hyung said not to worry, he had cancelled the rest of the day's schedule and that we should use this time to rest.

The past couple of months have been really tough, but I know that this is the right thing to do and that I need to keep on going.