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The Mirror Is a Lie

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The beginning of this whole ordeal didn’t seem as bad as it would become. One day he was convincing himself not to get that second serving, convincing himself to skip out on little snacks throughout the day. He just needed to lose a little weight, that’s all. What else was he to do? Go to the gym? With all those people who can see his unfit form? To any normal person, this would’ve sounded absolutely ridiculous. Plenty of people go to the gym to get back in shape. Though, this wasn’t all that silly to Dan.

The first week he’d only lost nearly one kilo. It was a start. Losing weight by dieting or cutting down without getting any exercise in would obviously take longer. He was 17 years old and weighed in at 70kg. Even though all those BMI charts assured him this was normal and healthy he couldn’t help but let his searches wander to pro-ana pages on Tumblr, and those pictures of teens with smooth, flat bodies. His body was not smooth and flat. In fact, his stomach was a bit pudgier than a lot of the other boys he used to go to school and he was getting a second chin.

As the days went by, Dan began eating less. On Monday it was nothing. Tuesday he probably had two bowls of cereal (which he was not proud of). Wednesday he had a sandwich and a banana. Thursday was a little bar of dark chocolate. Today, Friday, was nothing once again. The scale under his bed antagonized him all the damn time. He began weighing himself everyday; something he’d only had done during gym class or visits to the doctor. He’d managed to lose one and a half kilos by the end of the week.

Despite losing nearly two kilos since his “diet” began, he always felt like he was just gaining more weight. Every glance into the mirror screamed at him that he was fat. Fat, fat, fat. He noticed the muffin top creeping into his oversized gut. He noticed how his chest wasn’t as flat as it used to be. How his legs had more fat than necessary, and how the slab of skin under his jaw was hanging down more. He was absolutely repulsive.

One fateful day when Dan had finally hauled his lazy ass out of the bed and to the shops, the hoodie-clad boy had stumbled across the diet section. Pills, gummies, fat-free solutions, just what he needed. He left Tesco that day with weight loss pills, food with less than 50 calories, and a brand new journal.

-

Dan was a few months in when he finally realized he was capital-f Fucked. He’d willed himself to avoid the scale for awhile so he could see what his diet had brought him to when he decided it was time to stop. It had been a total of five months where Dan was hooked on weight loss pills, kept track of his daily calorie intake in his journal, and eating only when he saw black dots staining his vision and got lightheaded. The diet was over, for he had lost over 13 and a half kilos.

The day after he decided to quit, he found it more difficult than he expected. He fixed himself a large bowl of sugary cereal with trembling hands and a repulsed mind. He can eat this. It’s just the diet-brain speaking. Though, sitting in his room, he found he couldn’t. It took a lot of calming down and going against what his mind was shouting at him to even take a few bites. When he began, he couldn’t stop. He found that while eating his mind completely shut up. No more spitting harsh words at him for eating a simple bowl of cereal.

Dan ended up eating two bowls of cereal, and four pieces of toast. His stomach felt like it was going to bust open it any second. The aftermath, however, was not good. While he was laying in his bed, relishing the feeling of a full stomach, he found his mind was louder than before. You fucking imbecile. How could you eat all of that food? That’s well over your calorie limit, fucking pig! Quite honestly, he didn’t know. He fucked up. He let himself get out of hand and now he was going to get fat again.

Dan stumbled into the bathroom on weak legs and practically slammed the door closed behind him. Placing his cold and sweaty hands harshly down onto the counter, he willed himself to look up into the mirror, something he’d been avoiding doing. What he saw made him want to cry. Cry and shout and break the mirror. His face was round and fat. His cheeks were filled with lard and if he looked at it from the side he could see his fat neck and chin. He backed up, taking in his chubby torso. His chest looked like it was about to rip through his shirt and his belly was worse. How could he have let himself get like this? He looked like a fucking whale. Dan stripped himself of his clothed, leaving his disgusting body taunting him in the mirror. There he could see his fat face, neck, chest, belly, arms, hips, and legs.

Dan had decided he only looked like that because he had let himself eat so much. He wasn’t doing good enough, and he didn’t deserve to eat all that food. Throw it up. Wasn’t throwing up for teenage girls and models? Don’t ponder on this. Sick it up. Get it out of you before the fat becomes permanent. So, that’s exactly what he did.

When Dan had exited the bathroom, completely worn out, he stepped on the scale one last time. He weighed the same. A little over 58 kilos. The numbers seemed calm, as if they were calming him down almost. Dan was doing good. He’d lost weight, more than enough. Right now, the only reward for getting rid of some of that fat he’d obtained from his slipup earlier was sleep.

-

By the time Dan had met his first real friend, he’d figured out what was wrong with him. Dan had developed an eating disorder. Specifically Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. This had led to him having an extremely distorted body image, commonly known as body dysmorphia. His friend however, was perfect. It wasn’t like they fueled Dan’s self hate. No, quite the opposite in fact. Phil was his name. Phil was the perfect friend. He was 22, only four years older than Dan. He also had more masculine features than Dan could’ve ever wished for. His stomach wasn’t flat, no, but the little bit of pudge that was barely present somehow contrasted well with his form. Phil was perfect because he was also funny. Phil was bright and cheerful for life. Phil was beautiful and had a gorgeous face. Phil was encouraging and managed to change Dan’s entire mood.

To put it simply, Dan was jealous. He wished he was as mature as Phil, as beautiful, as smart, as hopeful, as bright, as everything. Phil was literally the epitome of amazing (no pun intended).

Dan was not perfect or amazing like Phil. The first time Phil had joked about himself negatively, Dan wanted to lash out on him and yell at him that at least he wasn’t Dan. Despite the strong urge he had, he bit his tongue and nodded, offering Phil a sad smile. Phil was brave too. He could joke about his insecurities. Dan always made sure to keep his self hatred to himself. Dan wishes he could be like Phil.

The first time Dan had slipped up was when he was practically drunk on tiredness at what must’ve been 4 or 5 AM. He wasn’t thinking properly and had allowed himself to admit to Phil he thought he was fat.

“Yeah, we ended up eating the entire three pizzas. I thought I was gonna pop.” Phil’s gravelly, tired voice said to Dan through the shitty audio of 2009 Skype.

“A whole three pizzas?” Dan gapes, eyes slipping shut for a split second.

“Yeah. We should’ve gotten an award in my opinion.” Phil giggled.

“I don’t think I could live with myself if I ate even half that much.” The younger softly chuckled, lids closed at this point, speaking being the only thing tethering him to consciousness.

“What? You’ve never had a sleepover and eaten like half the fridge?” Phil dramatically gasped.

“A: I’ve never had enough friends for a sleepover.” Dan paused to yawn and open his tired eyes again. “-B: I’d get even fatter if I ate that much.”

“Fat?” Phil questioned, voice a mix of concern and confusion.

“Well- yeah…” Dan trailed off, seemingly more awake than he previously was.

“Dan, you’re not fat.” Phil said. After a few extended moments of silence where Dan had become more conscious, only kind of realizing what he’d just admitted to Phil, Dan gathered the courage to speak up again.

“I’m- I’m gonna go to sleep now, Phil. I’m literally passing out.” Dan quickly told Phil before hanging up the call and sliding his laptop underneath his bed. Dan ran his fingers through his hair, and despite nearly passing out a few seconds ago, Dan was now very awake. He didn’t sleep much that night.

-

Nearly five months after that conversation, Dan was on a train to Picadilly station in Manchester to meet Phil in the skin. The train ride there was mostly hell, considering the amount of people that were crammed into one little section, but Dan was too caught up in messaging Phil to really take in his surroundings. So when the train stopped when it was Dan’s time to exit, he nearly missed it. Of course, it was Phil who had managed to remind him that he was on a train and had to get off at some point.

The first hug was exhilarating. It was filled with Phil’s warmth, fluttering hearts, flushed faces, and a mutual feeling of never wanting to let go. It was perfect in all aspects (besides Dan’s sharp rib cage poking Phil’s stomach). When they had managed to pry each other apart, there was a beat of silence where the two boys just stared at each other. Blue meeting brown.

“Hi.” Phil said, breaking the silence.

“Hi.” Dan replied in a small voice, smiling from ear to ear for the first time in a long time. The two giggled before Phil grabbed Dan by the hand and walked him out of the train station.

The first night was filled with laughter, shared warmth, and soft kisses.

-

The week flew by far too quick for Dan or Phil’s liking. Before they knew it, they were spending their last night together. Both boys were wrapped up in Phil’s bright duvet, laptop playing some show on a volume so long it was basically just a faint buzzing. They stared at the ceiling, comfortable silence enveloping the two as it had for the past hour. Phil huffed out a breath, slightly startling Dan who turned to look at Phil, meeting his eyes. Phil pressed his lips into a line.

“Dan?” Phil asked, breaking eye contact with the other and looking back up at the ceiling.

“Mhm?” Dan mumbled out, looking up at the ceiling also.

“Do you remember that one call? It was like… probably around 5 AM. You made a joke about being fat.” Phil said, stumbling over his words several times, obviously nervous to ask the question he was building up to.

“Uh… yeah…” Dan trailed off, subconsciously moving his arm over his stomach.

“Why?” Phil asked, voice sounding hurt and Dan just couldn’t pinpoint why.

“What do you mean?” Dan asked back.

“Why’d you call yourself fat?” Phil inquired once again. There was a simple answer really; Dan called himself fat because, well, it’s what he was. But he couldn’t tell Phil that because Phil didn’t think so. The logical side of Dan’s brain didn’t think so, either.

“I don’t know.” Dan replied. He was being honest. Well, kind of. He didn’t know how to tell Phil that he was fat, but he didn’t know how to tell Phil that this has manifested into something much larger. What’s he gonna do, admit to Phil he’s been starving himself and making himself throw up everytime he ate? That he feels like his mirrors come from a circus from how bad they distort his body? No, that’d freak Phil out and run him off and then Dan would be absolutely done for.

“Well you’re not, I hope you know that.” Phil said after several moments of awkward silence. Dan just hummed, turned so his back was facing Phil and curling up into a ball on his side.

“I don’t want to leave.” Dan admitted, voice a little quieter than a whisper. Slim, warm arms snaked their way around Dan’s chest and pulled him close so that he was being spooned.

“Me either.” The older whispered, gently squeezing the others torso.

To say that Dan slept well that final night would be a lie. It was better than most, but now Phil was worried about him. On top of that, Dan honestly felt far too exposed despite him wearing an XXL t-shirt and pajama pants, and being mostly covered by a blanket (and Phil). But hey, Dan was in his best friend and idols bed, spooning with him. More than an ideal situation in Dan’s opinion.

-

By the time 2012 had come around things had gotten a helluva lot worse. It started with university. Dan, to put it simply, couldn’t handle it. For one, there were too many people. Dan’s never had really bad social anxiety but maybe that’s because he never really went out in public. Secondly, there were too many judging eyes. There were too many perfect kids who could see little, unperfect Dan. Thirdly, the stress of everything to come was crushing Dan. In fact, as soon as Dan entered his dorm after he’d finished everything for the day, he immediately broke down.

Dan had ended up going to only a few more classes after that, skipping most of them. Most of his time was spent in Phil’s flat, playing video games and watching TV until the early hours of the morning. Then, Dan’s exams came up. Dan, however, had only attended about 20 of his classes; AKA he hadn’t learned jackshit. Nada, null, nothing.

Then came Dan dropping out of uni. There was the initial breakdown, then a compromisation, and finally the actual dropping out bit. The after effects, though, were the most crucial. Dan was eating nearly 200 calories weekly, he couldn’t get out of bed, and he felt like shit. He knew he’d just fucked up his life. Before two years, YouTube was what was supporting the two boys. They were just doing it on the downlow, eventually it wouldn’t be able to support them anymore and Phil would be the only one able to get a decent job. Maybe Phil would’ve had some great job that provided enough money while Dan was working as a barista or some sad shit.

While things were going downhill in Dan’s life, it somehow got worse. It was as if the entire universe was against his very existence. Dan and Phil’s channels blew up. They were gaining subscribers by the minute, and getting more attention than ever before. While this may seem good, it really wasn’t the best of situations. See, as more people became invested in Dan and Phil’s lives, the more guarded the both of them got. Then, by mid-2012, there were theories speculating about Dan and Phil’s relationship status. Soon, they were of the most famous ships.

Overwhelmed by the massive amounts of popularity the duo were gaining, Dan’s state literally deteriorated. His eating disorder got a lot worse, and his depression hit him harder than it ever had before. In a span of just a few short months, Dan had gone from eating 200 calories a week to eating under 20, and some weeks he’d eat nothing. The days had just merged together and time was moving too fast.

There were some days when Dan didn’t even mean to not eat anything. He’d just lay in bed and before he knew it, it was dark out and his stomach felt like it was being torn open. Other days, he’d stare at himself in the mirror, watching his flat stomach begin to fill out as he stared at it. Then, his limbs would follow until he looked like he weighed 90kg. As soon as he turned away from that mirror, he would look back down at his body and see how small he was getting. He wasn’t worried. This was better than what he saw in the mirror.

2012 was coming to an end. The year for Dan in a nutshell was absolute fucking shit. Nothing got better, only worse. It was like he stumbled and fell, and just never got back up. He couldn’t. He honest to god couldn’t pick himself up and get his shit together. Twenty years old and he’s got his life together as much as your average 14 year old girl would. Relying on his boyfriend, making stupid videos, and starving himself on the downlow. He was pathetic.

The only good thing about 2012 was Phil- well, would’ve been Phil. See, the two were awkward around each other now and things were tense. Ever since their sudden rise in fame they’d been getting shipped by scarily dedicated fangirls. Before he could even get the truth out, clear things up a bit more, things were chaotic. Everywhere he looked there were GIFs, photos, in depth analysis posts about him and Phil. Everything was about him and Phil now. There was no Dan, and there was no Phil. There was only Dan and Phil, and quite frankly, it terrified Dan.

Alongside the rabid fangirls who overanalyzed the duos every move and made Dan feel crowded even when he was alone in his bedroom, there also came copious amounts of hate. Streams of hate now filled Dan’s comment sections, his hashtags on Tumblr, everywhere. These are what kept Dan up all those nights throughout the year.

Mate yer built as a fookn type 2 diabeticcccc lol x)))

Bit desperate there fairy?? :/

loool cant watch full body frames wo lookin at this guys belly thought twinks had flat tums

Dude’s hair is longer than his legs.

love u dan but even my dads got a btr frame then u XDDDDD

Obviously these weren’t of the worst, but his brain managed to block those out and store those away for times he was dreading. Before he got barely any hate messages, Dan was already terrified of showing his face and body on the internet. Being the incredibly insecure guy he was, he constantly regretted showing his face at all. Ever. He already hated himself with every fiber of his being, so why did these people have to make it worse?

When 2012 had ended, Dan was barely eating. Aside from the occasional meal with Phil (which he almost always sicked up after), there wasn’t much else food involved. The disorder was getting worse and he knew if he didn’t get help, and soon, he’d die. He was weak, severely underweight, and constantly in a state of feeling ill. He was constantly cold, dizzy, nauseous, had terrible cluster headaches and migraines, and had passed out a total of five times. Of course, while he was alone. Phil couldn’t know. Phil could never know.

The more Dan thought about it, would Phil care? Would he care that Dan had been starving himself for several years, or would he care too much and leave Dan to fend for himself? What if Phil couldn’t carry the burden of Dan’s fucked up head? Then Phil would leave and Dan wouldn’t know what to do with himself. That’s what happened, right? That’s what would happen if he told Phil? But at the same time, what if Phil wasn’t like that? He probably wasn’t. He’d probably offer to help Dan.

Dan’s mind was a whirlwind of guiltiness for a long while.

-

As 2013 rolled around Dan knew he had to do something. The disorder wasn’t getting any better, and his developing depression was hitting him hard. If he continued on like this he’d die. Whether it be from starvation or purposely, he won’t make it.

As appealing as death might sound at times, Dan wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to leave Phil; to give up on this life he’d sculpted and fought through for this damn long. However, Dan had not planned on Phil finding out so early.

It was March of 2013, Dan and Phil’s relationship was rebuilding and they were currently in Tesco. It wasn’t very late, maybe around 4 or 5 PM, so the boys were just enjoying themselves and pissing about in a store.

“Hey, which kinds of cereal should we buy?” Phil asked, Dan at the other end of the aisle.

“I don’t-“ Dan responded, voice going quiet at the end as he trailed off.

“Dan?” Phil asked again, turning his head. Dan would’ve seen Phil rushing over to him, but there were black splotches covering his vision before he fell, not even registering the loud bang of his head colliding with the ground.

-

Dan awoke to too-bright lights, an unfamiliar material gently scratching as his skin, and tapping coming from beside him. His first instinct was to obviously block out the lights that were sending shocks of pain to his aching brain. As soon as his lifted his forearm above his eyes, he heard a gasp from beside him, followed by shuffling and finally a voice.

“Dan?” A soft voice spoke, causing Dan to drop his arm and meet the gaze of the other individual in the room. Who else but Phil was stood there, slightly bent over. “Hey.” Phil said again, offering dan a sympathetic smile.

“Phil?” The younger asked, squinting his eyes, throat scratchy and dry.

“Yeah. We can chat later, alright?” Phil told Dan, standing straight up as a doctor walked into the room. Right, so he was in a hospital.

“Hello, Mr. Howell.” the doctor greeted, smiling at the bedridden boy. “I assume you know why you’re here. But just in case you don’t, you fainted due to severe malnutrition.” Phil sucked in a sharp breath and casted a look over to Dan filled with disappointment, sadness, concern, basically every emotion except for anything positive.

“Due to your approximated body weight and observed symptoms, we’re going to have to keep you for a few days. We’ll have a more in depth chat in private, if that’s alright.” the doctor said. “I’ll be back in a short while, goodbye Mr. Howell and Mr. Lester.” he said as he exited the room. The unintentional slam of the heavy door echoed through the room, being the only source of sound in there.

“Dan.” Phil said, tone more stoic and serious than it was before. Dan hummed in response, trying to hold off his world inevitably crashing down on him. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Phil asked again, voice breaking halfway through which sent a stab of pain to his heart. Phil wasn’t supposed to be sad, Phil was happy and deserved to be happy. He certainly shouldn’t be near tears because Dan fucked up.

“I’m sorry.” Dan rasped out, a tear sliding down his cheek without warning.

“I mean- it’s okay. It’s alright, Dan. Don’t cry. God, don’t cry.” Phil begged, voice becoming strained as he held back his own tears. Dan sniffled, covering his face in the crook of his elbow.

“Phil, I am so sorry.” Dan said again, voice slightly muffled.

“It’s okay-“

“It’s really not, Phil. Fuck- I’m so sorry. I didn’t ever think it’d get this bad and when it did I just felt trapped. I did it because I thought I was the only one who could alter my body and become the person I want to be. I was in control of how I wanted to look. It was supposed to be a quick diet to stop a few kilos. But every time I looked in the mirror I felt as if it didn’t work. I looked the same, worse, in fact.” Dan took a deep inhale, involuntarily letting out a sob. “I tried to stop. I really did. But I couldn’t. And when I couldn’t I got so scared because it was like another person in my head and suddenly I was no longer in control. I guess it’s manifested into something a helluva lot worse and I’ve fucked everything up. I can’t- I want it to stop, Phil. Please.” Dan sobbed out the last bit, tears streaming down his pale face. At this point, Phil was also in tears, and their hands had interlocked at some point.

“I didn’t know, Dan. I really didn’t. And I’m not sure if I should be sorry for not noticing, but I guess I am anyways and I am genuinely really sorry for whatever it is you were- or have been- going through. I feel so bad. I don’t even know how to put this in words.” the older let out a sad laugh and a deep breath, looking down at his hands and then the tiled floor.

“I feel like such an asshole. I should’ve told you, you’re my boyfriend for fucks sake.” Dan said loudly, a little burst of anger pulsing through his body causing him to lace his fingers into his hair and squeeze and tug. A bad habit he’d developed a few months ago. Unlike the other times, Phil was there to guide his hands out of his hair, holding one hand and massaging his scalp with the other despite strands of hair that would come out. There was a comfortable silence before Phil spoke again.

“I don’t know what it is, or who it was, that did this to you, but I personally, genuinely sorry for it. You don’t deserve this. You’re Dan Howell, bear. AKA perfect.” Phil said in a low voice, now squatting beside Dan’s bed.

“It’s just- I don’t even know. It was everything really, I guess. It doesn’t matter, though.” Dan sighed out, body and mind too tired to handle the situation he had suddenly been thrown in to.

“I love you.” Phil whispered, squeezing Dan’s cold hand.

“I love you too.” Dan whispered back, yawning, and back arching a bit before dropping back down.

“Sleepy?” Phil giggled. Dan nodded his head, subconsciously nudging into Phils hand that was still rubbing his scalp. “Alright, goodnight then, love.”

-

When Dan came home from those three dreadful days in hospital care, he felt more collected. Obviously still a raging mess who had a shit ton of work to go through, but now that he actually had help he felt more optimistic than he’d felt in years. He felt hopeful for the first time in literal years. Yeah, he could get better. Yeah, Phil would be with him throughout the whole process.

The few days back were hard to adjust to, seeing as Phil was now aware of Dan’s eating habits and the harmful way he did handle any food he ate, if he ate any. Dan’s mind was screaming at him to hide away from Phil. Lock himself away so he could see his ugly form and he couldn’t stop Dan from losing weight. Then there was the calm corner of his mind that was whispering in a gentle voice that he should try and get better, and to do that, he had to allow Phil to help.

The first time Phil sat down with Dan to get him to eat a meal was incredibly embarrassing and tense. The two boys had been sat there for a strong 10 minutes or so, mainly staring at each other.

“Dan, it’s just a pancake. A single pancake, hun.” Phil told Dan for the third time since they began. Dan, however, hadn’t spoke a word. Only grunts and hums as he pushed away the plate.

“Well if you aren’t gonna eat at least talk to me.” Phil sighed out, pushing the plate back towards Dan for the god knows which time in a row. Dan begrudgingly looked up through his fringe to look Phil in the eye.

“Please eat it, Dan. You don’t even have to eat all of it. Just a few bites.” Phil begged, face screaming determination and concern.

“I can’t.” Dan stated blankly, looking at the table and away from Phils gaze.

“Yeah, you can’t if you don’t try.” Phil whined, staring at Dan who just grunted and made no move to eat any of the food.

“I can’t, though.” Dan mumbled in response when he realized Phil wasn’t going to say anything else.

“Dan.” Phil said sternly, more serious than he had before and making eye contact with Dan. “You can’t get better if you don’t try.” Phil said again after a moment of silence, voice a tad softer than before.

Then, as if God herself had persuaded Dan, he took a massive bite of the pancake. Phil swore he’d never smiled brighter. Five minutes later and the whole pancake was gone. Dan was mostly stoic, but bits of guilt and disgust managed to creep onto his facial expression, alerting the older.

“Dan? You alright?” Phil asked, ducking his down a bit and running his fingers through Dan’s hair.

“Mhm… I gotta use the bathroom.” Dan said in a quiet voice, quickly pushing out his chair and standing up. Phil grabbed onto his wrist, knowing that Dan wasn’t going in the bathroom to empty his bladder.

“No-” Phil started, trying to pull Dan closer to him, but Dan had managed to tear his arm away from Phil, quickly running off with Phil following him. Before Phil could catch up to him, Dan had slammed and locked the bathroom door, trapping himself inside.

“Dan?” Phil asked frantically, jiggling the doorknob to no avail. In a few seconds came gagging noises, and then the sounds of what would’ve been Dan’s first pancake in a long time. Dan was making himself sick up his food.

“Dan, I swear to god, open this fucking door right now!” Phil yelled through the wood and banging on the door. The sick noises had stopped by now, and in there place were Dan’s quiet whimpers.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Dan repeated, sobs becoming louder as the banging increased in force.

“Unlock the door, hun. Please.” Phil called and paused his banging fist to jiggle the doorknob again. Shuffling came from the other side, then the familiar jingle of the door being unlocked. Phil immediately pushed it open and was met with the worst state he’s ever seen Dan in. Curled in on himself in the corner of a bathroom, having a panic attack. Instinctively, the older rushed over to him and sat down beside him.

“Dan? Sweetie?” Phil asked, trying his best to remain calm. “Can I hold your hands?” he asked again, getting a tiny nod in return, prompting him to lace his and Dan’s fingers together.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Dan whispered in between gasps, tears streaming down his face and squeezing Phil’s hands tighter.

“It’s okay, love, I’m not mad, but you need to breathe. You need to take a big deep breath in for me, can you do that?” Phil prompted in a low voice, squeezing Dan’s hands back. Dan replied with another barely noticeable nod.

“Okay, deep breath in.” Phil instructed, Dan inhaling and struggling to keep a breath for that long. “Good, hold it, 3...4..” Phil counted, Dan exhaling before he was supposed to, and immediately gasping in another breath.

“Try again, it’s alright. In, 1… 2… 3… 4.” Phil rubbed his thumb over the back of Dan’s hand, smiling encouragingly at the younger. “Nose inhale now, 1… 2… 3… 4.” Dan followed Phil’s instructions, lungs repelling against the idea but mind set on calming down. “Hold it, 3… 4… 5… 6… 7. Great, exhale, 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8.”

It took several more tries than usual to get Dan’s breathing steady again, but after a solid 10 minutes or so, his breathing was more regular. By the time Dan was mostly calm, only shaking a bit, the two boys had migrated to the sofa. Dan, of course, was completely worn out and only half-conscious. The TV was on, sound low enough that Phil could hear it and so it wouldn’t disturb Dan.

Both boys ended up falling asleep, Dan laid on top of Phil with his cheek pressing into the olders soft chest.

-

After the “sick incident”, Phil had opted to switch all of the doorknobs in the house to be lockless. Dan, to be blunt, was embarrassed and ashamed. He was so fucked up that he wasn’t even allowed to have locks anymore, all because he couldn’t hold it in one time. However, this did prove to be helpful to Dan’s journey of recovery. Usually when he ate meals he would have to grip onto the chair and hold eye contact with Phil. Just to be sure he wasn’t looking at his body and that he wasn’t going to let his instincts take over and book it.

But things take time and methods falter, because Dan did try to run off and throw up his food just a few more times. Sometimes he’d say fuck it, and bolt to the bathroom only for Phil to throw open the door and hold the boy against his chest, arms wrapped tightly around his chest. Other times Dan would sneak out of bed to go to the bathroom and try and vomit up his food from earlier. When Phil found out one night, as he’d woken up with empty arms and ears detecting a retching noise coming from the nearby bathroom, Dan had been guilt tripped out of doing it because of Phil’s disappointed looks.

The locks being removed, as embarrassing as it was, greatly helped Dan’s bulimia to the point where it was barely present anymore. Instead of incidents after almost every meal, there were only incidents once or twice a month, of which were prevented anyways.

Dan thought nothing could be more embarrassing than having every lock in your own house removed and having your boyfriend hold you away from the toilet while you thrash and cry out. Surely, surely, nothing would bring more pure shame. Until his weekly visit with a doctor had proved him wrong.

“Good evening, Dan.” Dr. Ross greeted, smiling as Dan walked into the little office and sat down in a chair perpendicular from the other.

“Today’s a bit different, and also the last time you’ll be meeting with me in particular.” Dr. Ross spoke, causing Dan to suck in a little breath. Was he getting shipped off to the crazy house? He thought he was doing so well. It wasn’t that bad!

“What’s that mean?” Dan asked, voice softer than he would’ve liked it to be.

“As a result of the things we’ve observed since you’ve been put in our and your friends care, you are being prescribed a therapist. It won’t be much of a change from me, so don’t stress out too much. We’ve transferred your information over to her and we’ve both decided to put you on medication.” Dr. Ross informed, taking a pause for Dan’s input.

“Medication? For what?”

“As we’ve diagnosed you with several things, such as body dysmorphic disorder, clinical depression, anxiety, we’ll be placing you on a medication called citalopram. It’ll help out with your depression and anxiety, alternatively rising your spirit which may result in a confidence boost. Your therapist will help you out with the extra details and other courses of action you may need to endorse in.” The man said, smiling again when he finished. Dan was a bit dumbfounded, jaw slightly agape. “I’ll email you the rest of your information. Any questions?” He said again, moving to sort some papers and type something on his computer.

“And if the medication doesn’t work?” Dan asked, coming to after a few beats of silence.

“We’ll prescribe you different dosages or switch your medication.” The other answered, happily. “Anything else you’d like do add? Other questions?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Dan replied.

“Well then I guess that’ll be it for today.” Dr. Ross reached his hand over the mahogany desk, shaking Dan’s hand. “Good luck, Dan.” He called one last time as Dan was exiting his office.

Phil was sat in the waiting room, tapping away at something on his phone when Dan came back. It took a second to realize that Dan was standing near him, as his sessions usually lasted 40 minutes, this time it only took half that. When he finally did though, he nearly jumped out of his skin, and giggled when he made eye contact with Dan, who was also giggling.

“Jesus, Dan! You scared me!” Phil scolded, hand held over his pounding heart and smiling at the immaturity of the two. “Why are you back so early?” Phil asked, removing his hand from his chest and standing up out of the oddly uncomfortable chair.

“Uh, I’ll tell you at home.” Dan said nervously, mood doing a 180. Phil just nodded understandingly and led the younger out of the building.

An hour later and the two boys were sat on the couch. Dan told Phil about the medication and the therapist with a nervous and slightly embarrassed tone. Phil replied by wrapping Dan in a tight hug and nuzzling his nose into Dan’s hair. The day ended with both boys eating Chinese takeout in the lounge, with an anime playing on the TV at that signature low volume.

-

The following year was not easy by any means. First, Dan had to adjust to his new therapist. It was a step up from visits with a doctor who wanted to know his nutrition intake, actions he made that day, you know, stuff the doctor writes down to determine if you’re okay or not. His therapist was a middle aged brunette lady named Cassandra. She possessed a soft voice. To be quite honest, he would’ve fallen in love with her, had he not been a flaming homosexual.

Next, he had to figure out what dosage of medication would work for him. First he tried a small dosage, as any cautious person would. When that did nothing, he upped the ante and took a large dose. This proved even worse, as he was stuck in a zombie state for at least three days straight. Deciding on a middle ground proved to be successful, as he began feeling much better and didn’t feel like the shell of a human anymore.

After the therapist and medication adjustments, Dan had to deal with the side effects brought on by this recent change. His mind was defiant, every instinct told him to lock himself away, he felt the first bit of self esteem in quite awhile which spooked him, and he had to deal with how hard his down days hit.

Since his new medication was beginning to stabilize the chemicals in his brain that were out of proportion for so long, his down days hit like a damn train. Every time it happened he felt worse than he ever had. He didn’t eat on those days unless Phil force fed him something. Seeing as he already had troubles with eating coupled with his lack of appetite and will to do anything but breathe, it really just wasn’t worth it. Besides not eating, he also wouldn’t move. Again, he had no will to do anything except breathe. During the days where he wouldn’t move, eat, or even use the bathroom until absolute breaking point, Phil would stick directly beside him. Literally; he’d sit so close it wouldn’t make a difference if Dan was sat in his lap.

His down days were the absolute worse. He thought they were, until his sudden weight gain threatened the title. It started out slow, with his stomach filling out a bit more so it was aligned with his legs instead of slightly caved in. That progressed into a little pudge poking out from his belly by December of 2014. This was fine; his body dysmorphia wasn’t morphing him into a 110 kilo man yet (even though that’s what he felt like).

After December, all hell broke loose. Dan ate tons of food with Phil, went home and ate tons with his family, and then came back and ate tons again. It felt fine at the time, just filling up on all the things he’d been missing out on. Then, as January of 2015 rolled around, his body dysmorphia went out of proportion. He knew in reality that he couldn’t weigh more than average for his height, but the mirror was telling him he was fat. He was fat and obese and he did this to himself. Phil was skinnier than him, for god’s sake. He’d always been the smaller one.

His therapist had always told him that if he felt his body or eating issues had began creeping up on him again that he had several people he could inform, such as her or Phil. He’d always groaned and told her he understood and that he would, but now that he’s actually being put in a situation where he would have to tell Phil, he didn’t feel quite up to it. He had been getting better, that’s was he thought, that’s what Phil thought, that’s what Cassandra thought. Now it was as if he’d started over. As if the mirrors he’d had in his room in his earlier years had made a reappearance. The inhumane and impossible ways they twisted and morphed his body made him repulsed at the idea of food again.

He’d stopped eating for about a week, only being found out when Phil caught him looking at his body in the mirror.

“Dan?” Phil had choked out, after watching Dan through a cracked bathroom door. The younger was poking and pulling at his belly, grabbing the pudge that came off of his upper arms, placing his hands over the bottom of his belly. God knows how long he’d been there, or for how long he’d been doing that. Dan had jumped at the sudden voice, pulling his shirt from his chest down to his waist and glaring darts at phil.

“What?”

“Hey, what are you doing, sweet pea?” Phil asked, voice a bit wobbly but overall gentle and concerned. He approached Dan whose mouth was opening and closing at its own accord, apparently being fresh out of answers. Phil enveloped Dan in a tight hug, slightly lifting the boy off the ground, making him stand on his tip-toes. “Is this why you’ve been away during dinner?” Phil questioned after pulling away from the hug and looking Dan in the eyes now. Dan, being he first to break eye contact after registering he question and shrugging. In other words, yeah. That was why he’d been skipping meals again.

“I’m sorry.” Dan mumbled sadly, causing Phil to lead him into the lounge. As if on queue, Phil sat him down on the couch and returned with a bag of goldfish for Dan. He sat down beside Dan, handing the bag to him, wordlessly giving him a notion to eat and flipping on a show. The volume, of course, low and peaceful.

-

By 2016 things had improved greatly. The previous years had been unbearably rough, but now things seemed to be going as planned. In fact, as of October of 2016, Dan hadn’t relapsed in a whole year. He didn’t even feel like he needed to eat less than he wanted to, or heaven forbid vomit up his food. The antidepressants worked to make it possible for him to feel positive emotions and lessened his anxiety. He felt like a normal human was supposed to, he felt okay again.

It was his best year, no, there were definitely better years to come. Throughout 2016 he still did feel very insecure and he did still feel like skipping out on meals every now and then. But the insecurities and the urges were heavily lessened. Even his body dysmorphia had died down and the voices in his head weren’t shouting negative things at him, they had died down to a whisper in the back corner of his mind again.

Quite possibly his favorite result from all of this was being able to look in the mirror and finally be fine with what he saw. He wouldn’t spend half an hour prodding and pulling at natural chub, he’d check his outfit and leave. As much as Dan didn’t want to admit it, it was quite fun feeling good about himself.

Even though his self esteem greatly improved, he was not cured. Not of his body dysmorphia, his anxiety, depression, any of that. That’s why he was still on the meds and made visits to his therapist every week. He still had frequent bad days where he’d refuse every form of self care. Phil, like always, was glued to him. The change, however, was that Dan would actually offer little smiles to Phil and accept a bit of the food he’d always offer. They’d been getting a lot better. It was all part of recovering.

His favorite moment of the year was halloween day. Not for any reason someone else might love halloween day, though. The reason he enjoyed halloween so much was because for the first time since Dan and Phil had met, they both ate tonnes of candy.

The two boys were out at the shops, restocking on some groceries instead of ordering in order to nonchalantly see all of the costumes people had on. They usually walked slower in the streets than they needed to, scoping out costumes that caught their eyes. They did end up in shops, thank you very much. In fact, they were out shopping now. Specifically in the candy aisle, of which Phil was a bit nervous about.

“Get those.” Dan said, breaking the silence that had fallen between the two and surprising Phil. For one, sudden loud noise; spooky. Secondly, because Dan wanted candy. Usually Phil would watch with sadness in his eyes as Dan rejected the candy Phil offered.

“Anything else?” Phil asked, face turned away from Dan as he looked over all the other bags.

“These. Oh, and those.” Dan suggested, proudness lacing his tone as he pointed to a variety of bags of candy. Phil gathered them in his arms, clumsily dropping them into the shopping cart.

“That all?” He asked, glancing back at Dan and then at the candy on the shelves with that signature smirk. Dan just giggled and nodded, the two finishing their shopping and heading back home.

Both boys smiled brightly as they sat in the dark lounge and feasted on mountains of candy. Phil was sat in between Dan’s legs, eyes focused on the show that was playing at normal volume this time. Dan had his legs entangled with Phil’s, chin rested on the olders shoulder and focusing on the show, while he ate random halloween candy from a bowl that rested in Phil’s lap. Everything was content between the two, and life’s looking up for Dan.

-

Recovery took Dan several years. Even if it did take him a long time, he did it. To be honest, when he was in his worst state, getting better never even crossed his mind. Even if it, the thought would get beat down because that was absolutely, completely ridiculous. Sometimes he wished he could go back to his smaller self and remind him that life is a rollercoaster, and some rides are rougher than others. Some of them have too many turns and loose bolts, and tragically end before they’re meant too. Others are like kiddy rides, a few gentle bumps and are generally pleasant and satisfying. Others, like Dan’s, have a buildup until it gets rough. That’s when you want to get off, but you can’t just yet. When it ends, everything is nice again and you appreciate everything so much more.

As of 2018, Dan’s rollercoaster finally got past all the bumps and turns. Everything was fine again. Phil was now his fiancé and the two were getting married in a few short months. Dan was off his antidepressants. It took awhile to get used to it, but he felt fresh and like himself. He didn’t even have any eating problems anymore, and his reflection was as normal as it could be for the time being.

Dan never stopped seeing his therapist. He didn’t think he would for a long time anyways, but now he didn’t mind seeing her. He was no longer embarrassed every time he walked into that office, instead, he felt welcome. He got all of his coping mechanisms from her, and for that he’d be forever grateful. Everything he regularly practiced in order to keep his life in order was because of the lovely Cassandra. Methods for repressing his body dysmorphia, yoga, exercise, healthy eating, self care, all thanks to her.

So yeah, Dan could say with complete honesty and confidence that 2018 was the best year of his life and he knew it would only get better from here on out. With the love of his life soon to be married to him, a lovely therapist, an enjoyable job, and generally great life, this was the happiest he’d ever been. He even listened to shows with the sound at regular volume, even slightly louder if he was feeling daring.