Looking at snow falling is one of those lovely, dizzying experiences that simple nature affords to man.
We have an outside light on the side of our house and if I’m lucky enough to catch it snowing at night, I love to turn it on and look up at the illuminated whirl of silent flakes, highlighted in the blackness. It reminds me of the trance-like screen savers, or virtual reality cinemas, where everything flies towards you. This though, rather than something invasive, is different: a bombardment of gentle beauty. I
I’m writing about snowflakes because, as we well know, each of them is entirely unique. No two constructs are exactly the same and yet, unless we examine them with microscopic care, we would never know this.
You’ve probably already cottoned on to the fact that I’m using this as a metaphor for Anorexia. And it’s not too bad a comparison as they go, because Anorexia often presents in the same way, and yet, like the snowflakes, each individual case is very different. Despite outward appearances and behaviours, no two people have exactly the same strain of the illness, to the same degree, or with the same rate of development and recovery.
My personal belief, is that Anorexia Nervosa falls into three (very) broad categories. The first type (Anorexia A) is a ‘strain’ more commonly found in teenagers who tend to be very concerned with how they look, how they fit in amongst their peers, and how others perceive them. The media have received huge criticism for their role in the alarming growth in figures of those suffering with eating disorders. Young people are highly impressionable and a society which emphasises a relationship between popularity and thinness, a diet industry worth billions and a fashion industry parading waif-ish models across the pages of every magazine and paper have a huge influence on kids who are busy trying to establish their sense of identity. A recent trend I observed (again perpetrated by the fashion industry) concentrates on the blurring of gender characteristics, promoting an androgynous look (and thus, I suppose, drawing in the gay demographic). In recent years, the sharp increase in cases of male Anorexia makes for worrying reading. The rise of the ’emo’ / indie folk scene produces a whole following of longer haired young men,, their rake thin legs in skin tight jeans. At one point this year, a popular hangout for indie teens looked more like an inpatient ED unit than a skateboard park in the town centre.
I want to point out that Anorexia Type A, despite often being passed off as ‘a phase’, and despite having its beginnings associated with social trends or self esteem, can be just as severe as any other strain of the illness. The ’causes’ of Anorexia are never that simple and the illness has the power to morph into a monster, something completely unrecognisable from the form it took at the start.
Anorexia Type B is a different animal. It can strike at any age and is often more reactionary. This type often hits a person who feels that they lack control over their lives. It becomes a mechanism to help soothe the sense that they are out of control because it affords the sufferer some power over his or her weight. the irony here is startling because as the Anorexia worsens, the power an individual has to fight it, diminishes. Many Anorexics suffering with this strain have suffered trauma, cumulative or sudden, and can pinpoint when the illness began because it usually follows a time of extreme distress or a combination of changes in their life. However, although some Anorexics have suffered abuse and severe trauma, the trigger doesn’t necessarily have to be something that is obviously traumatic. A combination of life changes, perhaps a lack of resilience, may all be contributory factors.
Anorexia Type C is, I believe, the least common form of the illness, and the most fatal. According to BEATs statistics, 20% of those suffering from this illness will die of resulting complications. I submit that the majority of this percentage suffer with Type C.
Although I haven’t really heard anyone else propound this theory, I think that some people have this illness in a more ‘pure’ form, a form which may or may not take the shape of something being chemically or structurally different within the brain. Either way, there do appear to be instances where Anorexia is almost inherent in the individual’s genetic make up. My younger sister for instance, has memories of thinking she was ‘fat’ at an incredibly (and, unnaturally) early age. She had no idea what she was suffering from, just that the ‘thoughts’ were there and then the uncomprehending instincts to deny her body its most basic need. Type C is not a reaction to fashion magazines, social trends, trauma or stressful life changes. It isn’t a passing fad, a rebellion or a manipulative weapon in complex family relations. It is etched into the fibres of someone’s being. It is by far the hardest to treat; and to cure..? Well… that is questionable.
I apologise for the fact that much of what I have said here may seem sweeping and generalised. It IS general… I’ve put an incredibly simplistic slant on a stupidly complicated illness in order to try to make some sense of it. As I reach a muddled end, I realise that I haven’t really managed to explain my original point, which was that no case of Anorexia is ever the same, despite seeming to be.
Perhaps in another post, I’ll be more successful. For now, I leave it in the somewhat mysterious and chaotic cloud that describes it best!