Here we are again. Supermarket aisles cram-full of anxious shoppers; shelves a-sparkle with opulently – packaged festive treats and the air space crowded with the blaring wish that It Could Be Christmas Everyday. I sound like a humbug from the start but I’m not, I’m a struggling Anorexic.
Love it or hate it, Christmas is a truly mixed affair for most.
Yes the shininess and magic, the warmth of the hearth, and the gifts and the glitter and the glitz.
But oh! the bickering, the sadness, the missing and the grief filled, the stress and the gluttony abound!
The pressures of a Westernised Christmas seem to begin earlier and grow faster every single year! Those beautifully designed cards that gave you a little tummyglow when you picked them up in Marks a few weeks back, you’ve got to write them all and get them in the post, a new deadline you HAVE to meet. That adorable decoration that you chose in a magic moment, it needs hanging and then housing…
I’m not trying to depress anyone although you’d be forgiven for thinking it. I’m just presenting the case that Christmas can really be, “the best of times AND the worst of times” for all of us.
Christmas with Anorexia then, is even more polarised.
The fevered chaos of Anorexia defies the norm on any other calender date but come Christmas…. well… it runs a temperature off the gauge.
I know because even as I type, I’m slightly delirious: my head swollen with seasonal dread, my hands shaking with unsated desire.
As for most people suffering with an eating disorder, Christmas loses most of its ‘proper’ meaning amidst the intolerable warring surge of temptation and terror. Some houses are literally, “choc full”. It’s so much about FOOD… and not just any old food.. Oh no! Gone are the 11 months of smug self control; of Deliciously Ella and all the high protein, ‘clean eating’. Not a sniff of the spiralised substitutions and berry laden breakfasts In its place, adverts parade gastronomic delights, luxury foodstuff dressed in shiny, unapologetic full fat robes; mouth wateringly glistening with seductive spice and the promise of satiety. For those living with anorexia, it’s like pouring bottled water over your head in front of a dying child in an arid land.
My Anorexic head aches all the more as the chocolates, cheese and port pass me by. I pick up a sausage and hold it near my mouth but my teeth are set like a portcullis and my mouth has turned to stone.
It’s a popular misconception that Anorexics don’t LIKE food, don’t LIKE eating. I can see why people might think this. After all, we don’t tend to tuck in to… well… anything much. Instead, we politely refuse dinners, the offer of a crisp, the chance to have a snack.
(Note: My ‘we’ is a wardrobe behind which my vulnerable ‘I’, hovers uncomfortably).
To help the uninitiated comprehend a little, I often liken Anorexia to a top secret agent who is holding a loved one to ransom. The agent is using inhumane methods to extract information. Most of us would cave in, I suspect. It would be too much to bear to see your nearest and dearest tortured. With the eating disorder as tormentor though, the one who holds the intel is utterly determined to remain silent, rendering the captive a martyr for the cause.
Picture the torture, sleep deprivation, water torture, perhaps a continuous brainbashing, Pinter style.
Starved to the point of death, fine food is plated and placed JUST out of reach, fresh bread, hot soups, Christmas pudding…
A stolid refusal to talk doesn’t mean the starved prisoner doesn’t want the food, because WANT! WANT is an understatement! His demented mind is driven crazy by it! He craves it so much that even his bones scream out for it to coat them, cover them, heal them.
No; the captor will not allow it and the agent will not talk. Locked in fatal battle.
Meanwhile the quiet captive body is a table on which the negotiations are played out.
This describes my everyday for the past decade, but at Christmas it’s worse; more enduring, more desperate; because it’s not about the baby Jesus, a gift to humanity. I know it should be and thankfully, my heart still swells a little at the thought. But even as the spirit swells, it meets that which tightly binds it, and so hurts all the more.
My chest hurts and I am afraid. I am afraid of my illness and I know that unlike the analogy I used, I wouldn’t die a martyr. Far from it. Rather, a weak and wasted waif who just didn’t have the courage.
If you are living with an ED this Christmas my heart goes out to you. It’s such a hard time. Please know, whoever you are, you are not alone in the struggle.