Category: Christmas


#difficult

Without wishing to sound all bah-humbug about it, I REALLY can’t share the sentiment of the song that blares as I push my trolley up the soft drinks aisle in my local supermarket. I realise it’s not supposed to be taken too literally but honestly, the sheer inanity of some idiot’s wish that ‘it could be Christmas every da – aaay” is, at best, teeth grittingly stupid, at worst, utterly irresponsible. (I know for a fact that occurring even once a year increases overspending and subsequent problems with debt for some of the poorest families in the UK.)

The song continues to blare across the store and I swing into the middle aisle in time to catch one woman (who apparently has some inside info about a nationwide dearth of flour that the rest of us aren’t privy to) almost mow down an older lady in her path. Glancing round for someone to share her indignation, she looked at me shaking her head and starting to mutter something. Not really wanting to buy into this her fury, I just smiled sympathetically and shrugged offhandedly. “Christmas, hey?” She grunted disconsolately. “Really does bring out the best and the worst doesn’t it?” For a second, she eyed me with uncertainty and then snorted. “Bloody right” she said.

Thing is, and I bet my stocking this is true; most of us over a certain age would hate the thought of Christmas everyday! The shops are rammed, roads gridlocked, transport more squashed than ever, people more harried and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even some of my most togetherest friends (poetic licenses granted for Christmas period Ts and Cs apply) struggle at this time of year. Christmas for those affected by any illness can be especially difficult, perhaps because the pain felt by sufferers and their families is brought into such stark contrast by the sense of festive merriment.

As a seasoned Anorexic, I find this time of year to be particularly torturous, so much so that almost every Christmas for the past five years, has in some way contributed to my ending up in inpatient treatment. I can only write from my personal experience, but I want to explain why Christmas with an eating disorder can be so difficult.

1. The fist reason seems obvious. Food is suddenly everywhere. It’s inescapable, and far more so than usual. Supermarkets are cram full of luxury items; not just your standard ice cream. No. The very finest ice cream made with fresh, sweet strawberries, rich chocolate or vanilla pods hand picked by velvet – furred monkeys living in luxury Madagascan tree houses. Shelves are lined with glistening golden wrappings, the finest of wines and giant tubs of cheap chocolates hang out, competitively priced, attractively arranged.

But Anorexics hate food right?

Wrong! But you could be forgiven for thinking so. After all, who in their right mind would starve themselves to within an inch of their life if they enjoyed food?

Well. This is why an eating disorder isn’t the lifestyle choice or the vain whim of a silly young girl who wants to look like a model, although the media have often billed it to be. An eating disorder is a mental illness, and a complex one at that. With the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, Anorexia needs to be taken more seriously by the media and by the fashion industry. It is still so misunderstood.

Back to the food thing… Contrary to popular understanding, Anorexics don’t dislike food. They love food. They long for food. If you are the loved one of a sufferer who swears they don’t like it, don’t be fooled. It’s the illness lying. I’ve known Anorexics who confide that they lie in bed at night, planning meals in such detail, that they feel as though they’ve actually eaten three courses by the time they fall asleep. Others cut pictures out of food magazines to stick in scrap books, watch food programmes and obsess over recipe books. I’ve even heard one clinician refer to this as ‘food porn’.

And all this time, with all this longing, the Anorexic starves.

Doesn’t make sense? That’s because it’s a MENTAL ILLNESS.

2. The second reason Christmas can feel like torture is because many sufferers spend a lot of time and a lot of energy on NOT thinking about food. Personally, I’m one of these. I do a lot to distract myself from a hunger that can sometimes be so raw that it terrifies me.

Because it’s a holiday, often mealtimes become the main source of structure in our unformed days. With all the added drinks and nibbles, the festive period can feel like one, perpetual banquet. This can be terrifying for an eating disorder sufferer because it means they may FEEL as though they have eaten far more than they normally would, and mostly, far more than they actually have (reality is generally very distorted).

I want to explain more because there is so much more to write about, but I fear this is in need of more structure as it is.

I suppose what I really want is to reach out to those unfortunate others who find themselves feeling so desperate and out of control over the next few days. I want to say, “hang in there. the days will pass. It’s not as long as it feels. You are not alone”. I want to speak to families who, through no fault, don’t understand. I want to encourage them to be gentle, not to lose heart, to seek support. A young anorexic / bulimic can’t be shouted / coaxed / bribed out of a mental illness.

And I want to say that somehow, somewhere, Christmas takes place irrespective of our state of health. Christmas takes place regardless of our state of belief even. It takes place for Him, and yet it began for us. In this, and in this alone, I find a flicker of hope.

If you’re reading, believer or not, sufferer or not, I pray you find the peace, health and touch of sparkle that the gift of the Christ child can bring at Christmas. If you’re finding it tough, please, reach out. You don’t have to be alone.

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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.

But no.

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 thatCandle-calendar 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.