Category: Watching a Loved One


There can’t be many instances where your loved ones raise a glass to toast your  mental torment but then again. there probably aren’t that many cases where eating a beef sandwich is an achievement worthy of celebration.

Perhaps those in the loop will actually understand the bizarre situation I’m writing about, but if you’re a ‘normal’ person, you might struggle.

Wait..! Did I just use the term ‘normal’?

I can hear some of the cries of protest. “…But there’s NO SUCH THING AS NORMAL…” Protestations jet from all corners of the philosophical, semantic and *wince* pedantic realm. No such thing. Everyone’s weird. Everyone’s normal. There IS no normal.

But there IS. There IS in the tangled, screwed up world of we Eating Disorder folk. If you disagree, you might want to read on because I’m going to tell you about what normal is, often by arguing the case for what it’s not.  (If that goes over your head, don’t waste mental energy on it. Reading on will give you a clearer idea.)

“Normal” is our friends who happily pick a sandwich in a deli without an onslaught of mathematical conundrums running riot in their brain. “Normal” can actually have ANY kind of drink they like without even a whisper of a ‘value for calories’ haunting their thoughts.

Normal can choose food to satisfy their taste buds and not to keep them as light as possible. Normal doesn’t even think twice about adding one extra raspberry to their (carefully weighed) bowl of lowest calorie cereal.

Normal doesn’t consider black coffee a ‘snack’ or stir-fry an indulgent meal. It wouldn’t cast a suspicious eye over the size of a tangerine, or swear that an apple has the potential to be fattening. Nor would it question the amount of calories / fat / carbohydrate in a carrot. It wouldn’t distrust the carefully stated amounts of these ‘anorexic-life-threatening’ printed on each product, or regard cauliflower as an enemy to be avoided at all costs.

You see..?

Normal doesn’t experience eating as a trigger for a sort of inexplicably acute mental pain. It doesn’t really begin to understand that ‘food’ is merely an assortment of numbers. (Despite our health conscious Food Standards people’s best efforts!) It doesn’t ‘get’ that a carrot is 35, a berry, 2 and if you throw in a spoonful of yoghurt you’ve exceeded the limit. (Scrape half away, then share some with the sink…)

Normal might be conscious of the numbers, but it’s not ruled by them. It doesn’t carefully bite each Malteser in half to ensure it has exactly half the stated amount. It doesn’t have to ignore the body’s cries for rest in order to complete the requisite amount of high intensive ‘burn off’ exercises before or after a calculated amount of food.

Normal doesn’t FEEL fat growing ON them if they eat something frightening. It doesn’t feel the rush of shame and disgust if they slip up and allow too much food to enter the forbidding mouth. It won’t suffer an onslaught of blind fear, the compulsion to induce vomiting or crapping or even the wild urge to cut fat OFF any given part of themselves.

I realise there are degrees of ‘normal’; a continuum even. This illness, any Eating Disorder, defies all concept of normality and in doing so, isolates sufferers in a sadistic and divisive way.

As someone who, for almost thirty years, was pretty ‘normal’ about food, I feel somewhat justified, perhaps even qualified, to attempt to explain that there really IS such a thing as ‘normal’ in the world I, and so many others, inhabit.

The next nine years of my life have literally been stolen from me.

I find it incomprehensible that for almost three decades, I could actually EAT a meal without attaching any feelings or significance to the food at all. Nor can I recall how I might have RELISHED the chance to actually SIT DOWN and watch a whole film without the raging impulse to burn off calories, the torture of that insane edict.

It’s too hard to properly explain how Anorexia has unpicked and rewoven my ‘normality’, but I hope, in some small way, I’ve conveyed the havoc it wrecks upon its victims, some too young to ever have experienced the luxury and freedom of normality

I hope these descriptions may bring some small solace to those who don’t feel understood and information for those who want to understand.

There’s no such thing as normal, but there is ‘abnormal’, and this illness is one example of that.

Someday, I hope to eat again, with the freedom of that first part of my life.

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Doesn’t do a lot for my point, but I do love a bit of Edward Monkton…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining ‘Normal’

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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.

 

 

 

You know “the grass is always greener…”?  It’s a common enough expression.

But when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense.

WHY green when it’s actually red?

The grass outside my window is no more green than Bob’s my uncle.

I can hear your confusion and I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering where the hell this is going…  A puzzle. You’re frowning. Figuring out the point.

My point is this: that every time you look at that park, or that garden… you’re thinking that the grass is green. You’re SEEING it with your own eyes. ACTUALLY SEEING it.

So you believe it, right? You can see the grass is green so you believe it. Perhaps you’d even swear to it.

But you are, quite simply, wrong.

It’s not green.

You’re still frowning… or your lip has turned up slightly at the very edge…

What will it take to convince you that grass, as a natural product of this beautiful earth, is bright red ?

Stop and think. Just for a few seconds. What would it take?

Because that’s what everyone else sees.

Everyone else knows it’s red.

 

Have they just been agreeing with you?!

Going along with you… Not daring to challenge your view.

Nice one.

That’d be why you still believe it’s green.

 

I know and understand that you THINK this is madness. I know you SEE green… But it’s red.

FACT: Everyone else knows and sees red. You alone see it as that bright green colour.

red-grass-

Stay with me. I’m trying to make sense (despite all evidence to the contrary).

It can be argued that a certain degree of body dysmorphia is part of the human condition.

However, whilst for many of us the distortions in our perceptions are not significant enough to cause distress, it’s very difficult to gauge just how accurate our perceptions are, particularly when they involve our appearance. Hence, a person may grow up with a mole on their cheek and barely see it, whilst another with the same mark, may grow up feeling ACUTELY aware, paranoid even, that it’s all anybody notices. Certainly it may be all THEY themselves notice.

Although each case is different, Anorexia and Bulimia often incur constantly shifting distortions in the sufferers perceptions of their body. the extent of this may depend on the individual’s mood, the amount that they’ve had to drink, the whispering voice of their illness, or how full / empty they feel at any given moment. It doesn’t appear to matter whether the ill person is a  tortured artist or a brilliant scientist, the degree to which they are susceptible to absolutely absurd thoughts about food and the body’s relationship to it, remains the same.

For example, as a level headed and rational being, I know that I CAN’T be big in any way because the measurements, weights, body mass I am faced with are completely accurate. The ratio is too low for my body to be fat; too low for my body to be healthy.  The figures are scattered on the green grassy earth.

As a sufferer though, I look in the mirror and that grass is DEFINITELY RED. I can SEE it. DAMN IT! IT’S THERE IN FRONT OF MY EYES

AND YOU’RE STILLSTILL trying to tell me it’s green!

I’m fine! There’s nothing wrong with me! I look normal… healthy.

Some days, my arms look chubby… and my thighs often look massive towards the end of each day… but generally, I look perfectly normal.


Arguing with an Anorexic can be hugely upsetting, incredibly perplexing and downright frustrating. You see one thing, they see another.

Families in particular will suffer the agony of watching their loved one deny the truth; a blank refusal to hear the other side of the story. It’s painful to be stonewalled or to have your words hurled back at you. Few can identify with the desperation and helplessness experienced by screaming at a skeleton whose rock solid belief is that they are ‘fat’ or ‘fine’. Not everyone can trace the ridges of the bone along the clavicle of a loved one who refuses to eat because they think they’ve got plenty of fat still to lose.

My message is convoluted. It’s a poor attempt to somehow explain the complex illusion / delusion experienced by the victim of an Eating Disorder like Anorexia.

I know many, many women who dislike parts of their body, or at least, are dissatisfied with particular aspects of their appearance. When someone develops an ED, that dissatisfaction, becomes a rigidly held belief which apparently robs them of a realistic view of themselves. Much like joining an extremist party or cult, Anorexia transforms the mind in such a way that makes reasoning with them, impossible and unrealistic.

Hopeless as this sounds, my final message is to anyone who is having to watch a loved one starve .

Don’t give up.

It can be heartbreaking and it’s often a long, tiring path, but if there’s one thing that will help to save them, it’s a quiet, pervasive message that it’s the ILLNESS that’s lying to them and not the rest of you. If you’re met with a brick wall, don’t employ a bulldozer. You’ll flatten the person rather than the illness.

Remember the quiet echo of the drip that splashes against a stone surface. Gentle but unswerving,  the message will sink in, and though they may always see a tinge of red, at least they will accept that, mostly, grass is green

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