Tag Archive: Eating Disorder


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

water on stone

Every so often, I come across a poem or a quotation or a song that holds such a deep, weighty resonance, that I almost feel it in the very bowels of my being. Incredibly, a string of words can have the power to somehow infiltrate me; to bypass the sentry who guards my reason, and speak directly to my soul.

I believe that every human being has had this experience, to a greater or lesser extent. And although it’s a little hard to define, and sometimes difficult to see in some people, I think that human beings have an innate desire to be understood by something outside of themselves. This need is fleetingly and powerfully met when they stumble upon something that, on some level, speaks the words of their muted soul / heart. Sometimes a poem or a song can understand you and make sense of a part of you that, by it’s spiritual nature, cannot be voiced, but is silently woven into the very essence of your being.

Phew! This is deep, perhaps TOO deep!

All this verbosity is really an introduction to a beautiful poem I read recently by American poet Mary Oliver.

Simple in language and in form, “The Journey” spoke to me in the way that I describe above. It is an apt description of where I am on my journey towards recovery.

We all have ‘voices’ / things that try to drag us back, to hold us captive as we trudge along the ‘road full of fallen branches and stone’. For me, the Anorexia screams at me to turn back. For you, perhaps it’s something else. No matter, it is a struggle that many of us experience, particularly as we attempt to shake off ‘the old tug’ at our ankles.

It is my hope that, in posting this poem here, it will somehow encourage you and speak some of your unspoken words.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.Image

Her eyes flick over me twice before she levels with mine.Eye Kate

She has read me like a barcode and in a second, I know that she knows.

I try to smile at her but I can’t and so I shove the yoghurts into my basket and move away quickly.

My illness hangs around me like cellophane wrapping, and I am frightened that I’ve been branded with an, ‘Ah So You’re One Of Those’ sticker.

Everyone seems to have a ‘one of those’ story.

It’s their niece or their friend’s daughter… a colleague’s son or a friend of a friend.

Unfathomable, the visible signs of this illness can be a trigger for a multitude of thoughts and feelings in the strangers who might notice your matchstick legs, the bones in your hands as you hand over change, or the frailty of your gait as you weave down a supermarket aisle.

Once upon a time, I was one of the watchers. My sister had suffered with Anorexia for years and I was the one on the ‘other side’, forced to watch her fading form. I could spot the illness a mile off in the people I passed in the street.  My eyes sharpened and my ears so finely tuned to hear the silent cries of the girls who woke and slept under the cruel hand of the illness.

From pity to total outrage, I projected my frustration, my despair, my anger and my grief on the coat hanger shadows of those who I passed. Now, I am that hanger and I fear the disgust on the faces of those who judge (though I am aware that it might be my mother’s helpless anger on the faces of these women, rather than their own).

I realise that anyone with a physical disability must bear this same small cross that is the flickering eyes of those who can’t help but look. A small but constant reminder of their difference. I understand how selfish it may seem that whilst one appears to choose to wear an illness, another has no choice. An Anorexic can be judged to be somehow choosing their disability. I want to clear my name as I stand in the dock of the all too public courtroom, but that will take another post and a lot of energy that I currently don’t have.

I reach an end here with no more than a gentle reminder to those who stare, that the stared-at  may appreciate being smiled at.

Just saying.

I have just completed my third week of refeeding at the day treatment unit and it has been nothing short of agony, which is a tough thing to be honest about because I want this site to be about positive encouragement and support. I want it to be inspiring for those who are thinking about going for treatment, motivational for those who are sitting on the fence, unsure which way to drop.

However, I also want it to be realistic and honest. Just as I’m not a great advocate of polite, ‘home counties, garden party speak’, I’m not great at literary niceties. It is possible (on reflection) that I value honesty above all other virtue. In the words of wannabe surfboard – wielding  teens the world over, I have to ‘keep it real’.

Back to the concept of agony then.

To any ‘normal’ person (for the purposes of this post, let’s just assume that such a thing exists) the idea that sitting around and eating all day should be anything other than a pleasure, sounds ludicrous! If I offered most of my friends the chance to take a few weeks away from work to join me in treatment,  they would literally jump at the chance! I almost wish that I could offer it as a free gift on one of those LoveFilm ‘friends and family’ type cards for Christmas.

For an anorexic however, the relentless pattern of snacking and sitting and eating and talking, resembles the slow medieval torture of The Rack; the steady tearing of bones from sockets, muscles from tissue and flesh resembles the inner sensations of being torn apart. Sounds dramatic? Perhaps, but I fail to find metaphors which can adequately illustrate the pain of beginning recovery.  Admittedly, being severely underweight heightens the trauma of refeeding, physically as well as mentally, but it’s a pretty horrendous process wherever you are on the BMI scale.

What I think is an important point to emphasise at this stage though, is that despite the immense increase in my calorific intake, in three weeks, I have only gained point 5 of a kilo overall. That’s a pound (in old currency).

We are weighed twice a week on a Monday and Thursday  (an event so anxiety provoking I am woken by palpitations in the early hours of a Thursday morning).  The pattern for me has been a predictable gain on the Thursday and loss after a weekend of Anorexia V Relief at ‘Respite’. The harder you work at the eating, the greater the agony as the Anorexia rears its demonic form, screaming and contorted, afraid of losing even an inch of its grip.

agony1

At this point, there is no comfort.

If Anorexia is being frozen to death, treatment is a hot water bottle that burns if you hold it close.

It flogs as it spares; it blinds as it darkens; it kills as it saves.

And just as the illness commands a dying body to keep dragging itself over upturned shards of glass, so recovery demands that the same body be dragged in the other direction.

Agony.

But

if you have to suffer it,

it may as well be suffering towards recovery.

Right?

Hamlet_

Perhaps it is the sheer weight of Hamlet’s question, the blunt , blatant daring of it, that has made it the most famous line in the history of Shakespeare.  The phrase, often coined as being an expression of ‘existential despair’, or in less literary terms, a ‘question of life, or death’, has become widely quoted (very often comically) by students and adults in all manner of situations. Rarely however, is it used to describe the slightly darker context within which Shakespeare penned it.

It’s been in my head.

I write in an attempt to somehow pin down the darting shards of unfledged thoughts and feelings that fleck the walls of my brain every time this quotation smashes against them. This question of living or dying is particularly potent for those whose legs dangle over the sea wall of contemplation; eyes alternating between the storm tossed ocean of addiction and disorder, and the dark, unending tunnel of recovery.

Neither side is alluring,

sea stormThe ocean is cold and squally. It’s so very tiring just trying to stay afloat. Your life jacket is failing and you’ve swallowed water enough to poison you. The horizon is nothing but pitch black, unknown, perpetual  and when you’re washed into a cave, you have nothing to keep your feet steady on the  slippery algae and the rats that litter and skitter the black rock floor.

In some ways, it makes no difference what your sea of troubles is. For me, it’s severe Anorexia Nervosa, for you, it may be Alcoholism, Bulimia, Gambling, Drug addiction, Perfectionism, Depression, I could go on…

At some point, no matter what we’re suffering with, we have to decide whether to slip under the life jacket, under the

devil_may_cry_4___drowning_by_amoralisch-d5l34px tumult and into the cold, grey peace of the damage; breathing in, suffused with fatal calm as our sickness becomes us.

OR whether we choose to sum up courage and force frozen arms to propel us one more time into the darkness, in the teeth chattering, tiny hope that somehow, at some point, we will be washed onto an unknown shore which MAY, MAY look less bleak than the land we once swam from.

There is, always, a point where we have to face the options. I’ve dressed it up, made a fuss. But it comes down to this.

Sink or swim.

Be, or not be.

One thing is certain, to remain passive, is to choose death. 

Okay.

So I believe in the things I say. I believe in recovery. I believe in the possibility of turning things around. I believe that love triumphs over all. I believe that hope is the key to recovering and conquering our enemy. I believe in miracles, occasionally. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe that mindfulness is important and can help relieve the agony we can go through as sufferers of addiction and mental illness.

ImageHowever, that doesn’t mean that I’m in the best place to be dishing out advice.

Anorexia Nervosa has ruled my life for the past seven years and continues to do so.

I have relapsed. I am waiting to go back into treatment. This is imminent and will involve the indescribable mental torture of refeeding in a day unit setting.

I feel that I need to be honest in order to keep writing this blog.

I want to offer hope to others through my own determination to recover. I know that there will be times when I waver, stumble and fall. I know I will cry out in pain. I have been here before.

This time I want it to be the last.

I consider myself blessed to have the chance to recover as I recall those who have not survived the harsh and abusive regime of denial that leads to this extreme of malnutrition. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illness and those of us who battle this illness, and so often give in to its cruel demands, forget just how easily our bodies could fail to keep running on empty.

If you’re thinking about recovery, I encourage you to take the scariest step and go for it,

Your body is not an inexhaustible resource.

This illness will make you dice with death in ways your rational self will not react to until it is allowed to surface.