Tag Archive: Understanding Anorexia


I know I’ve been quiet. A post is long over due…

It’s been so hard to discipline myself to write. My mind is like the end of a badly but piece of rope… I can’t seem to get all the fibres to line up enough to thread them through the nerves that make my fingers form the letters.

In recent weeks, I’ve talked to a number of people who have had little or no understanding of Anorexia. After each, I’ve sworn to write with the intention of educating people who are interested and want to gain an insight into what it might be like to live with the illness, and also to live next to it.

I am going to try to put a post together over the next few days so watch this space!

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Tipped out and raked through, the innards of handbag look like an Emin – style installation.

I could write more about this, but this isn’t really the place for theorising about what does and doesn’t constitute a work of art.

I’m focused on one particular thing (though I may list or photograph the contents of my bag for those whose curiosity has been inexplicably peaked).

Amidst the clutter, the handbag holds the main thrust of my last weekly appointment at the Eating Disorders Unit. A folded piece of crumpled paper. A list, scrawled by my clinician in desperation: “Reasons to Increase Weight”.

Turns out that the essence of this list can’t permeate the tan leather of my bag. It isn’t going in.

Which brings me here. Perhaps the skin on my fingertips is more permeable? (I jest)2014-12-08 16.55.06

SO:

I want to increase my weight:

  • To prevent my organs from packing up
  • So I’m not hungry all the time
  • To have more energy
  • To be able to write
  • To be able to get a life?
  • To be able to eat out again.

They’re pretty broad… but it’s hard to think about the possibility of ever being well, especially when the illness has eaten so much of your brain; Worse, your hope.

I’m getting nearer that piece of land between two warring factions. The Anorexia versus Team ED. I should be in there somewhere… perhaps a third party divided between the camps. But I’m not.

Truth is, I’m lost at this point in time. The daylight is fast fading, the guiding lights are all extinguished and I’m stumbling through no man’s land clinging onto a crumpled list of reasons.

ribsAnorexia Nervosa: A disease which manifests in the relentless starvation of the body and the mind; a denial of a basic human need; a refusal to satisfy the gnawing hunger for nutrition.

It never ceases to amaze me then, how an illness defined by such dreadful starvation, manages to devour so much.

And make no mistake, whilst the body turns to bone and the organs starve to standstill, Anorexia is eating.

It eats your flesh and then gnaws at the bone. It sucks on your brain until your mind is an empty city, a fragile ruin where thoughts move slowly and decisions make tears.

It devours your life, your work, your relationships; chews up the potential for a future and spits it out in a dark mess of would have beens and might haves.

It feeds on the hearts of your loved ones; a painful suckling in the darkness of the night, a sharp breaking away in the cold light of the morning.

Like a parasite, it swells and fattens as its cotton – mouthed host withers.

And it only stops, when it has eaten everything; from the body, to the life, to the dreams of its victim.

You won’t find this definition of Anorexia in the BMJ, or the DSM or the ICD.

But I swear, this is one of the truest definitions and criterion you’ll find.

For whatever reason, I feel the need to preface this post with a declaration that I do not buy the Daily Mail. Finding it, all too often, a thinly veiled excuse to propound nationalistic views, I frequently have to remind readers that the world is not really that bad a place unless they believe all they read in this trussed up tabloid.

I was, however, drawn to the full page article about a long suffering mother, who, five years after her daughter’s tragic death, has made the decision to release the girl’s diaries. Diaries that record the tortured journey of Loredana Verta, a bright, talented sixteen year old, who was dead within three years. Heart attack.

Rightly or wrongly, some of  this young sufferer’s innermost thoughts and feelings are laid bare in newsprint for all to see.

The workiarticle-2713000-202CA0CA00000578-585_634x910ngs of this girl’s mind are utterly consumed by the illness. Her writing is littered with scribbled self loathing, capitalised screams of  “I HATE ME… I HATE MY BODY”.   Most teenagers feels like this at some point. Hormones, skin, peer pressure, perfection culture, fashion… It’s all there to taunt the aspiring, spot laden, hormone raging teen.

Except Loredana’s thoughts are all centred on weight loss and weight gain and wrongly perceived fat.

To my mind, what is more haunting than the poisonous self hatred, the desperation, the pleas to God and the cries for help, are the words of a grieving mother, who says,

“Lorry thought she could live with the condition – that as long as she was thin, she would be OK. She didn’t realise that anorexia is a deadly disease. It is a killer”.*

For long term sufferers, ‘old hands’, Anorexia can be so ingrained, so deeply habitual, that we forget that it is something UNnatural… an invasion. It becomes like Stockholm Syndrome… It’s is our natural fall back position.

It KILLS.

Let’s get real.

It is deadly.

We think it won’t ever happen to us, and yet, why wouldn’t it? It killed Loredana in just THREE years.

Of all psychiatric disorders, Anorexia is the biggest killer. TWENTY PERCENT of sufferers die prematurely.^

I hear my wake up call.

Can you hear yours?

 

* Emphasis is mine

^ Statistics according to B-EAT

snowLooking 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!