(I’ll forewarn you now…this is going to be a long post of me rambling on… 🙃)
Anybody with Anorexia Nervosa or anybody who knows or cares for a person with an eating disorder will know just how frustrating that eating disorder can be! Not just around food, but in many ways.
When I was at my ‘poorliest’ physically (FYI… I place particular emphasis on PHYSICALLY, because I’ve been extremely mentally unwell whilst being medically healthier, which I know many others will relate to) I could pass for a completely different person at times. It was almost as though I’d had a personality transplant! My eating disorder often spoke for me.
To others…they don’t hear a difference in terms of the sound of your voice, so to them… it is you talking. In physical body…yes…it would be ‘my’ lips moving & ‘my’ vocal chords vibrating to produce the sound heard, but…it wasn’t always ‘me’ talking. Anorexia often answered on my behalf. When my BMI was really low, I could sense a huge change within me…Anorexia has been with me since the age of 13 (in fact…in terms of genes…she was probably built into me from day 1 – laying dormant from conception until something triggered the sleeping dragon to awaken from its slumber 🤷♀️). Anorexia takes over you…you feel like a puppet on strings being pulled in the directions that your master (Anorexia) wants. You are controlled by her. And just like a ventriloquist…the noises coming from your mouth are in fact spoken by her. As your BMI falls further…this becomes more & more apparent & a large part of that is to do with science. Your brain doesn’t work at its normal capacity. Your brain is an extremely hungry organ – it weighs as little as 1.5 kilograms & yet…it requires approximately a quarter of your energy requirements (with some variation between us as individuals). The brain alone needs around 500 calories a day to function, so when you imagine that those with anorexia nervosa restrict their intake to extremely low levels… it’s hardly surprising that we become almost unrecognisable in regards to our characters. Our bodies go into survival mode. It doesn’t need the sociable, personality side of you so much, it certainly doesn’t require your fertility, so the less important systems are shutdown to preserve vitals – your body needs food & your body becomes desperate for it to the point where the primitive part of the brain is working overtime whilst it switches down the other parts. We’re not unique, special people like some people make out we are at times just because we get past the cravings…we aren’t incapable of feeling hungry – our bodies still respond in the same way as others. We still have the hunger (ghrelin) & satiety (leptin) hormones that other people have & there isn’t an abnormal response so that we don’t feel hungry…we’re incredibly hungry…our ghrelin hormones are incredibly high & our leptin levels are minimal. We learn to live with that feeling & then it becomes confusing. Our eating disorder suppresses our ‘sense of appetite’ psychologically…it is not the captain of our hormones. We lose the ability to recognise our sense of appetite because it’s so driven by emotions & Anorexia keeps us on a leash so that we don’t follow our caveman instinct to find food.
Our bodies are completely tuned in to survival in all of the normal ways you’d expect, but our eating disorder is so powerful that it manages to control our natural response.
So yeah…we know what ‘hangry’ means (in case you’re not informed… hungry = angry = ‘hangry’). People use that term a lot when they get a bit snappy before they’ve eaten…imagine how that might be when your body has been deprived of food in combination with Anorexia. Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m ‘better’ or ‘recovered’ now, because I’m not. I’ve made a lot of psychological progress & practical progress, but I still have a way to go both in physical recovery & psychological recovery, but…I remember the year where I was particularly physically unwell…I remember getting emotional about supermarkets all the time! I was obsessed with looking around them! I’d spend hours on supermarket websites looking at what food was available, but however desperate I got to really wanting the food…my eating disorder would lie to me & pretend that I could have it ‘one day’, but just not yet. I’d get frustrated that I couldn’t just get stuff like other people. She wouldn’t even allow me to pick things up in a shop & then I’d get frustrated at my mum for not picking the item up. I’d often look at things & my mum would ask if I wanted it & I (Anorexia) would reply ‘no’, but honestly… I did want it…a lot! But nothing really ever got bought. If only it ended at the supermarket & remained that simple though… I’d be sitting at home later, dwelling on the day & then I’d have my ED telling me how my mum even believed I was fat & greedy otherwise she would have bought ‘those items’ despite me saying ‘no’. (Yeah…maybe if she was psychic! 🤷♂️ But at the time I’d believe the ED). Then Anorexia would feel the need to speak to my mum & how she would’ve bought it if she wanted me to eat. Obviously…those words would be spoken by my physical body, but how would my mum know that it wasn’t ‘me’?! It still wasn’t even that straightforward though, because if an item of food was purchased for me…Anorexia would be waiting to pounce & tell her how pointless it was & how she shouldn’t have bought it because well…’I’m anorexic’. My mum bless her…she couldn’t win! It was a lose, lose situation for my mum & for myself.
I honestly feel like the worst person for some of the times I’d get irritable or emotional about those -seemingly- silly things! I hate that Anorexia would speak on my behalf. I wasn’t always like that, but when Anorexia did speak for me…she wasn’t nice & I hate thinking about it. I can’t say that it still doesn’t happen now & I can’t say that it won’t happen again in the future. It got to the point where I’d recognised what was going on & I had a break down one day where I apologised to my mum in floods of tears because I needed to explain to her that Anorexia spoke through me sometimes. It was the best thing I did! I was able to communicate that I still existed & that I hadn’t had a personality transplant, but rather…I was all the more controlled by my illness due to how physically unwell I’d become. I knew exactly why, because I was teaching healthcare students & professionals about the psychological & physical impacts of eating disorders, but knowing that science doesn’t give you an automatic pass to recovery or to know exactly what’s going on with you at the time. For a lot of the time…I’d withdraw myself from others…I felt like a terrible friend because I couldn’t bring myself to be social. I’d reached a point where focusing on a conversation was too difficult & I wouldn’t be absorbing the information & then what I did talk about was…well…appointments, because there wasn’t anything else going on in my life to talk about. I didn’t want to see people because I honestly just didn’t believe I was worth their time & I couldn’t even provide them with anything interesting to say anymore. Sometimes the anorexia would even be apart of these conversations, because she’d use some of the things I’d been through as little trophies of achievement, because it meant I was ‘properly’ ill in her eyes & looking back…I can’t help but feel ashamed of speaking about some of that shit proudly. Aside from those things…oh my goodness…snappiness! I still get this sometimes when my blood sugars are low…I get the lack of concentration, the physical crap, the emotional numbing & I get the ‘short-fuse’. Generally…’I’m’ actually really patient with others (can’t say I apply the same level of patience to myself, because I expect myself to be able to do things straight away, because my brain likes to make sense like that! 😂🙄), so becoming so irritable was really quite out of character. I remember the Christmas before I was admitted onto the eating disorder unit (I actually should have been admitted just before Christmas & it probably would have been for the best, but I chose to delay it as I couldn’t bare the thought of missing my grandmother’s 90th birthday & for that reason I can’t say that I regret the decision because she meant so much to me!), but yeah…that Christmas was not fun! Every year I like to give my mum a break, so I take on board the Christmas dinner duty (also because I haven’t been able to participate with the eating side of Christmas for several years, so to me…it’s almost ‘logical’ that I’m the one doing the cooking & cleaning… obviously it’s also extremely ED driven as well!) I remember being completely overwhelmed! ASD makes me get overwhelmed when there’s too much stimulation going on anyway, but that year…wow! I snapped! Other times I’d be able to calm myself down someway or refrain from breaking, but that particular year…I had a major meltdown & basically banned every person in the house from entering the kitchen after my dramatic break of silence! Not my finest hour at all, but I also have to forgive myself for the fact that I was just so unwell at the time.
I think one of the most important things that you can do when you have an eating disorder is to separate yourself from your disorder. Accept that there are two sides to you. I think that communicating that to others also helps them to understand a little bit better. They still may not know what that’s like for you at all, but they might be more understanding if & when you’re having an ED meltdown. At the same time…you have to have self-awareness, because you can not use it to excuse all of your behaviour – you still have to take accountability.
I’ve since learnt to do the same when I speak with healthcare professionals. If my GP asks how I feel about a particular thing I’ll let her know what I know from a sensible point of view, but I also can’t pretend that it isn’t dampened down by Anorexia, so I’ll also explain what Anorexia is thinking. If you don’t have conversations that way then I feel like it becomes less proactive. Of course you have to explain both sides, otherwise you sabotage your recovery & otherwise professionals are going to be guessing how to help or may make incorrect decisions or assumptions based on your reply that only ever provided them with half a story. If you tell people what you think they want to hear then you’re not only doing yourself an injustice but you’re also kind of just wasting their time – by telling them what YOU believe they want to hear…it doesn’t offer them a true representation of the battle you’re faced with in your head. They then won’t be able to appreciate why you can’t put what you’re saying into practice. Also…what ‘you’ believe they want to hear…might not even be what they actually want to hear at all! Alternatively…if you don’t try to access ‘your’ soul & only provide the Anorexic answers…then that’s definitely not going to be conducive to recovery & they’ll be less able to help because Anorexia puts a barrier in place.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing that Anorexia speaks on your behalf, but others need to be aware of it, not just for your sake, but also for their own feelings. Anorexia needs to speak sometimes so that people know what you’re facing, but also what they’re facing. It’s about learning to take back some control over Anorexia so that you give Anorexia a voice by explaining her thoughts, but YOU learn to say those things on her behalf rather than allowing ‘it’ to suppress your voice whilst using you as a host to vocalise itself.