Mitigating Setbacks in ED Recovery

This ‘slip’ could have led to a complete relapse, had I not been mentally prepared. – Jessica

Yes, I experienced a minor lapse in my recovery recently. I do this thing now, with my ED specifically, where I try to reframe the negativity. Groundbreaking, I know. Mind you, this instance wasn’t something I’m looking to repeat anytime soon, so here’s hoping this lesson has well and truly sunk in.

Without going into too much detail, lets just say there was roughly a month of intermittent laxative abuse. I was having some digestive issues and stupidly turned to a familiar remedy, which I then repeated several times. What followed was the hangover from said compensatory behaviour, recurrent mood swings, an awful fight with my bf, some kind of mental breakdown and an unsuccessful visit to the Emergency Room. I was pretty much ignored, largely due to an uncharacteristic inability to advocate for myself. I was there for several hours and the window within which I would remain agreeable was closing. Needless to say, my saint of a bf was frustrated when I ended up pitching a fit, which resulted in us leaving. Thankfully, I was back on planet earth the following day.

Having been at the mercy of the public hospital system several times, I was aware of how ill-equipped they were for an individual who presented with a non-violent mental health concern.There’s a lengthy diatribe I’ll save for another post. We’re going to focus on the messy side of my behaviours. I ‘enjoyed’ a pretty dependant relationship with laxatives when I first became ill, despite the process being laborious, painful and inconvenient. I believe that this is why I was able to stop using them. I didn’t want to spend my life chained to a box of pills, organising my time around forced bodily functions. When I did turn to this form of purging, there were times where I’d be lying on the ground, dripping in sweat, amid heart palpitations and horrendous stomach craps. I dreaded that part of the process and lived for the feeling afterwards. That feeling of being empty and something else I couldn’t quite articulate, until now.

While conducting research for another blog post, The Control Fallacy, a relevant insight came up in several research papers. I’m somewhat of a layman as it pertains to neuroscience, but my understanding of it is certainly improving. As I understand it, when an ED sufferer engages in stressful behaviours, their brain rewards them. I had read that self-induced vomiting could illicit a pleasurable sensation, but had never made that connection to my laxative abuse. This could partially explain why so many of us form the particular habits we do while we’re sick, despite how debilitating some of them are. As explained in The Control Fallacy, I strongly believe that this sensation is mistakenly attributed to existing as the ‘control’ that sufferers frequently describe.

Now, this saga ends on a more positive note. I forfeited my laxative collection to my bf the day after my meltdown and later spoke to my psychiatrist about it. He confirmed my revelation about the laxatives and the feeling I was experiencing. I already knew that I couldn’t willingly engage in any of my disordered behaviours if I wanted to achieve full recovery and clearly I just needed a really scary reminder of how damaging this could be. My advice for anyone else who may relate to this, is this: research the neurological underpinnings of this illness. This ‘slip’ could have led to a complete relapse, had I not been mentally prepared. This is what I credit my unprecedented recovery progress with and it is viable empowerment. In addition to any kind of therapy you may already be receiving, of course. Knowledge and learning are powerful adversaries in your battle with this illness and are often only a Google search away.

Further reading:

Altered Brain Reward Circuits in Eating Disorders: Chicken or Egg?

Dysregulation of Brain Reward Systems in Eating Disorders: Neurochemical Information from Animal Models of Binge Eating, Bulimia Nervosa, and Anorexia Nervosa

BINGE: The Series

Oh boy. If you haven’t watched ‘BINGE: The Series’ on YouTube, then consider this your call to arms. While flagged as triggering in some circles, it’s also an unflinchingly raw, relatable account of life with this illness. Let’s face it, the world at large is triggering and I believe in exposure therapy. At some point, we have to start living in this superficial world without allowing everything to set off our insecurities. We have to face the uncomfortable. 

But, I digress. I was OBSESSED with this series when I first saw it in 2017. Maybe it was due to the fact that it heavily mirrored my life at the time. I was promiscuous, drinking heavily, starving myself, abusing diet pills, shopping compulsively and staying up for days at a time. The crazy thing is that these actions felt good to me; my brain was rewarding me for this abject self-destructiveness. That’s what people don’t realise about this behaviour and the rush of pleasure it brings. Unfortunately, you then have to engage in more extreme behaviours in order to illicit this response. 

So yes, I was out of control. That’s how we cope, that’s how we go on, that’s how we exist for years at a time. Doing what we have to in order to introduce small amounts of short-lived chemicals into our depleted, depressed minds. 

This show is a renegade in that it is a messy and uninhibited slice of dark humour that millions of people around the world can relate to.

Praise for BINGE:

It Begins:

Prequel – The Blind Girl
Pilot

Binge: How to Lose Weight in the Apocalypse

Part 1
Part 2

Bonus Footage -‘The Exes’:

Emma
Pat

Jonathan
Taps

Paul
Andrew

Interviews with Angela Gulner:

Follow:

The ‘Control’ Fallacy

…over a decade of talk therapy and I was still no closer to recovery. That never felt like control to me.

Jessica

Disclaimer Time

MC Hammer - Disclaimer Time

I know it’s frustrating that as a society we seem only to acknowledge Anorexia Nervosa (AN). It’s annoying as hell even to someone who has received it as a diagnosis.  I am in the process of continuing my research regarding other Eating Disorders. I believe ‘Atypical Anorexia’ and AN to be one and the same in that symptoms are more significant than body weight. Please be patient, as I aim to include only what I am familiar with at any given moment. For those of you who have engaged in any kind of restriction, this blog post is primarily for you. There is a more comprehensive article underway where I will feature multiple eating disorders.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, I believe that this is something everyone can benefit from reading. Apologies if it reads too much like a dissertation, I spent so much time researching this that my personality got bored and nodded off at times. In writing this post, I gleaned notes from several different research papers before arriving at an impasse. When the contents exceeded several pages, I realised that I would need to approach this differently. I’ve decided to link all relevant sources instead of including all quotes from the papers. A summation for non-science folk, if you will.

Finally, please know that my intent isn’t to undermine the experience of anyone who may already subscribe to this theory. I am merely suggesting an alternative explanation that is consistent with the integration of a Darwinian framework along with the studied effects of malnutrition. Through research and personal experience, it has become apparent to me that the traditional Psychoanalytical theory of Eating Disorders (ED), along with the heavily endorsed ‘control ’ ideology are both riddled with inaccurate nuances. Although this particular therapeutic model has been passed on, resonating within the recovery community, it doesn’t adequately explain why the distinct symptoms of an ED develop.

This concept offers no acknowledgement of the unique biological forces that exist in opposition to recovery efforts. While trauma, environmental influences, or a poor self-image may be a contributing factor to the onset of a diet or restrictive eating habits, it is not the process through which the illness primarily operates. Many symptoms are a direct result of malnutrition, the archaic instinct as a species to migrate when famine is imminent and supportive reward systems within the brain.

Theoretical Origins

In the 1970s, Hilde Bruch, a respected psychoanalytic theorist of AN, proposed that food refusal represents a struggle for psychological autonomy and control. Her work tended to cast blame on the family dynamic, a system within which patients were supposedly ‘engaged in a desperate fight against feeling enslaved and exploited by their mothers’.

It’s worth noting that this theory regarding families has since been disproven, yet the ‘control’ element has endured. Bruch’s hypotheses provided the framework for future psychodynamic work that later empirical research did not substantiate. Further research has suggested that disturbed eating cannot be dismissed as a mere reflection of underlying psychodynamic turmoil. To her credit, Bruch did bring about a more compassionate stance regarding the illness and was known to chastise any professional who approached patients in a negative manner.

Bruch’s speculation seems to have permeated the work of social theorists in a vain attempt to explain why women and girls are more vulnerable to developing AN. In 1986, Susie Orbach wrote; ‘in controlling her food so very stringently she caricatures the message beamed at all women’. She then goes on to claim that the  ‘western patriarchal culture offers girls few outlets for autonomy, self-starvation becomes part of their struggle for liberation.’ Once again, we’re met with the same limitations as psychological theories in that they fail to account for the occurrence of symptoms in men, animals and throughout history.

Alternate Evidence

The distinct symptoms of restrictive Eating Disorders, namely AN, pre-date the study of psychology. For our nomadic ancestors, the ability to forsake hunger while in search of a more abundant environment was a crucial element in their ability to survive during famines. Distorted body image was actually part of this survival mechanism, whereby if one couldn’t perceive starvation induced emaciation, the stress of that could be largely overlooked. Several species of animals have demonstrated similar behaviour in tandem with the ability to ignore their base instincts in favour of migrating. These animals will not typically ‘eat and run’ if the search for food interfered with migration. While observing starved laboratory rats and lean-bred pigs with Wasting Pig Syndrome, researchers noted a consistent refusal of food and hyperactive behaviour.

There are multiple accounts of pious women fasting and later developing what is colloquially referred to as ‘Holy Anorexia.’ Diaries and firsthand accounts show that these women manifested typical AN symptoms of aversion to food, over activity and denial of starvation. In the case of modern Anorectic patients, fear of weight gain was not recorded in a therapeutic setting until the 1930s.

The increased incidents of Eating Disorders in response to societal pressure speaks to a society immersed in superficiality. Put simply, women and girls are taught that obtaining thinness is desirable, leading to an increase in dieting behaviour. This will inadvertently signal an activation of this maladaptive response. While psychological/societal factors may influence an individual in their decision to diet, the symptoms are more consistent with the behaviours observed in our foraging ancestors, starving saints and various models in animal behaviour.    

Starvation

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment is rarely brought up when referring to AN. It is the most comprehensive study of starvation with human subjects that we can refer to and has lent so much information in the realm of ED research. Knowledge that is almost ignored by supposed professionals, to varying degrees. The experiment was initially conducted as a means of determining a viable process of refeeding war-torn populations exposed to famine. Inadvertently, what also followed was further discourse over the effects of malnutrition and the parallels to AN.

Various symptoms in either instance are typically resolved when the brain is no longer under the influence of starvation. Bear in mind, these were perfectly healthy men who participated in this experiment and they found themselves completely obsessed by food and engaging in very strange behaviours. The only difference being that they were able to actively participate in the refeeding process, unencumbered by the biological influence of AN.

Addressing underlying trauma and related emotional distress may be necessary long term. In my experience, it seems pointless to attempt doing so when our cognition isn’t at full capacity. We’re still reactionary due to constant hangriness and talking does not solve this. Professionals seem unaware of the fact that malnourished individuals are highly suggestable and at times easier to dominate. The likes of Mussolini, Hitler and various other dictators throughout history used starvation as a political weapon. They would cripple entire populations simply by cutting off their food supply. Now, that is one aspect of control I am willing to acknowledge.

The Trap

Let me be clear; I believe that many of us are mere victims of an almost pathological desire to psychoanalyse everything. My own experience culminated in over a decade of talk therapy and I was still no closer to recovery. That never felt like control to me. Over the years, I’ve heard many similar accounts from other sufferers and it’s nothing short of infuriating. We’ve been fed this narrative by professionals and even from within our recovery community, yet many of us continue to fail in achieving full recovery. A recent informal survey I conducted across various support groups revealed that no one could definitively describe a feeling of ‘control’ and how it took place in their experience with the illness.

Many recounted what I believe is the reward we receive from engaging in certain behaviours, not a feeling of ‘control’ that is distinct and tangible. I asked several to extrapolate on this and explain how they came to this conclusion. It was really disheartening when several of them went on to relay elaborate psychoanalytic explanations that have likely been suggested to them. None of them seemed to have come to the conclusion without relying on an external influence. A separate poll revealed several others to have experienced a caloric deficit at some stage, yet no one I spoke to had made the connection and it seems to remain largely unexplored in a therapeutic setting.

But why refer to it as a ‘trap’? Well, if we were to view our ED as a complex survival mechanism, why would our brain cooperate with the notion of surrendering something it believes is keeping us alive? This illness evolves with the times and social environment in order to stay relevant to the experience of the individual sufferer. We’re emotionally driven mammals and that information is cognitively exploited in order to keep us in this disease. It is but another smokescreen created by our brain in order to keep us trapped in this illness; a deranged safety protocol. If we’re consistently distracted by a false construct as it pertains to this illness, how likely are we to simultaneously explore the idea of nutritional rehabilitation? I try not to ‘humanise’ my ED or refer to it as some kind of entity these days. If I were to use that as an example, that bitch will say and do anything to keep us in her clutches. The prehistoric brain tricks us into staying ill.

The Reward

So, I mentioned that our brain rewards us when we engage in certain behaviours. Within the ED community, I’ve observed countless references made in regards to feelings of ‘euphoria’ as they relate to the practice of certain compulsions. In 1996, Cecilia Bergh and Per Sodersten found that a reward mechanism was triggered in response to stress-inducing behaviour.

Corticotropin Release Hormone (CRH) is responsible for this rush of pleasure and is observed in higher amounts in individuals with AN or those who heavily restricted their food. Levels of CRH return to normal upon weight restoration. The stress of overexercise, restriction, purging and other compensatory behaviours are initially self-rewarding and conditioned over time. Similar to self-harm, these actions are perceived by the brain incorrectly and are pursued in order to attain a pleasurable sensation. This is largely what I believe is confused as ‘the feeling of control.’

Final Thoughts

Moving away from the long-held belief that my illness was purely psychological and about ‘control’ ended up being the catalyst for positive change in my recovery efforts. I’m not what I would consider 100% recovered and there have been some slips along the way. However, I noticed a decrease in symptoms I had previously attributed to trauma and poor self-image.

The idea that this is an archaic adaptation to starvation has resonated with me more than any psychoanalytical model ever has. If you take one thing from this, be it that you might begin exploring the theory further. Should you still believe that control is at the core of this, I’d love to hear of any relevant methods you have used to remedy this and achieve full recovery as a result (nutritional rehabilitation not withstanding).

I truly believe that this therapeutic approach is failing all of us and overall, the scientific evidence appears to support an alternative theory.

References

This link will direct you to the first page of Shan Guisinger’s findings and I greatly respect her overall opinion. The article where the information originated can be found under ‘Articles and Essays’ and is titled ‘Adapted to Flee Famine: Adding an Evolutionary Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa’.

Adapted to Flee Famine

Remembering Ancel Keys and The Minnesota Starvation Experiment

Anorexia, Self-Starvation and The Reward of Stress

Dysregulation of Brain Reward Systems in Eating Disorders

Recovery Update – Part 2

Oh hey, its been a while, let’s jump straight in. For some reason I don’t feel the need for my usual introduction. What can I say? I’m tedious AF and well aware of my propensity to talk too much.

Upon returning to Queensland in April, I remember thinking, ‘screw it, I’m doing this’. I began obsessively listening to Tabitha Farrar’s podcasts and continued to study the effects of malnutrition. Having come to the conclusion that I first needed to undo years of under-eating, I slowly worked myself up to eating roughly 4000 calories a day. My proudest moment was when I began using the Lifesum app to eat as much as humanly possible and my step counter to record my LACK of activity. So rebellious. It was Autumn by this point and thank god it was cool when the night sweats began. Oh lord, they sucked, as did the inevitable weight gain and constant exhaustion. Before my trip to WA I had given up my vegetarian identity and was regularly consuming meat. The cravings were very apparent, to the point where I was consuming several large steaks each week for several months. Mike helped me set up this blog in August, just before my 32nd Birthday. It was a great medium through which I could articulate my struggles, particularly when I couldn’t even bring myself to leave the house on my actual Birthday. I vowed that it would be the last year my eating disorder would dictate whether I was ‘acceptable enough’, and thereby granted permission to celebrate my old-lady status.

By September, I had overshot my set point and began wearing what my illness mockingly referred to as my ‘fat clothes’. These were items that had been roughly one-two sizes bigger than my disordered size and I had kept them with the intent of having them taken in. Some of those items grew a little tight, so I purchased some comfier pants and made the commitment to clear out my closet when my weight had stabilised. Luckily, most of my tops still fit, as I’ve always been around the same size above the hips. My appetite began to normalise around then and the intense cravings for certain foods were diminishing. I could actually keep fear foods in the house for longer than a week without the urge to demolish all of it in one sitting. By January, the focus had shifted to other aspects of my life. Namely, to that wretched biological clock. Children had been on the agenda for years and I was freaking out a bit over whether I’d manage before turning 35. That may sound brutal but it was nice to stress out over something other than calories and how fat I thought I was. Another benefit of my recovery was that I had started using my brain in a more constructive manner and I decided to further my education by enrolling in University.

One of the best moments, and I really don’t care how shallow this seems because my love for clothing is eternal, occurred recently. I finally gathered the nerve to rifle through my closet in late March. To my surprise, many of my clothes still fit. The tiniest pieces were photographed, bagged and sold before the temptation to try them on arose. It was a small victory for me in that I wouldn’t have to procure a a new collection and I was able to sell several items in order to replace others. I had returned to my natural set point without even realising it.  

The four people who actually read my blog are perhaps wondering how I’m dealing with the COVID19 situation. I know one of my stalkers thought a 3:30am phone call the other morning would really endear me to him. I love meth heads with delusions of grandeur. So fun. Anyway, I’ve had some hiccups, mostly in the form of making and eating copious amounts of peanut cookies to the point of nausea, but I haven’t faltered in my recovery. The cookie eating was merely part of a physiological reaction to the stress brought on by the pandemic and the sudden dwindling of resources. Hey panic-buyers, enjoy wallpapering your living room with ass paper and drinking hand sanitiser in order to induce that buzz. My evolved brain adapted to the increase in my hunger by simply urging me to eat more, so I did. Self-isolation has been tricky for Mike and I think we both miss having alone time, but I love any excuse to avoid people. My tolerance has improved slightly, but I find the human race to be particularly frustrating. I had a bartending gig lined up prior to this crisis and still have that job to look forward to when this is over. We take daily walks, something I was loath to do until recently, and I spend my time productively. Shockingly, I find myself brainstorming ideas for the blog, managing a recovery Instagram, Facebook page and an affiliated support group. All of which are self-initiated projects I have managed to be consistent with. At the end of the month, I’ll start receiving additional income in the form of welfare payments, so there will be no stressing out over money. Lastly, if you’ve made it this far, I’ve included two pictures below. We all love a good picture reference. 

The first is of me in October of 2018, two months before my tentative foray into recovery. The second is a year later on a night out with friends. It took me 10 minutes to pick an outfit, instead of the usual hour. Although I wasn’t yet comfortable in my body, I had started to feel like myself again. With better hair.

Until next time, enjoy not having to deal with idiots on a daily basis.

Recovery Update – Part 1

Good morning, loyal blog readers and desperate stalkers who still google my name each week. A special welcome to the people of Quora, your allegiance is heartwarming. Mr SEO analysis, on the other hand, is PISSED. No, scarlet-faced man, I will not dumb myself down so that my piece is ‘easier to read’. Easier for whom? Ignorant folk who aren’t a part of the demographic? That’s a good one. Anyway, true to form, I sat down to type out a few paragraphs and wound up going on a complete tangent. In order to spare you some of the monotony, I will split this into two parts. Let’s begin, shall we?

December 2018 was when I officially made the decision to pursue a healthy life. The problem was, I had no idea what that would entail. All I knew was that my life was not playing out the way I wanted. Ambition? Who is she?

I’m not saying recovery came easily. In fact I fell, face-first, into another pit of despair after deciding to estrange myself from my toxic, abusive parents. Coming to the realisation that I had been cast in the ‘sick child’ role a decade or so earlier was quite the wake up call. I do credit my boyfriend Mike, for playing a part in the decision to escape. In treating me with the kindness and support I had lacked my entire life, by contrast, the behaviour of my parents seemed particularly outrageous. While the outpatient program I was a part of at the time did indeed solidify my reasons for healing, the foundation for my most successful recovery attempt had technically begun months earlier. Thank you, YouTube recovery community. A timely development, given that my job fell through right when I told my parents I was done with their shenanigans, so I had to drop out of the course and move to Brisbane to live with Mike. Everything happened at once. Goodie.

Despite the grieving period that followed, the financial burden I now faced and the nasty emails my parents had taken to sending, I managed to just keep it together. Certain behaviours were still apparent, I was an emotional wreck, the diet pill abuse intensified and my dumb ass (literally) fooled around with laxatives on several occasions. Funnily enough, my dad had accused me of this right before we stopped speaking, so it’s almost as if I thought, ‘hey, what a splendid idea’! A rationalisation one might liken to having that controlling boyfriend who constantly accuses his girlfriend of cheating. While in that situation, I remember thinking ‘well, I’m facing scrutiny for something I’m not even doing, maybe I should just sleep with someone else’? Don’t worry, I realised how insane that thought was and proceeded to ditch him. Wow, you know the relationship was bad when you willingly compare it to engaging in very dangerous, unpleasant behaviour. Mercifully, revisiting the laxatives lasted a month, half as long as that disastrous relationship. But, I digress. 

So, stressed out over income and not working in a full time capacity, I decided to travel to WA and work as a lingerie bartender. They’re referred to as ‘skimpies’. It proved to be a great financial decision that was terrible for my mental wellbeing. I worked long hours, drank several energy drinks each day and barely ate. Naturally, my weight plummeted and some of the regular patrons I served mentioned that I was far too thin. I’m a little glad that two of the pubs left me terrible reviews after my five week stint. The money was incredible but I needed to avoid situations where I felt oppressed and where my appearance was front and centre. Funnily enough, in my last week I was paired with another girl who revealed to me that she had Bulimia and an equally toxic family. I finally had a companion; someone who got me and I actually had fun that week. Unheard of.

While in WA, I had a lot of downtime and I spent some of it continuing to watch YouTubers who were part of the recovery community. Having discovered this about a year before, I would often watch several videos a day. I wasn’t moving forward in my recovery mentally at that point, I was just trying to remind myself that I could be inspired by these brave, intelligent souls who were sharing very personal things in order to help others.

We’ll stop there even though it’s likely I’ll post the second part straight after. As much as I find it amusing to upset the scarlet man, I don’t want to push my luck. Until next time my friends, stay sane, stay safe and stay the f*** home.

She Hath Returned – COVID19 Update

I had a post planned for NEDA week that may never end up seeing the light of day. I was slightly annoyed with myself for neglecting something I’ve always felt so passionate about. It’s been, ahem, a minute since my last encounter with this blog.

But, fear not. For I had what I like to refer to as a ‘recovery revelation.’ I became aware of the fact that I was less preoccupied with Eating Disorders in general. For the first time in years, I wasn’t seeking out ED related content with the same fervour. No longer was I inclined to dive for my phone following a realisation that I suddenly MUST investigate. Having already observed a similar ‘indifference phase’ during the recovery trajectory in others who have led the way in the ED community, this seemed like a positive development. Of course, that was before an article published by Buzzfeed reignited my purpose.

In the wake of the COVID19 pandemic, I have found myself analysing the actions of the hoarding, panic-buying masses. I’ve concluded that they’re incapable of preventing their survival instincts from taking over. This does not mean that I approve of such deplorable behaviour. I just understand what drives it and why they can’t or wont stop. Anyway, just as I had begun to consider writing about the possible repercussions of a sudden, perceived food scarcity for Eating Disorder sufferers, the article in question appeared on my Facebook feed.

The Coronavirus Outbreak Is “Like A Nightmare” For People With Eating Disorders – Addy Baird

Now, I was beyond pleased that someone was addressing the illness while doing so through such a far-reaching publication. I didn’t even mind that the article itself openly endorsed the usual ‘control’ rhetoric that I so heavily disagree with. The excitement lay in the fact that this was finally being addressed, despite the lack of sympathy and usual displays of ignorance in the comment section. Yes, we still have a quite a lot of work to do in terms of educating people about Eating Disorders. But, I still swooped down into the comment section with my encyclopaedic knowledge and antagonistic saltiness, successfully shutting down many of the nay-sayers while offering support to those in distress. Some old guy deleted an entire thread after I told him to go and cry into his TV dinner. I’m not even sorry; don’t be rude to my people.

Then, it’s like I remembered why I started this damn blog.

In that moment, the determination I had often felt overwhelmed by came screaming back. I forfeited over a decade of my life to this illness and the thought of anyone else doing the same is unacceptable to me. I felt a deep sense of sadness while I read over the hundreds of comments. We have advantageous personality traits as individuals in the ED realm; intelligence and empathy. Once our brains are re-fed, we are finally capable of utilising those attributes in a positive manner. I desperately wanted full recovery for every individual in that comment section.

Along with re-committing to my blog, I have also decided to start a support page on Facebook. It was only a matter of time, really. Approaching Eating Disorders from a neurobiological perspective has resulted in the most significant progress of my entire recovery. Sharing that information in a bid to support my fellow sufferers is one thing I can do to help combat such a crippling disease. Surrounding myself with like-minded, intelligent individuals is a mere bonus. The author of that article deserves our gratitude for her bravery, as do Buzzfeed for bringing this affliction to light. Message received, universe.

ED Loves Ruining My Birthday

Ghosts of Birthdays’ past – varying degrees of restrictive eating were present from age 18 to 31.

Happy 32nd to me.

So…several of my birthdays have been blighted by this illness. In fact, the clearest memories I have relate to my ED and how much a part of my life it was at the time. How thin I was, how I looked in my outfit, whatever dangerous measures I was taking to keep my weight down at the time. This year was no exception. I may be attempting to recover but that doesn’t mean the war in my head isn’t raging on.

Fourteen years of this bullshit; every birthday a harsh reminder of the fact that I was still consumed by this illness. I’m not the high maintenance type. At all. In fact, I enjoy bragging about my ability to get ready in twenty minutes or less. If only this were still the case. My Body Dysmorphia is the worst it has ever been. Three hours in front of the mirror and I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house. My boyfriend had made dinner plans for us yet in my mind I was too hideous for people to lay their eyes upon. I couldn’t even celebrate getting older with the one person who loves me unconditionally. On second thought, this post should be titled ‘Things I Have Allowed My ED to Suck the Joy Out of.’

This year, I’ll be celebrating my birthday, not bemoaning the size of my thighs. Recovery is the best present I can give to myself.

Body Shaming in Relationships.

‘Gather ‘round the campfire children and I shalt regale thee with tales of my most degenerate suitors.’

me

Ok, if I relayed the details of every jerk I’ve dated, we’d be here a while. Instead, I thought it more productive to gloss over the myriad of crappy relationships I’ve endured and skip straight to what some of these experiences have taught me.

People are allowed to have physical preferences when dating.

Yes, you read that correctly. People like what they like; that’s not where the issue lies. I’ve began dating men at a certain weight only to have them critique my size later on. Maybe I didn’t reflect their true preference; or maybe they were just dicks who didn’t deserve me. I find it particularly loathsome if these men are aware of certain insecurities while seemingly intent on adding to your negative inner dialogue. What kind of asshole does that? Date someone who reflects what you want, don’t try to shame someone into conforming to your ideal.

If your SO criticises your physical appearance, why the hell did they decide to date you?

Because it’s not about you. Their nastiness stems from their own insecurities and it’s pure projection. In my experience, what they criticise you for are flaws they perceive as their own or they’re attempting to ensure you think so poorly of yourself that you won’t leave. Men who engage in body shaming have sensed a vulnerability in you that they’re attempting to exploit in order to control you because they hate themselves. Their behaviour will only escalate if you stay with them. I figured that out the hard way.

Is body shaming ever acceptable? What if they’re concerned about your health? 

Nope. If they were even the least bit worried about this, it would extend to your mental health as well. It’s possible to have a mature discussion with your SO without hurting their feelings or belittling them.

Being critical of your SO is often the hallmark of an obsessive little creep.

Each of my former boyfriends who engaged in unnecessary criticism didn’t leave me the hell alone following our breakups. Dylan attempted to contact me multiple times over a period of 10 years after we dated for two bloody months. I have him blocked on every social media account; all of which he attempted to connect with me on. He was the bearer of the nastiest comments yet he stalked me the longest. I was just THAT hideous and such an affront to his bogan sensibilities…

Thomas was no oil painting, yet he somehow felt it was his civic duty to list all my physical flaws on multiple occasions. When I dumped him, he believed that if he hung around me like a bad smell and moped, I would take his ugly, bald ass back. Instead I went down to Melbourne for a four day tryst with an artist I had met. He went back to Germany with his tail between his legs soon after and I sought to alienate him every chance I had. I really needed him to get the message; his English was appalling, so perhaps ‘f*** off and die’ was lost in translation?

Jordan was the recipient of a two year No Contact Order after he slapped me around and called me a filthy fat whore. He was the most suffocating person I’ve ever dated and he tried to gaslight me on multiple occasions. I had grounds to issue the NCO much sooner and I should have. He would not leave me alone and despite the order, he still circled my social media, my friends and tinder like a drugged up shark. Three years have passed and I’ve no doubt that he still googles my name whilst sucking on his meth pipe.

Find someone whose love transcends your physical appearance.            

 As I’ve stated, we’re allowed to have preferences and it’s ok to seek out those who meet our desires. However, I’ve gained a lot of weight during my most recent recovery attempt and my boyfriend still loves me and tells me I’m beautiful. He just wants me to be healthy and happy. I’m working on believing him because my past experiences have poisoned my self-perception quite a lot. The delightful critical voice all ED sufferers are familiar with also keeps chiming in, the little f***. If someone loves you, they want to lift you up, not bring you down. Cliche? Yes. True? Also, yes.

Repeat after me: little boys will not dictate how I should look and I won’t allow them to steal my shine.

Thank you for coming to my TEDtalk.

I Am The Cautionary Tale

‘You definitely have an eating disorder and it is Anorexia.’

Dr V

I was ill-prepared for this declaration at the age of 31. Three professionals had uttered this diagnosis to me in that month alone; the final being a specialist in the treatment of Eating Disorders. Anosognosia is common among Anorexia sufferers and it was certainly the case with me. Yes, I had been suppressing my weight for years but I was truly convinced that it had never been particularly serious. Having only been clinically underweight a few times, I had opted to stay above too low of a weight. On the somewhat ‘lean-ish’ side so as not to arouse concern. Yet here I was, a miserable and barely functioning adult, voluntarily entering an outpatient programme for the first time. Some of the participants were teenagers, a few in their early twenties, one in her mid-twenties.

Although social situations where I’m the ‘elder’ aren’t necessarily foreign to me, I did brace myself for the possibility that relating to all of them would be difficult. Surprisingly, I found myself among kindred, unashamedly sharing a wasted existence with women who still had their whole lives ahead of them. The empathy I felt for them was overwhelming and I saw so much of myself in each of them. At the same time, I desperately hoped that my being there might serve as a forewarning; ‘don’t end up like me.’

While one might refer to me as a martyr, it doesn’t change the fact that my conviction has and will remain as such. Of course I’m aware that it’s the illness telling me it’s too late for me and this sentiment has contributed to many setbacks in my recovery. As for the programme, sadly I couldn’t afford to complete it. Eight months later and I’m on the cusp of turning 32. Having taken recovery into my own hands, I made the decision to write about it. My experience was not conventional, nor something I could fill a book with. A disjointed recollection of an abusive childhood followed by an unstable adolescence and adulthood.

Depression engulfed me during high school, the eating disorder finally surfacing after a particularly devastating breakup when I was 18. A year later, I declared myself ‘recovered’. But that mask I wore slipped occasionally while my illness transformed repeatedly, ever the shape shifter. I refused to acknowledge the existence of it, even though my body image and eating habits remained extremely damaging. There were four consecutive hospitalisations, ostensibly to treat my depression and BDD. I continued to ignore what was really at the crux of these conditions.

When I moved out of home at 24, sudden freedom gave way to gradual, yet severe restriction, laxative abuse and diet pill dependence. I could no longer deny it, as this was the period where I flirted with extreme behaviour and was faced with terrifying consequences as a result. The next three years would consist of frightful self-abuse, failed romantic relationships, promiscuity, job loss, heavy drinking and an uncharacteristic use of various substances. I existed in a bleak limbo, not quite letting the illness in entirely, not quite sending it away either. Of course, it crept in completely at times and I embraced it like an old friend.

While I’m not the typical embodiment of a chronic case, I have a lived experience and significant knowledge to lend within the recovery realm. After losing faith in the psychoanalytical narrative most professionals have accepted, I found a group of people who openly denounced it. I sought out research papers and literature, all of which suddenly made sense. My own recovery aside, it would be remiss of me not to share the information I’ve accumulated over the years. I have resolved that my life would count for something positive, perhaps in educating and assisting others by providing resources or sharing my struggles. Eating Disorders beget more casualties than any mental illness and are still the least understood. It doesn’t have to be this way.

You don’t have to end up like me.