Anorexia chooses you. You don’t choose it. And today I am sad today because of the people I know, it seems to choose the lovely, careful, kind, particular people and it makes them believe that they need to be fixed. It chooses people who are already trying desperately to ‘do the right thing’, to do their best, and it promises to make the pieces fit together nicely. It promises to mend the flaws, the messy edges, the not quite good enough.
Anorexia promises space and it gives you space, for a while, but then it wrenches that space from you and crowds ‘you’ out. It promises control and strength, and spins a web of rules that remove your sense of agency. It makes you think there is something wrong with you and then it promises to fix you.
It becomes your space and your space becomes ‘it’, until you don’t know how or where to begin untangling yourself.
But there are always spaces. Painful spaces that it promised relief from and lovely spaces it doesn’t quite manage to overtake. And of course those sorts of spaces don’t sit together easily.
Some of mine.
I am a partner.
I am a sister, a daughter, a niece, a friend. And recently, an Aunt.
I am a social worker and a mental health worker.
I’m a dog-owner.
I’m BA (Hons) MA. PG Cert – whatever.
I’m a lover of nature, forests and crisp cold autumn.
I’m a therapy client.
I’m a (grateful) ‘mental health service user’.
I am someone who possesses an anorexia diagnosis and an ‘anxiety’ label.
I *could* step into the space of ‘adult child of an alcoholic’. But I won’t label myself like that and tbh it’s not really on my radar so I don’t.
I could stretch things and say I’m a trying-to-be writer.
And I am the things I can’t say.
And within all of this, humanity and how we think and fit together fascinates me. I’d like to do more training at work. I care about making the world fairer and kinder. There are causes I want to speak about. I like art. I like jogging. I like walking. And I sometimes wonder where I’d be with these things if I’d put as much energy into them as I did even a fraction of the years I spent starving myself and spinning my mind with numbers.
And when I’m stuck in that horribly engulfing ‘anorexic’ space, I am other things too. I’m fat, skin crawlingly disgusting, repulsive. I’m too much, asking too much, needing too much. I’m a fraud for thinking I struggle and for asking for help because I’m definitely not critically unwell and my bmi isn’t x and hasn’t been for years and I can eat my snacks (for the most part) without crying. And I’ve never, ever been thin enough or clever enough or kind enough. And I definitely, definitely don’t need the food in the way other people do. I’m presumptuous for daring to think I can be more or hope for more or take up real space or stand strong as ‘me’ or use the words I want to. Or I’m responsible for everything and desperately trying to fix it, to be enough, to get it right.
And there are things I wish I had done at an earlier time and now I see how having anorexia in the space that was mine crowded those things out whilst I tried to fortress myself against things. I wish I’d gone out drinking and danced more. Not because I especially want to drink but because those are important bonding experiences. I wish I’d travelled more without my eating disorder getting in the way of trying the food or having the energy to fully explore because that’s how you learn to navigate the world. I wish I’d been a young person who said what I thought and had angry outbursts and been sad and screamed. I wish I’d set boundaries around myself that worked and to hell with whatever others thought of that. I wish I’d experimented with ideas and got things wrong and maybe sometimes right at an age it’s developmentally appropriate to do that. I wish I’d bought the bloody boots I liked and done yoga when I was into it. I wish I’d said yes to learning more of the things I was fascinated by and given my mind the fuel it needed to think. I wish I’d gone on bike rides. I wish I’d said so many no’s. I wish I’d said all the things I have held in for so long that now saying them feels like I’m going to break my world if I say them. I wish I’d taken more risks. I wish I’d been more reckless in loving and being seen and giving people the chance to love all of me. I wish I’d eaten more cake.
And the trouble is, you don’t get to go back and re-do all of that. And I’m actually so so lucky. Because I have done many of those things, I just took the restrictive punishing stuff along with me for a good bit of it. I’ve grown enough of me to have a sense of who ‘me’ is and to be actually fairly fine with that when I’m not stuck in threat mode. I know what I value. I know who I love and I treasure those people to my core. I know enough of myself to feel I’m being authentic. I haven’t spent years in and out of hospital under a section or so unwell I’m unable to learn or travel or feel connected to the people I love. To a large degree I took my food stuff around with me whilst getting on with life. So to say I feel loss feels a bit pathetic.
And I feel so sad that the systems we have created don’t give everyone the chance to untangle themselves. And to do it as soon as they can. And sad that sometimes we actually don’t know how to help people untangle themselves at all. And sad that all the wonder and light in the ugliness of our world get stolen from the loveliest of people because of the tricks our minds play on us.