Tuesday, 14 October 2008
A fellow blogger, Melissa, has very recently started to correspond with me via email. She appears to be in a much better place than I am at the moment and is really getting to grips with her own ED and managing it. She commented in one of her mails to me that "Anorexia is the hardest one of all. The most difficult form of self-hatred, loneliness and despair..."
In retrospect, I have to say that I agree with her - and I am not really sure why.
When I struggled with bulimia - which started at age 22 - although there was some weight loss (perhaps up to 20lbs at its 'peak'), I was still maintaining a semblance of normality. I could still go out with friends and family, sit at the table and eat and then make my plausible excuses to get rid of it. I was quite good at fluidly sneaking away at times and always ensured I had my make-up to hand to touch up those sparkling red eyes and the glowing, snotty nose! Although slim, I don't think I could have been deemed 'thin'.
The side-effects of the laxatives were a bit more difficult to hide, for obvious reasons, particularly when having eaten, that chain-reaction of needing to go for the next hour or two becomes apparent and you are sitting at the table, sweating profusely with your eyes and legs crossed. I always seemed to have 'a bit of an upset stomach today' when we were socialising.
Going out running at night didn't raise anyone's eyebrows either. People just thought I was trying to counter the effects of nicotine withdrawal (something which lasted for a grand total of three months!). Those who paid me more attention could see my behaviour wasn't quite normal, though. How could I eat so much and still stay slim? Their perception led to some reluctant confessions, but I did learn to be more honest with people.
Being honest about having an ED is a double-edged sword. As soon as you let people in to your secret, you feel obliged to tell them your every move. Every question has to be answered. Have you weighed yourself today? How many laxatives have you had today? How many binges/purges/meals have you eaten?
These questions are not tedious and do not annoy me. But they do make me squirm inside and although my first reaction is to lie, I don't. Much...Keeping it secret can be a lot easier in some ways.
But nowadays, it seems so much more complicated. As though anorexia has much deeper layers for me, personally. I remember how difficult it was for me to cope with bulimia, but this seems a hell of a lot tougher - both on my body and on my mind.
There's a real, strong aversion to food now squatting in my head - I still loved the taste of food during the bulimia. I actually do now feel 'fat' and 'clumsy' in some ways and am repulsed by the saggy skin on my thighs and my belly whereas the weight loss previously was something which drove me on further and gave me an amount of perverted satisfaction. This weight loss never ceases to disappoint...because my 'control' of it just doesn't seem to be 'good enough'. Mentally, I don't know which way is up and my mood swings are like a force of nature at times. Something I am definitely not proud of, and definitely don't like. It is a real effort at times not to lose my temper at some ill-perceived slight or some jealous feeling of insecurity which can fester away inside of me for hours.
The words 'perfect' and 'perfection' seem to be creeping into my vocabulary more and more. Indeed, Ian mentions it in his last post. I just don't feel as though I am achieving anything, no matter what I do. The house is never 'clean enough'; the food isn't 'good enough'; my grades were never 'good enough'; I was never a 'good enough' Mum, daughter, wife, friend...whatever. I always feel and have felt as though I am not cutting the mustard in many aspects of my life.
Linda appeared to identify in her comment that I was setting myself the 'perfection' standards rather than Ian setting them. And this is true. When I feel as though I am letting others down, I can and will lash out that they 'expect' me to be perfect. But it's not other people, is it? It is me feeling like a loser because I haven't met my own targets. To blame other people is cowardly of me and I am glad that I am suddenly seeing this after reading the responses to his post.
I did have 'yardsticks' to measure myself by, though as I grew up. They were imposed upon me, most definitely. I was never as beautiful as Catherine Zeta Jones; I was never as intelligent as Jan D (who is a beautiful girl and such a marvellous doctor. Just think what you could have done if you'd put your mind to it); I was not as biddable or helpful as my brother; I was not as good a daughter as Janet and Jayne a few doors down. So I had to strive to meet expectations when I didn't really know how the hell to do it. There's no way I could ever look like CZJ, despite my mother primping my hair nightly into her style; I simply didn't have Jan's innate intelligence; I didn't want to stay in the house all the time like my brother, keep quiet and clean my room every day; and Janet & Jayne had a well-off extended family who slipped them quite a lot of money and told them to treat their widowed mother on a regular basis.
Now, I am not bleating here. I'm just stating facts. Being 'good enough' and 'doing your best' were not things I was told as a child. Actually, I lie here. The one time I was told 'do your best' was over my O Levels at age 16. I was pushed into doing chemistry and history, two subjects at which I failed miserably right through my High School years despite revising my backside off. I got two 'Ungradeds' and was thus sent to Coventry for the next three weeks after having been told what a dead loss I was.
So, the self-hatred really kicks in because you never seem to meet your own ridiculously high expectations...and that's a very lonely place because you feel everyone is better than you, that you're just an otiose waste of space and taking up valuable oxygen. And thus that despair sets in because you are striving to change things, and not accepting that certain things just cannot change. I know in my logical mind that I can only look as good as me; be as intelligent as me; be as nice or horrible a person as me; and be as generous and helpful as me. So why does my illogical mind have so much control at the moment? I am fairly sure that most people outside of my family would describe me as a 'normal' person, far from irrational. But again, that's where the loneliness creeps in because you are trying to hide so much of that black character from others.
I started reading work by eminent American psychologist Carl Rogers recently - after Sue mentioning him to me and I discovered this quote:
"The human capacity for awareness and the ability to symbolize gives us enormous power, but this awareness is a double-edged phenomenon : undistorted awareness can lead to full functioning and a rich life, while distortions in awareness lead to maladjustment and a multitude of destructive behaviors" (Rogers, 1965).
So, it would appear that I need to work on my distortions in awareness - and isn't that what anorexia (or indeed any 'disorder) is about and as I have described above? Because, again according to Rogers, undistorted awareness leads to The Good Life. And I'd like a taste of that with my food.