i am big tree. my roots live in craters of the past. when i was sapling, i thought i’d grow to be the parent of the world. i longed to nurture my many friends in my safe, sunscreen shadows. i wanted my root-memories to thread with other memory-roots. we would knit an earth beneath the asphalt ground and make new memories! so i thought, the sapling. i stretched myself towards my solar foodstuffs like icebergs i grew rolling in the deep. thin but elastic, engineered to sway, bend, spring in my coniferous climates. roots yawned and stretched, seeking company. I’d latch onto soils and push towards the woods where i could settle, harden and lacquer my bark, blossom the risked branches. oh how fat my trunk could grow! the sapling dreamt. twigs cracked into comfort, coddled in the snow. but as the growth resumed i got distracted from the woods, pursuing patchwork plots and sickly flowers. i was a weed! dug out, composted aside. pitchforks and shovels and gardening tools made me small again. i hurt and i retreated to pre sapling form. i wished i never wished to find the woods. how stupid to grow big to be cut down. i am not lumber. i don’t want to surrender my cellulose. i am not refilling your refill pad. i will not make clearings for your hungry animals. i will not defend and fall at the frontier. i will never grow big, i shall never be parent-tree or taiga-dwarves or fossil sycamore. the future of fat trees is terrible but i will not grow fat, and they will not notice me. and then i found you. you pulled me by a shrivelroot and tied it to your own. we grew thick as thieves. we put down like potatoes. we now grow back towards the forest. fuck the orchards, the pastures, the safari parks. fuck the beaches that fuck the locals, the zoos that burn the animals. we grow tumbleweeding towards the woodlands and if they say it never existed we will say pah! how silly. two trees that don’t fall is more than enough to start a forest.
you smoke wheat
in your tiny bedroom
sipping on diet schweppes
next to me passing me the zoot
considering the ensure
source of inspiration
never quite gets an inning
i am feeling – i am feeling
but it’s only images of a good day
tainted with truncation
and small lies
our dry eyes meet but i don’t feel the heat
i am accustomed to
there goes continuum in double
rainbows in the rancid air
hung low it splits the ceiling
into its strangled fist
i cannot let you down
deters me from the needle in the hay
i stub the cigarette and lay
myself down at your holy feet
let me beat you
and you turn your cold shoulders
into the window, down the street ur hanging by a flashlight
until we are in different
spending half a day lurking on lolcow while wasted
was a terrible idea on some level
but on the other hand it made me think about the grains of truth
Anorexia nervosa is a narcissist. It performs a polarization and reduction of the self. Survivors have addressed and documented this extensively in memoir: the oscillation between self-hatred and self-indulgence, the sufferer being simultaneously crushed and upheld by disordered rituals and riddles in a poeticized tragic free fall. Life writing may have its limitations with regard to representation of eating disorders (cf Alice Gregory’s brilliant The New Yorker article Anorexia, The Impossible Subject, 2013) – but a certain truth comes through nonetheless. It really does change who you are.
Anorexia affects your whole personality. It encourages you to only relate to other people through non-verbal expression. It demands visibility but refuses to communicate. It makes you accuse everyone else of making you worse. Someone tries to help you, ruffles the feathers of the ED and you repay them with accusations, dismissal, coldness, maybe even cruelty. You watch yourself freeze over when your mum says she has nightmares about you becoming emaciated, that she wakes up crying, that she misses you. But you just feel awkward. Stunted, confused, awkward as fuck. Why is everyone making a massive deal out of it? Why does everything have to be so emotional? Why won’t people just let you be?
The longer you sit in the malnourished bubble of hatred and disgust, the harder it becomes to want or even imagine a state where you are more empathetic, caring, supportive because you have the energy and the will to do it. I’ve had several eating disorders and each one impacted my personality and relationships, but only anorexia made me unfeeling, myopic, cold. Carrie Arnold’s non-fiction title Decoding Anorexia (2012) has a literary chapter on the brain as an operating system and how AN affects every single cognitive and emotional module. Starvation affects each module, inciting panicked and extreme responses in lieu of their respective functions. Over time the changes amount to a global shift in personality. It’s reversible, if you are looking at it in terms of neuroscience or clinical psychology. What’s not reversible are all the things you end up actually saying and doing in that numbed out state, wrapped in the cotton wool of your symptoms, unwilling and eventually unable to appreciate the consequences. I still feel ashamed today for some of the things I did to facilitate my ED, lines I crossed repeatedly and with no remorse. Anorexia made me terrible to be around but too vulnerable to manage alone. Even spelling this out right now is weird, hard, eerie. I don’t feel anorexic ‘enough’ to claim the word anorexia, but i’ve started pushing myself to say it more. It’s just another illness, and its enigma-halo needs to be destroyed.
Anorexia made me really shit, and I did shitty things to keep it going. It robbed me of most of much of my adolescence, destroyed my friendships, made me a freak. I spent the entirety of my first year at uni starving, bingeing and purging. I stole food and then I was sick in the shared toilets for hours every other night. Anorexia made me pull all-nighters just to restrict my intake. The exhaustion and delirium helped me numb the pangs of conscience. I reached out and got offered help but turned down a bed cos I didn’t feel underweight enough to take it, preferring to outsource those costs to people around me. I tried to limit the damage by not making friends, or so I thought. In retrospect I just wanted to keep my problem secret because I really just couldn’t fucking stop.
But now, today, I can stop. I can stop it all right now. Sometimes I think my relapse is a reward for all my suffering. Then I try to remember if I had even a single day where I didn’t feel completely disgusted by everything about myself since getting sick again. Nope, every single achievement, even in ED terms, comes with obligatory self-deprecation. Starting to look thinner, but face is ugly. Face is looking better, but body is shapeless. Body is looking sharper, but I can barely get out of bed, let alone pursue any interests or passions. Tomorrow I’m going to my partner’s for Xmas day. I am nervous as hell, cos 90% of my existence is managing, challenging and enabling my eating disorder. I lost my ability to care about anything else. For five months now I’ve let doctors and nurses make judgements for me, and when they gave me choices I only felt invalidated. The logic is that being given a choice assumes you have capacity to do so ie you are well enough to be without life support. Anorexia doesn’t like that. It tells me I’m a failure for staying out of IP, for not having a tube, for sitting down when I could stand up. It tells me freedom to make my own choices is evidence of abandonment or undesirability. It doesn’t want me to get better, and it feeds me scenarios of the future that make recovery seem like torture. It doesn’t help that you are told you are no longer anorexic when you cross over 17.5 but the mental recovery is lagging behind your body. You suspect you might just be a shitty person after all. You resign yourself to not liking yourself, convinced it’s more noble than to make an effort and raise your self-esteem.
i feel like i am actually recovering. I’ve gained a few kg over the holiday period without overeating. It is terrifying but also not surprising how rapidly the weight gain happens when you rehydrate, replenish glycogen stores etc. I feel much stronger; tasks that used to feel painfully arduous are now routine. I realize now that much of my depression was associated with the levels of exhaustion I was under. Several years ago when I was sick with BN/EDNOS I was convinced my life would be perfect if I could only stop bingeing for good. It turns out that pure restriction is hell in its own way, and the chronic deficit of energy slowly but surely grinds your life to nothing. It’s only now that I am able to sit up and type without being in pain that I realize what pain free feels like. I know right now that if I want to eat at 6am it won’t necessarily send me into a panicked state and trigger further restriction later on in the day. I still feel guilt and fear but it has become more of an episodic challenge rather than the dominant mental state. A tip to anyone struggling – I can’t emphasise enough the importance of consistently increasing the calories *and* introducing variety. I am breaking my anorexia’s rules by using what it perceives to be my disgusting weaknesses against it: creativity, spontaneity, compassion, sense of responsibility, curiosity, humour. I am taking steps to recover parts of my personality buried under illness, things that anorexia can’t give me. I realized no drug can make me want to learn if I am starved and empty; that I will never get a better job if I am paranoid and frail. I saw that the world kept living on without me, and I imagined what life would be like if I disappeared. I feel like I’ve been standing on the edge of life, peeking and slowly pulled into surrounding vacuum.
Anorexia, for me, is premised on self-destruction as a means of legitimizing continuous existence, buying forgiveness for my weaknesses, shortcoming and faults. It is simultaneously embarrassing, repetitive, sad, myopic and yet uniquely powerful as an experience. Anorexia is a deeply spiritual disease that elicits a level of commitment that I will probably never be able to replicate in any other area of my life. I am in love with my illness, and this para is a conflicted love letter to someone who has hurt me every single day since we met. It picks me up, reassures me, makes me feel like I am not alone. I am never good enough for it, but at least nothing else hurts or matters anymore. I really can distinguish it from my own personality now, which ought to be scary but instead it feels comforting, compelling, significant. It’s really difficult to explain to people that haven’t been through it that it really isn’t all or even primarily about appearance; that weight loss is merely a symptom of a latent and complex mechanism or logic. Restriction feeds the disease and makes it stronger; there is absolutely, for me at least, a sense of sharing my mental space with someone else. Anorexia sits on you and you slowly shrink beneath it, paying a heavy price for anything that ever made you an individual. You develop a compulsion for self-hatred that can be triggered by anything remotely associated with gratification. If you did something, enjoyed it but didn’t suffer to get it, anorexia will make you suffer later just to relieve the steady stream of intrusive thoughts that tell you that you don’t deserve it, that you are disgusting, that you should be crushed and you need to die a protracted death on precisely the terms it dictates you. Subsequently mundane tasks and decisions start to take on near-mythical significance. An hour spent choosing the brand of bread for your toast isn’t just about the nutritional value or net averages or BMIs or whatever; it’s an hour spent trying to convince yourself you deserve sustenance, that you will be able to live with yourself if you eat this thing, that there is still hope for things to get better. Every last boring detail is dramatized to the point of absurdity. Each moment in the smallest decision is a life-and-death inner dialogue, a constant negotiation between doing the bare minimum to physically exist vs silencing the one voice that makes life feel worth living.
An eating disorder is just one of the many shitty things that could happen to you with the right genetics and environmental influence; it is not necessarily any more or less intense, interesting or difficult to survive than any other neurological/psychiatric problem. For me however it remains my biggest challenge, as it perverts my thoughts and orchestrates my feelings in a way that is subtle enough to convince me I am the one in control. There is a cliche that eating disorders are ‘about control’ but that’s just one of the many metaphors that begin to approach its phenomenology, the what-is-it-likeness of the thing. I think I would argue that anorexia for me is more of a compulsion to lose control, to stop competing, to make predictable and manageable the levels of shame I feel for my mistakes and ‘failures’ across multiple strata of my life. Rather than hand-wringing about ‘western ideals of beauty’ perhaps we ought to question the type of society we are part of, and whether we are happy to live in a world where a human life is only worthwhile insofar as it can compete in an anarchic market space. Surviving this round of illness has left me completely battered; I don’t have a clue what to do next and whether I even have it in me to rebuild everything once more. But it has given me a few things, and one of those is the absolute certainty that I want a world order where everyone has a place and a purpose, and once I am strong enough that I intend to help build it. I hope 2019 gives me a chance to act on my convictions. /rant
first time i’ve ever journaled my experience of my hospital patient support group, but i really think it’s worth it. For context, it’s a two hour session for any current or former patients at my ED service regardless of circumstance to come together and talk about their struggles. It’s organized by two paid facilitators, both with lived experience of EDs and now fully recovered. One of them I believe was actually a patient on the ward.
everyone there feels like.. i feel like i will remember these people and that room many years from now.
We talked a lot about feeling embarrassed. Blue hair woman who has been very quiet for the last few weeks – to the extent that I’ve been worried and almost frustrated with with her for holding back – finally spoke up. She brought up feeling different and inferior, because she felt like most people in the room struggle with restriction, whereas she has ‘the opposite’ problem of bingeing and purging. Several of us were quick to reassure her this is not the case, and then the room opened up about a range of things we felt made us different and less than, and scared of judgement. It felt so strange to me to think that there could be any way in the world she would feel inferior. After all, she is so much smaller than me. The weight-restored woman was very down this week, particularly about looking healthier and people not expressing as much urgency over her meal plan as they may have done in the past. I tried to tell her that I believe her, that nothing about her would ever make me question her struggle. I also told the room that I feel isolated, and how some of my own cowardice in recovery is feeling like gaining weight will deprive me of the only space to which I feel like I tenuously belong. We also talked about using our loved ones as sort of life rafts or anchors in recovery, to the extent that can end up quite controlling. I was almost shocked to hear blue haired woman describe eating with her brother as a sort of musical piece that needs to happen in total synchronicity, or else she feels the need to reject the meal and reject any semblance of caring about it. I made a few parallels with my own relationship with R and particularly the very nascent stages of recovery where I would get upset about him eating faster or slower than me, and also being very disturbed if he needed to sleep when I needed to eat, or conflicted if he missed a meal for any reason. It made me think of how angry I got last time he brought some of my favourite foods over without my explicit blessing – not because I was expected to eat everything but because there are things about sharing food and eating with other people quite apart from the food itself that I do like, that I do crave/miss and are so hard to fit in and around my disorder. I made the room laugh on several occasions and this week more than any other week people addressed me directly or cited something I said before launching their own thought process. I felt very happy. Suddenly all the lethargy and desperation and fear was gone, and I felt completely present in the room and able to listen and contribute and learn something. When the two hours were up I felt a pang of sadness, but then coming home and writing this makes it all feel less effervescent, atomised and weird. I will never forget that little room. Maybe the first room in my recovery.
It’s been a long time since i’ve updated this.
I went through a kind of dark patch and I don’t really remember it. Everything kind of lost meaning.. I got stuck in a limbo between illness and recovery, stubbornly hovering around the same weight that I was first diagnosed at as a child. I think that number is important to me because I associate it with a kind of purity. Being the good anorexic: low-restriction, orthorexia, 2-4-6-8 (mostly without the 8). No animal products of any kind, no processed food, no cooking except steaming, no seconds of the 1 cup non dairy milk, no milk in the oat meal, no sugar, no salt, no sweets, no booze, no energy drinks, no drugs, no smoking, no gum, no nothing.
Everything was ‘cheating’ and everything was toxic and evil and evidence of my laziness and weak will. I was impulsive and secretive and volatile and dissociated. Now, I am all these things but I have developed new traits: I am controlling, highly-strung, obsessed with order, symmetry and hygiene. I am mean and sarcastic and hyper-critical. Nothing is ever good enough, everything is not worth the effort. I wish I was someone else, I wish I could abandon this shell. I want to ditch this body, and with it the anorexic cage that holds my mind hostage. I want to crawl out and into someone else’s shell, make home in their softer body and warmer personality. Someone who sees the world for what it is, not the caricature of their anxieties, perceived failures and fears. I wish I could package my soul into a brown envelope and give it to a bird to take far, far away from here, into a different country, a different life. I wish I could survive like a message in a bottle slipping from the dying hands of a castaway. I want somebody to find me, to rescue me, to tell me I don’t have to fight it all alone because we are going somewhere with clean water, with fresh sheets, with ale and people and bread and work to do and a place to fit in, to contribute, to be.
But nobody can save me and I keep clutching onto those that are trying to help with the frenzied force of a drowning man fighting for life and pulling you down with me. Down, down into the breathless gut of the earth. Life crushed into slabs of stone with tectonic indifference.
SOCRATES: And if they can get hold of this person who takes it in hand to free them from their chains and to lead them up, and if they could kill him, will they not actually kill him?
GLAUCON: They certainly will.
Yesterday R and I went for a swim in the Heath.
Muddy hills roll out their greens and yellows, reaking of summer. High heat, heavy air. Stringy, ethereal clouds tangle into a makeshift veil around a tall, smoking sun, providing little solace as we duck into a tunnelled alley to skip the heat. My trainers pounce happily on the soft rocky dirt, as hard rays of light smash through the hairy treetops. I get distracted by their gold-ness, their brightness and tesselate movement. I pretend to trap them under my feet. Slices of plant sustenance. Tree food, pure energy.
We reach the pond. The water is still, slickly green, completely opaque. There’s something sinister and scary about the water – without current there is no flow. ponds are loners and introverts. springs chatter, rivers whistle and talk. Ponds sulk, sap, rot and darken. The little bank is crowded, I panic about having nowhere to sit. The grass looks like weeds and nettles, poisonous and coarse. R asks if I want to get in the water, I complain, mumble and waste time. I think about monsters, amphibian creatures lurking beneath my feet, slipping between my toes. Is it there? Did you feel that? People are huddling by the water next to me, buzzing with conversation. We’re watching a string of ducks cut across the pond, their paddling feet sunk soundlessly into viridian jelly. Will it be cold? Will it taste like dead fish? Will it pierce my feet with abandoned glass if I let them stretch? I walk up on the wooden parapet and stare at the little lake, a puddle of unknown unknowns. R is hovering on the edge like a seagull scoping its lunch, excited to hit its element. I catch his eye and feel suddenly childlike, excited and silly. Ready? JUMP.
24-06-18 north london