Notes on Personality and ED

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 Subject2013) – 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.

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