patient support group: embarrassment

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.

Quora

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Rudolf Nureyev. 1938-1993.

It was a long and unhappy process. 

From the age of 16 until well into my 20s, I ‘fought’ hunger head on. I would restrict as low as I could go, sometimes going for days on nothing but water, juice, coffee and diet coke. I turned my passion for long distance running into a private, tortured ritual. I thought I could out-starve, out-run, out-drug my hunger for good, if only I tried more, pushed harder, felt more pain. My formative years, the entire timeline of what I consider my adolescence is shot through with memories of alienated starvation, surrounded by plentitude, choice and advertising.

I starved, binged and purged my way through final exams at school, three years at art college, and then two years of my English degree. I became a drug addict, a liar and a thief. I also became deeply traumatised and unhappy. The inability to switch off not just the need to eat but also the desire for food, community and joy became a source of shame and horror, like some sort of monstrosity i constantly tried – and failed – to hide from others. It cracked my self-esteem and fractured my personality. For a decade, I got lost in a sort of cognitive time-warp, obsessed with when it all went wrong – the moment I stopped being the good restrictive anorexic and became a bulimic or binge/purge AN subtype mess. I was hospitalised, I got into debt, I lost friends and pushed away everyone who tried to love me or ‘make me fat’. I tried to end it after a month long binge cycle once, on the morning of my nineteenth birthday. It never occurred to me that to beat hunger, eating was necessary.

***

In my final year of University and the few years that followed, I went through a period of partial remission. I graduated, I found real friends, I learned new skills and achieved independence. I am deeply in love with my best friend, an achievement that flies in the face of all the abuse I subjected myself to, all the lies I told myself every day about my essential malice, narcissism and greed.

Today, I restrict only. According to clinical guidelines, I have anorexia nervosa, restrictive subtype, moderate severity. I have my ‘bodycheck’ blog, where I post pictures of my bones that I struggle to process with my hazed, dissociated, dysmorphia-inflected eyes. I found a way to enter a hostile cease-fire with hunger, eating just enough to keep it from making me completely crazy. For over ten years, I fantasized about this moment, the ability to clasp my hands around my thighs and have the fingers meet. To see that number on the scale. To look at a plate of food and say, ‘fuck it’. I am also terrified of what this might mean. I am starting to think my life might end just as it is beginning, just as the tables have turned. It takes more willpower to eat than to reject eating, to want to wake up than wish I die in my sleep. I hope I can recover, but I don’t know how. I hope your life won’t repeat my story. It all really is too short. Eat.