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.

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.