What lies below the surface of anorexia, and what don’t you see on a daily basis?
I’ve been struggling a great deal with feelings of guilt and shame. I’m terrified to put on weight, not just because of the eating disordered voice, but because I think that others will look at me and say ‘Her? Nothing wrong with her, she’s faking it.’
This is classic mind-reading behaviour. I know what I’m doing but my ability to stop needs a little work. Many people see eating disorders as being a physical thing; you feed her, she gains weight, and the job’s done. No. Job not done. Job far from frigging done.
Anorexia; An Iceberg.
The comparison of anorexia to an iceberg is not unheard of. In fact, the iceberg analogy is used across a wide variety of topics such as business and emotional regulation.
Icebergs expose a small fraction of themselves above the surface, with the rest being hidden down below. Mental illness is similar in that they have only a bit poking out at the top, but a whole other world going on beneath.
What people see on the surface is not all there is to it. When the people on the Titanic saw the iceberg they thought ‘It’s only an Iceberg, it can’t sink the unsinkable‘
But it did. Eating Disorders aren’t just about the food, they’re about the mental and physical illnesses that come along for the ride.
What lies beneath the surface?
You become caught up in manipulation.
Living with anorexia every day is like having your own self-destructive gremlin sitting on your shoulder. You’ve accidentally fed it water after midnight and now it’s grown into far more than you can handle. No one else can see this gremlin, and all the horrible things it does are internalized. The gremlin perches itself close to your ear and whispers cruel, manipulative things to you on an almost constant loop. Sometimes you don’t even have to be awake to hear it.
Anorexia manipulates you in so many ways.
It convinces you that you’re fat, and this is why you’re a failure, or why no one loves you. You might not necessarily even be in the category of ‘overweight‘, but the gremlin will convince you otherwise.
It’ll convince you that your self-worth is based solely on what you eat or don’t eat, and what the number says on the scale or on the inside of your waistband. An undesirable number leads to negative and self-deprecating behaviour. It means not eating for hours, avoiding certain foods, purging, over-exercising and, on occasion, avoiding water.
The gremlin will lure you in with promises. It’ll all be okay if you just do this or if you do what I say you’ll be happy. It promises you security, warmth, a love for your newly slim thighs, a flat stomach that you don’t need to suck in, that you’ll be accepted, and that you’ll no longer be the ugly or fat one. It’s impossible to tell you all the things that the anorexic demon says in order to draw you closer to its ideal (which is dead by the way), but it’s not dissimilar to an abusive relationship.
“Stay with me. Everyone else is crazy, they just want to control you/make you eat/make you fat.”
To put things into perspective for you; If I spoke to my best friend the way that the gremlin speaks to me, I wouldn’t have a best friend anymore.
Your life becomes shrouded in Isolation.
You’re completely isolated from everyone and everything in your life apart from the eating disorder. Whether or not you meant for this to happen, it almost always does. It becomes our defense mechanism to keep everyone at arm’s length rather than let them in.
Why? It’s easier to be alone than to try to explain. How can we make others understand when we don’t even get it?
You find yourself withdrawing for other reasons such as avoiding social situations where eating or drinking is necessary to maintain a ‘normal‘ appearance.
It can even spill over into the avoidance of family life. It can prevent you from seeing grandparents due to their inevitable ‘feeding‘ nature, and prevent them from worrying. At least that’s how it is for me. It’s not something I’m very proud of, but it’s true. I worry about going home all the time because, although I want to see them so badly, I don’t want to be forced to eat.
Isolation can come in many different forms. You can be in a room full of people and feel completely isolated by your own mind, you can be surrounded by family and friends and have your senses completely dulled by anorexia. It’s all different but all so similar as well.
Sometimes the only place I don’t feel alone is at home, with my cat and Twitter.
Anorexia is the biggest killer of all mental illnesses due to medical complications and, often, suicide. It’s immensely stressful to simply carry this weight on your shoulders day in and day out. Just knowing that you could very easily slip away into another statistic, but you’re powerless against it.
Recovery and fighting every day just to lift the fork to your mouth is enough to drive you crazy. It’s enough to tire you out completely. Some mornings I stand at the kitchen sink filling the kettle and I wonder why I’m even off work, other mornings I’m too overwhelmed to even get out of bed.
Perpetual exhaustion and physical impacts no one sees.
My body is tired and sore in places I didn’t even know it could be sore. My stomach is a constant issue, my bones ache, my muscles twitch and throb, I suffer from frequent palpitations and sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is like climbing a mountain. I am dizzy even if I do eat and I suffer from horrible headaches.
Not to mention I’m always cold.
Skewed body image.
When I look in the mirror I see a hippo. I see bumps and lumps in places they shouldn’t be, while others don’t see any of that. How you look at your own body completely changes with an eating disorder.
Bones are the goal and anything remotely ‘soft’ is out. Even if it’s meant to protect your vital organs. It’s irrational but it’s a very real vision.
As a result, I can’t see what everyone else sees anymore. If I put on X grams and I see it on my thighs, a rational person wouldn’t.
I hate every aspect of my body from my head to my toes, but it’s something I’m working on through various means, not least of all yoga and affirmations. But it’s not easy and it’s not an overnight job. Often the good things I try to tell myself don’t work and I end up crying in front of a full-length mirror at just how much closer my thighs are to each other than before.
Other mental impacts.
Mentally, other than the stress, you have intense guilt, brain fog, haziness, depression, irritation, anxiety, dissociation and a constant preoccupation with food and mealtimes.
My confidence in myself as an employee, as a partner and as a person, in general, has been completely diminished until there is nothing left. I barely have enough confidence to make a phone call or an email anymore.
The combination of all these horrible things eventually overtook me and led me to be signed off from work. My therapist asked me during one of her early sessions if I could have continued with work the way I had been, and almost immediately I told her no, no way. Not like this.
The truth is none of this has gone away, even after three months of recovery. It all sits under the surface you see, taking it’s every opportunity to bring you down. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting.