Just so you know – I’m going to write about the life I lived when I had an eating disorder. There are no pictures and there are no numbers but it’s a post about having an eating disorder. So now you know, in case you’d rather not read.
I hope you’ll forgive the title. I pinched it from the Smiths, one of my go to bands when the going gets tough (and good, and middling. I love the Smiths, me). It seemed appropriate, given the things that have been on my mind this week and carries NO significance beyond being a pretty good song and a straightforward statement of fact. Human women people, much like human men people believe it or not, come in all shapes and sizes and some of them are indeed, bigger, smaller, taller, shorter and all kinds of other things than others.
I write an open and honest blog about the experiences I have with poor mental health: that’s what I do here. I’ve written openly, and honestly about depression, and self-harm and suicidal behaviour because that is my truth and because I refuse to apologise for the pain I have felt. But this is my other truth: there are some things that never get better, and never go away. Some things stay with you, because some things, it seems, are sewn into your very soul.
I’ve never written about my eating disorder, not really. I’ve alluded to it, and danced around it, and acknowledged it without ever really saying anything about it. Why? Because of all the things I’ve felt, and all the things I’ve thought, the things I’ve felt and thought about food, and my weight are the things that hurt the most.
I couldn’t tell you where it started: I’d love to know how I ended up with this particular monkey on my back. In my mind, looking back, I know that my body started changing and I know that it felt wrong. I remember feeling ‘wobbly’ in the bodily sense, and I remember knowing, somehow, that I didn’t want to feel that feeling. There was a point, that I just wanted it to stop: the growing up, the changing body, the being in charge…. I wanted to disappear, to be invisible – I don’t know how or why I came to think that way, but I did.
As for the way I felt? I can’t begin to find the words. Of all the things I’ve felt the way I felt then, in my teens and early twenties, are the only feelings that I can’t bring to life with words. It was a time of ritual, and numbers, and fear, and horror: there has been no horror in my head quite like the horror that the eating disorder put there. To have an eating disorder is to become so absolutely and completely lost that ‘self’ becomes an impossible concept. There is no self – no anything, in the face of a monster like that. They’re sneaky little bastards, eating disorders – they hang around in the background, changing your habits, thoughts, behaviours and instincts. Before you realise it they’re there in the foreground and you’ve completely lost track of which way is up.
For most of my eating disorder my weight was a little low but completely stable. Those were the darkest times because those were the times when I had no help – I was hiding in plain sight. I lived with it alone, I tended it alone, I stoked the fires alone. Then, of course, there were the times when things weren’t quite so stable when my weight became too low, dangerously low, low enough to set alarm bells ringing.
My recovery was a slow one because it took me years to get past the notion that I could ‘get away with it’ and do things my way without anyone noticing. Put plainly, I got used to thinking everything was fine so long as I could convince others, by way of stable weight, that everything was fine. As I’ve already said – eating disorders are sneaky little bastards that conspire to keep you ill against your better judgement.
Nowadays I don’t pretend that my eating disorder isn’t there anymore. I wake up every single morning, look it square in the face and know, for that day, I’m winning. I struggle when I’m hungry, especially in the morning, because there’s a little eating disorder voice challenging me, and coaxing me to keep the hunger going. Every single day of my life I hear that voice and I override it. Because that’s what beating an eating disorder feels like. Every single day of my life I come across food that belongs on a list of ‘banned food’ and I eat it, if I’m hungry. Because that’s what beating an eating disorder feels like. Every single day of my life I refuse to count, and I refuse to weigh and I refuse to feel sorry for nourishing my body. Because that’s what beating an eating disorder feels like.
I was surprised, when I finally got to a point in my life that food and weight and guilt and control didn’t rule it, to discover that things STILL weren’t perfect. Right now I know that I’m still bleak, and over enthusiastic, and compulsive, and secretive, and frightened, and angry, and overwhelmed, and awesome, and hopeful, and happy and a MILLION AND ONE kinds of things. And that’s okay, because that’s what beating an eating disorder feels like. It feels imperfect, but it feels like life, and it feels an awful lot better than it did before…….
Love you all lots like jelly tots,