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Originally published on nyxiesnook.com. Republished here with permission. Get your blog featured!
What lies below the surface of anorexia? What don’t you see on a daily basis?
As you may have guessed from older posts I am struggling a great deal with the guilt of being off work due to this eating disorder. 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 a classic mind reading behaviour. See I know what I’m doing but my ability to stop needs a little bit of work. So many people see anorexia and other eating disorders as being a physical thing; you feed her, she gains weight, job’s done. No. Job not done. Job far from f***ing done.
The Anorexia Iceberg
Eating disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, etc. All mental illnesses are similar to icebergs in that they have a bit poking out at the top that everyone can see, but a whole other world going on beneath the surface.
What people see on the surface is not all there is to it.
When the people on the Titanic (you knew the comparison was coming, let it happen) saw the iceberg they thought ‘It’s only an Iceberg; it can’t sink the unsinkable‘ but it did.
Anorexia and other eating disorders are not just about the food, they are about the mental illnesses and physical illnesses that come along for the ride.
Oh, and what a ride it is.
What lies beneath the surface?
Living with anorexia every day is like having your own self-destructive gremlin sitting on your shoulder, and you’ve accidentally fed it water after midnight. Except no one else can see this gremlin and all the horrible things it does are internalized.
The gremlin perches itself ever so neatly 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‘, you don’t even have to be in the same lane as it, but the anorexic 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, it means avoiding certain foods, it means purging, it means over-exercising and, on occasion, it even means 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 you newly slim thighs, a flat stomach that you don’t need to suck in, that you’ll be accepted, 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 it’s ideal (which is death 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.
You are 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 defence mechanism to keep everyone at arm’s length rather than let them in.
Why though? Well, it’s easier to be alone than trying to explain.
How can we make others understand when we don’t even get it?
You find yourself withdrawing for other reasons such as to avoid social situations where eating or drinking is necessary to maintain a ‘normal‘ appearance, or because you might be made to eat.
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 to 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.
The 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 the 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 about this weight (so to speak) on your shoulders day in and day out, knowing that you could very easily slip away into another statistic, but you feel 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
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 I think 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.
I can’t see what everyone else see’s anymore. I put on X grams and I see it on my thighs, while 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 the 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 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 in 3 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.
If anorexia was all on the surface it would be simple to just eat and put on weight. We’d be cured – Hallelujah! But sadly it’s not – it’s a whole storm in a teacup.
If you are recovering from an eating disorder and are experiencing things “beneath the surface,” we encourage you to check out our other articles about depression, anxiety, and body image.
My name is Chloe. I write about eating disorders and mental health (among other topics) over on my blog. I've suffered from anorexia for over 13 years and spent about 7 of those in quasi-recovery. It was only after a recent burnout in December of 2018 that I relapsed and decided, once and for all, to get the help I needed. I believe that each and every sufferer has it inside them to reach that point where food is no longer the enemy, and that full recovery is an obtainable goal.
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