This is a lighter look at my experience of living with Anorexia Nervosa, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since I was fourteen years old. Please be aware that this blog may be highly triggering for people experiencing these disorders, and if you believe you will be triggered, please do not continue to read. This is intended to be a humorous and honest look at my experience with mental illness; it is not intended to be offensive. Most things in life can be funny, your personal experience with mental illness included.
Help for mental illnesses for young people in Australia can be found at Headspace. Recovery is possible. http://www.headspace.org.au/
This blog is inspired by the song ‘Ghost’ by Ella Henderson. I encourage you to listen to this as you read.
Be kind to yourselves,
“Do I want to die from the inside out or the outside in?”
-Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls
In my house, nothing is off limits when it comes to making jokes. Incurable genetic disorder? Ahh, that’s excellent comedy material, and even better that we can triple the weight of the one joke. Mum’s critical illness? Hilarious. Each ICU admission and intubation provides more mileage. Dad and brother’s Aspergers Syndrome? Those jokes are always hilarious, only they are always lost on Dad and brother, which only serves to make it funnier.
There is one joke in our house which has stood the test of time.
‘What do you call someone who isn’t Anorexic?’
Of course, to anyone else, this wouldn’t be funny. Not even for those with the darkest of comedic sense. Maybe my family finds humor in the disguise of a coping mechanism. The truth is, I think they have simply had one too many lasagna thrown at their heads. The thing that is funniest about this joke is that it’s all true.
Anorexics are never Anorexic.
God knows I wasn’t, and how dare you suggest it in the first place. I was being healthy. I was just doing my physio. I already ate. I didn’t feel well. And if things got really desperate, I would finally explain to you slowly, deliberately (fully aware that you were as daft a box of frogs and unlikely to comprehend what I was saying to you regardless) that the medical industry was not aligned with the social industry, and it best you familiarise yourself with the latest Cosmopolitan magazine so that you could appreciate just how far off the mark you really were.
What was the trigger?
That’s the first thing people ask me when I come clean. They look at me, a quiet mix of horror and fascination pressed upon their lips. As though it were a single event, a lone crazed gunman, storming through my synapse in a trench coat with an air of disillusion.
You are going to be disappointed. But there was no trigger, or at least not in the way that you imagine. Biology loaded the gun, and life pulled the trigger.
I was born with the mind of an Anorectic. Obsessive, chronically anxious, a perfectionist, highly sensitive to the emotions of others. From the very beginning, my obsessions revolved around the safety of my family. As a four year old girl I learnt how to resuscitate my critically ill youngest brother, and it became second nature. It was just life. Mum and Dad claim that they would do things differently now, but the truth is, they never had a choice. Their youngest was dying, and their eldest was going to do her best to help keep him alive, whether or not the responsibility was allocated to her.
Every single evening, once I was sure my parents were finally asleep, I would sneak around the house, careful to ensure my secret remained that. Flick. Click. Snap. Tap. Every light and every switch would be checked, double checked, and 52nd checked. Finally, with the night deep and full, I would finally allow myself permission to totter off to bed, knowing that tonight, my family would not burn to death in a freak electrical fire. And then at five thirty every morning, the same sounds from the kitchen as Dad got ready for work.
Jesus bloody fucking Christ. Why is the fridge unplugged again?!
Dad still shakes his head and continues to be tormented by the electrical poltergeists of the past.
Then the hand washing began.
‘Jess, are you washing your hands again?’
‘…..No. I am….baptizing them…under the taps….’
Of course, maybe baptizing them wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. At least that way it would prove as a greater safeguard against contamination. And for a few years, this worked. Later I would learn that not even baptized hands can protect one from incurable genetic disorders.
I had my biology. And now I had my trigger. Beautiful intelligent, neurotic girl becomes seriously ill, emaciated, crippled, Prednisolone moonfaced, neurotic girl.
And it was as simple and as complicated as that.
So then came the secret sessions with the scale, the forbidden fruit in the shower, the lasagna thrown at my Mum’s sobbing face, the obsessively applied makeup, the years in Eating Disorder treatment programs.
But I went into recovery.
The thing is, no one tells you what ‘in recovery’ means.
And this is where I find my ghost.
I am in recovery, and I have been for some years. I just don’t entirely know what that means. I no longer actively attempt to starve myself into oblivion, but nor do I actively try to nourish myself. I don’t avoid food, but nor do I seek it out. I think that I am beautiful, but I still cried when my brother told me I wasn’t as pretty as a model (Siblings with Aspergers are fantastic for no pulled punches, brutal, stinging honesty). I don’t hate my body, but I don’t necessarily love it either.
There was once a time, for many years during my attempts to enter recovery, that I would turn to my Eating Disorder every time the going got tough. Got dumped? It’s okay, there is a starvation method for that. Progression of disease? You fuck me over, body, I fuck you over. Bullied to the edge at school? That’s fine, I have an Eating Disorder in my corner bitches.
Somehow though, over the years, I have discovered that I no longer have a need for my Eating Disorder. It no longer serves me a purpose. It has inexplicably become obsolete. In the past twelve months my Mum has almost lost her life twelve times. I lost my dream career of nursing, and left an emotionally abusive relationship. But not once did I turn to my Eating Disorder. At times I was proud. More often than not, I was frustrated. I didn’t know what to do with the pain anymore. Here’s the crazy thing; I just had to feel it. And be with it. It’s funny just how all too often we choose escape in place of the raw bloody experience of reality.
Do not make the mistake of believing that this to be confirmation that I no longer have the thoughts or feelings associated with an Eating Disorder. I still have intrusive thoughts of starvation, an at times overwhelming desire to restrict, constrict, cease and desist.
I could act upon them. I want to, or at least my Eating Disorder does.
Finally I decide that I have better things to do with my life.
So this is where I am at. A recovery purgatory. Not Disordered, but not Recovered. I am learning and I am loving. Today I made muffins, and I ate them. Last night I told my Mum to fuck off for eating her dinner in a way that my mind decided was not ‘acceptable’. I continue to break my foods into tiny pieces, and I bend my belly over, wonderfully fascinated with the soft folds that is beautiful flesh in place of bone. I still cannot bring myself to open my eyes while preparing meat, and continue to fill the house with smoke, for it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to meat with the potential to be undercooked. Dad still shouts the occasional Jesusbloodyfuckingchrist at five in the morning. I choose moments where I feel confident enough to eat mindfully, and will allow myself to be consciously aware of the experience of eating, if only for a minute. I can go to the post office and hospital without makeup, and I no longer need to edit my Instagram photos.
This is where I am at. I am a work in progress. There was once a time that I did not allow myself to believe in ‘Recovered’. These days I realise that isn’t good enough.
So I will keep going to the river to pray.
I will allow it to wash all this pain away.
And I will sleep all the demons away.
But I won’t let the ghost keep me awake anymore.
And now I am off to eat a muffin. It turns out I can make my muffins, and eat them too.