20th June 2014
If you are reading this you will no doubt be aware of ED. Now enter ET 'Extra terrestrial'. My definition of 'ET' when it comes to eating disorders is 'Evil twin' but the alien nature of it fits quite well. When in the grips of an eating disorder you are replicated exactly, but you have a different mindset, that is one of the reasons why I refer to it as having an evil twin. There is almost something a bit supernatural about this, although I am not a great believer in such things, I can identify with the concept because when you are in the grips of an eating disorder you feel that you are a victim of mind arrest. It is like another force is with you.
The other word that has profound importance here is the word twin. I have a twin, but not through birth or choice but by an invasion of something else that I let a part of me be susceptible to. I have a sister of my own, I have a family but unlike ET who urged you to 'phone home' your ED will tell you quite the opposite, 'don't let them in, keep to yourself' because at the end of the day conversation with anyone who loves you will cause conflict and that you must avoid. So you retreat into yourself and you become increasingly self absorbed. Your evil twin will make you feel like the two of you are living on another planet. He/she will encourage you to stay in your comfortable state of limbo, where you find solace, no questions, great, no answers or explanations are required.
Frankly, eating disorders alienate you from your friends and family. In my experience your friends are the first to go, or should I say you extract yourself from your social circle. True friends will not go away so easily, they will keep urging you to put on weight or stop your disordered behaviours and they will challenge you. All of this is purely out of concern, because they care about you. You however, will not see it like that, your evil twin will tell you that you are being persecuted and fill your head with a web of lies to feed them, to get the hell out of dodge. Telling bare faced lies to the people that care about you just makes you hate yourself even more and strengthens your bond with your evil twin. My true friends have stood by me, you soon realise who they are when you are rock bottom, this doesn't mean that I don't exasperate them enormously, with my dreadful stubbornness and my resistance to change but they are hanging in there.
Anorexia and bulimia are lonely illnesses because you are convinced that nobody can possibly understand what you are going through. It is easier to keep bulimia a secret, I still managed to maintain a fairly decent social life during my bulimic phases, unless I hit a point where I had been chained to the toilet for that long, that I couldn't bear to leave the house. This is because my clothes still fitted me, I could still go out and eat and I could enjoy a few drinks. I was thin sure, but not so thin that I turned heads in alarm. Anorexia when it gets you becomes increasingly difficult to hide and the worse it gets the more you will want to be invisible. Once you get so thin that your bones stick out and your face resembles the painting 'The Scream' by Edvard Munch, people start to stare and most of them don't even bother trying to hide it. People will make comments in your earshot with no thought for your emotional state and it will make you want to run away and be left alone. Anorexia also leaves you with a coat of fur. This fuzzy hair is called 'lanugo' and it is produced by the body as a way of warming you up. The eyes of an anoretic have been described by others as looking haunted. Basically you look deathly ill, a consultant who I admired enormously once said to me ' Do we live in a third world country?' 'No' of course was my reply 'Well why do you look like a famine victim then?' This was their first attempt to get me into hospital but I fought to stay out just like I am doing now.
This constant fighting is tiring though and it takes its toll on your relationships with loved ones in a way you will probably never understand. You are far too busy obsessing about you. The evil twin will become so possessive that he/she will do her level best to ostracize you from your family. My evil twin did a pretty good job with my sister, who I love to bits but she struggles with all of this and she gets angry with me for upsetting my Mum. There has always been an unhealthy dose of sibling rivalry between the two of us, a lifelong competition to outdo each other, which was established by my Dad from a very young age. Our tumultuous relationship has been at an all time low over the past year. Our closeness has deteriorated as quickly as my weight. My Mum, I am lucky to say has been amazing. She has done much research into this illness and for someone who has never been there she is pretty clued up. She knows how to handle me and ironically we have never been closer, shame that I had to get so ill to truly appreciate what a wonderful woman she is. I feel enormous guilt when I think about what I am putting her through, she has had a hard enough life and she is one of my main motivations to beat this illness and divorce my evil twin. My Dad and I only have sporadic contact during which time he generally insults me, or makes a very poor attempt at humour. To give you a snapshot of my Dad he once said to my partner 'You want to get rid of her, she is a skinny mess' nothing like a bit of family loyalty to keep your spirits up.
Now the tough bit, the effect that these illnesses have on your relationship with your partner. I cannot begin to imagine how they cope with watching you self destruct and waste away day by day. The sense of hopelessness and frustration must be insurmountable because they know that they are powerless and to some extent they are. What they do give you though is hope, if someone really loves you they will stand by you, no matter how difficult you make it and how much you try to shut them out. They will coax you to stick to your meal plan and they will beg you not to exercise and at times you will look into their pleading eyes and comply, unfortunately not as many times as you need to. My long suffering partner has been my rock, without him I don't know if I would be here today. I despise myself for putting him through this and he is my ultimate motivation to get well.
He knew that I had an eating disorder when we met and he was brave enough to take me on, but I was managing it then and for a while I was doing really well. I had a good job, we had a great social life and loved our yearly holidays. Now I rarely go out, as I am so self conscious about how ghastly I look. Going out for meals has gone out of the window and nothing fits me. I look in the mirror now and I think 'Jeez this is hardly what he signed up for' I know that he doesn't like the way that I look now, but he never puts me down and still tells me that I am beautiful inside and out, if only I could believe that.
Anorexia also makes you fear intimacy, you hate your skeletal body, so you want to cover it up and it becomes hard to express affection or receive it because you just don't feel worthy of it. Why you continue to starve yourself when you know all of this, is the million dollar question, it just doesn't make any sense. I am hoping through writing this, that I am going to find some clarity in my eating disordered brain and find the strength that I need to come through this, not just for me but for those around me. Your evil twin is exactly what he/she says on the tin 'EVIL' and will bring you down quicker than you can add up those calories. It is time to find room for the voices of those who care, we owe them that much at least.