winowna r

A very primal, deep-seated thing

I believe that the anorexic condition is a very primal and deep-seated thing. Our current culture is obsessed with the physical and our bodily appearance and so we couch anorexia as a “slimmers disease” (awful phrase) and even anorexics themselves think they want to be thin because our society values thinness. In a more religious age, it was less a disease and more a display of aecetic piety, a bypass of the suspect, sensuous, earthy appetites. Saints fasted, anorexics could hide their disease behind a screen of spiritual purification.
Regardless of cultural interpretations anorexia, I believe, has always been with us in the 5% or so of the population. It may seem to be triggered by a conscious decision to adhere to our cultures over-valuing of slenderness and demonisation of fat. But in the anorexic individual it comes from much deeper, it’s the result of arrested or damaged psychic development. Rejection of food is the unifying symptom but let’s not misattribute it to a desire to be thin.
We are all subjected to our culture’s love of slenderness and not all of us develop anorexia. Anorexics don’t develop anorexia because they are the popularly imagined cognitively-deficient weak women who believe everything the fashion and diet industry tells them. And the sooner we get over this misconception the better for us all. Lets assume that the anorexic is predisposed to starve and treat them as a soul and mind, rather than treating them with this current fascile approach where we try to culturally re-educate them. Oh no dear, thin is in but emaciated isn’t – you clearly just didn’t understand the message.
People say why can’t you eat without all this silly angst? Why can’t you just eat? “What’s the worst that could happen?”
The always undefined Worst is psychic demise. The sky will fall in, everyone will be doomed and suffering will wash over all in existence. It will all be my fault and I have to stay strong and avoid food to ensure the continued existence of the universe – at least from my point of view. I can’t emphasise it enough – eating is psychic death.
This isn’t often, if ever, a consciously articulated belief, it comes from deep in the subconscious. The subconscious is infantile and thinks its own point of view is reality. It thinks if it dies, reality ends. And what it believes, is reality. Which is what makes every subconscious conflict such a monumental battle of emotions and produces almost insurmountable blockages in our behaviour – blocks we can barely perceive, let alone ‘reason out’.
Fundamental to the anorexics subconscious, psychic, soul makeup is a lack of boundaries. We have a weak sense of identity and little distinction between ourselves and our environment. This is no nirvana-like surrender to being one with the universe, it’s a cause of much pain and anguish.
On a conscious, day-to-day level we measure ourselves and our self-esteem by what others tell us about ourselves. We don’t know where our minds begin or end because we internalise cultural messages. We feel unable to say “no” and bend to others’ wills until we snap and say “no” to everything because we never learned moderation, we live in a binary, black and white world. It’s a childish way of thinking and until we snap our arrested development is hidden because intellectually we are mature, we put on a good show of developing normally. Of course, you cant support an adult life when internally your internal cognitive and emotional life the one-dimensional life of a young child.
Almost always, the anorexic has perceived a relentless assault on her boundaries during her life, and what is more she is overly-sensitive to her boundaries because she is aware they are so weak. Sexual assault is the most dramatic example, but there are other culmulative and minor boundary invasions which can damage a person, some examples which come to mind are:-
Over-protective parents who hover and never let the child truly test herself against her environment or develop confidence in her own abilities and separation from the parental unit.
The current cultural obsession with judging people on their bodies and making assumptions about the character of a person based on their appearance.  
Having too many people dependant on herself – whether this is perceived or real dependence. Even young children sometimes take on responsibility for their parent’s emotional needs so this can be a lifelong burden.
Simply an overriding desire to please or avoid conflict - to the point of denying all her personal opinions and feelings.
Anorexia has often been characterised as the “good girls’ disease”, it’s the disease of people pleasers and over-achivers. Often these girls are so good because they feel they have no other option. To displease or disappoint is such a fearful prospect they will martyr themselves. Bound up with this is their inability to feel a sense or reward or achievement yet a strong sense of failure or disapproval. Imagine a life spent scrabbling to be perfect and never pausing to enjoy the moments when perfection is achieved. That’s the internal life of an anorexic. It wears you out.
I should make the distinction that the anorexic isn’t simply ignoring her own will and opinions to conform with her social group. She is actually sacrificing her sense of self and existing purely in the will of the group, she is whatever washes over her and never herself. A person with weak boundaries has a weak sense of self. They are always at the mercy of their environment and have no reassuring anchor. Nothing can reassure the anorexic, and she certainly cannot rely upon her self.
Naturally, this lack of a concrete sense of self becomes a festering wound, a sense of great trauma.
And in response to this, sometimes gradually but often suddenly, she will begin to fear everything, especially the physical world around her. It is all threatening to wash her away like a tidal wave. In this context, I think the refusal of food is very understandable. Confusing the physical and the psychical boundaries she will not allow the foreign body of food into herself. She becomes a fortress in response to lifelong attack.
I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say that food is analogous to rape, when its forced upon the anorexic patient in a family or clinical setting. There’s no reasoning with the subconscious. Sadly, the disease anorexia gives us the choice of force feeding or death. Rape or death. Psychic death or death. Death or death. Submit and forsake the self now for the chance of rebuilding the self in the future when your body is healthier or retain your flaky sense of self and die intact.
That’s what you’re asking of the anorexic when you ask her to eat.

I could say more about the effects of starvation on the brain, Fight or Flight, exposure to oestrogen in the womb predisposing you to worry and stress, Freudian takes on anorexia (oh god Freud) and western cultural attitudes to fat and the body. Oh, and the Maudsley approach. But I won’t. This is a pretty rough bit of writing and its something I might expand on but for now I just wanted to get it out there. Hopefully it’ll encourage thought, even if the reader totally disagrees with me. Thats why I blog.


An update

Well, the first six months of 2011 were not good for me.
I fucked over my life in an entirely new way - Agoraphobia! At first I would panic if I had to walk down certain streets. Then I couldn't go more than 500 meters from my house. Then I couldn't answer the phone or the door. Even to people I knew.
And as you can imagine not being able to talk to anyone on the phone or the internet or see anyone in person at the benefits office or go into work I was living a pretty stoneage existance for a while. When you're hoping they send a bailiff round because of your unpaid bills just so you can ask for help with your empty cupboards and unfilled prescriptions - it's pretty bad. Shameful and squalid and a big knock to my sense of self-reliance. There was depressive psychosis and  very confused suicide attempts which led to lots of bad noise and attention from doctors and mental health workers.

I'm better now though. I can write coherently and I've even started drawing and sculpting again. I've gone cold turkey on the antidepressants (dont try this at home kids) and my tenancy ran out so I left the boyfriend and moved back in with the parents. I sold some more art. I'm getting my life back together and one day I may even get out of debt.
Well, maybe that's a bit optimistic.

Anyway, that's where I've been in my absence.
I'm going through one of my good phases where I don't indulge in reading eating disorder related material. Which is always for the purposes of triggering myself, no matter how much I pretend its legitimate research. I consistantly gain and lose the same 10lb like a normal person and I have virtually no 'bad foods'. I'm not effective or happy but I'm functioning and grateful. 

It would be egotistical to apologise for my lack of posts and coments, but I do apologise for my unnanounced absence. I think about those on my friends list often and even if I don't always comment I am glad to read your posts. I've learned more about myself by reading ED blogs, journals and scientific papers online than I ever have on the therapists couch. 

lost dog

Happy belated new year, LJ.
I'm sorry I went AWOL. My ED update is simple enough, - I lost some over xmas (staying with my food-phobic parents) then gained some this month and now I'm ambivolent about getting back on track. I'm maintaining and trying to restrict more yet I know what I should really do is put all these concerns out of my mind, eat intuitively and get on with my life. As if. I'm cutting back to 500cal again tomorrow. Yeah. Phew.

I've been dodging phonecalls and emails and not going into my internship. I hate hate hate being unreliable but not as much as I hate dealing with real life right now. I'm applying for jobs and talking the talk but I dont really want the future I'm chasing. I'm like electricity - I like to take the path of least resistance, I'm just not sure what that is right now. I'm also trying to convince myself I love my boyfriend and I want to look for a new house with him. I have a horrible suspicion this is what love is - you make it work out of guilt or naivety and after a decade of making do you've become dependant on each other.
God, I'm such a lame misanthropic bitch. I'm too old to be so melodramatic and too young to be so jaded.

Aside from all that personal blah, there's a lost dog outside my house, it's an Akita and I'm scared of it but it's wandering in front of trafic, in front of a school and I feel I ought to do something. I probably won't though. I always feel bad for lost dogs, they seem to alternate between gleeful interest in their surroundings and dire anxiety about not knowing where to go next. If it keeps going on the road, I'm calling on the dog warden.

A retarded part of my brain suggested that blogging here is just a way my disorder perpetuates itself and that I should refuse to engage with ED related thoughts. But I know that journalling here has helped me understand myself so much better, there's a fine line between pandering to the disorder and working out my own issues but I'm mostly aware of where that line is. Over the last six months, I've really worked hard at consolidating my sense of self, which I justify by considering it an investment in my future. Yeah, I was probably supposed to do that during childhood but those processes were arrested and I'm now perceptive enough to know I need to work on myself as I also work on my future and public persona.

Hope everyone is doing ok, I'll be back on LJ to catch up soon.

Just checking in

I've not been posting much over the xmas holiday, I've not been restricting much either. I'd like to apologise but I don't think anyone but me is too bothered. For now, however, I'd love to share a dull animated video with you wonderful folks.

Stick with it to the end and it's worth hearing. Like the article on cracked "5 ways stores use science to trick you into buying crap" Its stuff we all know but need to keep hearing. I'm posting this from my mum's laptop so I hope it works.
Happy New Year everyone! I'd like to buy you all a glass of champagne (OK, sparkling wine) and chuck some glitter at you :D

I got it!!!! Maybe.

I've been reading Jungian interpretations of EDs. I'm a skeptic in general but I think it's interesting how I've had so many of the dreams described by other ED patients. Since forever. This page is worth a read as an intro.
I also was also forced to engage my brain when I read back something I'd written in my offline journal: It's not enough to want to recover.
This is the fundamental truth of everything I've been trying to figure out all these months of research and soul-seeking. I'm no longer guilty for failing at recovery and I dont think wanting it is enough.
(My ADD is making me make a note: say remind me to do a post about why I used to hate maudsley and like it now lets hope I re-read this. Hey, journalling is all about stream of consciousness, right....)
The short version I'm going to present here is that therapists have endorsed my desire to "draw a line under my problems" recover once and for all and figure it all out. That's impossible when you're ED'd by nature. You've got it for life, like the lupus I've just been diagnosed with. There are periods of remission but it's something you always have a tendancy towards. I cannot change my personality, which is anorexic. I almost want to write a book addressing this. I'm not pessimistic, I advocate lifelong remission but I also think a lot of the  anorexic traits we are forced to fight in recovery are personality traits and I think it's better to accept people for what they are and help them to live than to try and change them.
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(no subject)

On Friday I ate a normal amount of food, socially. Normal for a normal person, not normal for me that is. It was a total carb-fest and there was alcohol. Oh well. I can do that once in a while without freaking out too much. I still feel guilty though, hence using LJ as my confessional. Today I've had a yoghurt and 2 bowls of cereal. It's always going to feel like too much but I know that's not too bad. I hate caring so much about food when I know, really, at some level, it's just food and it doesn't deserve to have such power over me. 

I cant think of anything interesting or insightful to post right now so here's a self portrait I've started painting.
It's terrifyingly lifelike.



Shock horror - I've been spending money. Just went and blew $1.99 on a new LJ user head because it's Rene Magritte and that's all the reason I needed. I've also been feeding my 90's obsession buying old magazines on ebay, if I turn up anything scannable I'll post it here. Then I got sidetracked looking at 90's hairstyles. I love hairstyle models, some of them look so gauche especially this girl, I mean, even I know not to hyper-extend my knee like that in photos, it just looks odd. Oh here she is again rocking a look I'd love to bring back today, ...if not that pose.

I know it's dated but I was thinking about Primal Theory and it's explanation of neuroses as being formed in infancy in reaction to our basic infantile needs not being met. Here's what the wikipedia page says :-

  "Primal theory contends that many or most people suffer from some degree of neurosis. This neurosis begins very early in life (especially in the "critical period"—birth plus the first three years) as a result of needs not being met. There may be one or more isolated traumatic events but more often it's a case of daily neglect or abuse.
Neurosis therefore may begin to develop at birth, or even before, with "first line" Pains. Subsequent Pain is thought to be added on top of previous pain in what is called "compounding" the Pain.
Throughout childhood more elaborate "defenses" develop as the early unmet needs keep pressing for satisfaction in symbolic and therefore inevitably unsatisfying ways."

I dont think everything that's 'wrong' with a person can be traced back to just their early experiences. But I do think there's a part of us that always operates at the level of that baby - a proto-personality who only knows that they have needs which are either met of frustrated. Apparently I was a very needy baby, I wanted a lot of contact and attention. My mother blames her arthritic wrists on having to cary me around so much. Whatever. A study I read about in Just the Way You Are by Winnifred Gallagher found that babies seek out and thrive on physical contact more than anything else, even food. I might have seemed demanding to my parents but from my point of view I was just trying to get my developmental needs met. I wasn't fully booted up as a person yet and my knowledge and feelings about my existance were very black-and-white. I was either happy and having my needs met and the world was great or I was abject and not having my needs met and knew only unhappiness. I didn't have a concept of waiting 'or in a minute', I just lived in the moment and it was either good or bad. That's a pretty dramatic and powerful way to live but that's what babies experience.
And although we are all born with certain innate personality factors, animal studies like the one described in this cool article: "The Brain: The Switches That Can Turn Mental Illness On and Off " suggest these early developmental experiences do influence the adults we become and how we deal with adversity. Blaming the parents/upbringing for EDs is passe and even contraversial these days and I wouldnt for a second blame my parents, they've alwys been awesome. Still, I find it interesting to consider that perhaps as a excessively demanding and clingy baby by nature, if some of my needs (enevitably) weren't met it might have had a hand in shaping the anxious and reserved adult I am today.

hugs and drugs

My anaconda don't want none

OK, was going to go to the docs today but realised my appointment is next monday. Derp.
Retrieved my coat from lost property, paid off my rent and walked all over finishing my xmas shopping was doing good then decided I was allowed a small skinny latte for lunch plus my veggies for home and the BF had cooked quorn chilli and cous cous. I have no idea how many calories and it's bugging me intensely. Pathetic. I just hopped on the elliptical to try and assuage some of the angst but it didn't work.

I've been thinking about personal responsibility in recovery. When I've been through the treatment system before I've experienced an emphasis on taking personal responsibility "owning the process" and was told I needed to be ready to recover. I've since come round to think maybe that's not ideal, especially not from the very beginning of treatment. I was never going to be ready and I felt intensely guilty that I was failing at recovery. In most aspects of life I'm very keen on people being responsible but I don't think the majority of ED sufferers are able to take responsibility for themselves. This insiduous myth of choosing to become disordered persists, it's a mental illness like any other and implying that a sufferer can also choose to get well and make good decisions for their own wellbeing does them a disservice.

Obviously, at some point the patient is going have to leave treatment and manage their own intake but I've wasted so long choosing my inadequate meal plans and and trying to direct my own treatment when I needed to be shown what to eat and taught how to think and behave from the beginning. I also put up a display of compliance but was always skeptical about recovery, if I'm honest. I think those are the two issues that can't be emphasised enough (1) Eating Disordered people have proved they can't handle being in control of their own nutrition, just putting them in treatment and taking a hands-off approach isn't going to magically solve that problem. (2) They are, almost by definition, resistant to treatment whether openly or not. Expecting an ED patient to take too much responsibility for their treatment is as bad as telling them they just need to go home and eat a sandwich.

I'm also not keen on the word recovery. I know a lot of people will disagree with me but I much prefer the word remission instead. It's pretty much accepted that ED's have some of their roots in the sufferer's personality and genetics. Therapy and nutritional stabilisation can help manage these inherant factors but they're not going to eradicate them (why would I even want to?). Personally, I'm always going to be the kind of person who slips easilly into anorexia. I'm not looking to be cured anymore. I'm looking for ways to live sucessfully despite that tendancy. That's not defeatist, I hope I can have a lifelong remission, but I'm not going to call myself cured or recovered. 

On a final WTF note, the BF just tried to tell me that Baby Got Back by Sir Mixalot is somehow empowering to women. This is what I mean when I say feminism still has a lot to achieve. (It's still a good record, though).

I'd thank them if they werent so shit

I don't want to jinx it buuuut: I just got a call from the jobcentre and it looks like my new claim for benefits has finally been ok'd and they're going to pay me. And they're working on my backdated claim. I've had no income since July (JULY!) so you can imagine what a shitty existance I've had. I won't get a lot of money but it'll help me pay off my rent backlog before I end up homeless, hopefully. I used to work for local government so I know how ineffective and complacent these organisations can be. I just celebrated with a double vodka for dinner while I'm waiting to go work on the bar att he gallery. Fuck 5 a day, I'm celebrating.

I'm using my university staff status to brows the academic journals again, saving a few from the International Journal of Eating Disorders, I'll give them a thorough reading later and post anything interesting I learn here. It's triggering stuff though, when you inadvertantly come across a table of ridiculously low BMIs in an article about (admittedly) terminal patients.  

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So tired.

Cue the House references, I think I have lupus.
I've been getting a malar rash on my face on and off for a couple of years now, which comes with a bright red rash on my body. I also have periods where I'm to tired to get up or do anything with fever, mouth ulcers and sore joints. I don't want to go to the doctors and say "hey, I think I have systemic lupus" though. I think they already think I'm a malingerer. Also, I'm too fucking tired.
Somewhere on my early medical notes it says "neurotic mother" because my mum kept taking me to the Drs when I was a kid. Then another Dr thought I was being abused by my parents because I was always covered in bruises and breaking bones. I was just clumsy. Somewhere else in my medical notes it says I'm a lesbian because that's what I told a Freudian shrink for no reason I can recall. He made me draw pictures of myself and kept them in a file. Oh and I made another therapist cry. I'd love to have a look at my lifes worth of medical notes to see what all these people have thought of me. There were apparently some photos taken at the scene of an accident where I got some pretty gory injuries. I was always disappointed I never got to see them. I'd totally send them to :D

I need to spend this afternoon when I get back from the pit of despair jobcentre catching up with my online life. I've been coming home from the gallery and pretty much just grabbing some food and going to bed lately.