White toast x 2, butter.
Corned beef and tomato sandwich (wholemeal), 5-bean salad, side salad.
Cherry full-fat yoghurt.
‘Beanie’ burger, mashed potato, seeded salad with dressing.
…& the usual PINT of semi-skimmed milk.
When will this feeling stop?
…the waking up, every day, to this growling, noisy grumble.
Not the grumble of an empty stomach. That, of course, isn’t the case nowadays…
A permanent wasp under my skin. Yet that noise is my body, the place I’m supposed to live. A healthy BMI, and the one I’m told will put me in a much better position against a future relapse. The place I’d LIKE to live… I could choose to turn back to the over-familiar Anorexia, where the sound of that wasp can be quietened, muted sometimes even, but that’s not an option. The fly-swatter, I know how to use within in easy reach. But shouldn’t be used… all it does is trap the wasp (the thoughts/low-self esteem/anxiety and everything else an Eating Disorder masks), squashes it for a bit, until it wriggles through one of the holes and flies back round again.
That’s why I can’t trust Anorexia and those urges like tides, to control something that offers such a false but believable sense of peace in my head.
So I’ve no choice but to hurt my ears for a while.
Perhaps if I can sit with the wasp long enough, the buzzinh will dissolve into the background because I’ll no longer notice it. And the sound of being free and alive will be louder. When this body feels like a new ‘normal’ and not a threat to my state of mind, maybe the thought will become a weed I know is somewhere to be dug out, rather than a long-armed, reaching tree you’d find in a swamp, always there – it’s prickly branches protecting my self-critical thoughts from being released into the air. Instead they linger and muster, the wasp buzzing and buzzing.
I hear it the moment the curtains of my room and my eyes open… and when I hear it, I feel like I should touch it – all the wobbly bits of me, I press my boobs down convincing myself I’d feel more free and at peace without them there, I grab the cushioned parts at my hips, the lower bits of my belly – but all that touching makes it more painful. You wouldn’t put yourself in more danger by touching the wasp that’s bothering you – you’d ignore it until it went away.
But this body isn’t going away. Because that’s something I’ve chosen. And this time in recovery I’m taking responsibility for it, and not seeing this body as something that’s been forced upon me, or happened because of my emotionally changeable relationship with food. It was a decision, that although still feels incredibly difficult to come to terms with on the outside, is empowering.
Touching it makes me realise how dead Anorexia is, physically, the once reassurance of a flat ironing-board stomach, like the comfort, secure straps of a pushchair – the bones on each hip reminding me I wasn’t ‘too much’, that I wasn’t expressing on the outside any more value than what I felt inside.
So this is very much where my head and body are sending and receiving mixed messages. They feel very much contradictory. But sitting with all this noise, I hope that they will get bored of fighting and accept each other so that I can hear other things, which I am as I progress through recovery – life does feel like it’s opening up, I’ve started playing my guitar again for example and genuinely enjoying it instead of fearing what it might trigger, but the buzz, the sticky disgust I still feel towards myself is still louder than it all.
If it sounds like I’m being negative, I guess I am, but I’m not. It’s how I feel and every feeling is valid. That’s what we feel them for. I’m expressing how I really feel which is helping me feel more accepting of where I am… many of us sail through life not being honest about what’s going on inside, and trust trying to fix things on the outside. And I wouldn’t stick it out feeling this way, if I didn’t know, trust, hope and fully believe that this discomfort won’t quieten. That the benefits to come out of being at a healthy weight, and living a fuller, richer life will outweigh this current lingering body-shame.
Within the inpatient environment, as fantastic as this place is for the support and the treatment program, one thing I’ve come to realise presents as a setback when you’re trying to re-build a positive relationship with your changing body through recovery, is newly admitted patients. And the frustrating thing is, you know completely how they feel in those early stages…
I remember when I was first admitted, my head completely warped by a sergeant major and his army of numbers, terror of any ‘soft’ bits clinging to my body… knowing how much I wanted to aim for a ‘full recovery’, but also, irresistibly comparing my body to where those further in recovery were, wondering how on earth I would EVER live with myself in my own body at that size. Even though ‘that size’ was normal. Healthy. Where I am now. Those repetitive doubts about if I was ‘able’ to let go…
Well, I’m here. And I’m staying here, listening to the wasp. It doesn’t mean I’m suddenly accepting of this place, and I’m remotely far from ‘comfy’ and settled. I won’t be having a house-warming party just yet. Maybe one time soon. Ideally.
So when patients are admitted, at a similar place to where I was, I can’t help but notice their subtle glances towards my body and how Anorexia may be warping how they see me. Maybe sometimes I’m paranoid this is happening, maybe not. But it’s completely natural. It’s like starting in year 7 at secondary school, and having a curious stare at the year 11’s in the playground. How they swagger about with their backpacks with those extra years of education under their belts, almost ready to take their GCSE’s, it all seems a long way off and you could never quite imagine yourself feeling that ‘old’/’mature’.
I can empathise as I was the terrified one too, when I was physically much more ill – seeing the healthy look as one big messy, unsettling threat. And now, that’s exactly what I am to Anorexia.
Sometimes though, rather than take it personally, it can be helpful to my reasons for pushing on – I’m not just fighting Anorexia for me, but as part of the bigger world; the more people that are, we’re fighting society’s perception of body image and how this can quite drastically feed into mental health. Eating Disorder or no Eating Disorder.
We can’t help that the people we love and surround us don’t ‘like’ themselves or their bodies, or don’t seem to value themselves and that doesn’t help but rub off on us. Where does this chain end? If the people we value so much don’t value themselves, how are we supposed to learn to value ourselves too? If they’re acting like they’re not good enough then how are we supposed to trust that we’re good enough too, when we value that person… and then know that we’re allowed to treat ourselves like we ARE good enough?
It makes me sad and frustrated at how body-shaming and general self-shaming is seen as the ‘norm’, like an everyday attitude that must be born into us, and if we don’t feel that way then we must be someone special. Or big-headed.
Body-shaming is buzzing so loud it’s distracting us from realising all the good things that we are, and we’re missing out on all the good bits that other people see in us too.
If you hear your own wasp, don’t pretend it’s not there. Talk about it.
Then decide if you want to keep swatting away that body-shame with temporary coping mechanisms, let it linger and accept that it’s always going to be there… or work on focusing your energy on the things that are positive about you, everything going on around you, and what else could be in your future. What you really want for your future, without a wasp of self-doubt distracting you, telling you you’re not good enough.
You’ll be surprised how the buzzing stops.
This is what I’m aiming for.