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Friday, 12 August 2016

Eating Disorder: Anxiety ticking through me like a clock

**TW This post is about eating disorders, so please proceed with caution if it might affect you in any way that causes you difficulty. It doesn't mention specific details of weight or precise details of the eating disorder**

Once upon a time, a few years ago, I was in the midst of an eating disorder. This eating disorder was all-consuming; it invaded most of my thoughts about myself and my life and dictated my day-to-day life.

I became obsessed with food, hunger, appetite, exercise and my body, until I had no headspace to confront the emotions and anxieties that lurked behind the thoughts and behaviours of the eating disorder. Because I restricted my intake of food, exercised increasingly and lost weight, my body was craving food in the hope of reaching a healthy weight.

My mind remained terrified of eating and gaining weight. At that time, my relationship with myself was so problematic and I felt so troubled by shame and guilt that eating became my battleground where I could enact self-hatred and self-punishment.

The eating disorder took me into a shadowy and tangled web where ideas about myself and the world were chaotic and frightening. It was a deeply lonely situation in which I clung to rituals around food and exercise as frantic attempts to make myself feel safe.

Displaying IMG_4095.JPG
Drawing by me.

Now I am out of that place, I look back and see that my eating disorder was a way of channelling difficult and painful emotions. Emotions such as guilt, shame, frustration and anger had been building up with no outlet for years. These emotions were eating me up on the inside and so it felt right to waste myself away from the outside too.

Food and exercise became a means of the self-punishment and self-control I thought I needed in order to be okay. My eating disorder slowly crept up on me over a couple of years as I began to set myself increasingly relentless standards for myself – for my academic success, my social life and my body.

I was perfectionistic and was terrified of the notions of complacency or laziness, and food became a place where I enacted obsessions, my appetite a force over which I longed to exert control. For the year and a half when the eating disorder dominated me, life was all about counting, checking, measuring, rules. In a word, fear. 

At that time anxiety ticked through my body like an ever-present clock. Dread never left me, it crouched in the pit of my stomach and never retreated: I was always hungry. It felt too problematic for me to articulate how I felt about myself and my life, and so my eating disorder was my attempt at expression.

I was lucky enough to have professional help which enabled me to live my life without the eating disorder. This help was amazing in giving me new ways of relating to food and my body, although it was only the start of the journey for me in terms of my mental health problems. This was all before BPD and bipolar came into the question.
Image of Bear Hug - Framed or Unframed Print. Sally Winter, winter avenue press:
Art by Sally Winter

Sometimes, in certain situations, anxiety takes root in my body and I am tempted to ‘retreat’ into the ‘safety’ of the rules and obsessions of the eating disorder. Instead, I try to talk about how I feel and think of alternative ways of coping with the anxieties I have about myself and my life.

I see the eating disorder I had as a bear: when I was anxious, it seemed cuddly, warm and alluring. But it then turned grizzly, dragging me alone to a dark cave where it began to devour me, ferociously.