I spent a good hour on the phone this afternoon to an eating disorder charity, Beat. I initially rang them to ask one simple question- “If I begin eating again, will I gain weight?” The answer was, “Maybe to begin with you’ll gain a few pounds as your body adjusts”. Looking down at my bruised and scarred knuckles, I felt my stomach plummet into my shoes. It wasn’t the answer that I wanted.
My knuckles roughly look like this, on a scanner at least:
There’s a bruise there, under my forefinger, and those scratches and scars are due to abrasions from my teeth. My hands feel very rough as I scrub them often.
Time ticks on, and the elephant in the room is about to “Ta da!”
There is one thing I do every day that I never discuss.
I have a serious eating disorder. And I have to say something about it to a professional. So far, I have backed out of mentioning it. For a year and a half of being cared for by the community mental health team, I have mentioned it maybe twice, then immediately dismissed it. On Thursday, I have my first meeting with the team psychotherapists.
Oh, I know I have an eating disorder. Every body has an eating disorder. I don’t know very many people who don’t agonise over every scrap of food that goes into their mouth. Who don’t say, “I feel bad eating this” as they nibble a biscuit, who are afraid of putting sugar in their tea, who eat their lunches self consciously in suicidal offices, buying a salad, but they wanted a sandwich.
It’s all very cloak and dagger. I’ve come up with some ridiculous lies as to why I can’t eat that and why I need to throw up right now, so that when I return from the toilet (in public places, disabled toilets are a godsend) I can just smile apologetically and eat a mint rather than rub soap all up my arms and inside my fingers and chin, panicked about the smell. I’ve had so many mysterious tummy bugs, I can’t count them on one calloused hand. Rob found out recently that I had been lying to him.
He is worried about me. He is very worried about me. We have lots of pleading conversations in which I promise to try. I did not realise until recently that this had stopped being something I had a handle on. I have totally lost control. It is an automatic reflex. I don’t binge eat. In fact, when I do eat (and it is rarely), I eat very healthily. But even that is not good enough. I throw it up anyway. My trying lasted three horrible days. During those three days, I took laxatives. I have to get them from two different chemists after my usual place began asking questions. Why would I need two packs in three days?
It is panic. Pure panic when I eat. I feel it clogging up in my blood stream. I feel it attaching itself to my flesh, making me fatter. For about two months, I was on a meal replacement diet. I thought it would make me better. I thought it would be so controlled that my old habits would disappear. They didn’t. It has become so much worse.
I have lost weight- I am 8st 12lbs now, as opposed to the 12 stone I was at the beginning of the year. I know this because I have two sets of scales that I weight myself on at least seven times a day. I haven’t really been on that diet since April. On, then off, then on. Alternating between drinking shakes and then eating and throwing up. One is safe, the other is safer.
I love the fact that people tell me how nice I look. I hate the fact that I can see absolutely no difference in myself. Rob thinks that I never will. Another conquered thing, I thought, was body dysmorphic disorder. Because I wear less make up these days. Because I go out in daylight.
It is not.
I think about my appearance and my weight constantly. I am in a state of paranoia and panic twenty four hours a day. I can’t watch most films because the actresses are so much more beautiful than me. I can’t look some of my friends in the eye. I am back to self harming. I tremble as I pass people in the street, silently praying that they won’t remark on my appearance. I am The Monster. I will always be the monster. I am still torn up inside by self hatred that refuses to diminish. I could be the most successful writer in the universe and I don’t think one shred of it would shimmy way. It is as though it is threaded into my veins.
Of all the things I am ashamed of, I am most ashamed of this.
I’ve never considered my eating disorder to be serious. I’m not thin. I’m not even underweight. To me, that marked “serious”. Me, I’m fat. You’d never guess I had an eating disorder by looking at me. You’d probably assume that I ate to much. You’d probably assume that I was going back to my lair armed with donuts. I could go to a forum and talk there, but I’d feel like they could sense through the screen that I was fat, that I didn’t belong there.
The woman on the phone said, “It is serious. You are seriously ill”.
“No, I’m not. I’m not ill, it’s not serious. I’m not thin”.
“You are doing so much damage to your body. Damage you can’t see. You’re going to end up in hospital”.
I see the logic. I say I don’t know why I’m exhausted and can barely walk half a mile. But I know why. I know what I’m doing to myself.
I throw up about three times a day. I throw up normal amounts of food. I don’t binge.
The lining of my throat bleeds. It hurts to swallow.
My teeth are rotting out of my head.
I have so little energy. The lack of physical energy is at odds with my overt mental, slightly manic energy at the moment. It is killing me.
I can’t have sex. I don’t have the energy. I get exhausted after walking half a mile. I don’t have the energy.
I am having heart palpitations. I am getting breathless.
During the times I have tried to eat solids and not throw up, my body’s reflex was to gag, and I would throw up over myself.
I feel dizzy all the time.
I strongly suspect, and so does Rob, that I have developed anemia.
My rationale goes like this:
I don’t care. I’m fat.
But you’re going to end up sick.
I don’t care. I’m fat. If I stop doing this, I will become fatter.
And I hate myself for the fear that puts into me.
As if I need any more problems. I am already contending with manic depression.
The woman on the phone said I had an illness. I never considered that I did. Not bulimia.
She gave me the number of some places that could help me. I do not know if I’m ready.
I hate smelling of sick and I hate, more than anything, what it is doing to Rob. How we can’t enjoy anything because I am so paranoid about my looks. No lovely meals out because it’s a waste of money. I just throw it up. I like food. I want to enjoy food. I want to enjoy something in my life because manic depression has stripped me of that. It should not be minutes or hours, it should be days, weeks, months, years. I hate the sad look on Rob’s face when he realises that I have only been lifted for a moment, and there is hideousness swirling in my head.
My first therapy meeting is on Thursday, after a year and half of saying nothing.
I have to say something. And I am terrified.
What if she looks at me and thinks I’m lying? I’m fat.
What is she thinks I’m vain? I’m ugly.
What if she thinks I’m an attention seeker? I am covered in self harm scars.
It is trivial, it is vain.
Hannah brings it up, I dismiss it. I am scared. It means admitting to it in front of another human being. And it means I will not be allowed to continue anymore. It means that someone else is in control. And that is already the case, with the medications, the psychiatrists, not being able to drink, having to sleep. My whole life is ticked and measured week by week. The pressure to be well, to get better, to be insightful and helpful when sometimes all I want to do is retire to self abandonment, it is incredible and it is constant.
This is all so frightening to me.
But I’m looking at my knuckles again. I have no choice. There are so many mental mechanisms that are trying to kill me. And I know, deep down, this is one of them. I just can’t have another conversation with Rob where he pleads with me, and where I do nothing, where I confess that he can do nothing.
I have to do something about this.