So which is it?

I keep coming across these conflicting messages about the significance of the physical body in eating disorders.
Either we’re trying to deny it, obliterate it and become free-floating intellects. Pure, transcendent above the messy, sinful, unruly meat-puppet.

Or…We’re over-valuing our bodies, thinking that if we starve and exercise them to perfection we’ll be perfect people, finally free from worry and able to present ourselves to the world with confidence. We’ve taken on the cultural message that thin = happy or even worse, that thin = the only acceptable shape.

And if we’re not brainwashed by the media and skewed cultural attitudes to bodies, we’re using our bodies as billboards for our inner torment. The emaciation is a big flashing neon sign that Something Is Not Right With Me.

And Yet…We apparently go to such devious lengths to disguise our weightloss, baggy clothes and weights in our underwear when we go to the doctor.

We’re neglecting our bodies and our self-care or we are obsessed with our bodies and their appearance, spending hours at the mirror.

No wonder we have confused feelings about our physicality. The body can be an ascetic temple of perfection or a scary uncontrollable beast, it’s at the centre of our disorder or it’s just a side effect. Doctors tell us we are silly for trying to conform to unattainable standards of beauty we see in magazines, then tell us to gain weight and conform to their standards as seen in BMI charts. As women especially, we really have to fight to take ownership of our bodies. They are sexualised, medicalised and moralised by other people.

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My Self and my Boundaries

a spiky bodice

I’ve been reading a lot of psychoanalytical interpretations of anorexia. I’m not always convinced by some of the wackier explanations of our unconscious motivations and I think there’s a dangerous suggestion of victim-blaming in a lot of psychoanalysis. And a lot of dicks, of course. Nevertheless, I think they have some interesting general ideas for an anorectic to try on for size, even if they ultimately don’t fit for that individual.
Personally, after faking my way through lots of superficial, unsatisfying and ineffective Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I feel I need to go deeper.
….God, everything I type  now sounds like some kind of innuendo, thanks a bunch, Freud.

The psychoanalytical Object-Relations theory attributes our current problems largely to failures to negotiate developmental stages in early childhood. These failures to form a coherent sense of ourselves and the world around us manifest in our unconscious mind, a source of dissonance between how we perceive the world consciously and our maladjusted unconscious motivations and fears. Well, that’s my generalised understanding; I’m sure google will direct you to a lot more expert info.

I’d already come to see my ED as anchored in two issues: Boundaries and my lacking Sense of Self. Psychoanalysis explains these quite well with the suggestion that as a baby (and perhaps throughout life) I struggled with the process of Self-Individuation.

I perceive my boundaries or lack thereof very acutely. Not only have they been violated quite traumatically in the past, they feel very flimsy and always in danger of being washed away by forces outside of myself – other people, their wishes, life events. I don’t like to be touched, at least not unexpectedly. I’m very protective of my personal space, very private, secretive. I also have trouble adjusting my boundaries appropriately; I’m either sealed up within myself, admitting no one or I’m wide open and feel I’m being steamrollered by other people. My walls are either impenetrable or non-existent.

Stemming form my uncertain psychic, emotional, physical boundaries is my equally weak sense of self. Where do other people end and I begin? Is my body part of myself? Am I in danger of being subsumed and annihilated by my environment? These sound like ridiculous questions to my conscious, thinking mind but they feel like legitimate concerns. Underlying my constant nameless dread it feels like there’s a subconscious, id-level belief that I really might be annihilated. Why do I panic for apparently no reason? Why do some minor problems suddenly start to feel like a full on fight-or flight survival crisis? I’m willing to believe it’s because a primitive, confused part of me is actually afraid of psychic death if I let down my walls, my impermeable boundaries and allow my self to meet with my environment.

And it’s easy to see that restricting my food intake might follow on from this subconscious belief. My physical self is somewhere I can appease my fear of violation, my lack of strong boundaries. Food is a foreign substance, part of my hostile environment, not part of myself. It could even come to represent everything outside of myself – all physical or abstract threats. If I control it, allow in only small, comfortable amounts I can remain intact. The whole external world might be a tsunami poised to wash me away but I can find some relief from that fear in this one act of control.

Some have theorised that the emaciated anorexic body is an attempt to communicate inner distress, that it’s a message to the world. I’ve never bought into that, instead I think the emaciation is mostly just a side-effect. The real act being played out with my body is for an audience of one: myself. It’s where I get to claw back some control so I can feel safe. That’s why demands made of me to eat, or eat more than my self-imposed level of restriction feel so impossible to acquiesce to. Firstly, they are demands from other people, objects outside my self which in my binary state of boundaries-up/boundaries-down I can’t risk acknowledging. The fate I’m trying to avoid by not eating is psychic doom, annihilation so by asking me to eat, I feel they might as well be asking me to jump off a cliff. My rational conscious mind has always been baffled by my incredibly strong feelings in this situation, why am I so adverse to eating? I now think it’s because to eat symbolises the destruction of my boundaries, the loss of myself. In essence, at a dumb subconscious level I think food will kill me.

Does all this dramatic introspection make sense? I’m never sure when I write if I am actually organising the information coherently. And it doesn’t help that when it comes to ED etiology and the subconscious I’m feeling around in the dark.

Plus, knowing these things doesn’t instantly cure me of my need to restrict. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to or if I should instead just learn to work around my issues without trying to cure them completely. I certainly find I’m able to pay closer attention to my feelings and motivations as opposed to what I think I should be feeling. Sometimes I feel bad for weird or inappropriate or unclear reasons and that’s okay. I don’t have to deny feeling bad just because I can’t find a worthy or simple reason for my feelings.

Reading List

Just a collection of non-fiction eating disorder books I want to read/re-read.*
I’ll no doubt be updating this list as I keep discovering more. Always open to recommendations too!
All the links are to google books.

Anorexic Bodies by Morag McSween
The Thin Woman by Helen Malson
The Social Construction of Anorexia by Julie Hepworth
Hunger Strike: The Anorectic’s struggle as a metaphor for our age by Susie Orbach
Unbearable Weight: Femism, western Culture and the Body by Susan Bordo
The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity by Kim Chernin
The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness by Kim Chernin
Trends in Eating Disorder Research by Pamela I Swain
Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders by Particia Fallon et al.
The Golden Cage by Hilde Bruch
Hungry Hell by Kate Chisholm
Fasting Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg
Beyond Anorexia: Narrative, Spirituality and Recovery by Catherine Garrett
The Body Betrayed by Kathryn J Zerbe

And just for fun…
Feminist Interpretations of Rene Descartes
Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist reconstructions of being and knowing

*If I can actually get hold of them/afford them. I think it’s ridiculous how some of these academic texts retain their prices as e-books. £60 for some endlessly replicatable data? Really? Where is all the book-piracy at?

Self Care

I need to register with a dentist. I’ve been putting it off for months – why?
In a rare moment of angry honesty, my father told me that if other people mistreated me and my health the way I do to myself he’d want to kill them. I do take a lot of risks with my body, I’m still ambivlent about having this meat puppet to lug around. I think this lack of self-care serves several purposes.

Firstly, it’s an innefective cry for help. I want to say I’m not coping, I still feel overwhelmed and maybe if I fuck myself up in these little non-commital ways people might notice and ask me what’s wrong, even offer help. Of course, this is stupid. I’ve never been able to talk about my feelings before and even if they do notice my lack of self care I just look slovenly, not in need of help.

Secondly, it’s just good old masochism. I will leap down stairs and cross the road without looking and sew my own wounds (badly) and eat pills like pac man and not use my inhaler when I need it and yes, restrict my food intake because I am Quite Angry At Myself yet still won’t commit to acts of all out violence against my person.

Thirdly, it allows me to keep up my pretense to myself that I am an unassailable island. If I don’t need to interact with other people – dentists for example – and especially if I don’t have to let them do things to my body, like open my mouth and look at my teeth (oh, the invasive horror!) then I can keep my boundaries intact, my sense of self unthreatened.  I am very, very sensitive about my boundaries and have a strong need to be alone and self-sufficient.

Meanwhile I keep up my Cold War against my corporeal self, believing that fatal blood poisoning from an untreated dental abcess would be just what I deserve/just what I want. It’s all very shameful and frustrating.

Another ED blog?

Welcome to yet another new blog! I’m going to use it to collect my thoughts on eating disorders in general and anorexia nervosa specifically. After 10+ years spent steeped in varying degrees of sickness and lots of reading I think I have just enough insight and understanding to be able to say something worthwhile.
I could blog a thousand neat truisms about this evil disease; that it’s about boundaries, not about food, it’s a combination of biological and psycho-social factors, recovery isn’t a ‘eureka moment’, it’s a slow process etc etc and so on. I could also go down the salacious personal memoir route, but that would just be gratuitous triggering. No, I’m going for a more thorough, big-picture examination this time.

And I could carry on typing all my ideas into endless word documents as I have been doing, but I’d like feedback and discussion. I’ve never encountered an online community as helpful, soulful and smart as my fellow ED folk. You guys are awesome.

I’m no great writer and I’m no academic, either. I’ve got a BA in Fine Art, a lot of experience interning and big gaps in my resume which I can only explain, when pressed, with admissions of mental illness. But despite my educational status anxiety I still think I can add something to the ED blogging scene.

Anyway, I’ll sign off for now and start tweaking the blog appearance, add links etc in the morning.

Night,

K.