I think I’m a reasonably intelligent person. I’m no great intellectual, but I’m educated and can do the Times 2 crossword pretty quickly. I’m also a pragmatic, sensible person.
Too sensible a lot of the time. I wish I’d played life less safe. I wish I’d spent more money, dated more men and generally taken more risks. But I’m the sensible friend, assessing possible outcomes of a course of action, offering wise advice and holding your hair back when you’ve drunk too much.
However, when my eating disorder breaks out in my life, I am the most irrational person ever. It seems to make no sense. How can an intelligent, sensible woman think black is white and vice versa?
I don’t think it started like that. In fact, there’s nothing more logical than the fact that eating less calories than you expend leads to weight loss. But, as I lost weight and the eating disorder took its grip, logic went out of the window.
For me, this took two forms. Firstly, when anorexic, the literal starvation of my brain prevented it from functioning normally. I remember being shown test results that showed my heart as comparable to that of someone who had had a major heart attack.
Yet, I was totally unable to link the fact to myself. I didn’t feel shock or concern. I felt nothing. It was as though my body was starved but so were my emotions and rationality.
The numbness and denial of reality changed as I gained weight but the second distortion of my rational mind persists and is harder to explain. My life is dominated by things that make no sense. Without noticing, certain rules have crept in and habits have become established, many for no obvious reason. Maybe they just satisfy an obsessive part of my personality.
For example, I can’t eat solid food before 9am (A pain in the neck when I start work at 8.30am). I can’t eat off of a dinner plate. I can’t use a knife and will only eat one flavour of yoghourt. This list could go on and on and will be familiar to any reader who suffers from an eating disorder.
The irrationality of some rules becomes clearer when put in the context of my broader behaviour. I may only eat an apple during the day but will stuff a bag of pick and mix sweets later. I will only ever have skimmed milk, but I might eat a bar of chocolate.
These are small examples of my classic behaviour which is to eat barely anything all day and then binge on thousands of calories, in the form of “junk” food in the evening.
The twisted logic lies in a need to save up a calorie allowance in case I blow it all in the evening, which I’m sure I will. So many people “helpfully” suggest that, perhaps, if I ate more during the day, I’d be less likely to binge in the evening.
WELL OF COURSE! I know that’s logical. I’m not stupid. But an eating disorder instils fear and a lack of trust in myself. I can’t trust that if I eat more regularly I won’t still binge. And that's a fate worse than starving and binging.
It’s made harder when I’ve reinforced my illogical beliefs by trying so many times to do something different and failing. How is it possible to act sensibly when anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, although stemming from the same root, are fighting a battle within me and are triggering each other off?
Never before has the word 'vicious' in the phrase vicious circle meant so much to me. It is a cruel and destructive cycle that’s spinning so fast it’s hard to trust that I can jump off without doing myself serious damage.
My behaviour becomes a bit more understandable when I consider the context behind it. For example, I find it so hard to eat vegetables, which is illogical when you consider that they're low in fat, high in fibre and an anorexic’s dream.
But, together with plates, knives, pasta and potato, vegetables represent a meal. And to me, a snack is ok, but a meal is terrifying.
This “fact” makes me want to scream at my intelligent self because it totally overrides sense. Given the choice between a low calorie, healthy vegetarian stir fry and a fairly calorific box of chocolates, I’d go for the chocolates. I’m sure many women would too. Chocolates taste good.
But, when my anorexia is screaming at me to lose weight, the fear of a “meal” is greater. As if an eating disorder isn’t irrational enough, it has created fears bigger than itself.
I’m confused about the way I talk about my eating disorder. Can I really blame a psychological condition for making me behave unreasonably? I think I can - I would never suggest that someone with psychosis is responsible for the voices in their head, for example.
And it can be helpful to separate anorexia from ourselves. My self-esteem is preserved by thinking that I, Aimee, am still a sensible person, but anorexia makes me behave in strange ways.
In recovery it can be helpful to make this distinction to distance yourself from the illness. If my true self and anorexia are not the same then I can make use of one to solve the other and that gives me hope.
What bothers me though it that, by not accepting anorexia as part of myself, I am denying responsibility for it. Fair enough. I didn’t choose it. But now I have it, surely I have to take responsibility if I am to recover? I may not have chosen to have anorexia, but I will never be free unless I choose not to have it.
I’m in muddy waters here because with an eating disorder, our healthy selves can’t always make the right choices. I'm starting to realise that I am not completely helpless and at the mercy of my eating disorder. My intelligent self does have the power to make choices. However, having an eating disorder makes it immensely hard to make these healthy choices.
To choose life I may have to climb a mountain, and sometimes I just can’t face it. I try not to judge myself for that. Living with an eating disorder is exhausting and erodes my confidence.
This really was hard to write, for example, because right now I'm feeling really depressed, and I can't assess objectively whether what I'm writing is total rubbish, or too negative.
When I can dig up the strength and lean on friends for support, I think it is possible to take tiny steps towards recovery.
Sometimes I get knocked back a long way. That’s when I have to remember that I’m not just my eating disorder. My healthy self could, maybe, possibly make choices too. It's hard, but it is possible. Maybe.