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The Civilised Suicide
Member Name: sallyhill
Date: 13/06/01, updated on 13/06/01 (1018 review reads)
Disadvantages: Can be fatal, Physically and emotionally scarring, Wastes years of your life
Firstly, to clarify one widespreead misconception: Anorexia is not about weight loss. It is about a much deeper, underlying emotional distress, which happens to manifest in obsessive weight loss, just as it could have manifested in, for example, drug addiction, obesity or suicide.
Secondly, an anorexic is no more in control of his or her anorexic behaviour than a drug addict would be of theirs. If told to merely "Snap out of it and pull yourself together", they seriously would not be ABLE to do so. Professional intervention is generally required. The final stages of anorexia are in fact a terrifying place to be, where you feel desperately out of control and horribly frightened, and no more capable than a baby is of stopping what is hapenning to you.
To set straight a third misconception: anorexia nervosa does not imply a loss of appetite. In fact, for the majority of anorexics, the opposite. It is not that you dont want to eat: You are desperately, desperately hungry. You think about food every second of every day, and dream about it at night. You walk around food isles in supermarkets staring at food, and many anorexics obsessively collect recipes. While still physically able to, many anorexics will in fact spend most of their free time cooking and baking, and then watching other people eat the food they have prepared.
One of the things that strikes me most after all these years, looking back on that time of my life, is the astonishing power of the mind. The astonishing reserves of (negatively used, in this case) will power available to us, as well as the peculiar ways in wh
ich the mind can twist itself around, to believe illogical ideas, and to see things that are not there.
As you 'advance' into the later stages of anorexia, you need to access greater and greater reserves of will power to combat the horrific hunger, and you need to find more and more bizarre ways to 'artificially' satisfy your growing appetite. Your mind, in addition, becomes progressively more severelyparanoid and delusional, leading you to hold more and more illogical beliefs.
At first I would 'satisfy' my appetite by sniffing food - this I saw as a substitute for eating it. One day, however, I decided that sniffing food may in itself be fattening: my 'logic' was that I would breathe in food particles, which would make me fat. I then resorted to looking at food. I would spend hours and hours wandering up and down food isles, 'devouring' the food with my eyes. I would then tell myself: "Well, you've eaten all of that now - you're full".
As mentioned before, I would cook and bake obsessively, for other people. I became a really good cook over those years! As the disease progressed, however, I became more and more wary of getting any of the food that I was cooking onto my fingers, and I would frantically wash my hands if this happened. I was scared that I would unthinkingly lick my figers, or that the food would enter through the pores of my skin and make me fat...
I would not take any medication or tablet in case it had a glucose coating, or any other 'fattening' ingredient,and became convinced, illogically, that any drink, including water, was fattening. My mother would force me to drink two cups of black tea a day, but nevertheless by the time I was hospitalised I was severely dehydrated and my kidneys were showing signs of distress.
Along with the food related behaviour of anorexia come various other obsessive behaviours. For example I, like m
any anorexics, became obsessed about school work. I forced myself ahead of the class in most of my subjects, and remember learning my entire biololgy textbook off by heart, parrot fashion, whilst lying in bed too weak to sit up for more that a few minutes at a time.
The 'associated behaviour' which was probably the most agonising for me was an obsession with exercising, of course to aid in the weight loss. This became so severe that, while I was not yet bedridden, apart from actual exercising sessions, I would eventually refuse to sit down at all, in the fear that this lack of activity would make me put on weight. I remember, in particular, one horrible night when some friends came to visit. We were all chatting together in my bedroom: myself, my sister and two friends. They were sitting on my bed, while I paced up and down the room, supported by a makeshift walking stick. You can imagine their bemusement when, towards the end of the evening, I started crying "I want to sit down". When they told me to sit down then, all that I could do was repeat over and over "But I cant".
One of the ways in which the mind of the anorexic plays tricks on itself is in the perception of your image in the mirror. What an anorexic will generally see in the mirror is something huge and 'blobby'. This is one of the only aspects of the disease which has stayed with me to this day. Between then and now, I have ranged in weight between 35 and 75kg, but what I see in the mirror has always been exactly the same shape. To this day, I have no idea of what my body looks like, although I have learned to live with this, and it does not bother me too much these days.
Finally, I must mention an aspect of anorexia which you do not think about while at the height of the disease: the after-effects. This is something that saddens and angers me intensely: The huge amout of damage that I have done to my body. My bones and joints
are extremely weak, I am at high risk of developing early osteoporosis. I am, probably, shorter than I would have been had I not starved myself all those years. I suffer from metabolic disturbances such as hypoglycaemia, and an inability to now lose weight if I want to. I tire very easily. I went into premature menopause at the age of 22, which was only reversed using hormone therapy.
On recovery: For those of you who are anorexic, or who have a loved one who is, there is hope. Apart from a few minor left-over psychological fears, I would consider myself to have psychologically completely recovered from my eating disorder which very nearly killed me. It is possible to make a near complete recovery. What helped me most in the end to do so was taking part in group therapy sessions with other eating disorder patients, as well as a couple of years of individual psychotherapy on a weekly basis.
Finally, I would just like to say one more thing. Although the obsessive weight loss of anorexia is merely a manifestation of a much deeper problem, the descent into this disease can be precipitated by thoughless comments, however well intentioned, or teasing about your weight. The next time you feel inclined to make a remark about someones weight, think before you speak.... This living, dying hell - I would not wish it on anyone, no matter what.
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