Thank you to Debs for sharing this very heart-felt post! Please check out her blog if you haven’t done so!
Physician, you can’t heal yourself all the time
Since my ‘official’ diagnosis around a month ago my mind has been bustling with thoughts of how and why (why now, why me), but no matter how much I attempt to rationalize the situation, I can’t find an explanation. I can’t come up with the definitive answer to why I, aged 22 and following no particularly traumatic recent episode, have suddenly struck by this illness. But I guess anorexia comes in many guises and attacks in many ways – and therein lies its strength. Slowly though, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I may never find an answer and whilst my overly rational mind might hate the idea of not being able to pin an explanation on it, it’s just going to be something I have to get used to.
What is slowly becoming clear though is that, as soon as I’m given the opportunity to doubt my diagnosis, I do. As soon as I feel OK,’normal’ or not drained or catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think I look slim as opposed to too thin, I immediately try to claim that there’s nothing wrong with me. And if there is nothing wrong with me then I don’t need to be making a conscious effort to up my calorie intake, or watch my exercise levels, or take my super strenght vitamin tablets. Give me any opportunity and I will deny being a recovering anorexic. It seems I’m still so reluctant to admit that there is something wrong with me that I’ll take any small sign of normality, even the sight of a girl with legs as thin as mine, and use that to prove I’m ‘ok’. Of course, I’m not. I’m still underweight, I’m still drowned by clothes that used to fit and my BMI is still unhealthy.
Why is this? Why am I so obsessed with trying to prove that there is nothing wrong with me? Talking to those in various stages of recovery is beginning to help me understand what might lie behind it: weakness. Or more accurately the acute fear of being perceived and thought of by both myself and others as weak. At every traumatic moment in my life, the acrimonious divorce of
my parents, the painful relocation to Italy and then back to England again after my Mum’s diagnosis, the death of several
very close family members I NEVER showed weakness. I’d even go as far as saying I went out of my way to do the opposite of what I perceived to be weak. I didn’t cry, I didn’t act out at school, I didn’t visit graves, I spoke openly about every bereavement. I actively told people not to feel awkward around me, because these episodes made me no different. I wanted people
to find out about my background and say “oh, you’d never have known” and be impressed by my strenght. Since the age of 3 I have been obsessed with appearing strong. Weakness has been my biggest fear.
And it seems this is something I share with many others recovering from disordered eating. None of us really want to appear weak. We think weakness is bad, it’s cliched, it means we can’t cope, we’re sad and unsuccessful. Hopeless and pathetic. And so we swing the other way, we becoming obsessed with the control that anorexia affords us and how strong it makes us feel, when of course the reality is quite the opposed. We are far from strong and far from in control.
So it seems that one of the greatest obstacles to recovery is admitting and accepting weakness. Recognising that it’s not a negative. Calling it vulnerability has helped me in some ways. For some reason it’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s ok to show a softer side. Human beings are fallible and even the strongest sometimes need a shoulder to cry on. And guess what. That’s ok. What’s even better is that as soon as you admit there’s a chink in your armour, you can work on fixing it. Whilst you’re denying that chink exists, it’s only going to get bigger.
Now I’m not saying I’m 100% there yet, I’m not foolish enough to think I can uproot a mentality I’ve been cultivating for the last 19 years with 3 weeks of treatment. In fact, I’ll probably be doing this for years. But if this strikes a chord with anyone reading, if, like
me, you’ve always been the strong one then please, don’t be afraid of weakness. Like most fears, the fear of admitting it is far worse than the reality. Embrace a moment of weakness and people will help you, no, people will want to help you. And it will be ok.
Physician, you can’t heal yourself all the time.