Sunday, 15 August 2010

Anorexia's Footsteps

A small, blue child stands in the grey playground; back turned from her playmates; tiny hands pressed tight against her eyes as she chants numbers in a voice higher than it is loud.

Behind her, a group of dishevelled children move with silent, exaggerated care; the thrill of tension bursting from concentrated rosebud lips and then, delicious screams as the blue child swings round, sudden and bellowing and the clenched stealth and stillness break, pouring a cool white rush of pure delight over each small face, even as they fight to keep the tension in their form.

Grandmother's Footsteps.

The aim of the game was for the players to manage to creep up behind the person who is 'it' without being seen to be moving. 'It' could turn around at any point and the other players would have to instantly freeze. Those who were still moving when 'it' turned around were immediately sent back to the starting line.

Why am I writing about an old playground favourite?
You may well ask.

And quite simply, it is what came to mind when a despairing loved one asked me how on earth it got to this point.

Perhaps Anorexia's approach is different for an adolescent or college student, perhaps it walks with a different gait, I can't really speak for others. I can barely even trace its steps towards me, but I know that it approached from behind and I know that each time I turn to look at it, it freezes, closes its eyes and holds its breath. I have somehow become aware that by staring at it, it can disappear. It's an ugly, shapeshifting beast that easily poses as the smallest giggling schoolgirl until you turn away, reassured.

For a 31 year old woman, Anorexia began as a wonderfully refreshing experience of exercising after giving up smoking. It's steps were light, triumphant and exciting. Continuing to feel healthy, my body began to tone up and I lost a few pounds.

It doesn't hurt to cut out a few foods in the name of being healthy, right?

Less bread, less cheese, less meat, less pasta.

Next time I checked behind me, Anorexia was a few steps closer and although a part of me knew it, another part didn't really believe it would be interested in me. I was too old for that sort of thing. I was too 'sensible', too grounded, too self aware.

I turned my back.
No red meat. Only a few mouthfuls of pasta or rice. No bread. No cheese.

I swung round. Anorexia froze. I couldn't tell if it had moved or not.

No meat. No carbs. No dairy.

Low calorie fish, salad leaves, fruit and water.

And where once I thought 6 stone would never be possible, now I dream of 5 and a half.
And Anorexia is playing. Oh definitely. It's creeping now and it's not bothering to freeze and I'm not bothering to turn my back.
Its steps, so quiet and so disguised at the start, are heavy and quite careless.
I can't stop them in their tracks by turning around. I can't make the fearless freeze.

Now my mind is full of the footprints and although I know tracks can be covered over, I'm not sure how and so the game has become a dance. My shapeshifting partner, both a close friend and a worst enemy, simultaneously giving and stealing life. One day its steps bring elation, the next, bottomless despair. One day I dance with fluid grace, the next with lead-soled boots.

One thing I do know is that in reality, Anorexia Nervosa is about as much of a game as Russian Roulette.It has a higher incidence of death than any other mental illness and has clamied countless lives over the years.

Its power is frightening and once it's in the game, many end up playing for their lives.


  1. Like all eating disorders it starts to be "Healthy". Where do we get this? It consumes who we are. our very lives. We are wiser than this,yet it wins. I am think of you and believe you can win.

  2. Wandering Soul - I'm in awe of your blog. In some ways I feel much like the way I perceive you. Your posts are lyrical, poetic, evocative. Beautifully written, and clearly heartfelt and reflective of your ongoing personal torment. I'm not questioning your internal distress, it's very clear, and sad. I’m so sorry you are having this difficult life. It’s maybe minimizing to say it sound so familiar to me, to compare myself to you, although I do, and I don’t mean to minimize your difficulties at all.

    Something puzzles me, though. Anorexia has clearly not crept up on you. Your blog, from the beginning, notes this trend in yourself. Why then do you say it has crept up on you? I’m not criticizing, just think you are not facing up to something that is absolutely as real as being blindsided by anorexia.

    Best to you, really.

  3. Ahh, Soul

    What a dark and beautiful entry.
    And I can FEEL the tension, and the despair.
    And, as Faith said, the denial. I suppose - well, you've written about dissociation - it's a bit like playing grandmother's footsteps where your own attention makes one of the other players selectively invisible.

    My heart goes out to you, in your struggle. But also, each time you write, and name something, as clearly as you have this, then there's no going back. As each onion shell of dissociation becomes clear, and reality intrudes, or, as you write, as anorexia is no longer hiding, then there is more hope of health and choice. Because if you don't KNOW there's a problem, then the invisible kid is stalking you. It's not possible to see the cheating kid until it becomes brazen enough to stop cheating.

    Sounds like that has happened. You had no chance of winning until this happened - until the kid stopped cheating, until the dissociation started to break down - you had no chance of winning. Now at least you're playing on an level playground.

    And lastly? Thankyou. I've found your post inspiring and awsome. Awful, too, of course, but then your posts often, nay, usually are.

  4. HI LOVE-
    Oh how your truth resonates strongly. You understand your disease well and how it works. I picked up on one line in particular - " One day its steps bring elation," it is right here that your opportunity for recovery exists. SO long as there is pleasure that outweighs pain the attraction to the addicton/disease wins. In my work as an addictions clinician every person I had the privilege of working with in someway said, and had to decide, when the pain of "using" outweighed the pleasure. Every addict/alcoholic believes they can have one more high or drunk without consequence and only pleasure. SO too with anorexia - one more step of elation by exercise or starving, etc. still is greater than the pain. I would ask everyone if they had enough pain. Most all said they did, many were unsure and still deciding. And sadly, many took this decision factor all the way to death. The difficult decision is right before you - does the pain outweigh the pleasure enough so you make a decision to 'Stop'!! I am amazed at the pain people tolerate in the hopes of achieving that pleasure or elation. I bet you are too.
    Love to you
    peace and hope.....

  5. (((Wanda)))
    I'm sorry I've been quiet lately. I don't know where you're off to, but I hope that you come back feeling a litle more rested and peaceful.
    Thank you for your understanding. your questions are the very same ones that often echo through my own mind.
    How does it get us like this?

    Thank you for believing in me. I'm thinking of you too.

    Faith, Thank you so much for such a lovely comment. You express your thoughts beautifully here and I was touched by what you said.
    I don't think that you are minimising anything I say by comparing yourself to me. In fact, it's possible that you are doing quite the opposite.
    I don't know you at all and yet I know from the way you have written that you have a deoth of empathy that many lack.
    The fact that you idenitfy with the pain I write about is sad but also, perhaps, a little comforting. I am always amazed when I find someone else who can speak the words I feel are so unspoken. There is something incredibly powerful about finding words that can make sense of you, even if (maybe 'especially if') they are written by another.
    The question you posed left me a little breathless. Not because I felt criticised (as you feared) but because I was struck by how RIGHT you were... and also how mad it was that you were right and yet I hadn't really noticed.

    It is very hard to explain how I have two utterly different parts to me... A knwing part and a completely UNknowing part... S is right to mention 'dissociation' (I have a few posts on this)... The strange thing is, despite knowing that I dissociate, it doesn't make a lot of difference when it comes to being AWARE of what I am UNaware of! (Oh my goodness... I'm talking in circles!!)
    I haven't thought about it all enough to be responding to your point... Guess I need a little time to mull it over... How is it that one part of me knew and DOCUMENTED the steps of Anorexia, and yet another part feels 'sneaked up upon'? It's a complete contradiction.
    Thank you for making me think.
    Are you a blogger and if so, I'd like to read some of your own thoughts...
    thank you for making me think, Faith.
    Best to you too.

  6. S - Well... Your understanding leaves me a little bit reely... I think perhaps the reminder that actually, some of the denial... some of the creeping kid... has properly begun to peel away... feels more than a little bit frightening all of a sudden.
    But you are so, so right.
    Thank you for explaining it so gently and so eloquently.
    AND S... you thank ME? THANK me?
    That has to be wrong.
    Yes the posts are awful and I am horribly aware of how negative and introspective they are... and yet, you thank me?
    I'm a bit... incredulous bit also, incredibly grateful to you for your careful listening and thought.

    Gail - Dear Gail... As always, thank you.
    I didn't know that you worked with addictions but I'm not surprised... It takes someone like you to work with those who are so on the edge... So 'unacceptable' to maistream society.
    Again I am touched by the depth of your understanding. Your comment has given me much food (no irony here, honest!) for thought.
    Does the pain outweigh the elation of losing weight / keeping control / staying small and safe? I honestly can't answer that with a catagorical yes or no. It depends entirely on which player is winning.
    My answer at the moment would be that the pain is far, far too much to make this worthwhile. But, ask me 3 weeks ago when I was at a lighter weight and felt 'safer' and I'd say that it was worth all the agony.
    You are so right about addiction Gail...
    I will think on what you have said.
    Thank you. xx

  7. Wandering Soul – thank you for your accepting reply to me in this blog. I have felt drawn to you for some time, and finally got my computer settings changed so I could use the comment function (some anti-spyware/third-party data collection blocking issue…). I once typed a long reply to you about my own sister (not anorexia, but other issues; will get back to her sometime) that then didn’t post successfully.

    I have so many things to say to you, I guess because I feel like you would understand. And so much I want to know from you. I have read most, although not all, of your posts. Some of them very quickly, because I felt some urgency to keep reading, what is next, and then next. It’s a sort of immersion process, I guess, whether that’s a good or bad thing to do, healthy or unhealthy, I don’t know. That may be more than you can handle, and I understand that, I think. Many of my conversation partners really unload on me, and I have had to start telling them it’s too much. I guess that’s to say I feel some connection with you, but would not want to burden you.

    I don’t blog, I guess because I never wanted to previously, and since starting therapy a while back, have become privacy-conscious. I suppose my three and four page emails to my therapist are a form of blogging; perhaps I’ll put them into that form someday. Thanks for the suggestion :)

    This all boils down to hopefully enough of an introduction to be able to comment on your self-description. You make a point of saying that nothing stereotypically bad has happened to you that is understood to often lead to emotional distress, no childhood abuse, etc. I’m so glad for that, because that would make everything much, much worse. And I want to tell you that I think in other ways it doesn’t matter; you’re entitled to feel lost and chaotic without “justification.” But I understand, maybe, because I beat myself up with this all the time. I didn’t have a charmed childhood, but it was ok. Nothing horrible. Not much money, parents stressed at times, but that’s everyone, right? No abuse, not even parental divorce, and they’re still relatively happily married. Nothing.

    This was my first main theme in therapy. (First, one-visit therapist was cognitive-behavioral in orientation; that seemed trite so it’s been with a psychodynamic therapist since then.) I don’t know why I had to emphasize it. Why do you emphasize it??

    I’m sorry sorry to make this so lengthy. I’d edit, but it’s a blog, yes? (Yours, admittedly…) :)

  8. HI WS-

    You are so 'aware', and your answers are true and real. And so it is that the elation/pain quotient is still able to balance or tip either way. I don't know what has to happen for it to tip so negatively that you are then able to decide to "stop". My prayer for you is that it tips so painfully that you say you have had enough and that you are still able to do something different, that it is not too late. That is the dilemma for all who suffer as you do with the pain/pleasure questions. When is enough enough, and will you realize in time......... like I said, every alcoholic/addict believes they have one more high or drunk - many find out they don't. I don't want that to happen to you. I feel the urgency WS, I do.

    Love to you
    peace and hope.......

  9. Hi,
    I’ve been reading your writing for three or four weeks, and while I have been very impressed by the clarity of your words and the beautiful imagery you cloak them in, I have been hesitant to comment. Primarily because I am not a therapist and I don’t have (or are intimately involved with) the specific problems you are dealing with. In other words, I realize that I am not your “target audience”.
    What I am is a writer and a teacher of the arts, and I am profoundly impressed with the beauty and elegance of your prose. You have the (rare) ability to go well beyond the limits of subject matter and detail, and to create a world of intimate and inclusive feeling and connection in your reader.
    Judging by many of the comments you receive, you are certainly reaching many people who are inspired and connected with your struggles, which you are willing to portray honestly and boldly – warts and all. You are to be commended for undertaking such a daunting task.
    I just wasn’t certain that you realized that you were also writing on a level that has nothing to do with eating disorders and everything to do with being a sensitive and beautifully competent artist, with the rare ability to allow others into your world and into your life. You do what many writers wish they could do – not just to tell the reader a story (passive), but also to have her as a participant in the unfolding narrative.
    I can’t help but wonder if you have ever considered using your same themes to write fiction? If you are interested, contact me and I would be glad to explain further.
    Best wishes, Bob

  10. There is something so painfully beautiful about how aware you are. Gail is right. Your posts are always so visibly sharp, 3-dimensional. It's not like reading at all. It's like looking in a window. Your honesty is stunning and refreshing.
    Thank you for sharing,

  11. I've just read your responses and I am at a complete loss for words... I'll try to respond when I find some... Suffice to say, I expect disgust and when I find the opposite... Well... As I said... I don't have the words just now...

  12. Hi,
    I left a response on my blog in answer to your comment.

  13. " Suffice to say, I expect disgust and when I find the opposite... Well... As I said..."

    OK. With the greatest respect, and affection....

    WHEN are you going to LISTEN!!!!

  14. Wow! That's all I can say right now - just wow! You're amazing, WS! What a wonderful gift to be able to use your writing to help others as you use it to help yourself. I think you are one cool gal! And I'm thinking of you, friend.

  15. Ok.
    I'm still a bit reely from all these comments and not really sure what to say or how to respond to everyone. It's little bit overwhelming, particularly this evening.


    Thank you so much for the time you have put into your response. I've read it a few times and really feel your need to be heard and understood. I very much understand just how hard it is to summon the energy to put difficultthings into words. I often feel too hoarse to even attempt it. I'm so sorry then, that you wrote a really long post and lost it. That has to be one of the most frustrating experiences about blogging / replying etc.
    I did wonder whether you might fancy trying to get some of those long therapy letters into some kind of blog? You might find it helpful.
    It's a pretty mixed bag at times but I have to say, I am constantly surprised by the things I learn from it (often the things that others teach me in their attitudes and responses knock me into a stunned silence for a little while...)

    You ask why I feel I have to emphasise the fact that I have not suffered from any major trauma. It feels like quite a difficult question to answer in some ways but in others it' fairly simple.
    I suppose that it comes down to a feeling of guilt that, as the much loved and cherished daughter of happily married, extrememly loving parents, I should have the audacity to imagine that I 'suffer' in a way others might assume I find comparable with those who have suffered from 'real things'. Things that make sense of their suffering like abuse, neglect, death, terrible illness...
    That's why I have to emphasise it. I suppose in another way, a part of me is very frightened that if anyone thought I had experienced anything truely terrible, theymight want to be kind to me and whilst I don't mind that, I DO mind someone being DUPED into being kind... I DO mind receiving something that I don't deserve.
    I'm not sure I'm making sense and this stuff is all a bit tangled up for me. I should write a post about it perhaps.

    Please don't apologise for the lengthy response and you don't need to edit, Faith. It's good to hear your thoughts and if reading here helps you to feel understood or helps you to make sense of anything, then I am so so so glad.

    Thank you for reading. x

  16. Dear Gail,
    You speak so wisely and I can imagine you are wonderful with those who you have worked with. You are spot on with what you write about the pain / pleasure quotient. It has me split into two totally different parts at any given time durin the day or night.
    I know which side I'm on tonight so I won't say too much but, yeah... There is urgency and there is, above all, desperation.
    Thinking of you

  17. Bob,
    Thanks so much for your comment. As you know, I was completely floored by your words and by your apparent desire to see my writing develop and improve. I will respond on your blog but have to just sit a bit still for a while until I get my head back into a space where I feel more able.
    My interest has indeed been piqued... I just need a little time.
    Many thanks for your time and your words.
    I look forward to further communication and have already found some of your posts on artquest to be incredibly inspiring.
    Thank you for reading and for commenting.

    Sarahrae, Thank you so much. It's lovely to hear from you. I know that you, of all people, have experienced the agony of having to watch the suffering of a sibling.
    You often write with a grace that blows me away.

    S... When will I listen? Well... I take your point and I suppose that it's a good question. In all honesty, I don't think I will ever stop being amazed if someone isn't disgusted or in some way si**ened by the misery I pour out here. It is so self absorbed and pathetic that it even disgusts ME..!
    People who read here are constantly kind and reassuring but I find it very hard to trust that anything is genuine. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I hate thi part of myself with such violence, i cannot possibly accept that others won't.
    I find this one of the most difficult aspects of blogging.

    ABM, Thank you. I'm really NOT worth the wows but.. thanks all the same.
    As for helping others? If I could then I truely would. Despite the selfishness with which I write here, I really would like to benefit other people.
    I have accepted your invite and read your beginning. It's beautiful and I'm sorry for my lack of response. I will get there.
    Thinking of you too.

  18. Guess you may be saying I shouldn't reply.
    Sorry if I've upset you.