I'm reading a book right now called "Crazy Like Us: the Globalisation of the American Psyche".
It is a very interesting read and it is making me think a lot about why I ever had an eating disorder. Why any of us does.
The point the author makes in the first section, through exploring in detail instances of anorexia recorded in Hong Kong, is that it is in fact showing not to be useful to try and lay a blueprint of Western anorexia nervosa on top of cases of self-starvation (and psychological/emotional distress) that take place in cultures unlike our own.
He compares cases of self-depriving women in Hong Kong who do not have a phobia of fatness or a preoccupation with weight loss or the typical "body image issues" which most of us have suffered, with women with so-called hysteria in the pre-20th century Western world: these women presented "hysterical anorexia" among everything from hysterical numbness of limbs to hysterical blindness as manifestations of internal psychological distress. While they might, like contemporary anorexics, continue this experience of themselves as being unable to eat [or walk, etc] past the point of damage to their bodies without the capacity to stop, they were not dieting and did not believe themselves to be fat.
What is emerging as I read would be a fascinating picture if I were just a person interested in human psychology and society; as a person who has suffered from an eating disorder, including a hellish experience of my own body and apparent fatness, and a person with so much love for so many people who share this pervasive and hellish disorder, it is damn intriguing.
I confess he makes me nervous in a few points - is the author suggesting to me, fear-driven and automatically self-invalidating parts of me panic, that I made up my illness because it was socially accepted locally? That I became terrified that I could not allow myself to eat normally ... for attention? because it was sanctioned? I haven't felt this fear in a long time but I remember it well from much earlier days of my illness. It's one of the worst fears of an eating disorder: that I made the whole thing up.
But no: be assured, that isn't his point at all. His point is, rather, more like one of the pearls of wisdom that got me over many of my hurdles so far in recovery: There is something legitimate here... and it isn't about the food.
I recently was presented with some of my own words from the past, when I was struggling to go from total chaotic daily disorder into some kind of normalcy; I was being encouraged, in therapy, to make headway by using short term goals and I was engaged in a daily struggle to do the unthinkable and eat normally, eat enough, and not take "compensatory" action. It was horrible and scary and so hard.
I am feeling a lot of empathy and sadness today for people stuck in that place.
And when I ask myself what it is that I have learned, since then, it is many things.
I had acquired a phobia of food. It needed to be addressed like any phobia: with exposures, with repeated lessons that it was safe to eat. This is necessary and non-negotiable because as long as eating disordered (phobia-driven) behaviours are going on in my experience there is very little real healing that can take place, because physiologically you are compromised and psychologically... well, it does havoc psychologically to be taking actions that damage you physically. Why shouldn't it? It's the message that you don't deserve to be loved and protected and alive, not just from another person, but from your own self. That is damaging.
So this behavioural change is difficult, necessary, and elucidating.
But I also had a phobia of emotions that I believe predated my phobia of food. I believe my phobia of food was a way I developed of keeping myself "safe" against what I feared even more: my unmitigated emotions.
My message this week might be of interest if you wonder if you're shallow for caring about your weight, or if you wonder if you're being eating-disordered if weight isn't on your mind.
Or maybe it'll just be of interest.
It's not about the food. It's difficult to live in this world and I have encountered human minds that have done such a range of things to deal with that fact that I would not have believed possible. But it's possible to be safe and not entrapped. I believe that overcoming the fear of dealing without "the old ways" is something that can change a person's experience in a really powerful way.
Whether that experience is "hysterical" blindness - where by the way, the sufferer really and truly can't see - or "hysterical" anorexia - where by the way, the sufferer really and truly has an extraordinarily difficult task to begin to change those patterns.
It's not about the food.
So this week ...
I wish you self compassion, persistence, curiosity, and persistence.
A song that probably has nothing to do with anything,
P.S. Hopefully this gets across in my post, but: it's not about the food, and FOR that reason... it is damn important you learn how to eat it, normally. It is possible, important, and helpful, and feels goood...
just in case anyone's eating disorder decided to run with "it's not about the food" somewhere crazy.