National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2018
It’s NEDAW once again and I can’t believe it has been a year already since the last one. Life is ever changing and with it, my eating disorder. A part of me can’t believe I’m still humming this same old tune; that anorexia isn’t just a memory or a cautionary tale for me now. I am still living in its’ shadow, its’ presence barely forgotten before it makes itself known once more. It makes me wonder whether I will ever truly be free; will there be a time when meals are not sources of overthinking and anxiety, when dessert is not a dirty word, or when special occasions are not landmines dotted with dangerous delicacies?
I can’t go to a buffet. There is too much on offer; too much choice, too much temptation and too much potential for later bouts of self-flagellation. There are also too many eyes, watching me, judging me, assessing every morsel I put on my plate… Their thoughts are so loud, I can practically hear them; “fat pig”; “two of those?!”; “has she never seen a buffet before?”; “piling it on!”; etc, etc, etc, fat, fat, fat, pig, pig, pig, judge, judge, judge, shame, shame, shame- shame. There it is, the crux of the problem; no matter how much weight I regain, no matter how much therapy I go to or how many self-love mantras I rattle off to myself, the fact remains that I associate food with shame. I’m ashamed to be an insatiable creature of wants and needs without such a thing as ‘enough’. There will never be enough; I will always be hungry again, I will always have cravings again, I will always bow to hunger in the end and I will never master the unrelenting sense of pure want that churns inside of me. I do not know when I became ashamed of being a creature of wants and needs, as though there was something dirty about needing to fuel my body and, if I was better somehow, I would not need to eat. If I was better, I would not need to ingest, chew, salivate, consume, digest, shit, piss and want. I would be free; I would be clean, empty, pure and perfect.
It is no accident that pictures of celebrities eating cheeseburgers are accompanied with deprecating captions shaming their gluttony and ‘outting’ their diet-fail to the world. Pictures of celebrities on private holidays showing cellulite and less-than-sculpted abs are worth their weight in gold. In a world where religion is dying, people believe in the cult of the celebrity; and if celebrities are thin, we must be thin. We look to the sacred scriptures of OK! and Hello Magazine to give us an idea of what we should be aiming for; who we should be admiring; what size was the size, what hair colour was the colour and what latest diet was the latest diet.
I have removed a lot of content from my Instagram that has proven triggering for me in the past. I don’t need to see any “thinspo” or “thinspiration” on a daily basis; photos of mainly young women and men in skeletal-like condition, adored by the masses as though they were curing blindness. These ultra-thin girls and boys get more ‘likes’ during the day than some Greenpeace photos. Every protruding bone is its’ own badge of honour: “Look what I did. Could you have done this? I don’t think so. I am special. I am better than you. Yes, look upon my tiny body. It’s ok to feel in awe. I have defied the human condition. I have triumphed over needs of the flesh. I am pure and I am perfect.” Collar bones are the accessory of the moment and the Thigh Gap transcends all other fads, season after season.
As a yoga teacher, I seek to live a life in harmony with my body, one in which I eat when I am hungry and drink when I am dry; I want to be fit, strong and healthy, but in the world of social media, even that has it’s pitfalls. “Strong not skinny” often represents either a skinny human in denial of their actual state, or, the other extreme of athlete-grade, super-human bodies. “Fitspo” may have replaced “thinspo” in my search bar, but the outcome was the same; the message I was receiving was that I am not good enough or worthy enough, that I must workout harder, eat leaner, train meaner and cover my body with rippling muscle as opposed to the jagged frame of skin over bone. I could not simply exist as my body wants to naturally rest, at whatever that weight and shape may be when I am nourished and satiated and exercising my body in a healthy, balanced way. I still have not found my baseline, the point at which I am at optimal health and fitness without experiencing hunger, longing, or a sense of being deprived. My gorgeous boyfriend tells me I am beautiful and in my mind I believe he is speaking about me, Clodagh, the person, not commenting on my physical appearance. I do believe that I am a good person; I know that I am generous and kind and empathetic and I am able to acknowledge these traits to be true, yet when remarks are made about my physical appearance I believe the other person to be deluded or that they just haven’t looked closely enough, as they clearly have not seen me properly.
For someone that speaks to people every day about self-love, self-worth, positive body-image and a healthy outlook on nourishment, exercise and a well-balanced mind/body connection, I can’t help but feel like a fraudster. I see the beauty in everyone else, yet something in my mind is closed to the idea that I too could be physically beautiful (or otherwise). Whenever I am complimented, my immediate reaction is that an effort is being made to manipulate me in some way, or, that someone is merely passing on a nicety as one would comment on the weather. Psychologically, something is obviously going on for me, however, I can’t seem to work out what that is. I don’t consider my self-esteem to be low, I am very confident in my abilities as a teacher, a writer, a friend, a family member, a mindfulness coach and soon-to-be CBT Therapist. I am more than able to hold my end of a discussion on all major current political topics, my overall general-knowledge is above average, and I have been told on many an occasion that I am a pleasure to talk to and spend time with. When I hear these things I have a well-practised half-nod, half-smile that assumes hold over my features. It’s not that I believe other people are lying, I just can’t believe that they are actually seeing what they think they are seeing. I think that if they saw the real me they would see the overriding ugliness that clothes me. In one way, there is an alarming arrogance in that itself of course; who am I to judge other people’s opinions or to hold them in far less regard (when it comes to opinions of me, Clodagh) than I do my own? Why do I believe in the opinion of the majority when it comes to everything bar myself? How is it that that Big S, shame, is rooted so deeply in me as to be so entirely consuming, pervasive throughout every moment from waking to sleeping, in everything I do?
To me, that is the essence of what an eating disorder is. Everyone is different; for some people it really is about the number on the scales, the figure on the tape measure or the size on the jeans. For some people it is mastery over the body’s natural cravings and the transcendence of those cravings. Some people carry the result of a diet gone wrong. I don’t even own a weighing scales; something that is endlessly shocking to people. I don’t care about the number on the scales or on the label of my clothes, for me, my eating disorder is a way of exercising some sort of mastery over my environment and failure in that results in shame. I am playing a game to which, even I, am unsure of the rules; they change and vary like the weather and often catch me unawares. I exist in a constant state of readiness for potential destruction to the world so delicately crafted around me.
The worst part of it all? The knowledge of what would happen if I were to let go of my eating disorder- nothing. Absolutely nothing. The world would continue turning, people will be born and they will die, left will be left, right will be right, I will still have the other existing psychiatric diagnoses I do now and my life will not look all that different. The futility of an eating disorder is one of its cruellest realities. You seek to lose, but nothing is lost other than time, experiences, moments and memories. You are all that is lost.
I am another year into my path to recovery now, I have insight that I didn’t have before, I’d like to think that I have grown and am growing in the right direction. I would like to think that I am moving down a path towards a happier, healthier me, one free from shame and suffering. This National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I hope that I am closer to health and happiness than I was before and I hope that my message reaches even more people than ever, both eating disorder sufferers and their support systems alike. I hope my message is not one of despair, but one of hope and the possibility of triumph over the demon that is an eating disorder.
As always, my Yogilateral Warriors, your support means more to me than you will ever know. You are my tribe and my strength.
If there is anything I can do for you, you need only ask. Leave a comment in the box below and I will get back to you.
All my love, all my strength, all my will,