Getting ill

Time anaesthetises.

I’d forgotten how bad it felt.

I’d forgotten how many twists and turns an eating disorder can take.

8 years ago, I started looking at the whole process. My aide-memoire: captures the stuff that time heals; gives the whole process a bit of shape – from the first, fatal slip, to full blown subjugation; sheds a little light on how it happens.

I’ll help with the translations but you’ll have to excuse some of the writing.

Stage 1. Getting ill.

I called this bit ‘The Subtle Takeover’. The title’s not far off. Getting an eating disorder is ridiculously easy: the step from diet to obsession is the same distance as the step from one drink to one bottle. Barely discernible. It’s an insidious infection: it takes a while before you notice that something else is in control.

Then it hits you like a sledge hammer. It’s absolutely paralysing.

Around my thirteenth birthday, we went to a restaurant. I had ordered a vegetarian lasagne and, after carefully scraping off any signs of cheese or sauce, felt relatively okay with my meal. After finishing, the waiter brought around chocolates and, for some reason, a big fuss was made about us eating them.

The thought of having a piece of chocolate reduced me to a crying, shaking, terrified wreck. My reaction was incomprehensible – to myself and to others. It was, after all, only a small piece of chocolate. Even when I eventually gave in to their demands and, through my tears, ate the chocolate, spitting it into a napkin when no one was looking seemed like the only possible response.

This wasn’t me anymore. This was me following someone else’s orders and terrified of the consequences of disobeying this unknown authority. With hindsight, this was the point when I stopped controlling eating and became controlled by eating; and, significantly, when I started seeing other people as the enemy and building a wall between myself and them.

This is the first interesting point: I didn’t get what was going on.

At the time, anorexia wasn’t as common as it is now. It was a medical or media word; not part of the everyday vocabulary.

In the early stages, I could admit to being on a diet. I could appreciate that I wasn’t eating very much – and that I was in charge of that. But I didn’t bank on never being able to eat very much, and I didn’t expect to start being afraid of food.

It’s the terror that has stuck in my mind.

Point number 2 is also interesting. In as non psychotic as possible a way, it began to feel like something else was on the scene. Like the little voice in my head no longer belonged to me.

Anorexia’s great: it doesn’t just get you on a physical level; it digs right in to your psyche. It really makes itself at home.

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