The City

There is a correlation, I think, between urbanisation and the rise in eating disorders.

It came up, in a presentation, and there’s probably some research; but, I seem to have created my own personal proof.

I remembered, today, as I walked down Kentish Town Road (to see how far I could go before the panic kicked in), what happened when 24 hour living – and my eating disorder – met. I was thrown back, 10 years, with a surge of pain that almost over-powered me, as the landmarks that I had been avoiding, re-appeared, again.

I went to university in London. I must have attended some lectures (although I remember few of them) and I must have been a bit social (as I have, miraculously, a few long-standing friends); but I also spent much of this time in a starvation induced haze, where food was the only objective and I didn’t, at the time, realise the personal price I paid

And so, I would find myself walking into Camden, at 2 in the morning, with a pair of jeans over my pyjamas, just to visit the kebab shop that was open ’til 4 –

Or sitting behind a paper in a greasy cafe, whilst the rest of the halls were asleep, so that I could return – and throw up – before the first morning knock at my door.

Take aways where I was anonymous. Corner shops – and 24 hour supermarkets – and fast food that almost kept up with my desperation. Mazes of streets to hide in. Chippies – and cut-price fried chicken – and pizza slices – and the extra they always threw in, because they said that I didn’t look well –

This would not have happened if I had lived in the middle of the country.

The eating disorder was already well established by my arrival – but the extremity with which I could respond to the first craving had previously been contained; and it would have been a bit harder – if I’d stayed somewhere quieter – to put my head down in the crowds. And hide.

I have been ashamed, for years, of what happened in London. I transformed a city that I loved into a prison and lost my self esteem, in a side street, along the way. I have not talked, much, about how I ended up becoming so ill there. The shame – and guilt – and self-disgust, has been very hard to wash away.

But I wonder, now that I’m a little more open with the experience, whether there are other people treading the streets in a desperate search for food, or struggling with the challenge of 24 hour temptation–

Because it’s hard, when you live in such secrecy, to admit to what’s happening; and harder still to ask for help in getting well.

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4 Responses to “The City”

  1. girlundiscovered says:

    I feel that I ‘tainted’ my experience of living in Paris with my eating disorder and depression. I had looked forward to living in another country and, when my anorexia started to wobble and the bingeing and eating again began, it was my hope for yet another new start.

    It turned out to be a place where I was truly left alone with my food. I ate chocolate, crepes, cakes, pastries under the guide that I didn’t know what French foods were and was too afraid to try. I didn’t see hardly any of what is, objectively, a beautiful city. I was too busy in my bed, hiding away. I didn’t want to make friends and struggled to keep the few I had, becoming more and more crazed and my behaviour more erratic. I did things I’m ashamed of and I ended up suicidal.

    I’m not sure it was the being in a big city that might have made my situation worse – I think it was probably the loneliness and isolation – much of it self-induced, some of it the illness – combined with wrong timing that really spoilt what could have been a lovely experience.

    Trying to look at this differently now – because I am a different person and am in a different place – it makes me sad. Yet I can see some positives.

    - I survived. I overcame suicidal tendencies and managed to get through a difficult time, on my own, and do really well at my work.
    - I realised I needed to get help and made my first few steps towards it.
    - I learnt who my real friends are and that my sister is more amazing than I could have imagined. She is younger than me and came all the way to get me to take me home, via disney land! It is the one truly happy memory I have of that time.

    Now I’m heading towards ‘better’, whatever that is, I can even contemplate going back there and experiencing it as if for the first time. I am trying to move away from the idea that something can be spoilt or tainted for good and accept that nothing is ever as good, or as bad as it really seems. It just is.

  2. lissie says:

    melissa,

    you write so beautifully, despite the sadness and shame.

    i have experienced this late-night wandering and desperation for food so many times, and it has made my experience of london so bizarre and in many ways distorted.

    i am beginning to discover that i live in two different londons:
    - the day-time, sparkling, buzzing, beautiful and inspiring one;
    - and the night-time, desperation-filled, dirty, shameful one

    it helps, in a way, because i am still in love with this city, and my day-time, innocent life here. if i can keep them separate, the london i love will not become soiled by my memories of night-time disgust.

    i don’t know where you’re living now, but maybe you should visit london again and learn to re-love my beautiful day-time city.

    lissie

  3. Melissa says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences – I found this a toughy, so I appreciate your honesty as well.

    girlundiscovered – I think you’re right: it’s the place that you’re in emotionally that makes the difference; and the loneliness and isolation (particularly in contrast to the vibrant city) were things that were also difficult for me. I’m glad that things are getting better – and that you, too, have a great sister: my brother pretty much saved my life!

    Lissie – I hope that the day slowly extends into the night for you. I live near London now and it’s getting easier and easier for me to return and enjoy it. There are a few places that continue to be raw and I will possibly not return to; but, a lot of it has returned to sparkle and I hope to one day move back. Hang in there and good luck with your journey.
    xx

  4. Rachel says:

    Oh God I can relate to this so much. I binged and purged my way around Melbourne not so long ago :/

    You write so beautifully, lots of love and thanks,

    Rachel <3