Over the years I’ve become painfully aware of my seemingly lost ability to communicate my feelings. It always builds to a bursting point in any other area of my life and then is quite often unleashed in a way that isn’t even slightly productive. Usually a 10,000 word text message. When it comes to finding the words to say ‘I need help’, no matter how desperate the need, it feels as though the air is physically sucked out of my lungs. The want is there, but I can’t bring myself to say the words.
I’ve managed to isolate myself quite well and it’s a lonely existence sometimes. I find the online support groups can be too triggering. I try to keep it away from my family and friends where I can. In a recent breakthrough however, I have told one friend from work and actually spoken out loud about it, where I could manage it. He was the only person to ask me outright if I was alright and I found myself admitting ‘I have an eating disorder’. He didn’t judge and has been so lovely in his support that I truly believe him when he says ‘you can talk to me, I’m here’. He’s managed to normalise the conversation and I know he won’t chastise me on it. I trust him and I feel safe when I talk about anything else and yet, on every check in since, I’ve still lied. I’ve lied harder when all I’ve wanted to do is embrace the opportunity to speak. He opened up the conversation, yet there never quite feels a right time to reach out and carry it on, even if I could.
I have learned a behaviour to censor the things I’m sure people wouldn’t want to hear, from my own experience in trying to listen. My dad is a manic depressive. No one has butted heads in our family more than he and I, yet I love him so much. I’ve tried to help him relentlessly over the years. He has a severe systemic autoimmune disease, PTSD of which he sees a psychiatrist weekly for and lives his life in permanent pain of all classifications. I’ve never known a more tortured soul. I’ve saved his life before now, something he didn’t take too kindly to. I’ve sat and listened throughout my childhood as he screamed his memories in a drunken slur, wiped the snot, called the ambulances, sat by his bed in ICU and played him Tubular Bell’s 2 through my headphones as his body lay lifeless in front of me, wondering if this was it. Was this finally goodbye. I didn’t want to lose my dad, but I found myself urging him to let go and be at peace. I’ve cut him out of my life when he refused to give up alcohol, even on the advice that with his medication he’ll be dead very soon if he continued to drink. Ironically maybe, I told him I refused to watch him die. He tore my entire world apart as a response. I gave up. Thankfully, we are now closer than we ever have been. I’d give anything to take away his pain.
He doesn’t just live with the black dog, he takes it out on regular walks and lets it sleep with him day after day. Any conversation can be turned into something so dark, it twists my stomach to hear. He wants to talk. He wants to tell you about everything that’s been so deeply burned into his brain, that he can’t see the world or the simplest beauty that surrounds him. He lives an existence I know I could not endure. Sometimes I indulge him in deep conversation, usually when he’s too weak to be angry. He cries frequently. He punishes himself over and over for the mistakes he’s made and the hurt he’s caused and I honestly, don’t always know how to cope with that remorse. I don’t know how to help anymore. I lay in wait for the moments he smiles, laughs and always, always for the hugs. My dad has always cuddled me like it’s the last time, gripping me like his existence depends on it. I can feel him pressing his fingertips through my layers of clothes to feel for my ribs and spine and even still, I want that cuddle. We don’t then talk about my ED, but he’ll just casually offer to cook for me, every time.
I love him and if I thought him talking with me for the next year solid about his depression would stop the speeding car drive for the next suicide attempt, or make just one day of his remaining life completely pain free and happy, I’d do it. Nothing crushed me more on Halloween last year than the post-overdose heart-to-heart we had, where he sobbed and said ‘everyone says they want to listen, but they don’t. No one wants to hear it’. I tried to tell him how hard it is to hear and to know there is absolutely nothing I can do to take it away, feeling like an absolute monster of a daughter because I actively try to stop those conversations. Sometimes, I’m just too on the brink myself to cope with both of us and support my mum. Sometimes, I just find myself in agreement that there really is no point to anything anymore. It’s when I find myself doing that, I know I have to make a sharp exit from their house and put some distance between our minds for a few days. I can feel that pressure closing in and I frantically retreat. I learned the hard way to stop jumping into the shark-infested waters after him. As painful as it was to accept, I can’t save him. Just as he can’t save me.
For me, talking about my ED feels pointless. Wherever I have, I feel so exposed and vulnerable that I no longer know how to just ‘be’ with that person. They may forget the conversation ever existed. I maybe flattering myself to even consider my words registered beyond the next five minutes, but that person may as well be painted red every time I see them following on from that conversation. Are they now watching me? What will they think if I don’t eat? What will they think if I do? Will they think I was attention seeking? Will they think I’m being dramatic? Will they think I’m too fat to have an ED? Will they notice I dropped 5lbs last week and report me to someone? Do I want them to intervene, is that why I told them? Eventually I’ll convince myself, I never ever should have said anything. How selfish I must be to let them in on this when I haven’t been able to stop. But then how selfish I am to lie to them. I speak because I don’t want to lie anymore, but actually, the lies just get bigger from that point on.
When I’m truly in a sticky spot, I speak to my mum. As mentioned in a previous post, she too has lived with anorexia and now suffers with a binge eating disorder. This comes with both pro’s and con’s. It’s a selfish pro, because the pain and self-destruction remains the same, no matter what the clothes size. I have sobbed my heart out to her and I know she gets it. I know she’s studying my black eyes and cheekbones and waiting for the words. She’s watched my weight rise and fall again, sometimes on a monthly basis and she says she trusts me at least, to tell her when I’m reaching a breaking point.
The cons of speaking to my mum is that depending on her own mindset that day, she talks of me having the ability to starve myself like I’ve stolen her superpower. She relives the days where she too survived on nothing as though she were recalling her first love. She knows the euphoria of it with such depth, that she can’t blame me for the addiction. I find she almost justifies my actions sometimes, before her mum mind snaps back into focus and she catches herself. Her own current self-disgust both breaks my heart and also petrifies me to my core. She overcame one ED, to develop another. She talks of the sheer hate she has for herself as she eats the packets full of sweets and crisps for dinner, she explains how the loathing feeds the need to carry on eating, like punishment. How physically awful she feels afterwards. How she cries in the changing rooms when she goes to buy clothes. In my eyes, my mum is perfect. She’s beautiful. But is that what recovery would have in store for me? The same loathing with a different face? It seems hopeless.
I find people don’t often talk to me anymore without either commenting on my weight, or commenting on their own. When it’s about my weight, it’s predominantly negative. ‘You look ridiculous now’, ‘you’ve lost too much’, ‘you need to eat a burger’ are the top three burns. I realise it mostly comes from a place of care. A place of fear perhaps, that maybe I need a sharp tongue to wake up and knock it off. One comment, shouted loudly, stopped me eating in the coffee room at work anymore. There’s nothing like convincing yourself to eat something for the first time in three days only to hear ‘how are you eating that? Are you fucking Bulimic or something?’ to stop you cold in your tracks. I couldn’t even answer her. Just pushed the food around the tray until I gave up and disgusted with myself, threw it in the bin. That was over a year ago. I guess I put myself in that position, making that show of trying to eat like there’s nothing wrong. My own banquet of consequence.
But it’s the people that comment on their own weight when they see me that really get to me. I imagine they think I spend my life weighing them up, seeing myself as better than them because I’m skinny. It’s then I want to talk. It’s then I want to confess. I don’t look at anyone as just a weight or size, yet that’s the mainline of conversation that always seems to be opened up with me. It feels like the sum of all my parts. I worry that people judge me on the assumption I must be judging them. I don’t.
One colleague posted on her social media a meme, stating she’ll ‘never be a size zero because she’s not a 12 year old boy’ and some of my other colleagues liked it. I took that to be aimed at me, self-consumed as I am. Whether it was or not I’ll never have the courage to ask. But it made me step away from some people I called friends. When people sigh at me and say ‘I need to lose weight’, especially those I really care about, I want to slap them hard and tell them they are perfect exactly as they are and please, don’t ever change. Like I have the damn right to. As always, I can’t say it. I smile and tell them not to be daft. I walk away feeling like I’m just a catalyst for self hate. I can’t see where I fit in.
I don’t know how to change that and suddenly create a voice for it. An honest, open and vulnerable one. Mental health awareness, opening doors, cups of tea and ‘repost if you are listening’ is all well and good, but as someone who probably needs to learn how to have these conversations, I don’t know how to do it. That one conversation that was opened up, came from someone else plucking up the courage to ask me if I was eating and was I really ok. It was hard, but it meant the world to have someone unafraid to reach out.
I’ve had endless comments about my weight. In fact whether I’ve been overweight or underweight, people around me generally have no problems telling me so, unaware of the turmoil it has fed. And I never know what to say in response. I’m more consumed with what they want to hear. I think for me, that’s what it comes down to, saying what I think is right thing rather than the truth. I don’t want to say I’m not ok, because it feels like I’m just a burden and everyone already has some sort of battle to fight. Why make them fight mine too.
It saddens me that it’s far easier as a society to body shame ourselves and each other, then it is to ask someone how they are really doing or if they need help with the true intention of listening to them. It’s a society I tell lie after lie about my ED in order to survive in, but thats also my truth.