Monday, November 5, 2012

Naming and breaking

Last night I decided to give my eating disorder a name: Mable. So when I feel the need to restrict or whatever I can shift the shame from myself and onto the disorder who is to blame. Mable prevents me from being able to take care of my "fuzzy self", whom I've previously named Emmie. 

In talking about all of this, I've received a lot of support. My friends are praising me for my "strength", and they're proud of me for being open about it and sharing my struggles. On the one hand, I'm grateful for this perception and the support of people I love, but on the other hand it makes me sad. I'm not sharing my struggles because I'm strong, if I was strong this wouldn't be a problem. Either it wouldn't be a problem because I wouldn't have it, or it wouldn't be a problem because it wasn't interfering with my life. And yeah, I know, that's not necessarily what strength is about, but Mable thinks that I'm weak and that that's why I need her.

Eating disorders (along with a multitude other self-destructing behaviors) are defense mechanisms. The needs I fill with disordered eating are fairly normal needs: control, mostly, but also wanting to feel special, seeking power, seeking relief from stress and anxiety. Something happened in my life that made me turn to this defense mechanism for help meeting these needs. And, it's not good or bad, it just is. Everyone turns to something else when they're in need, and most people have at least one self-destructive habit that meets a need for them; it's not good or bad, it just is.

So, for me, and a number of other people like me, this is where Mable steps in. She's obsessed with portion control, my weight, how my clothes look, how my profile looks in the mirror, the texture of my skin, whether I'm eating vegetables or sugar... and on their own, these concerns aren't damaging, but put them all together and then obsess over them and you have a destructive habit that plays on insecurities and, in my case, makes me want to vomit pretty much all of the time. (But wanting to doesn't mean that I do it.)

And I go back and forth. It's a difficult journey with a lot of potholes, and I'm grateful for the encouragement I receive because it helps me to get up out of those potholes. But in a few weeks, when the novelty of a friend struggling with her eating disorder fades, I fear that I'll be seen not as strong, but as an attention-whore. (I think that may be the case in some minds already.) Dealing with something that has taken up such a huge part of my life is going to be on-going for a long time, and the front of my mind for several weeks, and I know how people are about things like this. At first it's all "hey, I'm here for you", then after a while you get sick of it and want to say "fuck, aren't you over that yet?". 

Or maybe that's just me. 

I know that, whatever else happens, I'm going to break more before I can put the pieces back together. This thing is so much a part of me that I pretty much have to be crushed into dust to separate Mable from me. I'm going to keep talking about it so that I can stay on track and not fall into my own "fuck aren't you over that yet?" trap, but I fear it'll wear on people. I know that this is why I need therapy, but I hope that those who have expressed their support will also be able to avoid that trap. 


Aimee said...

I don't think any people worth having in your life are ever going to "get tired" of hearing about Mable. You are working on you, not sitting around complaining about why life didn't hand you a royal flush. Chin up, lady. You're doing great :)

The Empress said...

@Aimee I'll hold you to that in a couple of months...

J. Sycamore said...

This reminds me of the underlying cultural b.s. of taking physical issues more seriously than mental/emotional ones. On the one hand, having an eating disorder has physical effects, but on the other, it's rooted in emotional/mental loops.

To horridly destroy an analogy:
If someone tears their ACL in their knee, most people understand that that's something that might need surgery and will almost definitely need physical therapy and will likely need an adjustment in lifestyle if that someone was doing joint-wrenching activities like high level downhill skiing. In such a case, while people might say aloud, six months or a year later, "is that injury healed up yet?" what they're (usually) attempting to inquire about is if healing is going well.

This culture rarely extends that same courtesy and background knowledge to things rooted in head space issues. Which is a damned shame. It takes a lot of mental therapy (redesigning, sometimes from scratch, how one approaches the same issues (not unlike having to relearn how to walk)), a lot of conscious decision making (which takes a lot of energy to maintain), and a lot of support (in confidants, in friends, in therapist(s) (potentially), in oneself) to make it through a mental rewire. It's Not Easy. And yet, because there is frequently no outward, visual marker for "progress", acknowledgment of the work and investment and potentially need for change of lifestyle choices get swept under the rug by non-participating side people. Which... ugh.

I wish that people would take others seriously when told, "Hey, I'm embarking on a long term project of rewiring how I approach [x]. This journey is going to take a lot of my energy and I will probably be pretty focused on it, sometimes to the exclusion of other things. I'd appreciate your support in this, but if you can't manage that, please don't undermine my efforts." Or, alternatively, that "long term" somehow didn't auto-translate to "one year or less", because, dang head rewiring can take a long time to get solid.