I don’t agree that it’s a choice to have an eating disorder. Nobody asked the little four year old me if I wanted one. Nobody gave me a choice. I didn’t want to hide my food or refuse to drink. I was hungry, and I liked to eat. I’d never thought about my body in terms other than “This is me playing!” and that it could wear dress up costumes, could run, jump, dance… I didn’t know anything about eating disorders or weight loss. I’d never even set eyes on a glossy magazine. I idolised my mother and father, and wanted only to be the best ‘good little girl’ I could be so they would be happy with me and love me more, so it wasn’t about having power over them or defying them, either.
As I grew older, still completely clueless about eating disorders, still without a care when it came to weight, I still never had a choice about the eating disorder. There was this thing that just was, in my mind. It was just there, as though it was born with me when I was, and grew as I grew, until it reached a point where I could no longer avoid being influenced by it. This thing told me, no, demanded that I not eat, that I exercise more. I didn’t even really hear the demands at first – later it was like something screaming inside my head. There never was a choice not to do those things – they were what had to be done, and there were no other options open to me. Not a single one.
And so, I obeyed it. It just had to be done, and I just did it. Hunger was unpleasant, pain was unpleasant, but disobeying this thing, that was far worse.
Have you ever felt like you are so trapped that you could thrash and beat at the walls, scream your head off, do everything you could to change your situation and you would be simply wasting your energy and breath? Known that for certain – without a doubt? That was what it was for me. And if I did try to beat it, the consequences always dissuaded me from trying again.
It wasn’t until I was at least 18 years old that I even began to learn about what eating disorders were, or accept that I might have one. You find it very hard to believe you have a disorder when you are just doing something you HAVE to do, that you have no choice not to do. A disorder should go against the grain. A disorder should cause more distress than it alleviates – this was the other way around at that time. To not obey caused instant, lasting, intense distress. To listen, to fulfil the demands on me – I found that soothing. Calming. It made me feel invincible. It reminded me that I was strong enough to withstand the hurt being meted out by the people in my life at that time, because I was used to pain. I thrived on pain. And pain made me stronger. This proved it to me, because my dancing went from strength to strength the more I exercised, and the more I exercised, the less time I had for eating. To feel I was dancing better left me on a high, along with the cognitive and physical effects of starvation, I was in a constant giddy, light headed state of ‘not being there’.
And I didn’t want to be here, there, or anywhere at that time. I’d been hurt so much, and the hurting never stopped. Every where I turned, I was wounded. Like a little creature seeking to just survive, I crawled away to hide best that I could while still being there amongst my abusers. I crawled away inside myself. They saw my shell, they no longer saw me.
Indeed, when I left that hell that I grew up in, not a single member of my family actually knew who I was. Not a single one of them knew the real Fiona, only the outer carcass, only the robot who simply humoured their demands and acquiesced to their ways, because it wasn’t worth the extra fighting to do otherwise. Who learnt to never show them what actually mattered to her, lest it became a target too, and used against her.
In all these years, I never chose to have the eating disorder. Not once did I consciously choose to lose weight. I never chose to restrict my eating. I never chose to not allow myself to eat or to drink. I never chose to force myself to overexercise. I did not have a choice at all – ever. Those things were simply things that were as natural and unconscious to me as breathing, as my heart beating. We don’t think about and choose every breath we take or every beat of our hearts. And yet, we breathe. Our hearts beat. The eating disorder ate away at me from the inside out. It was never something I thought about, wanted, or chose.
There are six year old children needing treatment for anorexia in growing numbers. Eight year olds. Nine year olds. Ask a six year old why they want to lose weight? Will they tell you they want to be a model, or on the cover of the latest Vogue magazine? Will they tell you that it helps them to cope with an uncertain world, or with fear or pain, or that it makes them feel strong and in control? That they do it to manipulate people around them?
I can pretty much promise you they will say none of those things. Because they never chose to have their eating disorders either. For them, as it was for me, the eating disorder was something that they were born with, a pre-existing predisposition, determined by genetics, not by them. And it lies there, waiting, under the surface. It lies there like a crocodile under the skin of a silent lake, only its eyes above water, waiting for something tasty and alive to wander into it’s path. A menacing, hidden danger, no less a threat for its temporary invisibility. And at some point, life conspired to throw them into a set of conditions that triggered off that lurking monster, brought it out of hiding and into full battle.
All that waiting made for a very hungry monster indeed.
At about 18, all that had happened – and was happening still to me – came to tipping point. I simply was no longer able to stand up against the tide, as I had fought so hard to do all those years. It knocked me down like I was nothing at all, swept me over the edge, and then I was falling. Falling into anorexia.
And I fell hard.
It was never a choice.
Years later, when I finally accepted my anorexia, accepted the bulimia that had come with it, accepted that I needed help, was out of control, was dying – then it was my choice. I had an army on my side to fight it, and it was my choice whether to join them, or to fight against them as enemies. And too many times, I did see them as foes. It took years for me to realise they came for me, not against.
I never had a choice about having an eating disorder.
But I do have a choice to fight it.
Did you choose to have an eating disorder? Or another illness or disorder?
** I will likely not be around online much for the next few days so please excuse late replies to your comments, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can – thank you for reading