Knowledge is power

Sunday, 25 March 2012

As part of my course at uni, i've been doing a lot of research into the way we are influenced regarding body image, particularly focusing on women. The project has led me to some terrifying statistics; up to 69% of female uni students will experience episodes of bulimia at some point, by the age of 13, 60% of young girls have begun to diet (Sternhell). These figures seemed to me at first glance unbelievable, so I cast my thoughts back to me, at the age of 13. I was weight conscious and attempting to diet, however, I cannot exactly use myself as an example of a 'typical' woman when it comes to relationship with food. I was most certainly not the only one worried about their weight though, many girls I was at school with expressed concerns over their bodies. I remember vividly standing in the selfridges changing rooms with my bean pole of a best friend, both of us agonizing over our hips. We found solace and comfort in the fact that we were both preoccupied with the same body worries. Why? What drives to worry, regardless of age, or sex? Although most do not take it to the eating disorder extreme, weight preoccupation is clearly a prevalent issue in our society. Many blame the media, the size zero models parading down the catwalk, the cover of heat magazine supporting a statement about yet another celelbs weight, the fad diets. To an extent, this is fair. Being thin is glorified and praised, sometimes disgustingly so. During my first hospital admission, I was granted weekend leave. Mum and I decided to go shopping and for a drink. We were in Knightsbridge when I was approached not once, but twice, by people questioning me about if i'd ever considered modeling. Both stated I had the perfect figure. I am 5 foot 2, not model material. I was approached because of my weight. Even remembering it makes my skin crawl, I was a walking skeleton, wandering around the shops with people staring and nudging each other. I had lost all the color from my face and every rib was prominent. I did not smile. After being cooped up in my unit for the past week, with only a few hours contact with anyone but medical staff and other anorexics, the amount of people milling about in Harvey Nichols was daunting. I was terrified to try on any clothes, scared after my mere week of re-feeding and my weight gain of just over a kilo, nothing would fit. I was the furthest from beautiful anyone could be. These people were not interested in attractive people modeling their products, they wanted a clothes hanger. "You are a real size zero!" one of them had said, "great". Size zero at this point was too big for me. It was not beautiful, it was not aspirational, yet these people thought it would sell products. Sick. There has been so much talk about things changing in the industry, about size zeros not being used...I think I proved this is not the case. My illness and wasting was being praised. I'm pretty sure if my mother had been in possesion of a gun at the time, Harvey Nicks would still be scrubbing blood off the walls.
We cannot simply blame the media for the influx of eating disorders in the Western World and weight conscious ten year olds. Yes, they do not help, but I did not starve myself to look beautiful. I would like to make that clear. I'm pretty sure not one of the girls I was in hospital with thought their bones were beautiful, or were striving to look like a catwalk model. Eating disorders and self starvation have been around for a lot longer than Victoria Beckham or Paris Hilton, they were not understood or recognised as they are today, but their is evidence throughout history of women (predominantly) starving themselves. In the 12th and 13th century there was a phenomenom called 'the holy anorexia', women starving themselves in order to show total devotion to God. This was praised and glorified. In the 16th century fasting women were condemned as witches and burned at the stake (and I thought inpatient treatment was bad!) Clearly we cannot simply blame the media and the size zero phenomenom for the skinny trend, however, there is no escaping the fact that it has increased the pressure for men and women to look a certain (unrealistic) way.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Three days ago, it was my darling Hollie's birthday. It has become a tradition to me, as well as (I think) to my friends, that a birthday, means Maya bakes a cake or cupcakes. Hollie was back from Brighton, so I set to work. I chose red velvets. I bake so much, it's got to the stage where I don't even have to measure out half the ingredients, knowing by instinct. I mixed, sieved, creamed together all the ingredients in my new kitchen aid (my Christmas present, i've desperately wanted one for years). The mixture was perfectly red, I spooned it out into the cupcake cases. When they were done, I carefully piped my icing on to them. Sprinkled over my edible glitter. Perched Hollie related things on top. I lay them out and just looked at them. Then I cried. I cried because I had no idea if any of it tasted good. I can't taste as I cook as I used to. I cried because I knew I couldn't sit with Hollie and enjoy them. I cried because I couldn't take her out for dinner as we always used to on birthdays. And I cried because we couldn't toast the day with her family and cocktails, as we always would. Anorexia has stolen all of that. The cupcakes in front of me were my feeble attempt to achieve some sense of birthday for Hollie, although it was all wrong. I could not even celebrate on of my best friend's birthday's properly. Only give her the material to celebrate with others. It completely baffles me. I hate anorexia more than anything in this World. It is abhorrent, foul and destructive, yet I cannot fully rid myself of it. Still I look in the mirror and cry over what I see. A swollen stomach, the curve of my hips, my padded thighs and it is then, when I am feeling weak and demoralized, that it again curls itself around me, cooing that it knows how to make things better. Every time I am upset, every time I am stressed, every time something goes wrong, it is there, whispering that it knows the solution. "You will feel better if you don't eat". I know this is a lie. It used to feel so good to sit and enjoy meals with my friends and family. Eating should be a joy, and I am terrified I will never properly have this pleasure again. That anorexia will stay on my shoulder, that even if I get enough control to eat properly again, it will always be there, telling me I am greedy, weak and a fool. Creating guilt with every mouthful. I am determined that I will enjoy food again. That it will be a pleasure, and not a struggle. A lovely friend showed me this video, we are both fighting and she knew I would love it. I've got to say, i'm not so sure of the way they have recorded it, but the writing and message is poignant and true.
I will write again properly soon! Time to get on with some work!

The dangerous road...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

I feel I need to explain slightly how I got in this state. I must emphasise that anorexia is not something which just sneaks up on you overnight. I did not wake up one morning unable to eat. It got hold slowly, festering and growing over years. Whilst talking to my brother this morning, he shared a memory of me, at about the age of 12. We were sitting down for a meal together at my grandma's house. This was a rarity, due to the fact that my family is a hive of business, with everyone bustling around for most of the day. For this reason, I was used to eating alone and feeding myself, and I was fine with that. I was around the age when girls start to store a little bit of baby fat, just before you begin to develop a more womanly figure and usually have a growth spurt (at 5 foot 2, I am not convinced I ever had a growth spurt). The noticeable development of a little tummy was not something I was at all happy with though. I'd been far more conscious of what I was eating, beginning to secretly miss out meals. I wasn't a great dieter though, I'd cut out breakfast, and often lunch, but I'd be so ravenous by the time I'd got home, I'd head straight for the cupboard to scavenge a snack. Still, it is now clear to me that a little seed had been planted, and the venomous plant was beginning to grow, getting ready to wrap its venomous tentacle's completely around me, and squeeze all the life it could out. Jonny remembered me being visibly very on edge prior to the meal, one of my grandma's incredible roast dinners. Throughout my life, these delicious creations had been a wonderful treat, which I'd look forward to our whole car journey up to Yorkshire. It was a tradition which had been strong for as long as I could remember. Now, however, I was nervous. Pushing the little food i'd taken around my plate. My miniscule portion was commented on, at which point I burst: "I'm fat, look at me, I'm fat", I began to cry. They all soothed me, talking about development and explaining I needed food if I wanted to be more womanly. I suppose to many, it would have seemed a normal occurrence, little girl being worried about a slight increase in weight. Jonny, however, said he began to worry then. I am not saying, by any means, that all little girls who express discomfort with their bodies will develop anorexia, what I am trying to explain is that warning signs will be prevalent and that people should be aware of them in themselves and others, because the sooner the problem is caught, I believe, the easier it is to break from it's evil clutches. It is difficult, however, to differentiate between anorexia and simple body consciousness. And even when this distinction has been made, what to do is not often clear. I had many, many people approach me over the past couple of years, expressing their concerns. I wish, so desperately, I'd listened to them. Instead, I denied it convincingly. "the weight's just falling off me, it's really strange". "I know I've got too skinny, I'm trying to gain a bit of weight, I promise". Both were crap. Anorexia heard the words of concern as praise and fed on it, growing stronger. I did not realise how obvious it was to others that something was not right. My boyfriend spoke to me about my eating habits frequently, expressing constant concern over my little frame and weight loss. He often tried to get me to have some of his protein shakes, offering me tastes and bites of his highly nutritious food, knowing I would not have a plate, but getting in the calories wherever he could I now see. He recently told me, that up until I began re-feeding, he had never seen me eat a proper meal, only salad. We have been together 2 years. I remember how ecstatically happy he was after we went for a meal at GBK, I munched on the falafel 'burger', opting for it without bread, with salad instead and no chips. After the meal, we were walking down the road and j gave me a huge cuddle, lifting me off the ground in his embrace. This healthy little meal caused him so much pride. I wish, so so much that I had realised this was the sign of a problem. It took me hitting absolute rock bottom to acknowledge i had an issue. I'd left to go travelling already very skinny and had lost even more weight while I as away. When I stepped off the plane, my dear Hollie was teary, I thought it was just because we hadn't seen each other in so long. Really, she was terrified by my fragility. It took me a few weeks after this to admit what was going on. By this stage, I had lost even more weight. I remember sitting in the car, feeling my seat belt against my jutting pelvic bones. My dad is not the best of drivers, and I was terrified he'd stop suddenly. I did not feel as if my body could take it, as if i'd shatter under the impact. Still, I didn't eat. Then it all came to head. On a night with friends I drank, at this point I was still willing to drink alcohol (something which I now do not allow myself). On an empty stomach and with my miniscule frame, my body simply could not take it. When I stood up, I was ridiculously drunk. Swaying gently. The alcohol had trumped the anorexia and my immaculate control was lost. I ate a brownie when I got home and nibbled on a few prawns, I then got in the shower and from there I do not remember. I woke up in the morning beside myself. I was absolutely hysterical. Terror filled me. I could not stop sobbing. What had I done? I rang J and sobbed down the phone "I ate, I ate" I cried. "I don't know how much". J tried to soothe me, but even his words couldn't heal this pain. After about half an hour, I hung up. I could not stop the pain. Mum was downstairs, but I couldn't even get out of bed. I was shaking horribly, so I rang her. "Mummy, can you come up" I cried. I heard her running. When she came in she moved directly to the end of my bed and sat, holding my hand. Finally I choked "I ate mummy, I ate, and I don't know if I was sick". She rocked me as I broke down. Completely irrational. There was absolutely no calming me. I realised then I needed help. Finally I asked for it. I felt mum sigh a breath of relief. She'd tried dragging me to the doctors and I wouldn't, she needed my acknowledgement, my consent, if anything was going to get better.

Weigh Day

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sorry for being absolutely useless at updates once again! It's been a rough couple of days, with lots of ups and downs. Sunday was a day of apprehension and terror, with the prospect of my dietician appointment and being weighed the next day. I am weighed twice a week and prior to the dreaded event I am completely on edge. I asked if there was any way I could be weighed backwards, as I know is common in many treatment centers, but the reply was that I need to learn to accept and deal with my weight. Knowing the number can throw everything though. I can go into an appointment feeling happy and alright about my body, then the second I get on to those scales all sense of reason and happiness floods out of my body. Episodes of hysteria usually follow, with my tears and self loathing filling the tiny room. This Monday was one of those days. I'd had a steep increase in weight, which I truly wasn't expecting. Mum was ecstatic, as i'd been losing for the past two weeks, but my guilt was indescribable. Honestly, there is no way I can step on those scales and win. I gain weight and I hate myself, anorexia sticks its ugly claws into my heart and tears. If I have lost, the guilt overwhelms me once again. I feel awful for the people I have let down. The scales are my nemesis. Straight after the appointment I have to go to the X-ray department for a chest scan, still crying. I am bundled into hospital gown, with my leggings still on. The back is not fastened and mum visibly flinches. It is my bones which upset her. Sadly my back is still disgusting, even with the weight gain. My spine presses against my flesh, with each bump visible. The ridges of my ribs are obvious and two wings protrude offensively. It is ironic, I used to adore backless dresses. Now I cannot wear them. I am too ugly. My bag is on the floor and my phone begins to ring. I dare not bend down, knowing the bones will be exaggerated if I do. Mum reads my mind and hands me the phone. It is my J, he speaks to me soothingly, proud of my weight gain. I listen, I believe and slowly I start to calm down. His pride every time the numbers move up, every time he sees me eat, every time I face my fear is like a shot of motivation and comfort.
The X-Ray is fine, apart from the nurses comment "you are so slender, how do you manage it?" This is like a slap in the face. People praising you for your own self destruction. I simply smile back and reply "believe me, it's not worth it". We leave the hospital and go home. Mum says I must have lunch, honestly, i'd rather chew my own tongue than the sandwich she puts down in front of me. For her, for J, for all those who support and care of me, I nibble. It takes half an hour, but only the crusts are left. "Eat a bit more" mum urges. "I never eat the crusts". "There's still lots of bread Maya, come on, I can see bread, be brave". Tears roll down my face as I nibble the bits I hoped she would not see. Anorexia is out to play, hissing hateful words. With every bite, I hate myself. Not because soon I will not be able to fit into my size zero jeans, or because I think I am fat...but I feel I am failing. Losing weight is what I am good at. I don't know what else is the same. Through school, I was not a high achiever, always feeling inadequate. The same was true for my hobbies. I just couldn't find my niche. Then I discovered the exotic World of diet and exercise and suddenly, I had something I was best at. People were impressed at first, stating how great I looked with the first few pounds gone. I was training hard for a half marathon and not eating to match. I got up before school, at 5:30am to run and for the entire day I would glow. Proud. Knowing I was the only one who had this strength. Whilst everyone around me complained about wanting to lose weight, "I really should go to the gym tonight, oohhh I just cannot be bothered", "I really shouldn't be eating this", I thrived off the knowledge that I would be visiting the gym for the second time that evening, I could avoid the food, I had incredible control. I'd found my talent, the only thing I was really good at...I suppose that is part of the reason it's so difficult to let go.

What's it all about?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

How did it get so late so soon? I only just woke up, which turns the day into an absolute nightmare and just constant stress of fitting all my food in. 'Re-feeding' involves six small meals a day; breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. This is, my dietician informs me, the healthiest way to eat and live. He'd prescribe the same diet to an overweight person. Regular, small meals, to keep your metabolism going. It is a complete upheaval eating so many times a day. For the last couple of years i've only really eaten dinner, sometimes lunch. Before this whole process of recovery, I can't remember the last time I ate breakfast. That was pretty much the first thing I cut out, as is common amongst dieters. The thing is, it is absolutely the most stupid thing to do if you want to have a great body. It really is true that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A good, carby, breakfast kick starts your metabolism and stops you from storing food as fat throughout the day. When my dietician first told me this, I did not believe him. If that were true, then why do so many dieters not eat breakfast? However, he sent me home and told me to do some research, so I did. I was determined to prove him wrong, but I just couldn't. The facts were lined up in front of me. Anorexia got a slap in the face. Breakfast is great for you. This doesn't mean it has got easy though. Just because I am armed with the facts, I think we have established it does not make me rational. Faced with a bowl of porridge, all that knowledge seems to slip out of my grasp. How I combat this...flash cards. Little snipits of wisdom. The cold, hard, facts. I used to hate these flash cards. I now see, it was the little bitch that is anorexia causing me to neglect them. Each bit of knowledge I gain batters the daemon. However, it is still strong. Its power comes in my distress. The moment I am upset, stressed, angry my instinct is to not eat, to exercise. I take out all of those feelings on me. The reality is, it's not really about the food, or my image in the mirror. That would be a hell of a lot simpler.
For us thin ones, I believe it is about control, grasping some control when we feel we have none. Blocking out pain, when things are just too much, causing pain to oneself in some form numbs the original feelings. It is like when you are having an injection and you pinch your leg, or another spot, to draw your attention away from the needle going in. Not eating is just the same. This is vital in understanding anorexia, as I know many believe it is simply women and men who are self obsessed and just want to be thin. I promise you, that is not the case.

I'd like to add a little note at the end of this post to say two things. The first being thank you so so much for all your incredible feedback, kind words of support and for spreading the word. I was absolutely petrified to post this publicly, worrying that people would think I was attention seeking, however, Grace, my incredible, supportive friend pushed me, and I am so glad she did. I just hope some good comes of people having some true knowledge of the illness.
I'd also like to say sorry for not posting yesterday, I was pretty much run off my feet, with both a hospital appointment in Chelsea and a doctors appointment after that to check my vitals. It was good to get the support of my therapist on this, in fact she exclaimed "I'M SO GLAD YOU'VE COME OUT MAYA", in her fabulous American accent. To make up for my poor show yesterday, I will try my absolute hardest to post twice today.
Thank you again, now I MUST go eat!

Back to basics

Thursday, 1 March 2012

I suppose to most people, I must seem like a stubborn toddler...yes, we have many things in common, the obvious being our lack of reason. It makes no sense really. Eating gives you energy. You need energy to live. Therefore, you need to eat to live. I remember mum going over and over that with me, trying to explain it. The thing is, I know that. I know I cannot survive without food, so why the hell can I not eat?! I was recently asked by a woman who was assigned to eat with me at university; 'Is it the smell of food you don't like?'. The question seemed ridiculous, but she was from a culture she explained where eating disorders were pretty much unheard of. She just couldn't understand it. I tried to explain that it's not that I don't like food. Hell, I LOVE food. I'm just terrified of it.
Imagine you are surrounded by all the food you love. Delicious chocolate cake with buttercream filling, bowls of linguine, penne, spaghetti, each with a different sauce, from tomato and mascarpone to carbonara. Freshly baked bread. Bagels. Macaroons. Milkshakes. Strawberries. Fresh Lemonade. Everything you adore. You can smell it all, the beautiful scents. If you breathe in deeply you can almost taste it all. But you can't. You can barely remember what all that food tastes like, because the last time you let yourself enjoy it was months, years ago. Your hunger is clawing at your stomach. You are empty, hollow. Around you everyone is enjoying all the luxuries that surround you. But all you have is your ravenous hunger. You reach forward and almost touch the freshly baked croissants. They would be warm, soft and buttery on the inside. Incredible with sweet strawberry jam.
"You are greedy, you don't need to eat, that would be weak, you don't need it, you don't deserve it, you are disgusting, repulsive...YOU ARE FAT".
Quickly you recoil. Move away from the food. Anything to stop it, to block out the hurt, those feelings. Instead, your hands reach up to your protruding collar bones, the row of ribs, your hollow cheeks. You stroke them for comfort, even though they feel hard and cold. You are safe, you are strong. Incredibly strong. You don't need this food. None of it.
So, you don't eat, although you are empty. Obsessed with food. You cannot stop thinking of it. Cooking it. Staring at cookery books. Good food magazine is an anorexics porn. Food is everything...but you can't have it.
I wonder what she would have said if that is what I replied...instead I smiled politely and muttered "i'm just scared". Not a lie at least.

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