Time flies when you’re… oh. Yeah.

At the moment i’m out of work again.  I’ve been temping whilst studying for my MA but the last one finished about a month ago.  I still miss my old (permanent) job in the library.  I worked there for six years.  But i was in a rut and i wanted to go back to university, to become A Proper Librarian, so i know it was for the best that i left.  But i do miss it.  And now’s not a good time to be looking for work, is it?  Then again, is it ever?

At home, with no structure to my day, only my rather vague resolve to work on my research proposal, and with no-one else around, my eating’s worse than ever.  No surprise there, eh?  So i’ve been looking for work, half-arsedly, in this strange state between life and death.

But i know that having a job won’t magically change my life.  Now, having a real job, a proper one where my skills are fully utilised, where i’m interested and engaged and busy with both my mind and my hands – that, i think, will make a big difference.  It’d be knackering at first, but that’s what i need.

Of course, the sort of work i can get, with a sickness record like mine and constraints on my time for studying and endless doctor’s appointments, well… i know from experience that it’s not great.  It’s mindless drudgery.  I can just work with one hand and binge with the other, sloping off every so often to the toilets.  And that’s just what i do.  Perhaps it’s a way of getting through the day, in order to ‘survive’ doing a job for which i can barely drag myself out of bed.

When the “trolley dolly”, at my last temp. job, came around to our floor one morning with her usual array of slightly battered fruit, unpleasant snacks and sugary drinks, as ever she spotted me stuffing my face with my usual bags of confectionery.

The previous time she’d been in, she’d joked, “Hide it under the desk, eh?” as i performed an unimpressive attempt at subtlety, chowing down on yet another bargain box of chocolates in a strategically-placed carrier bag.

This time, she said, loudly enough for the whole office to hear, “What are you munching?  You’re always munching something, aren’t you?”

I smiled, nodded mock-ruefully.  I did my little polite laugh and turned back to my computer, pretending to work.

Undeterred, she continued, “I seen you on the telly,” still too loudly.  “I know.”

“Ah, busted,” i said, feeling maybe the tiniest bit of shame, 99.9% indifference.

“No, is OK.  You keep munching,” she said.  Magnanimous.

And i did.  No-one around me said a thing.  Used to it, i suppose.  Like me.

“Ah,” i kind of felt like saying, but didn’t, “what can i do?  I’ve been doing this for over twenty years.  Maybe it’s all i know.  It gets me through, these days.”

I don’t fight it, like i used to.  Maybe i don’t even hate it like i used to.  I used to scream at myself, inwardly, stop, stop!  Put the food down!  I can just stop now!  Fucking stop it!  Walk away!  But something went on auto-pilot and my body carried on, despite my mind.

But now?  Resigned, accustomed.  This is what i do.  We all have vices.  We’ll all die one day.  Happiness is fleeting; who needs it anyway?

I don’t really believe that.  About not needing happiness.  Everyone needs – and deserves – a happy, decent life.

I’ve had a few messages since going on the telly.  Some are sad and desperate, wanting to recover but not knowing if they ever will.  Some of them are from partners of eating disorder sufferers, worried sick, wondering how they can cope.  A few of them are so young.  If i had a normally-functioning heart, i think it would break a little, each time.

A few are from well-wishers, telling me, oh, you’re so brave; or oh, you’re doing so well.

Thanks.  I’m not, you know.  Neither brave, nor doing well.  I’m as ill as ever – maybe slightly worse at the moment.  Binge-purge wise, i’m approximately as bad now as i was a few years ago, at my worst.  Then, of course, i was frighteningly under-weight, whereas now i’m at a normal, healthy weight.  Which doesn’t make me healthy, by any stretch of the imagination; but of course, that’s what people see.

So perhaps going on the telly hasn’t made the difference i’d hoped for, as regards raising awareness of “the invisible disorder”.  And although it’s helped the other two as regards further  medical treatment, i’ve stayed the same as i ever was – just as i expected.  Nothing really changes much, for me, so my old optimism that used to astonish people with its unceasing buoyancy, has dipped and waned into the reflection of a new moon.

Was it all a big fat waste of time, then?  Well, i don’t know.  I don’t regret doing it, but for my own objectives (which didn’t include my own recovery, because a few meals and shopping trips aren’t going to “fix” anyone), maybe it wasn’t so successful.  So little material was used, so much was over-simplified or simply mis-represented, that i’m left thinking we may as well not have bothered.

I wanted to tell people that, look, i’m an apparently normal person, with a very debilitating disorder.  This is what it’s like.  I don’t do it on purpose, or to piss anyone off.  I’m not a white, middle-class, heterosexual, teenaged girl.  I carry on, stoically most of the time, coping with life as best i can.  I’m not in A&E every week.  I’m not trying to kill myself: i’m trying to survive.  I may well be like this for the rest of my life.  There are loads of other people out there, of all ages and all sorts, who are very ill.  And you can’t tell by looking.

There are dog-knows how many people out there with eating disorders.  Old, young, middle-aged, queer, straight, asexual, transexual, intersex, male, female, neither, tall, short, fat, thin, medium-sized, black, white, brown, blue with yellow spots… there are people who overeat compulsively, people who binge, people who purge, people who binge and purge, people who over-exercise, people who chew and spit, people who only eat certain things and cut out entire food groups… and yes, there are white, middle-class, heterosexual teenage girls with anorexia.  There are as many different kinds of eating disorders as there are eating disorder sufferers.

Say what you like about this illness; but it does not discriminate.

But people do discriminate.  Even if they don’t realise, they have pre-conceived ideas about eating disorders.  Strangers, acquaintances, even healthcare professionals.  “Aren’t you a bit old for this?”  Or, “you’re not thin, so you don’t need help.”

There are so many people with eating disorders who are at a normal weight, or who are overweight, but although there is some (and it’s by no means enough) treatment for anorexia, there is almost nothing for bulimia, binge-eating, or compulsive over-eating.  If you look normal, if you’re (oh god forbid) FAT, if you act normal or put on a brave face and appear to be coping as best you can… you can fuck off.

The squeaky hinge gets the grease.

It’s another thing i’ve accepted.  I may be ill for the rest of my life.  People like me slip through the cracks for decades.  The illness gets so ingrained, it becomes part of us, harder and harder to beat as the years drain away.

Now… i often wonder, as i swing by my usual confectionery stops: do the shopkeepers recognise me?  Do they notice what i’m buying and guess what i’m going to do?

Back in The Old Days, i’d assume they were too busy and disinterested to notice, had so many customers there was no way my face would stand out.  But of course, that was Back Then, before i was on the telly, announcing my madness for the nation to gawp at.  Now it’s far more likely people will recognise my face.

And when i buy £50 worth of confectionery, eny fule can put two and two together.


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi, Mina. I just wanted to tell you that, there is hope. I don’t know if you’ve ever been diagnosed with depression, but I had Anorexia, which turned into the binge-purge subtype, for 6 years, and there were a few major turning points for me. The first was when a psychiatrist finally told me I had severe depression, and I understood for the first time that it wasn’t normal to be miserable all the time. That I was ill. That it wasn’t my fault. The second, was when, after about 6 different meds, and having made my way up to the maximum dose, antidepressants finally started to do their job, and for the first time I could imagine things being better. The third, was when I realised how ill I really was.

    I think with Bulimia, like you said there is less help, and people take it less seriously, but also, you don’t necessarily have an epiphany so easily. With Anorexia, there generally comes a make-or-break point where you either get better or you die. With Bulimia and other ED’s it’s not so straightforward. I really was a white, middle-class straight girl with Anorexia so I can’t say I know exactly how you feel, but I do know what it’s like to have people judge you for having a mental illness. I know what ‘treatment-resistant’ means and I know what it’s like to feel like nothing will EVER help you. I also know that ALL eating disorders are living hell. It’s such a struggle, especially if you’ve been ill for a lot longer.

    But there is hope. I’m a healthy weight now, and I haven’t binged and purged in a long, long time. I hope you do get the help you need. Do drop me an email if you ever want to chat. I have a blog about depression but I never update it any more. I’m too busy studying! I graduate this year.


    P.s. Do you know how the other two are doing now by any chance? I’m just curious.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for your comment! Yes, i think i do have depression; i’m not sure if i’ve been diagnosed or not, but one doc said i was “showing symptoms of depression” when i briefly dropped out of my undergrad degree; and various others have mentioned it in relation to anxiety and eating disorders.

      Trouble is, i’ve tried so many meds and none of them work, so i’m not convinced they’re the answer for me! I’m always interested to hear about how other people have recovered though – especially what it took to change a person’s mind from ‘treatment resistant’ to ‘determined’ and what worked and how they got from ‘hating the illness’ to ‘recovered’.

      That’s wonderful, that you’re a healthy weight and haven’t binged or purged (or restricted??) for ages now. What are you studying? Good luck with completing it and staying well!

      Take care

  2. I agree depression is a factor, spending your time worrying about what to eat, what not to eat, what time to eat, how to eat and god forbid do it in company, would all get you down. But mine goes back years, not that I regress to the past. What started it I ask myself?
    Maybe it was the constant hatred of trying to be what people wanted me to be. Or was it the fact I needed to make myself interesting (no not that bit). The only reason I stopped making myself vomit, was when I nearly choked myself. Not that I ever eat enough to throw it up.
    I was asked by my partner recently “why are you suddenly talking to others and researching”, my answer ?? I quess I just want to talk to others who understand what it’s like, and maybe find comfort in the fact I’m not alone, that there are others who find going out for dinner brings them out in a cold sweat. I would like to improve, But now I feel it is my life and do not know any other way.

    • Just the fact that you’re motivated to look and research and find shared experience is a good sign, don’t you think? Yes, i too feel like this is my life; but i also realise that i don’t want it to be. I never have. Fuck knows how i got here. But here i am and the only way is out, right? I’ve lost a lot of optimism and motivation, but sometimes i can still see it glowing under the ashes. Can you talk to your partner about it? Just for emotional support, i mean. Are you getting, or can you get, specialist help through your GP? Do you know of any support forums (fora?) on the internet – not that pro-ana or pro-mia shit – that might help? There’s a very good one that i like called Something Fishy – maybe you could have a butcher’s, if you haven’t already.

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