B – ‘To the Bone’ [A Discussion]

ATTENTION       ACHTUNG      ATTENZIONE      ATENÇÃO      ATENCIÓN       ATTENTIE        ΠΡΟΣΟΧΗ          HEADS UP       WAARSCHUWING      RHYBUDD

  • I mention details of the movie so if you hate any spoilers, perhaps read this article after viewing the movie.
  • That said, I actually wouldn’t recommend viewing this movie if you are currently vulnerable to eating disorder behaviours and/or tend to be influenced by images of anorexic sufferers. At times, the movie is a visual representation of a Tumblr rabbit-hole, only without the hashtags and mottos. Even Netflix gives a warning.

The other night I watched Netflix’s ‘To the Bone’ and I very much wanted to write about it. But I am not going to write a normal movie review where I evaluate the soundtrack, scrutinise the acting quality, analyse the plot consistency, and question why all movies these days have their titles at the end as if it’s fashionable or something… instead, I shall provide a rambling dissertation of my thoughts and questions, and produce brilliant suggestions on how I can so totally make the movie better – principally in the context of its representation of eating disorders.

The film is, in essence, more about “life” (heh) with an eating disorder than the journey that comes with eating disorder recovery, which is fine: there are plenty of grim and depressing movies out there, and this is light-hearted in comparison. I liked the candid talk of eating disorder behaviours, as they show how the patients have normalised them in their minds. I was happy to see the moments of ugliness, danger, fear, defensive outbursts, and inner turmoil, because that is what eating disorder suffering demands, and any beauty or romanticism of it would have been insulting and just plain wrong. I wanted more scenes like the one where Pearl was curled up on Luke’s lap, sobbing uncontrollably. It was good to see the unsettling contrast between Ellen’s dulled features and her step-sister Kelly’s healthy glow when they were sitting next to each other on chairs – these days it is too easy to forget what a healthy and average weight looks like, and too easy to praise weight-loss and skinniness without realising it too often goes too far. The movie did well in showing some parts of the gritty reality that comes with an eating disorder.

bone pic

The contrast between Ellen and her step-sister, Kelly.

For me, the bruises on Ellen’s spine from doing sit-ups brought back old memories, as did her compulsive exercising behaviours. At the same time, watching it I felt safe and comfortable, because I was in a body that had been freed from anorexia some years ago, and the movie reminded me that I no longer felt what Ellen was feeling: the endless cold, the painful hunger, the shadow of Death, the urge to burn non-existent calories. I hope I do not sound like a cruel sadist, drawing comfort from another person’s pain, but for me the movie prompted me to realise how far I have come. The sheer healthiness of Ellen’s alternate body in her vision is a powerful comparison to her sick self.

But of course, the viewing experience will be varied for many, and it highly depends on personal experience. Those who have not suffered might not understand the significance of some scenes, such as when the patients all swear loudly at the voice in their heads. Either way, ‘To the Bone’ cannot cover every single aspect of anorexia nervosa, let alone eating disorders as a whole – it’s just a film.

Nevertheless, a few extra scenes could have emphasised the ugly nature of eating disorders even further: Luke should have had a meltdown after realising his dancing career was over, to show how beneath his jolly façade is another vulnerable person who despite having gotten so far, at times still deeply struggles. There should have been much more self-hatred and crying. There should have been more emphasis on how much an eating disorder can interrupt life – such as its negative impact on school, work, friendships, and relationships. The teeth, hair and skin of the people with severe bulimia nervosa should not look nearly as good as they do on screen. Hell, they look better than mine. Instead of the girl’s polite paper “barf-bag” under the bed, we should have seen her huddled on a bathroom floor, in the aftermath of her disorder, with a runny nose, red eyes, and smeared make-up. There should have been fear as well as anger surrounding food – a panic attack would have been more powerful than everybody simply storming off. I wish that the girl with binge eating disorder spoke more and voiced her struggles too. A statement such as “I wish I had what you have instead. No one at home takes me seriously. I get called a greedy pig, you get all the compliments,” would have voiced an all too common sentiment for those with binge eating disorder.* When Ellen was able to fit her fingers around her upper arm, I wanted her to cry and look terrified, because I wanted her to realise that even when she ‘finally achieved’ one of her personal (disordered) benchmarks, nothing changed and she was still trapped with her eating disorder. It solved nothing.

Anyway, I swear, I’m not a psychopath nor am I the Joker. It may sound extreme, but I just think the more the ugly truths of an eating disorder are shown, the better. They need to counteract the glamorization and normalisation of chronic dieting, the rampant romanticization of weight loss and over-exercise, and the excessive trivialisation of eating disorders as teenage phases. There are many movies that do not shy away from the horrors of rape, war, violence, abuse, and drugs. This should not be any different. Of course the more intense the movie is, the more likely it is to trigger a vulnerable individual, but there is a plethora of triggering material out there anyway within easy reach. At least this triggering stuff could be educational, and especially help in enlightening those ignorant about the seriousness of eating disorders. Besides, choosing to watch this movie as a vulnerable person and not expecting to get triggered is like slathering yourself with honey, lying in the Australian bush and not expecting a horde of ants to come and bite you. I admit though – had I watched this movie several years ago, it would have definitely screwed me over for a few days.

There were a few unrealistic features of the movie that annoyed me (ignoring the scene when the unmarried and childless John Wick/Neo randomly talks to his younger female patient when she is by herself in the bedroom, and the fact that the principle rule is to sit at the table during meal times but no one seems to follow it, nor is it enforced.) Firstly, all of the patients seemed to have disrupted and selfish families, but that does not have to play any role in falling victim to an eating disorder. Plenty of people can tick all of society’s Must-Have boxes and still get sick through no fault of their own. Additionally, while I can’t vouch for everyone, despite the occasional competitiveness and bitchiness, the people who I have interacted with and heard about would never wish an eating disorder on anyone else, and would have never encouraged behaviours in another person. I forget her name, but the girl who aggressively offers Ellen laxatives in exchange for not ratting her out must have been very ill – in more ways than one – to encourage a new and dangerous behaviour to someone else. Finally, apart from Luke and Karen, there is no evidence of the patients making any attempts to recover or curb their behaviours. Instead, behaviours run rampant in the cosy and large house.

Lack of ugliness and flaws aside, ‘To the Bone’ has redeeming characteristics, the biggest of which are its ending and the character Luke. They show that recovery is possible – no matter how far gone or lost one may feel, every positive choice can help. The body and mind are strong, stronger than an eating disorder. There is a rich and bright life after an eating disorder. With these sentiments, the movie rings very true.

P.S. How can Luke kiss Ellen and not wince from her cigarette breath? I also don’t understand what Ellen randomly changing her name to Eli means.

* Unfortunate source: various forum posts of BED sufferers on a “Pro-Ana” website, read several years ago by a sick me

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T – Trauma

Who knew that memories could be so terrifying and paralysing?

That mere thoughts could bring you to your knees, gasping for air.

That a certain sound, smell, place, image, could rile up the brain into a wild fervour.

That an event that happened long ago could still hurt today, perhaps even more.

 

One might at first doubt the power that a distressing event can yield over an individual. After all, it happened in the past, they’re safe now, time heals all wounds, it could be worse, they are just bad memories, right?

Well, yes, an unhappy memory is like a broken arm: it needs time to heal, it hurts, it’s annoying… but it does get better eventually.

But on the other hand, a traumatic experience and the resulting memory is like both arms being driven over by an oversized truck. The resulting mess of flesh looks quite ugly, it needs much more intense work and much more time to recover, painkillers aren’t always enough, it’s dysfunctional, it really gets in the way of things and can be extremely inconvenient, it’s not something you would forget – ever.

So some memories can be strong. Really strong. And these vivid memories are nestled in the brain, one of the most powerful organs in the body. The brain is responsible for controlling all bodily functions, so it follows that severe mental damage can cause impairment, loss, disability. The overwhelming and lasting power of trauma should not be underestimated or trivialised.

A traumatic event might not always result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD), at times it just leads to an unfortunate cocktail with varying shots of intense anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. But no matter what manifests afterward, the sufferer cannot do a ‘Frozen’ and “Let It Go.” You see, trauma causes a deep mental wound that feels as real as anything, and any resulting pain is not imagined or illegitimate.

It does all sound pretty hardcore, so you might think that only super hardcore things can count as trauma and perhaps cause PTSD. But you don’t have to have lived through the events of ‘Game of Thrones’ to have experienced a trauma. Maybe you were deeply afraid, perhaps something felt intrinsically wrong, your physical integrity and sense of self might have been violated, there could have been feelings of fear, helplessness, terror… all of that, or just some parts of that, that’s trauma.

Trauma can take the form of abuse, assault, rape, war, death, for sure, but it can also be an experience of divorce, abandonment, a natural disaster, a serious illness, prolonged exposure to distressing events or images, a bad accident, etc. It doesn’t have to be epic to be valid, and no matter what the source, feelings of trauma are legitimate and should not be discounted. Furthermore, past traumatic events may be confusing, blurred, and unclear, but that does not mean that the resulting distress is not real or valid. Dealing with trauma is exhausting, overwhelming, lonely, and crippling, and just because it is all in the head does not mean it doesn’t physically hurt.

There is an unhealthy pressure out there to act strong, to appear like wehave it all together, to play down the effects of a traumatic experience and try to be a Productive Member of Society (PMS, hahaha…) But just as purposely leaving an open wound unattended to and risking infection is counterproductive and silly, ignoring the effects of post-trauma stress and not seeking help may cause it to fester and strike you down later on.

To realise and admit vulnerability takes courage and intelligence. Seeking help and support for this vulnerability is brave and a sign of true strength. Maintaining a façade is not worth the endless suffering in silence of intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, loneliness, isolation, fear, guilt, anger, shame. Would you wander through the streets pretending everything is fine if half your chest cavity was missing? Would you seek help if you were bleeding to death? Would you try to help someone else bleeding to death?

The good thing is that recovery is possible, healing can happen.

Holes can be filled and pieces can be glued together.

Things that help may include but are not limited to time, space, professional therapy, ongoing support from loyal and patient friends and family, acceptance, discussion, openness, medication, learning self-care and self-compassion. Just like recovery with any other mental illness, there are good days, bad days, and really bad days, but eventually, finally, there are more good days than bad ones, and the bad ones feel less frightening.

 

Please take care, I truly appreciate all shares, comments and likes.

Q – Quiz

Firstly, this article (if you can call it that) gives me a chance to add the letter ‘Q’ as a letter-tab in this website, which is good, as I don’t want to write a whole article on Quetiapine.

Secondly, and more importantly, I have wanted to do a fun quiz for a while but originally struggled thinking how to go about it. When you have a mental illness, you do so many self-related forms, evaluations, and questionnaires that your paper trail becomes more significant than *insert a political event here.* The forests of documentation on how much you sweat, sleep, and concentrate do help with examining progress or setbacks, but boy can they get tedious and dreary after a while. So time for another one! You should be used to them by now. Some questions you may relate to, some you may not.

QUIZ OF STUFF – MULTIPLE ANSWERS MAY BE CORRECT. OR NONE OF THEM.

1) You notice that Klinkina Goobies, a friend of yours, seems to be doing much better than you. She seems to be super happy, popular, and successful. It’s making you feel bad because you doubt you will get what she has. How can you not feel bad?

a) Remember that you are only seeing a segment of her life, a selection of her at her best. Everyone has boring days where they do nothing, fart a bit, and attempt to clean a dirty house.

b) You haven’t been dealt the same cards in life as she has. If you have a mental illness and she doesn’t, you are most likely at a disadvantage. Things may take longer, cost more effort, be more difficult, and it’s important to forgive yourself for that.

c) What sort of a name is Klinkina Goobies?!

d) Comparing yourself to others will not help. Focus on what you have achieved and enjoy. If you honestly feel like you haven’t achieved anything, remember that you have made it this far already.

2) You feel like you are never ever going to get better and truly believe that the mental illness will always be stronger than you. What should you do?

a) During the more difficult periods of your life, it’s so much easier to resign yourself to ideations of failure. You can’t control the long term. Since you’re miserable in the short term, may as well take care of yourself now.

b) Challenge your mental illness to a duel by taking off your glove and throwing it on the ground.

c) Know that it isn’t. Know that you are so much more than it. The horrible feelings and compulsions say nothing about your capabilities or merits. (You’ll still feel like utter crap though, don’t get me wrong.)

d) Were you thinking of another, darker option that is not mentioned above? Trust me, it isn’t one. Drop everything and get as much help as you can, NOW.

3) It’s really hard to stay focussed and keep on track when the world is giving you the opposite message. What do you do?

a) Distance yourself from both friends and media who promote rubbish such as dieting and unnecessary weight-loss, who satanify of sugar and flour, encourage fat-hatred, gym-obsessions, calorie tracking, zucchini ‘pasta,’ and guilt surrounding certain food-groups, who think that you should replace every icecream with a frozen brick of kale, etc.

b) Distance yourself from both friends and media who promote rubbish such as the idea of mental illness being selfish, attention-seeking, made-up, and that it can be cured by yoga/raw almonds/jogging/positive thinking.

c) Distance yourself from both friends and media who promote any rubbish that upsets you that isn’t mentioned above.

d) Turn into a train and build a train track for yourself. Ignore the peasants and only let the people you like into your carriages.

4) You meet someone who has completely recovered and is leading a fulfilling and happy life. You feel like that will never happen to you. What is good to take note of?

a) You are not the exception to the rule. You are as bullet-proof as you are the worst person in the world. (That is, you aren’t.)

b) People recover differently and at varying rates, just like children learning at school. Some eating disorder victims, for instance, need five years to recover from an eating disorder, others need ten years. It’s not a sign to give up, it’s a sign to be patient and persevere.

c) The weather and rain forecast.

d) What makes you so sure that you will never recover? If you know what exactly will happen in the future, buy a few lottery tickets and change the world.

5) Which metaphor best describes what having a mental illness is like?

a) Having two weeks where I consume 500 cans of energy drink, 300g of coffee beans, and have injected myself with steroids. Then two weeks where I get forced to helplessly watch everyone I love be tortured to death.

b) Being in a dark, underwater cave, struggling to breathe and stay warm, with everyone telling me that it’s great out here in the warm sunshine. There is also seaweed everywhere.

c) An abusive partner who bullies me and stops me from doing the things I love.

d) The sky is purple and the clouds are black and the trees are turning to dust… but everything’s fine, no really, it’s fine.

6) Is there a positive side to having a mental illness?

a) It gives you a (dangerous) crash course in fields that may include chemistry, nutrition, finance, mathematics, humanities, politics, and debating. You also get extremely good at condensing information when summarising your medical history.

b) If you die, not really. Plus, treatment is expensive and time-consuming.

c) You do meet some amazing people, who are truly strong, supportive, patient and kind. But you also meet some really horrible people who just make things even worse.

d) When you work on recovery, you become an expert in identifying thoughts and emotions. You are able to adjust brain synapses, increase your maturity and mindfulness. You learn who true friends are, appreciate freedom much more, and value positive emotions to an extent that others can’t.

7) This is not really a quiz any more. I should stop now.

a) Indeed. I have stumbled across this site and have no clue what is going on.

b) Please go back to writing normal blog posts.

c) I am cynical and attack mental illness with humour.

d) I need a witty comeback when talking to the ignorant masses.

Take care everyone, feel free to share and comment. :o)

A – a letter to Anorexia

[My apologies for the delay in blog posts, but you know how busy life can sometimes get, and I would rather write a quality post, or at least attempt to, when I am not dashing about the place like a headless chicken on recreational drugs.]

 

Hello, anorexia.

Let’s pretend for a little while that you are human, and not a mental illness cloaked in a black hoodie and scythe.

You would make an utterly brilliant politician. All of those magnificent yet empty promises, the never-ending lies and backtracking, the ineffective policies that cost more than they benefit, the hypocrisy that you refuse to acknowledge.

Yet, like most politicians, despite blatant ineptness, you are somehow… very persuasive. And powerful. You amass supporters with ease. Great big chunks of the internet are dedicated to your policies. You have your own hashtag, for crying out loud. There are even some people who think you’re a bit of a celebrity: glamorous, attractive, they so dearly want to embody you. Your subjects are often fiercely loyal and highly competitive. No other politician but you will demand such high standards, such perfection, such dedication.

Election time comes back around, but you don’t need to campaign. You remain in power, despite being asked to step down. Your ‘no’ is stronger than theirs. You are a dictator now. You oppress. You terrorise. You tear people apart, gram by gram. You kill and maim. Yes, there is opposition: there are many who rebel and try to show your followers your true monstrosity. But your doctrine has leached into our culture. Your ideology is acceptable in magazines, on social media, in the school playground.

I am not afraid of you anymore… but your power is frightening.

You can defy physics and make your subjects see things on their body that aren’t there.

You metastasize in someone’s brain like a tumor, and replace compassion with revulsion. You pinch, bruise, cut, scrutinise, faint, purge, shiver, sweat, torture.

You manipulate logic and reality. Numbers are warped, death is life, loved ones are conspirational, hatred is good, weakness is strength. The distinctions between you and them continue to blur until you take everything from them and leave behind a lonely, cold, and limited existence.

I know that your followers didn’t even vote for you in the first place. There was corruption right from the beginning. Hell, they could have been on another planet and you still would have found them.

You tell your victims that you give them control, we both know that’s not true. Control is being able to command and make the right choice. How is it control if choices are governed by fear of persecution? How is it control if hunger is ignored, rest is refused, warmth is denied, gentleness is rejected? That is bullying, not control. They are not in power, you are. After all, how else could one think that death is a better option than saying no to you? How are you helping them, when you push them to their limits and beyond, in such a way that all that is eventually left is loss and pain? You say that you provide a solution, but we both know that it was you who made up the problem.

Still… you should be afraid of my power too.

I admit, I know that you can’t be beaten by words. Simple promises made to oneself that this is the last day of restriction, this is last day of over-exercising, no more suffering, time to get serious… they hold no power over you unless they are followed through.

But I also know that you can be fooled through actions and love. Strength and dedication wears you down. Yes, you will make an escape from your empire as miserable, terrifying and difficult as possible, but it’s your loss – you will never see the light that the escapees get to see when they make it out. It’s a special type of light, only for them. It’s one that is deserved for bravery and fortitude. It’s made up of joy, freedom, pride, life, hope, peace, health. It’s made up of realisations that birthday cakes are good, not annoying; resting is relaxing, not troubling; food is a pleasure, love is allowed, and acceptance is okay. Out of your clutches, there is no guilt, there is so much less pain, there is the true sense of lightness.

Dictators can fall, and I toppled you long ago. It did take a lot of time, energy and courage, but on the other side, it’s easy to see how pathetic you are.

Sucks to be you, loser.

Bye.

 

 

Hello dear readers, I hope you liked this! A bit more literate than normal, but that’s what happens when creative juices get bottled up, hahaha. I encourage you to comment, like and share. Also a couple of people commented on this blog recently, for which I say many thanks for your kind messages, they made my day and I truly appreciate them.

 

 

 

B – Bravery

Did you know that the noun bravery can mean fine clothes or a showy display? I myself didn’t until I looked up the dictionary definition online for bravery. At first, I was going to aspire after high school debating teams and attempt to start this article with a dictionary definition, but I got side tracked by the idea that you could wear bravery. Anyway, moving on…

Too many people think bravery simply means doing something and not being afraid of it. That to be brave is to be bold and fearless. That a brave person is someone who continually holds faith in their capacity to successfully manage any situation, regardless of how dangerous it may be. However, that is not bravery – that is either being drunk and/or knowing that you are immortal.

Bravery also often has connotations of victory and success: accompanied by triumphant music, the hero’s head is held high while they charge into battle/towards the dragon/keep on getting shot at but somehow magically be able to keep fighting/raise their weapon, roaring about their homeland/mother/freedom. But bravery in real life is quite different. The type of bravery that is required when recovering from a mental illness isn’t so noble or cinematic.

With a mental illness you have to be brave every day. You aren’t really given a choice. If you want to recover and be free from it you have to constantly confront uncertainty, intimidation, terror, and pain. You are required to always be a knight, wobble around in rusty ill-fitting armour, and face off a giant wrinkly dragon (or a giant spider, if you like dragons and don’t want to envisage hurting one) who just won’t leave you alone.

Being brave is personally different for everyone. Especially when it comes to mental illness. Please bear in mind that certain situations and tasks which may seem trivial, forgettable, and even enjoyable to some, may seem to others a like a dragon who has just stepped on a piece of Lego.

Being brave, or having “the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty” when trying to recover from a mental illness is exhausting. But you don’t have to do it well. Being brave means confronting your fears, and so even if you make a mess of it all, you’re still brave if you’ve ploughed through and given it the very best shot that you felt capable of at the time.

Your legs have been bitten off, the princess has vomited on her dress, and you’re still facing an enormous, utterly terrifying monster. The dragon breathes out and searing flames of panic attacks, flashbacks, hallucinations, phobias, and hateful criticisms engulf your body and its flimsy armour. As the fire blinds your vision, you start to cry, which is unromantic for a knight, especially when you start getting snot all over your armour, but do you know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how badly you screwed up trying to fight the dragon, because you tried. You may be a crawling, sobbing knight, but you’re still facing the situation, and you’re not running away.

Your legs to grow back, you buy some tissues, you try to repair your damaged armour… and you go out and face the beast again. You know that it will be waiting for you, growling and cooking up another blistering firebomb in its stomach. But you still go and confront it, because you know that in order to survive, you have to face the dragon, and as awful as it may be, it is the only way forward. And every conscious choice to attempt to move forward is an example of bravery.

Maybe I am getting a bit too into the metaphor here… just let me put it this way: When you are let go of the ideas that are both your safety net and trap, when you accept the crippling yet liberating truths about yourself, when you give up the dangerous behaviour and rules that are comforting and feel like all you’ll ever know, when you say ‘no’ to the ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ to the ‘no,’ that is you being super-duper incredibly brave. You would put a dragon-fighting knight to shame.

 

C – Choice

Psychology 101. Lecture Stream: Positive Psychology. A few years ago, a large crowd of first-year university students were slouching in the lecture theatre seats (myself among them) while a wrinkled and unfashionable professor waddled around. “You always have a choice,” he said, while numerous yellow smiley faces bounced around on the power point presentation screen behind him. “You can do whatever you want, be whoever you want! Things such as time, money and responsibilities mean we often feel confined to reasonable and rational choices, but in the end they are still choices, and you always have the freedom to make different ones.”

‘Huh,’ I thought to myself afterwards, when shuffling out of the hall. ‘Maybe I can make the choice to not self harm tonight, if it’s that simple.’

I couldn’t. The overwhelming anxiety, intense self-hatred and paralysing fear were simply too much for me and I felt unable to cope.

There are various life coaches, religious leaders and wealthy gurus who claim that we always have a choice, and that the only reason we don’t feel like we have a choice all the time is because of the negative consequences of an appealing choice. For instance, we may dream about quitting a soul-sucking job, but do not, because we need the financial stability and would have a lot trouble finding another job. These life experts say that we feel stuck because we are only complaining and thinking negatively. Instead of thinking ‘this is unfair, I can’t do much about this at the moment,’ the solution, according to them, is to apparently ‘take charge’ of our situation, ‘accept responsibility’ for our actions, and ‘become proactive’ in getting what we want. It’s all very well to accept responsibility for quitting a job you hate, enjoy the resulting freedom, and work hard to find another job – but personally I would find it a bit pointless if you eventually were to starve to death in a cold street because you couldn’t afford to pay for food or rent.

But I digress.

Mental illness is not a choice. Hence the term ‘illness.’ No one chooses to be chronically sick. Some believe that it is a choice: that eating disorders are simply a vain cry for attention, anxiety is just an excuse for nervousness, and that depression is merely pessimistic laziness. They may also think that mental illnesses are akin to lifestyle diseases, brought on upon oneself through particular ways of thinking and an inability to realise the ‘selfishness’ of their situation. This could not be further from the truth.

Luckily, most people nowadays can agree that suffering from a mental illness is as much of a choice as a disease or virus: they realise that it is legitimate, it gets in the way of things, and it wasn’t asked for. You never smoke but can still get cancer, you can always wear warm clothes and yet still catch a cold, you can be a normal human being and still suffer from a mental illness.

However, what many people tend to forget is that the symptoms of mental illness are not a choice either. Just as someone with bronchitis can’t stop their coughing and (somewhat gross) phlegming, just as someone with a broken leg can’t help but block the footpath with their crutches, someone with anxiety can’t stop worrying or stop being self critical and someone with depression can’t magically increase their energy and simply cheer up. All need a variety of time, medication, extra energy, and rest to improve.

What we can choose is recovery. Unfortunately this is not as easy as it sounds – if recovering from a mental illness were simply a one-off choice or a way of thinking, a lot fewer people would still be suffering from it. You cannot outthink a mental illness. It is extremely hard to rationalise constant, intrusive, and cruel thoughts. Nor can you simply choose not to have a mental illness, as much as you might wish for it to not exist.

In the end, recovering from a mental illness is making the constant choice to do what is right for ourselves and our lives.

These include the small, everyday choices that benefit our mental and physical health: going to bed on time to get enough sleep, taking our medication, eating well, getting fresh air and a bit of exercise, showering regularly, seeing other people, spending time with animals, and making time for hobbies.

These also include the humongous, daunting choices. Consciously fighting by putting an end to unhealthy behaviours, resisting urges, giving in to what is healthy and ignoring what the illness screams at you to do, facing your fears and exposing yourself to your demons. These choices are indescribably difficult and often terrifying. They can feel unrewarding and thankless. You have to choose not to do what is easy, preferable, comforting and routine. The anxious person goes to the party, despite the nauseating fear. The person with an eating disorder eats something they haven’t touched in years, despite their guilt. It is easy to forget that these are continual choices that people with a mental illness have to make numerous, infinite times every single day. It does get rather tiring. Imagine all the routine choices that you make in the day suddenly becoming conscious ones you need to make an effort to do and feel afraid about – getting up, choosing what clothes to wear, what breakfast to eat, who to email or message, when to leave the house, what to look at, who to talk to, what to pay attention to, which train or bus to catch, which lane to drive in, what to do when you get home… Following through the choice to recover is exhausting and takes up an immense amount of concentration, bravery, and effort.

Yes, life is made up of choices, but to constantly make difficult choices all the time, even while knowing that they are the best for us, gets, well, difficult (or onerous, for those who say I need to use a thesaurus more.) And that’s why continually choosing recovery needs to be commended and appreciated. People also need to realise that recovery, like a fractured spine, needs a lot more than one night to happen (unless we live in a futuristic robot society, but I will save that idea for another time.) And it’s a struggle. Sometimes we make the wrong choices because it’s the best we can do in that moment and we feel incapable of more. That’s ok, as long as we try our best to choose the right thing the next time.

The last choice a mental illness gives you is the ultimate choice: whether to hold on or not. If you’re reading this, you’ve made it this far, so well done. Keep choosing not to give up.

Happy Thursday, dear readers. Please take care. :o)

I really appreciate all likes, shares and comments!

B – Binge Eating Disorder

ei

This will be a long post. Bear with me! *insert bear picture here for wittiness.*

A few years ago, sick of being sick, I donned my Totoro slippers, downloaded a bunch of rather average movies onto my laptop, and went inpatient for several weeks, determined to recover and stop my binge eating for once and for all.

Part of the services offered by the clinic were educational group sessions, where a psychologist or doctor would explain various concepts such as mindfulness and acceptance. One time, we all got a photocopied picture of an unhappy person with a list of all the effects of starvation syndrome and the risks of being malnourished: the hair thins and falls out, circulation gets poor, the bones weaken and the organs shrink, etc, etc. One girl who, like me, was trying to recover from binge eating, piped up and asked what the risks of binge eating were. We got a vague response about Type 2 diabetes and obesity, and then the doctor went back to talking about the dangerous risks of purging and restricting.

At night time, drinking tea and crocheting with a little too much efficiency, some of us patients would gossip about the extreme behaviours we had gotten up to. The compulsive exercising, the lowest weights, the fear foods, the hormonal irregularities and the laxatives. I found myself referring to my previous times of anorexia, as no one there directly related to my then recent struggles of daily binging without compensation.

I began to realise an unsettling pattern.

When I told people that I was suffering from an eating disorder, the most common response I got was “but you are not underweight. You eat everything and seem to enjoy your snacks.” Indeed, my BMI was healthy and I could eat out at a restaurant without having a panic attack.

The truth is this: when people think of eating disorders, they think of anorexia or bulimia. They think of the dangers associated with being underweight and purging, and remember the high mortality rates. They do not think of an obese adult bulk buying chocolate from the supermarket. That person who stuffs their face can’t possibly have an eating disorder! Some might say they enjoy their food too much and unfortunately didn’t get a proper education in healthy nutrition. Others would say that they are lazy and should exercise more.

I have personally felt that anorexia and bulimia come with a sense of elitism. It is much easier to acknowledge the existence of a disorder when confronted by someone who has the physical attributes and behaviours unique to their illness. If you are extremely underweight, have a lot of anxiety around food, and engage in behaviours such as taking laxatives, how can you not have an eating disorder?

Please don’t get me wrong – I am NOT saying one eating disorder is worse than the other. They are ALL absolute hell in their own ways, and they all have their individual risks and complications. Everybody’s struggle is valid and every attempt at recovery deserves praise and acknowledgement.

But it is a lot harder to ‘prove’ you have an eating disorder if you simply seem to eat ‘a lot.’ “How dare u say u have a eating deesorder,” says a highly intelligent commenter on the internet. Their even more intelligent counterpart adds, “u just gotta understand that sugargh n fat are addictife. I usd to binge on biscits heaps then I realisd sugargh is baad so I stopped and I lost wait. Also u need 2 exercise more! Stop making excooses for being an ugly fatty. And dw its ok for me to call u ugly cos that can motivait u to loose wait.”

BED is not a made up disorder so people who eat a lot can have an excuse. It’s a thing in the DSM-V. BED is not just eating a whole packet of biscuits out of boredom, or comfort eating due to being in a sad mood – it is continually suffering from episodes of severe overeating in a short period of time. People with BED suffer from intense feelings of guilt, shame, misery, embarrassment; disgust, and self-loathing. They also suffer from extremely high levels of distress, often have clinical depression and anxiety, and tend to experience episodes of self harm and suicidal ideation. In short, binging episodes are the opposite of an enjoyable indulgence.

What causes confusion is that there are overweight people who do not have Binge Eating Disorder (BED), just as there are people who binge at times and do not have BED. There are also those who suffer from BED but are not overweight (perhaps as a result of a faster metabolism, medication, and/or being at a lower weight when the binging starts.) Without this knowledge, it’s understandable that there is confusion and doubt.

The determining factor is that those with BED can’t stop the binging. Even when they are full and feel like throwing up. Even when they are curled up on the ground in pain. Even when they can’t afford to buy any more food. Even when they KNOW it is extremely unhealthy for them. Even when they aren’t hungry and just want to go to bed. Even when their weight continues to climb and they desperately want to stop binging… but they just can’t. And they bully themselves, dismayed at this percieved weakness in their self-control: I am indescribably disgusting. As soon as I finish this binge I will lose all of this weight and never binge ever again. But before they realise, they are confronted by another awful binge episode. The lack of control feels terrifying and can be devastating. It only reinforces their highly critical thoughts and further erodes at their already fragile self-esteem.

But many people don’t realise this. They don’t realise that telling someone with BED that they eat a lot is like telling an alcoholic that they drink too much or a gambler that they lose more games than they win. They also don’t stop to think that telling a BED sufferer to “just stop binging and lose weight” is just like telling someone with anorexia to just gain weight and stop restricting. It feels literally, physically, utterly impossible. To recover, just like with any eating disorder or mental illness, they need professional help, time, support, compassion, and kindness. It is never as simple as do or not do.

Some fear that this type of eating disorder will give some people an excuse for their behaviour. Surely those who are simply lazy or enjoy excessive amounts of food or don’t have any willpower then won’t be motivated to help themselves because they are ‘sick!’ But someone with this illness doesn’t just eat a bucket of chicken nuggets and then not leave the house. BED is horribly powerful and can make sufferers feel compelled to do almost anything in order to quench the overpowering urges to binge and intense feelings of anxiety and self hatred. Examples may include: stealing food from shops, lying about their eating habits, eating food from the bin, eating other people’s leftovers, going to multiple supermarkets in one day, hiding food, eating vast amounts rapidly in secret, ravaging the food cupboard like a swarm of locusts, borrowing or stealing money/going into debt just to buy food to binge on, missing appointments or being late to work/school because they can’t stop binging, the painful list goes on. The sufferer is aware of these detrimental behaviours. They are miserable about themselves and their situation. But they feel completely powerless to do anything about it.

The other extra challenge posed to BED sufferers is our dieting and fat-shaming culture. While it is extremely hard for an ED victim to actively gain weight in a society that encourages weight loss, they do at least have science on their side – their bone density improves, as does their concentration and circulation. They can reap the physical rewards of the body repairing itself and receive physical confirmation that they are doing the right thing. However a BED victim cannot recover by dieting and actively trying to lose weight, because that will just refuel their binges. They have to focus on any personal issues, such as trauma or anxiety, work on finding healthy coping mechanisms instead of binging, concentrate on eating a balanced diet with no restrictions, AND figure out ways to manage the addictive behaviour before they can even begin to think about working towards a healthy weight. But when trying to eat a chocolate bar one afternoon in order to avoid eating ten that night, some unhelpful poo-bum will decide it is their holy mission in life to tell you that chocolate has sugar in it (who would have thunk it?!) and you should eat a salad instead. They effectively make you feel guilty about doing the right thing.

To finish, if you or someone you know suffers from Binge Eating Disorder, get help. Your eating disorder is just as deadly and devastating as all of the others. However, just like these other eating disorders, you CAN get better, even if you currently feel like you can’t. Full recovery is completely possible. Please be kind to yourself.

[Well this post has turned out to be loooooooooong. My longest article ever, to be honest! So thanks for reading it all if you did. But this is not a niche subject. BED is more prevalent that you may realise. In Australia, out of all of those who suffer from an eating disorder, 47% of them have Binge Eating Disorder, compared to 12% bulimia nervosa and 3% anorexia nervosa. BED is also the most prevalent eating disorder in the USA.]

Take care now. :o) I really appreciate each like, comment and share. If you want, please use this as a resource to explain to others the nature of Binge Eating Disorder and it’s legitimacy.