Have you met Ana?
Ana-who? I hope you wonder
Murmurs – Ana-rexia.
When my spiral down the eating disorder rabbit hole began, I didn’t know anorexia existed. I had seen pictures of emaciated women, of course. I thought it was purely about looking in the mirror and seeing an obese person staring back. Having now experienced this illness, I can say with 110% certainty that it is so, so much more than this. Still, I think it took my adolescent brain a solid year or two to even realise that my behaviours were a problem. They felt so right. Turns out, there’s nothing right about anorexia nervosa.
It’s a little like having two personalities. And before I even knew that “healthy self” and “eating disorder self” was a fairly common concept and hallmark of eating disorder treatment, I had given a name to my second personality, two years in to my struggle, when I was about thirteen. I read, and still do read, the DSM a lot.
I called her Ana.
Now, Rosie started out as a pretty wild, cheeky, sassy, and fun child. In fact, she had so much energy, the adjective ‘crazy’ was tossed around fairly often – and I don’t fail to see the irony in this now. But Ana is a tumour, and she hijacked that bubbly personality. Rosie became more and more withdrawn, anxious, secretive, manipulative, deceptive and damaged. Ana was just a voice, but she felt entirely separate from me. It is truly like having a whole other person freeloading off your rapidly firing, rapidly shifting, neurons.
These neurons were morphing into a shape it would take nearly a decade to unravel. And they’re still being unravelled.
The thing is, eating disorders shift, they shift, and morph, and strengthen, and change, all the while continuing to hijack your brain. Once my weight was restored by the beginning of 2017, moving out of home triggered a whole new set of neurons to fire.
They arranged themselves into bulimia nervosa.
I never vomited. And because of this, it did take me a little while to recognise the bulimic battle. But there’s more than one way to have bulimia, just as there’s more than one way to have an eating disorder in general. I binge. I purge. I just don’t throw up. I abuse laxatives, I exercise excessively, I restrict for the following day, and then the cycle begins all over again. There’s normally some self-harm in there too.
Some people choose to identify as having both Ana and Mia inside their minds. Personally though, my disorder has always been, and will always be, Ana.