Me, Myself, and Ana – A Poem

Terrified of breathing, in case of collapse.

Terrified of existing, in case of relapse.

Fearing the voice clawing this brain,

but craving hunger to flood these veins.

Desperate for relief, for a bite or two,

all this hard work I’ll eventually rue.

Still she screams, oh, how she screams,

this parasitic illness destroying my dreams.

Seeking a way out of one’s own mind,

is successful, sure, but leaves memories behind.

A black pit of time marks the sickest years,

leaving a dissociative gap from a time full of fear.

How impossible it is to escape oneself,

envious of the lives mine might have paralleled.

Instead I exist in an ocean of darkness,

a voice for company tainted by harshness.

There’s no light for me here:

just myself,

and Ana,

and the bones we hold dear.

Broken streaks and bloodied sheets

I was able to go five weeks without self harming. It would have been 35 days tonight.

35 days of urges. 35 days of urge surfing. 35 days of ignoring the buzz of sharps calling me from afar, from the kitchen, from my desk, from the toolbox.

It would have been 35 days if it weren’t for tonight.

I am still addicted to self harm. I still hurt myself badly – deeply, the kind of deep that goes beyond the first few layers of skin and exposes that white bubbly fatty flesh beneath – and think this isn’t good enough. I hurt myself and the voice in my head, the Ana in my head, she cries you deserve to hurt worse than this. It would have been 35 days tonight, except now my thigh is bleeding through layers of bandage because that voice, that pesky little voice, she said this isn’t enough.

Because no matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough for Ana.

I don’t know what triggered me to break my streak. Once I got to 20 days clean it was easy motivation to stay clean. I reached a month, and was hopeful I had proven to myself I could reach three months clean, which was my next goal. Until today, when a few triggering conversations at work – I’m a pharmacy assistant – sent things crashing down around me:

The pharmacist mentions things as we work. Things I don’t want to know about our customers, even though they’re regulars, even though it’s important I understand their conditions and circumstances. He says, this girl, she stays stick thin despite all that seroquel, and all that lithium. He says, she used to have anorexia, poor darl.

And I want to scream. I want to scream SO DID I. I want to shout it from the rooftops until people start to listen. I want to bear my scars and my soul and these freshly puckered wounds I’ve carved into my flesh and I want to scream look at how I struggle. There is no ‘used to’ about this.

I used to be underweight. I used to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. I used to be bullied. I used to live in a devastatingly invalidating environment.

But there is nothing used to about my eating disorder, about the classic binge purge type of anorexia that enveloped my childhood. There is no ‘used to’, not for me.

Starving myself is a steady state, an algorithm that I cannot perfect the way I used to, but a formula none the less. In must equal out. Hunger is good, fullness is bad. In must equal out. Hunger is good. Hunger is good. Hunger is good.

There’s no train to my thoughts here, only the roaring train I want to leap in front of because I’ve failed. Once again, I’ve failed. And here we are again, nestled beneath blood-stained sheets that seep through to my mattress, with open flesh ready to add to the mess. There is nothing ‘used to’ about my journey.

I used to struggle. And I do struggle. I used to suffer from anorexia, and I still starve myself.

I used to listen to the voice in my head, and I still do. I still listen. Because trying to fight her, trying to win that losing battle, will only cause me more pain than the knives I take to my flesh in desperation. It’s a blood sacrifice; only blood will suffice. Only blood will subdue her. Only the punishment I deserve, the relief to the urges; that’s the only way I can quieten her.

The only thing louder than Ana is the grumble of my empty stomach.

A Small Win – in your face Ana!

Tonight should have been a binge night.

See, everything was going well until I successively broke three of Ana’s most important rules:

  1. Eating after breakfast before I was hungry
  2. Eating a non-lunch food for lunch (in this case, leftover veggie nachos)
  3. Baking, and eating not one, but two muffins, again before I was hungry.

It was looking like a bad day. Motivation was low, my head was full of thoughts, my brain was scattered. The epic list of study I was hoping to smash out left barely touched. After breaking rule 3, I jumped on my bike for an exercise purge. One and a half hours of cycling, finding the steepest hills around of course, and another half hour of weights at the gym. To make sure everything was okay. To make sure I could be hungry again. To make sure Ana was satisfied, and I was allowed to eat my next meal. I had to double check the numbers three times to make sure I was safe again now.

So Ana quietened.

But I still felt down. The day seemed to pass both infinitely slowly and extremely quickly, which probably means I dissociated the day away. Somehow it was late, and I ate dinner, and went back to my desk for another round of attempted study. (My problem isn’t even external distractions – its thoughts, and dissociation, and emotional distress. All of which sucks, because once I get into the groove of it, I actually love studying. I love the process of learning, and I love what I’m learning about.)

I started to feel productive and then my progress was interrupted.

I still broke three rules… and if I’ve broken three today, then why not break some more? Thus began the spiral down the rabbit hole. Where was the closest pizza place? Ice cream place? Supermarket? How did delivery work (I’ve never done it before)? Oh, a $30 minimum? A 60 minute wait? No worries. Which one was the worst for me, which one would generate the most disgust, shame and repulsion? Which one would most likely lead to self-harming, and to releasing all this hurt?

And I don’t even know why my brain decided that this moment was a great moment to suddenly switch its circuitry, but I walked to the nearest shopping centre, and I bought a single ice cream cone. And I licked it slowly, and pushed the ice cream down with my tongue like I did when I was little, so that it went all the way to the bottom. I enjoyed the sensation of goose bumps in and out and realised that winter is the ideal time to consume ice cream because it won’t melt all over the place. Crucial, considering Sydney is hot – or at least it will be, in a few months.

I didn’t buy a tub of ice cream, and eat it all with a spoon. I didn’t waste money on binge food to feel guilty over later. I didn’t punish myself more, or send myself into another self-harm / restrict / binge / purge cycle. I bought one ice cream. I ate it. It was fucking great. I don’t regret it. Take that Ana. It’s a small win, but it’s still a win nonetheless.

Anorexic is not an adjective

This week, I saw something that frustrated me.

It frustrated me to the point of ‘borderline rage’, the kind that hasn’t consumed me for a long time, and the impulsivity that accompanies this. In this case, the impulsive act didn’t cause much corporeal damage – I posted a long, deeply personal post via Facebook. The outcome was that I felt more hurt than I had to begin with, and guilty, and sad, and nostalgic for Ana, and everything that I left behind when I recovered. Anyway.

The topic which frustrated me is a topic which has been in the media so much lately, too much. It is a topic dear to my heart, too dear. It is a topic that is being promoted, and that disgusts me. And yes, despite being weight restored, despite fulfilling the psychiatric definition of “recovered”, the anorexic behaviours, thought patterns, distortions, obsessions and compulsions still consume me.

Anorexic is not an adjective. And it is one used as such too often, by people who don’t understand, “celebrities” like the Kardashians, who have the reach to make real change, but are instead the ones blocking the way. It doesn’t matter who you are: you do not get to joke about an illness you have never experienced, an illness which takes more lives than any other. In fact, the more famous you are, the greater your capacity to create change by not stigmatising the illness any more than it already has been. I’m not one to “keep up” with these particular ladies, but what they said amongst themselves hurt me. It hurt me because they joked over an illness that nearly killed me. It hurt me because they joked over the mental illness with the highest mortality rate of them all.

Anorexic is not an adjective. Anorexic is being hypothermic in summer, and collapsing from exhaustion every night. It’s losing your childhood, your womanhood, your friends, and laughter, and smiles. It’s looking at your reflection and counting bones from your clavicles to your hips but believing you still need to lose weight. It’s yellow skin and a gaunt face and sunken eyes and hair that falls out as you stroke it. It’s wearing children’s clothes because nothing else will fit. It’s being controlled by numbers and calories and food and weight and exercise and a voice in your head that compels you to behave in certain ways, all whilst maintaining a facade of control that you yourself still believe to be true – even as this control spirals away like the soup you’ve been pouring down the drain. It’s hiding beneath baggy clothes, and a web of lies so intricate that a single breath could cause the whole system to come crashing down. It’s eating a single cracker, and punishing yourself for days and days or crying over a carrot that you’re being forced to eat. It’s narrowly avoiding hospital admission by convincing yourself and your doctor that you’re fine, that everything is fine, that nothing is wrong, despite the fainting, the collapsing, the low blood pressure and the anaemias, and the messed up hormone counts and missed periods and reversal of puberty that you brought upon yourself. Being anorexic means having a life cemented in obsessionality and despair and anxiety over the smallest changes to a rigid routine. 

Being anorexic means never being quite enough: not thin enough, good enough, smart enough. Just never enough. Being anorexic means giving up your life, physically, emotionally and mentally; and for some, even literally.

Anorexic is not an adjective. So please, don’t use it like one.

 

Here it Comes

It’s happening as I check this label one more time, just in case I was wrong. It’s happening as I add and subtract endlessly in my head, always overcompensating just to be safe. It’s happening as I consider the lowest carb, lowest fat meal I can construct from the vegetables in my fridge. It’s happening as I step on and off the scales because they’re lying to me again. Why are they always lying to me? It’s happening as I pinch my sides and glance at my thighs as I pass by windows. It’s happening as I fast the time away, as I run, as I cycle, as I shake from exhaustion and low blood sugar, and feel the familiar dizziness of low blood pressure take hold. It’s in the lies and the fake smiles and the dim eyes and dark circles. It’s in that haunted tilt of the head as I eavesdrop – are they talking about me? It’s because I weighed more today, isn’t it? They can see it. They’re staring, they can see it. They’re gossiping about it. They can see it. I knew it. I knew it too. I told you. I told you they would notice. You need to try harder. You need to eat less. You need to exercise more. You need to do better. 

Isn’t it funny, how fast a relapse can take hold? How quickly this disorder latches on to a moment of stress, a moment of weakness and of sickness, and turns it into an opportunity?

Here I am, noticing the relapse begin to unfold, the patterns begin to set themselves in place, yet I feel powerless to stop it.

Or maybe I just don’t want to.

Starvation: the all-too familiar sensation

This sensation claws at my chest, crawls inside my belly, and shivers beneath my hands, an internal shaking that I cannot cease. It’s relentless, and stronger than my heartbeat, stronger than every intake of breath. Clinging to counter tops, resting on chairs, nodding the wooziness away, headaches and brain fog and heart murmurs that don’t recede, and an overwhelming exhaustion, fatigue deeper than my flesh – this is the sensation of starvation.

It returns to me, like an old friend that I once cherished, and parted ways with. Alas, this friend returned without invitation, without so much as a warning, and has squeezed her way back into my life. Ana returns, gnawing at my sides like the growling of my belly. She whispers to me, how much better these jeans would look if you were thinner. How much more they would appreciate you, if you were thinner. How much more they would notice you, if only. you. were thinner.

She whispers to me, praises me, for what I have done. This is how it’s supposed to be, she says. It’s supposed to be constant. Can’t you feel the weight slipping? Can’t you feel that I’m winning? 

And every time she whispers these words, that voice only grows, and multiplies. It only takes a small stumble to lose yourself in a crevasse.

But you need to be exercising as well, she adds. It’s not enough to be hungry before eating again, but you need to be beyond hungry, you need to be starving. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve restricted quite so severely, and for this long. It is both familiar and unwanted. These pathways – the starvation pathways, the rituals and routines and obsessions – were fixed for five years. They are not difficult to find myself slipping back into.

And I can’t even bring myself to care.

I miss my eating disorder – my real eating disorder, not this disgusting bulimia that has taken it’s place. I miss bones and my old body and I miss being thin. I miss the call of death, the oh so close call of death. I miss Ana. I miss anorexia.

There are lots of aspects to this monster that I don’t miss, the things that I couldn’t bear to return to, the things that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody. But I’m ignoring them. My judgement is clouded by her, and her only.

Because if I just listened, Ana would make things right.

So this will continue. And my pants will continue to loosen. My bones will continue to re-emerge. Finally, she will return, starvation will return, and everything will be okay again, because everything will finally be right.

The A-B Battle

I am torn between two impossible choices. I’m torn between the presence of bones and the absence. I’m torn between starvation and binge eating. I’m torn between a complete emotional breakdown or numbing out with self harm. I’m torn between plain rice cakes and fruit and vegetables or bread and cake and peanut butter. I’m stuck between two impossibilities, and the further I stretch towards one, the further it leaps out of reach. The further safety leaps away, along with my sanity.

I am torn between anorexia and bulimia.

There are memories in the blank abscess of my brain, not many but a few. Starvation fucks with your mind. I can remember the book that started it all. I can remember the nose dive into excessive exercise, and orthorexic habits, and obsessions, and weight loss. I can remember the fear, taste its coating on my tongue: I was afraid of fat, and carbs, and sugar, and gaining weight, and people, and my parents, and failure. I was terrified of failure. I can remember the sit ups and push ups secretly on my bedroom floor, the inescapable urge to repeat exercises because I hadn’t done them right. I can remember the weight going down, and every drop brought with it only more elation. Every increase, however minor, brought with it self-deprecation, and punishment. I can remember the day I realised I had an eating disorder, and how it shattered me. I remember the day I called her Ana. I remember the text I sent to someone, the first person I ever opened up to about her. Have you met Ana, I asked? Ana who, she replied. Ana-rexia?

I remember doctor after doctor after doctor because my mum just wouldn’t fucking admit to herself that was the failure. That her perfect golden child was seeking perfection, and it was killing her.

I remember the anxiety. And tears, and the suicidal thoughts to come. I remember the utter intensity of pain and anguish that I felt. I remember being threatened with hospitalisation. I remember it was only 500 grams away, but it was 500 kilometres away too.

I remember that nobody noticed. Nobody dared to ask lest they face the wrath of my bitter sarcasm.

Bulimia is not like anorexia.

They are both eating disorders, but that is all. Bulimia is grounded in shame and desperation and hatred, but anorexia is placed on some sort of pedestal, even in our own minds. Even in my head, I value the bones I’ve lost during weight restoration, I envy the people I see and I think to myself, they know Ana too. Bulimia is misunderstood, more so than anorexia. As soon as I confess that I don’t purge by vomiting, because I physically cannot (I wish, believe me), my concerns are pushed away, as if there’s not more than one way to purge, and not more than one way to have an eating disorder.

The two battle against each other. I eat to combat Ana, but I exercise to fight eating. I binge to cope with emotions, but starvation suppresses them too. I’m no longer underweight, but I can’t help thinking that I was better off dead, when I had the chance, when I had the opportunity, and I was oh so close to heart failure, even if nobody knew it at the time. I can’t help thinking that this shift from anorexia to bulimia shouldn’t even be important, but it is. It is. 

There is nothing worse than your own head, nothing worse than memories which plague you. There is nothing worse than swapping one disorder for another, instead of recovering properly, like I was supposed to, like I should have, like I wasn’t good enough for. There is nothing worse than praying for a relapse, because I know, deep down, that this time, a relapse would kill me. 

And that, after all, is the final goal.