The Niggle – when Anorexia and Anxiety are Partners

Is anxiety related to the later onset of anorexia? Is anxiety related to the maintenance of anorexia?

A reader shares her experience ahead of a FEAST webinar that will explore this issue.

I feel it in my bones. I feel it deep, deep inside me, like every cell is made up of it, like it’s in my DNA and I have no choice in the matter. This is not something I have brought upon myself. This is not something I can just make go away. This is something that makes its insidious presence felt every day in so many ways. It can come on strongly, but more often it has more of a lurking nature, always there, always pervading my thoughts and my actions. Like a stalker. In the background. In the side-grounds, or in the foreground.

This is the niggle. My niggle. The beast within. The untamed, seething snake that slowly but surely squeezes my body until I am left quivering at its malcontent. Sinister. Stealthy. Sneaky.

My anxiety.

But as horrible as the niggle can be, it nevertheless transmutes from foe into friend. It is the lens through which I see the world and without it the world would be grey, void of any colour or substance. I know this is odd. How can something so debilitating and threatening be my friend? How can a niggle be a source of comfort? And how is it that I manage to get cosy with it?

Every day my psyche is affected by the niggle. I fluctuate between poor concentration and focused awareness throughout the days. I ruminate endlessly and have trouble making decisions. I plan and organise with daily lists – and then I plan some more. I mull over predicaments to such a degree that I literally can’t think any more. Round and round. And my brain hurts. So much. More often than not. How I crave peace, contentment and rest.

I have been told by more than one person that I internalise my emotions so that they become symptoms. Probably true. I tend not to air my dirty laundry. Why would I? I am an introvert, happily so, and nothing is going to change that fact. But perhaps this accounts for the niggle. I can write about my emotions but I can’t express them verbally.

Physically, the niggle blows its trumpet loud and clear. It can sound out nausea deep within my belly. It can play TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) until I want to scream. And it can herald shocking headaches, neck and shoulder pain. The niggle pokes and prods, needles and prickles. These pains are real, not sharp and acute, but more dull, aching like a sore that slowly festers, or a rash that shyly creeps over an unsuspecting body. The TMJ is the worst, sending tiny electric shocks along my jawline, into my cheeks and into my teeth. Then begins the anxiety over whether the cause is muscular or dental, and the quandary about how to make it go away. But there is never a quick fix and each time I have a flare up I feel I am being punished, that I must have done something terribly wrong for God to inflict this on me.

Relationships have suffered because of the niggle. Having resigned from one job because of it, I’ve lost the friendship of colleagues and the bond of at least one close friend. These losses hurt. They anger, raw and red. I don’t mean for the niggle to harm anyone else, to offend and hurt. The niggle is my problem, and mine alone. Or am I being naïve? I like to think I am not selfish but maybe the harsh truth is that I am. Oh God, therein lies more anxiety….

At the beginning of this year, I attempted suicide, such was the extent to which my niggle was affecting me. I could see no way through or around the pain, both mentally and physically. Death waited for me with open arms, a kindly gentleman waiting patiently for my subjugation. But I botched it. Sadly. And now I have to learn, again, how to live with the niggle.

My eating disorder helps me. In fact, my eating disorder and my anxiety are partners in crime – my eating disorder gives me anxiety and yet it is my anxiety that fuels my eating disorder. My anorexia is “stable” says my medical practitioner, but this assessment is of no comfort. It simply means that at this point in time I am not playing games. And yet my anxiety prowls, like a predator seeking its prey. I am an easy target. The niggle knows where to find me, knows my weakest points, and sets its trap.

This is the niggle. My niggle.

Webinar explores anxiety and anorexia

  • If you struggle with anorexia and anxiety, or you know someone who is struggling with this “terrible twosome”, I highly recommend this 21 July webinar: Is anorexia nervosa an eating disorder? How anxiety inhibits eating

Click here for more.

This event is organised by Families Empowered And Supporting Treatment for Eating Disorders (F.E.A.S.T.) and features the wonderful Dr Walter Kaye.

June Alexander

About Tanya Motiani

I live in Geelong, Australia, with my husband and my pet cat, Oxford. Having recently resigned from my part-time job as an assistant kindergarten teacher, I now work as a nanny. In my spare time, I like to meditate, write, read, watch old movies, walk in nature, cook and birdwatch. My favourite place to be is at home, often with a candle lit to induce feelings of peace and contentment. I am enjoying my nannying jobs as I feel there is now purpose and meaning to my life, helping out parents and making small humans happy! Through my pastimes, I seek to improve my wellbeing as I continue to suffer both from the grief of losing my father two years ago as well as a deeply entrenched eating disorder. I use the craft of writing as a therapeutic tool through which I might understand, and ultimately resolve, these issues.

All articles by Tanya Motiani

2 Responses

  1. Jennifer Marsh says:

    Tanya,
    Thank you so much for sharing so truthfully…so much of what you wrote could have been written by me throughout the past 3 decades.
    Gratefully, the Anorexia is no longer imprisoning me, but I continue to battle the panic disorder, GAD and panic attacks.
    Thinking of you,
    Jen.

    • Dear Jen, Tanya will be deeply touched by your comment. I feel honoured to know both of you personally and admire your courage so much. Wishing you peace and contentment, June xo

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