Why an eating disorder should not be the main character of a life’s story
Isn‘t a story something with a beginning, a main part and a hopefully happy ending? I am not sure I can structure those past years of my life in such a way. Especially with the focus on my eating disorder. Thinking of its starting point, there are only assumptions to draw on. Was the trigger my first diet as a 12-year-old girl? That diet occurred when I tried to regain Mummy’s benevolence after my first teenage body changes. My mother simply forced me to do something about my chubby and embarrassing appearance. My role was being the good girl. Of course, I fulfilled her wish.
Teenage years and clues that shaped my identity
Or did the eating disorder begin when I realised how hunger effectively numbed my negative feelings? For instance, when I hoped to forget the instability of yet another relocation, the loneliness in the new school, or the missing of my workaholic dad. Or did the illness start when I noticed how the successful weight loss granted me positive attention and my poor self-worth magically bloomed? Whatever, I guess those teenage years form the first chapters of my eating disorder story. Definitely this was the time when I slipped into dysfunctional behaviour patterns that slowly shaped my complete identity.
Again, I am not sure when the main part of the illness entered the stage. I guess, after that prelude, I would agree on narrative ups and downs. There were phases where I restricted myself, but also phases where I could not stop eating.
I had turned 20 before I could get a first diagnosis. This was yet another time when I obviously had lost a lot of weight. Thus, one day my family doctor named my condition as ‘anorexia nervosa’ and forced me to see a psychologist. This very experienced woman based her work on behaviour changes. She would listen, show respect, but on the other hand give me clear instructions, on how to act and behave differently. In return, I trusted her and truly gained self confidence without using the vehicle of starving.
I got the idea of fighting all wrong – I was fighting myself
Times followed in which I felt strong and courageous, travelled the world, fulfilled my duties at university, later as an exemplary employee. But there were also times, when depression mercilessly kicked in. I avoided social contact, lost weight again or harmed my body with uncontrolled eating attacks. I did not struggle alone all the time. I searched for help.
Different types of therapists tried to convince me that life is worth the fight. Being the good girl, I always agreed, I always understood. But somehow, I got the idea of fighting all wrong. I did not manage to change my behaviour anymore. I could not stop the fight against myself.
The pen fed the creative inner me and kept me alive
One good thing. Keeping a diary was a helpful way of expressing myself, channelling thoughts and feelings. Later I did not only write, but added drawings, collages, and photographs. With narrative expression, I could suddenly feel the energy of a creative inner me. Even in the darkest hours this healing source was there, giving me comfort, keeping me alive.
I am now 46 years old, not married, no children, still not recovered. There is a feeling of deep regret, an understanding of the price I pay for keeping up with the eating disorder for such a long time. My body is struggling with many side effects of the illness. Even if I try, my body will not fully forgive anymore. Thus, I might be entering the end phase of my story.
Maybe the chronic eating disorder writes the plot all by herself now, unwilling to hand the pen back to me. Or maybe I will find the strength to create the turnaround of this story. Maybe, yes, maybe, I will reach the tipping point that leads to my happy ending: a healthier life with the freedom of honestly taking care of my story.
With pen in hand I can dream of illustrating children’s books
So, entering rock bottom has taught me a lot of lessons. Especially the importance of positive goals. I need a reason to keep up the healthy fight. Right now, I allow myself the dream of becoming an illustrator of children’s books. It is the universal magic of words and pictures that finally might be a main part of MY journey.
- Dear Readers, I’m sure you join me in encouraging Lotta to focus on the healthy fight. Dreams really can come true. Words and pictures can be our sword in creating a life of our own. I know — June Alexander
- Brave Lotta (a pseudonym) has created the avatar and image that accompany her heartfelt story.