I am running out of reading material. Please comment if you have any more suggestions for ED books! xxx

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Life without Ed

How one woman declared independence from her Eating disorder and how you can too

By Jennie Schaefer with Thom Rutledge

Thankyou to ally for recommending this book :)

I too would recommend 'Life without Ed' to anyone wanting to recover from an eating disorder, provided you don't mind the personification of this illness as an aid to managing it, and you don't mind a bit of humour. Humour is a controversial issue when it comes to eating disorders, and many sufferers sadly find it offensive. I noticed another review of this book criticised the author for supposedly being insensitive in the way in which she basically laughed in the face of her disorder. I disagree. I feel that her writing is compassionate, and my only criticism of the jokes was that most of them were pretty bad ;), although there was the odd one that made me laugh. The idea behind the jokes was good though.

For a long time I admittedly found it hard to understand why anyone who had suffered from an eating disorder could ever joke about the horrors of such an evil illness. However, I think part of the process of achieving freedom is to finally believe in the saying 'laughter is the best medicine'. Laughter can indeed be found in even the darkest of places. Psychiatric units: you will hear laughter within these institutions (and not just manic laughter), in-between the crying and screaming and excruciating distress. Laughter doesn't undermine the pain, it simply shows a tiny bit of hope that there is still something within that person who is fighting for life. And of course, 'if you don't laugh you'll cry.'

Another criticism which I disagree with was the view that the author made recovery look too easy, with her descriptions of how she overcame each hurdle being so short. I didn't think they were too short; just concise. Plus Schaefer explained to the reader at the beginning that the process was a lot longer and harder than the pages of each section perhaps may indicate, but she wanted to keep the sections short in order to not overwhelm someone who may be struggling to concentrate on the writing. I for one appreciate this as I do go through phases where the ED obsessions/compulsions get so strong I struggle to read anything at all. She made the book accessible to those who need it most. The only down side to this is that the book is shorter than it looks; with the chapters finishing every few pages and leaving most of a page blank, there was a lot of blank space. However this couldn't really be avoided when trying to keep the 'bite-sized chunks of information' structure. 

Although I think this book could help a lot of people to some extent and is worth reading, I am not sure how I personally feel about the personification. The more the eating disorder is personified, the more I cringe. And yet I still do personify it to some extent because it really is the only way of explaining and coming to terms with what living with an eating disorder is like. I try to reduce the *cringe* by referring to my ED as simply 'it'. I can do this without even knowing sometimes, because when trying to explain how I feel to people, I have to clarify that I know that what I am saying is contradictory and illogical. And that I can see things perfectly sanely whilst still acting on fucked up beliefs. The person I am talking to has to understand that they are basically talking to two people, and it's no use telling ME that I am being stupid, because I'm not the one who needs to be convinced... or am I? I don't know, I don't understand. But I guess it makes it ten times harder when you can't separate yourself from the illness at all, and that is the premise that this book builds upon.   

I also reject therapists suggestions to write a letter to 'it'.

No fucking way, no way is my eating disorder getting a letter. Telling it how much I hate it and that I am a valuable individual without it - it will only laugh in my face and turn me against therapy. Of course, Schaefer says towards the beginning of the book something along the lines of 'If you're thinking this book is stupid, that is probably Ed talking'. And then, before I know it, there is a voice in my head saying 'don't listen to her, of course you don't have voices inside your head!'.... and, that just proves her point :/

The thing is, I define 'hearing voices' as something a schizophrenic would hear, and whatever is in my head is not like that. I don't actually 'hear' anything. So why do so many people with an ED refer to it as 'a voice?' Why do I? It's like... I know what it's said, but I can't remember hearing it. I think the fact it is so subtle is part of why it is so deadly. The bullies that are subtle are the ones that can get the closest to you by pretending to be your friend whilst messing with your head, deeper and deeper. Hence one thing I definitely agree with this book on, and something that I have in the past used to explain to people why I can't let go of my eating disorder, is the 'abusive lover' analogy. However Schaefer goes a bit OTT and writes out a whole divorce document in order to end the marriage to her eating disorder *CRINGE*, complete with witnesses to sign it. If that helped her though, great. 

Why the hell would you refuse to let go of someone who is destroying you inside and out? You will indeed find a none-pathological answer in all those people clinging to abusive relationships. Manipulation, guilt-tripping, LOVE, the words 'I promise I'll change', 'you made me do that, you hurt me, it's your fault I hit you' 'if you leave me I'll kill myself, please don't go' 'You are nothing without me' 'I will always find you'. And some of the most abusive lovers are the most loving, caring and seductive, as part of their cruelty, whether intentional or otherwise. You fight and you nearly leave, but then the kindness and character change makes you stay. You deny to yourself how bad it is. They convince you time and time again that they are worth it. So does the eating disorder. Every time you decide 'I'm going to recover', you pack your bags and leave. But sometimes within just minutes or hours, you're back on the doorstep desperately wanting back the 'safety' and familiarity of 'home', no-matter how painful 'home' is. Even if you realise they are not worth it, you still cannot stop loving them, and love makes us irrational.

It sounds quite sick to suggest that I love my eating disorder. And yet, sometimes I think love is the only emotion strong enough to make me cling to something so damaging. 

Some believe that this voice, that isn't actually a voice, is simply an extension of the 'internal critic' that everyone experiences. But for me I know what my internal critic sounds like, and I still get it, obviously. And I don't link that to my eating disorder, as I know that critic isn't disordered and it would remain even if I made a miraculous full recovery. Just like I believe anorexia is NOT 'just a diet gone too far', I also believe the anorexic voice is NOT 'just the internal critic gone too far'. It is much more sinister than these two theories imply. I experience the critic as being me, and the choice I made to try to eat more healthily I experienced as me. But the 'voice' and illness that then took over, feels more like a disease. A parasite entering my brain and fighting violently to survive, to feed off my body and soul. 

‘I continued reading over the menu. I heard, “Order the highest calorie item – fettuccine Alfredo.” I figured that Ed had some new tactic and was just trying to confuse me. Then I hear, “If you don’t order the fettuccine Alfredo, you are anorexic.” I looked up and saw that someone else had pulled up a chair.’

‘”Counter Ed” is my new dining partner. Counter Ed encourages me to overeat in order to guarantee that I am not under eating… He says, “I am here to help. It’s either Ed or Me.” Although counter Ed pretends to be my ally, he is really just as controlling as Ed.’

These lines really hit home with me as I have never heard anyone mention it before, but I too encountered 'Counter Ed/ anti-ana' as I made some progress in recovery. I said to people that it wasn't as simple as not doing what the ED says, but I couldn't explain why. The answer seems to be here; how can I be sure that I'm not listening to Ed when he manipulates everything I try to do? If I choose something that is medium calories/fat, how to I know whether I'm actually compromising with Ed, making deals with him that if I eat that then I can cut out something else later? The only way I was making sure that I definitely wasn't ANOREXIC, was by choosing the biggest most calorific items. But then this would only fill be with resentment, and in the end only make me go crawling back to Ed in tears. And then Ed, or a relative of Ed? would say; deal with that pain of eating all that food, by having a competition to stuff as much food down as you can. I actually remember writing in my diary 'If I shove an insane amount of food down, I can prove to myself that I definitely can't have a fear of food, and I can prove to everyone else that I definitely can't have Anorexia'. It didn't occur to me at the beginning that this was called bingeing, and this in itself was an eating disordered behaviour. I just saw it as a spiteful 'let's use recovery to self harm. If people want me to eat, fine, but I'm going to make sure it is damn painful'.

Another example of the manipulation and mind games that constantly torment you until you wonder whether you are going even more mad in recovery:

‘This far into recovery, Ed has new tactics to keep food at bay. Tonight, it was one of his new favourites, “Nothing here fits into your food plan.” Ed actually acts as if he supports my food plan and uses it against me.’

In my opinion this quote sums up eating disorders quite accurately:

‘Eating disorders are really about excessive control, painful perfectionism, and stubborn self-hatred. They are not about whether or not your thighs touch, the width of your hips, the size of your butt, or the number on the scale.’

In conclusion, I think this book is helpful to stimulate your own imagination in being able to personify the eating disorder in hopefully a productive rather than destructive way. Despite my reservations around talking about Ed as though he/she is a person, I think if only I would stop judging myself for this/ worrying what others think of me for it, I could benefit from it. It actually seems easier to verbalise my thought processes once I use the personification as a prop. That can only be a good thing, right? Some people I have encountered seem to have the view that by doing this you are somehow wallowing in your madness, by creating a fictional character. I get the feeling they fear I may actually start to think this character is real. But they don't seem to understand that this 'voice' in my head couldn't get any more real. It is my reality and the sooner I accept that and stop trying to deny it, the sooner I can be more alert to and prepared to fight its' games.  

P.s. Apologies for the small writing, it seems to be refusing to change :(

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About Me

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Durham, County Durham, United Kingdom
(November 2010) > I am taking a year (or two) out of university to recover from an eating disorder; originally diagnosed as restricting anorexia 7 years ago, but has more recently morphed into BN non-purgeing type/ BED/ COE/ EDNOS / whatever you want to call it. I thought I would write a blog to give me a kind of project to work on, mainly giving an insight into the Eating Disorders books that I have read and any interesting articles/videos I find. However, there may be some updates on my life and thoughts once in a while. My quest is to understand these disorders, although I know the best I can do is to keep on researching xxx Update (2012): I have now returned to uni.


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