An Eating Disorder That is Not About Food

I sit down for breakfast. It’s a routine. It’s what I do when I enter the kitchen in the morning. Always.

„Cereal?“, mom asks.

She’s standing in front of the kitchen counter, her hand on the cupboard door. It’s only a pro forma question, my bowl is already sitting on the counter. It’s what I have on most mornings. But seeing my bowl, my throat tightens. I shrug. Shove the problem her way, make her decide, make it be her fault.

She doesn’t take it.

“Take your time. Let me know if you made up your mind.”

I glance at the bowl, look down at the tabletop and shrug again.

“Nothing. I’m not hungry. I’ll eat later.”

Mom takes her own breakfast over to the table and sits down. Strokes my shoulder. Smiles.

“Having a hard time eating?”

I nod.

“What’s up? Do you want to talk?”

I shake my head. Don’t want to talk. Don’t want to think. Just want to not eat. I know she’ll let me. For now. I have one free shot. And we start the day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lunchtime. Mom made a salad with chicken. I’m a tad hungry. Which makes me upset. I don’t want to be hungry. I don’t want to eat. I don’t deserve to eat. So instead of finishing setting the table like mom asked me to, I sit down with the table half set and start to cry. Glance at the fork and get mental images of stabbing my forearm with it. Of dragging the tines across the scars that are already there. For a moment it takes my mind off the salad.

It takes my mom about five seconds to notice.

I hate her for it. I hate that she comes over. Hate that she let’s the salad be salad and sits down with me. Hate that she cares. Why can’t she just let me be, only for once?! My life would be way less complicated if she didn’t muck around in it all the time. But at the same time I want her to be there. Had she not noticed, I would have made her.

When she reaches out, I shove her hand away. Twice. Three times. But she gets a hold of me anyway. Because I let her. Because it’s all part of the ritual. Like it is part of the ritual that she pulls me onto her lap and puts her arms around me.

I curl up. Make myself small. And cry more. Angry tears, because the whole world sucks, because it is difficult and unfair and has salad with chicken in it and because my stupid body betrays me by being hungry.

My anger eventually leads to sadness. Mom knows and waits me out. She talks when I’m done being angry and start being sad.

“What is going on, kiddo? What is giving you a hard time today?”

I don’t reply. Don’t know what to say. There is no single thing. Just a bunch of crap. I don’t deserve to eat. But she already knows that’s what I’m thinking. That’s always what I’m thinking when I don’t eat. She strokes my hair, kisses the side of my head and with her really gentle and warm mom-voice speaks into my ear.

“What age feels appropriate, baby?”

I have an easier time answering this one. The question is familiar. It feels safe. She is asking for how old I feel, emotionally. I close my eyes and after a brief internal evaluation raise four fingers. Mom takes my hand, kisses my fingers and nods.

“The world is a one scary and exhausting place when you are four and have to deal with all those big, tricky things, isn’t it?”

I nod.

“Does it feel like you can’t do it good enough?”

I nod again.
Mom strokes my wet cheek.

“I can imagine that that’s just how it feels. But you know what, baby? You are doing mighty fine for four years old. It’s simply a bit big a task for a little girl, dealing with all those things. That’s why I’m here to help you.”

A pressure within my chest, one that I hadn’t even noticed being there, eases. I feel like I can breathe a little better. Like maybe I’m not doing so bad, after all. I stop crying.

“You’ve been trying really hard, haven’t you?”

I become aware of how exhausted I feel and nod. Mom cuddles me and smiles.

“Yes, I can tell how hard you are trying. You are doing a really good job. You have not had a major breakdown in quite a while. You are holding yourself together admirably for a four-year-old, even when it’s hard. And if it gets too hard, you let me know. That’s just what you are supposed to be doing.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Greetings from the land of EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). I had salad with chicken in the end. I am going to have dinner. I am feeling better about myself again, remembering that even when I’m struggling, I’m doing good for where my emotional development is at.

I am also making the millionth mental note about allowing mom to talk about my not eating with me the first time around already. Or heck, even tell her. But it’s difficult, so I don’t know how many more repeats I’m going to need until I manage.

No right to feel bad

I’m feeling increasingly crap these days. I’m having a much harder time eating. I don’t sleep through the nights anymore. I’m even more touchy than I usually am. I spend a large part of the day crying. Small things set me off. A constant feeling of trepidation closes in on me. It’s really unpleasant. It exhausts me. I feel bad.

And at the same time I am terribly reluctant to post about it, because I feel like I have no right to complain or even feel a little bit bad at all. I’ve been reading blogs of people who really struggle. So much they don’t want to live anymore. That’s serious. And while I have had flirts with the feeling, I’ve never been that bad. Depression isn’t so big a part of my lucky bag of mental health conditions.

I also have a mom who’s not working, but is only doing the household and helping me get better, a dad who earns enough that the family is nowhere near financial want and siblings who are quite understanding and don’t look at me funny (most of the time) when I am being difficult. I really lucked out with the life I have now. I feel awfully guilty for struggling. Guilty for not being better. Angry at myself for wanting to write that I’m not feeling good, because it’s illegitimate. Because it only shows how ungrateful I am. That I don’t deserve any of the good I have. I feel like a sham for saying I’m struggling, even when it’s true, because I’m just too thin-skinned and have no right to feel sorry for myself.

That’s how it feels. Like I ought to be ashamed of myself for even writing this post. Like I should give my life and the good things I have to someone who would use them. Not whine, or struggle or feel bad despite everything. It makes me want to hurt myself and punish myself by NOT doing it at the same time. Because not doing it is more torturous. Which I deserve.

Feeling awful and guilty about not feeling bad enough, yet considering it bad already. I kind of notice it’s a sick and twisted thought, but I can’t get rid of it.

On Comfort Food, an Eating Disorder and Exercising Moderation when using Symbols

Comfort food

As I am writing this, my mom is getting ready to make me a bowl of Cream of Wheat. All day long the stupid Cream of Wheat has been on my mind and the longer the day went on the more I craved it. So much that I eventually started to cry because we didn’t have any at home, like the world was going to end because of that.

Cream of Wheat is a comfort food for me. It’s what I used to eat when I still lived in my childhood home. It’s one of the good memories. On lucky days my mother used to make it for me when I was little. Nobody else ate it and she made it only for me. Probably only because she had to keep me fed somehow and it was cheap and quick to make, so when we had it, that’s what she made, but the reason didn’t matter to me. It was special. It was the best thing in the world.

If I could, I’d still be eating it way more often than I do. It’s what love tastes like to me. Love and being cared for and being lucky. And looking back on my life, there were times when it was the only thing I would eat. (Hello, eating disorder.) The staff objected a lot. But there were entire months where I rather starved than have anything else. And I mean anything.

I don’t have it nearly as often nowadays. Am not allowed to, because of the fine line between using and abusing something. I am prone to tilting toward the latter.

Unsurprisingly, comfort food is less about the food than what it stands for. It’s a symbol. In my case it’s a symbol for being loved and cared for, for a lucky day and being special. So you might wonder “well, those are good things?! So what’s wrong about having it? Treating yourself to good things ain’t bad, right?! After all Cream of Wheat is hardly bad for you!”

And I suppose that’s true. I guess the problem it is that it remains a symbol.

Symbols are nifty things. The best thing about them is that we can make them our own. We can be in control over them. I believe that is what temps me so much about it. I have the power to make Cream of Wheat, if I want to. I can determine when it happens, how it happens and in what fashion it happens. It’s safe. It’s independent. It’s controllable. Those are darn tempting things for me. I happily settle for that if I can.

So much, in fact, that I tend to reduce to it. And that’s where the bad comes in. While it is a good symbol for sure, it is, at the end of the day, only a symbol. It’s only Cream of Wheat. It’s what it stands for that I crave. What it stands for are the real things: Love. Being cared for. Feeling special to someone. Feeling lucky. Those are relationship things. All of them. So in reality relationships are where to look for them. Because while a symbol is better than nothing, the real thing is were true satisfaction and fulfillment comes from.

It’s easy to forget that, because the real thing is also scary and unpredictable and more intense and holds the power to harm or go away. That drives me toward the symbol. But at the same time I understand why it’s important to resist the tug and turn toward the real thing instead.

I guess that is why my mom insists on making me the Cream of Wheat, instead of letting me make it for myself. To get the relationship back in. And why she insists on my not having it too often. Like, every day. So I don’t pseudo-satisfy my emotional needs. And why she insists on figuring out what’s stressing me today. So I can learn to solve that, instead of blanketing it with porridge. Reasonable, I suppose.

But first I’ll have Cream of Wheat now. After all moderation doesn’t mean to dispense with it altogether. 😉  Yum!!

Struggling with my Eating Disorder

Ever since I can remember I have not had a normal relationship to food. When I grew up, one of the biggest mistakes I could make was to help myself to food that was in the kitchen. I could have what I was given, but nothing more, and I believe I learned very soon that food could be dangerous and that food was something I needed to “earn”. My mother used food as a punishment, saying I didn’t deserve to eat what she bought if she was upset with me. (She called it buying, but it was food stamp food.) My stepfather used food as a reward, bringing home things like chocolate bars, candy or other treats for me, and often they would be the prelude or sequel to sexual abuse.

It took me a while to link my current eating habits (lol, well, struggles) to my childhood experiences, but once my therapist F brought it up, and I spoke about it with mom, I think those experiences probably left quite a deep mark on me. One of those trauma related things that have been etched into my brain and are hard to get rid of. Maybe because those stuff was so relevant back then. I don’t know.

Anyway, I’m diagnosed with an EDNOS – an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. For me it’s anorexic symptoms with occasional binge eating spells, but none of them have much to do with body image. I don’t usually care what I look like or about my weight. I’m not afraid of certain foods and I don’t monitor my caloric intake either. When I ate normally, I don’t feel bad about it either. It’s not the food itself that matters to me. I don’t care what it does inside of me once I’ve eaten it. It’s not about looks or weight or health.

But what I struggle with often is the eating itself. I think my eating disorder falls into a self-harm category. Especially if I feel bad about myself, I feel like I don’t deserve to eat. That I must starve myself as a punishment. I aim for the misery of feeling terribly hungry and the torture of looking at food, right in front of me, and not having any. And while one part of me, the part that is hungry, would like so much to eat, the part that’s in control of my mouth refuses. Even if I have the food in my mouth, like because someone persuaded or forced me to have a bite, I can’t swallow.

The opposite can also happen: that I feel like I want to eat anything I can find. I usually do it in secret, and once again I go for the punishment factor. Getting discovered and punished for taking everyone’s food (it doesn’t happen here, with my family, but my imagining the scenario fuels the behavior). Feeling disgusting for having eaten like a pig. Feeling full to the point of “pain-full”. But this kind of binging happens far less often than the restricted eating. Maybe once every three or four months. Unlike refusing food, which happens several times a week, or lasts several days at once.

When I feel okay I don’t have any such issues and can eat normally, like it’s no big deal.

At the moment I’m struggling with the restrictive eating and even when I know it’s really silly and that I CAN eat just fine, every meal is exhausting. My mom doesn’t usually put too much pressure on me if I can’t eat, but when I’m not eating for several meals in a row, she doesn’t just tolerate it. In a way I’m glad she doesn’t, but even so, many meals end in tears.

I wish I could just rewire my brain.

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