Rage, Recovery and Routines

A mixed blog post – being ill in bed has resulted in my mind wandering over so many subjects. First – Rage. Yesterday’s Rachel Cusk piece provoked anger, not just from me, but many of us involved involuntarily in the world of eating disorders. Imagine a piece, in which a writer mused on why black people chose to be the victims of racism and offered her experience of this based on seeing black people at the pool and once having a deep tan herself. I feel queasy just writing that and the writer would have been rightly condemned – although New Statesman would never have published. The defences that it was just a personal memoir and beautifully written would have been swept aside. Yet, it is still acceptable for some to write a piece which through ignorance and insensitivity stigmatises those with mental illness, ignores the reality that both women and men suffer and repeats the lie that at heart, anorexics are just self absorbed young women who should eat more. This attitude is not uncommon, my adopted mother told me she thought it was just silly girls who wouldn’t eat, every time I have told people my daughter is in hospital due to anorexia, I feel their embarrassment for me, a presumption that I haven’t been a great parent, that any self respecting feminist mother would somehow bring forth anorexia resistant children. That a lack of nurture, rather than nature causes mental illnesses.

And indeed, an illness which causes sufferers to count calories obsessively, beyond reason or logic, might easily be seen as having been caught from the media. When every headline screams Weight loss, Weight Gain!! When new guidelines insist calorie amounts are displayed on restaurant menus, in cafes, on packaging, getting an anorexic to make choices on what she wants to eat rather than what she can eat, it is an oppressive world in which to recover. And I know obesity is a serious public health issue, I really do. I have to resist the urge to say to L, look at that person. That is what overweight looks like, not you. I never do, but I feel trapped too in a calorie counting, weight obsessed world. If we all wore blindfolds, the media obsession might vanish, but anorexia would not.

Today, L and I are off to Sheffield, to stay with B, my adopted mother and visit G, my birth mother who lives a mile away from B. They have never met, in the 16 years since I met G. Yes, I know. B is a traditional Northern mum. Whenever I visit, her first question before I even set off, is What shall we eat? She comments on whether we have lost weight and need feeding up and it wasn’t until L was hospitalised that I told her about anorexia. On the phone yesterday, I talked to her about food and what L eats or doesn’t eat. This is not a weekend to challenge L, we need to make this easy. Mum mentioned that L always liked apple pies, should she buy some? No. Ice cream? No. There is a note of shock in her voice. Is this illness really as bad that L won’t eat her favourite foods? I feel impatient and then remember that six months ago, I too filled the cupboards with the most delicious foods that I knew L loved and could not resist. Except she did, and the rest of us ate them, united in misery and failure. I tell Mum I will bring most of the food L will eat. Safe familiar food that she can manage.

As we drive up North, I will have a meal for L to eat in the car and a snack in case we are still driving at 8. There are so many different stages to recovery and it feels as if no sooner than a routine is established, it becomes another prison. Regular timed meals and snacks helped L to eat and regain weight, but now they are rules which if broken, cause anxiety and distress. The suggestion that we have three larger snacks instead of four normal ones, throws L into panic. Eating foods when she doesn’t know the calorie content is alarming to her. The rules which helped her are now her next challenge to break. But not this weekend, it will be hard enough as it is.

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