Last year I was diagnosed with lymphoedema. At the time it just seemed like yet another thing wrong with me. I almost asked the Doctor why he bothered telling me since it’s just another thing that I can’t fix. I did some research and found that it was either genetic or caused by being fat and while I was suspicious that it might be genetic it seemed more likely that it was caused by being fat. So not only did I have a new thing wrong with me that I couldn’t fix but it was probably my fault.
Today I found out that my research was wrong. My lymphoedema would appear to be caused by Lipoedema. It makes sense of a lot of things. It explains the leg pains I’ve had for years, the way my legs were huge but my feet didn’t have any fat on them, and especially the time I lost more than 8 stone (119 lbs or 54 kg to be exact) and saw little change in my legs – my body was 8 dress sizes smaller than my legs.
Now I was only able to lose 8 stone because I did get really fat. But not until after I tried anorexia for a while. I had fat legs when I was anorexic too. I don’t mean imaginary fat legs. I mean the last day I was actively anorexic I was 13 years old and I was wearing a t-shirt sized for a 11-year-old girl and size 10 women’s trousers which only just fitted over my knees and thighs but fell off without a belt.
When I stopped restricting my food intake my disordered eating snapped back in the other direction and I took up binge eating. Which didn’t help my legs or my already fragile self esteem. Every time I tried to change my eating habits I found that I couldn’t keep it up. The anorexia had left me unable to see any positive change in the mirror and the lipoedema meant that I wasn’t getting much positive feedback from my clothes.
I used to describe my teenaged self as fat and depressed. But maybe I was just an average girl with undiagnosed lipoedema and ADHD. I spent my childhood and teen years feeling stupid and worthless and deformed and it’s cast a long shadow over the rest of my life. What would I have been like if we’d known what was wrong?
The thought of it makes me feel queasy. I can’t think properly because of the unfamiliar sound of some part of my mind repeating “It wasn’t your fault. None of it was your fault.” It feels weird. I tend to assume that everything is my fault.
I’ve discovered a cool new diet specially for those of us suffering from chronic pain disorders. It’s the “I hurt too much to get food” diet. I’m going to lose so much weight.
All the food is in the kitchen. I am currently not in the kitchen. I’ve already taken the maximum dose of painkillers and the pain is still bad enough to make me feel nauseous. Hobbling through there so I can stand for a while on a leg that thinks it’s got an axe sticking out of it so I can prepare food that my stomach thinks I can’t keep down doesn’t feel like it’s worth the effort.
There’s probably a creative solution to this but the problem with taking the maximum dose of painkillers is that now I’m too full of synthetic opioids to think clearly. Also my face is numb but my fucking knee still hurts. How is that fair?
Bloody knee. I’ve had enough of its bullshit. I didn’t fight off two eating disorders just to fall back into one of them because my knee is a drama queen.
People have been asking when I was going to write more about Eating Disorders. Which kind of surprised me. I didn’t expect it to be a popular subject. I’m afraid this is going to be quite a short post. I’m a bit drained from a combination of Real Life drama and working all week on a piece of flash fiction.
Which, frankly, is ridiculous. Two thousand words of fiction shouldn’t take a week or be so tiring. I’m working towards being a proper full time writer but I just don’t have the spoons for it (check out spoon theory for an explanation).
It’s important when talking about Eating Disorders to define terms. Most of the time when I talk about Anorexia I’m actually talking about Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia just means “not eating” and it’s a symptom rather than a disorder. I know someone experiencing anorexia caused by an as yet undiagnosed digestive disorder. She’s not eating because eating causes her pain. Her digestive disorder is being investigated but first the doctors had to be sure that she wasn’t choosing not to eat.
Of course choosing is probably the wrong word. Anorexia Nervosa is more than just deciding not to eat because you want to be thinner. It’s not even choosing not to eat because you’d rather be dead than fat. Anorexia Nervosa, like the other eating disorders, is a compulsion. It might start out as a diet but it doesn’t stay a diet for very long.
When I talk about Bulimia I mean Bulimia Nervosa. If you’re not used to talking about Eating Disorders you might associate Bulimia only with vomiting but the word Bulimia comes from a Greek root meaning “ravenous hunger”. Bulimia Nervosa is all about binging and then trying to undo the “damage” caused by the binge. Some Bulimics purge by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics. Some try to burn off the calories through compulsive exercise or stimulants. Both kinds may be fasting when not binging and every Bulimic I’ve ever met seemed to really want to be Anorexic.
Compulsive Eating Disorder, Compulsive Overeating Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder are often used interchangeably. Personally I think it’s a bit of an oversimplification. Compulsive Eating Disorder is so general that you could apply it to any Eating Disorder. Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating are not the same thing. Not everyone who overeats compulsively does so by binging. Some Overeaters eat “normally” most of the time but regularly binge. Some Overeaters graze. They don’t eat much at a sitting but they are constantly nibbling at something and get panicky when they feel there’s not enough food in the cupboard. Both kinds of Overeaters may hoard food and then not eat it because simply having it in the house makes them feel more secure.
One thing that all these kinds of Eating Disorders have in common is that they make the people suffering from them miserable. They ruin lives. They shorten life-spans. They damage families.
I think that’s enough for now. I’m not sure what my posting schedule is going to be for next week. If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments.
There’s a new part to the current story over on my fiction blog here and the contents page linking to all the parts is here. Since I’m going to be talking a little bit about eating disorders I shall absolutely understand if you’d rather go read that instead.
I’ve been thinking about this for ages and it’s still all rather muddled so please excuse me if it all comes out in the wrong order.
The first thing to say is that you can’t tell if someone has an Eating Disorder just by looking at them. Well you can’t. I can make an educated guess if I see them eating or interacting with food but I still won’t know. It’s possible to be very slender and be perfectly healthy. It’s possible to be dangerously thin because of a physical disorder. It’s possible to get pretty fat without an Eating Disorder and both depression and physical illness can cause rapid weight gain.
The second thing to say is that even if you know that someone has an Eating Disorder because they, or a medical professional, has told you that they do you still can’t tell which one based on body type alone. It’s easy to assume that a skinny person with an Eating Disorder must be Anorexic and a fat person must have Binge Eating Disorder and anyone in the middle must be bulimic. No.
Some of the thinnest, and sickest people I’ve met with Eating Disorders were Bulimic. I’ve also known some overweight Bulimics. I used to know a recovering Anorexic and a recovering Compulsive Eater who could have passed for twins in spite of not being related at all. Both of them were in the healthy range of BMI (Body Mass Index).
The third thing I need to say is that Eating Disorders are mental illnesses with physical symptoms. The problem is in the mind. Not the body. If the mental problem isn’t fixed then no amount of eating the right stuff will work in the long term. A person with Binge Eating Disorder can’t just stop over-eating any more than a person with Depression can just cheer the fuck up. A person with Anorexia can’t just eat a fucking burger any more than a person with Schizophrenia can just stop hearing voices.
You also need to know that Eating Disorders are tricky things. A person might start of with one and have it mutate into any of the others. Practically anything you say about Eating Disorders will have exceptions. Trying to pin down anything about Eating Disorders is like trying to nail custard to the side of a moving van.
That’s it for now. I’m going to go into a lot more detail in the future.
I think I’m going to be writing about eating disorders but not today. I have a lot to say about this subject and it’s all still a mess inside my head. I’m going to talk about how I think an eating disorder can develop and whether it’s possible to cause a person to have one. I’m going to talk about how they don’t look like you might think they do and the legacy of having survived one.
I’m aware that some people will prefer not to read about this subject either because they aren’t interested, or because they know me and they’d prefer not to hear about this aspect of my life, or because they’re worried that it will trigger disordered eating habits. I will try to make the content clear from the title of each post and even If I end up writing a bunch of huge posts all at once I will try to schedule the posts so that they don’t all come out together.
I don’t have any answers so please don’t slog through all the posts expecting some sort of neat wrap up at the end.