As with Bulimia, once a sufferer is firmly in the obstinate grasp of Anorexia, the illness can take over a sufferer’s life. For the sake of this post I will personify Anorexia and name the sufferer the host to the illness.
Anorexia can become an all-encompassing and entirely consuming pursuit for an elusive ideal that not even the host is entirely sure of: an initial goal to ‘be more healthy’, ‘lose a few pounds’ and be 130lb becomes 120lb, then 110lb, then 90lb, 80lb, 60lb, 00lb. For eternity it is a losing battle; obey and there can present a risk to life or, at the very least, the risk of existing a very compromised quality of life; disobey and the mental torture that ensues is an unrelenting, unforgiving whirlwind of despair.
Despite the feeling of being in control when a calorie or exercise goal is met, eventually the tables turn. The host, who is no longer in control, becomes at mercy of Anorexia’s dictating need to ‘succeed’ from abstaining temptation and desire, the host no longer reigns any form of control. From here on in, the host’s mind becomes an exacerbated battle ground, a no man’s land, and slowly a ghostly shell is carved from their once self. Hobbies, interests and parts of their identity become lost, entwined and tangled within the obsession.
A common trait amongst people affected by Anorexia is that they are high achievers with perfectionistic personality traits. This can mean that despite their degenerating mind and body, many will continue to achieve and pursue their studies, work goals and objectives, despite severe calorie restriction.
Working and pushing themselves relentlessly, the host ignores the deep shiver that wracks their bones, the sincere lack of energy that renders them lifeless, yet despite their exhaustion, and despite their every particle within their body begging for mercy: a resistance is born against our very innate nature to survive as they deny themselves essential life sources: food, and sometimes water.
This is important, because not everyone suffering with Anorexia is a skin draped skeletal corpse as the media would have you believe. No sufferer is immediately emaciated. Prior to reaching this stage in the illness there has usually been months or years of suffering for the disorder to become so advanced, therefore, many people endure this illness within the community, whilst a working professional, a student, a parent: someone you pass in the street, know in your community or are friends with in the local boozer. With the media’s portrayal of a supposed ideal body image, it is easy to forget what underweight looks like, never mind severely underweight; we are accustomed to equate such body mass indexes and proportions with an idyllic beauty.
Whilst people with Anorexia may be studying well and obtaining A Grades or 1sts, the daily impact of Anorexia, much like that of Bulimia, is deep within the psyche: much of the battle goes unseen on the surface. It is a natural response for the body when starved of adequate nutrition to become preoccupied with food; it is a survival mechanism. So when someone is malnourished for a pro-longed period of time, and it is accompanied by a psychological manifestation of an eating disorder, the obsession becomes an entrenching way of life. It is almost as if being possessed by a ‘calorie fascist’ who dictates your every move, a voice who you have to respond to and obey otherwise the torment is excruciating on an already lacking sense of self confidence and esteem: ‘you fat bitch!’, ‘you greedy bitch!’, ‘you’re so fat and ugly, you’re a failure, no wonder nobody loves you and thinks you’re ugly’. As the illness deepens the voice grows, becoming more angry, more aggressive, more unrelenting, more demanding, wanting more and more and more: it is, and never will be, enough.
Obsessions manifest as behaviours, rituals or compulsions: intake Vs expenditure must be recorded, every calorie, bite and sometimes smell: your morning medication, that multivitamin, everything. That bite of banana loaf? Yes, add that, that must be XYZ calories.
‘You want to get the bus to uni? Forget it, you can at least walk 45 minutes of the way you fat, lazy, bitch’ . Eventually, nothing is of paramount importance by comparison to the task of losing weight. A goal is set, it is reached, yet it is never enough. Another set goal, another goal reached: another, another, another will never be enough.
The ill effects of starvation eventually take hold: energy levels plummet and fatigue sets in. The body becomes bio-chemically malnourished, and the body begins to shut down, starting with the least essential mechanisms for survival first. For females, amenorrhea sets in, for both sexes other signs of malnourishment begin to develop: anemia, calcium level depletion, weakened bones, osteoporosis, thinning hair, brittle nails, lifeless skin and an inability to keep the body warm.
It is not an easy feat to continue daily life and full social functioning whilst under the wrath of Anorexia. Social ties may wane thin, and eventually break off as they retreat into isolation. The libido dwindles and physical touch may become uncomfortable or difficult to handle. The host will likely become incredibly defensive over the Anorexia, and fight for as much fight as they have to protect their disorder, which has distorted their perceptions, their beliefs about themselves and manipulated them into a false reality of weight loss, denial and control.
It is not merely a ‘slimmer’s disease’, nor is it really about being thin: it is more than that. It is a potentially debilitating psychiatric illness, just like other eating disorders such as Bulimia, which can similarly make the host very unwell and control up to every aspect of the host’s life.