Leading A Life With Two "Identities"
I'm not the first one to say that dealing with a powerful eating disorder is kind of like leading a life with two voices in our heads: the "healthy" voice, wishing for us to get rid of the illness, and the "eating disorder" voice, sometimes referred to as ED, encouraging us to continue to lose weight/restrict food intake/exercise/use behaviours/etc.
It can be quite overwhelming to try and navigate life with two conflicting voices having incessant conversations in our heads. Daily activities, like eating a meal, are "discussed" heavily by both the healthy voice and the ED voice, usually with one winning over the other (or at least settling on some kind of compromise). The thing that I want everyone to understand is that this constant arguing gets extremely tiring. Do you know how much thought goes into making daily decisions? Pros and cons are constantly being weighed, and those suffering from eating disorders are frequently at war with the eating disorder part of their brains. Every single day.
I definitely feel like I have a "healthy", or rational, side of my brain, and an "unhealthy", or irrational, side of my brain - the latter being the part that is more in line with anorexia. Over the years, I have become pretty adept at deciphering who is "speaking" when I say certain statements. For example, if I tell my therapist or dietitian that I will gain weight if I eat a couple more vegetables every day, I can identify that that thought came from the ED part of my brain. I know, rationally, that minimally increasing my daily vegetable intake will NOT result in changes when I step on the scale.
If I tell my therapist or dietitian, however, that one of the only reasons I keep eating is because I don't want to stop working to go to treatment, I know that that is the healthy part of me, the "real" Meghan, expressing legitimate fears and concerns related to how the illness could prevent her from managing a successful, autonomous, and fulfilling life.
Recently, though, I have found myself to relate more and more to having two identities. And no, not in the sense that would warrant a visit to a psychiatrist. More along the lines of, for example, a young girl who loves to "get dirty" and play football with the boys, but also loves to put on girly dresses and wear make-up. Or, an incredibly professional, corporate lawyer who likes to "let loose" on the weekends and go wild at the local bar.
For me, I still strongly identify with my eating disorder, and base many of my daily decisions on what my illness is telling me to do (or not do). I still get anxious in situations involving food and I still harbour many fears related to weight gain.
However, there is also a large part of me that feels good, and happy, especially when I'm at work. It may sound weird, but one of my core values in life is laughter. Laughter is so incredibly crucial to my happiness and the quality of my life. I like laughing, and I like making people laugh. Although I am now thirty, I can always find time to laugh at an inappropriate joke, or giggle (uncontrollably) when I come up with a funny pun.
The thing is, the "anorexia" part of my brain and the "silly" part of my brain clash. They cannot coincide, and I confidently describe them as mutually exclusive. When I'm dealing with eating disorder thoughts, my world is anything but funny. Usually I am sad, or angry, or anxious. And when I am truly laughing, during those real, knee-slapper moments, it is always at times when the eating disorder thoughts are so far removed from the present moment.
I started thinking about this whole "double identity" concept after I left work one day. On that day in particular, I had laughed so hard - so hard that I had tears in my eyes. I wanted to call my therapist right then and tell her: "I wish you could see me when I'm at work. I wish you could see what kind of person I am when I am in an environment where I am totally comfortable. An environment where I feel knowledgeable and professional yet an environment where I can also let go and have fun and be silly and laugh". Because truth be told, that person is the real me. That person is "Meghan, but without the eating disorder".
I wanted to tell my therapist all of this because when I go to therapy, there is not much laughter. The occasional smile or smirk, maybe, but usually I am so consumed with my negative, anxiety-filled eating disorder thoughts. And that person is who my therapist has come to know as "Meghan". Now, I know she doesn't see me only as an "eating disorder", and I am certain that she knows that I am more than what comes across in therapy sessions. I don't owe it to her to always be upbeat and happy when I go to my appointments - that wouldn't fulfil my need to let things off my chest and process some of the darker thoughts I have.
But, sometimes I wish she could see me in my "natural environment". In my element. I wish that everyone I have worked with (in treatment) in the past could see me like so. Because that person is truly the person I am - the person I aspire to continue to be - Meghan, removed from her illness. Therapy is a weird thing - psychologists and social workers and psychiatrists and dietitians only see this very small sliver of who we are. There are sessions where my eating disorder is less present, but nonetheless, my whole goal in going to therapy is to talk about and dissect my issues from A to Z.
I'm not really sure where I am going with all of this. This blog post is more of a venting session than anything else; food for thought, I suppose. While I understand the purpose of therapy, and am incredibly grateful I get the chance to go, it has made me realize the need to further let go of my illness in order for my true self to appear in more situations. The more I let go of ED thoughts, the less room they will take up in my head - which will allow for more time to laugh.
The goal is always recovery - and that remains a constant goal of mine. I also, this week, am further reinforced by the fact that I want to keep laughing in life. I want to keep that core value of mine alive and well, and the only way to do that is to continue on in the battle for recovery from anorexia.
Wishing you all a wonderful week.