There are a lot of women out there who could talk about this a lot better than I can. In fact the video put together by Meghan Philpott above is my friend Jessica Inkpen doing exactly that.
The topic today is eating disorders.
My reason for doing this is somewhat stereotypical Michael Kimber.
A douche bag reminded me of my own humanity. A bunch of girls I’ve met along the way made me want to remind you of their humanity.
You can follow said douchebag at @soundspeedslut on twitter. I don’t really recommend it but I figure she will probably enjoy the attention. My knowledge of this person comes exclusively from Facebook. My most recent interaction came after she posted about how stupid people were to make statuses encouraging people to vote in the election. Her justification was that people were being hypocrites because they didn’t post about adopting animals from the humane society. I don’t quite follow the logic but this is typical with Ms. Soundspeedslut. She recently posted this little gem:
“All right, being anorexic is not beautiful, pretty, glamorous or anything along those lines. Anorexia is disgusting and ugly. It is something I will never understand. Food is not evil. It is a basic necessity needed in order to survive! If you say you don’t want to die, THEN EAT!!! It’s not like you don’t know how. The models that starve themselves are stupid, and so are the people who allow them to model. I’m sure there are tons (I just noticed the pun) of girls in the world who would love to be models who would not starve themselves. Anorexic models are literally wasting themselves and their opportunities away. Who really wants to see such ugly beings on the runway?”
The girl probably should have stopped writing when she hit the phrase,”it is something I will never understand”.
We aren’t a culture that stops writing or speaking after we say that we don’t understand something. It usually is the beginning of a long angry spiel where we claim to understand it and completely miss the point. On the information superhighway the world of douchebags has constant road rage.
My own introduction to the world of eating disorders involves the most embarrassing moment of my childhood. Keep in mind that at the age of five I once walked around my block completely naked and at 7 took a shit on a baseball field because I wanted to distract the other team from winning the game.
I was 13 at Neptune Theatre School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Like most things in my life, I did it to meet beautiful girls.
This was during a time where it hadn’t yet become clear that puberty would come for me extremely late. I was short about to be a giant. A child about to figure out what it means to be teenager. A peppy voice cracking caricature of a comedian about to perform at a theatrical school coffee house and piss a lot of people off.
“So I have a diet and it is guaranteed to work,” I say, in the voice of infomercials and circus ringmasters attracting audiences to the big top.
The room is a black cinderblock in the bottom of Dalhousie University. Said cinderblock is jammed packed with kids with animated faces, big dreams and over exaggerated mannerisms.
“It’s worked for hundreds of years. Fashion models, movie stars, girls all over the world have tried it and found absolute success. Who needs a diet that is hard to follow? What if you could eat everything you want and still lose weight?”
They are leaning in. They think they may know what’s coming but can’t believe anyone would be this stupid.
“It’s called the Buliminator,” I announce proudly.
The room explodes in laughter. I think I’m doing great.
It gets worse.
“Catherine would you step up to the stage and tell the people how it made you feel.”
“Umm,” says Catherine.
She agreed to be in the sketch five minutes earlier and seems to be having second thoughts.
“Share with the people your wonderful experience,” I exhort her. “Please come to the stage. Give a hand for the lovely Catherine.”
Catherine was a thirteen year-old-Improv champion and was in the process of being dragged kicking and screaming onto my sinking ship. Thankfully she was a trooper.
“I tried exercise,” she begins, looking at the audience with her cartoon big blue eyes. “I tried dieting. But this really works. I have never looked this good.”
And it goes on like that.
With the crowd dying laughing, the type of laughter that tears out your guts, the sort of laughter that happens at funerals when the corpse releases gas and you gotta choke on the shitfumes and cry at the same time.
Finally we reach my planned exit from this abomination.
“And now to Andrew Bush from Street Cents. What do you think of the Buliminator?”
He can barely manage to get the words out, his whole body racked by laughter at the daring idiocy of my skit, combined with the fact that he knows that I have no idea how pissed off everyone actually is.
“It’s fit for the pit.”
I bow to the audience and sit down and enjoy my victory. This doesn’t last long.
The first girl shows up a few minutes after the sketch is finished and someone else is already performing. As such she has to whisper words that were hard for her to say.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” I reply..
“I can’t believe you did that.”
“I have an eating disorder.”
“You did this at a theater school? Do you realize what this means?”
Over the next hour it became clear how much of a mistake I had made. Every girl I had even contemplated having a crush on came up to me and tells me they were horrified by my performance. Finally the director of the program sees me sitting off to the side, little furby face filled with regret and sadness. She was a giant woman known for a penchant for harsh criticism and bear hugging small defenseless children. I expected I was pathetic enough to rate a hug.
“Michael…how could you? You know I suffered from an eating disorder. I’m disgusted at your behavior.”
I wouldn’t say that I immediately grasped the point of this misadventure. I often put my feet in my mouth and assumed that this was one of those cases where I probably shouldn’t have said anything but was also sort of offended that people assumed I would know how stupid I was being.
I think I understand Ms. Soundspeedslut. I too was once a child looking for attention who didn’t really care how I got it.
I also think a lot of people hold opinions like hers.
I know the uncomfortable nature of not understanding why someone would harm themselves. I get that same skin itch feeling when I hear someone tell me they use to cut themselves, or they did heroin, as I do when I hear they have an eating disorder. It’s strange how quickly that lack of understanding turns to ignorance, anger or advice.
My addiction in life is giving other people advice. I’m Liz Lemon shouting about deal breaker and giving relationship advice despite only having been in one good relationship in my life.
Strangely there is a difference between listening to someone and trying to help them.
I remember that beautiful girl in high school that everyone loved. The girl who couldn’t bring herself to say a mean thing about anyone. She hid barf bags around her apartment trying to hide the fact that she couldn’t keep food down. Every guy in my high school would have given his left nut to be with her. She was the most obviously beautiful person I have ever met. The sort of girl who would have grown up to be Snow White if we lived in a cartoon world. The sort of girl everyone described as beautiful. The sort of girl who almost died from it.
I should probably have learned something from watching her struggle. Instead I got that sick in my stomach feeling I often get when I want to understand things that I can’t. So I tried to be the nice guy.
When I had a female friend having issues with her body I would hit her with a barrage of beautiful. Spend hours explaining to them why they were special. Why anyone with eyes could see it.
One girl was smart enough to tell me to shut up.
Telling a girl with an eating disorder she’s beautiful is a little bit like treating a brain tumor with an aspirin. She’s more precise with words than I am so she’d probably correct me and say it’s a little bit like slipping a drug addict cocaine when they are feeling low.
I know the addiction a person can develop for reassurance.
Since we are in the realm of addiction metaphors, I guess a drug related metaphor for the usefulness of reassurance could be found in sleeping pills. At first the pills knock you out like an iron pan to the head. You’re all better, sleeping without a problem. Gradually you sleep less and less as your body develops a tolerance for the chemicals. Soon they don’t work at all but you are still addicted and can’t sleep without them. You can’t tell someone appearance isn’t important when the only way you can think to reassure is telling them that they look great.
For my smart friend it wasn’t a question of beauty or trying to reach some sort of pinnacle of fashion. Mostly she thought of it as being some sort of health thing. She was a dancer and she wanted to be lithe. Able to move without touching the ground. Chiseled and toned until she was in control of the way her body moved. With no sloppy excess fat to trip over. She was searching for a sense of control over her life that was graceful. A hard point of certainty so that she could grasp to float above her worries. Once she reached that ideal body shape where she wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. One small thing that needed to be controlled to control everything. Only the ideal changed as soon as she approached it. Now she doesn’t dance anymore but she still has an addiction to counting calories.
She said it wasn’t something that could necessarily be improved by understanding it. She read hundreds of articles trying to come to some sort of conclusion about her disease so that she could learn how to control it. The problem was that the thirst couldn’t be quenched by one book, by one useful sentence. Each time she thought she found the answer, it only made her research further. She found the more she tried to control it, the more it controlled her life.
We also had that in common.
I read too much about anxiety, figuring I could find some easy plan to stop some myself from worrying. I sought out information as reassurance and developed an obsession that fuelled my fear. I understand what it can be like when you make the cure into your disease. I also know what it’s like when everyone you around wait for you to snap out of it. How little their kind words mean. All of their soothing voices had to be translated through my fucked up inner monologue. Rather than hearing what they are saying, I hear what I believed they actually meant. I remember how hard I had to fight to actually see people again.
This is what I think of when I read Soundspeedsluts comments.
I remember the horror of not being able to see anyone outside of my own delusions. Yet being freakishly aware of that blindness. Seeing myself out of the corner of my eye. To be able to peer through and have the images and ideas dancing just outside of the prison walls of your mind. To be able to grasp that freedom and never hold it in your hands. To know there is something out there that you could have if only you could figure out how to. This is the terror of mental illness. Being separated by the tiniest and longest inch in the world from everything that keeps you in it. To see what a fool you are being and feel powerless against it.
Welcome to the horror of a closed system.
Reason is not always a survival tool. The brain essentially exists to find the reasonable thing to do in any given situations, when we become disconnected it merely finds reasons for the things we do in each and every situation.
I understand the shock and feeling of sickness when we see someone hurt themselves.
There is egotism to mental illness as there is egotism to the denial of its existence. From my experience suicides aren’t selfish in the sense of looking for attention. They can’t feel anything outside of their pain. Looking for attention is looking for the world they can’t seem to find on their own.
I found my way out when I did something I could never find a reason for.
I hurt the girl who had helped me navigate my way through hell. And somehow, my brain rebelled and decided it wasn’t going to put up with my shit anymore. As a result, I saw her and I was able to see the world.
You are probably wondering what this rant is actually about?
Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. 10% of people who have it will die within ten years of the onset of their illness. That’s a lot of amazing women.
I fear that our natural reaction is somewhat similar to Soundspeedslut. To close ourselves off when we find something we can’t understand and to get angry/sad or scared about it. We allow our own egotism to prevent us from seeing people that need us to listen to them.
I was lucky and someone helped me break through that impossible inch between myself and the world I was living in.
The problem is that in turning away from people in fucked up situations, we give them nothing to turn to.