OK. There is a phrase called “terminally unique” that is used in various recovery forums. Broken down, this can refer to thoughts individuals have such as:
“No one has ever felt this way before. I’m so alone in this feeling. No one’s as isolated, or weird, or as quirky as me.”
In other words, think of the hipsters you see on Comm Ave in Allston.
All joking aside, I’m sure we can all connect to this feeling on some level or another. (All of you – especially you theater kids – cannot escape this one.) At some point in our lives, we’ve all been in a crap mood, sitting on the sidelines and thinking there is just. no. one. as. lonely/special yet single/depressed. as. I. am. For the average individual, this feeling is awful, yet bearable. For the person who struggles with any kind of addiction, this kind of thinking can be fatal. I’m not being dramatic. It really is. For this kind of reasoning leads to depression, which leads to isolation, which leads to addictive behaviors. (Because addictive behaviors are CLEARLY one’s best friend when no one is around!)
I will very readily admit I have a case of the terminally unique, and I think this kind of existence can be very prevalent in girls and women with eating disorders. Why? Think about a starved woman. She stands out from others. It’s a visual way of communicating to the world that something is off-balance, but also a way of communicating that she can perform an inhuman feat that no one else can: extreme self-discipline. Therefore, terminally unique.
This concept is the reason I cherished my “glamorous” city existence for so long, ripe with pomegranate martinis, Carrie Bradshaw-inspired outfits, and knowledge of all the trendy restaurants. I wanted to be one of Boston’s young and beautiful. And to be that, I had to be thin. When I was really sick in 2005, I remember hanging out solo in Fenway at Boston Beer Works. Some guy had temporarily attached himself to my arm because of our terminally unique shared fondness for blueberry beer. He pinched his forefinger and thumb around my tiny arm, smiled, and sputtered incredulously,
“You’re so….tiny! Oh my God, I love it.”
Therefore driving the ball out of the park in the means of cementing my belief that you had be super skinny to get a guy, or to do anything in life for that matter. But I digress.
Now that I’ve got that shpiel out of the way, let me segue into current varying schools of thought in the eating disorder research and educational world. When eating disorders were first getting talked about and treated, doctors and therapists thought that it was mainly a social disease. In other words, they thought eating disorders were different from disorders like autism and schizophrenia, which have a genetic component. Well, just recently, scientists have started to figure out that there is a genetic component to eating disorders (i.e., the hypothalamus is shaped differently in the brains of eating disordered clients, all anorexics and bulimics contain susceptibility genes, etc). As I blogged in an earlier post, Aimee Liu recently wrote an informed book, Gaining, about the genetic component to eating disorders.
Let me start by saying that I agree with Aimee: there is most certainly a genetic component to this disease. Also, her book provided me with various studies that delineated the different subdivisions of anorexic and bulimic personality traits (which are different). However, I reject her rejection of Caroline Knapp and others who continue to fight the battle against the social forces which are clearly a factor in the development of an eating disorder.
I stand by my old biopsychosocial model – any mental illness or disorder is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. Not one alone.
In Appetites, Caroline Knapp contends that most white, affluent, over-educated women struggle with a sense of self-deprivation that is similar to what anorexics experience. In Gaining, Aimee disputes this, asking the question, “And do all white, affluent, educated women in fact feel compelled to deprive themselves?”
Maybe not all, but I’d wager that about 95% of the women reading this blog have struggled with their literal and metaphorical appetites at one point or another.
“I’m afraid that Lelwica and I are looking at the same picture from two very different perspectives. She’s standing at a distance and painting the landscape with a broad brush, while I’m looking close enough to see the actual faces and lives of individuals. She’s including every woman who looks at fashion magazines or thinks twice about having a hot fudge sundae. I’m interested in the factors that distinguish those who easily maintain a healthy weight from those who are psychologically enslaved by their obsessions.”
This is what I fear: that Aimee’s dismissal of social and psychological commentary further propagates the terminal uniqueness that only makes eating disordered women more enslaved by their illness.
Why? To say all eating disordered women possess these similar genetic traits may isolate the one girl out there who doesn’t quite fit into the bulimic or anorexic genetic jackpot. She may think, “See? I don’t fit into the anorexic stereotype. Therefore, I must be too fat or not sick enough.” (Thereby establishing her terminal uniqueness, even from other eating disordered women. As she throws up her breakfast.)
Don’t get me wrong. Aimee has made a huge contribution to the field, and I cannot thank her enough. However, I am wary of her tendency to discount women writers who recognize the dangerousness of the media. It is out there, and it is a dangerous force. I worry that she is isolating the field and not uniting it. I worry that she is isolating women, instead of joining them in a battle against an unhealthy society.
PS, I consumed an entire Ghiradelli chocolate bar in the writing of this entry, clad in sweats and glasses. Am I cured from my own terminal uniqueness? Nah, not cured, but definitely on my way.
So, I have been super cranky, bitchy, sick and tired lately, so I apologize for my blog posts that have been dwindling rapidly. However, when I am down I have my faithful readers (reader? haha) to rely on, so the video clip below is again from my beautiful cousin Cassie. In it is a small bit on how Kate Moss has influenced womens’ views of their bodies and what they should look like.
Oh, and PS, Kate probably gained weight cause she’s off the crack.
Thanks to my beautiful cousin Cassie for providing me with the link to this story. Apparently one is now not allowed to gain weight after your boyfriend’s death. One should stay uber-skinny because it’s more pleasing to the eye of many an idiot internet-goer.
There is not any combination of words that could capture the beauty of Amherst, MA.
As I think about it now, I feel overwhelmed by a plethora of sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and most importantly, tastes.
Amherst was the place where I rarely felt intimidated by my own appetite of any sort, whether it be food, men or feeling. In fact, I embraced my appetites in Amherst.
I consider Amherst to be my first home. I never felt at home in Littleton for reasons I have exhaustively recounted in this blog. Before attending UMass as a freshman at the age of 20, I had experienced a failed attempt at dorm life at the University of Hartford. On that hot move-in day in September of 2000, I was terrified that this experience would be the same. But, to my utter joy, it could not have been more different.
My love affair with life began in Amherst. And humorously enough, it might have started at the Franklin Dining Commons. My floormates (with whom I got along famously well) and I would trudge down Orchard Hill to the dining commons at 6 every night, and we often met in between classes for lunch. The best thing about it was that there was a huge selection of everything. Salad bars, wrap stations, cheeseburgers, tofu, ice cream cones…I was in heaven. My favorite Franklin DC meal was a salad drenched in Caesar dressing with chicken and sesame noodles piled onto it. And much like other recovereds, I learned to eat by watching my friends eat. I followed Kerry to the dessert tray every night. I learned to try weird combinations of things from my roommate Ashley. And I grabbed a muffin for a mid-morning snack after watching my friend Scott do so after finishing a Psych 100 class. It was a beautiful time for me and my appetite.
You might wonder why it was so easy for me to eat there, as opposed to Littleton or Boston. Anyone who has lived there knows there’s a simple organic quality to the Valley; there, one can’t help but shed their usual materialistic needs and just pay attention to and abide by their gut feelings. Also, in addition to leaving some trauma behind in Littleton, I was independent for the first time. I was actually living life the way I wanted to live it and was making choices for myself instead of having them made for me. I couldn’t have felt healthier.
This, of course, is not without error. There was the brilliant time halfway through Junior year when I decided it would be a smart move to eat only Slimfast bars for meals. And, after I got into a relationship I manipulated from the start, I started to seesaw with food. The level of comfort I’ve had with food has always been directly related to the healthiness of my life choices.
One of my best memories lies in the Field dorm. My friend Brian lived next door to Ashley and I; there was many a day when Brian would convince Kerry, Christina, Jenny and I to forgo our homework and watch a movie instead. Brian had a constant supply of peppermint patties on hand, and he would feed us them until we were sick. We would stick the wrappers in the springs of the bunked mattress above us, and would giggle and eat and quote our favorite lines from the movies. I couldn’t have been happier.
I think my appetite worked for me then because the amount I took in was equal to the amount I gave out; I was always moving. At UMass Amherst, it can take up to 25 minutes to walk to a class. In addition to that, there were hiking and bike trails nearby, and sets to move during a theater guild strike. I was always eating, but I was always in motion.
My food-related love affair moved off-campus as I did. After moving in with Jen and Franny, I became accustomed to ordering a dozen of Sugar Jones cookies regularly (delivered right to your door with a gallon of milk). I was a regular at Antonio’s, and quickly discovered that the quesadilla pizza was my favorite. After dancing the night away at the local drag bar with theater friends, we would order a Concorde of wings with crispy French fries. The next morning we would order the blueberry corn bread from Rooster’s, and later on we’d chat over coffee and a cookie at Rao’s after visiting Mike behind the register. On dates with my fiancée and then boyfriend, I would request that we go to the Amherst Brewing Company so I could get the apple-chutney burger, and the fried Oreo sundae afterwards. In between classes, I would stop at Pasta Y Basta and partake in their amazing garlic bread. On the day I voted for Gore, I had a burrito brimming with rice and beans from Bueno Y Sano. I could literally go on for paragraphs about the pepperoni calzones, Japanese food, and soup I guiltlessly devoured there.
Although I have had successes with my struggle since then, none have felt like the success I had there.
Once upon a time, a little girl was born to a liberal, educated family who lived in Eastern Massachusetts. This little girl was quiet and shy, and personalized her parents’ vaguely uneasy marriage as her fault. She was a perfectionist, and graduated magna cum laude from college. Her life was not easy. Starving herself was her first learned coping skill, drinking her second. She spent most of her late teens and early twenties binging and restricting; her eating disorder isolated her. However, this lady had a talent: she could write. She wrote for the Boston Phoenix when it was in its Indie hayday. She wrote a column about being a single woman – she was Boston’s version of Sex and the City’s Carrie. Her strength was her painful honesty – as one coworker wrote, “Reserved in person, she was ruthlessly self-revelatory at the keyboard”.
This is not me; this is Caroline Knapp. But you can see why I identify.
Caroline went on to write four books that made her famous: Alice K’s Guide To Life, Drinking: A Love Story, Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs, and Appetites.
In 2002, Caroline died of complications from lung cancer. She was 42 years old and had just married her longtime companion, Mark Morelli (the photographer who took this entry’s image).
I have read her books, and have read the ensuing criticism that has arisen from fellow recovered eating disordered memoir-writers. I think this criticism is a shame, for Caroline never pretended or claimed to own all the knowledge on the causes or remedies for eating disorders. She was a woman who was simply using her story as a means of making some sense in the world, and as a means of exposing the truth that some of us are so painfully afraid to approach.
I highly encourage you to pick up any of her books; Caroline had a way of twisting and shaping difficult concepts into beautiful, poignant strokes of the keyboard.
And if she were alive today, I would have taken her out for a very long coffee date.
I want to take a step back from eating disorders for a second.
If you didn’t already know, I write this blog in an attempt to reduce the stigma attached to eating disorders and the behaviors that surround it. But, after receiving a vast amount of supportive feedback in the form of texts, emails, and Facebook messages, I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge the stigma that is attached to mental illness in general.
Think about it. Our American society is so entrenched in guilt and shame we cannot bear to let others know something could be possibly wrong, that there is something amiss below the shiny, pretty surface. Is this true for you? Is there a discrepancy between the side you show to the world versus how you feel on an everyday basis?
I know it’s been true for me. And writing this blog and attempting to shatter this false identification myth has proven to be such an interesting experience. So many of you have written to me with stories of your own – stories of pain, stories of struggle they might be typically too ashamed to let people know about. I appreciate you sharing them, and know that this is the point of my blog – we all have a story to tell. And if only we could liberate ourselves from this entrapment of isolation, this myth that we have to struggle with these issues on our own! (It’s so American/Westernized to think that we have to depend solely on ourselves to survive. In reality, what an erroneous way of thinking! We all need others in order to live.)
Some of you have told me you appreciate my candor. Others, who have kept quiet or have quietly disengaged from everyday contact with me – I know you’re nervous. She’s a loose cannon, you may think. Would she write about me? Isn’t this tricky territory, being that she’s a therapist? Should I distance myself from her in case she gets into trouble for this? Some of you might talk about it with your husbands or girlfriends at bedtime. “What an online exhibitionist”, you say, as you sink into your loved ones’ arms for another comfortable night of sleep.
Well, GOOD. If you’re talking about or inwardly criticizing my blog, I’ve done my job. I’ve got you thinking or talking about your relationship with food, instead of blindly ingesting the thousands of disordered messages we are sent on a daily basis.
The point of my blog is to scream about the yucky things.
THE POINT IS TO FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE.
Sitting with discomfort = change.
We have GOT to start talking about the ugly things. Every person reading this post has done something they’re ashamed of or something they feel makes them an outsider. Could you imagine this world if it contained no shame? If people just started disclosing and in turn, gave others permission to do the same?
In keeping with my “no-shame” motto, I will disclose that one of my favorite Broadway tunes is “La Vie Boheme” from Rent. Why? Because it touts the bohemian principles I believe most in. As Collins and Maureen so eloquently sing –
to revolution, justice, screaming for solutions
forcing changes, risk and danger
making noise and making pleas!
Next time, I’ll be back to eating disorders, but I had to take time to explain why I make the noise that I do.