Looking back on my childhood, it’s fairly obvious that I’ve had symptoms of disordered eating my entire life, but I didn’t start to develop a full-blown clinical eating disorder until exactly six years ago.
I don’t think that events, people, personal trauma, or external factors “cause” eating disorders. “Biology loads the gun, environment only pulls the trigger” For me, there was a clearly defined catalyst. I was seventeen, right on the edge of a really nasty depressive episode. I went through some teenage heartbreak bullshit with a close friend of mine- the same kind of thing that everyone goes through in high school and usually lives to laugh at, but when you’re that young and still feel everything that intensely, it hurts. If you’re already self-loathing and slugging it out with undiagnosed bipolar disorder it hurts a lot. I was a train wreck and didn’t really get out of bed for the first three days after it happened. I also didn’t eat and discovered that starvation made me feel better. I’d found a way to turn down the volume on all the noise inside my head. After a day or so without food I felt calmer, quieter, more evened out. Everything still hurt, but just a little bit less.
I checked myself into my first treatment program when I was eighteen and checked myself out of the last one when I was twenty-two, and I’m still fucking sick, go figure. I would never discourage anyone who needs or wants treatment. There have been times in my life when it’s been medically necessary to go in, and I have friends who have benefited tremendously from programs. I’ve spent a cumulative year of my life in and out of psychiatric facilities, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s already too much. You tend to see some pretty fucked up shit when you spend enough time in the mental healthcare system.
The most disturbing thing I’ve encountered during my time is the revolving door patient. There are so many people out there who never learn to function outside of treatment. Once you spend enough time in that setting, you forget what it’s like not to be in treatment. It’s safer than the real world and if it’s a safety net you can fall back on every time life gets to be too much, there’s little incentive to actually recover. You become institutionalized in every sense of the word, and it happens fast. I remember one day I was at one shitty job and I asked a coworker if I could borrow a box cutter to break down a carton, and I was mildly surprised when they just handed me the box cutter. That night, I decided it was probably time to check myself out of day treatment. A life in rehab is still a life, but it’s not one that I’m interested in living.
I am a fairly cynical person and I’ve spent a lot of my life being acutely, horribly sad for no particular reason and it’s hard if not outright impossible for me to see the good in the world most of the time. What keeps me sane is trying to surround myself with the things that remind me that life can be beautiful as well as painful- new cities, good coffee, punk rock, my friends, my art. The last two in particular are probably the most important, and I’ve tried to keep at the forefront of my mind that I can’t have an eating disorder and have those things in my life at the same time.
Copyright 2016 © Colleen Mann. All content can only be used with permission from the artist.