‘Nobody comes out. Nobody is out. Nobody is in. We are all more, or less, known; all seen in part, none completely; none quite sure what he has revealed; none wholly privy to what others may have guessed, or imagined, or presumed about him.’
So writes Matthew Parris in his wonderful autobiography Chance Witness
. I was reminded of that passage just now when making a decision - on this, the second anniversary of my blog – to write in straightforward terms about a very personal matter.
It is something that my friends will have suspected or even assumed about me for some time. Indeed complete strangers might well confidently assume it on their first sighting of me. Whatever efforts we make to cloak ourselves from scrutiny, some things are there for all but the most unobservant to see.
Yet there are always shades of grey in life. And the intensity of someone’s inclinations and frailties may ebb and flow. Precise causes can be hard to pin down. So too can effects.
Matthew Parris follows the passage quoted above with these words:‘Having got that off my chest I must confess that much to my own surprise I came out first to my brother and sister.’
Somewhat to my own surprise, I am going to come out to everyone and anyone who reads my blog.
I have an eating disorder.
It really does strike out at one when seen in black-and-white. Indeed the hope that it would was one of my motivations for blogging on the subject. But it is a dramatic statement because it is a true one. It is far from an exaggeration. Indeed a seemingly hyperbolic adjective could be inserted into the statement and it would still be accurate.
So yes, it may come as little surprise to anyone who’s spent considerable time with me, or to anyone who has noticed how large I am. What very few people have any insight into is the matter of WHY. I feel that now is a good time to shed some light on this.
It’s not my family’s fault. I was fed responsibly as a child, and wasn’t overweight until the tail end of my school days. I was very tall for my age until about 14, and became broad through genetics and weight training. So I wasn’t the proverbial fat kid. I don’t have a glandular problem, and although I may have certain food sensitivities, that’s not really the essence of the problem either.
My activity slowed down towards the end of school, as it does for so many of us. Never a brilliant athlete, I nonetheless threw myself into football, and later rugby, and this kept me lean and healthy. But other interests took over by the time I reached university.
However, that’s hardly a unique pathway – in fact most of us follow it. Fewer of us develop an unhealthy relationship with food. There can be all sorts of triggers for doing so. What follows explains mine.
I have mentioned my OCD before
. At its worst it was sheer agony. Although compulsive behaviour is undertaken in a desperate attempt to offset the obsessions, it doesn’t work, CANNOT work, and so I turned to another route to numb my feelings.
It is thought that low serotonin levels in the brain are a trigger for OCD and depression. Certain foodstuffs release serotonin, which helps explain why we crave them. Also tasty food is a transient comfort, as is eating beyond the point of sating hunger.
But that’s a long way from the whole story.
Overeating for a sustained period of time ingrains bad habits. You get into the swing of eating unhealthily, and don’t get into the swing of eating sensibly. You forget to stop eating when you’re full. You grow, and so your capacity for food grows too. Mine is enormous. You gradually realise that you have gone beyond being a well-built man to being obese.
You seek – probably without ever calling it this – a serotonin high. Some days, or evenings out with friends, are written off because you are so drained of energy.
And if you have other issues then the problem is compounded. If your brain is screaming at you that you are a terrible person, if you want to distract yourself from horrible actions that you feel compelled to take, it’s natural that you seek to self-medicate. James Taylor, one of my heroes, used to do this with heroin. Food has been my route.
Here’s the thing about food. You’ve got to have it. In no way do I suggest that alcoholism or drug addiction are easier than food addiction. One DIFFERENCE, though, is that a drunk and a junkie have a clear-cut route. Complete abstinence. That’s not to say it takes no courage to go down it. Far from it. But that is the only path.
I can’t give up on food. I have to come to terms with the fact that, unlike with other compulsions which I have beaten, I can’t finally say ‘no more’ and quit. There can be no sobriety date when I ate food for the last time. There are no absolute rules about what I can and can’t consume.
I do have particular problems with certain foods, but volume is the main issue. And whilst the alarm bells may ring when you read this, I don’t actually believe that the answer is to say ‘I’m never eating crisps, chips or kebabs again’.
I didn’t use to have a problem with food – it’s not something wired into my system. It’s probably a good idea to avoid certain foods for a bit, but that’s not a comprehensive answer. Right now I have a problem with eating. The key is to learn to eat properly.
This lack of clear-cut rules itself causes panic and confusion in me – because I have OCD. This in turn leads to overeating. I binge on foods that I plan to give up tomorrow, treating myself to one last blow-out on what is supposed to be my Sobriety Day. But tomorrow never comes. And so the cycle continues.
There are deeper issues still for many of us. Although I am moving away from this, I undoubtedly have also overeaten in an effort to avoid facing up to the possibility that people will find me attractive. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, and I won’t be elaborating on them. Suffice it to say that it does NOT stem from any childhood abuse. I mention it just to embellish my point that you don’t know everything going on in your friends’ lives.
I don’t consider myself to be uniquely cursed, or cursed at all; I consider myself to be lucky. But I hope that it’s been worthwhile to write about my eating disorder. Worthwhile for others who are in the same boat, or who know someone else who is. And yes, worthwhile for me. I wanted to get a few things straight in my head, and to talk plainly about something that has been a big problem in my life.
So no special pleading here. But one observation. It never ceases to amaze me how carefree people are about commenting on my appearance, and specifically my size. I’m sure other big people (and small people, and ginger-haired people) find the same thing. Allow me to let you in on a little secret. We may smile and laugh along with you. We don’t really find it funny or charming. We find it very hurtful.
Next time you think it would be amusing to mock someone for their appearance, perhaps you might like to reflect first. The endless stream of rude remarks that, for example, people with red hair are subjected to may not be on a par with what black people have had to endure at times. That doesn’t make it OK.
And by the way, it’s not funny either. It’s utterly unoriginal and uninspired, and deeply tiresome. (I should know, I have a world-class sense of humour.) Ask yourself if it’s REALLY all that witty to call someone a ‘fat bastard’, or to tell them they’re ugly. Chances are that you can do better, and without being truly unkind.
You might think that it’s a different matter if someone’s fat. After all, they’re at least partially to blame aren’t they? Why shouldn’t we have a go at people’s character flaws? This might be a bit easier to stomach if the sort of people who like mocking others for being imperfect were remotely willing to have their own characters dissected. In my experience they are not.
Moreover, the fact that you leap at the chance to point out someone’s faults hardly recommends you as an admirable human being.
God knows I’m not PC, and I’m no saint. Yes of course being unkind is sometimes justified, and I basically take the view that in those cases anything goes. Yes of course rude comments can be affectionate. But there is a limit, and it is likely that if you regularly mock a friend they enjoy it a lot less than they let on. Each of us is fragile. Macho types who hide that fact are only doing just that – hiding. Never be fooled.
As Matthew says, nobody is fully in or out. Assumptions that people make can be miles from the truth. For example, contrary to what some people assert – to my white-faced fury – I am not a lazy person. I am not well. There’s a f-king difference.
But I’m getting better, and I will win. That has been, and will always be, the story of my life.