I’ve had a difficult week this week. I have described it to myself like this: a switch in my head flicked, possibly around Wednesday, and my animal brain took over. Unfortunately, it appears that my animal brain is the part that controls my anorexia. It will be hard to understand for people whose brains simply do not work in this way, but my primal instinct – the part of me responsible for the basest of decisions and for responding to threat – has been telling me not to eat.
There will be people reading this blog who will wonder why I didn’t tell them that this had happened to my brain.
This is the answer:
(I had to have a short break here to play a game on Facebook whilst I thought about exactly why I didn’t choose to tell anyone that my amygdala had become slightly unhinged again)
For a start, maybe it would be a good idea to write more about what I mean when I talk about my animal brain being in charge of anorectic thoughts. When I first started to struggle with food and eating, it wasn’t that I cut foods out slowly: it happened all at once. A ‘voice’ in my head told me I was fat and told me to stop eating. I did. It wasn’t the slow burn of reduction you often hear about in magazines and on television, rather an instinct-driven change. It wasn’t – most surprisingly – something I had to learn to do either. I had always been a person for whom food, weight and body image had been at the bottom of my list of priorities. I didn’t know about calories or food groups, apart from what I had picked up from GCSE Science. To be someone, suddenly, then, who was very good at restricting food was quite shocking. It was almost as though my brain had always been prepared for this – as though the knowledge was part of me. I did not have to think about how to be anorexic.
My animal brain – the fight or flight bit – told me how to be anorexic.
I didn’t tell anyone that my animal brain was in charge then, and I couldn’t do so this week either.
Because I wanted to lose weight. That is why. It probably hurts to hear that. It probably hurts to know that I am one of the people you love the most in the world and still still, anorexia is too strong for me to confide in you about what is happening in my head. It hurts me, too, that after everything, an illness can still take me – albeit only for a few days – and tell me that secrecy and commitment to killing myself slowly are more important than the people I love.
I was going to say here that I am not proud of those moments, but why would I be either proud or not proud of something that an illness does to me? It’s not my choice and it’s not my fault.
It is, however, my job to do something about it. I have been living with anorexia for long enough that I know what to do when my animal brain pops up to say hello. When I feel threatened and ready to cower in a metaphorical corner whilst I let the fight or fight, primal, instinctual bit of me take over.
And that is to talk. To use words as my weapons. To fight to take back control.
If you know me personally, you will know how terrible I am at talking to anyone about anything that matters.
So I write.
So this is me writing that I have had a hard week. This is me writing that, for a large stretch of this week, losing weight has been more important than anything else in my life.
And this is me writing it down because doing so removes its power.
Personally, I think that that is magical. That something can be so strong and yet, simply by making sure that I am not alone in fighting it, that I am honest with other people, that the power can be taken away.
Because your animal brain can’t be in charge when you’ve got an army who are on your side.
My advice to people whose animal brain is in charge? Tell people. Yes, it’s terrifying. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it means that you can’t starve yourself. Yes, it might be easier to tell people you are worried about hurting them or triggering them, when really you do not want to speak because the truth is the first step in taking back power.
But talking – and you have to trust me on this – is a good thing. More than a good thing. An excellent, amazing, wonderful thing. Because leaving anorexia behind; choosing to create an army and finding your real life, that will be the best decision you have ever made.
Build yourself an army.
To those people who are living with someone whose animal brain is refusing to let them find recovery, be their army. Show them that love is stronger than starvation. Show them that you can fight with them, against the thing that is killing them. And never stop. You are so important in their recovery. You are important in saving them.
And, finally, to my army: