Anorexic and Disabled

I was wheeled into the psychologist’s consulting room, terrified she was going to make me eat. I’d been awake all night, haunted by the prospect of a table laden with calories. I knew my life would fall apart if she force-fed me, but then what could I do? I couldn’t run out of the door; I couldn’t ram my fingers down my throat. My brain was pleading with my body to save it, but it could not. I was powerless. The psychologist took one look at my chair as she futilely attempted to tell her face how to react. Her expression was a blend of curiosity and astonishment; her words tumbled from her tongue before she had the chance to catch them. “Oh. You’re anorexic and disabled!”

There are moments that define you; moments that break you to make you. This was arguably my first. Without that throw-away comment, my life wouldn’t have been put into perspective within two entangled boxes. I was anorexic because I was disabled; I was disabled because I was anorexic. Both were, and are, interchangeably accurate, yet I’ve always spoken about them as relatively independent entities. That said, today marks the end of Eating Disorder Awareness Week and March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, so it’d be hypocritical of me to pass them by. My story continues with ballet shoes and custard…

Dreaming of custard was a reoccurring nightmare. I’d go to bed exhausted from another day of calorie counting. How many had I consumed? What effect had they had on me? When was I going to have to eat again? My body pined for custard: it longed for that bright yellow bowl of unconditional love Nan used to whip up every Sunday. It didn’t matter what was going on around me, the spoon of soothing sweetness never failed to bind everything together. But what my body needed, my mind would not allow – I was in control.

My body had its own agenda: when I asked it to walk, it wobbled and when I asked it to dance, it flopped on the floor. Throughout the innocence of childhood, it didn’t matter. My parents putting me behind a curtain so they could find me in a game of Hide-and-seek, was my ‘normal’. However, as I grew up, it became blatantly obvious that Cerebral Palsy hindered my every move. My independence had been slashed before it had the opportunity to establish itself and test the boundaries. I didn’t fit in and I could only stand out with assistance. I was dependent on someone for most aspects of life, but at least I could feed myself. I could control the food that fuelled my dysfunctional limbs.

Ironically, Cerebral Palsy offered an illusion: I couldn’t run out of the door to be marathon ready and I couldn’t ram my fingers down my throat after I’d eaten. I had manipulated CP into being my scapegoat whilst I went in search of the perfect version of my wonky body. But what began as a quest for aesthetics, soon escalated into a three-year battle to keep up the charade. I counted the calories whilst the eating disorder held me ransom for the steps I was unable to take. I span a web of secrets and lies because the anorexia had devoured my imperfect truth. My eating disorder commanded control of our life’s shattered destiny, and I became a slave to its every demand.

So, there I sat, in front of the perplexed psychologist. The war had been won. The eating disorder unveiled its trophy which stood pride of place within my emaciated figure; my battered bones resembled the leader board of a reigning champion. I was anorexic and disabled.

Eight years on from the night I inhaled an entire box of doughnuts, a few lessons have been learnt. My fight with anorexia was never really about having a body that was free from CP; it was about avoiding the limitations I believed my disability had enforced upon me. I’d be misguided to think that Cerebral Palsy was the sole cause of it. Life was a chaotic, crumbling mess that I didn’t have the power to fix, nor the ability to escape. The eating disorder masked my insecurities and anxieties of not fitting into the box my brain had created.

Today, I throw myself towards everything I instinctively want to run from whilst anorexia – and all its baggage – sits disabled in the corner.

March 8, 2020 7:00 pm

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