Tag Archives: the mind

The Mind and Eating Disorders

I’ve talked before about the eating disorder I grew up with. It was always accompanied with self-loathing and vows to never binge again. Those vows were always broken. I felt I couldn’t remove myself completely from eating because we obviously need food to live. It wasn’t like alcoholism, I told myself, because you can remove yourself completely from alcohol. In many ways it was just like alcoholism.

One reason to eat all of something was instant gratification. The more my life sucked the more I could find instant pleasure in eating. I could not get enough of the taste. But then of course it was the catch-22 of hating myself for eating so much, feeling fat, sometimes gaining weight (though not always because I’d cut out most other foods), being hungry, eating sugars. Around and around and around.

When I finally sought help, I couldn’t go for counselling because it’s not covered by the health care system. But psychiatry is. Psychiatrists sort of counsel but they love to give out medications. I mentioned in my other post about the Prozac and then the Fenfluramine. Every week when I went in to see the psychiatrist he’d ask me how many times I had vomited. I would say, “Remember I’m the bulimic that doesn’t puke?” It didn’t give me much faith that he couldn’t note this in my chart or get it right.

We never talked about how I felt, why I couldn’t control my eating or why I had a bad body image. We talked about my writing, in the least likely way to relate to eating disorders. He told me, oh you’ll lose weight on these drugs. This psychiatrist specialized in eating disorders and had evening sessions at his home for people to talk about their experiences. I’d go and there would be a bunch of skeletal models and me, the bulimic, the fat one. It didn’t inspire me to feel like I wasn’t the only one with my problem. Instead I felt like the only weirdo amongst the weirdos. But still, all of those models knew at least one person who had died from anorexia. I didn’t. I think I only attended one of these meetings.

It’s said that people’s serotonin levels balance how much they eat. Too much and they eat little. To little and they eat a lot. I don’t believe my serotonin levels were out of whack to begin with but with the years of the disorder I do believe that they became unbalanced and that’s why I never felt full. I don’t know if this is accurate but it did seem to change. After about a year of taking the drugs and not losing a pound, of fruitless “counselling” and seeming to go nowhere, I quit the drugs and I quit the psychiatrist.

I did realize then that in fact my eating behavior had changed. I felt full when I ate. I could now have some chocolate in the house, or ice cream and not eat it all in one sitting. I still rarely keep these things in my place for fear of triggering the disorder but I can have them in small quantities now. When I’m depressed or unhappy there is still the urge to gorge but it’s more controllable. I feel less out of control and I can rule the food as opposed to it ruling me.

When people look at an overweight person and arrogantly say, She/he should just lose some weight, they need to understand it’s not an easy thing. True, dieting in and of itself takes time and isn’t easy but there are many factors than someone judging by looks alone can’t know. There could be genetic factors such as thyroid issues, metabolic such as a sluggish one or high cortisol factors, emotional factors such as past abuses, psychological such as phobias and blocks, and other external factors. One can’t know unless they’re in those person’s shoes. And even the person dealing with eating disorders and weight issues may not know. I’m not a medical professional so I can’t name all of the aspects that could affect a person’s weight but to gain or lose weight is not always as easy as just willing it.

The brain is a powerful tool and it can kill us. People with eating disorders struggle enough within themselves. Not one, whether thin or fat, wants to be that way. They either see themselves as fat when they’re not, or possibly thin when they’re not. However, an overweight person or a skinny person does not automatically mean an eating disorder. As I said, there are other factors and some people are naturally not in what we conceive of as the norm for body size, and some are happy where they are. But one thing is for sure, the more ridicule the person with a disorder receives the harder it is for them to get to a state of mental health.

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Dare to Remember

This was originally published when I wrote for Fearsmag.com. It had to do with our fears and memory.

For everyone, memory is an important aspect of our personalities as well as our culture. Many people are proud of their lineage, and how far back they can trace their ancestors. History is what makes the world. What happened in the past? Did we learn from our mistakes, did we repeat them? Without memory we would be simpler creatures and our world, our inventions and our differences would not be so great.

Science fiction author Gene Wolfe wrote a book called Soldier of Arete, which is about a man whose memory is only a day long. Unless he writes every thought and event down he does not remember from one day to the next what happened in his past, what he accomplished, how he failed or whom he liked and loved.

Amnesiacs must blunder about feeling a certain panic, not knowing how they lost their memories or what they liked or who they were. For some it might be a freeing experience from who they were, but then, they wouldn’t remember so how would they know? For most it would be the cutting loose of identity that would be frightening, suddenly in a world that you know you are part of, but not knowing in what way to act nor what you thought.

November marks the month of remembrance. In Canada it’s called Remembrance Day, in the U.S. Veteran’s Day (once Armistice Day). This day, Nov. 11th was chosen originally in the U.S. by Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the end of World War I. To commemorate means to bring to memory, to remember. Marked forever in our calendars is the day the war ended, when we are to remember all those who lives were lost so that we could keep our freedom.

Just think, without memory we would have no ceremonies—no birthdays for who could remember when they’re born, no Valentine’s Day for who could remember who they loved, no Easter or Christmas for who would remember the significance of a religion started two thousand years ago, no Hallowe’en, no Presidents’ Day, no Mother’s Day, no Father’s Day. Without memory, would God or religion, life or death matter in the same way? No one would remember your accomplishments so fewer would strive for fame. Movies might still exist, if someone could remember how to make them from day to day, but after you saw a film, you would forget it and the stars would be ciphers once again.

As much as our personalities make up who we are by framing our world in a particular perspective and in how we react to any given situation, our memories also make up who we are. Memory is described as the mental processes that modify our behavior in light of previous experiences. We are the sum of our parts. What we remember and how we remember it makes us who we are today. I remember having a small, metal fridge as a child. I loved that fridge; there was nothing special about it but one year it was replaced with a big, shiny new fridge and many little plastic vegetables. Yet, I wanted that old fridge and to this day remember it. Did my parents know how significant the first fridge was? I doubt it. They probably don’t even remember the fridge at all. I, myself, can’t remember why I liked the first fridge so much but I will never forget it. Memory’s a tricky thing.

So here we are, in November and we should remember. Remember what was lost and what was gained. Remember what war does so that it won’t be repeated. Well, we see how well that’s going and how long that memory sticks. For many people not old enough to have relatives in any war it’s hard to think about what we should remember, unless we’re taught it in school. But what exactly, should we remember? The good times? The bad times? And what should we forget? Past slights, embarrassments and failures?

In the course of selecting the memories that are important, we also order them as to the most significant. My fridge memory is not too significant today. The painful memory of being teased at school left a deeper wound and made my personality shift. I used to be shy but learned you had to be tough and louder and laugh first if you didn’t want to get hurt. That’s what I remember.

People who have been abused often have blocked their memories. That horrendous event is far too painful or frightening to bring up and their psyche cannot cope with it. It’s still in there, buried behind some neuro-synaptic door and only the right key can trigger the lock. The person with the buried memory may still have a very screwed up life because of what happened but the psychological detectives have to uncover the secret before they can find a cure. And of course, there’s that risk of implanted false memories. Through hypnosis, psychotherapy and brainwashing, the mind can be reprogrammed to believe something did happen the way it was suggested. Our memories after all are only electrical zaps stored in our brains.

I know someone who suffers from multiple personalities. She’s got quite a few, from a boisterous tart to a sinister old man. The severe abuse she suffered through her young life fragmented her memory and her brain made up different personalities to deal with various situations. What does she remember and what do her other five personalities remember? Is any particular version more truthful or are they all? Like our sight, our memories can play tricks on us. Do we question, “Did it really happen the way I remember?” Some memories fade so that we really can’t quite remember what we did on a particular day, what someone said, or where we were. Yet, other memories are as sharp as broken glass, waiting to stab us with the poignancy of a mortifying or an ecstatic moment.

November might also be a time for many to reflect on what we’ve accomplished through the year. Often the year seems to have flown by. Oh migod I never did finish that novel. I forgot to call so and so for the third month running. Why do we remember and why do we forget? The workings of the mind are still a mystery for all the studies that have been done. Although there are many memories I would rather forget (and damn that mind of mine, it’s not letting me) I’m still grateful I have a choice of memories and that I haven’t forgot what’s important in my life. Now, if I could just remember where I put my keys….

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Filed under Culture, history, life, memories, Writing