Temple, definition: “A place of worship hallowed by association with some sacred thing or person.”
They say your body is a temple but in today’s world, I don’t think we treat think our bodies as a place of worship or as something that should be cherished.
Health means something different to each and every person. Health is circumstantial, it’s a necessity yet it can be temporary.
I see my role, due to my previous circumstances as one of the many catalysts out there trying to redefine our societal definition of what it means to be healthy, but in an actual healthy way.
It’s so easy for meaning to get lost, because we’re all coming from unique places and our worldviews are equally personal, no matter how much you think you might have in common with someone.
I want to start, or re-start my personal blog by sharing a letter to Hannah Kingston of 2012-2015 from Hannah 2019 to give you an idea of what health means to used to mean to me versus what it does now. It might explain why I feel so strongly about that buzzword “self-love” which seems to be flying around on the daily.
This letter is from me, to me, just before my health struggle started, and would continue for three years. I have written about it before but it has never been clearer in my head than it is today, it another three years, it might become clearer again, but I will keep you posted.
It’s me, Hannah! I know, mad. No one seems to write letters anymore. It’s 2019. Big buzz words at the moment revolve around a man called Donald Trump and a concept known as Brexit, but more on that later.
I wanted to drop by to talk about the hardest time in your life to date, in the hope of helping to properly illustrate your current definition of health, which is a whole lot healthier than it used to be. I am also hoping that if there is anyone out there reading this and struggling with their own battle, this might offer some comfort.
I know you’ll be dying to know this but you work as a health writer right now. Go you!
Right now you are thinking of becoming a zoologist, marine biologist, equine nurse, or a lawyer. You know deep down that creative writing is where your heart is at but you don’t have the confidence or common sense to do what you want yet.
At this very moment, I am guessing that there is some level of stress and anxiety whirring around your head. It’s 2013, and while society has definitely attained some level of “woke” in the last few years, words like “anxiety”, “anorexia” and “depression” are very rare. In your mind, these words conjure up images of scary looking people hooked up to machines or in straight jackets. You come from a relatively small town so you shudder at the thought of anyone knowing that you are very stressed out or very anxious, you genuinely wonder what the neighbours would say.
These feelings, despite your best efforts to ignore them will begin to manifest later my friend. You are “in the throws” of the Leaving Cert and the feeling of being thrown from the dusty womb of all-girls-convent-life freaks you out. The sheer thought of moving from home is enough to make you start looking at the calories on food wrappers or to make an excuse to walk up and down the stairs a few times.
Your long and tedious journey with disordered eating is just beginning amidst whispers of the supposed “LC Stone”, the average hypothesized weight gain amongst 6th year convent girls.
You will start to experience negative cyclical thoughts about yourself. Looking back at old diaries, you will note that you have been living with a low self esteem since becoming a teenager. Your scribbles often contain a desire to be skinnier, more desirable, smarter, prettier and likable.
You don’t know this yet, but eventually you will come to the understanding that those who are affected by eating disorders have something in common and that is often their personality types, psychological schemas and self esteem. Ultimately it comes down to wanting to be in control. You believe that if you can control this one thing, everything will fall into place, when truthfully, you’re physical and mental state will begin to deteriorate. As the illness progresses, you cling onto that false hope, security and companionship that is an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are such a gradual thing so it’s hard to quantify what your day to day life with anorexia or bulimia will look like for you. While I write this letter, I imagine you, I see a healthy and relatively happy 18 year old at around 10 stone (63.5KG) transform into a very unhealthy and unstable person 8 months later, weighing in at around 6.3 stone (40KG).
It’s hard to describe an addiction of this nature to you right now, because you haven’t lived it yet. You’re only at the beginning. Exercise is going to become your drug of choice, calorie counting will become your biggest stress reliever. It will become a comfortable ritual that you’re in love with, it’s your best friend, it makes you feel safe, without it you feel that the world is going to come crashing down around you.
This love of yours, young Hannah will be quantified by systematic resistance exercises upon waking and 2 litres of water, studying till your eyes burn, 1.5 hours of intense cardio a day, 2 scoops of porridge, half a carton of carrot soup, two ryvitas, grilled vegetables and 2 large oranges to round it off with a cup of green tea.
Anything outside of this routine will send you into a frenzy. Going out for food? Out of the question. Eating something that someone else prepared? To be avoided. Eating around others? Not to your liking at this time.
This love for control is soon to become more important than your relationships with your friends and family, more important than your body’s ability to function and more important than you. This love that you have becomes so essential that you blink and suddenly you don’t look like you but there’s still pounds to burn and that feeling of mastery is worth losing everything else in the world.
Let’s take a look at the physical side effects on the menu:
Heightened Sensitivity To The Cold:
A drastic loss of body weight causes heightened sensitivity to the cold. Violent shivering and inability to get warm were one of the tell-tales at the beginning. Closer to your intervention, you will be in a club of people in bodycon dresses and T-shirts but you will wear two cardigans and a coat for the entire night.
Growth Of Body Hair:
Lanugo or soft, downy hair is often found on newborns, it is also found on those who are drastically underweight. When you get to a certain point, you will find that your body is covered in lanugo, including your back, buttocks, neck, and face as your body attempts to fight the cold and protect your organs.
Loss Of Periods:
Also known as amenorrhea, this is a common symptom of anorexia and it generally occurs when you are hitting the lowest weight your body can handle.
You won’t have a period for 7 months before your begin treatment, You will tell yourself that you don’t need them because you would never have kids anyway. The thought of weight gain associated with pregnancy terrifies you, (still does, in fairness.) Your therapist will tell you that this is a sign of organ failure and your body is in the process of shutting down. It’s the motivation you need to start eating bananas again. You think they are a fattening food at the moment, you mad thing.
Weakened Bladder Control:
Weakened bladder control may be caused by over exercising, undernutrition and replacing solids with fluids which is what will happen when you increase your water intake to 4 liters a day.
You always need the bathroom and it’s a genuine panic if you’re not near one. On one occasion, during a long walk, you will wet yourself and pretend that’s normal. Like the loss of periods you ignore that this is your body’s way of telling you that our organs can’t handle the strain of addiction.
Soon after the intervention, you will receive in about 8 months, the nerves of our right foot became damaged which will result in dragging this foot behind you, it will hit the ground harder making a thumping noise as you walk. The doctor can’t do anything but put a blanket ban on exercise and hope that you follow our new nutrition plan.
The nerves will eventually heal, just like us.
You will read in Cosmopolitan, at the age of 17, that oranges burn calories, you will eat an excessive number of oranges along with compulsively brushing our teeth. This will cause them to become very sensitive, this will become worse during the bulimic periods due to acid reflux from purging.
Low Blood Pressure:
When the body is under pressure to keep going, the heart has to work harder to keep everything moving, this was something the doctor raised concerns about during our first appointment. The chronic fatigue and inability to concentrate is also a telltale sign.
Let’s take a look at the emotional side effects on the menu:
Lowered Sex Drive:
Ironically, our quest to become more desirable and successful in and out of the bedroom backfired and you are still a virgin, partially because you have no sex drive and secondly because having sex would be another version of relinquishing control under the tinted glasses of anorexia. Your interest in sex lowers as your interest in becoming “perfect” increases. (Don’t worry, you will get your libido back, and have a lovely sex life, all in good time.)
Obsessive Compulsive Rituals:
Counting calories burned and calories ingested is the main obsession right now and you will note all accordingly in your “Simpsons” calendar, including post-its for explanations if any foods were different to the day before.
You genuinely will not be able to sleep if your shoes are not in enough of a straight enough line. Everything needs to be perfect like the girls you see in the magazines and want to become or this whole thing is a waste of time, in your head.
2012 Headspace: If I didn’t do my weekly regime in the exact same order with the exact number of calories burned in each session, I am a failure. Everything is black and white, either amazing or awful, either good work out or waste of time.
Over having to eat it.
So at this point, young Hannah, you’re probably wondering, how the hell are we going to get over all of this awfulness?!
I know, seems like an absolute nightmare, right? It’s crazy what you can make the body learn and even crazier what you can make the body unlearn. I won’t go into too many details about what you will need to go through next, just in case you find loopholes but your treatment will involve your GP, nutritionists, psychiatrists and, counsellors.
The main strategies will include counseling each week, regular check-in/weigh-ins with our doctor, an exercise ban which was the hardest part, a food calendar and a ban on weighing us privately. Unfortunately as is common during treatment, sufferers can begin a bingeing and purging cycle as the body and mind reintroduces itself to what is normal and abnormal around food.
The beginning of the bulimia will be the most horrific part of all of this but you will eventually strike the balance and you will get better, sitting in front of the toilet to get sick or running yourself to ribbons are just a part of this path and it will not feel like it’s ever going to stop but it will stop and then you will be generally, so so woke and in touch with yourself.
This all seems horrific, are we better today?
I think instead of saying how did we manage it, we need to say how do we manage it. Emotional illnesses are not like a broken leg, we don’t experience it and then heal and move on. Eating disorders are chronic, those who suffer from them are predisposed to suffer from them. I manage my disposition through self-care, stress management and genuine self-love, which is something that we need to grow organically ourselves. It’s not easy but somehow we will learn that things, people and concepts will not make us happy, they’ll help, but they won’t ultimately change our life. We will change our life and then the things, people and concepts will make us happy but not control our happiness because we don’t need external reassurance.
Young Hannah, today is a good day and most days are good days because today, I don’t know what I weigh because I don’t weigh myself. It’s time that we start quantifying ourselves in how funny, smart and interesting we are, not how much the organs, tissues, muscles, and meat on our bones weigh. Who cares? We should not be defined by flesh because we are so much more than that.
I hope beyond hope that younger girls and boys will not get sucked in by the media and it’s marketing. I hope beyond hope that younger girls and boys will not buy into the idea that “sex sells” or that looking a certain way will bring you happiness.
Social media has it’s pros and cons, some communities showcase community and strength around eating disorders, others fat-shame and glorify making the possible impossible through damaging health regimes. The only answer to this is to monitor what kids see online and keep an open conversation about what is realistic and what is not.I think that the only way to combat this lack of understanding is to start in primary school, at the age of 12, children should know what they might be faced with in secondary school.
Sufferers are generally misunderstood. It’s a guessing game out there and the only way to stop the guessing is to educate.
No two eating disorders are the same and there is a massive debate over whether they are triggered circumstantially or whether people are born with them.
If you inject yourself with the idea that you drive your own life, and no one can touch that, you can begin to control everything else, including how you see yourself. It took me three years to love myself and three years to separate myself from something that is quite frankly scary, ugly and terrifying. How DO I manage my condition? I remember what I have to lose if I return to that frame of mind, and it keeps me moving forward.
Sorry, if I got a little distracted there young Hannah, eating disorders are just bigger than us, but you will beat this and you will come out stronger than you could ever imagine. You’ll follow your heart to writing and you might even start a blog to share your story in the hope of inspiring others.
- An app called “Tinder” will be developed. Never set up an account, never.
- Don’t dye your hair peroxide blonde and always get your eyebrows done professionally.
- Go to Coppers on the July 13th 2018 and kiss yer man.
With love from me to you,
Future Hannah x