They may not mean to, but they do…

1. Parents
My parents have been visiting for Easter. I dreaded their arrival, in a mild, diluted sort of way. They’re good people but it felt like a band of dark cloud on the horizon. I have so little energy that anything that adds even the slightest extra resistance to the laborious progress of getting to the end of the day, any head wind, is a source of dread. This means any socialising, but especially the company of people who care, who have too much invested in me, and who I therefore have a responsibility to. Family, in other words. I fear they’ll scrutinise me too closely and will have opinions and emotional reactions to what I do and what I am, or have become. And I guess I’m ashamed of myself.

Mum directly asked me a question about being anorexic. I forget what. In response, I cautiously made some comments (maybe two), acknowledging that I had it. Embarrassing, but mum had the sense not to talk about it anymore, other than to pass some comments: “Well, I just don’t understand it”; “Maybe you just need to try harder” and, when I mentioned that Jo and I had coined a family motto of “Be kind and try your best”, “Well, you need to try to be kinder to your family.” Am I being overly critical to consider these as a little crass?

I think, for my parents, anorexia is fatally “psychological” and therefore evanescent in conception. They don’t seem to be able to understand it, which may be why mum doesn’t try to comment on it. They seem not to consider thought as bio-chemical. It is a self-contained system that operates and on itself and thus controls actions and decisions with perfect precision. So, for mum, psychological conditions can be instantly cured by simply “getting a grip”. This makes it incomprehensible as a reason for self-destructive behaviour. You just appear wilfully and illogically self-harming.

Of course, I may be projecting my own prejudices about the condition and how undeserving of sympathy or excuses I am, but I remember, as a teenager, my parents catching me with cuts on my wrists from a bout of melodramatic self-harming. They shouted at me, “Do you want us to get you therapy? Hmmm? Is that what you want? Well!?” (etc.), to which the answer was clearly supposed to be, “No, of course not! The very idea!” When I’d dutifully said this, they seemed satisfied with the outcome.

So I guess having them here was stressful. I acted as if I was highly stressed and was bloody rude and nasty to my poor old mum and dad, making horribly critical comments, sniping, arguing, aggressively challenging, criticising, sounding disdainful and full of dislike. Yet I felt that disassociation with my own emotions that I usually get. I felt as if I was looking on my own actions with a coolly rueful disdain, shaking my head with disappointment at my own behaviour. I felt that I could, at any point, make the decision to be much nicer and more tolerant, and that this would cost me very little. Yet, again and again, I found myself acting like a complete twat for no apparent reason. Perhaps I’m adopting my parents’ model of cognition, here, and thus viewing my behaviour with the same puzzlement.

Worst of all I ended up actually shouting at Jo, in frustration and panic over something very minor. I hate doing this. It seems unforgivably horrible because it’s bullying: forcing your mood on someone else. Luckily Jo is too strong to put up with that behaviour, but it still makes me terribly ashamed, especially as poor Jo has to shoulder almost all the responsibility for the children and even for being nice and welcoming and sociable to my parents, which should be my job.

Unsurprisingly, and deservedly, she was highly critical of me when Mum and Dad had left. I always hope she’ll congratulate me on the many instances of successful restraint, or at least reassure me that I wasn’t all that awful (and she had done so at various points during my parents’ stay, when I’d apologised.) Not this time. She confirmed that I’d been bloody awful.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty certain this is one of the reasons why I’m reluctant to get better. Anorexia provides a perfect excuse not to pull my weight, especially if I return to a bio-chemical model of thought and emotion, at odds with that of my parents. I have an incentive to be bloody awful. The more badly behaved I am, the more I can justify not making the effort. And yet, if I was asked, “I’m anorexic” would sound like a paltry and feeble excuse, especially in front of my mum.

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