(let your mind go, let yourself be free/ oh freedom (freedom)…)
I’m still feeling jaded by the constant struggle of being here. Because you don’t want to be here, you’re forced to constantly confront why you ARE here; you have to question your motivations and drives, resist your negative impulses and thoughts, analyse your mental states, discuss your, and others’, behaviours and what causes them. You can NEVER relax and the process seems to have no fixed end: it could go on forever! Even our music and art classes involve intense concentration, using parts of the brain that have lain dormant for decades. But then, every aspect of anorexia involves struggle.
When I feel grim and snappish, I try to get away from people and do paced breathing, usually in the garden. This partially works, and I appear more relaxed, but it’s a superficial calmness. I can feel a deep and powerful current of anxiety flowing in a subterranean darkness.
I usually have no idea why. I try to “step back” and examine my own thinking, as I’ve been told to in our therapy sessions, but I’m utterly rubbish at it. When asked to analyse my feelings and thought processes, I’m flummoxed. Nothing comes to mind.
I think I lack the habit of true, internal dialogue, something I suspect is fostered by conversations with other people (and possibly by reading fiction). In my solitary anorexic past, a thought seemed like a statement of cognitive fact, an immediate description of interior reality. Wasn’t that the lesson of all post-Cartesian philosophy, that we can know nothing beyond our own thoughts? There seemed little point in observing the sensation of having thoughts; their content was the important thing. And, anyway, no alternative could be heard above the seething moil in my impoverished mind.
Now, at least I’m aware that I have thought processes, and that they can be wrong and based on unhelpful assumptions. I sense them, fluttering indistinctly, like crows in a tangled hedge, just beyond the streetlights.
I can even come up with plausible explanations, coherent narratives. They feel plucked from the air, but after a couple of days, I’ve bedded them in, and they seem self-evident, solidly rooted in undeniable facts. I Sometimes wonder if all therapy is simply the imposition of a pretty story, almost at random, on a stew of uncontrollable bio-chemicals. Connecting the pieces makes us feel better. We think we understand ourselves. We feel more in control, but it makes bugger all difference. The brain continues to do what the brain continues to do.
Recently, when I couldn’t find a quiet place to do the homework for one of our workshops, I was almost overwhelmed with frustration, so I tried one of the self-soothing techniques they taught us. I went outside and observed the rain falling, the tips of myriad leaves dripping, dull greens turning to dull browns, into the garden’s misty distances; the smell of frying; the sound of raindrops on my umbrella, traffic on the road.
Perhaps this did clear my mind a little, because I discovered the claustrophobia of being totally immersed in a completely controlled environment. (You’d think I’d’ve worked that out already!) I also worked out that I want to do the homework well, because I want to be useful. Then there’s the familiar feeling of mental inadequacy, along with a fear that the other patients will sense my frustration, and take offence, and I very much want them to like me. (which is a new feeling for me and probably a sign of a re-nourished brain!)
So at least I’ve worked out that I hate being grumpy. That’s a start. And, although I try to hide it, people can intuit these things. My sense of value, in Ascot House, comes from being a good and supportive member of the group, being useful to it: it’s servant, and the facilitator of palliative experiences, so if I am even mildly difficult and unsettle people in the slightest way, I’m no good to anyone.
Everyone in here is desperate to be helpful, to be supportive of others, to be good, to be liked. Sometimes, visitors mistake me for a member of staff, presumably because I’m a 47-year-old man, and thus don’t fit their mental image of an anorexic. Really, though, I’m that stock character, the lunatic who thinks he’s one of the warders. Or wants to be. Like everyone else.