There are some differences in our eating disorders. I felt a frantic need to exercise. This was partly to mitigate the effect of the food I couldn’t resist indulging in. I felt it puddling around my midriff and saw that as evidence of my weakness. More importantly, yet less clearly, I felt driven to always be, somehow, productive. I think I wanted to justify my consumption, my carbon footprint, my drain on the planet’s resources, on other people. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but I never seemed able to sit down and write. In the absence of any other big project with a clear, socially beneficial impact, I needed, existentially, to be busy, to use all my time effectively. I needed to be active, to be constantly expending energy, to be cooking or cleaning, or going shopping, or taking the kids to school, or putting a wash on. But even this wasn’t enough to compensate for an indefinable, almost spiritual sense of falling short, so I filled up the gaps with running because it was effortful, literally driving my stumbling legs forward until exhaustion became an overwhelming excuse, and being able to function at all became a source of pride.
Dylan, on the other hand specialised in complete denial. I lack the strength for this. I always ate; I just made sure my calorie expenditure far outstripped my intake. Dylan would go for days without eating at all. He developed techniques to block or postpone his needs. He used to go to bed as early as possible and get up as late as he could manage. Indolence became his secret weapon. This seems odd for a boy who’d had a work ethic drummed into him. Starving yourself is hard work, so perhaps he felt no need to demonstrate any further effort, but I suspect that there was an element of surrender in his behaviour. Perhaps he’d despaired of ever living a productive life, and so he’d just given up. Anorexia allows him not even to try (and fail.)
Despite our differences, it’s tempting, in both our cases, to see anorexia as the product of a modern experience of thwarted masculinity. In our (slightly) more egalitarian society, with its relative loss of male importance, perhaps we feel a sense of disempowerment or disenfranchisement. We can no longer sit on the porch with a beer, comfortably embodying our valuable maleness. We need to enact our value. We need to have a purpose. Jo and I have been going to a family therapist, who says I need to spend more time around the children just benevolently existing, but I still feel that fatherhood needs to be demonstrated. I need to pursue the activities of the role.
(All these explanations don’t feel quite right. I guess imposing a verbal construction on mental states alters them. Then the question becomes not “is it true?” but “is it coherent?”, which isn’t the same thing.)