Alongside the 1:1 therapy, workshops are safe, controlled environments where a simplified version of social interaction can be played out. We’re feral – pariahs who eat out of bins. We need to be re-socialised.
At Ascot House, Nicola, the occupational therapist, organised debates and discussions on current affairs so we could practice our skills. In the first one of these that I attended, we discussed what we thought the government’s priority ought to be for spending its tax revenue. We all dutifully and laboriously contributed, hating the sound of our own reedy voices, apart from Dylan who sat in grim silence, with his arms folded, looking miserable. I think we could all tell he was feeling dumbstruck by his own sense of inadequacy, and, sure enough, his only contribution, at the end, was to say, “I’m not interested in that shit”, which is basically an anorexic’s way of saying “I’m so rubbish!” (it’s funny how we can turn a discussion on politics into a way of hating ourselves.)
Out in the normal world, we’ll have to constantly negotiate relationships, remaining vigilant to the feelings and needs of others, monitoring ourselves to ensure we don’t dominate or irritate or offend. The additional cognitive processing demanded by all these extra data streams and considerations is exhausting. Being left alone is much less taxing. For our degenerating, malnourished brains, even concentrating on the music and art classes leaves us completely drained. We’re like grumpy old men and need naps. (Remember the osteopath said I had “The body of an 80 year old”? Well, I guess we have the minds, too.)
I find talking to strangers difficult at the best of times. I want to fill the awkward silence, but often act impulsively and inappropriately, either wittering on endlessly and inanely about myself, or asking, “So, have you ever had an abortion? Yes? That must have been a bitch!” I don’t trust myself to act or speak appropriately, or to react with appropriate emotions, at an appropriate level. It’s best to just dump out all my words in one go, without listening to anyone else, and then speed off. It’s a sort of drive-by monologue. I’m like an alarmed squid, ejecting a cloud of word-ink to cover my escape.
Conversations are even more disastrous, now. We anorexics tend to state things over-emphatically, because we lack the capacity to express nuance. It takes all our energy just to compose, and then wrestle the simplest slurred utterances past our slack and enervated lips.
Like all addicts, the niceties of social discourse seem unimportant compared to our overwhelming need. If people are upset and dislike us: fuck’em! We haven’t got the energy to deal with or care about it.
For example, when I was first allowed to go home for the weekend, from Ascot House, I had to find my way to the station. One of the care assistants, Sarah, kindly gave me directions, but they were horribly overly detailed. After the first couple, I was just nodding and smiling, hopelessly bewildered. Unfortunately, as she finished she said, “so, when you reach Debenhams, where should you go?” I said “I have no fucking idea.” She looked cross. I was embarrassed. But only mildly.
But it’s not just a lack of concern. We think so little of ourselves that we don’t understand why we’d have any impact on other people. If I said to someone, something like, “For fuck’s sake, that’s a really stupid thing to say!”, I’d be perplexed as to why they were upset. Why do they care? Surely they don’t put any value on what I say, do they? I don’t. Anyway, if they said it to me, I’d just accept the truth of it and add it to my little treasure trove of sad but true things that I use to torment myself.
It must be so exasperating dealing with anorexics. You can see your furious truths hitting home in their flinching, miserable faces, but you know it won’t change them. They’ll eagerly absorb it to fuel their self-hatred. They’re just thinking, “I know. I know. It’s true. I’m such a shit.” They think the purpose of the conversation is to confirm their low opinion of themselves, so they make no effort to solve the problem. We don’t think we’re capable of change, because change occurs in the future and we lack the brain power to properly imagine any future.