Eating Disorder Soap-Opera

The next night, when I went up to our room, Dylan had left his big A4 notebook open on his bed – neatly placed. I dithered over whether to look at it or not. Eventually I just glanced at the top of the page. The first line, clearly printed, read “Xan aired his views on my cuts last night. I know he just wants to help – but stay out of my shit”. I didn’t let myself read any more. I suspect that was all that was written about me, because it was clearly a deliberate message (I noticed that the second part of that sentence was an imperative and thus directly addressed to a reader.)

This elaborate means of communicating-without-talking struck me as stereotypically male, and it made me smile, even as it alarmed and threatened me. We’ll go to such lengths to avoid facing each other and saying what we feel! Dylan had ingeniously guaranteed that no response was possible, because, if I brought the subject up, I’d have to admit I’d been reading his journal! Of course, when he came up to bed, neither of us mentioned it: much safer like that.

An awkwardness persisted over the next few days, which made me sad. I brooded on how I’d only advised Dylan to seek help and asked him to return my things, which he’d taken without asking! And how he’d put me in a difficult position. He’d every right to cut himself if that is how he wanted to manage his anguish, but Ascot House would be very angry with me if it discovered that Dylan had been struggling so much, and manifesting a distress and self-loathing so extreme that he was physically injuring himself and displaying it to me, and yet I hadn’t bothered telling anyone, out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

So I was still left with a dilemma. The first time he did this, I told myself it was a one-off event, but, on the second, it was clear it would probably continue.  We were living in a hospital staffed by experienced professionals, specifically trained to support people in Dylan’s position, and we were undergoing a programme specifically designed to cure people of exactly these afflictions, yet I wasn’t telling the very people who could help him. If I really cared about Dylan, surely I would pass on this information and risk the damage to our relationship.

Self-harm is distress-signalling, so perhaps, sub-consciously, he wanted me to dob him in. And yet that still wouldn’t save our relationship, if it is obvious I was the source of the leak.

What a soap-opera!

The staff had obviously picked up on our spat, because Lizzie, one of the experienced care assistants, popped her head into the art room where I was writing, and asked if I was alright. Then she asked, straight out, “how are things with Dylan?” Impulsively, I told her everything. Unburdening myself was a great relief, the metaphor of shedding a great load is very appropriate. I hoped Dylan wouldn’t murder me in my bed, though.

That evening, Dylan told me he’d handed my needles to the night nurse. He also appeared to have further cuts on his chest. He showed me such a doleful face. Poor lad! All was forgiven. That didn’t mean I trusted him not to do it again: he’s anorexic. We can sustain two entirely separate brains simultaneously. That must place us among the most untrustworthy people on the planet. We are sincere in our desire to do the right thing, but our compulsive bad behaviour isn’t unconscious. We kind of know we’re intending to break our promises, but we refuse to acknowledge or confront the programme running on the alternative dark net of our anorexic ids. Dylan had promised not to cut himself again, and no doubt he meant it, even while he was hoarding my needles so he could cut himself again. He’d told the night nurse that he had only cut himself once, because he was desperate not to lose access to his room, so even his confession wasn’t exactly the truth.

I know this is hypocritical of me. I am, and used to be, a little liar and hoped to be excused by my periodic regretful admission of this, after which I would repeat the offence. It is the illness that makes him unreliable: he doesn’t want to be like this. The mendacity, and the cutting itself, are demonstrations and expressions of misery, distress and self-loathing. He can’t be expected to abandon them until he is better.

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