Hadley Freeman has written a searing account of her anorexia and her change in the Sunday Times. I don’t use the word “Recovery” because this word doesn’t quite capture what for many of us was not “getting better” but making different decisions about how we want to live. Me too.
So, the anorexia isn’t something that goes away, it’s unhelpful to talk about “recovery” in the same way as we talk about recovery from measles. it is a part of us, we have too many memories of it and sometimes it tries to persuade us that we will be happier if we embrace it. But we know it is a lie. So when recently, even 50 years later, I lost weight through an illness, I loved my thinness. But I did everything possible to bring my body back to a normal BMI. Even ice cream for lunch when my appetite was poor.
I would not like Hadley to be grabbed to be the poster girl for recovery by all the eating disorder organisations there. I would urge her not to be seduced into going to schools and telling everyone about her painful experiences and “If I can get better so can you”. I caution her against getting on a soapbox flaunting her lived experience and demanding more money and resources for treatment better than what she had at these terrible hospitals.
Because I think that throwing money at eating disorder treatment is a partial waste. Hadley showed clearly that putting people into an eating disorder unit can make them immeasurably worse. The bullying, the ugly competition to the be the sickest, the tricks they learn, the helpless therapists, I have seen it, over and over again. In services I have supervised, I see people get into therapy and do everything they can to sabotage their therapists and miss sessions that could be used by other people. So, the definition of madness is to do the same thing and expect a different outcome. Money poured down the drain.
It means that before we scream for more funds we must be clear about how we would like these funds to be used. If you think this means more eating disorder units there would be hollow laughter from me. Really?
Hadley wrote what we all know. Anorexia may be something to be endured for as long as it takes for someone to wake up one day and know that they want something different out of life. The ONLY thing that helps is a therapist who is trained to recognise this and show their understanding of the snake, the Voice, the noises in the head. We can make tweaks to all this and wait until the new understanding seeps through the carapace of the anorexic condition. Other than that – all we can do is to keep a starving person alive until they are bored enough to wonder whether life can offer them something else.
In Australia, efforts are being made to develop a first-aid service for carers, professionals and people in the community. To catch young people early before anorexia becomes entrenched. I wait with interest to see what that is, because catching it early seems to be the one thing that works well. Meanwhile if you are suffering and you don’t like the label “chronic” then find out what label you prefer. If you like being chronic, then don’t ask for help and live or die as you choose. Some people thrive on making a fetish of their mental health past (calling it advocacy) – well perhaps it is. But I worry that if people define themselves as having mental health issues, this reinforces their identity. They can choose to move on.
But back to Hadley. I noticed her first because she has the courage not to toe the woke line where it comes to issues like gender, pronouns, and other issues of the day. I love how her mind works. I hope she isn’t seduced into become a poster child for anorexia. The best medicine is to move on, live well, travel the world, volunteer for a different charity, see nature- leave your computer and embrace other things.