Imagine, for a moment, the following scenario:
You are a typical American tourist visiting one of the major cities in Spain and/or Italy. You are middle-aged, wealthy, perhaps trying to escape from a stale marriage or reconnect with the dreams of your youth. You have been saving for this trip for months or years, and you’ve resolved to enjoy it to the fullest extent, so you stay in posh, comfortable hotels, take expensive tours, and eat gelato in cafes at every opportunity.
You are surrounded, in these cities, by people of every conceivable shape, size, color, ethnicity, background, and socioeconomic status?beggars, buskers, backpackers, fellow tourists, swindlers, hobos, prostitutes, drug dealers, junkies, drunks?but you diligently ignore most of them, unless they happen to be quaint or entertaining. You’re here to relax and unwind.
But one fine day in May or June, a particularly unusual-looking young man?a boy, really?catches your eye. After observing him for a while, you gather that he’s staying at the cheapest hostel in the city, just a few blocks away from your hotel, and he wanders around day after day within a certain radius of the cathedral. Something about this boy hits a little too close to home for you to ignore.
With his fair hair cleanly buzzed, and his beardless, rosy cheeks, he looks to be about 14 or 15 years old. And the unusual thing about this boy is that he is always utterly alone. And he doesn’t look so good. He is alarmingly thin (by your estimation, he can’t weigh much more than 120 pounds), and you often catch him eating scraps of plain white bread alone, in parks or on curbs outside of supermarkets. He is always wearing one of two tattered, dirty flannel shirts, and carries a backpack with a tiny guitar strapped to it. One day, you sit down in a park just a few feet away from him, and you notice that his backpack is filled to the brim with books. He seems to possess little else.
Looking closer, you notice that the books are all in English, and by authors that almost no one reads anymore?James Joyce, Percy Shelley, John Keats, Henry Miller, Arthur Rimbaud. From what you’ve observed, this boy spends all day every day wandering around the old Latin quarter of the city, reading from these books and scribbling incessantly in a tiny notebook, or staring silently and intently at his surroundings, or playing his guitar for no one’s ears but his own. You never see him talking to anybody, or eating anything but plain white bread.
And one time, as you walked through the park near your hotel, you caught a glimpse of him sitting cross-legged amid a circle of trees far from the main path, sobbing with his head in his hands.
Not being one to intrude on someone else’s affairs, you refrain from speaking to him. You even take care to ensure that he doesn’t notice you watching him. But you can’t stop yourself from wondering, ?Who is this strange, sad, emaciated boy? Where are his parents? His friends? Where did he come from? Why is he here??
Eventually, he disappears, and you forget about the whole thing as soon as you return home.
Why am I painting this picture? Because six years ago, in the summer of 2007, that strange, sad, emaciated boy was me.
I had actually just turned 18, but I looked much younger than my age. Having completed high school a semester early by taking online classes, I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the conventional path of working through the summer to save money and then going to college in the fall. I wanted to have an adventure. My generous, liberal, open-minded parents agreed that the conventional path didn’t make much sense for me, and my dad offered to take me on a three-week trip to Spain, for the purpose of exploring options for studying music or foreign languages in Europe, or just to see what it might be like to live abroad.
At the time, I was an arrogant, deluded, foolish teenager desperate to prove to the world how special and interesting and brilliant I was. I was chasing some ridiculous vision of myself as a vagabond poet, a wandering exile, a lonely expatriate writer; I wanted everyone back home to know how bold, spontaneous, and unconventional I was, so I insisted that I remain in Spain while my dad returned home.
My parents resisted the idea at first, of course, but I had already been accepted to several colleges, and I had thousands of dollars in savings from two years of performing as a professional musician, so they eventually conceded that there couldn’t be any harm in letting me spend a summer abroad having my ?adventure. They had been sensing some dark clouds massing in my psyche, and they thought that an adventure abroad, on my own terms, in the summer of my 18th year, might be exactly what I needed.
So I stayed. My dad flew home and I enrolled in a four-week Spanish language program in Ronda, Spain. And, almost immediately, I began falling victim to a messy, complicated, and frightening process of psychological and physical deterioration that got progressively worse until I returned home four months later, humbled and broken, with serious mental and physical health problems that would consume the ensuing five years of my life.
Things started to deteriorate after I left the language school in Ronda, when I began to isolate myself from normal human contact, journeying deeper and deeper into my own fantasies, delusions, and insecurities. A series of romantic failures in high school had convinced me, semi-consciously, that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I was seriously flawed and in need of fixing, changing, or repairing.
Then, in museums and cathedrals throughout Spain and Italy (where I eventually ended up), I encountered many depictions, in painting and sculpture, of a sort of idealized human form?absurdly lean, often gaunt, with chiseled facial features and ripped abs. These same artworks?artworks that I adored and worshipped, in keeping with my image of myself as a great writer and artist?often glorified suffering, starvation, and pain, things that I felt I had never truly experienced. What good was an artist who had never suffered, never starved, never experienced privation and poverty and pain? A seed was planted in my mind.
Also, for the first time in my life, I saw beggars starving on the streets, sometimes literally feet away from fat Americans eating gelato in cafes. I began to identify with the beggars, to see their condition and situation as nobler, purer, and more worthy of emulation than the luxury and comfort of the rich American tourists. I began to resent my cultural background; I viewed Americans as being inherently gluttonous, greedy, insensitive, and overfed, and I wanted to purge myself of those impurities. I began to view my actual flesh as symbolic of the cultural sickness that I had inherited simply by being born into middle-class white America. And I wanted to shed that sickness?literally and physically.
So I began starving myself.
I began by limiting myself to one loaf of plain white bread every day. I would buy my loaf at the supermarket in the morning, eat it on the curb outside, and then spend the rest of the day?generally 10 to 14 hours?walking on an empty stomach. If I got hungry and ate something else, I would violently chastise myself for my weakness and gluttony, and eat even less the next day.
This went on for about three of the four months I spent in Europe. By the end of this time, I was so weak, depressed, paranoid, and constipated that I saw no other option but to return home, even though I had originally planned to stay indefinitely. Unfortunately, my insanity and disordered eating traveled home with me.
I was so discouraged by my disastrous ?adventure? that I began starving myself even more severely. This is the sort of twisted logic that seems totally normal to a starving brainI reasoned, absurdly, that whatever was wrong with me must still be there (otherwise I would already have found the beautiful, perfect life that I craved), so I needed to deprive myself even more. I began running between one and two hours every morning over mountainous terrain, then coming home and eating a handful of cereal or a quarter-cup of cooked plain oatmeal. I started counting calories and limiting myself to a maximum of 1200 per day?but I deliberately overestimated the calorie content of everything I ate, so I was probably eating as few as 800 calories per day for weeks on end.
The physical consequences of this were profound. I lost around 30 or 35 pounds of lean body weight?and I only weighed about 145 to begin with. Every vein on my abdomen was clearly visible. After sleeping fitfully for 5 or 6 hours, I would quiver as I attempted to hoist myself out of bed. My hair became fine and wispy, and I began to develop?lanugo,? or the fine, downy body hair that is often observed in anorexia nervosa patients. (The lanugo was one of several frightening wake-up calls that helped me realize that I had a real problem.)
On top of this, I was an emotional wreck. I was constantly crying, scared, and paranoid. I felt trapped in my body. I had no interest whatsoever in sex. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I would dream about food all night and think about it all day. By the time I was approaching my 19th birthday in December 2007, I was seriously considering ending my life.
For now, I’m going to have to leave you with that cliffhanger. Needless to say, almost six years later, I’m still alive and doing much, much better. Fighting my way out of the mess I just described, and then dealing with the lingering health problems that it created, has consumed the better part of the past six years. But I’ve already filled my allotted space and then some, so that’s a story for a different day. (If you want to hear it, let me know! And tell Matt too!)
“so that’s a story for a different day. (If you want to hear it, let me know! And tell Matt too!)”
The part that has me F*cked up, is that I wish I could have an eating disorder like that so I can be super skinny for once in my life…but I then realized I do have an eating disorder which is why I’m a Fat B*stard!
JonO, you may be fat, but you are funny.
JonO, I think we have the same eating disorder. I’m glad it isn’t just me!
Thank you for sharing. I would really like to hear the rest of the story.
Would love to read part 2… please post your road to recovery– I bet it could help a lot of people! Glad to hear you are doing better.
The irony here is that wanting to purge himself of his white, middle-class “flesh” is so very white and middle-class. First World Problems.
In my experience, people with eating disorders sometimes don’t seek treatment because they are ashamed to be associated with being young, small, white or even female. I don’t think it is a ‘first world problem’, how we describe the rational of starvation may seem like that however. Eating disorders set a biochemical process in motion that makes you want to destroy your flesh and you create logical constructs to justify the behavior. I think we associate it with being white and middle-class because of the lack of a family safety net and the demographic focus of the media message on this issue.
I agree with this. White people problems.if only this want to diminish oneself could be channeled into helping/ serving others less fortunate. But I also want to hear of the recovery.
I think Gina and Zanjabil have a point–there were many layers of stupidity and insanity to what I was doing. I was basically a privileged white kid pretending to be something else, something that I thought was more “poetic” and tragic and interesting. It was stupid, ridiculous, illogical, and senseless.
I look back at my 18-year-old self with a combination of pity and disdain. Another layer of irony is that in my pursuit of that fake, romanticized “suffering,” I damaged my body in ways that created very real, very unsexy, and very lasting problems. And when I realized how painful and unsexy those problems were, I no longer had any desire to experience them. I just wanted to be healthy and happy again. It was amazing how quickly that experience stripped me of my most ridiculous fantasies and pretensions.
Yep. I thought what a self important self absorbed fool to think that inflicting self pain and suffering was anything but about himself. If he wanted to help others, there are lots of ways to do that without destroying oneself. To believe in the myth of want and that the world has a lack of anything is nonsense and truly the provenance of the uneducated. The world is not lacking in resources. Sometimes there is no will to share what we do have, but the world is abundant. To throw one’s own life down the toilet was not about others, it was about his disordered thinking, and I think he did a great job of identifying that thinking as the core issue. But, like so many suffering from disordered thinking, he believed it, he identified with it, and he he didn’t understand at the time (until later as he stated.) that it was insane. I learned a long time ago that one cannot argue effectively with disordered thinking, I don’t go down that rabbit hole anymore. My grandmother had been a licensed clinical social worker and I was taught to analyze and to parse out and gently refocus the pointless and harmful ramblings of the insane. But, since then I have come to believe that most psychosis has a biological cause. We can be sickened by any number of things (bacteria, viruses, poison, fungus, mold, gut dysbiosis, vitamin/mineral deficiencies) that produce and cause what can be interpreted as psychological symptoms. Once I came to understand that, my point of view shifted dramatically. I don’t negotiate with the thinking, but I might be able to make contact with the person inside who is aware of thinking and is suffering from a malfunctioning body. I have found that point of view to be the opening into my own recovery from depression, sadness, anxiety, flash backs, and dementors (yes like the ones in Harry Potter.)
Sorry for the ramble. I just hate to see anyone become too enamoured of the rambles themselves instead of seeing them for what they are: illness.
Anorexia is just as prevalent in “third world” undeveloped countries as it is in “first world” countries. The myth of sufferers being rich, white, women, etc needs to be put away. Nor is it a choice or “will power” it’s actually the opposite. Read the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
I am in the process of recovering from an ED. I am about 14.5 months in, and it has been one of the most difficult experiences in my life. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Good for you for working your way out. If only people truly understood the damage they do to you.
Heather! We must have started at the same time. I wish you the best on your journey. I hate dealing with the near 60 lb weight gain that has definitely overshot my set point. People assume I am better because I have gained weight, but don’t understand the fatigue and lethargy I still experience day to day. How I wish I never started. How I wish NOBODY would diet! You inevitably end up looking worse at some point, and can do damage for life.
As for ‘1st world problems’, true. But at the same time it’s because of media, parenting, genetics, low self esteem, and having the capacity for incredible intelligence, and willpower. The people I know with ED are all incredibly compassionate, sensitive, intelligent, and nurturing individuals who went way too far down the rabbit hole in trying to be ‘better’ or ‘more accepted’ people. We are never good enough.
If someone recovers fully from an eating disorder they have probably just gained the courage to go on and do even better things than originally intended to in life. There is nothing like overcoming your own demons, realizing how selfish you’ve been, and giving back more to the world. I am incredibly guilty and sorry for the past 14 years of my life that I have ‘wasted’, but the experiences I’ve had would never have happened without it. And I plan to more than make up for it. I could not appreciate more the supportive people in my life and the lucky situation I am in to have a wonderful education and know such brilliant minds, and I have a feeling without ED I might have been in a more righteous bubble, bored with life, conforming to the masses. ED twisted me up, but in a good way. I enjoy remaining partly crazy. There’s no need for drugs or alcohol that way. :D
“People assume I am better because I have gained weight, but don’t understand the fatigue and lethargy I still experience day to day”
me too! I am 7 months into recovering from an ED too (exercise addiction) and people DON’T understand why since we look better we automatically dont feel better….it doesnt work that way. After YEARS of damage to our bodies we have to give ourselves time to heal, and we will feel tired and lethargic every day yet,and its not fun…but it’s normal for those of us who have done so much damage to ourselves.
We have to move forward on our own timelines…not following anyone else’s. All of our bodies need the time our bodies need, and no one can tell us how we “should” be feeling. Only our bodies will tell us when all is well again, patience truly is most important. patience and consistency in calories and rest :)
Just to share a bit of my own process of recovery…I had that same constant lethargy and fatigue for almost a year after regaining the weight I had lost. I was napping around 2 or 3 hours a day at times. Things didn’t start getting better for me until I had my thyroid function evaluated. I had a pretty severe hypothyroidism that may have been pre-existing or may have been an adaptation to my self-starvation (I’ll probably never know), and this was discovered when a good doctor finally ordered a complete round of blood tests. My TSH was near 8, I think.
Had I known what I know today about thyroid function, I would probably have treated that condition a bit differently. I knew nothing, though, so I just took the Synthroid my doctor gave me and didn’t give it a second thought. Looking back, though, the Synthroid did help me tremendously, even though it didn’t completely fix my hypothyroidism. My mood and energy levels got dramatically better very quickly after starting Synthroid.
Something to look into, if you haven’t already. Thyroid function is a deep subject, but it’s definitely one of the things to think about while recovering from an eating disorder.
Don’t leave me hanging. I want to read the rest of your journey.
Come on Matt let him tell us more.
Yes, I would love to hear the rest of your story! Thank you for sharing.
Imagination is a double-edged sword. Our muse can become our demon. Interesting that you mentioned Rimbaud, one of my favorites. The most brilliant poet of his generation and arguably the greatest French poet of all time, maybe even greater than Baudelaire, he gave it all up. Years later, somebody caught up with him and asked him about it (he was running guns to Abyssinia at the time). His only response, “Putain de Litterature” (fucking literature). I have often wondered about this. I have wondered if he had not been overwhelmed by his incredible imagination. You know the statement by Rilke about why he didn’t want to undergo psychoanalysis, “I am afraid if they take away my demons, they’ll take away my angels, too.” That’s true, but still we have to treat imagination with respect and a certain amount of fear, at least those of us who have a penchant for losing ourselves in it.
As I said in a comment above, I look back on my 18-year-old self with quite a bit of disdain. I was insufferably arrogant, deluded to the point of insanity, self-centered and inconsiderate. And partially as a result of these flaws, I did things to myself and other people that I am ashamed of today.
I think as Rimbaud grew older, he viewed his teenaged self–the famous poet, the Seer, Verlaine’s gay lover, the enfant terrible in Paris–with growing shame and disdain. He wanted to renounce that version of himself entirely, and unfortunately he could not separate literature and poetry from that insane and destructive period in his life that he was so desperate to repudiate. I suspect that he fled the continent for so many years at least in part because he needed a buffer, in space and time, that was large enough to insulate him from the crippling shame he felt over that time in his life, which was inextricably linked to France, Paris, and literature.
I think that the teenaged imagination can have a special sort of intensity that sometimes gets people into trouble. A 17-year-old mind is a powerful and poorly disciplined force. It has, in many cases, all of the intellect and creativity of an adult mind–more, even–but none of the maturity, humility, perspective, and restraint.
I hope that your disdain for that period does not lead you to completely abandon the imagination in favor of crass literalism. The mechanisms of society will conspire to see that you do exactly that.
I second that.
“Mens sana in corpore sano” is a cartesian dogma i find slightly
Having faith that the demon can be uncoupled from the angel, and that your creative life can not only survive but get stronger, might be part of getting better. Might be necessary to get better. Part of being nicer to yourself. From personal experience I can say take care with that disdain and shame there, or it’s going to be just more of the same. I don’t know Rimbaud’s work but if it’s true what I read, that he was a slave trader too, could it have been part of his self loathing? Perhaps he took his shame with him, then. Not really an escape after all.
My psychotherapist keeps telling me to be more compassionate with myself about my past. I fear disdain and shame may just trap us into the same wrong mindset just expressing it in a different form so I turn that to you. Let’s try to be more compassionate with ourselves :)
yes, please finish the story
How did you get out of it?
As someone who is also going through a much less extreme version of your story, I really want to hear how you managed to turn things around because so far Ive lost three precious years to this…
Finish the story, man.
As a fellow musician, I can relate to over-romanticising everything to the point of thinking that self-destruction is somehow noble and poetic! But when you stand on the other side, you realise that living up to the “tortured artist” cliche has way more drawbacks than it’s worth! I look forward to hearing the rest of your story.
Yeah, the “tortured artist” cliche is pretty stupid. It is much sexier and more radical to be totally happy and at peace with oneself. It does take some genuine suffering to recognize that, though.
Please finish it. :)
Yes, I would love to know the rest of your story. Thank you for what you have shared.
William D. Brown said, “Failure is an event, never a person.”
Be careful not to be so self-critical and so hard on yourself for who you used to be. The same self-abusive behavior can carry over in the form of beating yourself up and feeling disgust with yourself over past experiences. It’s basically mentally abusing the past version of yourself, which is essentially the same behavior your past self took in literally abusing himself.
You were as deserving of love and support back then as you are now. The value of human life is inherent; it isn’t something that has to be earned by jumping through hoops and living up to some impossible idealized standard of what a good person should be.
FWIW, I don’t have any disdain for what you shared here about your younger self. I read through this and just felt I could really empathize with you.
Thanks for your kind words. Sometimes I am reluctant to tell this story because of how foolish and ridiculous it all seems in hindsight. It’s a relief to know that most people don’t seem to regard this story with complete contempt. It took a long time before I even felt willing and able to talk about this.
This was all eerily familiar to me. I can totally relate to being a suburban white kid and having a deep-down yearning to taste real struggle. I spent nearly half my life trying to invent ways to challenge myself, making up for the lack of challenge built in to my existence.
Part of it is fueled by the typical human condition of wanting what you don’t have, regardless of what that may be.
Another is just wanting to break free from the intellectual imprisonment of the culture that surrounds you. To create your own beliefs instead of just assimilating yourself into what everyeone around you believes.
Those were big drivers for me. But it’s an interesting topic because it makes me wonder about how different the psychological forces may be driving males to strange self-deprecating eating behavior as opposed to women.
My story is very similar. It played out differently on the physical level (orthorexia etc, not anorexia) but not the mental/emotional. The underlying principle of which is that creative people aren’t really socially acceptable, what with their introversion, sensitivity, habits of thought, withdrawal, observation, questioning. Added to which as a woman is the diet mentality and ‘a woman’s body is inherently not okay unless it looks like a boy’s’ and feeling unacceptable in my (skinny, also self-loathing) mom’s eyes.
Your experience is one I’ve only started to learn of recently. It’s an experience that is hard for me to process, since I am not of that background. Yet, I find it important for to try and understand it some more, because I think that I can really learn something from learning about this.
Like I want to try and empathize with those that I envied as a child — the kids with the “perfect” (big air quotes) homes, with some stable money, were white, etc.. I am starting to recognize that the “perfect” houses can be very empty and not be what a child needs. So, I think a lack of connection and substance, in the family, leads to a craving for some sort of reality, in anyway you can find it … even if it goes to extremes.
This may be of interest as it is a snippet of a video that came to mind that elucidates the phenomenon of what has been discussed here.
(a point on the video: The first thing that comes to mind for me is that everyone has deep meaning, but we feel stripped of that when we’re shoved into a vacuous culture (by parents, mainly) Hell, feeling empty and stripped is meaningful in itself!)
It’s interesting that you mention parenting and family life, because I had the best childhood a kid could ever ask for–lots of time spent in nature, very little television, no Youtube or Internet of any kind, loving parents who had a great relationship with each other and with their children…
So for me, these psychological obstacles must have come from somewhere else–physiological imbalances, social experiences outside of the home, or maybe just my own innate predisposition to creating problems and fabricating struggles.
We are all extraordinarily complex creatures.
Matt, your comment here almost perfectly encapsulated my nutritional escapades over the last 5-6 years. I related a lot to this article, as I developed manorexia back in the spring of 2007 and have been fighting the hard road back to normal ever since. Discovering 180DegreeHealth about 1.5 years ago has been by far the biggest help (I was stuck in paleo-orthorexia for a few years).
I still have some lingering issues now, but I feel like I can finally live a pretty normal life and get back to enjoying the things I really love. I really had trouble for a long time trying to figure out what it was that set off my eating disorder. This may sound weird, but seeing the opera Otello last year really made me realize that it is so typical of human nature to be discontent with your life and want to create arbitrary problems/challenges to occupy yourself.
I’d like to read the rest of the story. Have you read Kafka’s A Hunger Artist?
Oh yes, please continue with this
I think I found you facebook page, looking healthy these days(assuming that is you)!
To what extent do you watch you food these days?
Very little. I eat a pretty varied and intuitive diet these days, but I do pay attention to nutrition, and I’m still working on figuring out how certain things (foods, nutrients, habits) affect me and why. I think there is a place for some degree of precise understanding of nutritional and physiological minutiae–problems arise, naturally, when we take that minute, precise focus to the extreme.
I have a history of creating problems in my life by abandoning moderation in favor of extremes, so one of my guiding principles for staying healthy is balance. I do believe that there is a middle path where we can avoid things that have the potential to harm us, either acutely or over time–potentially including wheat, vegetable oils, industrial foods, and many other things–but at the same time remain sane, balanced, centered, flexible, and free.
I do believe that we should be very conscious and deliberate in our dietary choices, but only provided that our deliberation is aligned with intuition and with a healthy self-concept and purpose. If we choose to eat, say, fruit and potatoes and grass-fed meat instead of McDonald’s and Mountain Dew, we should do it because we recognize that our bodies are precious resources to be intelligently cared for, not because we are trying to forcibly alter ourselves in unhealthy and unnatural ways, or because we are assuming that manipulating our diets has the power to absolve us of the responsibility of tackling more elusive and frightening problems–problems of identity, self-worth, mortality, and so on.
So for my part, I tend to avoid wheat, n-6 PUFA, and industrial foods most of the time. I make sure to always eat plenty of carbs, protein, and salt, and never to let myself lose more than a pound or two of bodyweight. I pay attention to nutrient intake and conservatively supplement any that I suspect are lacking, as well as taking care to eat some liver once in a while, eggs every day, that sort of thing. I don’t pay any attention to macronutrient ratios, and I don’t count or measure anything.
I also pay very close attention to my body temperature and biofeedback, and I get some blood tests done about two or three times a year.
All of this may sound tedious and excessive to some people, but it feels right to me. I’ve been experimenting lately with being a little sloppier with regard to the details, and it hasn’t worked out very well. The best path for me, it seems, is to pay attention, be educated, and make intelligent, deliberate choices, but with the proper degree of intuition, flexibility, and perspective.
A big answer to a small question :)
Awesome answer to my small question. I also feel a lot worse when I try and eat more ”normal” things. I love my diet of milk, meat, sweet-potatoes, fruit, gelatin etc. I think I should live with the fact that some people are going to judge that, you sure just aided in my motivation to do that. Thanks!
From another favorite blogger, Ran Prieur http://www.ranprieur.com/archives/010.html:
January 19. 2005 article about a German woman who lived with a jungle tribe from age 7-17 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/alternativemedicine/3323852/I-dont-know-where-home-is.html ) and then went back to civilization. She says:
The difference between my two worlds is this: life in the jungle is more challenging physically but psychologically much easier. Life in the Western world is physically easier but much more complicated for the soul.
I’ve never heard anyone put civilized vs primitive so concisely, and with so little judgment. If you think of it this way, it explains why civilized people do crazy things like climb mountains and starve themselves — they want to trade psychological challenge for physical challenge. It explains why we love action movies — because we can have the feeling of making that trade, with no risk. And it justifies people who understand the critique of civilization but make no move to go primitive: you don’t have to, if you’ve mastered the complications of modernity.
So Brendan, like others above, I encourage you to go easy on yourself. I can relate to wanting to disavow earlier patterns and all that came with it. But I like to think of past mistakes as the necessary steps for future discovery. By all means, push back from it as you recover and redefine yourself; just try not to let that push-back define you forevermore.
Anyway, thanks for sharing.
Yes, and there is the fact that in most tribal cultures, there is the ceremony of initiation into adulthood that is lacking in our own. Some argue that, in lieu of that, some young people in modern cultures take it upon themselves to create such a ceremony for themselves, such as the one Brendan undertook.
As a young man, I would go deep into the wilderness and spend nights without food and little water, no flashlight, no tent or sleeping bag
That said, I want to go on record as saying that this desire to return to primitivist rituals is understandable but reactionary. It’s a desire to return to group mentality and, despite its limitations, the attempts of existentialism to grapple with this loss of group consensus were a step forward. Obviously, I think there are steps beyond existentialism (which can quickly turn into nietzchean nihilism) but that would take too long to discuss here.
The stereotype of suburban life: an abundance of creature comforts, but lonely as hell.
Maybe the pain of self-starvation gives the illusion of coherence with the emptiness within.
Trying hard to be deep, here. Thanks for the post, Brendan and Matt. I echo what others say: be careful of the disdain for your former self. Sounds like what he really needed was more gentle acceptance and compassion.
Bless your heart, I can relate to most of your post. I think there is a large biological component to anorexia. Your brain will simply give you a reason to start restricting your food. It was never body image issues in my case, the fear of eating food in itself as I was hyper aware of my body during a period of anxiety and depression. I felt guilty for a long time, accusing myself of being a self- centered hypochondriac and felt a lot of disdain towards myself for many years as the fear and eating disorder kept eating away at me. I have to choose and commit to thinking it was the illness, since my regret can easily remind me of my coward actions and perpetuate dissatisfaction with the way I handled my problems. I could not haw put it better, that when you are 18 (I got the ED at 19) you have so much going on emotionally but do not have the maturity or experience to rationalize and see the larger picture. I sympathize with you, coming from a similar experience, and really wish you all the best. I am so glad to hear you are doing better.
I look forward to hearing the second part of your story! Thank you for sharing this. I can so very much relate; I could have written so much of it myself…I spent 8 years of my life trapped to one form or another of eating disorder. I am only recently now back on the road to recovery thanks to 180degree health and Matt’s books, and I am hungry (haha, pun intended) to hear the rest of your story!
Brendan, I totally get you. But don’t put yourself down, you ARE the special person that set foot in Spain and you are the strong person that survived all this. Cheers to talking about it.
C : )
Would love to hear the rest of the story!
My ex was like this. He starved himself in high school to make weight on the wrestling team. He only weighed 98 or something at around 5 foot 11. Later in college when we met he was only about 115 or 120 max. I was a sexy 5 foot 7 and about 150 pounds, curvy and cute, although I didn’t see myself this way. One day I literally carried him to his car. I thought I looked huge compared to him and he thought so too. Makes me sick now that I think about how little confidence I had. Oh if only I could be 150 pounds again! Sigh. I created my weight problem where there was none, because I didn’t see that I was perfect where I was, I was always trying to lose 20 of 30 pounds where I didn’t need to. My daughter is going to be shaped like me when she grows up and I need to make sure this doesn’t happen to her… she’s the type of girl who has such a strong body, she’ll be a powerhouse and a tank in whatever sport she enjoys…
My ex looked like he was 14, hardly had any facial hair, very little body hair… he had starved himself during his normal teen growth spurt years and my head was even bigger than his!!!! I have a large head for a woman anyway, but no grown man should have a head smaller than mine! He had no muscle mass to speak of. I brought up an eating disorder with him once and of course he denied it. But I’m sorry, sucking on a sour candy and spitting out all your saliva in order to weight 98 pounds is an eating disorder, I don’t care if you’re on the Olympic wrestling team!
Let’s hear the rest!
Wow. What a story. I’m so glad this site has brought people together in this way.
You could consider me as having done a milder form of this in my teen years. And even now, I’m not eating as much as I should.
I think people engage in self-destructive behavior because they’re angry with the world, or their situation… or maybe just soul-searching (as with Matt Stone). The problem is that our culture sees this kind of self-restrictive behavior as healthy. And so people are led to go past the point where they really should have stopped… possibly for years. People in this society, if at all possible, need to get to the root of their frustrations, instead of continuing to punish themselves.
Nature is strange. Sometimes I think people need to engage in self-destructive behavior– for themselves, for others, who knows. We all know of fasts as being spiritual journeys in the past. Maybe some people are destined to continue on such “spiritual journeys”. But falling for the intellectual crap saying its healthy, and trying to suck others into your misery, and looking down on them for not joining you… that’s just a dangerous delusion.
I wanted to tell you a similar happened to me when I moved when I was 16 to suburbia. I went a bit ‘crazy’ when I was 18 pursuing a tortured, romantic vision of myself. Suffice to say looking back, I view that period with a bit of bafflement. I don’t recognize that crazy, half-starved deluded version of myself. Lets say I’m still in the process of recovering and reclaiming myself, and I’ve discovered a stronger, more resilient selfhood who also creates art that’s deeper, less self-indulgent, and hopefully more sincere. It was such a relief to know that the ‘crazy period’ I went through as I call it is shared by another :)
There r many origins that lead to similar outcomes regarding eating disorders. We understand a bit more abt girls/women than teen boys/men. This touching story offers imp insight into the male experience. Let’s remember that men can b vulnerable too. Even though poo myth projects the illusion that men r strong and so on, men also suffer similar medical conditions than women. Eating disorders r devastating also for those arnd us because the loved one affected is just fading away in front of our eyes and almost nothing can be done except with professional help. Media, religion, wealth and the lack of it, common beauty myths, and teens’ vulnerability all play roles in the issue of eating disorders. It’s good to see that in this case, our fellow brother (if may I), realized he needed help and could get it… Getting help and accepting it is the hardest step in this cases that involve the psyche, the mind, the self perception… It’s a mental disfunction that results from the distorted environment and the like. Let’s us all think and have compassion too for those who cannot access professional help due to limited economic resources. Great story…. Sharing it is educating us…:)
Hi Mr. Hannigan, I really hope you read this comment. I am currently doing a research project on eating disorders in men, and YOU are the person who my group and I are going to talk about. The only question my professor and I have is what was your reason in taking that particular picture of yourself, who did you first share it with, and at any point in your disorder did you try to “share awareness” about your experience? I truly hope someone could give me some insight on this. I personally have a vast sense of interest and curiosity in human behavior and love analyzing/observing people(including myself). I would feel very fulfilled with some information regarding this. Thank you <3