An Anti-Anorexic Christmas
DAVID EPSTON WITH MANDY
Mandy, aged 23, is meeting with David along with her mother, Donna (late 40s) and her father, Jack (early 50s) early in the new year and are reviewing what is being referred to as ‘an anti-anorexic Christmas’ and think ahead for a similar ‘anti-anorexic wedding’ of Mandy’s older sister, Wendy, who has recently returned from overseas to get married to Jim.
DE: You were telling me about your Anti-Anorexic Christmas and we decided to record this for the League. You told me that ‘Thou Shalt Not Relax or Enjoy The People Around You’ was one of Anorexia’s requirements for an Anorexia-Christmas. And Mandy, you went on to tell me that Anorexia prefers to isolate and seclude you. And we worked out that ‘Thou Shalt Be Imprisoned By Unworthiness’. How else would Anorexia drive you into the prison of unworthiness, Mandy, and keep you from connecting with your family and friends?
Mandy: By not indulging in the festivities and celebrations of Christmas, the eating and drinking and all that sort of thing.
DE: And how would Anorexia convince you that you were unworthy of participating in the family joys and rituals?
Mandy: I guess by telling me that I don’t deserve it.
DE: And if you said to Anorexia: ‘Anorexia, I’ve heard this for a long time now. I’ve formed an idea of late that I am worthy. I do deserve sharing with my family.” What would it say back to counter your new found Anti-anorexic attitudes?
Mandy: I guess if I did indulge and become social and eat and drink with others, it would try and hit back and make me feel guilty – “You don’t deserve that! How dare you!” That sort of thing.
DE: Say you possessed a rigorous Anti-Anorexia on this occasion, the zealousness of a Joan of Arc. And you said: “I am not guilty. I am innocent!” How would it argue its case against you for your punishment and torture?
Mandy: Isolation. That would be the quickest way to crack me.
DE: Okay, Anorexia knows a fair bit about physical as well as psychological torture. If you were to oppose it, how would you form your argument that you were innocent of its charges against you?
Mandy: Well, I wouldn’t do it by myself. I would call on other people – recruit allies – to convince me.
DE: How did you go about inviting them to take your side rather than Anorexia’s side this Christmas past?
Mandy: When they saw me having a slightly anti-anorexic attitude, they would acknowledge it by putting some little heart stickers on a poster in my bedroom. It was for any anti-anorexic episode or stint, even if it was brief. The poster was at the end of my bed on the window. And I’d come in and there might be two more hearts than there were the day before. It used to give me little bit of a boost. There were just little ….it was just little. It was an acknowledgment.
Donna: It was just a heart to say we noticed something that maybe she hadn’t been aware of. And you said that when you were going to bed at night, that it would make you feel all warm and fuzzy.
DE: Did it warm the anti-anorexic cockles of your heart?
Mandy: Yeah, well that was what we did. That was the project over Christmas. That helped me get through. Anorexia would hit back at that telling me mum was being over generous and made me wonder why she put so many on.
DE: I suppose it would probably say.
Mandy: (takes over) She only is doing it to make me feel good.
DE: What did you do then when Anorexia tried to betray your anti-anorexic allies? How did you undermine its tactics to erase their acknowledgement of your anti-anorexia?
Mandy: Oh, I just tried to ignore it, I guess.
DE: You ignored Anorexia’s efforts to misinform you?
Mandy: Yeah, I tried to. Or, I got mum and asked her what each heart was for so I could try to relate the incident or episode back to me. Sometimes I hadn’t been aware of being anti-anorexic.
Donna: (laughing) And sometimes mum couldn’t remember why the heart had gone there anyway!
DE: Do you think your mother is becoming a very astute observer of anti-anorexia?
Mandy: Oh, she has been for ages.
DE: Just give me one example of an Anti-anorexic activity that she observed about you that you wouldn’t have observed about yourself if left to Anorexia’s devices?
Mandy: David, I’m prettied worried about the present situation.
DE: I may be wrong so I’ll seek your opinion here. If you could revitalise Christmas into an anti-anorexic one, could those ideas go forwards into the present? After all anti-anorexia isn’t restricted to Christmas?
Mandy: It can continue! If it can be done once, it can be done again.
DE: Do you mind my enthusiasm for such a prospect?
Mandy: NO! (emphatically)
DE: Just before we proceed, what other ‘Thou Shalt’ would have operated if you had an anorexic Christmas rather than the anti-anorexic Christmas you did develop? Can you go back to December 24th or 25th?
Mandy: What else? Can you remember, mum?
DE: Here is one Julia told me – ‘Thou Shalt get up at 5am on the morning of the 25th, clean the stove, labour all day long and act as a serving girl?’ Did anorexia require that of you – ‘Thou Shalt No Sit At The Table – Thou Shalt Serve Others’?
Mandy: Yah, wait on people. ‘Thou Shalt Not Sit and Relax and Read but DO!’ Thou Shalt not rest the body and mind!’
Jack: ‘ThouShalt Continually Think About What The Next Meal Preparation Is Going To Be!’
Donna: In other words, ‘Thou shalt not allow others to enjoy your company’.
Mandy: Yeah! What else did you have on the list Mandy?
DE: It certainly sounds like an interesting anti-anorexic document.
Mandy: Yeah, we’ll bring it in next time we come.
DE: Let me read you from the archives about Julia’s first anti-anorexic Christmas to see if we can all add to the stock of anti-anorexic ‘knowledge’. I had met her just before Christmas. Anorexia had taken her prisoner when she was 19 and kept here there for the next 11 years. She has given me her permission to read you this letter.
The following is a somewhat inadequate summary of our meeting last night. You regaled me with a stunning series of anti-anorexic revelations – anti-anorexic in conception, intent and practice. The deep significance of all that you had to tell (and I believe if we had more time, you would have informed me of more and more instances in your life of anti-anorexic resistance) only dawned on me sometime later. I then started wondering how you had made all this come about. What I did notice was that you seemed so clear about your own thoughts, ideas, pleasures and appetites that you reminded me of Carly, who described her anti-anorexia as like coming out of a fog into the clear. All this allowed me to form the impression that you were far more substantial as a person that Anorexia would have had you believe.
And somehow or other, you went on the offensive against Anorexia and not only lived to tell the tale but escaped relatively unscathed. If you had sought my opinion (and I am glad you had’t) I would have timidly suggested reconnaissance or spying missions against Anorexia. You tell me that Anorexia got in a few guilt sneak punches when I would have thought it would have backlashed you with guilt.
Now allow me to go over your account. You informed me that you were trained that women should always be self-effacing, and in a manner of speaking, rub out their accomplishments, achievements, abilities and competencies. When I asked what would have become of your mother if she hadn’t gone to the same metaphorical ‘school’, you said she would have been “an amazing person”. And I’m sure you are right. So how was it over Christmas, a time renowned for women-giving and women-feeding of others,that you so brazenly confronted Anorexia? Somehow or other, you tell me you gave ‘service’ the slip and refused to go along with Anorexia compelling you to become what you referred to as the “dynamic drudge” – the role for which you are so well know. For example, you told me that in the past you have taken over all the responsibilities for cleaning, preparing and organising the Christmas meal. This time you didn’t. By contrast, you did your share and your share alone. In fact, you even found time to play with the kids, almost as if you were flying directly in the face of women-duty and obligation. How was this possible?
You tell me this has had immediate effects in your sister relationship. You tell me your sister is starting to appreciate you and is finding you “more fun”, “intelligent” and that there is “more of me”. You also commented that you are more available as a person to your daughter rather than serving as a dutiful mother. This has meant you two are having more “quality time”.
In addition to deconstructing anorexia, you have started reconstructing your own life out of the ashes of Anorexic devastation, a life Anorexia took from you as penance when you fell pregnant at 19. Then I asked you to tell me about you before Anorexia. I was very startled by your revelations of the pre-anorexic, Julia, a young women who believed she was very entitled to a life of her own and to be her own ‘me’ rather than being pressed into the service of others. You put this down to your citizenship and the Human Rights Commission. Still, even then you felt you had to “hide my abilities from everybody” and instead got conscripted into slavishness and selflessness.
I was confused though by some comments of yours at the end of our meeting. I had thought that your daughter’s pregnancy and birth confined you to a career of duty, obligation and service to others. By contrast, you informed me that you were providing for your 11 year old daughter a different sort of training than yours, your mothers’ and perhaps her mother. Did you start your anti-anorexia in relation to your daughter? If so, was your mother-daughter relationship the site in which you inaugurated your resistance to Anorexia, and those practices and beliefs that are behind it? I admit to a great deal of interest here and look forward to discussing this with you at our next meeting. What are your thoughts here?
DE: Do you think it is significant that on the occasion of Christmas that you put up such resistance? It’s the most unlikely time, I would have thought.
Donna: You’re right.
DE: Did either you, Jack or you Donna get a bit Anti-anorexic over Christmas by any chance?
Jack: I think that’s part of the answer. Perhaps there was a supportiveness that made it a bit easier for Mandy.
Donna: For all of us. I think we supported each other. There was nothing that was like ‘Thou shalt always preplan, try and control what’s in the environment’. That was another thing we all opposed. Mandy likes to have everything in a box, like what we are going to do every five minutes of the day. She wanted to know everything exactly….nothing could sort of be spontaneous. And we tried to turn it around and every time she started to do this…this control, I’d say – ‘I’m not interested. We’ll just let it go and when it happens, it happens”.
DE: What did you think when your mother sided with spontaneity, play and delight rather than schedule and boring-ness?
Mandy: Well, anorexically, I didn’t appreciate it. I used to find it really hard but did deal with it.
DE: If you just imagine you were having that conversation in your mind and the voice of anorexia was speaking to you and told you to tell your mum – ‘Look, we’ve got to have the recipe and the menu all sorted out. And we have to eat at exactly six o’clock and the potatoes have to be ready at 6:15 and the pudding has to be done by 7:30″. And your mum replied – “I just think things will get done when they get done. And I don’t really want to live according to a schedule. I want to live according to fun”. What would anorexia say about your mother on such an occasion?
Mandy: Oh probably she was an enemy.
DE: And you should do what to her?
Mandy: Oh, get angry and resentful, I guess. Try to make her feel guilty or something.
DE: If Anorexia was operating through you, would it say something like – ‘Mum, you know you can’t do this. It’s just not right. This is improper. This won’t be a PERFECT Christmas?”
Jack: No, it wouldn’t encourage Mandy to say that. It would be through her actions, wouldn’t it?
Jack: It would say to her – “Look, your mother is not conforming to having everything done on time. You’d better go and start peeling the potatoes.”
Jack: Normally, in that scenario Mandy would race off and start doing these things.
DE: And would she then withdraw and make you very aware that she’s upset doing your work?
Donna: Oh yes.
DE: Can I ask, Mandy – what do you think people at your Christmas would have preferred – to talk with you or be served by you?
Mandy: Oh, talk with me, I think.
DE: Why would they want to talk with you?
Mandy: Because people feel unrelaxed about me getting up and doing all the work when they are sitting around doing nothing.
DE: Do you think they feel guilty?
DE: Donna and Jack, do you have to compete with her to do more labour…?
Donna: To stop her doing it and making her weigh less.
DE: Is that how Anorexia operates here? I”m just trying to see through it.
DE: What effect is it having on you discussing how Anorexia tried to enter into your family’s Christmas and didn’t?
Mandy: I’m pretty upset about my sister’s forthcoming wedding.
DE: Has Anorexia pressed you into service of the perfect wedding?
Mandy: It’s oppressed me into feeling guilty about not making it as perfect for Wendy as it could be, I guess. And I’ve spent so much time over the last couple of years trying to score points to be recognised in Wendy’s eyes and I keep on falling short. And since Wendy has returned from overseas, the Anorexia has got worse.
DE: If you measure yourself against her, do you suspect that you will always find yourself wanting?
Mandy: I think at the moment, it’s just the stress of the whole situation. It’s really got to me. I want to walk out of here feeling a bit more positive about everything. I may be putting too many expectations on you, I don’t know.
DE: Here’s a dilemma for you and your family – whether this will we an anorexic wedding in which one daughter gets married and the other daughter gets buried? Or an anti-anorexic wedding? I think you are ready for such a prospect but I think you will have to talk to Wendy and Jim about this.
Donna: Wendy actually asked me to talk about it here.
Mandy: Oh, the stress in our family is incredible.
DE: Do you want to take this wedding back to the drawing board and draw up an anti-anorexic wedding? What about thinking back to your anti-anorexic…..
DE: No time would be more hazardous for Anorexia to deal to women than Christmas time. And I think if you can undo that, you can undo this anorexic wedding. There’s a lot of possibility here.
Mandy: Well, can I make an anti-anorexic suggestion before it goes completely out of my mind. Just talking about this, I feel like I’m ready to jump off a cliff. It’d be so much easier. So it’s the only anti-anorexic suggestion I have and I’m afraid to say it because anorexia is taking over. I know we are trying to decide on what’s a good bottle of champagne for the wedding. Have you still got some left?
Mandy: The suggestion I have is that if Wendy suggested we talk about it – and you think Jim should be involved – that we take the bottle of bubbly and we go out somewhere for dinner.
DE: What a good idea!
Mandy: All I could think of was dollar signs and how much the wedding is going to cost and how much fat there will be.
DE: Why shouldn’t the preparations be fun?
Mandy: The anorexic part of me is saying – No, that’s not a good idea because I already had a good idea today and I had a huge ice-cream yesterday which I’ve got to make up for. And I’ve had so much fat today and I only have high fat breakfasts left and everything is coming up.
DE: Jack and Donna, what do you think?
Jack: We bought five bottles last week to try out for the toast and things.
DE: Why not drink them all?
Donna: We’re going to!
DE: Mandy, what do you think Anorexia would think about you and your mum, dad, Wendy and Jim going out and really laughing about this?
Mandy: Well, Anorexia’s getting to me already. You can see what it’s been doing. I mean, I was enjoying my job, finding it stimulating and knowing I could enjoy it a lot more. And now I’m feeling cold and I’m finding food so hard. And sometimes I do quite well and mum and dad will acknowledge that. But then they will say – for example, mum said the other day that I had been at home for 2 years now since my last breakdown and I’m really no further ahead. Mum, I don’t know if you thought about that rationally but comments such as those really cut me up completely. And I said back to her – “Well, I mean I;ve qualified as a professional; I’ve got a job; I’ve got a care; or I’ve been overseas.” If they aren’t four things I’ve done in the past two years then I’ll be fucked!’
DE: Do you think you are going to have to allow that other people can get frustrated by anorexia as well as you?
Mandy: Yeah, I think I’ve been very busy with my job; Dad’s busy; and the wedding. We’ve lost the lines of communication we had.
DE: I see! Could I also say something about you here today which I think is pretty novel. It’s the first time I think I’ve never heard you argue for yourself.
Mandy: Mmh…I think you’re right.
DE: It’s pretty striking, isn’t it?
DE: You said – “Look, I really am getting somewhere. I’ve really done all these things. I want you to take some notice of me”. I know they do notice, but you’re developing your own argument for yourself and your own life.
Jack: That’s quite strong, isn’t it?
Mandy: It’s anti-anorexic!
Jack: Yah, anti-anorexic alright.
DE: Would you also accept, Mandy that apart from even the more obvious things that you acknowledge about yourself – for example, the developments over the past two years – career, employment, graduation, travel, would you also agree that this is a bit of a first for you to have the pride to actually speak that out?
Mandy: Yah, I guess I was getting defiant. I was trying to tell the Anorexic mum to basically f…. off. Yeah, that was wrong and how dare anorexia take over and blind mum from seeing how I was an anti-anorexic.
Donna: That’s right. I did make those comments and then I thought about it and thought – ‘that was stupid’. I’m only human and do have down days like anyone else.
Jack: There is so much frustration and all sorts of tension at the moment.
Mandy: Mum and I are starting to have fights and she has started apologising and feeling guilty for it. Those are signs that things aren’t right.
Jack: It’s so much better to have all this coming out, Mandy, rather than bottling it up. You’ve lifted the lid off the kettle that’s been simmering away there for weeks.
Mandy: But I now feel very panicky because I now feel very vulnerable and scared you know.
DE: Do you feel you’ve ….(Mandy interrupts)
Mandy: I feel that the vice has lifted a bit. But I feel scared and very vulnerable because Anorexia is starting to oppress us. THIS MEANS WE HAVE TO OPPOSE ANOREXIA. I think what’s happened is that there is no warmth in our family at the moment and because of that anorexia thinks – ‘Great isolation, coldness’. We get up in the morning; we don’t talk, there’s no warmth or cuddles…
DE: Has your home been turned into a business (interrupted)
Jack: Machine? Yeah.
DE: Is this to do with the preparations for the wedding?
Mandy: Yes, it’s only three weeks away.
Donna: No, it’s not just the wedding. I think it’s a combination of things. Wendy’s starting a new job; They’re looking for a house. Jim is starting a new job. Jack is spending hours at the office. Mandy is acting against Anorexia. And here I am in the middle and I’m obviously failing to keep the whole lot afloat. But the fact is I don’t want to.
DE: Can I say, Donna, from my way of thinking, if you assume or are given responsibility for sorting all this out (interrupted)
Donna: I’ll go crackers.
DE: What’s wrong with the men taking some responsibility here to see that a woman isn’t murdered in their own home? Why shouldn’t the responsibility be shared around?
Donna: Especially in the year of Women’s Suffrage. No it should be.
Mandy: It should be.
DE: Donna, why is all the responsibility falling upon your shoulders? Mandy, do you feel you have to take the burdens off her shoulders? Are you feeling guilty because your mother’s going to go under? And then will she feel guilty because now you are easy prey for anorexia?
DM: That’s something we’ve got to look into!
Mandy: We are going under. Mum’s health is going under.
Donna: Could we come back again soon even though Jack will be overseas?
DE: Yeah, sure.