Interview with Larissa 
LARISSA , AND DAVID EPSTON
David: We were just reviewing the first meeting and I asked you what your response to that meeting was and you said that it made you feel more confident. And when I asked how that came about, you mainly said we talked about quite positive things. And then I got really curious about your thoughts and asked if we could record the remainder of our conversation. And you said that you had been to some other people and they did something different. What was the difference?
Larrisa: The difference was that they talk about how long have you had Anorexia, how bad it has been and what things you do . . . how many times you make yourself sick a day . . . you end up believing that you are anorexic. Then because I believed I was anorexic, I felt I actually had to compete.
David: Did that mean you had to do better anorexic work than others?
Larrisa: Coming here, I felt all I wanted to do was to get better.
David: Great! Great! I did tell you I was definitely anti-anorexic, so not surprisingly, I am interested to hear that you decided to become anti-anorexic rather than pro-anorexic. Do you think these other people know that they are unwittingly assisting you to become anorexic?
Larrisa: No, not really.
David: You are not the first person to say this to me . . . I actually met one woman who said she decided to become the ‘best anorexic’ for the doctors. And she worked harder at being better and better. And what she thought she should do was to collect up more and more diagnoses. And she said – ‘I was hoping one day to get the $6 million dollar diagnosis’. And of course to get the diagnosis you have to do more and more anorexic work. She actually thought that was what it was all about. And I was quite haunted by that conversation.
Larrisa: That’s why I wanted to come here but didn’t want to come here. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be a good enough anorexic. That’s true!
David: (loud laughter) This is really important what you are saying. Can I ask you something – say you thought I was into anorexia-watching rather than being an advocate for anti-anorexia, what do you think you would have done differently than you are doing now?
Larrisa: I would even eat less than I do now. . . I would have had to come back skinnier than I was last time just so you could see that . . . .
David: You had done a good job of it (laughter all round)
Larrisa: That I wasn’t better so you couldn’t take your attention off me. I still wanted to do that . . . but it wasn’t as important. It just wasn’t important.
David: Do you think they know that you are working hard to get thin for them?
Larrisa No. . .
David: Or to do more of whatever it is that they are checking on?
David: Do you get the impression they are evaluating, assessing, diagnosing you. . .
Larrisa: Oh definitely!
David: How do you feel on the inside when they are doing that?
Larrisa: You become even more vulnerable, I reckon. When they are evaluating you, you think they must have seen so many other cases like you. . . you actually seem unimportant to them . . . and the whole thing about Anorexia is getting more important in one area of of your life.
David: You said that you ended up believing you were anti-anorexic after our first meeting. What has this meant to you in your everyday life?
Larrisa: When I got home that night, I was feeling so good. I couldn’t stop talking. And I told one of my flat mates.
David: What did they say?
Larrisa: They were so happy for me. And I actually told them not to make comments about how I looked. And she talked about how her father does that all the time and how mine does too. ‘You’re looking better . . . you’re looking great . . . you’re looking stunning!’ I don’t feel uncomfortable in a sexual way but I am being evaluated. I find a lot of males do that. We had so much in common. And everybody I talked to including a male gay friend. The next day, I was a bit scared it would leave me because it was so long before I would come and see you again. And I actually lost it that weekend.
David: How many days did you sustain your anti-anorexia?
Larrisa: About 3 or 4.
David: When you had an anti-anorexic position on your life, what difference did it make to you as you went about your life?
Larrisa: I could focus on a few more things. Anorexia wasn’t such an issue.
David: What could you focus on?
Larrisa: My art . . . my music. I began to realise that I couldn’t concentrate. I could only read a few pages when I used to read books and books and books. And even talking to people, I would be off with the fairies saying – ‘Yeah . . . yeah . . . um that’s interesting!’ But I haven’t heard a damn thing they’ve said. I was starting to worry if I was brain-damaged.
David: What a number of anti-anorexic woman have told me is that when they start going free, they can recover their minds and can really get into their studying or whatever they want to put their minds to.
Larrisa: I can understand that because on those anti-anorexia days I got up early and went to design school and was really excited about what I was going to be doing.
David: When you became anti-anorexic for those 3 or 4 days, tell me about your design work? How did it change?
Larrisa: I didn’t notice it so much at design school because I was just completing something but I really noticed it in my singing. I was far more confident. Until then, I had been drinking quite a bit and started believing I couldn’t sing unless I drank a lot.
David: What changed?
Larrisa: I didn’t even need to do that.
Larrisa: Yah, it was good and I really enjoyed being up there and observing people. I felt really confident and that I was good. For the first time, I believed it wasn’t the band that everyone was clapping for. I thought – ‘Maybe it is me!’ Before, I had felt completely invisible even though I am the lead singer. Really I am the only person the audience sees. I used to feel that I was just a background singer.
David: How do you account for this development of feeling that you were making an appearance? How do you explain to yourself and to me because I certainly am curious about it? You were a presence on the stage . . . a presence in your own life?
Larrisa: I have been thinking about that. All I could think of was that I didn’t mind being seen. I wanted people to see me and I was quite comfortable with myself so I didn’t mind being seen.
David: In the old days, how would you imagine anorexia turned you invisible? Or rendered you insubstantial?
Larrisa: By being less of you for one thing. But in the mental sense, it’s unreal . . . Anorexia is so unreal. If all you are concerned about is not eating, you are different from everyone else and you can make yourself invisible because you have the will power to make yourself not eat. You have the will power to not be seen.
David: Do you think that one of the purposes of Anorexia is to make women invisible?
Larrisa: There are two sides to it. One level you want to have attention to get love . . . that way and to be the best at something that way. . . and be recognized at something but I KNOW on the other hand you are so scared of either rejection or assessment that you do want to be invisible because it gets so hard after a while. It starts at school when everything you do is monitored and watched. After awhile, you do want to become invisible.
David: Did you find that as Anorexia invisibilised you more and more, you were monitored and assessed more and more?
Larrisa: I went to a party last week. Everyone commented how much weight I had lost. And I know a lot of the girls were jealous. Everyone wants to be Anorexic in a way. I felt – ‘Oh God!’ And that’s another reason I want to become invisible is because of the reaction you get from males is sick. And that turns me to Anorexia. That’s why I lost it the other weekend because I could see a lot of drunk males saying things like ‘I’d like to get into her’ grhhr. And you have a break and they come up to you and put their hands are all over you. And even the manager came in and there wasn’t much I could do because he was my boss. I didn’t want to upset him but he was being really sleazy and . . . It ended up making me feel dirty. As if I’m up their flaunting my body around to get a reaction. It’s not. I’m up there to sing because I enjoy that. I want to let people enjoy music. But males. . . (tapers off)
David: Linda who had been prevailed over by Anorexia and Bulimia for 4 or 5 years and quite devastatingly so. She got free though. And then she was working in a hotel where she was a receptionist. And during a football game they told her to work in the bar. With all the drunk men there, she felt the way you felt being sexually weighed up. Distressingly enough, bulimia almost immediately took her over again. She however got a new job and demanded that she be treated more like a person than an object. I remember Terri, who is 27, who had struggled against anorexia and bulimia for about 8 years until she went free of that and has been for a couple of years. She is overseas travelling exploring who she is and who she wants to become. She got this job working for Lord and Lady something or other as a companion. Not surprisingly, they treated her like a working class person. She really became aware how they were patronizing her. In New Zealand, we don’t have quite the same class system. She said immediately her Bulimia revisited her. She said – ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m just angry about it. But I know it has to do with this situation I’m in. And I know the solution for me is to get a different job.’ However, she took the opportunity to study how they were degrading her or declassing her. Do you think this is something for you and I to talk about as we go along – that is situations where you are being degraded?
Larrisa: I feel that a lot. And I try to not let it happen. It is not me that should feel degraded. It’s not me that is doing anything wrong. But it’s so hard because it’s everywhere, especially in the circle I’m in. I like what I’m doing. . . I love singing. The only thing for me to do is just to ignore that. But it’s so hard.
David: Do you think we might think what it’s about? Why is that women should experience this in the way they do? The League is making its business to contest that! Resist that influence over peoples lives and women’s lives in particular. Anything else in the singing experience that changed?
Larrisa: There are three males in the band and one who is much older and he left his wife because he had an infatuation with me. I found out because she told me. She is a really good friend of mine. She thought I should know. I had such an amazing guilt trip over that because I had done nothing. I know that. That is what triggers Anorexia.
David: Somehow you got into guilt when you might have got into anger?
Larrisa: At first I felt really bad because I believed I was doing something wrong. Maybe I was looking at him in the wrong way. I was the one who ended up feeling a real floozy. Then I felt angry at him. I have been feeling bitterness after bitterness towards males. Is that unfair? Its my problem?
David: Don’t you think this is the concern you share with many, many women? Were you aware that many women are contesting the ways relationships between men and women are conventionally organized? Do you find it curious in such a situation that women so often take the rap? Why do you think that is?
Larrisa: Because we have always been taught to do that. Not taught as in told but rather we are conditioned to do that. We are the ones that pick up the pieces in every situation. We are the ones who let themselves be more sensitive. Even in rape, a lot of women have been blamed for their rape.
David: What do you make of that?
Larrisa: I know that I always blame myself for things like that. And it’s been happening quite a bit. You feel objectified by males which makes you become an object. You become really confused about who you are because you know you don’t want to become an object. But if you don’t become an object, you are cut off from the rest of the world.
David: But if you become an object, are you cut off from your own experience? For example, does a chair feel? Say you decided to get out of self-blame and guilt, do you have any thoughts as to how you would go about it? Sounds like you have had a conditioning in taking the rap for whatever goes wrong?
Larrisa: I think it just might be the fact of accepting that whatever you do is right, of course you make mistakes. That’s part of it as well, accepting that you do make mistakes.
David: Would you get out of Perfection by doing so?
Larrisa: And becoming your own person and not living for everyone else. That’s when you become guilty because if you are trying to live everyone’s else’s lives for them. . . doing things for them and trying to get people to like you. When things go wrong, it’s always your fault. I say I hate being treated like that by males but I make it happen to some extent because I don’t want to hurt their feelings or I don’t want to turn them off me. I need that reassurance badly and yet I get it and it makes me feel like shit.
David: Do you give a different value to men’s opinions and women’s opinions?
Larrisa: Men think of me as an object but I know how jealous women get. A couple of my girl friends were down in the dumps last year and I was always trying to make them feel better. The way I was doing that was saying things I was doing that would make them not feel so bad.
David: Do you mean you would put yourself down?
Larrisa: Oh yeah . . . ALL THE TIME! I make them feel better by putting myself down. And it is so hard to get out of that. I do it all the time. Oh God. I am not a wimp. I just put myself down to make my friends feel better, even though I’m not.
David: Are you finding that you are starting to feel good about feeling bad?
Larrisa: In a way I do because I am being a martyr to them. As if I have taken the burden off their shoulders but it doesn’t. That sort of thing doesn’t make people feel better.
David: Have you had that sort of training in a sense to be more miserable than the other person?
Larrisa: The first thing that pops to mind is when I got quite depressed when I was 15 and mum would say – ‘I’ve been there – and I had a much harder bringing up than you did. It was really tough. My mother never loved me and I had no family.’ By that, I had to feel grateful for what I had.
David: What would happen to your friend if when they said – I am miserable – you said – ‘I can see that you are!’
Larrisa: I’d feel so terrible.
David: Would your inclination be to say, ‘If you think you’ve got it bad, I’ve got it worse?’
Larrisa: I’d just try to make them feel better any way I could. And that always entails me putting myself down. And I come to believe that things aren’t too good for me after all.
David: Do you think that martyrdom has its price?
Larrisa: Yah. . .
David: I guess you’ve got to know what you are up against to take some anti-anorexic action. What other areas of your life do you think you have been able to exercise your anti-anorexia in?
Larrisa: One small thing that I guess must come from that. I usually exercise 3 or 4 hours a day. And I actually hurt my back. Usually ‘who cares!’, I ‘d still do aerobics and die. And I didn’t.
David: Did you respect your body?
Larrisa: Yah! I started respecting my body more. And that’s another thing I’ve been doing. RESPECTING MY BODY! Yah! It is good!
David: When you started respecting your body and your self more, what did Anorexia have to say about that?
Larrisa: It told me that if I was going to slack off in that area, and become a failure in my life. It gave me the feeling that exercise is the be all and end all. That’s where it all starts.
David: And how were you able to articulate your own anti-anorexic voice here?
Larrisa: It was a continual fight. . . inside my brain, saying to myself – ‘It’s all right. Other people manage to do this and not feel guilty about it. And plus it is quite enjoyable. Why don’t you let yourself enjoy it. And to relax isn’t a sin!’ But that’s one of the hardest things because when you are not pushing yourself and slogging your brains out, you are ‘slack assed’ and a failure.
David: And what’s happened?
Larrisa: Well, I can’t relax for too long but all last week, I got into this thing of actually feeling like taking a bath. It is so long since I could sit in a bath and lie there for a few minutes and really enjoy it. And having a cup of tea when I come home instead of rushing right a way and doing things. And not feeling beside myself for having these few minutes.
David: Can I ask – are you more willing to accept your entitlement to your own pleasures and satisfaction?
David: Any other areas where it is becoming apparent?
Larrisa: At home with my parents. That’s definitely happening there.
David: How’s that?
Larrisa: Even the next morning after I had been to see you, mum has been ringing up every day. And I knew she had rung up to ask me how it went with you. And I didn’t want to tell her. Every time I’ve seen them for the last few weeks, they have been saying – ‘You have to eat more. You have to stop starving yourself yah . . . yah!’ I went home on Saturday. They went away for Easter and this is the first time we haven’t been together as family for Easter. It’s always THE THING TO DO. And they went away and my flat mates did too. Even though I was playing during the day I started feeling sorry for myself because my family had left me. I thought – ‘Oh my God, that is such a good thing!’ that my family has done this because they are not relying on the children anymore to live their lives. Actually letting us go.
David: The fact that they did something for themselves, was that a bit of an example for you?
Larrisa: After I felt shitty for the first few days, it was the best thing they could have done for me in such a long time. It just took such a burden off me. I wasn’t expected to do anything. They had gone away. It was so good!
David: Can I ask something – have you considered writing them a letter and thanking them for doing that and telling them what it meant to you to not feel required to feel under obligation to them and to explore what you want and need for your life?
Larrisa: I hadn’t thought of that.
David: They may not be aware of what they have done.
Larrisa: I’d really like to do that actually. It would probably be a good time as it is starting to happen again. She is ringing up again. I’d think I just would like to do that. I don’t want to be a ‘little girl’ anymore. But in a way I want that.
David: I suppose it’s a gradual thing. What did you do over Easter when you got out of feeling miserable and realizing this was the best thing they had ever done for you? What were you able to effect for yourself?
Larrisa: They got back on Monday and Tuesday, I really, really wanted to go home. It was such a neat feeling to want to go home. Usually, I’m not and it’s a big effort. Mum had rung me Sunday night and said, ‘It would be really lovely to see you’. And I really wanted to at that stage. And it wasn’t like ‘oh shut up!’
David: Was that a bit of a taste of a new kind of relationship with your mum and dad?
Larrisa: It was like a new kind of relationship. But it was like old times. I had dinner with them (laughing).
David: Did you find yourself a bit freer to eat in their presence?
Larrisa: That was quite strange and that was the only awful thing. That’s why I don’t like going home because I ended up never eating. So I overate to make them think that I’m better. But I know that it made them so pleased that I am eating. But at the same time, I knew I had over-eaten but I didn’t feel distressed about it and didn’t vomit.
David: Hold on…..hold on. . .
Larrisa: But I thought I’d be back at art school the next day where it would be easy not to eat BUT at that moment I didn’t feel down. And that was really important for me. And the most amazing thing, we all sat down and watched of all things MISS UNIVERSE. But we had this amazing laugh. We just laughed.
David: Were you a bit critical of it?
Larrisa: OH GOD YES! It’s just a big joke. We made big jokes and criticized the whole thing. And it was all our family.
David: What percentage of those women do you think are oppressed by Bulimia?
Larrisa: Oh probably a lot! Probably a lot. I thought how unhappy they must be. And I felt quite sad that we were sitting there criticizing them and making rude jokes.
David: Look, do you think you are making pretty rapid progress?
Larrisa: Yah, I DO ACTUALLY.
David: What do you think I think?
Larrisa: I don’t know. What do you think?
David: Well, I would agree with you. It’s a pretty cracking pace you are setting. It’s a pretty hard thing you are dealing with and I tell you that to show you my appreciation of what you have done and are doing in such a short period of time. You can slow down now. Karen described anti-anorexia in three stages. First there is the ‘turning against Anorexia’ and without that, anorexia convinces you that you are getting better by getting worse. Do you think you had turned even before we met for the first time. It didn’t take you long.
David: Karen told me there is a crisis in the middle stage which believe it or not according to her will trigger you into the final stage. She told me the crisis usually is about Anorexia saying something like – ‘You can’t graduate with out me. You really need me. You are asking too much of yourself to expect to lead your life without me.’ Karen said it tries to do deals with you, some sort of compromise. And then almost always, (I will be interested if by talking about it we will subvert this) it will get a bit of a hold on you yet again and then it can run away with you. If Karen’s experience is anything to go by, you are too clever from an anti-anorexic point of view. And this is what she did – she had been keeping an anti-anorexic diary. So when this happened, she thought back to how as she put it, “I’ve felt ever since I turned that I’ve got an atomic bomb inside of me”. She now had so much energy. Anorexia also told her things like, ‘You’re not as good as you think you are. . . you are getting swollen headed. . .you’re getting selfish by doing so much to advance your own life instead of others’. Does this sound familiar to you?
Larrisa: DOES IT EVER!
David: But she said it wasn’t ordering her around anymore. It was more like wheedling or persuading. It had a different tone of voice. Obviously Karen got upset but she decided that there would be no deals. You cannot have a deal with Anorexia. That is like dealing with the Devil. She said that even if you are 90/10, it can take you over when the going gets tough. It will just wait for some unfavorable circumstances and then jump you.
Larrisa: Yah, I think I’ve been at that level the whole time. I guess I never have been a fully fledged Anorexic. It’s always been there when circumstances get rough. That’s when it flares up again.
David: I was talking to Rose in the midst of what you call a flare-up. When I asked her what was going on in her life, she couldn’t think of anything immediately. I asked if we might look more closely at her life. It turned out that the next day she had an exam, the day after a seminar and the day after that a ‘performance’ test. She was taking music. I then asked her if she considered the next week was constituted of a fair bit of assessment and evaluation. She said: “I hate being assessed”. I then asked her to remember last year during her final exams and how she thought anorexia would make a come-back but it didn’t. She though and immediately recalled – ‘Yah, I remember. . . I kept up a really good social life”. What do you mean by that, I asked. ‘Well, instead of sitting at home worrying about it all the time, I kept going out. After all when I stayed home I didn’t study, I just got miserable’. She then said: “I think I’ll go out on Saturday and have a good time’. She then walked out of here saying – ‘I’ll be okay’. After all, it would be folly to think you have to do anti-Anorexia perfectly. Well, where do you think you are going to go to next?
Larrisa: I’d really like to sort out in my mind a balance between relaxation and work. How I might finish projects so after I am finished, I have time left over.
David: Will this yield some time for yourself?
Larrisa: Mmmh. Usually each day I write lists in my diary and there is no time in there for a lunch break. I am always concerned that I have achieved a lot at the end of the day. If I feel I have achieved nothing at the end of the day, that’s another thing that kicks it off.
David: Would it be possible to consider relaxation as an achievement?
Larrisa: Accepting relaxation would probably be one of my biggest achievements. AND NOT FEELING GUILTY. And not feeling I was going to go down the tubes and fail. And one of the major things here is comparing yourself with other people. My flat-mate is a prime example. She is a real hard worker but its hard for me to remember that that’s all she is doing. I am singing; I’ve got my drama as well. I have got a part time job. And I do a lot of exercise. All these things are just as important to me as studying all the time.
David: Can you prove to me that she is happier than you are?
David: Are you interesting in critiquing a measuring up to others life-style and using your own opinions as your own measures?
David: You even can compete about morality -who is giving away or doing for others more?
Larrisa: That’s exactly what it is like in our family. That’s pathetic. But it was just always there you know. Like Dad saying, ‘Oh, I’m the one who works all the time’ Moral competitions are so strong in our family.
David: Terry was telling me an interesting story. She was doing her Masters and she came to tell me she would have to give it up. When I asked her why, she told me she didn’t have any time for it. “How’s that?” I asked. She told me that she was supervising the MA theses of 8 other people and that pretty much took up 8 hours of every day. She said that ‘they were worried about their theses and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. . . . and they seemed lost . . . I’m helping this one with her statistics. . .this one with conceptualizing her thesis. I said: “Tell me how your thesis is going?” She told me she was getting nowhere. “Do you think your supervisees will get their masters?” “Oh, yeah, especially if I help them a lot”. I asked: “Well, what do you think about this?” She said she had never thought about it before. “Why don’t you think about it between now and when we meet next time?” She came back and for some reason had completely changed her hair colour. And the more remarkable thing about that was I found out that she had done that without asking everyone else their opinion if she should do it. And she had put a note on her office door – ‘I want to do my thesis and if you want to come and talk to me about a personal problem or anything else, I would be glad to see you but apart from that, would you please go and do your own thesis!
Larrisa: That’s amazing! It’s probably the thing of wanting people to like you that you would do anything for them.
David: We are going to have to stop, even though I regret bringing to an end such an invigorating anti-anorexic conversation.