One life in search of an author

I recently stumbled across the word "narritization." I love it. It puts into a simple word the process of giving your experiences context and meaning. I've written about narritization, though I called it "Narrating anorexia" at the time.

I came across the word in a post from Mind Hacks, on a post about choice blindness. In it, the author brings up philosopher Daniel Dennett's concept of narritization, which is

"the ability of the mind to make a coherent story out what's happening, with you as the main character, even when it's clear that the outcome was determined externally. In a well-known
article, Dennett cites this process as the key to our understanding of the 'self'."

It is, in short, how you write your own story.

How I understand my eating disorder now, right at this moment, is different from when I was first diagnosed (eating disorder? I don't have no stinkin' eating disorder!) or when I first began to accept the idea. Much of this understanding is predicated on my background as a scientist, my gravitation towards research and evidence.

And how I might have understood anorexia ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred, five hundred years ago is certainly going to be different yet. The actual neurochemistry was certainly almost identical no matter when a sufferer might have lived. Some researchers have been examining the importance of narritization in the actual disease process by asking if EDs are "culture-bound" syndromes.

I wonder, often, how much our culture's understanding (or lack thereof) of eating disorders influences what we attribute the illness to. In other words, how do we understand why we got sick? If you've read this blog before, you'll know I believe that eating disorders are biologically-based mental illnesses that are often triggered by mild malnutrition in the form of a diet or healthy eating or even just weight loss during the stomach flu. I also know that many other people disagree with this view and so understand their illness quite differently from me.

In non-Western cultures, people with anorexia are less likely to express a fear of fatness. So is this fear a Western concept, the result of steeping our brains in the Language of Fat? Or is it, like food restriction and hyperactivity, a more basic part of the illness? Fasting medieval saints couldn't blame supermodels and didn't express a desire to lose weight- yet they almost certainly suffered from anorexia. So how do we separate this? Can we?

I don't have any firm answers on this, no witty zinger to end the post. Not all that long ago, I would have attributed my epilepsy to demon possession. Not all that long ago, I wouldn't have been able to look at neurochemistry as a possible cause to my anorexia. This, I think, is progress. This is the core of my narratization.

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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I really really like this post!

A:) said...

Interesting. . .

I finally found my copy of Running on Empty and re-read it and I think your view on AN has also changed since you wrote the book. It is fascinating to see how your self-awareness of the disorder and symptoms have evolved -- and how you have furthered your recovery along with this. . .

I guess we do write our own narrative. There is actually a psychological theory about this which we learned in first year psych -- apparently people tend to centre their lives around a theme that gives them meaning. As events happen and they tell their story, these events are not depicted chronologically, but incoporated into the "story" in a way that reflects this common theme or meaning.

Interesting post.


Anonymous said...

Carrie, this may be my favorite of your posts. I also have a science background, and have been treated briefly for a mental illness, so I can relate so well to a scientific viewpoint. It makes perfect sense to me that the same disease can, in different eras, have different interpretations, and rationalizations (I know that's a terrible word but I can't come up with a better one right now- what I mean really is explanations or, narratizations (is it really spelled narrItizations?- I digress)). The attribution of anorexia in some people to fear of fatness fits our current societal obsession with weight and "obesity". In medieval times, it could have been attributed to religious ascetism and deemed a good thing.

Carrie Arnold said...


You make an extremely interesting point: how at different points in history, AN behaviors (at least at the beginning of the disease) are typically interpreted as a good thing.

It really fits with the anosognostic and ego-syntonic nature of anorexia.

That insight totally made my day- THANK YOU!

However, I have no idea as to the proper spelling of narritization. Your guess is as good as mine!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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