Letting go of "special"

After a long, busy, and rather stressful day yesterday, I settled down to (yet another) House rerun.  This episode (Season 7, Episode 12) wasn't necessarily one of my favorites, but as I watched, I realized that it does contain one of my favorite scenes.

The setup (briefly): the patient of the week is a waitress (Nadia) with a perfect memory, and House's team of doctors are trying to figure out if and how this fits in with her other symptoms. They eventually diagnose her with perfect memory as a form of OCD secondary to a genetic condition.  Right after they give her the diagnosis, one of the doctors (Chase) goes in to talk to her.  The following dialogue ensues:

Chase: You said you didn't have a choice to be the way you are. Now you do. [He pulls out a small bottle of SSRIs.] They've been effective in treating OCD.
Nadia: You mean, lose my memory?
Chase: Not entirely; it would just be more like everybody else's.
Nadia: My memory is the only thing that has ever made me special.
Chase: If you want to be special then it means being alone. [He leaves the pills on her tray and walks out.]

It's a feeling I know all too well--realizing that thing you felt made you special was both an illness and wrecking the rest of my life. This realization was rather sobering.

When I'm in the midst of the eating disorder, it's all too easy to forget that starving isn't a sign that I'm really special. It's just a sign that I'm sick.  Only I didn't always understand this. After all, one of the most maddening and frustrating symptoms of anorexia is the fact that when you're in the midst of it, it's even harder to understand that this "specialness" you feel--the only thing you can find to be proud of, the only way you know to make sense of the world--isn't really all that special.  It's the byproduct of a diagnosis.

Having that "one special thing" pulled out from under me shook me to the core.  Then, of course, I told myself that, diagnosis be damned, my ED behaviors made me special.  After all, click on any "health" section and you will be inundated with stories about how to lose weight.  I was good at eating less and exercising more, and the precise reason why didn't matter all that much.

Except that hiding behind a diagnosis is no way to live a life. You'd think it would be a fairly easy, straightforward decision: life without anorexia and a chance at happiness and relationships OR anorexia, loneliness, and death.   But the illusion of specialness is a powerful thing. If I wasn't starving myself, then what? I felt that I would be nothing, a nobody. Even as the disease wrecked everything in my life, I hesitated to make meaningful changes because I feared what would happen to me without the only thing I thought made me special.

I'm still trying to figure that out.

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Megs said...

A brilliant post! Thank you for writing this. I understand, all too well.

"Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen."
~Robert Bresson

Anonymous said...

I was dealing with this today. ED is what made me "special". That is the hardest part of letting go of this thing and following my meal plan and listening to my team. It is like I keep hanging on to some part of ED because I don't know who I am without it.

Tiptoe said...

Carrie, we must have similar Saturday nights watching House reruns. LOL I saw this episode again too. I wrote about it awhile back and felt similarly as you,. Letting go of "special" is hard, but as we all know, EDs don't have to be our identity, and there is so much more to us than that.

Melissa said...

Yes, yes, yes.

That's one of my biggest relapse triggers, too. Wanting to get that feeling of being really good at something back.

Cathy (UK) said...

I've often heard it said that people with AN feel 'special', and the comments left so far to this post seem to reinforce this idea.

Personally, however, I never felt 'special' while anorexic. I knew that I was sick (it was kind of obvious looking in the mirror...) and that others viewed me as sick. Whether my feelings were the same as what others with AN feel, or whether I simply interpreted them differently, I don't really know.

I was reluctant to 'let go' of my behaviours because of the following:

1. Unexplained fear and anxiety. I felt 'lost' without my behaviours (which were, in effect, rigid routines). I felt I would have no 'rules' by which to live or exist without my controlled eating and exercising.

2. I would have no identity if I recovered - because my anorexic behaviours (not my emaciation) were what defined me (to myself; not to others, who I felt didn't understand me anyway). I felt that if I got rid of AN I would be 'laid bare' and expected to cope in the world, when in reality I didn't feel able to cope without my behaviours/routines.

3. I would have no 'excuse'. My AN felt, in some ways, to be an 'excuse' - for everything I was not. It was a means of avoiding things that scared me. I was not confident socially and never had been. I found the world a scary place. I somehow felt that AN shielded me from all the scary things in the world - like people and change and spontaneity.

With hindsight, I don't feel that my fears were purely attributable to 'faulty thinking'. I do have a number of autistic traits which underpinned many of my behaviours. I was scared of the world because I had been bullied and because I lived/live with too much sensory input. Fear of change and rigid routines are characteristic of autistic spectrum conditions.

The main thing that has helped me in recovery, apart from weight gain, is practising pushing my rigid boundaries, putting myself in social situations and developing alternative routines to take the place of my dangerous anorexic routines.

kayleigh.madison said...

Honestly, I feel the exact same way. I want to feel special and stand out so I ended up starving myself.

But in reality, I keep reminding myself...

There are countless girls who hate themselves and starve themselves...you are no different...you therefore are not special because of it.

So many individuals have EDs or something hate themselves...I cannot say doing that will make me special.

Anonymous said...

For me, the key to this part of things has been realizing what special DOES for me (or what I think it does). Like: I tend to think that being special will result in being loved -- or that if I can't be lovable, special will have to do. Realizing that I could give up special (or perfect, or whatever else), without giving up what I thought it got me, made it easier not to cling to them. I can quit being special in self-destructive ways and still be loved. It was a lot longer before I realized that I'm more special (and more-strong, and more-1000- other-things) -- when I'm not sick. But realizing that being special was not what made me worthy -- that was a big step toward making peace with it, for me. Best to you.

hm said...

Ugh- yes- it goes back to losing identity.

Lately I have been encouraged by people to focus on other things that make me special, and hold on tightly to those.

You could choose, for example, your writing. The color of your hair. Your wit. The people around you who love you.

For some (disordered) reason, they don't feel as significant. But when I pick one of them up and compare it to "size and weight," I can see logically that the AN stuff doesn't (or shouldn't) hold a candle. I will still be the mother of my children in a different size jeans. I will still be LOTS of things.

It is an exercise in willpower to continually compare and make a choice for the ACTUAL important things over the ED things, which feel so inexplicably, painfully important. There is this longing to pull back to my ED and embrace it- it is such a deep, emotional yearning- but when I contrast that with the actually important things, I can see that the yearning is disordered and nonsensical. Doesn't make me FEEL any better, but confirms what I KNOW- that recovery is the only option.

Katie said...

I don't think I ever felt special, per se. I think this can be a common part of the experience of having an eating disorder though, I've certainly heard other people say it before. The strange thing is, Carrie, I think you have so many talents and you seem like such a clever and interesting person. Your anorexia only squashes the things that make you special and makes you similar to thousands of other people with eating disorders. This fear is all back to front. But then there's not a lot rational about the thinking patterns involved in eating disorders, I still remember being convinced I would gain weight if I drank too much herbal tea :P

Anonymous said...

You brought up an interesting point there, how satisfying it is to and ED to be "good" at losing weight. We live in a world with a multi-million dollar diet industry, were it feels like nearly every adult has tried to lose weight and couldn't. There is a kind of sick satisfaction the anorexic mind gets from obeying the media's message that we all should be on some kind of diet, and that we are good people for doing so. I think this can lead to to ED sufferers feeling special, as it provides a new identity when the ED has taken away who we really are. However I think that the need to feel special in these twisted ways has gone away with recovery, when you begin to become yourself again.

Freja Hood said...

Oh my lord Carrie, I'm myself newly recovering from an ED and I can begin to tell ya' just how much you have helped me out. You've probably saved me from dieing just a few times. Your amazing keep on going you. Together we're strong, for ourselves and for the people who's stand us near. Love.
Freja Hood, Colorado. USA

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the feeling of being good at something, but I understand what you mean about giving up an identity. I clung to my harmful behaviors and beliefs (not anorexia) as a way to survive. I sincerely believed that if I let go of them, I would cease to exist. I would snap out of existance. As if I'd never been. It was the most frightening thing I'd ever contemplated.

When I did let go, I was in free fall for a couple of days. I walked around like a ghost, unsure of who I was or what I was doing, just trying to go through the motions while my brain scrambled for something, anything to hang on to.

After a few days of that, I realized I was okay again. My horrible beliefs were replaced by something less horrible. I was alive again, and I was still me... just without that thing that I'd thought I couldn't survive without. A different me. A better one.

Eventually, as I let go of each thing in turn, I became less frightened of the process. I've even begun to enjoy hurling myself into the void, not knowing how I'll come out, just trusting that it'll be better. It's more intense than skydiving, or sex, or anything else I've experienced.

It's by far the most frightening thing I've ever done. It's worth it.

Goodbye Scarlett said...

Oh man, I totally resonate with this. When I started recovering I wondered if I would lose that identifier, my intrigue.

I would no longer be known as an anorexic, but now as a person.

Someone with life.

Thank you!

Beth said...

Another great House quote on the same topic (from Season 2):

Wilson: "You don't like yourself. But you do admire yourself. It's all you've got so you cling to it. You're so afraid if you change, you'll lose what makes you special. Being miserable doesn't make you better than anybody else, House. It just makes you miserable."

How perfect is that?

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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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