Anorexia as Plan B

As I was writing yesterday's post, I mentioned refusing to have a Plan B for my dream of being a writer. This dream may ultimately look very different than the plan I have envisioned now (especially considering that a beach house on Bora Bora with a hot cabana boy features largely in these dreams), but I can't not write.

Not that a Plan B isn't good- I develop them all the time. I did in middle school, when I adjusted to the changing class schedule (if this hall is crowded, I'll go this way, or use this drinking fountain instead of that one, or...). I did when I was applying to college and grad school by applying to several different schools. I do when I'm driving during rush hour.

Mostly, though, my Plan B of Life has been anorexia. If things ever got super-difficult, or they didn't go as planned, or I turned into a "failure," there was always the eating disorder. I always had this crutch of knowing I could go back to losing weight and feel confident in my "abilities." Even understanding that anorexia is an actual illness failed to dislodge anorexia-as-Plan-B.

A few days ago, Cammy blogged on one of her AN mantras, which was "if I can't be pretty, at least I can be thin." Which I totally relate to. Anorexia, for me, let me say "if I can't be good at X, at least I can be good at losing weight." If I got criticized at work, I told myself that I might suck at what I do, but I'll show my boss that I'm good at losing weight. If I got a less than perfect grade, I told myself that I might not be smart, but I can be thin. Or I can eat less. Exercise more. It propped up my self-esteem when nothing else really did.

Of course, the eating disorder also tore down my self-esteem like Hurricane Katrina moving through Gulfport, Mississippi, but I didn't really see that.

Whenever I made a choice over the past decade, I felt safe and secure that the anorexia would always be there for me if the choice didn't pan out. The complications and messiness of life could be boiled down to three little questions: how much did I eat? How much did I exercise? And what do I weigh? A decent answer to all three meant that I could handle...whatever. It didn't matter if the rest of my life went to pot, at least I could be thin.

I never really considered that losing weight was causing my life to go to pot, and when I did, the solution was (you guessed it!): lose more weight, eat less, and exercise more. I had a math minor- I should have damn well known that this equation didn't add up. But expecting rationality during an eating disorder is a rather futile endeavor.

Yet if I expect to recover from this eating disorder that is approaching its tenth anniversary, I need to let go of the comfort that it provides. I need to learn how to accept life in all of its imperfections with the knowledge that I can handle it. Anorexia isn't a crutch; it's an illness. If I don't make it as a writer, will anorexia still be waiting for me? Certainly. I can't expect my eating disorder to go anywhere. But I need to stop using it as my universal Plan B.

Besides, I can always buy Plan B at the pharmacy counter if I really need it.


Magnolia said...

so true, i can relate to this! said...

I can relate to this too! This past summer I moved out on my own, decided to quit my job, and had no idea what I'd do going forward (I just knew that I wasn't going to go back to my old job.) So then I was left with "Now what? Now what is my role in the world now that I don't have my job?" Well, seeing as that question is pretty hard to answer... I just decided that my role would be being hungry. I didn't realize I was answering that question in an "easier" way (i.e., with an eating disorder) at the time, but looking back it's clear.


esqueci a ana (ex-ana) said...

This post sums up a lot of feelings! I understand because I felt it the feeling about PlanB but... may be it is a PlanF (from Fake) isn't it?

Adrianna said...

Perfectionism and wanting to be in control, because it makes be feel competent and I feel safer, are things I totally undertstand, even though I have a naturally laid-back personality and no eating disorder.

Sometimes, I like to make a list of all the possible things that (realistically) can go wrong, and then make a list of solutions to those problems, solutions that will solve the problem, rather than make me feel better.

When something does go wrong, I remind myself of all the other problems that I have had and how I got through those okay. I'll get through this okay too.

It's conventional and tacky to make a list of things you like about yourself, but afterwards, when I'm really kicking myself, I think of good things about myself that I can substantiate with examples. I also think of what good things I can say about myself that I could solve all these problems. I must be smart if I can plan ahead and come up with such creative solutions to my problems, right? I'm in control. I'm responsible, etc. And I find that really helpful.

Even when the problems and solutions are ridiculous, at least I feel like I have accounted for EVERYTHING. Plus, I'm easily amused, so I end up laughing at a lot of the stuff that I come up with.

It's gotten much harder lately, as I am in school full time and desperately trying to find some employment, but in those situations, I treat these lists like a homework assignment that MUST BE DUE at this time. That way, I get them done and can refer to them sooner rather than later. I actually made perfectionism work for me, something I never thought I could do. I used to have a habit of falling apart when things didn't go as planned.

Anonymous said...

I can so so relate to this all. It is subconsciously that I turn to Plan B, but yet it happens. After 13 years of this Plan B I am finally ready to let go of the comfort ED demon and begin to live the discomfort of life. Too many real life failure on my track record BECAUSE of turning to Plan B. I'm getting ready to start a day-treatment program next week and am beyond determined to succeed this time. Starting a blog to follow it all, still getting it started, but it should be all ready soon!

On another note I laughed out loud at your last comment about buying Plan B at the pharmacy!

Cammy said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, and the shout-out. I think that the root of my "if I can't be pretty, at least I'll be thin" mindset was really rooted in many of the things you mentioned. Just lack of confidence that any of my natural attributes were good enough to make me stand out or become successful. Once I figured out I am super-good at having anorexia, it became a convenient mode to default to when other things were stressful.

But of course you're right about an ED being a false savior. You are indeed an incredibly talented, intelligent, and generally amazing person, and those factors will take you even farther without the ED trying to drag along on your coat-tails. :)

Katie said...

I really related to this post. Anorexia has been my plan B for the last 13 years, my solution to any situation in which I feel trapped and helpless to change things. This year I finally demoted it to the status of 'abandoned plan'! I think working on my problem solving skills has been a big part of my recovery, as was forcing myself to remember that anorexia is an illness, not a coping behaviour on par with something like smoking. It sounds so obvious, but eating disorders are great at messing with reality. I hope all your plan A's work out ;)

Cathy (UK) said...

I can sort of understand anorexia as 'Plan B'... but with me it's been very unconscious... more like drifting back to something familiar that brings temporary relief (in the behaviours) when I feel 'a failure' or 'not good enough'.

I actually hated what anorexia did to my physical appearance as well as my physical health... but somehow I felt that (when things in my life were difficult) that restricting food and exercising excessively life tolerable and somehow made me a 'better person'. Most of all, these behaviours numbed my anxiety. After a while they became very automatic and also very compulsive.

In the main I was scared of letting go (and hence gaining weight) for fear of having no 'excuse' for being the 'crap' person I felt I was...

Lauren said...

You described my feelings exactly. I need another Plan B!

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

This is so true for me! I have started graduate school, and I keep thinking "If I can't succeed in graduate school, I can always go back to anorexia - at least I'm good at losing weight!"

The problem is after I lose weight, then what?

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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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