Eating disorders can cause people to act differently and they may seem to be a completely different person. Some people find it helpful to visualise the eating disorder in a particular way.
In this 'Speaking From Experience' video clip, parents and the person with an eating disorder discuss how they view the eating disorder and the effect that it has had on their lives.
Tags: Eating Disorders, anorexia, bulimia, families
Eating Disorders - Dealing with the Monster
Dealing with the monster
Sonya - I have a couple of visualisations of this eating disorder. One... They’ve both come
fairly recently. One is this science fiction type monster that hovers on the top
of each ceiling of our house.
And it just hovers, it’s huge and it’s up there and it never leaves us, so it’s part of the family.
Carol - Sometimes, especially after we’d had a session with a psychologist, they were the most awful days because she...she would panic and her anxiety got terribly high, and...we were dealing with almost panic-attack sort of things. And she was completely out of control and we’d try and just hold her,
and we couldn’t hold her and you couldn’t talk to her, because anorexia was in her head
telling her what to do. And that was powerful.
She was able to talk about the fact that anorexia was saying terrible things to her and she felt bound to obey what anorexia was saying. And yet there was a tiny little part of
her that could hear us too and that’s...that’s what we spoke to.
Ian - Yeah, it does seem to develop a personality of its own which is... And you’re reminding yourself constantly of your memories of this girl that you knew preceding the illness. You’re reminding yourself constantly that this is not... this is completely out of the character of the girl that we know.
So, yes, it developed some very nasty personality traits which... result in all sorts of bizarre behaviour.
Alex - Sometimes Sonya says, “Well, I know this was her and this was the eating disorder,” but at times she says, “I know that was the response but I don’t know where it came from,” so we just have to deal with it in the best way possible.
Veronica - If I’m really severely malnourished, it’s never background noise, it’s always loud
and it’s always screaming. Or if I’ve got something really stressful, like I’ve got lots of appointments in a day, it can be really loud and it can be yelling.
But if I’m eating alright and I’m resting enough and I’m not that stressed, then it can be background noise and it’s easier to fight it and to argue with it and to overcome it when it’s background noise.
Tracey - It also...we find there are certain statements people make that set it off, like, “Oh, Veronica, it’s really nice to see you. You’re looking really well.” I know by saying that to her, the voice in her head will go berserk, it will take over.
Alex - It’s almost like when people are brainwashed by, say, a religious cult and they’re just speaking, and you think, “That’s not the person I used to know.” And you need to deprogram them.
Carol - We had a girl who would never swear at her parents, who’s always been very respectful, using foul language, inappropriate times and...yeah, just a complete
different person in front of us. That was a steep learning curve.
Lisa - For a long time you’re trying to think you’re talking to that child and you don’t realise that you’re actually talking to an eating disorder.
Probably we’ve got better at that this time. And I’d feel like I was the schoolgirl. And here’s Malcolm coming home and there’d be, like, you know, two siblings fighting and he’d be thinking, “Well, who’s done what? And who do I listen to?” You know, it must have been
just awful for him. And it just makes everyone in the whole family feel sick a lot of the time,
I would say.
Rosanne - She can be quite hostile when she’s not having a good week. And I think I just have to... I accept that it’s not her that’s being hostile, it’s the eating disorder. And I don’t find it too hard to separate what she says when it’s the eating disorder that’s got hold of her, I just know it’s not her, it’s so unlike her.
I often and this is something that I’ve learned I often talk about times in the past.
She loves talking about the past, when she was younger, happy times.
We talk about holidays. So just trying to sort of reconnect, almost, with how she used to be.
Tracey - It used to tell her that if she ate, like, normal meals, then I’d get cancer. So, “Something bad will happen to your mum and your dad if you eat,” so it really is a separate person. And that’s not Veronica, because I’ve known Veronica for 20 years that’s not...that’s not Veronica. It’s like she’s inhabited by something else.
So that’s why we separate the eating disorder... We never... I know some people name it.
We just never named it. Not really. We used to call it ‘he’ or “the monster”, and then there was Veronica.
For a long time there was only the eating disorder that came to the forefront of Veronica and her behaviour. And she does act differently she has a different look in her eye, she moves differently, she behaves differently.
When Veronica’s there, she’s back to the person we know. They’re very separate.
Carol - I don’t understand her thinking while she was in the grips of anorexia. I don’t think she does either, really. It was just a very powerful thing that she had to obey whatever peculiar rules had been put on her.
Ian - We had a name for this illness to try and separate it from...from the girl that we knew.
So we often talked about this particular character.
And that was important as well, because we were dealing with a... an aspect of our daughter which was not the real her.
And that also helped us to, um...to view the illness as a separate thing...and, uh...took
a lot of the blame and the... the anger that we felt away from directing that at our daughter.
Rosanne - One way I’ve coped... I mean, I suppose by seeing the eating disorder as something separate from her, I found that very helpful. I’ve got a very strong image and this may not be relevant to other people.
One of the Harry Potter movies, ‘The Order of the Phoenix’, when Voldemort is trying
to get into Harry Potter and there’s this evil force trying to take him over.
And into Harry’s mind comes all the sort of happy times that he’s had, and his parents who loved him, and his friends, and times laughing. And I think that that’s what’s going to stop her...or give her the strength to fight the eating disorder.
Tracey - Veronica’s paediatrician has a great, um... He always says that it’s like...you know, an eating disorder is an octopus. And it has its tentacles in you and it takes a whole array of people to start pulling them off.
Veronica - ‘Cause you can’t do it on your own. You can’t do it on your own.