It tells you all kinds of weird stuff that just ain’t true. Mine, anyway.
But before you can nod and say, ‘Brain, I’m wise to your tricks’, it’s convinced you that the weird stuff IS true and it’s the world/other people/the government/your partner/Simon Cowell that’s bonkers.
Example. I’m running late. I’ve tried on six different outfits, each worse than the last. Do I cut my losses and face up to the fact that the right outfit will not make new people like me? I do not. My brain says ‘pick the right jumper and your insecurities will magically melt away’. I spend the next half hour vacillating between two identical sweaters, before going back to outfit number one and then cancelling, because now it’s too late to go anyway.
Or this: I’m anxious (at least try and look surprised). As Glen honks the car horn, I do a ‘last-minute check’. I check the oven’s off, the lights are on, the cats are fed, the toaster, the washing machine and the garden (for bears). Is everything switched off? I’ve done it already, but the more I check, the more I need to check again. I shout ‘coming’ before doing a quick recce of the kettle and the upstairs taps. Did I do the oven? Off, off, off, on, off. Eventually, either my head explodes or my husband comes and peels me away from the electrical units.
As we drive off, I’m worrying about the house burning down – but is that really what’s bothering me? No it is not. What’s bothering me is the difficult conversation I’ve had with family. The bills that we hadn’t budgeted for. The cat that’s gone missing. The friend who diagnosed with cancer. But it’s so much easier to focus on the tap. Or the lipstick. These are the things I can control. If I can get them right, I’m safe from all the other bad stuff too.
And for me, that was a large part of my anorexia. I never looked in the mirror and saw a fat person. I never believed that a smaller dress size would make me more attractive. What I did know was that I felt messy – inside and out. I knew that life was scary and there were things I needed but didn’t know if I would ever get. I knew that if I tried to do the things I wanted, I might fail and that was worse than not trying. I knew that I couldn’t make other people love me and I couldn’t stop bad things happening and I didn’t have the answers to the big things like ’ What does a ‘woman’ look like? How can I relate to others? Is it okay to have bad feelings? Why can’t I change?’ …I knew I had a million fears I could never answer on my own. So I focused on the one thing I could control: my body. ‘Fat’ summed up everything in my life that was ever wrong or bad or frightening. And my brain told me: you’re finally in charge. This: this is life.
My brain is full of nonsense. Sometimes it’s (almost) funny – like when I got stressed and ordered a litter of puppies and some hair extensions, (true story but thankfully reversible). Sometimes it doesn’t matter, like when I have a latte and realise I really wanted a tea. But sometimes, it’s poisonous. Sometimes it’s the sort of decisions that leave you dying of an eating disorder. Imprisoned by rituals in your own home. Addicted to substances or surgery. Existing and fighting imaginary battles, instead of facing the truth and starting to live.