I remember vividly the age at which my silence was broken. At 13 my childlike inner monologue was hijacked and replaced with a savage, unrelenting chatter. This was when I met her, the monkey on my back. And what an impish, cunning little monkey she was.
In the years that followed she came and went as she pleased in different disguises. Short spells of silence would pass before she soothed her way into my grey matter once again. My ally at first, then very suddenly my foe. The ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I have never met anyone able to grasp the concept of disordered eating. You see, with other diagnoses it is much simpler. Much more objective: the alcoholic and their poison of choice; the smoker who swears it is nothing more than ‘recreational’; the compulsive cleaner and their desire for perfect order. Their vices are so obvious in comparison.
To me, she is not a ‘monkey’ or a ‘vice’. She is quite simply ‘the voice’. She took up her maddening residency and became a cruel and tormenting teacher to me at a very impressionable age. The only outward evidence of her existence is my shrinking body.
Her first lesson for me—Deception.
She taught me to lie convincingly and when my stomach churned with guilt she taught me how to stifle it. We made little games of hiding food or leaving evidence which would give people the impression that I had eaten. When I obeyed, she rejoiced, ‘Way to go girl!’.
I lapped up the praise and felt victorious in these little acts. The more I obeyed the more ambitious she became and whilst my appetite became non-existent, she became ravenous.The goalposts changed with each lesson learned.When I didn’t obey, living with her was impossible.
Imagine you are the mother to a newborn baby. You are sleep deprived and physically exhausted with a huge dose of ‘baby brain’. Your baby wants to be nurtured tirelessly, with no consideration for things like work or dishes or mealtimes. You soldier on through the ridiculous juggling act right up until your newborn’s cry pierces the air. Suddenly, everything melts into the background, losing any value it had before. Every fiber in your body is now concentrated on getting your baby to stop crying. To restore the calm you felt before because concentrating on anything else is now completely futile. This is what it is like to disappoint or defy the voice. She is the master of manipulation. Every reflection was similar to being trapped in a carnival’s house of mirrors. I was a distorted, disgusting, indistinguishable mass who’s only salvation was in grueling morning exercise regimes. To me, every new rib, collar bone, and notch in my spine which became visible was a new link in my suit of armor. She made my hand tremble and constricted my throat at the sight of food.
Even now, she shrieks and recoils at so much as a lover’s caress, disgusted with my betrayal of her. So it is so much easier to comply if it means she will let me carry out the most basic of tasks without her incessant, tormenting wails.
It is only now I realize that covering up for her is the equivalent to a timid wife laughing off the countless bruises on her body with a “clumsy me! I never look where I’m going”. Underneath my obsessive calorie counting and pixie like features, there is something darker and more complex at work—much more than my therapist’s list of cause and effects. These are only the tip of the iceberg. By keeping her presence hidden, I allow the monkey to claw evermore tightly around me and unless I reveal the tyrannous hold she has on me, her incessant chatter will remain our secret.
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