Obsessed

FYI: I think I’ll make these a regular feature for purely selfish reasons in that a) I have many random thoughts  and b) I love your additions in the comments. They make my day.

Anyway, here is where I turn off all those readers. I need to ramble incoherently, so buckle up.

I’ve recently become obsessed with “Obsessed,” and the irony of that fact isn’t lost on me. While I in no way deny that I have food issues, I also acknowledge the fact that I’ve had OCD long before it turned into an eating disorder (I would say as early as six or seven years old.)

Anyway, I was “professionally” diagnosed with OCD about five years ago, but was always sent to ED treatment centers due to the fact that my obsessions and compulsions manifest in food and exercise. I’m underweight, and my behaviors, compulsions are rather maladaptive ways to deal with anxiety.

Simple as that, except it isn’t.

If you’ve ever watched the show, you have an idea of how seemingly illogical routines, rituals and compulsions are the only ways some people can even touch on any semblance of normality. Most of the time they’re so deeply ingrained that being a productive member of society and carrying on personal and professional obligations becomes impossible, as anything and everything revolves around the obsessions and compulsions. It’s a mental illness with biological roots, but it’s also often developed as a defense mechanism in response to a traumatic event or situation. It’s not a choice, as the thoughts take over and you feel there are no options or defense against your thoughts.

It’s a mental illness, and it stinks.

“Talk” therapy doesn’t work for me. I know what my issues are, I have a pretty clear picture of how I feel, I have no self-love/body issues and I don’t think that I’m fat. When I feel the need to exercise, it’s not to lose weight. When I feel the need to restrict, it’s not to drop a dress size. Talking about things doesn’t really help, as I need to expose myself to the anxiety-inducing experiences and challenge the thoughts that tell me these routines have to be followed, that I have to do them to feel calm.

Why am I bringing this up?

Good question, (and I’m not sure), but I think it’s in part because lately it seems to me that my indifference towards so many blogs has to do with the fact that I am kind of viewing them through a splintered lens. To be honest, I think there are  different factions of people with eating disorders. Just like OCD, eating disorders are a mental illness, something that I think many people are hesitant to admit.

There obviously is no right or wrong, there is just different, so don’t bite my head off yet.

GROUP 1

One group’s actions are truly motivated by a desire to fulfill some idea physical image they feel they need to attain for happiness or acceptance. For some people, I think it really is about the food on some basic level. Yes, they use it as a tool to manipulate their figure and their thoughts, but once they eat and restore the weight, they are seemingly “fine” over time. I’m not making light of it at all, but it’s almost as if it’s a deadly phase they eventually pass through.

All the focus goes towards food, because if it is about the food and looks, then eating more is the simple answer. There is less of a stigma. It’s a tangible act they can engage in to change their physical appearance, with a side of therapy to build self-love.

GROUP 2

For the other group, I think the development of the disorder is more deeply biologically rooted and motivated from a genuine place of anxiety over things completely unrelated to food, weight and body image. They acknowledge that the disease has everything to do with control, routines, etc. and that the mental aspect of it is the be-all and end-all of the issue.

It has nothing to do with looks or physical beauty, but everything to do with feeling restricted in their choices for no other reason than they are obsessed with finding some sort of contentment, some sort of peace from their racing thoughts. Simply put, it’s an entirely internal struggle that’s often revealed externally. The food becomes directly involved because it is one of the only things that can be completely controlled and predictable. Numbers are tangible, numbers and routines can be used to neatly classify things into tidy groups of solid evidence.

The food and/or exercise are simply one way to try and regain control, as many of these people also have other areas in their lives where they are either restrictive, impulsive or obsessive.

On “Obsessed, the patients logically know that what they’re doing is illogical, but they feel powerless against their thoughts. I can relate to this 100 times more than any ED group, book, blog or video. For me, I feel I HAVE to exercise at times, I HAVE to eat a certain way, etc. or else things go nuts in my mind and I can’t focus on anything else. I know the world won’t end, but I don’t want the discomfort–physical and mental–and I don’t want to be stuck feeling I made the wrong decision.

No, it’s not a worry about my weight or looks, but rather a worry about discomfort and chaos in my head. I want to feel clean, neat and tidy. Even though I know an extra snack here or there won’t “taint” me, it still feels unnatural in the same way that I feel anxiety when someone walks in my house with their shoes on, the toilet paper roll is put on wrong or I can’t do the dishes right away.

WRAPPING IT UP

My point is that there is so much chatter out there about what constitutes health and what constitutes disorder, when in all actuality, we all deal with our issues in different ways. I can in no way relate to those people that see food as the enemy, that are driven by a desire to look a certain way. I know there are people out there than can in no way relate to my issues, and I don’t expect them to.

Regardless of why or how you struggle from any mental illness, I do think that relative “recovery” is entirely possible. However, I believe that in most instances, it’s  impossible to just eat and think that any deeper mental issue is fed and has now disappeared.

Eating disorders are real. OCD is real. Depression is real. Sometimes they overlap, and sometimes there’s no connection.

While food/body image may be the root of the evil for some, for others it’s simply a branch on a very tangled tree. Only by exposing themselves to the anxiety head-on and learning to sit with the discomfort—learning that there are alternative actions to take without their world falling apart—can they begin to recover.

Like I said, there is no right, no wrong, but only where you are right now—and we’re all in different places. Now I just need to figure out how to get on “Obsessed” for my own hour…

We will return to lighter topics in the next post…

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16 responses to “Obsessed

  1. I was just going to post about “Obsessed.” Maybe I still will…tomorrow, perhaps. This show fascinates me. I totally understand their feelings of helplessness in the face of these “HAVE TOs” in their heads. My rules make no logical sense (even to me), but they do have power over me. I think it’s hard for many people with eating disorders to accept the mental illness part of it. It’s a tough pill to swallow. For me, though, I wouldn’t get anywhere if I didn’t accept that this disease is very complicated. Personally, I think anorexia should be a subset of OCD, but I do agree there are some people whose eating disorders don’t seem to fall into this category…

  2. I think there is a third group, which is a combination of the two. I know that I have tendencies of both at least. Really good summary.

    • Agreed. There is most certainly a third group. If I had added that, this most likely would have turned into a term paper 😉

      Great point.

  3. You scare me at every post because it seems to be a mirror image of me in so many ways.
    I used to group the EDs too, when I was in treatment, I called them “breeds” . My friend and I would say, “o yea, shes from a different breed than us”. It sounds awful, I know.
    For me, its mainly the third group I think that maggie talked about. Or that “overlap” you mention. I mean I totally have those OCD issues, but sometimes, I think it IS about the food and the body, even though I may not realize it. I always challenge people when they say, “eating disorders are NOT about the food”. Yes, its SO much more than the food, but in most cases, you cant ignore there is food issue. I guess I was so bored with my life, so empty inside, and the eating disordered rituals filled that void, I was “full of rituals” (pun intended). I remember whining to my therapist “why couldnt I have that OCD where I want to clean everything, then at least I’d have a spotless apartment!” . And your right, everybody’s disorder manifests a little differently, its kind of like finger prints.
    Anyhow, wonderful post, as usual. have you ever seen “Hoarders”? I think the crew from that show might come to my apartment one day and reveal my mild greek yogurt hoarding.

  4. My diagnosis has always been AN, not OCD, but I think over time it has been obsessive compulsiveness that has kept me chained to the AN in ways that really can’t be separated between the two conditions. ESPECIALLY with exercise. When I’m struggling with that, I don’t work out so I can eat more, I eat just enough to allow me to work out, it may seem a subtle difference but it’s actually very significant.

    I’m also addicted to Intervention and obsessed with Obsessed. 😉

    Take care Abby, great post as always.

  5. I haven’t seen “Obsessed” yet but I’m now intrigued. That sort of thinking always has fascinated me. Thanks for sharing. It’s amazing how different two seemingly similar “issues” can really be.

  6. Just stopping back to see the other comments 😀

  7. As usual – I think you are brilliant – and some strange way – i feel you inhabit my mind – but not in the wierd, creepy way it sounds. I think, along with Maggie and Eden that I might be a morph. I am driven my thin. I hate the feeling of ‘fat’. I hate the perception of lack of prefection – even though my old self was not perfection, you are never thin enough, etc. That said – my routines drive me. My mind is nutz. And yes – my control of it through routine, through my morning run – is a calming force in my nutty life. And I also agree that we are all dealing with some sort of issue – and for each person they are different. I am sick of people saying ‘this is healthy’ – ‘that is healthy’ – we all have varying degrees of ‘health’ – ‘healthy living’ – or ‘clean life’. I know this might make no sense – clearly – but in my mind – I know it is not as easy as ‘eating’.

  8. I think that if everyone experienced mental health/illness in the same way, it would be treated more like, say, high blood pressure.

    But we are individuals. Sure we share a bunch of genetics and our DNA is mostly the same, but we are shaped by our family and our experiences and we create our defenses to cope with life and all the stresses that come with it.

    I think a lot of people tend to want to put health and illness in these neat little clean packages when in reality, this is all a continuum. For all of us, hopefully our continuum toward wellness–whatever that means to the individual. Sure there are basic aspects of “health” and that includes the ability to nourish your body with food. But being healthy is so much more than that. I think there are many layers of health and illness.

    So many people here are connecting with your struggles which is quite empowering for everyone involved. I hope you continue your journey toward your wellness.

  9. Ahh, I totally get everything you said and have the same feelings. I also agree with maggie and feel that I’m in that group as well. I developed an ED out of the need to control and focus mild OCD behaviors but as it progressed, I also became more conscious of the physical aspect.

    I’ve never been quite underweight, so treatmeant for me involved therapy and drugs. In fact, I’m still on meds and don’t know when I’ll be able to stop them. If I forget to take them one day, I get thrown off and very anxious, worrying and obsessing over little things. Then I realize why.

    I discussed a lot of these ideas with my therapist. I knew that I needed to stop obsessively counting calories and that being able to eat with other people was okay, but I couldn’t handle the intense anxiety I’d feel if I didn’t have that control. Once I started the meds, things dramatically improved and the “need” to feed my compulsions was easier to drown out. Of course, I don’t consider myself to be a severe case, whatever that means.

  10. Pingback: The Third Group « I Have Issues

  11. This is wonderful, “Numbers are tangible, numbers and routines can be used to neatly classify things into tidy groups of solid evidence.”

    Your description of the battle you fight reminds me of a close family member of mine who has terrible panic attacks several times a week. I’ve spent so much time talking with them about what is going on in their head when in the moment. They have an imminent feeling of certain death or doom that they can’t control. It comes on unprovoked and leaves just as easily. They can’t will it away they only know what they can do to help it not get worse. No one can touch them even though they know logically they wont be hurt.

    As humans almost everything we do is for survival. Physical and mental survival. If something is wrong in our brain, our body finds a way to cope. If that manifests itself in weird rituals / habits / behaviors so be it, if it helps get us through the day without harm.

    Then again, I could be completely wrong.

  12. Pingback: FYIs, part 3 « I Have Issues

  13. Okay, I am like incredibly behind as far as blog-reading goes, but this post makes so much sense to me that I just had to comment. I completely relate to what you wrote about being in the second group. I have been in treatment with a lot of people who would be more in line with the first group, and I have had a hard time understanding them. This makes it a lot clearer!

  14. Holy wow.
    This amazing. To borrow your words?
    “I can relate to this 100 times more than any ED group, book, blog or video”

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