I remember once writing in my diary that I hated emotions: This business of feeling…it’s too hard. I peak and trough, go soaring up and come crashing down. I wish I could flatline…that I could keep my emotions steady, static, straight…
Reading that back, the word ‘flatline’ strikes me like a hammer. People flatline when their heart stops, when they are no longer living. I hadn’t meant it that way at the time, but it seems extraordinarily apt.
To live is to feel. If we are not feeling, we are not really living.
Eating disorders are a sort of deadening – a way of numbing ourselves against the things we fear – rejection, loss, not measuring up, etc etc – and the emotions they can create – sadness, hopelessness, despair, self-hatred. And it works, at least for a while. Or at least it seems to.
If I thought of my eating disorder as a colour, it would be white – empty, blank, quiet, calm. And while it’s true that I didn’t feel as vulnerable then, when there were no gaps in my people-proof armour, it’s not true that I didn’t feel anything at all. Looking back through old diaries, all I find during my periods of anorexia or bulimia is evidence of pain, self-hatred and suffering. They were all related to one thing – weight – and so my emotional landscape was a lot smaller, but it’s important to recognise that I still felt. It didn’t make me numb or able to cope, as I’d remembered. It made me a smaller, paler, duller version of myself – but I still felt.
The difference between then and now is that I recognise that there is balance in all things. Yes, there may be times when I feel terrible – hurt, or despairing or anxious – but there will also be times when I feel, like I have recently, absolutely wonderful. I am reconnecting with people and nurturing my friendships – and of course there is always a risk when other people are involved, when we make ourselves vulnerable and open up – but then there is also laughter and fun and meaning and honest happiness.
I think about that blank whiteness I ascribed to my eating disorder, and it makes me sad that I made everything so empty and so plain for myself. I imagine my interior life then as a blank white page – no writing, no colour, no pictures. No-one would have wanted to read it. No-one would have spent time looking for the details that might be there, but only obscured.
Pages are meant for writing on. Lives are meant to be full. And emotions – good and bad – are part of that full, rich life.
So no more blank pages. We should scrawl and scribble. Make great art, make mistakes. We should paint outside the lines, write what we feel, and honour our emotions. Be who we are – a full spectrum of colour, a million brilliant shades.