Anorexia 'the squatter'
by Rebecca Millar
Rebecca Millar takes us inside the mind of an anorexic and tells us how she has learned to live with the eating disorder she calls ‘the squatter’
Have you ever experienced a niggle that you can’t get rid of? Like a constant rattle in a car, or an annoying little brother, or maybe a pig-headed squatter? Well, that’s what anorexia is like. Yes, it’s what you could call a ‘psychological squatter’. A stranger who invades your personal space and changes everything. Not only does it affect the exterior, but the interior too.
Just like a house that has been overtaken by squatters, anorexia strips you of your personality and dramatically changes your appearance and outlook. It’s persistent and draining. Clever and manipulative, it takes ownership of every nook and cranny. It may have felt like a friend when it first showed up but, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it quickly shows its true colours and becomes a firm enemy.
‘The ‘house’ is yours in principal but an intruder moves in and gets its feet well and truly under the table. Stubborn, resistant, unpredictable – it’s the tenant from hell!’
The ‘house’ is yours in principal but an intruder moves in and gets its feet well and truly under the table. Stubborn, resistant, unpredictable – it’s the tenant from hell. It’s intrusive yet elusive. It takes control of what should be yours, yet it is so difficult to take hold of and pin down. The more you try, the more it digs its heels in. This creates anger, anxiety and tension with ‘neighbours’ and those around you who resent this unwelcome visitor.
This is when you get two choices to remedy the problem. You can try and totally evict the ‘squatter’ in one go, but from my experience this is likely to create a backlash.
The long-term solution is to come to an understanding. Realise and accept that this is likely to be a problem which might rear its head again but co-operate
and come to an agreement whereby it can stay, as long as it keeps out of the way and doesn’t cause any problems. It’s advisable to bring in the experts to finalise a plan on how best to go about this and manage the situation. The more support you have, the more informed your choices will be and you will be better equipped to take action. Just make sure it is from someone who you trust.
Finding the right help is a bit like picking through a box of Quality Street, (clever housing and chocolate analogy, eh?) Some you’ll like, some you won’t, but you don’t know until you try. And just because you don’t like one of them, it doesn’t mean that you won’t like the next one. It’s trial and error. The important thing is that you give it a go and find out what ticks the boxes for you. In my own experience, I tried everything in the early stages: hypnotherapy, neurolinguistic programming (tapping), acupuncture, dieticians. These all helped in the short term, but I found it difficult to sustain my recovery as they weren’t focused on why I found it difficult to eat and I didn’t know what triggered my downward spiral. I also worked with a specialist from the eating disorders team, but we didn’t really get along and so I stopped seeing her.
The more support you have, the more informed your choices will be and you will be better equipped to take action.
Beware! Anorexia does not conform to diagnostic frameworks. It has the capacity to frustrate and ‘polarise’ families, friends and clinicians alike. Treatment is person-centred and unique. Don’t deal with it on your own.
I also rejected the GP who first diagnosed my eating disorder, as I felt she was interfering in my life. I believed I could go it alone, but quickly relapsed and ended up worse than I did the first time anorexia really took hold. After all, I knew what I was doing the second time round and it seemed to be the only thing I felt good at.
After a lot of persuasion, I went back to my local surgery and saw a different GP. He really understood and didn’t pretend to know it all. He got in contact with the Lincolnshire anorexia nervosa service and sought advice on how to facilitate my recovery.
GPs and nurses are in a tricky situation. There are so many aspects of anorexia – physical, psychological and existential – that they may possibly struggle to understand, compared to the experience and practice of a specialist.
I was lucky that my GP referred me to another member of the anorexia nervosa service team. We really clicked and he soon found out how I ended up with ‘the squatter’. We found ways of turning what I was doing into positive action. He noticed I was ‘bloody-minded’ and saw that as my strength. We are now putting in place a long-term plan, which includes a ‘toolkit’ to avoid relapsing and to help me identify my triggers.
“I am refurbishing the hole which I once existed in and filling it with happiness and a promising future”
Since then, I have been making a gradual recovery. My GP still keeps a check on my health and my therapist works on the emotional side of my illness and gives me practical options.
Now comes the fun part! We are forming an ‘agreement’ for my recovery. I am getting to redecorate and transform what had become a dilapidated shell into a masterpiece! I am refurbishing the hole which I once existed in and filling it with happiness and a promising future. You could say the hole is now becoming whole – knowing that even though my squatter is still in residence, it will behave itself and do as it’s told! I am becoming who I am and I like it!
So, you may think anorexia is a lifestyle choice – I think not. What will it give you? I’d say: squat!
Anorexia Nervosa: a survival guide for families, friends and suffers by Janet Treasure. Published by Brunner-Routledge
Buy this and other useful books here.
With thanks to The Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust for writing this article for Uncovered magazine issue 3.
For more information on eating disorders please also see
- What are Eating Disorders?
- Eating Disorders - Types of Eating Disorder
- Eating Disorders - Treatment
- Eating Disorders - Caring for Someone with Eating Disorders