Many of us with eating disorders, like to personify the illness as a separate person or voice. ‘Ana’ for Anorexia and ‘Mia’ for Bulimia. Don’t get me wrong; Ana is definitely not a ‘friend’ even though the internal voice I hear says otherwise. Personifying my eating disorder is definitely something that I found rather useful in my road to recovery.
When I was in the depths of my illness, I thought anorexia was ‘me’. I thought (and still think at times) that I was worthless and did not deserve to eat. Yes, there was a voice, but I did not know how to separate myself from this voice and so this was one of the reasons why I found it so hard to get better. I blamed myself. It was my fault.
By separating the illness from myself, did take that power away from the disorder. Talking back to ‘Ana’ gives us back the control we thought we needed; the right kind of control. Anorexia, for me, is a coping mechanism. It keeps me inside the comfort zone of my eating disorder. Therefore, the internal voice can easily become strong, loud and controlling and it can isolate you, in a very dangerous way. Listening to ‘Ana’ gave me a false sense of security when my treatment team wanted to help me. Ana did not want to get better. I wanted to get better, but Ana didn’t. So, everything my treatment team told me to do, I did the opposite. I became sicker.
I now know when Ana is prevalent. I learnt to become more aware of when she strikes and then talk back to it. Separating it from myself. For example, my dietician wants me to have full fat milk with my latte instead of ‘skinny’ skimmed milk. I wait in the queue for my turn in a coffee shop – there’s Ana in my head saying: “Habiba, you can’t have full fat milk with your latte. It’s FAT. You’re going to get fat. Don’t even go near it. A skinny latte is safe. Or, a black coffee. You don’t need the calories. You don’t need the fat.” Then, there is a more rational voice in my head, which I guess is the real me, saying: “Listen to your dietician. You need to get better. Have the full fat latte. You won’t get fat at all. You need the calories. You need to nourish your body. You deserve it.”
I talk back to ‘Ana’ saying I won’t listen to her and that she is wrong. I won’t get fat and I do need the calories. When I go against Ana, somehow the voice, the disorder, the power becomes small. It feels like I got one over the disorder. I feel powerful. I feel in control. Also, letting people know about Ana, can help too. That way, when the eating disorder is prevalent in your head, they would know and they can even help you separate yourself from the voice.
Personifying your eating disorder may not be for everyone. It is rather controversial in the eating disorder community – but it does help a lot of sufferers. It reminds me that, I am not my eating disorder. It is separate from me. An eating disorder is a mental illness. Not an identity. Ana is a liar and you now have a choice whether to listen to her or not.
This post was published in The Huffington Post.