I’ve lived with the shadow of anorexia for 45 years and have spent a lot of that time trying to understand why this happened to me. It took me nine years to physically recover: weight within a normal range, regular periods and less sensitivity to the cold. But in my inner world the duality continued. As I understood myself more, it lessened.
Ageing is confronting in a world where beauty is valued and financially rewarded. Although the body ages slowly, the changes are possibly more apparent to someone living with an eating disorder. Many women my age, 55 plus, have either not been diagnosed nor have they ever been treated for their eating disorders.
In times of stress, they shed kilograms. Old ghosts come calling. Loved ones notice but no one knows quite how to help. A common misconception is that women that age should have grown out of it by now. Mid-life has unique pressures; ageing parents, health crises, raising teens, marital discord, divorce, return to the work place because of financial pressure…. And of course menopause!
In middle age women, (I can only comment from my perspective), fight becoming invisible. I thought it was just me, but when I spoke to others I realised that they too, feared losing their purpose. I found this talk on YouTube which discusses this very issue: A Woman Over 50
Studies are now revealing a massive resurgence in the prevalence of Eating Disorders in Middle Aged Women This trend seems universal in first world societies. It’s hardly surprising. This group of women have have fallen through the cracks. Striving for perfection ,their lives personify perfection; the perfect marriage, house, career and family. But they continue to struggle with the bathroom mirror each morning as the root cause of their illness has not been identified. It takes time to pin it down, own it and daily vigilance keep it in check.
It is easier with the love and support of an understanding of a partner. But many people living with anorexia find it hard to share the complex war zone their inner world has become. After a while it seems abnormally normal. The quiet voice of the self fades, unheard and unable to advocate.
Menopause is a crazy time in itself. The hot flushes and sleep deprivation alone are enough to tip the mental balance. I didn’t understand how much I valued my fertility until it waned. Being able to have a child, mattered to me more than I could have imagined. And then my body changed shape, as fat deposits were laid down to augment my flagging oestrogen supplies. I got fatter. My waist line expanded.
I have found it hard accepting the new me; a woman who can no longer bear children, has large breasts and a slight paunch. The compliment, ‘But you look wonderful for a woman your age,’ is belittling. A conversation between my rational mind and my desire to be beautiful continues. I’m talking about ‘big picture,’ beauty. This statement sounds very shallow. Vain. For me, the road to accepting ‘I am enough,’ has been long. And I’m still navigating the terrain.
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