Perfectionism pokes the Sleeping ED

Over the years my ED lay dormant, a salient spore. I knew stress triggered me and I coped by setting unrelenting standards for myself. Enter the perfectionist. But which perfectionist? Was there more than one?

I employed three:

  • The punitive critic
  • The demanding critic
  • The guilt inducing critic

Slippery and deceptive, I have just begun to honestly face them.

old room

At 22, I moved interstate, suffered intense homesickness and began eating fresh bread lashed with butter and jam for comfort. Previously a twig, I began to bloom, well I bulged weighing in heavier than I’d been in all my adult life. But I moved to Melbourne in search of greater clinical experience and the kilos just fell away.

Premarital jitters and the stress of organising a wedding whittled me down further. And when the big day came I had to sew darts into my dress to keep it up, Hollywood Tape yet to be invented. I felt it as I got ready to go to the church, the poke of the ED and its chosen messenger the perfectionist. The perfectionist had moved in.

The feelings passed and the perfectionist went underground for many years. At 30, the birth of my first daughter re-awakened it. A simple statement, complimenting a young childless health fiend in lycra woke the critic. Its punitive nature full of helpful advice.  ‘Should.’ And I did; sit ups, pelvic floor, walking. My crying baby needed all the love I could muster. and again the extra kilos and more melted away.

The critic slept soundly for many years. My children grew, I returned to work, I embraced the superwoman persona and I thought I was okay. My daughters entered adolescence and I hit early menopause at the same time. They bloomed as I faded: a flurry of greys, anxiety and wrinkles.

The ED turned over but went back to sleep. I didn’t think about it nor did I fear anorexia becoming a choice my girls might make. I hugged them, I loved hugging them even when they pushed me away. Accusations came my way. ‘You are doing that rib thing making sure I’m not getting too thin?’ Was I? I didn’t think so but maybe …

I stopped using scales, I ate healthy and I transitioned from running to walking. When my children flew the coup, all three in a five week period, I realised I’d been in a tunnel and now stood face to face with a different life, unable to choose, awash in freedom.

I looked at my girls and marvelled at their beauty, inside and out. The critic bit hard. Was I jealous? No. I just didn’t want to get old. So I fought back, diet, exercise, fake fingernails and hair dye. It sort of worked. ‘Oh, you look great for a woman your age!’ I cringed, I hate provisos.

I then came across an article about a resurgence of EDs, especially anorexia in menopausal women. Most like myself had somehow slipped through the cracks, avoiding treatment. Many of us had become more normal in appearance, than you menopause and metabolic changes. The ED woke at times, an enraged critic unleashed internal mayhem. I want to age with grace but found myself conflicted.

I have accepted help, not because I thought I needed it, but because life cracked me open and I couldn’t hold it together any more. Perfectionism had set the bar to high. I have had to look at my life honestly not through the distorting lenses of schemas. Although I have kept anorexia at bay, it still breathed within. I’m looking forward to not sharing my inner world with the critic any longer.

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