Make Anorexia Boring Again

July 14, 2017 § 1 Comment


Inpatient hospitalization: as boring as it gets. Photo: Netflix.

Been reading and hearing a lot about To The Bone, a new Netflix movie on anorexia out today. Like a lot a lot–mostly mixed reviews, with most of the criticism centering on the inherent trickiness of representing anorexia cinematically (see here. And here. And omg, here!). Because it is an illness that already depends so heavily on the visual, specifically a glamorization of wasting, creating an accurate portrayal in film seems to unavoidably risk playing into the core logic of the disorder. Any visual representation–and maybe any representation at all–becomes thinspo in the end. Anorexia is like a meaning machine, transforming every attempt to disrupt it into a tactic of reproduction. (Actually, depression works a lot like this too, which is why it’s frustrating as fuck to try to help with someone who’s depressed. Any possibility offered, any interpretation of reality that counters that of the depression, automatically gets converted into evidence of total impossibility.) « Read the rest of this entry »

a sister, a double

December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

it was a dream where s was with me. she was silent, she sat close by. a double, a sister. a dimension of self that protects. she was there when i was sitting in a chair before your desk as you worked, your attention elsewhere, anywhere else. me trying so hard not to disturb, reading words on a page with eyes cast down. not talking even tho i wanted to. because i knew you didn’t want it. trying so hard to please. thinking as i always have that if only i was small enough. to fit through the cracks of fear or indifference, the seismic faults shaken open in fragile ground. tiny enough, like the way i would slink inside the building to your office, hoping no one’s eyes would snag on my back, wondering who and what. later s and i drove together in a truck, me in the driver’s seat, she beside. still a silent presence, a season before men, a stillness within me making sure i know that i am free. to speak. that i am equal: to be spoken to, to be deserving of response.

like a leaf

December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

i don’t think much about the scars on my arms anymore. i used to be very self conscious. i’d never wear sleeveless tops or even short sleeves that showed too much arm. if i saw anyone looking at my arm alarmedly i’d feel upset and ashamed. now i wear sleeveless shirts and don’t even think about whether anyone is looking or what they might be thinking. the scars have become just another part of my body, rather than something extraneous to or in excess of it.

so, it surprised me when my 3 year old daughter noticed for the first time that i have scars on my arms – slashes from self-inflicted razor cuts and two large, raised areas from burns. she pointed to the largest burned area and said, “what’s that?”

“it’s a scar,” i said.

“does it hurt you?” she asked.

“no.” i arranged thoughts in my head, thinking of how to explain answers to any further questions in terms she could understand.

but the only other comment she had was, “it looks like a leaf!”

i realized it did, and that this view of things had never before occurred to me.


December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

when I was little more
than a little girl
I took a 1000 mile trip
with a boy who told me
it was ok to starve
myself if that’s what
I wanted to do; who
justified my resentment
of those who would
restrain me, curtail my desire
to disappear. for years after that
trip, after we had been broken up
for years he occupied
a space of rage in my
thoughts: how could he have
how dared he tell me
I had the freedom to die,
even as he imprisoned me
through forced confessions of love?
how dare he abet
my own self violence?
but I see now that I wanted
that violence, then
for reasons of my own:
for reasons of my own desire
to purge myself of desire
and so I see
that he was right to insist
that my body, too, was my own
to mutilate or to torture
or to heal:

I had to get over that shit myself,
see; I had to get over that shit

how to swallow pills bigger than a pea: a primer for people like us

December 25, 2013 § 1 Comment



UPDATE 2016: ice cream. ice cream is the best throat lube in town. thick and sticky enough to coat even the biggest pills, tasty enough to mask any pill odors or flavors that might make swallowing additionally difficult. it’s the only thing i use anymore.


i’ve developed osteoporosis in my mid-30s from a lifetime of underweight caused by mental intensity of various kinds. not eating has been the go-to compulsive ritual historically triggered by decades of otherwise unmanaged anxiety, and it’s had profound consequences for my bone density. i was informed by a traditional doctor recently that i should take one of the osteoporosis drugs they market for older women – boniva or fosamax or similar. i didn’t want to do this as the drugs have not been tested on or evaluated for effectiveness in pre-menopausal women, yet have some gnarly side effects (remember phossy jaw, from 19th century working conditions in match factories? hell naw). so i visited a naturopath for a second opinion.

she ran a test that measured my bone metabolism (which is the ratio of bone building to bone destroying chemicals, which gives a better picture of where your bones are at than the DEXA scan normally used) and then prescribed a shit ton of bone building nutritional supplements, and also brain supplements to treat the underlying anxiety/depression issues. which is all cool in that i have an alternative to the boniva stuff but also presents its own challenge, in that i am a terrible pill swallower. terrible. and i’m now supposed to take about 15-20 pills a day. it doesn’t help that my anxiety and depression has historically manifested as issues around swallowing, eating, and vomiting–fears of things entering and exiting my stomach. but as i am now trying to heal the physical results of this underlying mental history, it’s a challenge i’m determined to deal with.

one of the upsides is that i’ve compiled a short list of unlikely tips for others in my boat. so, here are some pill swallowing tips for those who have a hard time swallowing pills: « Read the rest of this entry »

The Politics of Madness: Claiming Idiopathy, Or the Ordinariness of Mystery

December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

The final paper for a graduate course in disability studies, which I took back in 2002 during my first quarter in graduate school. The course was the first time I really thought about my own history of psychological weirdness in a critical way–or even as something I “had” that I could think about. I spent most of my early years desperately trying to appear normal by hiding mood states, anxiety levels, and compulsions that from my earliest years I regarded as too bizarre to even speak about. Only later did I realize how normal it was to not be normal, or that what I experienced many other people did too. I had no idea at all.


Shame and fear are personal burdens, but if these tales are told, we can demonstrate how the personal is indeed the political.

–Simi Linton, Claiming Disability

Winds, writes Shigehisa Kuriyama, “[can] never be truly known” (2002: 269): and in the disparity between the muscular body of the Veslius and the ample-bodied yogic, we see diverging cultural responses to the similar problem that wind presents. According to Kuriyama, both ancient Greek and ancient Chinese medicine viewed wind as the primary cause of illness and bodily disorder; to both cultures, wind represented the ultimately unknowable, elusive nature of the world, its unsettling mystery and unpredictability—and hence the fragility and mystery of the body as well, simultaneously the object of cosmic whimsy and the agent of its own strange and inexorable logic. Wind, Kuriyama writes,

embodied contingency and chance, the obstinate halo of uncertainty that made all science mere approximation. Because they arose unexpectedly, spontaneously, irregularity, because they made harsh, abrupt shifts, winds became associated especially with the most, dramatic, sudden afflictions—with strokes, epilepsy, madness. (258)

The response of both Chinese and Greek medicine to the problem of uncertainty—easily associated with corporeal existence—was to cultivate an understanding of the body as impervious to the reality of impermanence, mutability, and sudden change: the Greeks through the creation of the muscular body, the body as sinewy instrument of the will; the Chinese through the full and rounded body, the body at harmony with its surroundings and hence untouched by both internal desire and external chaos.

To the ancient mind as well as to our own, the body kept itself secret, and both Chinese and Greek medicine sought to divulge this hidden truth by speaking the language of medicine, the delineating language of order imposed.


I begin with Kuriyama because of the shape of my madness: because I recognize myself in the mind of antiquity, with its worries about instability and abrupt change, the ever-potential threat of mutiny and reversal of fortune. The shape of my madness, then, takes the shape of ancient Chinese and Greek science: like ancient medicine, my madness is a desperate attempt to seal myself off from chance and contingency, to impose the silencer of my own will upon the unruly truth of my body. I will return to this idea—the particular shape of my madness—later in the essay, though I will touch upon it throughout.

I want to begin, however, by prefacing such discussion with a few preliminary remarks about what I aim to do in this essay. In addressing what I have learned this term as a scholar of disability, I find that I cannot do so without speaking about the difference that I have always both recognized within me and tried strenuously to disavow. It was, in fact, the knowledge of my own long-unspoken strangeness that originally drew me to the subject of disability studies, with its prospect of a liberatory politics of the weird, a revolution of the physically and mentally variant: the “gangly, pudgy, lumpy, and bumpy” (1998: 3)—as Linton puts it—but also the crazy, unstable, unable, and unfit. My secret identification with this project drew me in, and it has been my referent throughout the term, my continual point of comparison and contact (to borrow from Susan Crutchfield and Marcy Epstein). I cannot talk about disability studies, then, without talking about this strangeness, this difference. « Read the rest of this entry »

Emetophor: Notes Toward an Abandoned Video Project

December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

These are notes on a video project I once imagined releasing on YouTube, about my lifelong experience with emetophobia (phobia of vomiting and seeing others vomit). I still may complete the project one day, although emetophobia has lessened its grip over my day-to-day life to the degree that I’ve learned about and treated the underlying–and also lifelong–anxiety disorder of which it is simply an expression. That being said, I still feel like the video would be helpful for others, from fellow emetophobes to scholars of embodiment to therapists. 


video installments:

–introduction (purpose of videos. inspired by series on anorexia. why this format – anonymous, but also simultaneously public and intimate. who i am – academic, emetophobe – and how that informs my approach/goals.)

–what is emetophobia (clinical understanding, statistics, what kind of research has been done, gaps in research, most helpful information comes from largely online community. It is not just a fear of vomit or vomiting, but a complex condition characterized primarily by shame, anxiety, and panic at the prospect of violating social proscriptions against “losing control” of one’s body, especially in public settings)

–my story (prob several parts, draw on essay i wrote for kudlick’s class)

–emetophobia as metaphor: the western excretory imaginary and where vomit fits in (relation to my project on excreta…the negativity of the body, the desire for social acceptability through bodily control, the status of vomit relative to other kinds of excreta, vomit as irredeemably abject.)

–story of my treatment attempts: what i did, what worked, what didn’t (talk therapy as a means of exploring personal metaphoricity of emetophobia, necessary approach but ultimately not sufficient for me.)

–the anxiety and phobia workbook and how it changed my thinking about the phobia (led me to realize that altho technically a specific phobia, involves significant dimensions of other anxiety disorders, i.e. social phobia, agoraphobia, panic disorder. “cure” came from getting away from specific content of phobia and dealing with its symptoms as I might agoraphobia, social anxiety, panic attacks, etc)

–emetophobia and eating disorders (personal history of anorexia, how emetophobia complicates this history, overlaps/differences between anorexia and emetophobia. Example of Intervention episode with Nicole – diagnosed as eating disorder, but primarily panic disorder or PTSD as a result of sexual assault that manifests as struggles around eating/swallowing. As in this case, emetophobia is primarily an anxiety disorder that gets expressed physically in ways that can resemble anorexia. That being said, my body doesn’t know the difference between intentional starvation and not eating because I’m anxious about throwing up, and the ramifications for my physical health have been enormous. I have been underweight pretty much all of my adult life, and in my 20s I have had to deal with a diagnosis of borderline osteoporosis and dental problems stemming I think from loss of bone density—thinning enamel. This is damage I can’t remedy easily, if at all, and it’s taken me 5 years to work through my grief over this damage enough that I can be proactive about doing what I can do preserve my health. Only now can I face the reality that there are life and death stakes in learning how to better deal with my anxieties about embodiment without this reality overwhelming and paralyzing me. And so I make a conscious effort to eat even if I’m anxious about eating, and I do weight bearing exercise regularly, and I floss daily and brush with an electric toothbrush and get regular cleanings.)

–for the therapeutic community: 5 misconceptions about emetophobia, 5 suggestions for improving treatment

–emetophobia and pregnancy/parenthood: how i coped/how I am coping

  • did not have morning sickness very bad. However, when I did it wasn’t very bad, and for me was mixed up with hunger. Somehow nausea I felt in pregnancy was less scary than other nausea, bc it meant something different, because it was mixed up with joy I felt at being fertile and pregnant.
  • So if you’re emetophobic and wanting to get pregnant but feeling scared, remember that being PG doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel sick or get sick
  • toward the end of my pregnancy, I was terrified not of feeling pain, but that I would feel sick and vomit during labor (my midwives said about a third of women did). When I actually went into labor, my stomach was totally unaffected. The process felt like it was happening somewhere else in my body and didn’t reach my stomach. Afterwards I recognized that even if I had, I might not have cared—labor is that intense; it puts you outside your normal mental and physical frame of reference.
  • One major way I personally handled anxiety about the unknown physicality of labor was to give birth at home with midwives. I realize this is not necessarily desirable for everyone. but for me, so much of emetophobia is about fear of losing control of my body, esp in a social setting where I’m surrounded by people I don’t know. I knew that giving birth in a hospital would intensify my anxieties, so I chose a setting where I knew I’d feel most relaxed, uninhibited and unconcerned about being judged and evaluated. Others might conversely feel safer and less anxious in a hospital. The point is that thinking about birth setting and what will make you most comfortable is important, and can help with anxieties around the labor process.
  • that being said, I really really worked hard while I was pregnant to anticipate what underlay my deepest anxieties about labor and how I would cope if the worst happened. This exercise turned out not to be necessary during labor, but it is the basis of the practical strategies I recommend in other video
  • Something my therapist said that helped a lot when I was dealing with anxiety about flying (related to emetophobia—scared of being trapped and feeling sick, being unable to leave, scared the plane would make me feel sick): think of the end goal and focus all energy on that. yes, the getting there is uncomfortable, but in the end it will be worth it. Keep yr eye on the prize. And the more I did it, the less scared I became of flying. Today I’m not scared at all.
  • This is also helpful when thinking about the bigger challenge of having kids who inevitably get sick. when my daughter has been sick, it has been hard for me. I get really stressed out and anxious. But I HANDLE IT. And one of the ways I’ve been able to handle it is to keep reminding myself that the uncomfortable situation of dealing with throwing up and worrying about throwing up myself is worth the end goal, which is to make sure my daughter feels cared for and loved when she feels bad. That is more important to me than the getting there, as hard as the getting there is—just like arriving and seeing my family is worth the discomfort of the plane ride.
  • I also reframe these situations mentally in a similar way to how they teach you to reframe childbirth. Instead of thinking of it as suffering, painful, horrible etc, think of it as intense, challenging—something that you will get through, and that will make you stronger.

–for emetophobes: general strategies that have helped me

  • Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, esp breathing exercises
  • Recognizing that the problem is not vomiting, it’s anxiety. Realizing that feeling of anxiety/panic (about whatever) is 1000 times worse than actually feeling sick
  • So, learning to distinguish fear of vomiting from feeling sick. being able to redirect fear chatter to more meta-level statements: from “what’s my stomach doing, what if, I feel scared!” to “I’m feeling a lot of anxiety right now” which puts me in a more practical frame of mind, i.e. I’ve identified a problem, which leads me to come up with potential solutions.
  • Shifting ultimate goal from “getting rid” of anxiety/phobia to learning how to live with it, meaning how to compensate for it. Anticipating that living with realistically includes a certain amount of setbacks, where anxiety takes over and affects my eating habits. Thus, not beating myself up over setbacks, but learning how to get back on the wagon and continue to make progress (for me, exercise and eating to gain weight).
  • Exercise and eating right refocuses attention on body but in a positive way. I have found that when I avoid eating because I’m anxious about my body, my anxiety gets worse. I now try to take an empirical approach: I’ll try eating a little something and see how I feel. If I really don’t feel like eating, I can stop. But 9 times out of 10, I find that eating makes me feel better—physically, but also psychologically in that I’ve confronted my fear and moved through it.
  • Writing exercises I did in preparation for childbirth useful for anyone

–phobia in a disability studies context – invisible disability and the importance of resisting shame and stigma (paradox of its being 5th most common phobia yet surrounded by shame and silence) and the necessity of talking about it (to “come out”, to draw attention to need for more research, to draw attention to how it’s been framed in unhelpful ways). Personal, psychological, political importance of destigmatizing the body itself, of refusing a social refusal of its excretory functionality.

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