I don’t know that anyone who doesn’t live in the barren countries in Africa or a refugee camp in the Middle East can claim to know or experience true hunger. However, when you suffer from an anxiety disorder that can lead to hospitalisation and hours of seemingly endless regurgitation as I do, I can assure you that hunger is a very real and recurrent sensation.
It is a shame but I cannot actually recall when my inability to eat began, in fact, to put it plainly, I cannot remember a time when I could sit down to eat and not have to fret about how close the bathroom was or how to make sure I always had a cold liquid to hand. It’s been that long! My earliest memories are of me dashing through the halls just beyond Chigwell School dining hall to heave my guts out. The funny thing about the many times when my lunch at school didn’t go to plan was that often I would fly past the deputy head (the school taskmaster) and they were the only times he never told someone off for running in the hallways. Small comfort, I know…
I cannot speculate on the matter of how the trouble started, only that it started when I was very young and still has a hold over my eating habits to this day. I don’t know if it arose on account of how busy a child I was what with musical commitments and studying – yes, I was a geek/nerd at school and am still – but I know that it is nothing whatsoever to do with the actual food. Doctors have diagnosed it as allergies, but been unable to determine the specific allergen, my mother (a pescetarian) reckons it’s because I eat meat, but I believe it is caused by anxiety and stress. I think that at some point during my formative years, I must have thrown up during a meal and thereupon developed a kind of psychosis towards eating with people and in a stressful – aka formal – setting, for I am not sick when I eat alone as much as I am when dining in a restaurant and/or in company.
As I’ve said already, I have been hospitalised on numerous occasions because of this and been referred to a throat and mouth specialist in the hospital later, but I do not care about the blood that shows when I am sick more than once per meal, I can easily disregard the tonsillitis that flares up as a secondary symptom on account of stomach acids aggravating my tonsils, and even the cuts I’ve got on the back of my throat from when I’ve had to stick my fingers down my throat in order to feel better on the third or fourth regurgitation matter very little to me. What I would give anything for to be healed and eliminated is the debilitating sense of failure, wrongness and guilt which accompany the physical sickness.
One of the phrases I am known for using when I see or am referring to a particularly problematic or jarring human being is “it’s like God threw up a person” and though I know it’s not an especially pleasant or eloquent statement, I feel it sums up the sheer inadequacy of the current settings in a situation where you cannot simply press a button to restore factory settings (please pardon the IT Crowd divergence).
The current settings on my body’s mainframe seem to be to fail whenever possible and not backup any crucial information or just shut down at a moment’s notice. In other words, my body is the MS DOS of computers! My body does not function with speed or finesse and cannot do the most basic functions that I expect of it in this – or any, for that matter – day and age. I am now 21 years of age and despite my romantic, mental, sexual and social lives being non-existent or at best deeply dysfunctional, I feel I am well within my rights to beg the divine beings in the world, to just let me be able to sit down to eat without worrying myself and my fellow diners and having to locate the restrooms ahead of time and then panic if they seem more than a minute’s gallop away.
So, to conclude, I guess I am luckier than the poor souls who live without food and don’t know from where their next meal is coming, but (#thirdworldproblems) having a lobster Thermidor or the best bangers and mash in the country (from The Waggon & Horses, Lymington) steaming and appetising on a plate in front of you and then replacing it into a toilet bowl is a kind of Tantalean torture of the 21st century that is hard to bear. All I am saying is that people forget or dismiss depression and anxiety because so often there is no physical repercussion, however, this post serves as proof and a cautionary tale that mental illness can lead to and perpetuate all kinds of physical trauma. Mine is the certain regurgitation and the competition between keeping food down and defeating my body or letting it get the better of me and vacate my stomach. It’s a game of mealtime and a game that until it’s solved and I have help I can not be expected to win. I just have to apologise constantly and continuously to the people with whom I sit down to meals for worrying them and for consistently flying from the table.