epsilon_pegasi: (khamaseen: rainbow)
[personal profile] epsilon_pegasi posting in [community profile] animal_quills

 

 

Eating disorders and therianthropy can interact in some very nasty ways. During the throes of an eating disorder, I convinced myself that my body was just a cage containing the “real” me. I only needed to loose enough weight to unlock this cage, and because of my therianthropy, what lay inside that cage was my animal side. Lacking knowledge about how my animal identity was preventing me from realizing my disorder and heal from it was a huge hurdle. I write this essay in hopes that any animal person with an eating disorder in the future may find it, and that it will help them on the path to healing and self-discovery.

The first step, arguably the most difficult step, of healing from an eating disorder is just admitting that you have an eating disorder. It can be even more difficult than usual when convinced that many eating disorder behaviors originate from an animal identity. At one point in my life, I had managed to convince myself that vomiting daily was natural for me because vultures projectile vomit as a fear reaction. I had to realize that just because my animal side behaved in one way doesn’t mean I could still behave that way in a human body. The human body could be damaged or killed by many non-human behaviors, and vomiting every time I felt anxious was one of them. Also, I eventually realized that identifying with vultures was just an excuse, as my animal side isn’t a vulture at all. But in the darkness of the disorder, how could I have seen that?

Body dysmorphia refers to the delusions people who suffer from eating disorders have about their bodies. Basically, they don’t’ know what their bodies look like. They have a warped perception. One of the exercises I did during treatment had me draw a life sized outline of myself on the wall, and I then had to press myself against it and have my instructor outline me. The outline of my real body and the body I thought I had were dramatically different. There was almost three feet of difference in the body I drew from memory and the body my instructor traced. Species dysphoria can complicate body dysmorphia further. Not only was I hallucinating about the physical reality of my body, but I couldn’t recognize that physical reality as valid even when I broke through the dysmorphia. It didn’t feel like I had progressed at all. It was an endless nightmare where the outward projection of myself was never “correct” in my view.

I convinced myself that my body was the enemy. Not only was it the “wrong” body, the body of a human, but it was fat and disgusting. A cage of cellulite surrounded me from all sides. I felt like the “real me” was trapped inside of this fat prison. That real me was an animal. Although I knew on the surface that it wasn’t logical at all to feel like this, I couldn’t help but think that if I only managed to be thin enough, that I would unlock my inner animal. If I couldn’t be thin, then I would never be an animal.

Exercise became an addiction. Not only did it burn away calories, but the adrenaline felt euphoric when shifting. In those moments of running, I could almost see a light at the end of the tunnel. I was on my way to “true animality” actualized through weight loss. I thought I was going to be thin, and then I was going to be an animal. I was delusional.

What I was really creating was a cat with no claws, a giraffe with no neck, and an owl with no wings. I was rejecting my body, which is such a huge part of myself, and in doing so was rejecting the actual “real me.” Animal and all. The eating disorder was not only complicated by therianthropy, but I could never unlock that animal as long as I rejected myself. I had to heal, and learn to take myself for who I am. My body, still bony from the aftermath, but healthy, is a part of me. After realizing that, I “awakened” more openly. The only cage I had put my animal into was the prison of my sickness. Unlocking that cage involved realizing that I had a problem, going through treatment, and learning to love every part of myself. Love the human body as much as the animal inside.

 

Date: 2013-01-07 12:23 am (UTC)
avia: Poster for the Black Swan movie, top half is a white swan on a black background, bottom is a skeleton black swan on red. (black swan)
From: [personal profile] avia
Wow. I'm a little shocked to see this, because I had a very similar experience. I've never seen anything like this written about animal and eating disorders, and I've only met a couple of people who said that their ED had anything to do with identity, so I felt a little alone.

For me it was a few things... being bird meant being thin and fragile and light. And the lighter I was, the more it would be possible to fly, if it ever did become possible for me to have wings. As well, the bigger I was, the more of my body, my wrong human body, existed. Not having a body, making the body disappear, would be better than having the wrong body.

I think there was a real dysphoria, too, as well as delusion. My body image is an animal that IS very light, being a bird. (A swan is one of the heaviest living birds, but compared to a human, still light.) So it's natural that my body would feel "too heavy". In a way, it was right, which makes it more difficult to fight, because you want to be closer to your body image and that's a true goal... but I had to realize, in a human body, that is not possible by starving.

I think two things helped me to begin on the path of recovery. One was, admitting to my self that I never would want to stop. There was no end to this, it was just destruction and destruction without end, and so the fantasy of "when my body is right, I'll stop..." was wrong. It never would be right. The other, actually was watching a video on Youtube made by recovering anorexic who had suffered many health problems. I had seen videos like this before, and even challenged my self to watch them because I wanted to "be strong" against them. But, for some reason, this one affected me and I got scared.

And I do still have damages in my body because of that. So, I'm glad I stopped. I'm not the kind of person who can say "love the human body as well", my dysphoria is too strong. But I realize that this is not the way.

Date: 2013-01-08 04:58 pm (UTC)
feralkiss: Clouded leopard walking up to the viewer, intense look and tongue licking its lips. (lookup)
From: [personal profile] feralkiss
Wow, thank you for your comment. Both the entry and this comment are very interesting and I agree that there isn't enough discussion about the intersectionality (not sure what else to call that) between our animal identity and our disorders.

(If you and Khama are okay with that, it's the sort of discussion that I'd definitively want to translate for the French therians to read, both the experience in the original entry and your comment.)

Date: 2013-01-09 01:51 am (UTC)
feralkiss: Clouded leopard walking up to the viewer, intense look and tongue licking its lips. (lookup)
From: [personal profile] feralkiss
Thank you!

This is just a grammar thing for me to translate to French, but what is your gender of election?

Date: 2013-01-09 12:36 am (UTC)
avia: Picture of numbers, shapes, and stars falling in a night sky. (falling numbers)
From: [personal profile] avia
I would be okay with it!

And yes, there really is not a lot of discussion. Maybe I should try to write more. I think part of it is that, therianthropy is not treated as the same kind of "thing" as disorders, not taken seriously as something that affects the brain and body. Even though it's obvious that it does affect both of these things, even if it is spiritual. So discussing them together seems "taboo".

I think it's a taboo that it would be very useful to break.

Date: 2013-01-09 01:26 am (UTC)
feralkiss: Clouded leopard walking up to the viewer, intense look and tongue licking its lips. (bwcl)
From: [personal profile] feralkiss
I think, to put it in another way maybe, that a lot of therians are trying so hard to distance themselves from "crazy" and prove they are sane individuals, that it renders the discussions on mental illness impossible (in that there is no space left for it and, yes, some kind of taboo going on).
Edited Date: 2013-01-09 01:26 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-01-09 01:31 am (UTC)
avia: Poster for the Black Swan movie, top half is a white swan on a black background, bottom is a skeleton black swan on red. (black swan)
From: [personal profile] avia
Yeah, definitely.

Which is a big big problem because a) a lot of therians do have mental illness or some kind of neurodiversity, whether we like it or not as a community, and b) even if it's not particularly more common in therians, neurodiversity and mental health issues is common in the whole world, and it's ignorant to have a community that does not accept that (for example, 1 out of 4 people have depression at some time in their lives).

Date: 2013-01-09 11:54 am (UTC)
feralkiss: Clouded leopard walking up to the viewer, intense look and tongue licking its lips. (bwcl)
From: [personal profile] feralkiss
I wholeheartedly agree.

Date: 2013-01-07 01:32 am (UTC)
paleo: Dire Wolf skull (Dire Wolf Skull)
From: [personal profile] paleo
During my time on therian forums I noticed quite a lot of unhealthy attitudes toward food blamed on therianthropy. This isn't the first time I've read a therian survivor of eating disorders admit that trying to acquire a body more similar to their animal was one of the mental loops they put themselves through to reenforce their maladaptive body image.

I know it isn't quite as detrimental, but I've also seen therianthropy used as a way to avoid healthy eating habits, especially from overweight people myself. I've seen quite a few wolves and other canines write at length about the joy of chomping down food nearly whole. And of course most of them swear they *need* meat and talk about it as if it were crack cocaine.

And I've always found that odd because while my dire wolf does take great joy in eating, it isn't just for meat. Canines will eat damn near anything and my dire wolf has had wonderful moments with broccoli casseroles and other veggie-ricey dishes.

I also don't relate to the belief that "wolfing down" food is the best way to feel canine-ness the most strongly. Hunger is the natural state of a wolf, that impetus to scout, search, stalk, and hunt. I feel closest to my dire wolf when there is just a little hunger in my belly to sharpen my senses. I don't let it go too far, but I have prolonged it just a tad, all the better to enjoy a "kill" when I find one.

Sorry if this went too off topic, but these things sprung to mind.

Date: 2013-01-09 12:48 am (UTC)
avia: A mute swan in snow with a graceful curled neck. Black and white. (swan snowfall)
From: [personal profile] avia
Hmm, I am a little uncomfortable with the use of "blamed" in this case. I definitely think that is possible for some unhealthy people (and of course, having an eating disorder is unhealthy) to lean on their therianthropy as a reason to not recover, because that is one of the features of anorexia, that we will try to find reasons why the eating disorder is okay and why we should keep doing it. And, if we are experiencing it partly because of therianthropy, we will do that.

But, I think that "blamed" sounds like we are saying the therianthropy is responsible when it is not, and, I think in some cases it definitely is. I mentioned above, how I think there is a stigma about saying that therianthropy and disorders might interact or reinforce, because it's thought that "therianthropy is not a real cause of anything"... like therianthropy never can cause harm or bad feelings, and if you think that, then it's all in your mind and you just need a more positive attitude.

I would like to fight that attitude, because, for one thing, it reinforces the idea that anything that is "just in the mind" can't be a real problem and you can just think your way out of it, and it's obvious that that's not how people work, because many life experiences can cause serious problems and traumas even though the experience is "only in the mind".

I think, definitely some people do get unhealthy habits because of therianthropy, for example eating in an unhealthy way, and it is good to say, "therianthropy and this way of acting can be separated". But I think there is a careful line to draw, between "we can separate your therianthropy from your bad habits" and "you are using therianthropy as an excuse". The desire, even if it is flawed, and not always the way that real animals work, still comes from a desire to experience the therian side more closely and that is still a real reason, that we have to work with and not just dismiss people as "making excuses".

I hope this makes sense and doesn't offend. I just come from a background of a lot of experiences of, being told that X or Y disorder I have is an "excuse" for particular behavior when it actually is a symptom, and saying it is an excuse triggers the feeling that I am being told, you just made that up as a reason to act badly, and this doesn't really affect you at all. And, actually it does.

Date: 2013-01-09 05:21 pm (UTC)
feralkiss: Clouded leopard walking up to the viewer, intense look and tongue licking its lips. (lookup)
From: [personal profile] feralkiss
"definitely some people do get unhealthy habits because of therianthropy"

I think, the nuance we're trying to make here is the difference between "unhealthy habit because of therianthropy" and, which I believe may be more exact, "unhealhty habits because of beliefs related to therianthropy". Maybe it's really not the therianthropy itself the issue, but one's conception of what therianthropy is/entails. And there is a whole world between these two arguments.

Date: 2013-01-07 04:30 am (UTC)
yourdeer: (winter run)
From: [personal profile] yourdeer
Copying my reply from werelist:

Hm, I haven't had eating issues because of therianthropy, but the same issues that led me to see myself as animal again after a long time were the same reasons I did not bother to feed myself a lot of the time, too. I'll elaborate:

I've neglected my body heavily when I've been unhappy - I starved myself for food because I felt starved for being loved/wanted in a past relationship. Because of feeling hungry and neglected emotionally/sexually, I treated myself poorly - not quite to the extent of eating disorder, I suppose, but I was underweight for some time, and didn't realize it was coming from a mental or emotional standpoint because my body image wasn't what bothered me (though being very thin did keep my breasts from growing, which, in a relationship where I thought I had to be more male than female for my then-girlfriend, certainly helped play some small part in it too).

In that relationship was actually when I began understanding my animal identity again (after several years of ignoring it). I categorized my feelings of starvation for food, sex, and respect into the channel of adolescent male lion. It is no longer a theriotype of mine since the feelings that created it are gone, but it was how I re-realized my animality. I guess "it has to get worse before it gets better" was true for me in that case.
Since being more comfortable with my femininity, as well as being in an emotionally and sexually healthy relationship and understanding that I am worthy of treating myself with respect, I've gotten much better at giving my body what it needs in terms of food. I'm pretty proud of the 20-ish pounds I've put on in the past year and a half - I feel a hell of a lot healthier and stronger, I get sick less often, and I have gone from having my topmost ribs showing through front and back, to now even having a little curve on my hips. It is incredible how much loving yourself more can lead to the health of your body.

Thanks for posting this. I do hope it helps more people, too.

Date: 2013-01-07 12:12 pm (UTC)
scatteredshells: (Default)
From: [personal profile] scatteredshells
I am awe-struck.

Thank you for sharing this.

Date: 2013-01-21 05:57 pm (UTC)
foxboi: Ravenclawe themed icon reading: "I don't need love, I have goldfish" (love)
From: [personal profile] foxboi
Thank you very much for posting this, and thanks to the comments for bringing about some really good discussion.

I have experience with eating disorders, but less specifically focused on my animalness and my relationship to my body, so this was a tough but interesting read.

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