Issendai (issendai) wrote,

So healthy, you're sick

Triggers for mental health issues.

Obsession with health is a strange downward spiral. Not obsession with a particular condition--some physical or mental illnesses legitimately demand obsessive attention--but obsession with Health itself, an ill-defined "win condition" of present and future wellbeing. People who are obsessed with physical health are plagued with low-grade gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, or waves of tiredness, all classic psychosomatic symptoms, or they develop contamination fears: certain classes of food are polluting, certain methods of food preparation are polluting (no frying, no microwaving, no cooking at all), only natural or organic foods are safe, only natural fibers are acceptable, only natural lotions and cosmetics are tolerable, all fragrances are unbearable. They seem less healthy than non-health-obsessed people, but usually not outright ill.

People who become obsessed with mental health...

...go crazy.

Not psychotically crazy, not seriously-mentally-ill ill. But their quests for healthy relationships destroy their relationships and tear apart their families; their standards of friendship drive away their friends; their standards of inner perfection destroy themselves, as they dig at their imperfections as though they're trying to heal a scar by cutting it away. "Be compassionate to yourself," they remind themselves, and then dig deeper.

Some of these tearings and cuttings make sense. People who have just woken up to the amount of abuse they've suffered tend to go on purges of family and friends as they cut their abusers out of their lives. But if they become obsessed with Health, the purges keep on going. Few people meet their standards for long. Disagreeing with their version of events is invalidation, having any sympathy for people who've been cast out is enabling, remaining friends with the cast-outs is a form of disloyalty that requires that the offender be cut off for the sufferer's own safety.

It's maddening to deal with because, well... Disagreeing with anyone's version of events is invalidation. Normal relationships can take a certain amount of invalidation (because disagreement is essentially invalidation), but to be invalidated about one's own abuse is deeply damaging, and both abusers and people with no experience of abuse can be quick to invalidate abused people. Same with enabling and disloyalty. When dealing with abuse, these reactions are right and necessary. So how can anyone tell the obsessed person that they're not being abused? Or that that situation was abuse, but this one isn't? The belief system that gives abuse survivors the strength to carry on in the face of opposition also disables the off switch. Most survivors learn to pull the switch on their own. The Health-obsessed seem to feel that pulling the switch means going back to being abused.

In the same way, watching the Health-obsessed dig at themselves is both maddening and painful. There's no end point. At all. The obsessed can't stop obsessing until they feel healthy and whole, which is a) a moving goal and b) impossible to do while you're Health-obsessed. Meanwhile, their obsessions drive them madder and madder. They want to love themselves, while turfing up reasons to dislike themselves. They want to feel well, while hunting for new ways in which they're broken. They want peace, while their disintegrating minds drive their lives into chaos. They refuse to do certain things because they're not ready, and won't be ready until they're healthier, so their lives fall even further apart from neglect and avoidance. Meanwhile, they're frantically healing, healing, healing--

--healing the wrong thing.

The Health-obsessed people I've known best were all carefully bandaging their bruised left hands with their horribly mangled right hands. And they got SO pissed off if you pointed out that their right hands were mangled. Their hand was NOT mangled. They were NOT missing fingers. They weren't ready to deal with the severed tendons until this bruise was healed, and that was THEIR CHOICE. The bloodstains on the bandage were from the bruise, and you were invalidating them if you suggested that maybe bruises don't bleed like that. WHY are you pointing out the problems with their right hand? Are you trying to prevent them from healing their left hand? Does it benefit you to keep them wounded? Do you like it when they wince in pain from the bruise?

Then they ask why no one invites them out for finger food.

(So everyone in the group stops going out for finger food, and acts like finger food doesn't exist. Then a few of them sneak out for finger food on their own and feel guilty about it. People find out, there is Drama, and someone gets cast out of the group for saying that no one wants to go for finger food with the Health-obsessed person because they get blood in the crudite.)

The last 'graf is supposed to be uplifting and to offer a solution to the problem. But I don't have one. My solution has been to back away when the Health-obsessed craziness gets to be too much, and check back every couple of years to see whether things have improved. Anecdata says: If they don't drop off the face of the earth, then they'll take five to ten years to develop a support network and stabilize at a lower grade of crazy. But you don't want to be part of that support network.

If you've seen something different, please tell me. I'd like a little hope.

And if you recognize yourself in this description: You know that thing that people kept telling you was a problem, back when you first started trying to get healthy? That thing you haven't heard much about ever since you got healthy enough to choose better friends? That thing is your right hand. And it's not healing on its own. At first it'll hurt like hell to even look at it, and bandaging it is going to be agony, but if you do pay attention to it for a while, and clean the wounds, and change the bandages, and do physical therapy, you may find that the bruise on your left hand is just about gone by the time you're done. And that nagging pain, the pain of the bruise, the pain you never could heal no matter how tenderly you cared for your left hand...?


Stay strong. It's awesome to have two working hands.
Tags: abuse, social patterns

  • Post a new comment


    Comments allowed for friends only

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded