I have a very complex relationship with food. I have never been able to work it out. I’ve studied to become a psychologist, I’ve been counselled, I’ve counselled others. I really just seem to confound myself and everyone else.
I generally say that I am ambivalent towards food because my four open brain surgeries left me in a state of akinetic mutism and thoroughly traumatised. But actually, I had lost my appetite after my parents decided to come and live in England. I was almost six at the time. My mother had worked full time in Germany so it was my Oma who started to bottle feed me and weaned me and fed me all her cooking after that. So moving to England was a wrench. A huge one.
We went back to Germany twice a year, but that isn’t the same as living there. I remember once my mother found me in Oma’s kitchen piling Oma’s homemade strawberry jam onto the dark rye bread that I love and so many English people despise. I felt I was being naughty because of the quantity of jam I was using, but no I was not in trouble. Meanwhile, in England, my weight was cause for concern and I was pronounced anaemic.
The disease I contracted in my nervous system used up a lot of calories as it progressed until I was given a month to live. My left arm was uncontrollable and my left leg also. My nights were spent in agony as I endured excruciating muscle spasms that threw my limbs around. Eating was not a priority. It was all so difficult. And I was terrified. Of course I was, although no one asked me. I was imprisoned in a body that was out of control.
While this was going on I had hospital stays while they tried to control my symptoms with drugs. I spent months in Bristol’s Hospital for Sick Children, months in Great Ormond Street, Newcastle Royal Infirmary and finally what is now called The London Royal Free Hospital. I was there for an outpatient visit and was admitted straight away. My parents were told I had a month to live unless I had surgery to freeze certain brain cells, and that I might not survive the surgery.
In all, I had four brain surgeries, after the third I was in a state of akinetic mutism. There is so much I don’t know because I was in a coma for a while, stuff I don’t remember and stuff it seems my mind refuses to remember.
For a while I was fed through a naso-gastric tube and later ate mashed food. While I was living at home I didn’t care about eating. I ate food I liked but my mother would make me sit for hours with food that I didn’t like. I didn’t have a lot of self esteem, having gone from captain of the team to the last to be chosen. At a fete my Dad took me to, I was mistaken for a boy and this affected me deeply.
After I left home I was always happy when I didn’t need to cook or prepare food. Although I did enjoy preparing meals I would share with others. I liked to learn new recipes and be thought of as a nurturer. But inside, I wasn’t nurtured. I had nightmares and other symptoms of post traumatic stress although I didn’t realise it. I made close bonds with men of my age but found it hard to relate to most women. I had great women friends but I didn’t know how to appreciate them or retain them when our ways parted.
I travelled so much, often working as a cook and then I studied psychology and became a psychologist.
I got some self insight, a lot of ‘ah’ moments. I developed a good self awareness. But I could not understand my ambivalence, sometimes loathing of food. It goes back to my mother ‘rejecting’ me, or my rejection of her milk. I eat most when I am happy. I ate well when I was in a relationship. When I married, I was eating well and did so while I was feeding my daughter. I weighed the most I’ve ever weighed while I was breastfeeding her and weaning her. Because I ate well, she ate well.
My marriage failed for lots of reasons, but the main ones were violence and bullying and that he did not understand how to keep a child safe.
I cooked well as a single parent. I enjoyed cooking for my daughter. Now my daughter has left home, my health has declined, and I struggle to want to eat.