Anorexia affected my personality in many ways. Today I am going to focus on the introvert/extrovert aspect.
First off: I pass no judgement whatsoever on the values associated with introversion and extroversion, None whatsoever. This post is nothing to do with saying one is better than the other. Both are valuable … just different. What I think is rather more interesting is they way in which the illness pushed me from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Anyone who met me, knew me, would tell you I was an extrovert. I stayed out late partying. I was happiest in a group of friends. I never disliked solitude, but I didn’t need it in the way I started to after Anorexia onset. I remember how people used to energize me rather than drain me. I was the girl who could party night after night and be around people all the time.
I want to be clear that I see introversion and extroversion as an energy processing system more than I do a preference for being social or not. Extroverts seem to be energized by socializing with other people and de-energised by too much time alone. Introverts are drained by social situations (no matter how much they enjoy them) and energized by time alone.
As a child and a teen, I felt that social situations gave me energy.
Nothing happened overnight, but as I became more and more affected by the eating disorder I became more reclusive. To be clear, being reclusive is not the same as being an introvert, it was just a notable change. Mostly I stopped going out with friends because doing so usually involved eating or drinking — neither of which were things my eating disorder wanted me to do.
Additionally, my obsession with exercise meant that I was in the gym at 5am every morning. Getting up that early meant staying out late was harder. The exercise also expanded to the point that I was in the gym every hour of the day that I was not at university or working in my waitress job. After a while there was literally no time for friends. My eating disorder would not let me sit still, so it was not like I could go and meet a mate for coffee.
Life is pretty unsociable when one can’t sit down.
While I can see that it was my eating disorder that overtook my life to the point that there was no longer any room for friends, that doesn’t totally explain my apparent introversion. You see, the thing was, I didn’t miss people. And also, being with people was beginning to have the opposite affect on me.
Before Anorexia, if I had a study week or for any reason didn’t see my mates, I would miss them. I would crave human interaction. After a couple of years with Anorexia I no longer craved people. In fact, I began to feel tired and drained after any social event that I did attend. That’s a more typical introvert trait. In fact for me the most important part of this is the way that other people effect one’s energy levels. Introverts tend to feel tried and energy drained after social interactions no matter how enjoyable said interactions are. Extroverts tend to be infused and energized by them. Sometimes I would actually feel like I was getting sick I would get so drained by being with people. Then, after I got home and sat alone for a while I would feel fine again.
Pre-anorexia my friends energized me. During-anorexia they de-energised me.
Here’s something. In the latter stages of my four-year recovery (weight restored but still having to work hard at it) I went to a shrink for the first time because someone suggested I get accessed for Asperger’s. My assessment was positive for high-functioning autism as Asperger’s is now called. This was a time when I was still struggling a lot with social interactions.
I can see why I was given that diagnosis, despite the fact that I think it is incorrect. Well, incorrect now, maybe not incorrect for the time of diagnosis. I could not easily read other people’s emotions and feelings when I had Anorexia, I felt a huge distance between myself and most other people — a bit like being on a totally different operating system. I feel a huge distance between the me with anorexia and the me before and after anorexia. So much so that it has led me to really question the concept of personality.
I’m not Asperger’s. I’m pretty confident that if tested now I would not be given that diagnosis. I am more extrovert than I was in recovery, and much more extrovert than I was when I was sick. I am not nearly as extrovert as I was pre-anorexia. (But I am also an old fart now).
If I don’t see my friends for a while I miss them like crazy. I miss people. It feels nice to miss people. I crave people, I am interested in people. I can look people in the eyes and feel something.
Like I mentioned, I question the concept of personality. I feel like I have the same personality as I did as a pre-anorexia person now — so there is certainly some consistency there. However, the mental illness Anorexia altered by personality. Of course, Anorexia is a brain-based disease, so when one thinks of it like that it seems obvious that it could affect my personality.
What about you?
I wonder if you noticed change in yourself if you suffered an eating disorder? If you did, and you have reached full recovery, have you returned to the way that you were pre-ED?
Or maybe you have a loved one or friend with an eatings disorder and you have noticed a change in them?
I would love to know what you think.