Me before Matt is home from work: I miss Matt. Hope he gets home soon. He’s so lovely.
Matt: “Hey Babe, how was your day?”
Me: OMG why are you always asking me questions. Can’t you just leave me alone!
I wasn’t much of a teenage brat when I was a teenager. Probably because I didn’t really hit puberty until I was 17. When I was 29, however, I could be pretty horrid.
There are different kind of horrid, Anorexia demonstrated a full spectrum of horrible me. That’s not because I’m truly a horrible person (I’m not, honest!), it’s just because when one’s body and brain are in a state of prolonged malnutrition one isn’t at one’s best.
There was the sort of horrid I was when I felt pressured to eat. Then there was the hangry-horrid when I wouldn’t allow myself to eat. In recovery, there was the teenage-brat horrid.
Teenage Brat Syndrome
Usually this only comes out with people whom we really love. I was always perfectly civil and nice to strangers and acquaintances. The people who bore the burnt of my brattiness where my parents and my partner. Thankfully I wasn’t a brat the whole time or nobody would have put up with me. But that is mostly because I bit my tongue and forced myself to be polite and civil when what I really wanted to do was have a tantrum.
People whom we are close to will tolerate us being crabby in a way that others will not, so that’s one reason why my irritability would come out with Matt and my Mum. But additionally, people whom we are closest to pose the greatest threat to Anorexia. These are the people who are going to pressure us to eat. Anorexia certainly saw my mother as a threat because every time she saw me she would tell me I needed to eat more. And I did. Don’t you just hate it when your mother is right all the time?
Teenage Brat Syndrome is that general threat-based irritation that you have towards the people who threaten your illness and therefore place you in a heightened state of stress plus (eventually) the hormonal changes that start to happen as you begin to eat more food/weight restore. Everyone expects teenagers to be vile because they are going through puberty. I went through puberty at 29. I had all the signs and symptoms of puberty — acne, mood swings, cramps, etc — but none of the sympathy.
Being a fully grown woman and just hitting puberty is somewhat lonely. Most of my friends were nursing toddlers and I was trying to work out what bra size I was. Honestly though, that was one of the less stressful elements. What really perturbed me was my intense irritability. I would get this ripple of sheer annoyance run up my spine if Matt so much asked me if the bins needed to go out. Alarmingly, for a short while my only conclusion was that I was indeed a complete and utter bitch and that my Anorexia had stifled my bitchiness. Here I was married to the most loving and patient man on the planet and yet I could find even him irritating! What kind of monster was I turning into?
A teenage kind of monster.
Just to prove this wasn’t a problem that only I have had, here is a statement from a client:
“But I don’t WANT 3 eggs in my omelette, I only want 2”; “it’s not FAIR that I have to have another snack, YOU don’t have to have one; “why won’t you let me run? I hate you, you’re ruining my life!”. Are these the ramblings of an adolescent, outraged teenage girl? Nope, these are the comments that I, a 40 year old woman says to her husband on a daily basis. Because I have an eating disorder and am therefore also a teenage brat.
For the sake of those you love … be nice!
Luckily for all involved, my Teenage Brat Syndrome passed as my recovery progressed. Turns out that when my body is out of chronic malnutrition and my endocrine system is fully functional I am actually an alright person after all. It’s such a relief not to feel that prickle of irritation aimed at someone who I genuinely love very much. But, this stage lasted long enough for me that had I not given myself a pretty stern talking to, I may not have had any marriage left by the time I reached full remission.
“Be nice. Fucking be nice!”
I would have to tell myself this single thought over and over again in my head as the anger and desire to lash out tingled though me. I can have a very sharp tongue, and I can be hurtful. I knew this wasn’t really me talking — but I figured I am responsible for what comes out of my mouth even if that is influenced by recovery stress. There is no excuse for being snarky.
Pro tips for when you want to bite someones’ head off:
- Don’t say anything – wait for the rage to pass
- Be nice. You know that rule your mother taught you about “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all?” Use it.
- Fake it. Smile. Pretend you are happy and not irritated. That might actually be the case. You won’t know until you try it.
This will pass. Your heightened levels of irritability will subside. In the meantime, fake being nice. If you don’t, you might find that by the time you reach remission you don’t have anyone left to be nice to.