I think I’m very funny, naming this post Typical and talking about a behaviour typical to me. The twist in the story being that I will be discussing my thesis, which is about there not being types, or typicals. But of course there is, and there isn’t. I think people have interests that may form a consistent story arch in their lives (for me, for example, for my sins, some sort of weird masochism that leads me to study Philosophy – first in high school, then in Scotland at university, then in Finland at university), and we may say ‘oh yeah, Pihla likes to ponder what it is to be human’, but beyond interests, that vary from one person to the next, there may not be so much that is ‘essential’ to an individual.
Here I ought to introduce the fact that I changed my Masters thesis topic about four weeks ago. It was a huge weight lifted from my shoulder, to return to a topic that truly motivated me, instead of trying to find motivation from a topic that only had some vague leanings towards interesting. I am writing about the philosophy of psychiatry, what surprise. Around two years ago, before I fell deeply ill, I was planning on writing my thesis on it. When I made my application to reinstate my place at the Masters programme after giving it up due to a bout of madness (literal description of events), I wrote that my plan was to write about psychiatry. Yet, when I started, for a moment I thought, this is too close to me, I want to move away from a topic so charged for me, I won’t do it. So I tried to motivate myself to write about something I had less of a connection to, with poor and anxiety-inducing results. It was good to return to my earlier topic.
I have, of course, defined the topic further. Philosophy of psychiatry is quite a big theme here, ain’t no thesis gonna cover that! My current topic is something like this (this changes weekly depending on how I am reformulating my thoughts at that point): kind essentialism, looping effects and verbalizing (or explaining, I am not sure yet) experience in eating disorders. So here I am, deeply in the ED world. May my thesis be therapy and closure for my crappy journey through this ailment.
A few words about my current interests then. I am very interested in how people verbalize their experience of having an eating disorder and how knowledge of the type of human (such as ‘anorexic’ ‘eating disordered’ [the latter one is a term that exists more comfortably in the Finnish language than in English]) one is (due to being diagnosed or otherwise labelled as a person belonging to this type [or human/interactive kind, as Ian Hacking, the philosopher I have been researching, has named this typing of people]), can affect this verbalization of experience. Specifically, I wish to ask, how do people explain the causes of their behaviour? Imagine a person who loses weight because they don’t eat. In cultures where eating disorders do not exist (the few of them that still remain) concerned parties (person, loved ones, professionals such as doctors) will attempt to find a cause for this. Is the person grieving, stressed out, suffering from a deficiency? Perhaps a doctor finds anemia, and I quote here some typical symptoms thereof: fatigue, weakness, dizziness, irritability, anxiety, dry skin, restless legs, loss of appetite, strange food cravings, weight loss or gain, shortness of breath, difficulty to swallow, cognitive defects…(I gone had me all of them in 2010-18…)
It’s interesting then, how a person who loses weight due to anemia, and a person who loses weight due to eating disorder – I ponder – may be the same person, but labelled differently, explained differently, judged differently. What is crucial to me, in the early stages of my pondering, is how the future appears to that person with the eating disorder, and to that with the anemia. I was that with the eating disorder in 2017, but what if I was that with the anemia, which I was. What is my prognosis with a monster in my head, someone that I must be fearful of, someone I have to cunningly trick and ultimately destroy (the ED monster, that is)? Compared to me with a deficiency, calmly ingesting my iron tablets, working my way out of my poor appetite and psychotic symptoms caused by malnutrition (not by a monster). An eating disorder does not exist. It is a word, a sign floating in the air, created to contain a (non-static) collection of symptoms. When eating disorders become a cause, I find, there is danger ahead. For a word cannot be a cause for anything.
I am interested in the causal explanations people with EDs use, because I have been of these people of course too. I have said ‘I do X because I have an eating disorder’. I reject that now, as this phrase ‘eating disorder’ cannot cause anything. It has no legs, no hands, no mouth. It causes nothing. The true cause of my symptoms was never investigated fully when I first became ill, and I hid my illness from view later, so no investigation then was possible either. Care has also failed me when I was ready and willing to submit to investigation, but I’d rather not dwell on that. I simply wish to say that what I am writing my thesis on is, to me, of much importance and relevance and I hope to have a good crack at it. The journey begins, the mountain of thesis -writing is tall and laboursome -looking, but I am a tough broad and I’ve conquered worse. Until next time then,