Traveling, Fighting, Dancing: Illness and Recovery Metaphors

book tape measure emily troscianko

TORCH Research Associate Emily Troscianko, whose background is in cognitive literary studies, has just published a new post on her Psychology Today blog 'A Hunger Artist' about the power of metaphor in sickness and health.

In the spring of 2016, a reader, Diana, posted a comment on my post ‘Why control won’t bring you happiness’:

I'm finding it difficult to actually eat more. I know that I am underweight but because it's not by that much I find it hard to accept the need to eat more than I do. I feel like I'm okay because I do eat regularly but I guess not that much though some meals are normal. I don't know how to get out of this situation. Whenever I do eat more I feel panicked and yucky about myself. It passes but it's a horrible process to go through. I'm seeing a therapist and I have support from 3 friends and my husband. I also have two young children. I have suffered from eating disorders in the past and come out of it but this time seems very hard. Perhaps because the situation doesn't seem that drastic, and I am functioning okay. However, I know I'm not living a truly vibrant life. I lovemy husband and children more than anything but this eating disordered side of me feels like it's robbing me of being fully present.

I am trying to heal myself with yoga and journaling but it's not enough. My reply was entitled ‘Paths to Acceptance’ and part of it read:

You feel your life slipping past—not being fully present is a great way of putting it. So many women live most of their lives like this—half-living. Having recognized that partial absence is the first step, I think. Many people never even get that far.

The next you've actually already taken too: remembering that the discomfort of weight gain is only ever temporary. As I said, the getting worse is the necessary but short-lived precursor to the getting better. Yoga, diary-writing, mindfulness, and all the other things that can bring real benefits can take full effect only if the mind and body practicing them are well nourished. Anything else is like putting a plant on a windowsill with lots of nice sunlight and giving it doses of special plant food now and then, but always forgetting to water it. It can make use of the other stuff a bit, but in the absence of that most basic ingredient for life, it will never really flourish.

Diana’s description of her situation is a careful, straightforward account of her habits, the things she finds difficult in recovery, the gap between what she knows and what it’s easy to find herself believing, or acting as if she believed. My reply tries to step into that gap and offer first a reiteration of her own insight, then an alternative perspective on her yoga and journaling.  

Both of us use metaphors. Mine are more conspicuous than Diana’s, but both of them are doing cognitive work: not just illustrating the points we’re making, but constructing them. Can you spot hers, and mine?


Please visit the Psychology Today website to read the rest of the post.

Dr. Emily Tamarisk Troscianko

Eating Disorders and Real-Life Reading