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May 7, 2020

Don’t Be Weird: A Q&A with Bronwen Clark

Don’t Be Weird: A Q&A with Bronwen Clark

**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.

Bronwen Clark is a Los Angeles-based writer and therapist. She is the author of Don’t Be Weird, a memoir that follows her journey through treatment and toward eating disorder recovery. Find Bronwen @bforboundless on Twitter.

Here Bronwen opens up about the purpose and process of writing Don’t Be Weird, and shares with us a selection of excerpts.

Why did you write Don’t Be Weird?

I started writing Don’t Be Weird as a way to communicate with my family and friends about the true emotional, physical, and mental havoc wreaked by mental illness. I felt misunderstood and alone for so much of my journey, and I wanted to write something that would let readers know, I get it.

My audience is really anyone who is curious about eating disorders and depression – those diagnosed, those who love someone who has been diagnosed, and those in a supportive capacity. My hope is that even therapists and dietitians who haven’t been through treatment themselves will benefit from hearing about the crazy process from the client perspective!

Tell us about the title!

In residential, if any of us tried to mess with our food (mixing it, taking tiny bites, taking big bites, eating by the layer, smooshing, deconstructing, hiding, separating, over-salting, the list goes on….), a therapist would simply look at us and say, don’t be weird. It was a gentle admonishment that snapped us out of our eating disorders and helped us laugh at ourselves, rather than shaming us. We started saying it ourselves and calling each other out on behaviors at the table. “Don’t be weird” became the mantra of my treatment experience!

Do you consider memoir writing a form of therapy? Was the experience of writing Don’t Be Weird therapeutic for you?

Writing this memoir over the past two years has been such a unique and rewarding experience. I uncovered so many parts of myself through channeling my thoughts into a narrative and felt that, for the first time, I was able to tell my story to myself. Each chapter helped me to untangle the mess of my psychiatric rap sheet and reform my identity outside of a diagnosis. Now, I feel like I understand who I really am and who I can ultimately become.

The book balances the painful, honest reality of your experience with wit and verve. What role has humor played in your recovery?

I think humor is vital for recovery. Laughter is the great equalizer! For me, humor decreased my defensiveness to recovery and helped me to grow from my pain without blaming or shaming myself for my experience. Humor and sarcasm enabled me to call myself out in a compassionate way and to reach out to others to find community, relief, and joy in the struggle.  There are some parts of my story that, at the time, were bewildering and terrifying – but when I retell them to myself and others now, I can see how crazy and ridiculous they were!

For many, talking about mental health is hard. Ignoring it, hiding it, and trying to minimize it are all ways people try to deny its importance. Humor, in my experience, decreases that tension and lets us have a conversation about taboo subjects while underlying humanity that connects us all, regardless of a diagnosis.

What do you hope people take away from the book?

I hope Don’t Be Weird will challenge readers to reconsider the stigma they believe about eating disorders and mental health. We didn’t “choose” our disorders, and the pain we suffer permeates every aspect of our lives.

It would be incredible if more people could feel comfortable in seeking help, in granting themselves permission to recover, and to find community with fellow warriors and survivors. I hope, also, that anyone who reads it, “sick” or not, can see themselves in my story, because while it does talk about recovery from anorexia and depression, it also digs into universal concepts of identity and self-worth that are difficult for everyone to navigate.

Excerpts from Don’t Be Weird 

On separating from an eating disorder

“Each meal and snack is an opportunity to grant myself permission to separate from my disorder. As I stare at my reflection in my licked-clean plate, I can ask myself who are you until anorexic is not my first answer. Gradually, more answers have been popping into my mind: writer, daughter, friend, witty conversationalist.”

On the fear of “healthy”

“My brain tells me that the normalization of my weight will misappropriate my specialness. It’s as though my size and worthiness of care are inversely related — if I can no longer be picked out of a lineup as the most malnourished and most fragile, does that make me invisible? Will people no longer inquire about my diet, fret over me, prioritize my life? My disordered brain tells me that the bigger and healthier I am, the less people will care. The bigger and healthier I am, the less people will love me.”

On extreme hunger in recovery

“It is my eating disorder’s worst nightmare: the uncontrollable and insatiable urge to eat. In short, it is freaking me out. I want to raid the kitchen, to hide food under my bed, to ask for seconds. It is distressing and pervasive — the hunger won’t leave me alone. Like an obnoxious jingle that is stuck in your head, the hunger is always there, clawing, kicking, and poking.”

On mindful eating

“At first, I hated it. Mindful eating felt like psychological torture. I found it weirdly stressful, unpleasant, and irritating. It was forcing myself to intimately experience food, my sworn enemy, in a slow and deliberate way. Sometimes, to get through challenging meals, I shut off my brain and go on autopilot. If I can get into the rhythm of bite, chew, swallow, I can mindlessly fulfill my duty of eating without too much emotional upheaval. Obviously, this method of consumption served to perpetuate the idea that food is something to be tolerated, not enjoyed, which is what I believed I deserved. But forcing myself to bring awareness to the taste, texture, color, smell, and sounds of my food, as well as the feelings it evoked, was a major stepping-stone for my recovery. When I paused to really experience my meal, I found myself able to sometimes appreciate and sometimes enjoy it. My thoughts of I don’t deserve this quieted, and the rules I followed lost some of their power.”

On the importance of play

“It was only through my experience of treatment that I realized how necessary it is to give myself a break, to check out from the demands of my life and do something silly. Play keeps your imagination sharp, releases stress, and strengthens emotional resilience. It’s a way to explore the world without consequence, to learn patience and understanding.”

On becoming a therapist

“I want the next time I enter a treatment setting to be in a place of offering support. I know from experience that the best therapists are the ones who have been through their own shit. So, my journey towards recovery will work in my favor — I even have the sentimental wrist tattoo to prove it.”

Don’t Be Weird is available for purchase on Amazon.

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