A Horrible, Wonderful Distraction from Life
By Manon Martini
The Impact of Covid-19 on Replicative Hustle Culture Through Restrictive Eating Disorders
The social landscape of the twenty-first century is an undeniably fast-paced, bustling environment. Whilst for some, this can be extremely distressing and evoke intense feelings of anxiety, for others, this endless ‘hustle’ can distract from the demons that lurk behind the darkness of the idle mind. Caroline Dooner, author of Tired as F*ck: Burnout at the Hands of Diet, Self-Help, and Hustle Culture, articulates how the ‘hustle culture’ upon which western culture exists, acts as ‘a wonderful, horrible distraction from life, and pain, and emotions, […] a distraction from learning to be with ourselves’. As students and academics we are particularly accustomed to this way of life, grafting continually from one project to the other and trying to keep up with everyone around us -as well as those on the other side of the screen- who always seem to be hustling harder. We never allow ourselves to sit with the satisfaction of a completed task or a good grade, for fear that someone will run up from behind us and race past, leaving us in the dust.
When this expeditious world came to a shrieking halt with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in twenty-twenty, the magnificent house of hustle culture crumbled and collapsed with many of us still inside. Kicking, screaming, and clinging to its walls for dear life, we refused to be rescued from the ruins. For many, the routine structure hustle culture provided had been torn away, and as Covid restrictions were put into place, we had no choice but to establish our own rituals and restrictions in order to cope with the change.
For me, what started out as YouTube home workouts and an interest in cooking (as mealtimes became the only signifier of time as continuous), gradually but insidiously turned into extreme exercise addiction and restriction. When the hustle culture embodying the structure and control that reinforced my life was removed, I had no choice but to use what was available to me to replicate that culture within the four walls of my bedroom. Graham and Freeman argue in Overcoming Anorexia Nervosa, (a book that I have found particularly useful in my recovery), that when a person feels a lack of bodily autonomy due to abusive relationships or an unstable home environment, they often turn to restriction, feeling as though ‘body weight [is] the only arena in their life over which any control may be exerted.’ Ultimately, I feel my eating disorder developed as a result of the autonomy the pandemic and hustle culture took from me.
Whilst initially, restriction and exercise can offer an intoxicating sense of control and euphoria, as with hustle culture, you are left eternally chasing the metaphorical high -never satiated, always wanting more- a perfect capitalist tragedy. Although my eating disorder provided an ‘enormous feeling of relief’ and control during the depths of the pandemic, choosing recovery made me see that I had never been more out of control in my life. Obsessive thoughts around food and restriction regulated my every move, and whilst externally I put on a smile, internally my mind was trapped in an infinite, torturous thought loop. I was lost in the scheming depths of my disordered mind, and I was sure I would never find a way out.
I did not have an eating disorder before Covid. In fact, I considered myself to have a pretty good relationship with food and exercise. But dragging the ideological apparatus of hustle culture with me into social isolation eventually brought me to my knees. Dooner refers to hustle culture as the ‘not-so-distant relatives of eating disorders’, and as the world began to open up to me, as a blooming flower folds down its petals, I knew that in order to break up with one I had to cut ties with the other.
Although living with an eating disorder has been torture, one thing it has given me is a deep appreciation for life's simplicities. Ice cream at the beach on a sultry summer's day, a coffee and a catch up with a friend, roast dinner at Grandmas on a Sunday- I desire these moments now more than ever, without guilt or fear. These moments are bliss, they are what make life worth living, and I honestly never realised that before. That does not make recovery any easier of course, particularly living within the purview of a world that values hustle culture and restriction so deeply, but I know I can do it.
Three years ago, I never thought my greatest desire in life would be simple contentment. Contentment with myself, my relationship with food, and with the world around me, without having to restrict and stratify all the time. At times it feels silly, having such simple desires, but I know I am not alone. So, to anyone struggling with an eating disorder, anyone stuck in the vicious hustle-cycle of perfectionism, or anyone who desires the simplicity and beauty of life beyond hustle culture, I want you to know that it will get better, and that it is okay to rest. As the world starts to turn again, I ask you to revel in all life's little moments with me- we deserve it.