Monthly Archives: February 2015

Life experience and EDs

When you think of eating disorders what comes to mind? Everyone knows weight change is a side effect of an ED. And we know that food becomes an obsession with EDs and people might struggle with exercise or binge purging or be hospitalised.

But one thing I’m realising that’s really come hand in hand with my eating disorder is how behind my peer group I am.

In some ways I’ve experienced things most people my age can’t imagine- being sectioned, having the police called on me, making serious attempts on my life and nearly succeeding, spending over a year of my life altogether in hospital, going weeks without food and nearly killing myself in the process and being hospitalised miles away from my family.

But being ill for the entirety of my teenage years and especially so during my university years means I have missed out on so much. At the time I didn’t care, I was too immersed in my disorder to worry about everything I missed. Now I’m coming back to life again I’m realising how much I’ve missed. In job interviews when they ask me what did I do over the last few years I don’t have work experience or society memberships to talk about. All I can do is mumble something about being ill and trying to finish my degree.
And at uni I missed out on so much. Whilst my friends got late night takeaways and drank cocktails I either joined in then spent the rest of my night with my fingers down my throat or sat in a corner too scared to let the calories pass my lips. Nights out became impossible because I was too cold and weak to manage being out for any long period of time. I missed the celebrations of finishing my degree with friends twice and have watched two graduation ceremonies I should have been at pass me by whilst I sat in hospital or at home recovering. I missed out on relationships and casual kisses in nightclubs and dancing the night away. I missed uni balls and patrons dinners. I went from getting firsts to 2:1s and then 2:2s. I lived in the library but only because it was warm and I couldn’t eat in there. I missed weekends away with societies and meals with my flatmates. I didn’t get summer internships because I was too busy self destructing.

If I could go back and stop myself from getting an eating disorder I would. But I can’t. So I shall take the life experience it’s given me and try to make up all I’ve lost to it whilst things are good.

Positivity

Have you ever stood in the centre of a room and span around as fast as you can, your arms flung out either side and just enjoyed to freedom and speed of the movement? And the way when you stop the room continues to tilt beneath your feet and swirl in front of your eyes. I always think there’s something joyous in that, something very free.

That’s how I feel now. Now the cloud of depression and anxiety is finally lifting. I feel almost giddy with the relief of feeling a bit more normal. Instead of spending hours researching how to kill myself I’m looking up room rents for when I move back to London and comparing the two courses I’ve applied to.

I start my job on the 3rd of March. It’s only a part time job at a supermarket petrol station but it’s a job and it’s having a purpose again. After two years of being in and out of hospital I’m excited to become a functioning member of society again, someone who is contributing even if only in a very small way. It’s a first step which after failing to pass occupational health for another job before Christmas I doubted I would get to do.

And more than that I’m allowing myself to be my age. I’m seeing a guy and am letting myself enjoy and be flattered by the attention. I’m talking to friends again and arranging nights out. Things that have featured far too little in my life over the past few years.

The bell jar has lifted and I’m enjoying it. It’s nice to come out of appointments feeling motivated by the journey I have ahead of me rather than depressed by it. To have people say ‘well done’ and to genuinely believe it.

Taking back control

My admission to the day hospital was my 5th admission. I’m determined to make it my last. Being in hospital, even just as a day patient, is hard and depressing. Whilst I did find this admission helpful it also makes it harder to see a way forward, to imagine a life that isn’t dictated by mental health problems. When you live your life as a patient it’s hard to see a future that doesn’t involve regular admissions, medication and therapy.

On Friday I was discharged back to outpatients with the CMHT. A few weeks ago I was feeling broken and defeated, convinced I had no way forward and the only way out of this was to kill myself. But unlike other relapses, I didn’t lock myself away and allow myself to sink deeper and deeper into my illness. I talked to my team and asked for help, I let my family help me. I admitted I was struggling rather than trying to do everything on my own.

And I feel like it really helped. Whilst I’ve a long way to go and I still struggle with suicidal thoughts and low mood a lot of the time I feel like I’m looking up, not down.

When I described the assault to my therapist I imagined it as a large black monster, all spiky and sharp and clawed, stood behind me. And I was too scared to turn round and look at it. But by pretending it was not there it was always in my mind, I was always aware of it being stood just behind me but I didn’t know what it was or how dangerous it was. And that made my mental health worse, I had no control over the situation and felt powerless. It was the assault that had all the power and so therefore my mental health problems had all the power and owned me.By talking about it, I feel now that I’m turning round, I’m not quite facing the assault yet but I can see it out the corner of my eye so I know where it is, and that gives me a little bit of power. And that gives me some ability to take ownership of my mental health. I am not powerless any more.

I’m learning slowly to let people in, to voice my struggles and let others help me to help myself. I have mental health problems but I am not a victim, I can make changes which will help me manage them better. And that feels really empowering.

Anorexia ‘the slimmers disease?’

‘Eating disorders are about being thin and attractive, right?’ 

It’s a common misconception. And it’s one of the biggest problems I have around many of the awareness campaigns. Sure I think anything which promotes body confidence and challenges unhealthy ideals at both ends of the spectrum is a good thing. But it doesn’t ring true for me when the message is that thin models cause eating disorders, or when you’re trying to recover and the message as often flung about in the recovery communities is ‘recover for boobs and bum’ ‘recover for curves.’

For me my eating disorder was the exact opposite of subscribing to the thin ideal or an attempt to be attractive or thin or fit in more. Whilst I still suffer with the fear of being fat and the distorted body image for me my eating disorder is about safety. When I first fell into the grasps of bulimia it was during a period of my life where I was being severely bullied day in day out. One morning I suddenly thought, if I’m sick I don’t have to go into school. So I went upstairs and made myself sick. It didn’t work, I still went in to school that day but in my head I made a connection. No matter what anyone did to me I could make myself sick. It was a safety switch.

But it wasn’t until I was assaulted that my eating disorder rapidly spiralled out of control. It was as if someone had set a time bomb in my brain and it had just gone off and left nothing standing. I couldn’t stand the thought of being looked at or thought attractive. I felt dirty and contaminated and unsafe. My eating suddenly switched from binge purge to restrict and purge and my weight started dropping quickly. I felt too dirty, too contaminated to eat. Getting comments in the street or walking past a building site and receiving whistles or being asked for my number in the supermarket, it all made me feel deeply unsafe. In my head a healthy weight was directly tied to being assaulted. I couldn’t separate the two and losing weight became a way to escape from the assault and ensure it never happened again. When my periods stopped, instead of being scared I was elated. I was no longer and adult and so no longer at risk. As my weight started to get critically low I went from getting no comments to getting abusive comments “Go eat a pie” and being spat at in the street. Instead of making me stop it spurred me on. No-one found me attractive, I was ugly and bony and isolated and that felt the safest way to be.

When my eating disorder switched suddenly back to bulimia back in March last year it was the most distressing experience returning to a healthy weight and getting my period back. Suddenly I started getting comments again, builders would make lewd comments as I walked past and the occasional car would honk. Rather than being flattered I felt sick and dirty once again. I had reached a healthy weight and once again it was proving unsafe.

So for me anorexia/ bulimia was never about being attractive, fitting in or being “thin”. It was about being safe and that’s what makes it so hard to give up, because recovery just feels so unsafe.

And for many people eating disorders are not about weight or thinness or being attractive. They are complex mental illnesses which differ between each individual and serve different purposes for each person. Yes many of us feel fat, yes many of us focus on our weight and yes body dysmorphia is a large part of the illness. But it’s not everything and it’s not ‘why.’

Catastrophising

‘She didn’t say hello. She must be angry at me. If she’s angry at me I must have done something wrong. If I’ve done something wrong it proves I’m a terrible person. If I’m a terrible person I must be poisoning those around me. Therefore I need to punish myself, so I should self harm to get the badness out. If I don’t self harm it’ll just build up and contaminate everyone around me.’

And on. And on. And on.

Catastrophising. It’s such an integral part of my illnesses that I find it difficult to conceive of experiencing the world without looking through the veil of catastrophising. It’s prevalent in every area of my life and I struggle to remember a time when I didn’t struggle with it. My family have always called me a worry wart, age 5 I’d come home from school anxious and worried because I didn’t know everything. In brownies we went to hazard alley and thus started an obsessive fear of the house burning down and the need to pray every night that it wouldn’t burn down and my family would all be safe and well in the morning. The one time I got a detention at school I felt physically sick, sure the teacher thought I was a terrible person and a waste of space.

So you see, I’ve always had a tendency to catastrophise.

Only now it takes over my life.

The hospital taxi home today… what if I have to pay the fare? I don’t have any cash on me. He’ll get angry and won’t let me out the taxi…Of course, as it turned out he dropped me off at home no problem.

On the day hospital ward and I’ve been forgotten about again when staff are doing 1:1s… They probably hate me and think I’m wasting a space on the programme. They think I’m just attention seeking and if I ask to talk to someone they’ll say I’m just being a needy manipulative BPD patient. In reality my named nurse wasn’t on the ward most of today. Both of us with her today didn’t have a 1:1.

Buying a diet coke in the canteen… He probably thinks I’m really greedy buying this. He’s probably wondering why I need anything to drink when I’m so fat already. He’ll probably say to his work mate ‘look at the fat girl’ and everyone will look at me…He didn’t blink twice when I paid for the diet coke, because it’s just that, a drink and he works in a canteen where everyone is buying food and drink.

If I leave the ward and have to press the buzzer to get back in the staff will think I’m being demanding and difficult. They’ll be too busy and will get cross at me for pressing the buzzer. They might not answer. 

It’s one of the things I hate most, the way my mind spirals off into anxiety and worry at the smallest trigger and blows everything out of proportion. And it’s only recently that I’m learning that talking about the fears helps, that it takes the power out of things and helps me rationalise the thoughts. I can start off in a total frozen meltdown and through gentle questioning and challenging, however difficult it can feel, I am sometimes able to allay  my fears and come to a more reasoned confusion than my initial fear driven response.