Tag Archives: anxiety

Bulimic; A day in the life

We’ve seen Anorexia talked about. Its on dramas, on the news, in magazines and newsletters. Eating disorder recovery stories focus on weight restoration and being able to eat ‘normally’ again.  But where are the stories about bulimia? Where do we see people talking about their experiences? Where is the awareness raising for bulimia?

I’ve spoken quite openly about my experiences with anorexia. There is still a stigma attached to mental health problems, but in my experience, the greatest stigma surrounds bulimia. Bulimia attracts a lot of hate- people are labelled as greedy, lazy and disgusting. It’s so far from the truth but so hard to argue against.

I’ve had bulimia since I was 14. This is a day in my life when bulimia took over.

I wake up,  everything hurts. My head aches- bulimic hangovers are real, I feel dirty and itchy and just uncomfortable in my body. My throat is sore every time I swallow and my hand is bruised. I tell myself, today I stop binging, today I’ll stop eating again.

Later, I think I’m staying strong. I haven’t eaten yet and the familiar hunger pangs hit in- uncomfortable but also welcome. My head is killing me. As soon as I can I go into town. Once I would have been clothes shopping, now I go into the food shops, wandering round and round. Picking unhealthy foods up, reading the label and putting them down again.

And then, I slip. I have a biscuit or a latte or something I hadn’t planned for in my day. I lose control, desperately going from shop to shop. I don’t even really know what I’m buying, mostly crap but even things like fruit or cereal could trigger a binge. I feel like I’m watching myself as I move between stores, screaming at Becca, me, to stop. Put it back and leave. But that doesn’t happen. I remember once, when my anorexia was first swinging back into bulimia, getting a phonecall from my bank, mid binge, saying that there had been unusual activity on my card. It was humiliating.

I lock myself in my room and then I eat. I’m not hungry, I don’t want to eat, I already feel sick. But for some reason and I never know really why, I end up still binging. Binging is horrible, it’s out of control painful stomach fear can’t stop someone help me please. Then I become aware of all the wrappers and crap around me. And my stomach is painfully full. I can’t keep this in me. So I purge. Which, by the way, along with restriction, is the best way there is to ensure you keep binging. It’s a never ending cycle. And it is degrading and horrible. You will spend hours cleaning after and making excuses to your flatmates.

And then the day rolls around to night, another binge, another purge. When will this end?

I’m lucky, I am so much better now. I still struggle, I still go to bed most nights wondering whether I could stop eating again, I still spend hours wandering round food shops without buying, I still sometimes struggle with purging. But before, I was spending all day binge purging, I simply couldn’t stop.

And that’s it, a day in the life of my bulimia.

A long journey

On the 2nd May 2015, I was sat in a car park, on the way to work, and I had cut my wrists. I had phoned my mum, terrified I was going to run into traffic. As soon as I had hung up, I realised I didn’t want to be saved.

I cant remember much of the next 18 months. I know that I was desperate, that my sole intention was to kill myself when I could get the chance. And there were times I nearly succeeded. I stopped eating and drinking and was taken in and out of hospital for glucose and fluids. I remember fighting that, I didn’t want them to help me. I couldn’t understand why the staff didn’t just give up on me. I spent hours head banging, trying to escape myself. I still have two ridges in my forehead and I spent a long time with an open split on my head where I had gone too hard.

My mental health story started long before that. Aged 14 I was being bullied at school. It wasn’t just name calling, I was pushed over a wall, slammed in a door. There were comments made on a bebo page- one of which stuck with me. That I was better off dead. That was the first time suicide entered my head. By the end of year 9, I was self harming and bulimic. I felt so alone.

I moved schools for sixth form and found my  feet, still suffering from an eating disorder and self harm, but I was feeling happier. I had a group of friends. For the first time in a long time I felt like people liked me.

The same came when I started university. For the first term, I loved it. My eating improved, I mostly stopped self harming. I was feeling well. But then I was raped and my world fell apart. Almost immediately my eating disorder took over. My depression clouded me. By second year I was anorexic. I’ve never felt so isolated. We lived in a horrible flat. I remember sitting there trying to persuade myself that I could cope. I managed to finish second year with a 2:1 but I didn’t feel any sense of achievement. I was completely in the grips of failing mental health.

In December of third year I was admitted to an Eating Disorders Unit where I spen ten months. I came out still struggling anorexia but then months later I suddenly flipped back to bulimia. Horrendous bulimia. I was binge purging on 1000s and 1000s of calories. Once my bank even rang me as there had been so much use of my card. I was falling apart and was admitted to an acute unit, twice. I came home, relapsed and that started this admission.

I’ve spent too much time in hospital. I’m tired of living by a regime. I want to be able to wake up when I want. I want to work.

And suddenly I’m getting there! This Wednesday I had my section lifted! It’s been the best part of two years since I was free. There is no better feeling that sitting out in the park knowing I can sit in the park enjoying the sun and not being limited to 1 hour. I can walk as far as I want. It’s such a weight off. I’ve worked so hard to get this far and I’m going to keep working.  I have the most incredible family, friends and boyfriend, even when I’ve felt alone, I haven’t been. They’ve been there, every step of the way. I have a 2:1 degree in microbiology and I’m going to use it.

My mental health story doesn’t end here, it keep going but changing course. Two years ago, I was desperate to die. Now? I’m desperate to live.

A ceasefire

Last week I was transferred from the priory back to the local NHS unit as a bed had come available. I was terrified, my experience last year on an NHS ward has honestly left me scarred and I was terrified this ward would be the same. Thankfully I was wrong and this ward is much better than that last NHS ward but it’s still hard. I thought I’d share some positive writing from my last creative writing group at the priory, hopefully it’ll help me to re read it too as right now I feel anything but positive. The topic was ‘The Gift I Give Myself’. 

My body is battle weary. For ten years it has been the canvas I painted my pain on, the battleground in the war against myself. For years I deprived it of sustenance, forcing my weight lower and lower, each pound a victory, each newly emerged bone a battle, I thought, won. But all I achieved was the bone deep aching cold of permenant winter, bones of a 70 year old at 21, the sharp pain of pressure sores where bone strikes seats and floor and mattress. For years more I have subjected my body to the harsh ravages of bulimia. The continuous filling and violent emptying which led to ulcers hands, a bleeding inflamed oesophagus and the risk of sudden death. And yet still I war with myself this way. 

For years I have scored self hatred on my skin. Scars stripe once pure arms and legs, a visual map of my failings. For years I’ve counted my worth on the depth of a cut or the number of stitches required. 

And yet ten years of battle and I find myself no further on. My body is tired and battle worn and scarred but it has surivived all I’ve thrown at it. It has survived bullying and rape and mental illness. So perhaps the greatest gift I can give to myself is a ceasefire. A time to end my war with myself and enter the uncharted we territory of recovery… 

A day at the priory 

I wake up disorientated. Sure for a minute that the sounds of talking I can hear are my mum in the kitchen with the radio on. Then I open my eyes and realise the door is in the wrong place and there are too many voices for it to be just my mum. Then it hits me. I’m on hospital, again. 

I doze until 8am when I drag myself out of bed and do battle with the temperamental shower trying to eke just a little more hot water out of it so I can wash my hair. Showering has got hard again. It feels like a marathon and leaves me exhausted. I just want to curl up in bed and sleep the day away. Once I’m dressed in my biggest hoody and jeans that are becoming baggyer by the day I shuffle to the clinic room and join the medication queue. Olanzapine and venlafaxine washed down with ice cold water. 

I’m struggling with food again but I force myself down to the dining room and wait for a bowl of porridge with a whitworths shot a friend brought in for me. Normally I eat alone at one of the small tables but today I push myself to sit at one of the big communal tables and find myself joined by two other patients who I chat with whilst eating. 

Back on the ward I wander between my room and the lounge- not able to settle anywhere and filled with anxiety. Today is day one of my new increased meal plan and the day they’re going to start locking my bathroom after meals so I can’t purge. I willingly agreed to it, after talking to my friend Tash I have a new resolve to beat my eating disorder once and for all. I’m sick of it dictating my life and ruining my health. 

The rest of my day is filled with groups. Yesterday I had support group in the morning which is a space to talk and share how we’re doing in the here and now and tell our stories. I feel very detached as I speak about being sexually assaulted- I want to cry but I don’t seem to be able to these days. The detached feeling follows me throughout the day and I struggle to feel present during the CBT group that follows. I had a visitor yesterday, my friend Tash who’s been amazing throughout both our battles with mental health and who always gives me that push to try a bit harder and really challenge my disorders. 

After that I spend my evening curled up in bed, the rooms are freezing for some reason, and watch TV. Last night I watched the Island on channel 4 and enjoy the escapism it provides. At ten I go to the clinic room and wait for my meds before heading to bed, glad another day is over. 

Doing things differently

First off, thank you for all the well wishes and kind words. 

I’ve been in the priory a week now and am slowly finding my feet. This is my 4th inpatient admission but it feels this time that things are completely different. 

The thoughts and emotions are the same. I’m still battling with my head on a daily basis telling me to run from the grounds and out in front of a car or to find some way of harming myself badly. I still have intrusive images as to what that would like like and find myself replaying different plans and possibilities over and over in my head. But this time, instead of fighting the staff at every step I’m working with them. I’ve had a blip or so but mostly I’m talking to staff when I’m feeling bad, I’m taking my PRN and I’m going to groups. 

That’s the biggest difference I’ve found being in a private hospital (albeit in an NHS funded bed). The moral seems better among the staff and when they ask how you are they have time to listen when you’re not okay. Instead of using threats such as ‘if you don’t do this we’ll take x away’ they sit with you and work out what would help you. The therapy groups are equally impressive- I have my own tailored therapy timetable with groups ranging from creative writing to support group to self acceptance. And instead of the awkward silence sat through in many of the ‘groups’ in previous admissions the group is gently encouraged to use the space without any pressure, which somehow makes it easier to talk. 

I’m still a long way from well, but I think I might actually be in a place where I can take steps to get better. 

10 things I want you to know about mental health

Sometimes knowing what’s going on in anyone’s head is an area we all struggle with. It can be even harder to understand or guess at what is going on in the mind of someone trapped in mental health problems. And sometimes not knowing makes having an open and honest conversation a huge hurdle, it becomes the elephant in the room that everyone recognises but no-one is quite sure how to bring up. I thought I’d do a post on ten things that I, as someone with a mental health problem, want you to know about my illness.

  1. My anorexia was never about weight or being thin. It was about safety and taking up as little space as possible. I felt I did not deserve to take up any more than the absolute minimum space in the world that I could. Taking up more space felt dangerous- I might be noticed and that would mean I was unsafe.
  2. My eating disorder isn’t really about food. I still love food, if anything I love it more than before I was ill. I just won’t let myself enjoy it, instead it’s become an all or nothing experience. The foods I avoid the most are the foods I secretly love the most and wish I could eat.
  3. My external appearance doesn’t reflect the way I feel. Sometimes it may do, I may have a day where hoodies and leggings are the only thing I feel comfortable in, but most often I look well. I’m a 23 year old female with a wardrobe full of primark and new look dresses and skirts, I can be feeling at my worst whilst dressed in fashionable clothes with my make up done and my hair washed.
  4. Likewise I don’t look like the picture of a mental health patient that always accompanies any media article on mental health. I don’t spend much of my time with my head in my hands or curled up in a corner refusing to speak. At my very worst I did but that was in a psychiatric unit with very unstable grip on reality- most of the other patients were sat calmly watching TV or smoking in the garden. Very few of us looked ‘mental’. Here’s my mental illness selfie- would you look twice at me in a crowd? headclutcher
  5. Having depression doesn’t mean I’m always miserable. I can’t switch it on and off but often when I’m around other people my depression is in the background and I am able to participate in life. that’s not to say it’s easy and I don’t struggle, just that I can enjoy the lighter moments just as much, if not more so, as any ‘normal’ person. It’s when I’m on my own or not busy that my depression hits me hard and it becomes a self destructive cycle- the lower I feel the less likely I am to go out and the less likely I am to therefore enjoy/ experience the lighter moments.
  6. Self harm is not attention seeking. It’s one that should be obvious but it so often isn’t. I’ve come across a lot of professionals who tell me I’m using self harm to seek care and attention. That in reality couldn’t be further from the truth. I find having to seek help, even from my mum, absolutely mortifying and avoid it as much as possible. For me self harm is a way of getting the bad feelings and emotions out of me, perhaps closer to bloodletting than attention seeking.
  7. You can have a loving family and stable background and still have mental health problems. I firmly believe there is a biological/ genetic element to a great number of mental health problems. I come from a loving family who support me and care for me deeply. I am loved and come from a family that provides emotionally and financially for me and yet I still have long standing mental health problems.
  8. Anorexia and bulimia are not like the photos pro anorexic/ bulimic internet sites and instagram accounts show. They are not like the way lifestyle bloggers with anorexia portray. They are life threatening illnesses which take up your entire life. They are not baggy jumpers and cups of green tea- the reality is messier and darker and much more unhappy than any of these images portray.
  9. It’s not laziness that stops you doing things when you’re unwell. Depression can be paralysing and when I am becoming unwell the first thing for me to lose is my music. Not because I can’t be bothered or because I’m being lazy but because as I get more unwell the energy to just function becomes incredibly difficult to tap into, so anything extra brings about panic that I’m not going to be able to do it and that fear becomes a self perpetuating cycle which leads to a monotonous greyscale effect on life where doing the things that are pleasurable and enjoyable becomes too much to cope with.
  10. Mental health problems aren’t just ‘being  bit moody’ ‘having a down day’ ‘being happier than normal/ hyper’ ‘not being hungry’, They are real and life threatening illnesses. You can’t get a touch of depression or a day of anxiety or a couple of hours of anorexia. They are illnesses which take over and control your life to the extent that they can become your life at their very worst. Everyone feels depressed or anxious at times but not everyone has depression or anxiety, there’s a crucial difference between feeling nervous about an exam because you want to do well and feeling paralysingly scared about leaving the house for a reason you cannot put a name to. The same goes for depression, eating disorders, mania and a whole raft of other mental health problems.

Mental health problems are real and they are serious. They are illnesses, not adjectives.

Self harm, the reality.

Self harm. As many as 1 in 10 young people will engage in it at some point during their life and yet we almost never hear it talked about. I’ve written before about some of the stigma that comes with being a self harmer and about my experiences in A&E, this time I thought I would talk about the day to day reality of living with self harm.

My self harm started off, like many peoples, as minor scratching and cutting. Enough to draw blood but injuries that left only thin pale scars and put me at little risk. That doesn’t mean it’s okay. When I first started self harming I remember seeing pictures of severe self harm online and thinking that would never be me. That it would never get that bad. And yet here I am 10 years later still self harming and to a point where I require stitches and have needed a blood transfusion in the past. Out of interest I looked again at the photos that had so shocked me as a 14 year old and had seemed frighteningly serious. This time I was shocked, but for a different reason. My day to day self harm is often worse than the photos I had thought so terrible at a young age. That 14 year old who thought she’d never go that far? She has.

I think I can understand how my self harm has escalated to the point it’s at today. It starts of slowly, at first you think you can control it. You think that you can choose when and how you self harm. But it snowballs, like any addiction it becomes more demanding, requires a bigger hit for the same effect. At first you’re scared but then you become immune to it. Over time you lose track of what ‘severe’ and ‘mild’ really mean. When you do it every day it all looks mild. It was only recently when I was in A&E about three weeks ago that I realised this. I’d gone in with a very deep cut I knew needed stitches only for them to start worrying about the other cuts around it as well saying the needed stitches too. They were too old to stitch but those were my standard every day level of cutting and it was a bit of a wake up call to have them considered as needed stitches. Those were the cuts I just shoved a dressing over and got on with.

Self harm is insidious, it slips in to your life and then takes over your life. At my worst, when I was in hospital, everything became a weapon. Cutlery left lying around the ward was quickly stolen and hidden in my room, bit of glass from the ward garden, coke cans left lying around… everything suddenly took on a new dangerous meaning and it was like someone had taken over my brain and focused it on spotting sharps. I still struggle if I walk past broken glass not to instinctively pick it up and hide it, even though I have access to clean sharps at home. I never do but I cannot look at something sharp without thinking how I could hurt myself with it. Slowly you lose your identity to self harm, you do it so often in your head you become just another self harmer- if you didn’t do it what would you be? And your skin reflects that identity and strengthens it- your arms are a map of pain and suffering for everyone to see. You can’t wear short sleeves without stares and whispers or without feeling that everyone you pass is judging you. And you worry that to those that do notice you are just ‘crazy’ ‘wrong’ ‘another self harmer’ ‘attention seeking’…. the list is endless.

Self harm takes over your life in other ways too. Most of my friends would struggle to provide you with a plaster if you cut your finger at their house- at my house you’d have the choice of a normal plaster, a mepore dressing, gauze, opsite and numerous other wound care products. I have a first aid box my mum stocked up with full of dressings and steri strips and gauze. Then there’s the long sleeve tops- every summer is a stressful time. The hot days are beautiful yet agonising as you are forced to wear long sleeves to cover scars, long trousers, lightweight material to keep you cool and hidden.

And then there’s the act of self harming. The trance like state I get sucked into where it’s very hard to remember what I’ve actually done. For me the urge to self harm localises to a physical area on my body and intensifies until I give in and self harm. But there’s an icy clarity to the pain. There’s the rush of fear and adrenaline that kicks through you as you cut deeper and deeper, there’s the moment of panic when you hit a vessel and it sprays before calmness because you know you’re getting the badness, whatever it is, out. The pain never goes away though, you DO feel the pain when you’re harming, it’s just a different quality of pain from the normal pain you get when you’re accidentally injured. This pain is dull and slightly panicky but also feels strangely right- you’re doing this yourself and you can chose when it’s too much and when to stop. In theory at least. The reality is choice doesn’t come in to play with self harm- NEED, urge, desperation. All better ways of describing it, never choice.