Tag Archives: EDU

Learning to live

I’m sitting here at home typing this and I’m amazed by the feeling of freedom. I’m on a full week leave from the unit, building up to discharge and I keep expecting someone to tell me off, say I can’t do this or that or ask me to write down my description before I go anywhere!

There are so many things you take for granted every day when you’re not in hospital. The ability to go to bed and wake up when you want, being able to walk out the front door just because, boiling the kettle, shoelaces!  

It’s both exhilarating and unnerving moving towards discharge. I love being at home, I love that I’m not spending all my time watching the music channel waiting for the meds hatch to open anymore. Suddenly I can go out and meet up with friends (also a weird feeling, why would anyone want to meet up with me?!), I’m starting to live again. I feel guilty sometimes when the other girls comment that I’m so lucky to have all this time. But I worked for this.

I worked so hard to get here and it’s taken a long time so I’m going to enjoy it. It’s also hard at times, the thoughts and self harm urges still appear, sometimes the flashbacks get to me, but I’m also stronger now. Before this admission I would have been in A&E every day because I would have acted on the urges, but now I have skills to get through those moments. DBT did not come easily but now I can really see how it’s helped.

And now, I’m going out to meet some wonderful friends today. These girlies kept me sane at my EDU with our illicit diet cokes every day and it’s wonderful to see them all beating anorexia too. So that’s me for today, on my way up to London to terrorise the locals and put the world to rights (probably featuring diet coke!)

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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.

Thriving or Surviving?

I’m a bit late hopping onto the Mental Health awareness week campaign. That is “Surviving or Thriving?” But I think it’s a brilliant thing to raise awareness of.

Before being in hospital I worked in a supermarket office, I volunteered as a first aider, I helped run youth mentoring programs. I loved to read, to sing, to play my violin. I was thriving.

Then I got admitted. For the last few months before I was admitted to the EDU I had lost my ability to thrive. I was cold all the time, my head was a mess of numbers, I was so hungry yet so full, everything hurt. I used to walk back from uni to my flat, an hours walk, convinced that this time I wouldn’t be able to make it. I was only just surviving. As my admission passed I was able to lift myself up again. Groups and therapy gave me the ability to survive and maybe hope toward thriving. I can’t say I ever really felt I’d achieved much but I did make friends for life. What’s lovely is seeing some of the girls I was in hospital with living life- learning to thrive.

I managed to return to my degree and I loved my time working in a laboratory. In there, running between my test tubes and the anaerobic cabinet, I was able to forget about my mental health. I could completely immerse myself. But I was not coping on the outside and I was sectioned half way through my dissertation.

This latest admission has been different to my previous. Here there is a real sense of helping us patients do more than just survive. Across the country there are talks of Recovery Colleges. At my EDU there was one being mentioned but solely as a way to learn about your condition. There is a Recovery College here which for me has helped bring me up to somewhere more than just surviving. Going to groups involving the whole hospital has helped bring my confidence up so I can speak in front of others. I went to groups which made me laugh- the smell of our bath bombs probably won’t ever leave me ( I don’t recommend chocolate essence!)! But I also learnt a lot and as my confidence improved I started writing for the newsletter and then became editor. I haven’t worked for years and this lifted me so much. I learnt to delegate, to use new programmes on the computer. I started to become confident in myself that I could achieve things. I’m learning that talking about my story isn’t a bad thing and in many ways has helped me start accepting my past. I look back at when I first went to Recovery College and compare it to now. I now have the confidence to start thinking about work, about future university study, about leaving hospital completely. I even picked up my violin last time I was home! The Recovery College has played a huge part in my recovery. Most of the places I have been have been solely about survival. There was nothing to help you achieve more than that. And that’s what’s different here, we aren’t just helped to survive, we’re also helped to learn to thrive.

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 slave to the scales

Every morning I wake up and the first thought that flashes across my mind is ‘scales’. When I was a little kid I was scared of the monsters sleeping under my bed. Now I’m an adult there is one that hides under my bed, which converts my entire being into a set of digits and dictates my day.

I approach the scales with a mixture of dread and excitement, warily like you would a cornered animal that might bite. It’s a ritual, I strip everything off, even necklaces and earrings and place the scales in the same position over the same two floorboard that I always position them over. Then I step on three times, to make sure the number is correct.

When I was inpatient we were weighed twice a week (although early in admission it was daily), at 6am every Monday and Thursday in our pyjamas after going to the toilet. On the night before weigh days I’d swallow a handful of laxatives and make sure I threw up everything I’d eaten for dinner. Often I’d be locked in the bathroom for hours at a time alternating between vomiting, showering and frantically doing sit ups and star jumps. Then I’d stand on the chair in the bathroom and try to check my reflection in the tiny mirror above the basin. Counting every rip, checking for the bones sprouting from my shoulders. I’d panic if it had been baked potato and sausage night as it seemed such a heavy large meal I was sure I’d gain kilos and kilos from it. If I couldn’t do my ritual I would spend the evening in terror at the fat I could feel blossoming under my skin, coating my body in a thick greasy layer of lard. I always wore the same pyjamas and would step into the clinic room when called the next morning in a fog of pure terror. As the scales inched upwards I became more and more desperate and the most torturous moment was when my weight reached the self imposed limit of 40kg. Every morning after weigh in I’d spend the next two hours arguing with myself over breakfast- I’d eat it and throw up then exercise for hours, no I’ll refuse there’s no way I’m eating when I’m already a fat pig, but what if they sectioned me and tubed me, but I can’t eat any more or I’ll balloon. And on and on.

When I became a day patient and later an outpatient I wore the same clothes to weigh in every week, convinced that changing my clothes would lead to a massive gain. Weigh ins were easier to deal with as a daypatient, my weight was spiralling down again and I would weigh myself every morning beforehand so I knew what to expect. I still hated the OT’s insistence that I predict what my weight had done and why, her compete inability to just let it lie- when I was down the weight graph would be brought out and frowny-mad lines would creep onto her face as she pointed out how far away I now was from healthy.

The worst weigh ins were when bulimia crept back in. I remember weeks where I stood in the corner of the therapy room backed into the corner sobbing and shaking, please don’t make me. There were weeks I was too distressed to step on the scale. Then there were the weeks I did- one week I gained 5kg from the binge purging and resultant oedema. I didn’t stop crying and was found later on the street in pieces by one of the staff from the inpatient ward and brought back to the clinic t talk until I’d calmed down.

The scales hold so much power over me. Sometimes I manage to go a while without using them but it always ends in a desperate search for them, trying t I figure out where they were hidden. If I’ve had a bad day binge purging it’s with utter dread, knowing that the scale will be up. When it shows a higher weight I can feel people staring at me as i waddle around the streets, the fat on my legs growing with every step. On the days I’ve lost there’s a buzz, I’m on a high until the next meal time or binge purge when I come crashing back down.

It’s an awful never ending cycle, gain lose fat thin up down. And repeat.

Newsbeat

Today I was on Radio 1 talking about my experiences with eating disorder waiting lists. I spent a year on the waiting list, listen to what I had to say here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04pj13y

I really hope that this extra funding can help ensure that others get appropriate and faster help and that it levels the playing field in terms of accessing help- someone can be at a high or normal weight and still be suffering just as badly as someone at a very low weight. There are guidelines for how long a patient should wait before being seen for a physical problem but not for mental health. In my opinion, this needs to change. Waiting lists are damaging and dangerous, especially when there’s no support available whilst you’re on a waiting list and no information as to how much longer you have to wait. They can leave you feeling unheard and abandoned. I felt forgotten for the entire year I was waiting whilst caught in a downward spiral of self destruction.

The weight of things

This is what a meal time on an EDU looks like. It is legs jiggling, knives and forks rearranged into the perfect position. It’s a pill pot of lorazepam. It’s everyone’s plate scrutinised and an argument over one potato too many. It is separating each part of the meal and all the ingredients into separate piles and trying to sneak a third mustard sachet. It’s tears and stress. It’s eating the vegetable first, then the carbohydrate, then the protein. It’s mashing your cake and custard to a paste and eating as slowly as possible. It’s toast cut precisely into twelve, corners eaten first, the Middle last. It’s flora packets crawling into the rubbish or scraped under the rim of the plate. It’s staff making you scrape your plate and being told to hurry up ‘5 minutes’. It’s bottles of Ensure two cal and do they have any in the fridge? It’s milk not quite hot enough or too hot or not enough coffee or too much coffee…

I’ve suffered from an eating disorder for the last 9 years. It started off as bulimia and I was first referred to Vincent Square and assessed as being bulimic. Fast forward a year and my BMI had dropped drastically and I was severely anorexic. Four weeks after my first therapy appointment my weight had dropped to critical levels, and the week before Christmas, I was admitted as a day patient to the Eating Disorders Unit.

I don’t remember much of my first week. I remember my first day turning up at 8am for breakfast and not know what to do. I remember my first community meeting where I came in nearly half an hour late sobbing after being faced with a muller corner. I remember the art therapist saying I could go on the trip they were running that day only to be told I wasn’t allowed because I was too unwell. Most of all I remember being cold and miserable. And yet every day between 4-6 I would spend my time powering the streets desperately burning off calories. And every evening after dinner on the unit I would walk home, vomiting in bins and ally ways in a desperate attempt to undo the damage of eating all day. I was grudgingly allowed christmas at my parents, on a strict meal plan which I didn’t follow. Christmas Day was seeing spent crying over a cup of almond milk whilst my family drank wine and obsessively doing 500 squats and countless sit ups in my room.

I returned back to the unit as a day patient and spent the next week crying and crying as my meal plan was increased. I vividly remember sitting with my first full portion meal- vegetable crumble- and in the time allocated to eat our main and pudding (45 mins) I ate the vegetables and two steamed potatoes. My meal was, to my utter horror, replaced with an ensure. For the first time since being admitted I shouted over that, convinced that they were trying to make me fat. I’d already eaten some, I couldn’t have a 400kcal ensure and a muller corner on top of that. I had to stay late that night as I was so distressed they weren’t happy to let me home.

The day I was made an inpatient was Wednesday the 9th January. I had therapy that morning and I remember the moment my therapist told me she would be recommending inpatient care. I was convinced she was lying. An hour later, in morning snack and faced with milk and four hovis biscuits, I was pulled into the matron’s office with him and another nurse and told I was to become an IP and bedroom 11 was being made up for me. I was crushed and terrified, I’d managed to avoid gaining weight as a day patient and now I had no choice.
I also remember a bizarre sense of relief, as I stood on my own in room 11 . It was out of my hands, I could stop now. I met with my new key nurse that day, C, who I was at once terrified of but who became my absolute saviour throughout my admission. I had no leave and the ward rang my mum to tell her what had happened whilst I rang my flatmates and asked them to bring me in some clothes. My flatmates turned up and I vividly remember us all in my room only to find one of the photo frames they’d brought in had smashed- a nurse walked in just as we were holding shards of glass looking extremely sheepish ‘It’s not what it looks like!’

I was to spend just over three months as an inpatient. At the time I was admitted I refused to unpack believing I’d be discharged within a couple of days. As it turned out, my entire admission (day, in and back to daypatient) lasted 10months.

The thing with eating disorders is they’re competitive. I made some amazing friends on the unit but there’s an undercurrent. In the dining room we were quick to pounce on someone else hiding food or jiggling their legs or later in the garden over exercising. And yet I jiggled my legs. I refused to go to groups for the first month because that would mean sitting down. I paced my room until the early hours of the morning and hid my flora at breakfast and night snack. And I purged. I’ve always struggled with purging (vomiting and laxatives) but I became even more desperate on the ward, purging after every meal and snack. And still the weight went on but I couldn’t stop. Whilst I as there the toilets were regularly blocked and I found myself on the receiving end of many community meetings about vomiting being the cause. I was desperate, using my leave to buy laxatives and exercise. I self harmed throughout my admission and often found myself in the clinic room being seen by the tissue viability nurse or patched up. I spent many an after meal supervision aware of blood leaking through my clothes, once my entire shorts being sodden by the end.

I was made a day patient again three months later at a BMI of 17. At first I continued to gain but quickly slipped and found myself losing. For all my fighting back as an inpatient I’d remained fairly quiet and outwardly compliant. That changed a bit when I became a day patient. I refused meals- especially after I’d been refused a meal plan decrease in wardround (and instead told that due to my purging I should actually be having an increase)- and my purging became worse and worse. As my time on the unit started to decrease so too did my weight. But I was attending groups and trying to participate. I dropped my obsessive walking during the 4-6 break, instead going to Neros for an illicit diet coke date with a couple of other friends on the unit every day.

I owe a lot to my key nurse, OT and therapist as well as some of the other nurses on the EDU. I wouldn’t have made it through my 10months there without their support. C who when on nights would sit up talking to me at midnight when I couldn’t sleep and would talk boys with my whilst dressing my cuts and burns, my OT who helped me so much with self catering and managing cutting my time on the unit, the nurse I used to watch Dr Who with at the weekends and my therapist who I saw for nearly two years and who was there no matter how much I fucked up. I don’t miss the unit, but I do miss the people.
When I was discharged I was only 1kg heavier than when I’d first started seeing my therapist and everyone expected me to be back in very quickly. Somehow I managed to stay out and then bulimia took over again and here I am now. A healthy weight with an unhealthy mind.