Tag Archives: recovery

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.

An update

I realised I haven’t really updated you on where I’ve been when I disappeared for a while.

A few months ago things were starting to look brighter and I felt like the old me was there, just slightly out of reach. I remember going to my CPA armed with the fact I was the happiest I’d been in years. I had persuaded myself that I might get home overnight leave, that my section would be lifted. I remember being so angry when it became clear neither of those dreams would be happening. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t see how happy I was.

A few weeks later I found myself spiralling again. I was spending hours looking for anything I could self harm with. I remember one leave where I spent the whole time secretly searching the ground for sharps. I catalogued every sharp I saw, planning to get them on my way back. I soon discovered I was never going to be able to pick them up. My eating slipped again and very quickly I found myself fully in the throws of my eating disorder. It took several hospital visits for me to relent and stop refusing my ensures. I still haven’t got up the courage to eat instead of using ensures and fruit. I hate ensures, but at the same time I couldn’t move onto solid food, they became my safety net. As my weight dropped so did my mood and I lost control of my hallucinations. It stayed like that for a long time. As I wasn’t eating and I was fainting around the ward I lost my leave, I lost my unsupervised shower. I felt like everyone was the enemy, that they couldn’t understand.

Then slowly again things began to pick up. There was a lot of tinkering with my medication but slowly it seemed to be helping, finally. I came into hospital taking only two psychiatric medications. Now I take a lot more. Haloperidol worked but gave me painful side effects. Respiradol might as well have been a sugar pill. But now I’m taking a different anti-psychotic and suddenly I found myself again. I started reading again, I started DBT which really helped, I was able to smile and talk to staff, I wasn’t afraid of laughing with other patients. The side effects kicked in, I’m so shaky I cant hold a cup or walk down stairs. I get verbal ticks when I’m talking. But it’s given me myself back and I’m not willing to lose that. My leave was reinstated. I got home leave and I got to see my house for the first time in over a year. I get time out with my boyfriend too and we go to the cinema. I love being surrounded by people who had no idea I am sectioned.And as the weather improved found the courage to wear t shirts that didn’t cover my scars, and no-one even blinked. Things are good. Yes I’m still very stuck in my eating disorder but otherwise I’m content. I’m starting to see a future. I have my books and time to see my family and my boyfriend outside of a visitors room. Yes I get lows but I’m getting there and that feels wonderful.

 

Acute services with an eating disorder

Inpatient wards are never nice places to be; they can be frightening, frustrating, dictative  wards. Anything other than specialist eating disorder units where the service is designed to support and treat the eating disorder service users are suffering with can make acute or other specialised support all the more difficult.

My first inpatient experience was to an eating disorder unit. I remember sitting in costa after being told I was going to have to start inpatient treatment for anorexia nervosa the next day and phoning to mum to break the news and then having to tell my university that I would have to defer absolutely terrifying. I had only been involved with the eating disorder outpatient service 4 weeks and still hadn’t accepted my diagnosis, it all felt rushed and I was resistant to being classed as an anorexia sufferer. I can’t remember my first month or so but slowly came around to being in treatment and it was refreshing to find others like me who had the same thoughts and experiences with anorexia. The groups were all designed directly to focus on anorexia and drive the sufferer forward in their recovery. There was the medical side of it which never stopped being utterly traumatic in my ten months there and I resisted the weight gain side of treatment and at discharge I barely made any head weigh with the weight side of things but I also left with a whole set of skills and a group of friends who truly got it.

Maybe my experience having first been such a safety net and so understanding has made me biased but I’ve never been able to recreate the experience in acute wards. All my admissions since the EDU have been to acute wards and suddenly I was thrown into the world of adult mental health. Each time I have been hospitalised I’ve relapsed to anorexia, maybe not in weight although in some cases lost a significant amount of weight but in behaviours. Every time it’s reached the level where I stop eating and drinking completely. It’s hard on an acute ward to cater to account for all service users difficulties where the funding is low and the supply so demanding. It means though that eating disorder patients can easily slip through the net and only picked up upon when crisis level has been reached. I’ve found that as I’ve moved through services my ability to sustain a low weight and lack of nutrition has deteriorated and in this admission found myself in general hospital for IV fluids. It’s come to the point now that everyone accepts I won’t eat meals and instead have ensure drinks. It can be quite isolating not finding myself able to eat meals in the dining room and I find myself wondering how have I found myself in this position, again.

Acute wards are all about survival and crisis management but this is often to the detriment where specialist services are called in. The level of support and guidance an eating disorder patient is simply not available and in an ideal world that wouldn’t be the case. But for now it’s not and that needs to change.

What’s it like to feel suicidal?

First off a bit of an update. I disappeared over a couple of weeks due to slipping backwards with my eating and drinking and then my mood followed. I was admitted to hospital rehydrated. But I’m not fainting everywhere so I’m allowed off the ward to blog.

Now onto the topic I wanted to address this week.

People don’t talk about, it’s shoved in the corner and not allowed out. But it happens. Suicide is one of the biggest killers of males under the age of 25.But for some people feeling suicidal and not able to shove it in a corner is a harsh reality of their life. I’ve felt suicidal many times and over long periods and it’s been one the hardest parts o my illness for them.

So what’s it like to feel suicidal. For me it’s like smoke, it fills your eyes and nose and mouth so you can’t breathe or scream for help. Talking is an effort, breathing is an effort. The black smoke weighs you down so you can only shuffle. It convinces me not to talk to staff as they’re too busy or you don’t deserve anyway. You search endlessly for a sharp object is you’re a self harmer. I’ve literally gone through everything in my room searching for something to harm with. Usually it’s futile.

That’s my experience of suicidal feelings. I’ve not spoken about other people’s experiences because I’m not in their heads and have no idea what it’s like for them. But male, female, race, sexual orientation and all of them, we need to speak more about suicide, take away the shame by taking it out the corner.

 

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. 

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.