Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas ☺

See this river of chocolate? It's rocky road - dessert for today.

It'll make my kids deliriously happy. And I am going to eat it and not puke it up and it is going to be okay, OKAY????!!!!

Merry Christmas


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Hello! Still alive, still waiting

Finally I have a start date for the new clinic: 29th of December. Thank god!!! It's going to be a raging party for me this new years eve! Me and the nurse's, living it up large. Still, I'm relieved. Terrified too. What will I do without my eating disorder? How will I deal with my emotions? What's going to happen???

I'm hoping to settle in an do some proper writing and painting while I am there. Too anxious and busy to do it now. I have just amped up my anxiety too, because I have commited in my head to eat THE SAME FOOD AS EVERYONE ELSE on Christmas day. For the sake of my children, I want to do this, but I am shit scared.

Anyway, here's a little picture of Santa, perched on my Christmas tree.


Saturday, 28 November 2015

I'm painting while I'm waiting

It's been another nervous week for me, full of all sorts of ridiculous, disordered behaviour. I'm in a therapeutic vacuum -  stuck between one treatment centre and another. I've been swirling around all over the show emotionally, but I did manage to do one positive thing: I painted a picture. Saved by a feather again... Painting keeps my hands and my head busy, and soothes my anxiety. This picture is for a good friend, who has sat patiently through many tears, never judged, and hasn't given up on me despite having seen me at my worst.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Status update, in short

This will be very brief... I don't actually know what is going on with me. I can't write (I've started about five proper posts then abandoned them), I can't draw, I'm not doing my chores. It has all turned to shit. I have done one thing and one thing only: indulged in my disorder. 100% of my focus has been on body size and shape. My own - which is of course an endless source of disappointment; random strangers at the mall; anorexic you tubers. I've even whipped out the measuring tape and compared my measurements to the Victoria Secret models.


Part of the problem - in fact most of it might be that I am in limbo. I have finished up with my therapist at the clinic I've been going to, and waiting to begin treatment at the new place. I'm in nowhere land with no-one, so my eating disorder and I have buddied up nice and tight.

It is the WORST friend.

Hopefully my brain will kick back into gear soon, and I can resume writing and drawing properly.

Au revoir, until then!



Friday, 13 November 2015

Pictures of recovery

Once I had finished my last post, I kept thinking about what this experience really felt like. I have spent the whole year battling an invisible foe that lives inside me. I desperately want to get better, so why does it take so long? What's so hard about it? Why can't I just snap out of it? On the surface, the solution looks straightforward enough. Step 1: Eat. Step 2: Don't vomit. It's impossible to explain what recovery is actually like, at least in short form.

So here are two pictures, to help show how it is and how it isn't.

 I think some people imagine recovery is like this. It isn't.
This is more accurate.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Waiting for rescue

The road to recovery doesn't follow a straight line, but twists and turns unpredictably. I've taken the wrong path plenty of times, spent a good while going around in circles, and am prone to moving in reverse. Still, I've made progress. Even in my weak moments, when I wish I could go back pre-recovery, I know it isn't possible. I crossed mountains to get to where I am now, and there's no way back.

The pace I take varies too. Up until recently, I'd been charging ahead at high speed, all fired up with frustration. My brain fizzed and popped - I concocted plans, implemented changes, and made sweeping pronouncements. But my sprint came to an abrupt end when I smacked into a wall and fell. Defeated, I waved my white flag. I give in, I need help.

I asked my therapist for more support. My plea was utterly heartfelt - I practically bled desperation. She said she would start the referral process for the alternative treatment centre, and let my doctor know so that the necessary tests could be organised. But my doctor wasn't told, and the next time I saw my therapist, she approached the subject tentatively. She seemed unsure of my feelings about it, and kept referring to it in uncertain terms - as an 'if' or a 'maybe', rather than the solid "YES", that I told her it was.

I reassured her that I wanted to go ahead with the referral. She seemed happy with my reply, and said she'd prepare it.

Great, I thought. Then I waited.

No word came. I turned up to the next appointment, hoping... for information, or evidence of action. Even an official-looking piece of paper would have helped.

But there was nothing.

My therapist wanted to 'check' with me. Again. Was I sure? Did I want her to do the referral? I have NO IDEA why. Was I going mad? There was nothing ambiguous about what I'd said, I was certain.

It left me feeling angry, confused and hopeless. I didn't want to talk, so I left the session after ten minutes. I had nothing to add anyway - my life was exactly the same as it had been the last few times I had seen her. Every day I diligently stuck to my meal plan, binged, then did my best to vomit up my internal organs. Every day, I despaired. Every day I waited for help.

After my exit that day, the wheels started moving. There is more waiting to be done, but it is a relief to get some traction finally.

As part of the referral, I have to outline what I hope to achieve at the new clinic, so I met with my psychiatrist to discuss it. I sounded rational and sure when I spoke. The things I said were true -  I need structure and more intensive support to blast through. My disordered behaviours need to be interrupted. But while the words came confidently out, the line of conversation inside my head took at different turn. What have you done? You cannot go through with this. They'll make you fat! You will fail! Everyone else will be young and thin and you are fat and old and you will not even fit through the doors you are so enormous and you will knock the poor girls over and they will be appalled at the grotesque fatness!

So you see, the ill part of me is the teensiest bit terrified. I will essentially be relinquishing control over what goes in and out of my mouth, and that is a really big deal. After the fuss I have made, I sincerely hope I don't back out. One thing I am sure of, if I do commit, I'm not going to waste the opportunity. I will throw myself in, boots and all.


Friday, 6 November 2015

Smoke & mirrors: A clear view of body image

Body image is the way we perceive the appearance and attractiveness of our bodies. It's not a description of physical fact, not solid or immoveable, but blows about like a puff of smoke and affects what we are able to see. The shape it takes depends on our individual history, personality, and relates to cultural ideals of beauty that surround us all.

Humans have always celebrated physical beauty, but our reverence for bodily perfection is becoming a big problem. Images of the 'body beautiful' are paraded in front of us constantly - beamed into our consciousness via television, our phones and computers. There's no time out from it. The gap between the physical ideal and what we actually look like has never been greater. Images (and bodies) are altered - creating an entirely unrealistic standard. The internet means were are no longer limited by geographic location - we see and compare ourselves to examples of physical 'perfection' from all over the globe. It's no wonder eating disorders are on the increase.

Ordinarily, outside of my eating disorder, I would have said that I had a relatively healthy body image. I've never aspired to look 'perfect'. I don't go in for lots of makeup, expensive lotions, fancy manicures or blow-dry's. I saw myself as someone who was comfortable enough with their body. Whenever the issue of body image has been raised in treatment, I've been reluctant to accept that I had a problem. My attitude was "Okay, so you say my body image isn't good, and I suppose it mustn't be (*rolls eyes), because I've got this blinking illness. If this is actually true, it needs to be fixed. Tell me how. How do I un-believe the things I don't think I believe?".

In response, my psychologist gave me a task: Avoid the mirror.

For someone with an eating disorder, looking in the mirror can be a serious business. 'Body checks' often become obsessive and ritualistic, done to reassure or punish. The mirror, like the scales, is used as a weapon in the war against the body.

It's not like that for me though, I thought. I don't do much of that body checking stuff.

Except that it turns out I do.

As I lay in bed the first morning after seeing my psychologist, I decided I'd give the task a try. I could at least take notice of what I was doing, you know, just to prove it wasn't a big deal for me.

My assessment began early. With the fog of sleep still hanging over me, I started pinching and prodding flesh. Definitely fatter - ugh, disgusting. Pyjamas feel tighter, I'm sure of it. I checked my hands and forearms; Hmm, veins disappearing; skin looks softer, younger, wait... is it glowing? ...oh god. Disappointing. Then I leapt out of bed and stood at the mirror. Ugh, my arms. See that wedge of fat? Yuck. Oh no, my stomach - the bulge! Seriously looks like I'm five months pregnant. No exaggeration. Then I went to the shower and checked in the mirror there, then out of the shower, checked again (just in case there was a change), then back to my room; check, check, check. No matter what I asked of the mirror, there was only one answer: BIG. FAT. FAILURE. By the time 7.30am rolled around and it was time to wake the children, I had already found one hundred different ways to hate myself.

After one day of consciously trying to avoid the powerful pull of the mirror, and taking notice of the constant stream of abuse, I had a new perspective on things.

Fuck. This is bad. My body image is dreadful.

Still, I had it in my head it was just because of the eating disorder. I hadn't always been this way, had I?

I thought hard about the time before my eating disorder began. Back to my ordinary adult life. I had to put my pride to the side to see it, but it was there. Bad body image. I never let it show or spoke of it, but I felt deeply uncomfortable in my skin. There were a lot of paranoid body checks, attempts to hide or disguise. Dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and obsessive exercise at times. In my mind, my entire adult life is sectioned off according to size: Oh I remember that party, I was x kilos, those jeans were a size x... Yeah that wedding was great, but I remember how fat I felt in that dress, how it clung in all the wrong places... Gosh I was slim then - oh that's right, I was restricting my food and taking laxatives...

Maybe the problems with my body image stemmed from my first eating disorder, at University. It was unresolved and never treated, so perhaps it's just a hang over from that? But what about before this period, when I was a teenager?

I took my mind back to my high school years, and thought of how I felt in my body. What I remembered was shame, awkwardness, and a hatred of certain body parts. I thought my stomach was actually deformed. The school I went to was an all girls school, very traditional. I have loads of great friends from that time, had some wonderful teachers and got a good education. But being all girls and growing into our bodies, there were a lot of comparisons going on. In PE (Physical Education), we were lined up and measured with fat clippers. Arms, stomach and back flesh were scrutinsed, then we were given a 'fat' grade: A, B, C or D. My best friend got an A. I got a B, and I remember the shame and embarrassment.

In childhood too, I had a negative view of my body. I was a country girl, and didn't care about 'girly' things much, except that I desperately wanted long hair (it was cut boy short, and I hated it). My favourite colour was brown. Favourite shoes: brown Bata Bullets. Favourite top: brown sweater. I ran about in gumboots, climbed trees and played in haystacks. I had fun as a child, but I never felt 'pretty'. I thought parts of my body were fat (and that fat was bad), that I was big and boyish. That was how I perceived myself and became my identity. It's interesting thinking about that now - many of my dysmorphic judgements of myself relate to the feeling that I look 'manly' (no-one who knows me would describe me this way). I went on my first diet when I was ten. It was a secret. I recorded everything I ate in a notebook which I hid at the bottom of my wardrobe.

I don't think my experiences growing up were anything remarkable - I imagine many girls have a similar tale to tell about their body image. It worries me though - I have three children, eleven years old and under. I would be really concerned if any of them felt bad about their bodies. Helping them grow body confidence in a culture that vilifies physical 'imperfections' is not an easy task.

It might seem strange reading all this - how could I have not known I had a poor body image? The thing is, I'd never looked my life as a whole before, never added up the separate parts. Negative feelings or experiences of my body were isolated and then buried. I pretended it wasn't there because I didn't want it to be there. It was partly pride, partly self preservation. As an adult, the feelings of self hatred had become so deeply entrenched, the negative thoughts so automatic, that I didn't see them. It was my 'normal'.

After doing this experiment, I started thinking. If body image is a collection of thoughts bundled together to form a belief and a 'way of seeing', then it's possible that it could be changed. I could have different thoughts passing through my head. I don't have to hate myself. 

I would imagine there a lot of people who feel this sense of body shame. Maybe it's the majority of us, I don't know. But it occurred to me, that maybe there are some who don't. There might be people out there who wake up and automatically think good thoughts about themselves, and who look in the mirror and feel grateful and happy to have what they do. Without a body, we have no life, after all. Imagine if, deep down, you felt love for yourself. What would it be like? 


Saturday, 31 October 2015

Dispelling illusions

A spooky thing has happened. I was in therapy the other day, immersed in conversation, and I accidentally referred to the eating disorder as 'she'. I'd never done that before. It had always felt like a vaguely masculine presence - sort of alien-like and distant. Then I looked over at the empty chair opposite me and saw her slouched there. And she was me. She wore the same clothes as I was that day; her hair in the same messy bun. It stopped me in my tracks.

Rationally, I've always known that the eating disorder was my own construction. There's been no zombie takeover or demonic possession of my brain. The voice of anorexia was clearly coming from within, but I didn't feel like it belonged to me. I thought of it as a malevolent force I had to fight and defeat. But when I saw her(me). sitting there, looking vulnerable (and more than a little sheepish) I understood that it was me - or at least, part of me. In that moment, for the first time, I owned the disorder.

When I made the recognition, my first instinct was to punch her(me). I felt shocked and betrayed. It's me? It's me?! How could you do this, you evil cow?! But the feeling was fleeting, and sadness took its place. I felt sorry for her(me) (OK I'll just say her or she from now, even though it's me... it's getting confusing). She - the eating disorder - is the embodiment of the things I had learned in my life that were wrong. She's defective, and has done an awful lot of damage. But she exists for a very good reason. In fact, she has done excellent work, helping me cope through a turbulent time.

If I were to list her attributes, it would make for a good job application: Her work is of a high standard, she's persistent, hardworking, means well and always tries her best. She is ingenious and adaptable. But then I'd rubber stamp it with this: DANGER! KEEP CLEAR!!. On no account do you want to employ this girl... she's wired to self destruct, and she'll take anyone who's close by down with her.

If I accept the eating disorder is truly part of me, it means I have to accept all the thought distortions - the hateful judgements and dysmorphic illusions, are in fact mine. Though the external environment has to be 'right' for an eating disorder to flourish, it is me that gives it life. I am responsible for it, yet it isn't my fault. My sub-conscious is the driving force behind it. There is no rationality involved - no choice. To make a choice, there has to be at least one viable alternative. When I took this path, I'd exhausted all my internal resources. The eating disorder was my only option according to my mental capacities at the time. I'm trying very hard to make a different choice now, but I'm struggling to knock down what I have constructed.

It's difficult to take ownership of this stuff. The warped thoughts fly in direct opposition to everything I want to believe (and do believe when I am healthy). My 'crazy' has got, well, really crazy.

I am going to try and set myself straight. What follows is a list of some of the distortions. They come right from the heart of the disorder, but they are (unfortunately) part of my belief system.

I look much better with bones protruding. Healthy flesh looks disgusting on me.

I am unable to judge what looks good and what doesn't. My perception is all off. I know that I used to feel fine with more coverage. I also know that I look a lot older without my skin filled like it ought to be. It doesn't feel good to have exposed bones when my children prod them and question me. I would hate to see any of them with ribs or hip bones sticking out. Good health looks beautiful on everyone else, so why not me?
Sign of 'womanliness' are starting to return. The curves look revolting and I want to rip them off.

The truth is, the absence of  womanliness was a key motivating factor in halting my weight loss. I used to have - for want of a better expression - a decent rack. And it felt good. Boobs are cool. There's nothing cool about having the body of a child with the face of a 42 year woman. I felt ashamed.

Being thin was everything it is supposed to be: fabulous! fun!, easy! I miss it (now that I'm ginormous)

The 'slim persons' wonderland' does not exist. Even if I had something fun to do, like a trip to the beach with the kids, I couldn't enjoy it. My mind was wrapped up in the disorder. I was anxious, cold and had no energy whatsoever. There is no room for anything in life other than the illness. It is agonising and scary. I would really like to have fun again one day, without being shackled to my eating disorder.

You can wear anything when you are thin. Clothes look better.

Actually, I avoid clothes shops altogether, because I feel self conscious and confused. No matter what I put on, I felt only disgust. The eating disorder would never let me feel good about my appearance. I'd always be too much of something - too: fat, round, scraggy, womanly, manly, wretched, old, robust, healthy, scrawny, soft, bony, too much of an All Black (I know, it's weird). I can't win. One minute I'm trying to hide chicken legs, the next minute, fat legs. I don't know how it is that I can be too fat and too thin in the same moment, but that's what this disorder would have me believe.

Everything about me is big and heavy. My organs, ribs, hands, feet and toes. I weigh more than everyone. Big is bad and ugly and being this way makes me a failure.

The importance of weight and size is massively exaggerated in anorexia. Obviously, I've magnified the significance of it all. I can't trust my judgement right now, or rather, I can trust that my judgement is skewed. The size of a person is irrelevant, and says nothing about their value as a human. Anyone who says otherwise (like the media; the beauty and fashion industry) are wrong. It's bullshit.
I'm destined to be enormously fat, and I won't ever be able to control myself around food.

This is an imagined catastrophe - a cognitive distortion, not a fact. I can't predict the future. All-or-nothing thinking is common in someone with an eating disorder, and that's what is happening here. Based on my history and current situation, it's unlikely that my prediction will come true.

It is hard to believe I have taken on board so much toxic crap. At least now I recognise the distortions for what they are. Earlier in the year, I don't think I would have acknowledged I had this sort thing going on in my head. Now it's all out in the open, there's nowhere for it to hide. So that's progress.


Sunday, 25 October 2015

The 'B' word, the 'O' word, or just 'HELP'?

I look and feel like a train wreck. I have a swollen salivary gland from purging. It looks like a golf ball is embedded in my cheek. My throat is red, raw and sore, and yet the urge to binge again is intense. One thing is clear: I can't fight this alone. It's too hard.

So I put the call out to my therapist. I said: I need more help more structure more support more tools more skills more knowledge I can't do it by myself I need help I need help I need help. I spend so much time alone. There is nothing to hold me back from doing my worst. It is me battling me, and I'm a nightmare of an adversary.

And so... the ball is rolling. There is one other treatment centre available under the public system where I live (and so free). My therapist is organising a referral for me. It is a small clinic that offers both a residential and a day programme. Whenever this treatment option had been mentioned to me in the past, I thought it sounded perfectly hideous. They have structured, supervised meal times - and no way was I prepared to sign up for that. While it still isn't exactly appealing, I have officially given up restriction (I've had fifteen days free of it!) and I think I could manage it now. Honestly, I'm so desperate to escape from the pool of vomit I am swimming in, that I'd do almost anything.

With the help of my meal plan, I have now clocked up a total of SIX DISORDER FREE DAYS. After more than eighteen months of disordered eating, this is HUGE. I have felt stronger than I have in a very long time. But anorexia was Chief Stress Reliever (and creator) in my life, and now I am now scrambling around lost. Bulimic behaviour has taken it's place.

I'm not happy about it. Bulimia is not 'my disease'. It's shameful, depressing and deeply unattractive. Despite that, I have weird compulsion to talk about it to anyone who's willing to listen. I'd like to get a bloody great loudspeaker and shout from the rooftops 'Do you how much I can eat?! You would not believe it! Buckets of caramel and chocolate and ice cream. Yes folks, and then I vomit! I vomit and vomit and until my throat hurts and my eyes water and I am exhausted and it is nasty!' It's as if 'outing' the behaviour puts it at a distance, and I want it as far away from me as possible. Still, I wont be putting in on my resume.

The way I see it, the labels used for eating disorders are contrived. There is so much cross over from one disorder to the next, that I wonder if there is any point trying to pin a classification to a person. My disorder has been morphing so rapidly lately, I don't know where I fit. In a lot of ways it doesn't matter what label you are given - certainly nobody is chasing after me trying to slap me with a new tag every few weeks. But it is useful when explaining my situation to someone, and helps to organise things in my mind.

The clinical criteria for anorexia and bulimia are specific and very narrow. Aside from these well known disorders, there plenty of delightful variations, including: anorexia binge/purge sub-type, purging disorder, binge eating disorder and OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (previously EDNOS)). Orthorexia (an obsession with healthy 'righteous' eating) keeps popping up in the media, but isn't yet officially recognised.

Sometimes your head fits in one category, and your body in another. Eating disorders are classified as a mental illness, so I don't understand why physical markers are relied on so heavily in diagnosis. There were months early on when I was mentally and behaviourally 'anorexic' (I jumped straight into it because of my past history), but my body was a healthy weight. Then I had some time when I was anorexic weight and continued with purely restrictive behaviour. Then I added in some of the binge/purge cycles. Next, I had a period when I was binge eating and not getting rid of the food. And then back to alternating between restriction and binge/purge. Giddying isn't it? Some time around then I would have come up out of the anorexic weight category, but was still underweight. Now, I binge and purge, no restriction, with windows of normal behaviour. Does that make me bulimic? Or anorexic in recovery? (in the same way an alcoholic might always refer to themselves as an alcoholic, even if they have gone twenty years without a drink). I have seen bulimics referred to as 'food addicts', and I don't relate, because I've been addicted to hunger, not food. The urge to binge comes after eighteen months of physical and emotional deprivation, and I think I'm unconsciously driven to restore the imbalance. It could be thought of as part of my recovery, rather than a pathology in its own right.

So where does that leave me, technically speaking? OSFED? Well, no thank you, that label is crap. I'm inventing my own:



I'll ask the people at the new clinic to treat me for that.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

I think I can't

I've had two messy, disordered days in a row, and today very nearly became a third.

Thank goodness, I managed to put the brakes on. I did what I often do when I'm desperate - I pulled out my paint and brushes. This is the result:


While voices in my head cried I can't, I painted and pondered. I stared at what I had done so long that eventually the words settled inside me and I believed that I could.

Another thing happened that helped me through. A good friend called out of the blue. On her own initiative, she'd dug around and uncovered some resources for people with eating disorders. She had found local support I could access, made phone calls and found new websites that might help me. Her call came right in a moment of despair. It's so hard to pull myself out of the deep when I'm sunk, and her thoughtfulness made me feel so much better. Having someone that cares makes the world of difference.


Friday, 16 October 2015

Trials & triumphs: Week 1 on a meal plan

This week, I have made radical changes. Following a meal plan has made an enormous difference to my behaviour and thinking. Things have been far from perfect (as you'll soon find out) - but still - much, much better. I've recorded each day.

It all began spectacularly well. For all of day one and most of day two, I was on fire. ZERO disordered behaviours. I was positive, clear-headed and full of hope. I wrote a bit about it here. However... after I posted that entry, near the end of day 2, bad things happened. Afterwards, I trudged back to the computer and wrote this:

Day 2 (evening)

What a shame. I've defiled my meal plan. I was feeling all glowy and positive, then boom. Binge. Vomit.

I am not going to catastrophise. Today was still 90% good. Mentally, for almost the whole day, I won the battle, and I'm not going to let that success go. This is bound to be rocky. I'm reporting my digression to keep myself honest. Tomorrow is a new day, and I will show up. I will show up and fight every day until I beat this STUPID eating disorder into submission.

Day 3

Feeling a bit sad about the vomiting last night. Fears crept in overnight: What if it doesn't work? What if I'm still hungry, even with the right amount of food, and I keep binging and purging? That sort of thing. But I'm here. I've had the breakfast I planned, and ticked the boxes I needed to tick.

I have another challenge today. My therapist just texted and told me I had an appointment with my doctor at the clinic. That means one thing - I have to be weighed. Usually, I don't eat or drink anything in the morning before the appointment. Every detail of what I wear is planned in minute detail (my clothes have to be 'light'). This morning I've already had my breakfast and a coffee - it's too late for all that. In a way, I'm glad, because I don't have to choose between my usual disordered behaviours, and my brand spanking new 'good' behaviour. I'm going to weigh more - I know that much, so this time, I've decided I'm not going to look. It won't help me to know, and I don't want to let the eating disorder win by refusing to be weighed.

Day 3 evening

Success! Today I did everything I was supposed to do and nothing I wasn't. At the clinic, I was weighed with my back to the scales, and it felt fine. I need to let go of those numbers if I'm going to recover.

I cannot wrap my head around all the eating - food just keeps on coming. And my stomach feels so bizarre. There are things in it. Weird.

Day 4

Despite eating everything on my plan, I was ravenous all day. If I could just eat one piece of chocolatey caramel goodness (like someone without an eating disorder), that would be okay. But I can't. If I had one, I'd have five, then panic, then vomit, then restrict... and on it would go. For hours I battled urges and won, spurred on the thought: I value my recovery. It's too important to throw away. It gave me strength. But at the end of the day, I was tired and still ridiculously hungry, and I broke. I binged - big time. I broke into a cold sweat and collapsed on the floor with intense stomach pains... then up came all the food.

It's very glamorous, having an eating disorder.

Day 5

Before the day started, I knew things were going to go awry. Hunger and ebbing hope drove me to binge on buckets of chocolate. Before it happened, as I circled around the confectionary isle at the supermarket, I wished there was someone I could call to help me out of the situation. An alcoholic might have an AA sponsor to contact in vulnerable moments, and that's exactly the type of support I needed.

I feel like I am at a pivotal point - I think I'm done with restriction. It's a blinking MIRACLE. I want to recover, but I need to get on top of the binge/purge behaviour before it becomes a deeply embedded habit. I don't know how or where to get the right sort of help.

One good thing: afterwards, I got straight back on the meal plan. I'd usually write off the entire day and I'd be an unholy mess right up until bedtime. Although I felt like I'd let myself down today, it was an achievement to get back on track after my stuff up.

Day 6

I'm so proud of myself! All day, I fought urges and won. I took it the day gently, made few demands of myself and focused. Each time the call to disorder rose its ugly head (every five minutes) I talked myself through, repeating "Make today a good day. Take care of yourself today" over and over again. My hope and positivity have been restored.

I feel GREAT!

Day 7

8am: I'm gunning for two good days in a row. My plan is to keep things really simple again, stay calm, focused and cheer myself on. My kids have gone for the day, and I have written this on my fridge:

20 minute binge
= 45 minutes vomiting
= loss of hope, feeling of failure 
= continued eating disorder

It links the disordered behaviour directly to the consequences. Binging gives me a brief high, or a sort of release, but it is absolutely not worth it.

8pm: Did not make it. Rubbish afternoon. I feel like I would really benefit from being locked up right now, or maybe handcuffed to a post.

The conclusion...

This week there have been ups, downs, and everything in between. Some miracles, a few abysmal failures, and a lot of weirdness.

The tally for the week:
3 x excellent days
2 x good days but bad nights
1 x shit day
1 x really shit day

The most important thing from now on is perseverance.


Monday, 12 October 2015

Words for wobbly moments

The temptation to revert to disordered eating is strong. It's a constant mental battle - at every meal time I fight it, and the hours in between. I needed a quick stop list of reminders to refer to, when I feel the urge to chuck it in. So here are 6 excellent reasons to stick to my meal plan.

  • I value my health.
  • If I binge and vomit or restrict, I will lose hope and feel sad. New disordered habits will form around the plan, and I don't want that to happen.
  • I am taking care of myself, and that's what I want to do.
  • I need to relearn healthy eating behaviours, and to give my body a chance to heal. It's going to take time. Later on, I will be able to eat freely and intuitively, but for now this plan is my stepping stone to recovery.

  • If I fall off the wagon, I don't need to catastrophise. It happens - the important thing is to get back on. I won't wait until the next day - i will get back on the plan at the next meal.
  • I value my recovery. I don't want another year of this shit, so I have to go through this period even though it's uncomfortable. I want to rebel and go back to disorder, but all that would do is drag this process out. It would mean more misery, and I've had enough. It's time to help, rather than punish myself.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Tick, tick, tickedy tick

Good news. I am now on the second day of my meal plan. It is a roaring success. That's not to say it's not hard to do - it is. The most difficult thing is resisting the temptation to restrict the food. My head automatically tries to shave off calories, and I have to stop myself from doing that every step of the way. The second hardest thing is resisting the urge to vomit, or binge then vomit. I am eating just enough to keep this particular monster at bay. I do not want to cock it up! All the hope I have of getting rid of my eating disorder is resting on this meal plan (Note to self, just in case: If you have stuffed up, that's OK, people do, just pick it up again the next day.)

I have now drawn up a plan for a full week. That in itself is a major feat - I didn't expect I'd actually do it.

The whole venture is surprising. I surprised at the amount of food I am supposedly allowed to consume. Just when I start to get hungry, I look at the clock, and what do you know? It's time for a snack! And not even a miserable one - it's, like, proper food. It takes the edge off my hunger and keeps my energy up. I'd conveniently forgotten that crucial piece of information: we eat food to fuel our bodies. It keeps us going.

I get it now...!

Something else I hadn't expected - mentally I feel so freaking good. I've got it firmly in my head: I am taking care of myself. It's okay to do that. I can take up more space if I need to (which I do). I'm even ready for the 'You look well' comments. I will say "THANK YOU" and understand it is good, because I am taking care of myself and my efforts are being acknowledged.

WOW. What a turn around.


Thursday, 8 October 2015

An unexpected victory

Guess what I've gone and done?

I've drawn up my own meal plan, and I'm feeling quite pleased with myself. The last few months, I've been wrestling with the idea, but up until yesterday, I really thought it was beyond me. It wasn't a lack of knowledge that prevented me from doing it, but the overwhelming emotion I've attached to food. To do it, I had to detach myself from my anxieties, step out of my eating disorder and leap across a great divide to get at the rational, healthy side of my brain.

It had to be done. On my restriction days, I'm now down to 7 miserable items of food: carrot; apple; piece of frozen bread... The same things, in the same order, at the same time of day. If I'm not doing that, I binge and then spend hours with head stuck down the toilet. It is no way to live.

When I sat down to do the plan, I put on my 'clinician's' hat, and pretended I was doing it for somebody else. That kept the eating disorder beast quiet for a bit (it's actually not as clever as I thought). I could approach it with care, look at what 'the client' needed and make a plan that was safe. I added some challenges and variety, and stuck to the calorie requirements. When I was finished, I had a nutritionally sound eating plan, with none of the wishy-washy, Shrewsberry biscuit nonsense that my dietician had recommended. Better still, it's laid up in a nice tight, colourful grid, with plenty of boxes for me to tick. Exactly what I needed!

How's that for success?


Tomorrow, I am doing this plan. That's it.


Friday, 2 October 2015

Meal plan SOS!

I have one word to describe how I feel about the meal plan I received yesterday: DISAPPOINTED. Note the caps, the bold type. Also this: :( 

Still not enough to express my upset.

When I met with the dietician and requested a meal plan, I was as clear as I could be. I said I needed a structured alternative to disordered eating. I didn't want to have to make decisions, so that all I had to do was follow the plan. The most important thing was that it felt safe. We agreed weight maintenance was a good place to start, and spoke about nutritional needs. I hoped the dietician might be able to suggest some things that were a little less bleak than the offerings on my current menu.

To be able to trust the menu plan, I knew I needed specifics. No fist or palm sized servings for me. No, I wanted numbers, grams, cups and inches. Also lines, columns and preferably some arrows if she could find a use for them. The dietician asked me about the sort of things I would be likely to eat. She seemed to get it. It gave me hope.


It didn't happen, and now I'm desperate.

The dietician broke one day into six meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner and three snacks. Under each meal she listed the food group I was supposed to eat, and then one or two examples tacked on at the end. Like this:
1 starch + 1 dairy + 1 fruit
Eg. 2 slices of bread with jam, yoghurt and fruit

Afternoon tea
1 snack
Eg. 30 grams nuts

Along with this, there were separate pages with large lists of foods for each food group, that I was supposed to choose from. One of the 'snack' pages had twenty seven options on it. There were eighteen different starches to choose from. And I was meant to go ahead and mix and match.

Yeah, right.

The sheer number of items listed was enough to make my eyes water. I couldn't take it in. Choice is a big problem - that's why I asked for the dieticians help. I needed somebody else to draw up the plan so that I could keep my muddled brain out of the proceedings.

The examples she provided felt like an after thought. I'd expected them to be the basis of the plan, and to have maybe a few days mapped out exactly. She made suggestions on the spot, for instance for a protein, I could have chickpeas. As in, just open a can, and have them plain. I like chickpeas. But, um... isn't there some thought missing? Is this what dieticians usually do?

It was completely unspecific. There was no breakdown of calories or a even a daily total, which is essential for me at the moment. I asked her what it added up to - she didn't know, so did a quick calculation in front of me in less than twenty seconds.

The foods listed were vague as all hell. On the snack page were things like: one average piece of cake; one muesli bar; two cookies. HUH??????? Average? What's that? Which cake? Does it have icing, or chocolate bits? How about I make it my type of average, which is a slither, or none, or the whole cake, and then vomit it up, because I don't know what average is? How does that sound? Which muesli bar? Some brands have 300 calories or more, some a lot less. Which one am I supposed to go for?

As part of dinner, she had listed "2-3 vege", without saying which vegetables. For someone who didn't have a problem with food, this might sound like a reasonable guide, but no way is it adequate for me. A cup of peas has about 125 calories. A cup of tomatoes has about 30 calories. She told me the difference between vegetables didn't really matter. Hello??? I have an eating disorder. IT MATTERS. Why didn't she understand this? Further down the track, I would be trying to let my calorie obsession go. But not now. That's not where I'm at and it wasn't what we'd agreed to. If I couldn't trust the plan, I wouldn't use it. It's as simple as that.

I needed it to be safe, and it wasn't.

Some of the food the dietician recommended confused me. I know the idea with recovery is to restore balance, and I understand that some unhealthy food is fine. To be fair, she couldn't know all my personal preferences, as I'd only met her once before. But there were things on the plan that I wouldn't have expected to be there. There were Shrewsberry biscuits, iced biscuits, flavoured milk and soft drink. It seems strange to me - I'm not a little kid. Commercially made biscuits are rubbish - they have trans fats, food colouring, and flavouring. Potato chips make me feel disgusting when I eat them. I don't understand. I'm looking to fill a nutritional deficit here, not to load my system with empty calories and chemicals.

The other thing is - and this is crucial - I'm trying to convince myself that I deserve nourishment. I'm not going to feel good about putting this shitty food in my body, and never would have. It's not nourishment in my book.

I told the dietician I needed more specifics, so we went through and added some more details - like the type of bread, nuts and fruit. She wrote down the calorie requirement I needed to meet for each meal. The end result was an improvement, but no way was it the air tight plan I needed it to be. I didn't trust her work by that stage. The lack of care put into it made me sad, and I was so disheartened I just wanted to get out of there. I cried all the way home and most the evening.

Healthy me would be able to deal with this situation. I have enough knowledge. I could whip up a concise plan, have it laid out, colour coded and looking pretty in no time. But healthy me is AWOL, and I cannot piece it together. I have so much anxiety attached to food, my brain simply freezes.

I wanted this to work so much, and I feel really let down. The people at my clinic seem to have an aversion to structure, but it's what I need and I tell them over and over again. Eating disorders are their speciality, so why this is hard? My needs surely aren't unusual. I've seen plenty of others in the recovery community (You Tubers) waving their fancy, detailed meal plans about. I want what they have, and I don't know how to get it.


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The confronting truth

Eighteen months ago my rational mind was taken hostage by my eating disorder. Almost every aspect of my life is on hold while I live with it. Starving is utterly miserable and vomiting is HELL. I don't want this illness to take another year away from me. I am both jailer and inmate in the prison that I live in, but neither part of me wants to stick around. I have the key. I can get out. I'm cold, hungry, afraid, broke and lonely, and without a doubt, I will stay this way until I unlock the door and step through.

It's time for a reality check. As uncomfortable it is for me to face, here is the truth about my eating disorder as it is today.

Things have changed

Sometimes I wish I could go back to the days when the answer to everything was in watching the number on my scale go down. But the fact is, I'm not there anymore. It didn't work. I don't need my eating disorder to function in the same way as I did in the beginning. I am done and dusted with the triggers that set it off, and can better manage at least some of the situations that aggravate it. To an extent, it continues out of habit, as a sort of addiction. The guts of it have been exposed and what's left is a bunch of destructive behaviours, a brain that's stuck in a holding pattern, and a body that communicates things I don't want it to.

I'm treating myself like crap and I don't know why

When I don't feed myself as I should, I am effectively saying I don't deserve basic care. I feel compassion for other living things. I free spiders from certain death, treat bees with respect, and nurture plants as if they are children*. I don't think starvation is a suitable punishment for anyone - even the worst kind of criminals. Food is fundamental. Why on earth am I not allowing myself the nourishment that I would wish for everyone else? I did nothing wrong.

The quality of my life is rubbish

Restriction isn't just about limiting food, it also means a limited life. Whatever my future holds, nothing will change while I am ruled by this disorder. I'll stay stuck - that's it. So much has gone wrong in the recent past, that I am petrified of putting myself back into the world. When I began, I needed to make my body and life small - it felt safer, but I'm learning ways I can protect myself that are infinitely better. Putting on weight doesn't mean I automatically have to throw myself into everything full blast. I can do it all at the pace that is right for me, and protect the space I need to heal. Nothing in my life will be solved immediately when I overcome the weight gain hurdle, but it will not happen until I do.

This is affecting my kids

Shielding my children from my eating disorder has always been a priority. I make sure my weird rituals are kept well out of their sight and purposefully eat in front of them. I never say anything negative about my body to them, and do my best to help them grow a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. But I'm not fooling myself. I say the right things, but I don't do the right things. What am I communicating to them when I won't share an ice-cream with them on a Saturday afternoon? What sort of role model am I? I know they notice my minuscule portions. They wonder why I cook and eat my dinners separately from them. My children miss out on the warm sense of togetherness that comes from sharing a meal. My oldest in particular asks questions about what I eat and my weight loss is on his radar. Children at school have commented on my size to the kids, and that feels like every kind of wrong.

I let fear call the shots

I am afraid of the reactions of others, and I am letting that fear stall my recovery. I'm worried that if I put I on weight my illness and failures will be exposed. My head is full of imagined judgements, and they are mostly illogical. In reality, the people I am close to would be happy to see me progress, and wouldn't give a hoot how many kilos I gained if it meant I was healthy. Those who don't know me well probably wouldn't give it a second thought, or wouldn't mention it if they did, so why does it matter? Even if someone thought the worst: that I am weak/a failure/fat/a loser, so what? Why would I value an opinion like that?

My body image is not what I want it to be

By maintaining disordered behaviours to keep my body as it is, I tell a story about myself that don't want to be true. I am saying I accept the body image bullshit that our culture is awash in. I'm silently agreeing to the idea that it's more important to be thin than it is to be healthy. The notion that a woman's worth is greater if she is slim is abhorrent to me - I reject it outright intellectually, yet my behaviour shows I consent to this lore. It would be an act of defiance to claim back the body I was designed to have.

I want to be a woman with a voice

On close inspection, I discovered disturbing thoughts about how I experience womanhood. Starvation strips away female physicality. Angles replace curves. At my lowest weight, almost all signs of my 'womanliness' disappeared. In my mind, I connected soft flesh with happiness, vulnerability, and strangely, acquiescence. Those things had to go. I felt like I was more likely to be heard and taken seriously if I was less overtly feminine. I used my body to speak, and it was a voice that had impact. Effectively, I linked decreased femininity with increased power.

No doubt the rotten roots of this thinking are twisted up in cultural history, but I also had a personal situation that might have stirred things up. At work, my boss (and friend) had begun to treat me differently, and I was uncomfortable. There were unwanted touches, sexual jokes about me, and put downs. I felt degraded, powerless, and stupid. It seemed as if my body, simply by being female, somehow betrayed me. I let this situation fester for months, and didn't speak up because I more concerned with being 'nice' than I was with listening to my feelings. My boss wasn't taking me seriously, and nor was I. This alone didn't trigger my eating disorder, but it didn't help. My way of relating has changed now - I am more practised at using my actual voice and putting up boundaries. I will safe guard my well-being from now on, because I know what the consequences are if I don't.

It's a fun-free zone

Having this illness has put a strain on many relationships. Some people have kept away from me altogether. Socialising is fraught with anxiety and travelling is a nightmare. Birthday's, Christmas, visits from family and friends are all incredibly difficult to deal with. I've forgotten what it feels like to relax and have fun. And as for the prospect of dating... oh my god, no way. Impossible.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Figuring body comments

Every stage of my eating disorder has been accompanied by a running commentary on the appearance of my body. There was a great gush of approval when my weight loss began. Virtual strangers, eager to slim down, approached me and demanded I share my "secret". As my weight dropped too low, the praise was replaced with disapproving scolds and avoidance. Then the applause returned with an increase in weight, bringing cheers of "You look well!". The problem with these kinds of comments, is that it's impossible to know what sort of torment is going on behind the scenes. How I look is not how I am. Most people have good intentions - they don't mean to do harm, but casual remarks and assumptions based on physical appearance can damage. It's extremely difficult to deal with - just anticipating body comments is enough to stall my recovery.

Conversations that arise out of genuine care are different. It takes awareness, skill and sometimes courage to see past the exterior and broach a sensitive subject with someone. Those who managed to do so with me have been life savers. Sometimes people made remarks about my weight loss that I don't think truly reflected their thoughts - it was more a reflexive response to an awkward situation. It's easy to do - sometimes my mouth runs a few seconds ahead of my brain and I don't say what I mean. But many of those I regularly saw - at yoga class and in the schoolyard, bombarded me with comments about my body. They were oblivious to my discomfort and continued even after it was pretty clear I had a problem. It baffled me why they thought it was okay - the most vocal among them barely knew me.

Almost all the commentators were women. The men in my life are generally less verbal than the women, so it makes sense. With my girlfriends, there isn't much that's off limits. We talk about our physical selves readily - our bodies provide shared experiences that bond us together. We talk about hormonal woes, swap pregnancy and childbirth stories, and support each other through body image struggles. Most of the time, it's a good thing. It does mean, however, there is sometimes a lack of boundaries between women. Opinions and judgements are sometimes given whether you like it or not. In a culture where thinness is seen as desirable, some assume weight loss means the same thing for everyone, and rave about it as if it could only ever be good.

The world around us shapes the way we view and talk about bodies. Today, in the west particularly, beauty is bound up in consumer culture. The female form is on display everywhere, used as a tool to sell everything under the sun. Attractiveness itself is up for sale. Bodies are treated as objects, dissected into a multitude of parts and scrutinized at a microscopic level. Skin isn't the fantastically elastic organ that protects and contains us, but a series of 'problems' that we are urged to fix. There is dryness and wrinkles, sagging and pastiness, dark circles, cellulite and blemishes. Our bodies are assigned shapes (apples, pears, bricks and bananas...); our muscles tone, fat distribution, waist to hip ratios, and jean size are critiqued by various industries. These industries aren't there to care about the individual, they are there to sell a product or service. There is little appreciation for our uniqueness. Personal care is now public and commercialised (think of the hullabaloo about pubic hair!). Weight loss is everyone's business, and it's discussed fanatically over every media platform. When the physical self is seen as separate from the inner self, it's easier to pass judgement and comment. A person's feelings and experiences don't need much consideration.

This doctrine exists and plays out in the world I inhabit. When I first began losing weight, the deluge of comments that came in my direction were entirely positive. Some came from people I had never spoken to before - they didn't see boundaries and didn't see me - only the weight loss. Telling people it was due to stress (true in part) didn't dull their exuberance whatsoever. The talk and attention it elicited made me deeply uncomfortable, and I cringed away from it. The ill part of me, though, was glad. In my disordered mind, their words encouraged me to carry on - they affirmed my 'work' was paying off, but told me I hadn't done enough. I wanted my body to scream pain, and their enthusiasm told me it wasn't doing that yet. Nobody could have known the unhealthy state of my mind, but everything that was said reinforced my problematic body image beliefs.

I don't blame these women. We are affected by the same cultural maladies. The people who commented most frequently seemed uncomfortable with their bodies - openly criticising their arms, tummies and thighs. The irony is, that by verbalising their judgements, they perpetuate the myths that bind them.

Once my weight became unhealthily low, the flattery stopped, and things got much quieter. There were some comments with confused messages: 'You look amazing, but I'm worried about you are you eating?" There was communication by omission. It was in lost eye contact or absent smiles. Someone who might usually stop to talk in passing would avoid me. I could see the nervous flicker of their eyes over my body and it spoke volumes. I understood those reactions. It's hard to know what to do. Still, it made me feel awful.

Only the hardy continued. Some, not knowing how to deal with my situation, resorted to infantilising me. I am a fully formed, capable adult - the person I have always been, yet even a few old friends growled as if I were a child misbehaving. I remember one occasion that illustrates this perfectly. As I got changed for a yoga class one day, an acquaintance looked at me and tut-tutted "You're not eating you naughty thing." she said, and lightly slapped my hip. I was at my lowest weight and utterly wretched. I wanted to yell at her "Look lady, I'm not naughty, or a thing. I'm struggling with the will to live. Get your hands off me" She meant well, but it was reductive, patronising and reinforced one of the disorders underlying features: disempowerment.

Pity has the same diminishing effect. "Oh you poor thing" is a show of compassion, and comes from a good place. It's the kind of thing you might say to soothe a child, but as an adult it leaves you hanging in helplessness. Having an eating disorder doesn't make me weak. I have had an inordinate amount of shit thrown my way, and this is my particular way of snapping. No-one is bullet proof. I don't want pity, I want to people to understand how much strength it takes to confront deep-seated issues - many people live and die never dealing with their demons.

There was a period a few months ago when I ate a lot. I'd had a shift in my thinking and I was all fired up, ready to blast through the disorder with pure aggression. Putting on weight felt dreadful, but I forged ahead - that was until the comments started filtering in. As soon as there was a visible change in me, people rushed up to say how well I looked. They did so out of kindness, and were genuinely relieved to see my apparent improvement. What they didn't know, was that I tuned in to a special station of my own, which translated "You're looking good!" into "Your looking fat! Really fat! Fat, fat, fat!". I may have had some colour back in my cheeks, but I felt frighteningly out of control. In my mind I was a gigantic, blubbery failure. Their simple well wishes were so out of sync with how I felt, that I screeched on the brakes and stopped eating.

With so many ways to do harm, you might wonder if it's safe to say anything at all to someone with an eating disorder. As I see it, the key is to be genuine, open and respectful. Even if it is to say "I don't know what to do, I'm scared of saying the wrong thing", that's great - it starts up a conversation and is an acknowledgment of the difficulty of the situation. Questions are good, assumptions are not, and empathy is the golden ticket to healing.

If a meaningful, empathic exchange isn't possible, then the next best approach, I think, is silence. I don't mean avoiding or ignoring a person who is ill - I mean interacting the same way as always without mentioning the weight loss. There were people who looked me in the eye, joked and chatted away as if nothing were different, and it was such a comfort. It's not an easy thing to do. The prospect of putting on weight around these people is less daunting - I feel less self-conscious, less judged, and somehow more supported. It would be no good if everyone stayed quiet, but it is a far better alternative to casually made body comments, reprimands or pity.

The things people say wouldn't usually affect me quite so deeply, but at the moment my resilience is nil. Comments based on my outward appearance burn like knife dragged through an open wound. The difficulty is, I can't stop the words coming from people's mouths. To shield myself, I have to build a mental barrier with bricks made of self worth and acceptance. Right now, it seems like an impossible task, but my frustration with this illness grows day by day. Maybe change is on the way...


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Maybe, maybe...a meal plan?

Change is afoot. A small change - in attitude... potentially in behaviour, but I think it might be a tiny step forward. For the first time, I'm considering a meal plan.

My eating disorder is running wild and free. It's swift and deft and no matter what I do, it's always just out of my reach. At the doctors today, I threw my arms up in the air, despairing at the lack of power I have over it. I bemoaned the absence of behavioural goals or structure, and resolutely declared disordered eating as the sole viable option for me. In response the doctor said two things: "We're looking for very small changes", and then: "What about a meal plan?" Though I've heard these words before, for some reason this time I tacked them together and a door opened in my head. I saw an alternative - a way of being that wasn't horrifically disordered. While eating 'normally' remains impossible - a meal plan just might be possible.

The internet is full of reports about treatment facilities that have stringent food intake requirements and behavioural rules. The clinic I go to doesn't work this way - at least in my experience. So long as body and brain are stable enough, they offer support and make gentle suggestions, rather than dictate or enforce. Their focus is more on the underlying psychology of the eating disorder, rather than symptomatic behaviours. As I understand it, the theory is that forcing a plan on a person that isn't psychologically ready is futile. Changes won't stick, and relapse is more likely.

At times, I have wished (and asked) for practical tools or some structure to guide me, though I haven't taken them up on the help they have offered. I met with a dietician early on in my treatment, but rejected a meal plan for a host of reasons, all of which boiled down to the fact I was in no way going to commit to eating. They also introduced the idea of food as medicine and suggested I have nutritional supplementary drinks to up my calorie intake. I listened, thought it was a sensible idea, took one home and promptly tipped it down the sink. Particularly as an independent adult, there is no way anything is going to work if I'm not ready. It has to be a choice.

Things have changed since my initial meeting with the dietician. I'm not hell bent on losing weight anymore, and although the thought of gaining still terrifies me, I accept that I need to at least maintain my weight. The problem is the way I am going about weight maintenance. It's all sorts of disordered - swinging from hard restriction to binging and purging, and it's nothing short of torture. I'm so emotionally invested in this disordered behaviour, I've completely lost sight of how to eat normally, but I'm sick to death of the madness.

Restrictive eating disorders function like scaffolding. The rigid rules and measurements fit together to provide shelter from an emotional storm. The structure, ironically, feels safe. When I attempt to leave it behind and eat freely like a healthy person might, it goes horribly wrong. I feel lost and chronically unsafe. So I need something equally structured to replace it - cue the meal plan. Rather than limiting me, its boundaries would offer me a freedom: an alternative to disordered eating.

Rather than committing full time to a meal plan designed for weight gain, I would start small, as my doctor suggested. Though I know I ultimately have to increase my weight, I would begin right at the conservative end with a weight maintenance plan. What I need is another safe space to be in, and for now, that's what would provide it. I could practice semi-normal eating. If I managed to follow it for even part of the day, it would still be a massive improvement on my current behaviour. I could think of it as a goal that can be broken into small, achievable chunks.

I have enough knowledge to draw up a plan myself, but I haven't, and I don't want to. Because quite frankly, my plans are rubbish. I want someone who is not mentally unwell to do it.

The ill part of me is nervously assessing risks, and there are a raft of "What if's?" hovering over the plan. What if, for instance, they calculate the calories wrongly and I gain weight? What if I'm still hungry even after I've eaten the food they have outlined? What if I immediately shave things off the plan and turn it into another restriction tool? What if I binge afterwards anyway or I'm too afraid to do it or my metabolism is slow or my appetite proves to be unnaturally, outrageously enormous?

If I let them, these doubts could blow up and prevent me from going ahead, but I'm pretty desperate. I've tried tackling this beast from all sorts of angles and my efforts have had little effect. I really want something to work.

I'm not keen on having my food scheduled until the end of my days. Eventually, I want to be able to eat without rigid rules or calorie counting, guided by my likes and dislikes. A meal plan is still restricting, but it's not born of disorder and actually offers hope. It's a good interim measure and has the potential to push me a little closer to recovery.


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Recovery is not the word of the day

Whatever recovery is, I don't feel like I'm in it. People use the term to describe the space between 'very ill' and 'recovered from illness'. With eating disorders, its meaning is wide open to interpretation. It isn't bound by time, can't be measured, and is constantly on the move. And yes, I am adrift somewhere in there. But to me, it carries a tone of positivity that I don't feel - not today or any day of late. If being 'in recovery' is the road leading to 'recovered', then I feel like I've taken a wrong turn and got lost.

Labels have their uses. They provide a quick snapshot of complex situations and help illuminate. 'In recovery' has a nice, clean ring to it - it sounds like things are under some sort of clinical control and there's no need to worry. But it doesn't reflect the unholy mess that I am in, and feels false. So where am I, exactly? How can I describe it?

Sometimes I say that I am 'healing'. It's less clinical, more nurturing and a little more visceral in its connection to hurt. But both my body and mind a taking a hammering right now - I'm pretty sure there is not much healing going on. It's just damage of a slightly different nature than before.

Yesterday, for instance, was a vomiting extravaganza. Just revolting. While my body is probably grateful for the extra calories I consume and inadvertently absorb on days like these, it's not doing my health any good. It's dangerous. On top of that, I restrict harder on all the other days so that I don't gain weight. I'm eating less than I was before any treatment. My behaviour is becoming more extreme at both ends. I am amazed at the amount of abuse my body has tolerated, but it will be taking a toll I can't yet see.

Needless to say, my current eating habits play havoc with my mental health. Add that to whatever I've already got going on with my brain chemistry, and it's not a pretty picture. Several nights in a row, I've been woken in the night with the beginnings of a panic attack. A gust of wind or pelting rain will set it off. It's like the buzz of a thousand bees rising up in my chest, down my arms to my fingertips. My mind is definitely not in healing mode.

So I'm not 'in recovery' or 'healing' as I see it, but if I attach the word 'soul' to either - to become 'soul recovery' or 'soul healing', I feel better. I think of soul as the essence of a person - it's not the body or a set of activities or chosen vocation. Because it's separate from the external stuff, this recovery work can happen regardless of all my shitty behaviours and obvious failures. And I can say that I have made some progress.

'Soul healing' is not an institution-friendly concept, and I'm sure it sounds like a bunch a hippy, dippy, self-indulgent nonsense to some. But the thing about eating disorders is they are the physical manifestation of a diminished, injured self. I'm engaged in a battle, fighting for the right for 'me' to exist. So to recover, an awful lot of navel gazing needs to happen. It's uncomfortable because it goes against ideals I learnt growing up - that self involvement was bad and individual needs are best put to the side. The trouble is, I'm no good to anyone if I don't focus on this stuff. I would disappear completely. It needs to be okay to have a 'self' that takes up a bit of space. Once I have done that repair work and my soul is strengthened, I'll have something I can wrap my flesh around. That's where the sandwiches come in.

So this is where I am: I'm trying very hard to heal, reconstructing the core of myself, and getting somewhere. And while I'm doing that I am actively putting a stop to healing with outrageously disordered behaviours. Make sense?

Now look. I know this is weird. I'm 42, and
this is a teddy. But you see I had to keep my mind
off the bad shit somehow, so this is what I drew.


Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Oh dear me, anxiety

My brain is not working properly. I tried writing the post I had planned but I can't string my words together. And writing is one of the few things that I'm not frightened of. I could do housework - folding washing and wiping stuff is satisfying and kind of therapeutic... but then I get anxious about what will happen when I finish. A tidy house means a wide open space with nothing and no-one.

Everything is scary right now: the wind, the rain, roads, cars, planes, loud voices, the news, letters, phone calls, the weekend, bills, and the text alert on my mobile. Basically, everything outside my front door and some things inside my house too. Damned amygdala! It has got things all wrong, and being awake is horrible. All the freaking out is freaking me out, so I have done something. I have booked in to see my psychiatrist, and I'm going to ask for the dreaded antidepressant medication. I don't know if I'll take them yet - I might just look at them. But at least I won't go into this weekend empty handed. My tank is all but empty, and I don't have the resources to get out of this very, very, very, deep hole that I am in on my own.


Got them! Looking at the box.


Saturday, 5 September 2015

Seismic damage

I can pinpoint the exact moment in time when my world was turned on its head. At 4.35am on September 4th, 2010, a massive earthquake hit my home town of Christchurch, NZ. It set in motion a chain of events that have gradually seen my life unravel. The reasons I have an eating disorder are complex, but if it weren't for this earthquake and the thousands that followed, I would not be in the state I am in today. The trauma placed immense pressure on my coping systems, shook loose the nuts and bolts of my eating disordered past, and left me exposed. At the time, I wasn't paying attention - getting through was all that mattered. It's only in hindsight that I can see the extent of the damage.

We were sleeping when the first earthquake struck, thrust from our cosy cocoons directly into cold, sharp fear. The earth thundered and thrashed like a furious bull. Crockery crashed, glass shattered and furniture slammed against walls with each jolt. It felt so vicious - like the worst kind of betrayal. The ground beneath my feet, the most solid of things, was not as I thought. My illusion of a safe and benevolent world was blown to tiny pieces.

My neighbourhood - built around a pretty, winding river, was badly affected. There was no electricity or running water for many, but we cleaned, cleared and repaired, and gradually patched a semblance of life back together. No one had been killed and we were grateful.

Relentless aftershocks made emotional recovery slow and halting. The acrid smell of fear stuck in the air and I was constantly on edge. Before the earthquakes, I would take long runs around the river to burn off steam, but I stopped. Deep fissures cut through the river banks and houses slumped at its edges, and I couldn't bear the destruction. I swapped running for alcohol as a way of dealing with the stress.

In early January, with my anxieties still running high, someone made a comment about my physical appearance. It was fairly innocuous remark, but it hit a vulnerable spot in me and I immediately swung into restrictive eating. I began recording and limiting my food with a fervour that I hadn't had in many years. Though I made no conscious link at the time, food restriction - like alcohol, became a tool for numbing my emotional distress, and a mental escape from the chaos that surrounded me. The disordered part of my mind awoke.

Then, on the February 22nd, 2011, the second major earthquake hit. I was at home with my youngest, who was napping at the time. Its brut force flung me up in the air and I dropped like a puppet, colliding with the floor as it came up to meet me. I picked myself up, and tried to focus. Time splintered, each second disconnected from the next. As I headed towards my son's bedroom, my eyes darted around the house, collecting a jumble of disparate images as I went. The kitchen floor was strewn with debris, jagged gashes crossed the ceiling, and the floor sat on an unfamiliar slant. I found my boy on the ground, bewildered but unhurt. My eldest was at school, and we made our way there. Electrical wires draped the road on the way, and I drove over them, not knowing if we would make it across. As I entered the school another aftershock rocked the earth and the screams of five hundred children pierced the air.

My children, family and friends escaped unharmed from all sorts of perilous situations. We were lucky. Others were not. One hundred and eighty five people died, and many were injured terribly. Our city had collapsed into a pile of rubble. For days, smoke billowed from burning buildings, and helicopters whirred over the devastation. It was horrendous. I looked on in disbelief, and thought only of escape. Every fibre of my being screamed GET OUT. I couldn't keep my children safe, and without that there was nothing.

The thing was, my husband didn't want to leave. Everyone reacts differently to trauma - they say it's either fight, flight or freeze. I was clearly favouring flight, and he wasn't. There is no one 'right' way to be, but there came to be a sort of heroism attached to those who stayed and stuck it out. The media, in particular, celebrated stories of stoicism. For me, staying meant I wasn't acting on my basic survival instinct - to protect myself and my children - and it was incredibly damaging to my mental health. I felt like I wasn't entitled my feelings, that I didn't have the right to choose, and I didn't trust in my ability to affect change. For four months, after every significant shake, I'd look to my husband and ask 'Was that big enough, did that count, can we go now?' I put my power in someone else's hands and I paid the price.

Physically, I remained in Christchurch, but I left in every other conceivable way. My dependence on alcohol increased. It provided respite at the end of each anxious day and numbed my distress. I was by no means alone in this - word had it the alcohol industry boomed while many businesses fell flat and closed. My food restriction continued - I focused on the minutiae of what I ate, and recorded everything. I locked into a strict exercise routine, and kept note of calories burned. Effectively, I constructed a (very flawed) coping system, which became the framework for my eating disorder today. It channelled my emotion into a form I could deal with, and distracted me from the real problems. Mentally, I felt very unearthed - my grip on reality was slipping. The connection between my physical and mental self fractured.

I managed like this until June 13th when, in the wake of another terrifying earthquake, something changed dramatically in me. The shift hit like a thunder clap - it was sudden and powerful and I said no more. The second the shaking stopped, we jumped in the car and left for good. It may have appeared from the outside as if fear made me leave, but it wasn't. It was courage. I took charge of my body and mind, found the strength to listen to my truth, and act. I did it despite fear, and plunged into the unknown.

Adrenaline kept me going from then on. It powered me through as I set up a new life for me and my children. I worked, mothered, rekindled old friendships, managed the domestics and sorted my way through insurance hell. The change was energising. I was glad to be in a new city, but I was raw and traumatised. The pressure to perform was taking a toll on me, and my marriage was in trouble. For a good, long while, I relied on my trusty 'friend' alcohol to help cope. It lulled the eating  disordered part of my brain into a stupor. But stressful events kept happening, building layer upon layer until there was a stack so tall that I couldn't carry the weight of it anymore, and the eating disorder took over.

Trauma and disordered eating are intrinsically linked for me. How it came to be this way, I'm not sure, but it's clear to see in my reaction to the earthquakes. Today, it shows up in the imagined catastrophes that occupy my mind. I constantly visualise disasters: I see planes crashing into our house, tornadoes bearing down on my children, and lightning strikes that take aim directly at me. In one of my visualisations - an horrific car accident, my youngest son is badly hurt. I cannot think of anything worse than my children being injured or in danger - that's as bad as it gets. But in this imaginary nightmare, as I lie next to my son in hospital, I skip straight to thinking about a banana. I am deciding what to do about the banana... do it eat it, or do I not? Should I eat more? Or maybe just half the banana? It's ludicrous, but it shows how closely connected distress and restrictive eating have become.

The damage caused by the earthquakes runs deep and wide, extending into parts of my life I could never have predicted. The anniversary of the first earthquake was yesterday - it's now been five years, and I'm still reeling from the impact of it.