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.