Crunch, gobble, slurp, munch 

There are bound to be days that are more difficult than others. Just when I think I’m almost at the other side, my fingers have grasped the ledge and I’m painfully pulling myself up when something comes along to knock me off course.

It is so difficult to remain unaffected by other people’s behaviour and I hope I have enough self knowledge to appreciate that this works both ways. Friday was a lunch out with the Cotswold House crew. The meal itself was fine but there’s one person who appears to be swimming against the tide and it’s difficult not to find this disruptive, particularly when she blames the others for her lack of engagement with the process. My go-to reaction to unhelpful or disruptive people is to go into my shell and to stop interacting with them. I am not famed for my tolerance and tend to back off entirely but I need to find more constructive ways of dealing with the issue because of the deleterious effect it has on my mood. Any sense of well being I have is so fragile: this weekend I felt I had gone straight back to square one, and the darkness came flooding back. 

Time for a confession: Unhelpfully for someone with an eating disorder I have a phobia when it comes to being near other people eating. I do not say this in any lighthearted way because believe me it can cause full blown panic and an overwhelming desire to run away. So for example, at the clinic there’s someone who has two Fox’s Glacier mints in the patient lounge after each meal. She’s a lovely person but the noise of her rattling the mint against her teeth makes me want to scream. The rustle of the packet is enough to set me off, I break out into a sweat, it means that I have to leave the room instantly and if I can’t find any alternative space, pace up and down in the corridor trying to calm myself. If anyone approaches me I have to pretend I’m fine. I can’t very well admit I’m scared of a mint.  

This phobia extends to all eating noises. If trapped in a cinema seat (as I was on Friday watching Victoria and Abdul) and someone nearby is eating popcorn I start to shake, I can’t even begin to concentrate on the film. Part of my brain is tuning into every rattle and munch, the rest is judging just how many calories they are ingesting. It’s exhausting. On Friday evening unfortunately we had a popcorn and sweet eater on the left and hot dog and coke slurper on the right. I thought until really quite recently that everyone was affected by this. Turns out they’re not. It makes every meal time a torment, and trains and planes always a risk. Why is it that people need to fill empty hours travelling with food? I just don’t get it.  

At the weekend I fulfilled one of my challenges for the week: to cook a meal, which is something I haven’t done properly for over a year . Now cooking is just not my thing. There is good reason for this; I’m just not much good at it. So on Sunday morning I tried to make eggs Benedict for breakfast. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have never poached an egg, so when I chucked them into the pan and bits of egg white floated out of control and swam off around the pan, I felt the familiar sense of irritation and panic that things just weren’t going to plan. The muffins popped out of the toaster and were going cold while the second batch of eggs were doing their own thing, I couldn’t find the ham or take the lid off the hollandaise sauce. It was fine in the end, I did finally make a semblance of a meal but only after beating myself up for being such a failure. A fully grown woman should after all be able to make a perfect breakfast and I hated myself that I couldn’t.

So it’s two steps forward and the occasional step back.

Gobble gobble gobble munch munch munch, a thousand hairy savages sitting down for lunch.

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On Parole

My six weekly meeting with the clinical team went well yesterday in that I now have a release date of 6th October! It was oddly resonant of my days as a newly trained criminal lawyer as I was suddenly transported back into a court room clumsily negotiating a bail application for a client. You don’t get anything for nothing, and it is when I am home relying on my own courage to see me through day to day that the hard work will need to be done. I absolutely do not want to be a repeat offender.

I have found Cotswold House such a hard place to be, but it is only now with the benefit of hindsight and a little more rational thought that I can appreciate how much good the programme has done me.

As I have mentioned previously, I have a lot of bridges to re-build. There are many people who I would love to meet up with and share a cake or sandwich, and that will take courage. Throughout this process I have hidden away and only meaningfully seen my very immediate family and my long suffering sister. This illness likes solitude and being with people and out of my comfort zone I am all too aware that I will be tempted to relapse and start to believe that food is, after all, conditional.

I can’t wait to return to work, it forms a large part of my identity after all, yet at the same time feel very trepidatious. My GP has advised caution, after all it was a contributing factor in my illness and I know that she is right but I fear the empty days ahead without purpose and that I will be inclined to fill them with punishingly long walks and renovating our ever-needy house.

I have to remind myself that I have come such a long way in the past year. I have gone from being so physically unwell that climbing the stairs was a challenge, there were some days that I literally crawled up them rather than trusting my legs to behave. There were some nights that I was so weak that I genuinely thought, and part of me desired, that I simply wouldn’t wake up the next morning. There have been occasions that I very much reached the end of my tether and have tried to ensure that I wasn’t here at all.

Mentally I have reached an understanding of myself that I wouldn’t have thought possible, and though this is only the beginning I have come to appreciate that the events in my past life were not my fault and the part they have had to play, even years later, in dictating my behaviour as an adult is something I can have control over. After all, I can’t change anything anybody has said or done but I can change the way I think  about and react to them and their actions.

New beginnings

Yesterday I battled through the back to school traffic and roadworks and finally leapt onto the scales at the clinic – I have now just about reached a healthy BMI which deserves no fanfare or celebration, but does cause some mixed feelings. The fact I have again put on a not insignificant amount of weight in only a week feeds into my fears of spiralling out of control and becoming hippo-like. It’s all about the control. Yet if I did not gain the weight then I would be disappointed and beat myself up for failing to make progress. Mainly though, I hold onto the fact that it puts me in a stronger negotiating position when I talk to the clinical staff about my exit plan.

Meanwhile, the unit continues to be a difficult place to be. It’s a place of contrasts; lonely, yet surrounded and hemmed in by people, overwhelmingly busy yet tedious. Forever treading on eggshells, it’s easier to stick to safe subjects although the constant small talk is exhausting. There’s one particular patient who has a talent for winding up the rest. Ever polite and British, everyone lets her comments and actions pass unchallenged. This morning she felt the need to reorganise the patient lounge, dragging and carrying furniture across the floor and thumping it down while sphinx-like I let the irritation wash over me and remain outwardly unconcerned. Moments like this and I want to be anywhere but here and now.  

So I am beginning to see the beginning of the end or perhaps the end of the beginning. I feel more able to contemplate returning to normal life, but my greatest fear is that I have destroyed my chances of that forever. I am ashamed of myself; I’m terrified of walking back into the office I left nearly nine months ago, knowing that people have now seen the great weakness in me and would prefer to look away and not meet my eye. I’m scared of re-establishing relationships with people without eating disorders, that they will look at me in a different way, or may not now want to know me. How can I ever just go out for coffee and cake again, or out for dinner at someone’s house?  

The raft of medication I take worries me. Though it has made day to day life less distressing, it has also quietened the essence of myself. I feel less sparky than I ever was, but perhaps this is the hopefully temporary price I pay for recovery. I don’t want to rely on a chemical crutch to recover but putting up a fight right now will probably do me no good at all.

On a positive note, I am finally more able to concentrate; for the first time in almost a year I have read a novel for pleasure rather than dutifully reading the words. I had forgotten what it is like to look forward to getting back to a good story line. I’m still working on not falling asleep during every episode of every tv drama, it’s been months since I’ve actually watched anything all the way through! 

The point of being here is to obtain the help of staff who are trained to talk to people suffering from eating disorders, but talking is such hard work, it’s so much easier to disengage; to keep quietly busy and let the day to day business of the ward wash over me. Having made and eaten Eggs Benedict this morning one of the staff members asked me how I found breakfast. Taken aback, and having given myself no chance to think up an appropriate answer I replied that I found it too complicated to deserve. That’s my problem: dry bread and water for me all the way!!

Progress and Puppies

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room, waving his trunk over there in the corner. I give him the occasional pat but mainly leave him to his own devices much to my shame. I have throughout this process made progress of a numerical kind. That’s not to say that this is linear, it’s been more like a rusty old rollercoaster, and it’s not all about the weight by any means. Every peak I reach seems to reveal another summit just out of reach. Though weight restoration is necessary for recovery, weight gain on its own it seems is not full recovery.

Importantly, I certainly don’t want a pat on the head for the weight regain. On the contrary, this feels difficult enough without someone recognising my increase in size. So the figure on the scale continues to creep up, and I’m now beginning to approach what is universally recognised as a ‘healthy weight” for my height. My aim for the next week or two is to reach the magic BMI of 18.5 and then in the forthcoming weeks work on getting out of here as soon as possible. I’ve learnt over time that its all about compliance with the system, whether this be real or faked. I’m wary of showing any signs of personality, but I fear might just start to get a little more opinionated. I am genuinely confused as to whether my desire to get out of here is my eating disorderly monkey telling me I no longer need help or if it’s the healthy me, wanting to resume a full and meaningful life and spend more time at home.

Since arriving home from Italy, I have been sleeping at home but staying in the clinic for long days, not leaving until after the evening meal at 6.30. Consequently I have found the last few days very wearing. I am driving home in rush hour, eating yet another snack and falling asleep in front of the TV. A new patient has arrived, who, not to put too fine a point on it, is not quite as high functioning as other patients. Her presence, with broken spectacles, dressed in a leopard skin onesie with her unwashed hair sticking up vertically, is both heart wrenching and serves to remind me that I am currently part of and in an institution. As I start to feel better, however fragile, the less I seem to be able to tolerate. I am desperate to resume my normal life but at the same time I am terrified that I have potentially ruined my career prospects and relationships with people who I can’t at the moment deal with.

We had a sobering community meeting today about self harm and attempted suicide. Those issues are sadly endemic if not universal amongst eating disorder patients and made for some very difficult conversations. Possibly wrongly, I would always choose not to engage with such disturbing matters, though here it is perceived as disordered to maintain that British stiff upper lip. I am all for naming the demon and removing the stigma from mental health issues, but can see that there is a danger too in bringing it out into the open. There is a dark sense of competition here which can be very unhelpful.

Which, in a nutshell, makes me appreciate the extra time at home all the more, whether considered to be beneficial or not!

The Fight

Standing steadfast, solid, brick-like and always alone, a manifestation of the darkest spirt, it appears from deep inside, apart from, yet like a cancer entwined within and inseparable. It provides the greatest strength yet causes a terrible weakness. There is no escape. It’s black and brown and the darkest green, sludge like, it rises slowly but inexorably from within and engulfs all light.

Unstable and unconscionable, it creates the perfect muse, it provides a single, deadly drop of desperation, and at a whim, could end everything in a flash on a single and quite simple impulse.

Like a peeling and odorous foot I live inside a badly fitting and ugly shoe which constantly pinches and makes me want to cry out but instead I smile and smile.

Back to semi confinement after 10 days away, I am in more than two minds. Having fought so very hard to go, the holiday was disastrous and yet not so at the same time. It was not at all relaxing but then perhaps expecting it to be so was unrealistic, given that I had spent a month in hospital beforehand, I am bound to be in a fragile state. I find that now I am back, I have no energy left to try to contact anyone. I am using every ounce of energy just to get from day to grey day.

My overriding emotion is that of frustration. I have had a ‘told you so’ meeting with the team here which left me feeling somewhat chastened and despairing. My notes state that my insistence on the holiday was a ‘non-compliance with the regimen’ which seems grossly unfair. All in all, given the energy, I wish I could just disappear.

I thought I was finally at the top, but it seems that there is still more mountain ahead of me. My therapist warned me it would get worse before it gets better as I navigate across the rocky terrain, and either this is self fulfilling or she was right. Either way, the small chink of light which is keeping me from falling into the chasm is that we have decided to get a puppy. I’m hoping that the warm, damp bundle of silliness and love will give me just one more reason to keep on going. 

Like an army, I am lining up the positives and hoping that they won’t keep on being outmanoeuvred by the sludge.  

Escape Plan

Despite another night of fragmented sleep and wandering the corridors insubstantially at dawn rattling my ball and chains and  looking for water I have maintained a tentative sense of wellbeing. I am scared though, of tempting fate and have lost faith in my instinct. The weight gain is continuing at a reasonable rate and though still ‘underweight’, I feel less unwell physically at the moment. It’s a pity that the weight has to pile on around the middle first, making me feel like a little pot bellied pig, but that’s the irony of anorexia recovery and I know that over time it will redistribute itself once my body begins to trust that I will continue to feed it. At the moment it’s stopped believing in me. I also continue to be uneasy taking the cocktail of medication that has been prescribed as it feels that I have handed over control to chemistry, but am trying to just go with this for now as I think it will probably help short term. Though I am complying at present, I gain some strength from the knowledge that actually, I know myself best and as I continue to recover I will begin again to take a stand. That feisty spirit, after all, is the healthy part of me, not the part of me that should be beaten and cowed.

I have finally been given the green light for our trip to Italy though this was both a protracted and rollercoaster experience, starting with a flat refusal and including a very tough family therapy session during which both Paul and I were close to tears. At one point I was accused of being belligerent which I thought most unfair since I was simply trying to conceal my distress. Luckily, I still have remnants my persuasive qualities somewhere and could put up a fairly good argument. The compromise is that we FaceTime into the clinical team on Monday (I am going to have so much fun with choosing the Florentine backdrop for that conversation!). If things are not going well, I have agreed to fly back earlier and they will keep my bed open until Wednesday. Any later than that they have to fill the bed thanks to NHS England rules and the plan therefore, if all goes well, is to come back next week as a day-patient (for a short time I hope). I am more than happy to give up my bed since I have managed about 3 hours sleep since I got here a month ago and am missing my own bed sorely. 

I have also been excitedly ‘prescribed’ a daily croissant gelato day by one of the Italian consultants  which I think I may have to neatly avoid as it looks at least 1000 calories, if not more..
Here’s to some sunshine though! 

 

Blue Hair Day

There are times when I reach the frayed ends of my endurance and I really need to get out of this place but have to be content with a mental, rather than physical escape. I divide my time into sections between meals into which I feign productivity; the chapter of a book, a row of crochet, a crossword puzzle. It sounds like a perpetual all inclusive holiday but believe me, it is nothing of the sort.

I write this blog partly for myself, and also to offer some insight or solace to others who may be suffering in a similar way. It acts as a salve, and though it is not intended as such, I fear it also acts a means to keep some of those who know me updated without the need for real human contact. My words feel somehow reduced in power because of this one-way communication, but I have decided that this is not a reason to desist.

I want to write about an incident that occurred last week, again, not by way of an update but simply to verbalise something that remains a painful truth. I became involved, and indeed was the perpetrator, of what on the face of it should have been some harmless fun. A prior patient had left behind a pampering kit containing hair chalks, sparkly nail varnish in garish colours, and glitter tattoos. With some enthusiasm, I offered to ‘tattoo’ the arms of fellow patients and in return, was offered a hair make-over, which resulted in horrifying bright blue streaks. I went to view my locks in a mirror and the result was electrifying. Staring back at me was a woman who should have known better, a professional and a mother who should either be working or at the least looking after the home and the family. Sitting crossed legged on the floor in a hospital lounge having my hair tinted blue represented the worst part of me; the part that has failed and I hated myself for it. The flash of self hatred was both sudden and terrifying, and unfortunately had an effect on my ability to deal with the food situation, my go-to comfort of deliberate restriction and hunger could not be satisfied, and I despised myself all the more for needing this crutch.

Thanks to the staff here and to my therapist I have learned to be more reflective over the past months, dealing with stuff that I have never before faced up to and unravelled. Things that have affected me deeply around which I have built up brick walls and masked behind a capable and competent woman who knows her own mind. There is a child inside all of us but mine is frightened and abused and she does not like what is happening. I have learnt that the past cannot be left behind, what is happening now is sadly partly a reflection of my childhood and teenage years. I cower from abuse, I run from indifference. Only now do I realised that the constant anger, the fractured family, the being hit and shouted at was not the fault of that child. I grew up genuinely thinking I was a miscreant. I now face the uphill task of learning to be kind to myself and cannot continue to be so self-berating. It is clear that this is not sustainable.

Yesterday, I had a day and night out of the unit, the first night I have had at home in my own bed for almost a month. I found that at home I instantly fell back into the same old habits, being the person who must achieve, even if the tasks were as inane as dusting, weeding or ironing. I simply could not help but slip back into self-punishing ways in order to justify any fun I might have, as if I need to balance good times by enduring hard work and the restriction of food order to deserve it.

The first step is understanding and acceptance. The rest, I hope, will follow.