Some Goodbyes

I have 30 minutes left out of the 22 weeks and 4 days I have spent here and it feels like the longest half hour of my life. Really, what’s the point? What’s the just one more snack, will it really make all the difference? The answer is yes, of course it will. One more snack will literally and metaphorically always make a difference. If I stop believing that then I will be back to square one. It took a while for me to get my head round this, but I got there!

In the news today is the story of this hoodie which is being sold by Amazon:

This is horrifying for so many reasons not the least as it makes light of an illness which believe me, causes very real pain for so many. Can you imagine wearing a hoodie which made a joke from cancer or heart disease? Hopefully it will be withdrawn from the market, I can’t really see that anyone would think to buy it anyway.

Be back soon…..

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The past is a foreign country 

Two days left at the unit and though it might be assumed that I am ‘cured’ I have learnt that it’s really only the beginning. There’s still work to be done.

I have been compelled to dig deep into the past to find reasons for my problems and I have had to face up to some very unappealing truths – about myself and my past. Insight is painful, but only through this pain can I find freedom.

I am looking for an antidote to the frustration. I am unable to properly communicate anything that will provide understanding, and am receiving nothing back but anger and hatred. It has almost a physical presence of its own, separate from, but still him. I have become an expert in knowing exactly what to do to get a reaction; which buttons to press. It feels dangerous and this is strangely addictive, I can’t help but provoke. It’s like poking a snake. I feel relief at finally having an outlet for my emotion but mixed with a great fear.

I want not to cry, the last thing I should do is to show any weakness, I stamp my feet to stave off the tears. I am invincible. I can stand steadfast against the torrent that will surely unleash.

Inevitably the damn breaks, it always does. The red hot anger reaches out and hits me, hard. It strikes all parts of me and somehow displaces me. Distantly now I hear a shout, incomprehensible with rage and finally, I feel a release. I have his whole attention and I am getting the punishment I crave and deserve. A sudden pain in my head as it is struck and I stumble and fall. I am weakened and shaking while the anger around me dissipates, I am pushed into my room and am alone, figuratively and literally locked in. I have put myself firmly and reassuringly in the wrong and feel cowed, regretting my behaviour as I am now trapped. I am desperate for air and space but I dare not leave the room until the anger has fully subsided. I am all too aware that the next stage is my abject apology and I will be expected to take responsibility for my actions otherwise I will be punished further. Why is the apology is the hardest part? I feel that I deserve the punishment. I am a terrible child and a mistake after all.

Later, when I perfect my escape by edging along the windowsill and then jumping off the high ledge to freedom, I will run and run, through beds of nettles to recreate yet escape the pain.

The Beginning of Something New 

The darkest place I have ever seen was inside me and nothing scared me more.

It must be soul destroying working in an eating disorder unit and anyone who does deserves a medal (or at the least a large slice of cake). It must be so difficult to be unable to wave a magic wand and provide an instant ‘cure’. The atmosphere is full of sadness, tension, frustration and fear. I have a discharge date; I can’t wait to get out of here but at the same time wish I had a magic cure for everyone I am leaving behind. If all I can do by writing this blog is provide just one small chink of light for someone else then it would be all worthwhile but sadly I suspect that I can’t, and nor is it my responsibility. All I can offer is my experience and say that time is a healer; the eating disorder is still there in the background muttering at me but much quieter than it was. The way I am gaining control is simply by repetition. I used to think I was stupid for not being able to quell it sooner when the arguments against were so rational but I have come to understand that it is simply repetition that makes things less stressful and helps me feel in control. Meal followed by meal followed by meal, like steps up a winding road. There is no immediate answer which will have an immediate result. There is no lightbulb moment when you wake up suddenly feeling better.  

Acknowledging that it is difficult but still achievable is the first step. I wanted a solution packaged up and delivered straight to my door. It doesn’t work like that. The therapy I undertake is not easy; at first I wanted solutions, and right now, but the treatment is long, and arduous and draining. There are too many opportunities to fail and hate yourself when you are trying to recover, just at a time when you are at your lowest need the comfort of the rituals and behaviours which are in reality self destructive.

On a positive note, I feel like I have more insight into myself than I didn’t the beginning of this process. On a basic, every day level I feel ok though I’m trying not to beat myself up when things don’t go to plan so am trying to overcome the perfectionistic tendency which is my nemesis. When I spend time at home it’s all too easy to slip back into that mindset of needing to get things done and achieve everything on a never ending to-do list. 

When I first came in here 5 months ago I found the ward a very safe place to be, it allowed me to eat and a part of me actually looked forward to coming in as it gave me the permission that I wouldn’t give to myself. The fact that everyone around me understood my battle was incredibly supportive. I now feel that it’s time for me to leave but, unusually for me, feel increasingly compelled to keep myself to myself almost as a protective barrier.

So there is hope for everyone but the desire to recover has to come from within. No one else has that power to change you. So be prepared for a long hard battle, you are going up something that paradoxically you have needed for the longest time but it will be worth it in the end. 

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.

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!