Day Three and the Weigh in…

It’s the end of day three at the clinic but day five of my ‘progress’ towards full health. It seems that it has been decreed by those who know best that the term ‘recovery’ is somehow unhelpful, but however it’s labelled it comes down to the same thing; which is being able to lead a normal, full and happy life.

A large part of the healing process for me so far has been the opportunity to talk to fellow sufferers. It has lessened my deadening sense of isolation and the feeling that no one can really fully understand what it is that I am battling with. The immense courage and humour of every patient at Cotswold House is truly humbling, and I can only hope to emulate that. The weeks and months leading up to my admission were like feeling a constant physical pain from which there was no alleviation. However far I ran or walked or wriggled Dave followed me around with his teeth firmly in my shoulder like some sort of parasite and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity and support to attempt to put him well and truly in his box.

That’s not to say that the rigidly performed rules and regulations aren’t still difficult to come to terms with. They are; and given the other patients’ responses I can see that this is something that doesn’t get any easier. I was in trouble again today. Measuring jugs are used for everything with any liquidity and also for some things that are decidedly solid. Once you have poured your 200ml of milk or juice into the jug you then need approval from a member of staff before it can be consumed. I committed the cardinal sin of measuring the milk but then pouring it onto my cereal before said approval today and my reprimand was uncomfortably public. I think there’s some positivity to be gained from being able to appreciate that though apparently necessary, this is in no way reflective of normal life. In order to maintain a sense of self and combat the possibility of becoming mad and institutionalised I can’t afford to lose sight of this.

I have been outmanoeuvred too on the tea and coffee front. I categorically cannot have either drink without milk but if I don’t like squash I have to drink 200ml of fruit juice. Given that this provides me with at least another 90 calories twice a day Dave wasn’t best pleased but at least I don’t have to drink industrial strength Ribena. Might have to man up on the milk on reflection.

This morning I was weighed for the first time since my admission last Thursday and Rosie is pleased to report that she has indeed gained a little weight although Dave is beside himself. I found the process excessively difficult, particularly as the figure on the scales was noted down with no accompanying comment. I have been paying far too much attention to Dave since then who has been asking me how I can possibly compensate for this unprecedented weight gain. And that, my friends, is probably why it’s best that I am at Cotswold House and not still attempting to deal with Dave myself!

I have quickly learnt that everything has an acronym which remains cryptic to the uninitiated. I was asked on Friday if I had received my TTH’s. Not wanting to sound stupid, I said er, no, I don’t think I have. I decided I would probably have known if someone had given me something as exciting sounding and have looked forward to receiving them all weekend. I learnt this afternoon that it in fact stands for the disappointingly prosaic ‘To Take Home’ and refers to medication.

Today I also attended my first weekly individual CTM (Clinical Team Meeting). The CTM comprises a variety pack of 6 staff members and appears to be a conduit to ask questions to which no answers will be revealed. I asked if my very recent weight gain rate was normal to which I did not receive the reassurance I was seeking; I asked if I could drive, and was told that they would discuss this ‘later’. I then went for the jugular and asked if I could have ‘leave’ at the end of May so that we could have a long weekend away as a family and was informed that yes, on principle, but it really depends on progress and in the UK only. Easy to plan then. I will have to devise methods of subversion for next time.

Despite this diversion, the hours still dragged, I try and fill my time with crosswords and reading, but concentration is surprisingly difficult. I killed some time between feeding times by using my 10 minute allowance off the ward only to get horribly lost in a nearby wooded area (those who know me well also know that I have no sense of direction). In fact I was away for almost 25 minutes and had to sneak back incognito and tell a white lie on the signing in form. Think I got away with it.

Tomorrow is yet more meetings, I forget the acronym but one involves the reading out and discussion of ‘comments and suggestions’ placed anonymously in a box over the course of the week. How can that possibly be a good idea?! I’m thinking I might possibly have some fun in this one. The other is a group meeting in which people share their problems and reportedly all come out crying. Oh great.

A word on the carrot and how Dave got involved…

“Perhaps man was neither good nor bad, was only a machine in an insensate universe–his courage no more than a reflex to danger, like the automatic jump at the pin-prick. Perhaps there were no virtues, unless jumping at pin-pricks was a virtue, and humanity only a mechanical donkey led on by the iron carrot of love, through the pointless treadmill of reproduction.”

I promised in my last blog to explain the significance of the conditional carrot. I came across this quote from TH White a few months ago and have since touched on it with my therapist. The point being that although we can all be viewed as donkeys who are governed by the stick of having to succeed within our own parameters and then reward ourselves with the carrot of achieving our goals, those carrots need not necessarily be conditional. How that relates to an eating disorder is effectively that the desire to succeed and achieve perfection somehow becomes compulsive and the ‘reward’ of the carrot becomes inseparable from sustenance in a the form of food and rest and accepting love. For me, it’s nothing about body image. It’s about control and reward. If I can just achieve one more thing, whether that is replying to yet another work email or tackling a stack of ironing, then and only then will I deserve to eat or rest. The truth is that nothing is ever good enough, and there is always Dave around wielding another stick to beat me with.

My eating disorder stems from setting myself deliberately unachievable goals and therefore never allowing myself the carrot. I am slowly beginning to realise that perhaps I deserve the occasional bite, as long as I have done my best. Perfection is not achievable, and using the stick of starvation only provides a illusory sense of control.

My second day at Cotswold House was an improvement on the first, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was in any way enjoyable. I have made the momentous decision that I no longer want to stagnate at home living a half life of never recovering and yet, paradoxically, life in an eating disorder clinic is full of empty hours with nothing to do. In fact the meal times are a welcome relief from the monotony, but perhaps that’s the point. The hardest thing by far is being allowed only 10 minutes off the ward a day, though at least I do get to go home each evening.

Breakfast was the first challenge, apart from the sheer amount of food to be eaten, the rules are incredibly rigid, and I have to battle to keep my sense of individuality whilst attempting to conform. This has nothing to do with Dave, but Rosie does not like either jam or peanut butter. I kept quiet though and having accepted the jar of peanut butter as the best of a bad job, stuck in my plastic knife, (I’m assuming they believe that we would attempt to escape with metal cutlery) only to be told that I should first add half a small tub of margarine and only then I should take a plastic teaspoon of peanut butter. Great hotel.

Later in the morning, the same member of staff asked me if I could come and have a private word ‘about breakfast’. I followed her like a 14 year old schoolgirl waiting for a punishment, and was told to take a seat. I prepared myself for the worst, I had obviously behaved inappropriately in some way that I hadn’t appreciated. She looked at me in a worried way, coughed a little and told me that she had got it wrong, the margarine was not necessary when having peanut butter. Furthermore, it should be served as a rounded dessert spoonful, not a teaspoon as stated. I felt momentarily panicked before the absurdity set in. What did she want me to do, honk up the margarine and eat another spoonful of peanut butter? Why actually were we having this conversation? I suggested that the margarine probably made up for the missing peanut butter. She seemed satisfied with this and let me go. I am also yet to win the milk-free coffee and tea battle, but more on that later.

This and the boredom aside, I did manage to talk to some more of my fellow inmates. One, who is a teacher, explained that she is now well on the way to recovery and is going into school once a week for a half day. This provided me with an unexpected glimpse of sunshine. There is, as you would expect, a good understanding of what it feels like to be going though this process and talking and listening really does help such a lot.

So despite the tedium, the absurdity of the rules, and the having to join the shuffling queue to the dining room 4 times a day, I do surprisingly feel a little better. It’s not all plain sailing, I spent 15 minutes staring into the food cupboard last night feeling a rising tide of panic knowing I needed to eat a snack but not how I would actually achieve it. (I now have a snack box!). This morning though, I ate breakfast at the table and consequently Dave was not able to tell me to hide my toast in my bedside drawer. Dave keeps on telling me too that I really should be ok and can carry on as normal at home but I am trying hard to put that aside for now, I just need to keep calm about how long it may take to be fully better and to learn to be unapologetic about it.

I’m also going to enjoy my freedom this weekend while it lasts!

The Conditional Carrot

More on the relevance of the title later, but just for starters, and weak food-related humour aside, I am recording some thoughts on what I hope and believe will be my recovery as a means to hopefully help me to appreciate in the future how far I have progressed and also to aid anyone who may be vaguely interested in understanding what it means to suffer from an eating disorder. 

So today I started day-patient therapy at Cotswold House in Oxford, having 3 months ago been admitted as an inpatient and run away after 4 hours. Having achieved the record for the quickest admittance and discharge from an eating disorder hospital is not something I am proud of and since then have come to the necessary realisation that in fact I do need some more intensive professional help to recover, although there is still a little demon (let’s call him Dave) telling me that really I should be able to do this myself, and really do not deserve any help at all.

Dave really didn’t want me to go to Oxford this morning and I thought I had left him behind, although it became evident later that he had in fact hitched a lift…

I survived the slightly intimidating ‘interview’ by a panel of five medical professionals, answering questions about my state of health, mental and physical, despite a lurking feeling that ‘really, I shouldn’t be here’ and ‘actually, I’m quite tired, can we stop now’. This required more inner strength than one would think as laying bare the workings of my inner self is not something that comes naturally to me, quite the contrary, in fact. Literally being laid bare for the weighing and physical assessment was a piece of cake (something I may even get to eat one day!) by comparison.

Dave remained mercifully absent while I visited the ‘dining room’ with the other inmates for lunch. The queue outside the dining room looked shockingly like a line of concentration camp victims; surely I don’t look like that too? The eating part was surprisingly easy, the fact is that the food is non negotiable allowed me to relinquish all responsibility and concentrate on the food as a necessity for getting better. I was told by the dietician that I was allowed eat yoghurt to ‘ease me in’ to the dessert part, though this message seemed not to have been passed on to the kitchen staff and I was instead compelled to eat bread and butter pudding and ice cream, something I have never ever eaten in my life! One in the eye for Dave. I even survived the visit to the loo afterwards when a member of staff was told to ‘stand outside and listen out for sounds of vomiting’. I resisted the temptation to make sick noises. Might save that for later..

I was relieved to see that my fellow victims were not all teenagers and there is even a token male. Eating disorders have no respect for gender or age but are at least not guilty of discrimination. I was lucky enough to find a couple of people to chat to, one of whom was also a professional which has made me feel so much less isolated and less of a failure somehow. Perhaps I’m not such a let down, this can really happen to anyone, given an unfortunate mix of circumstances.

I was filling in time whist attempting a jigsaw later, when one of the staff came to introduce herself and to tell me that she was my allocated nurse. It was all going well, I was attempting to engage with her in my new, positive attitude when she suddenly made a personal observation about my appearance. Now admittedly, I am perhaps slightly over sensitive right now, but she may as well have floored me with a knuckle duster then finished me off with a cosh. I muttered a response, she left the room swiftly and I jumped from a delicate sense of positivity and control over a cliff and right into the arms of Dave. My equilibrium totally shattered, I broke down in a way I haven’t done for months. Having failed in my attempt to visit the nearest bathroom, only to find it locked; permission is required to exercise any bodily function, including messy crying,; I curled up instead between the side of the sofa and the jigsaw mountain and sobbed. So much for the control.

I decided there and then that there was no way I could continue with this and Dave agreed that by way of exercising my control over this situation I should not join in with the afternoon snack. Having scared off several tentative visitors, I was finally talked round by the doctor I had seen earlier and who wanted to re-do an ECG, so a victory of a kind, though I am left feeling in a much more vulnerable position than when I had entered this morning.

Thank goodness I could at least hold onto the fact that I am able to leave at 4.30. The afternoon snack involved me losing my cup of coffee because I am not allowed to drink it black. It’s with milk or the only alternative is squash. As I intensely dislike both milky drinks and squash then I guess I’ll have to go thirsty. Drinks at lunch are also strictly limited to 2 small cups of water. I’m pleased to report though that we stopped on the way home at a drive thru Starbucks for a large and milk free Americano.

So I have met some lovely people, and one or two not so nice, but have managed to eat everything put in front of me so I think today can be classed as a survival if not a cautious success. I’ll be back tomorrow and I need to check out the BMI that I need to reach to be able to drive myself there and regain a bit of independence as soon as I can. No calorie counting or walks across the fields for me tonight, I feel like I’ve run 2 marathons back to back already today!

More soon…..