It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Not because I’ve had nothing to say but more because I haven’t known how to say it. Gradually going back to work I have been offered support for which I am grateful but yet I still feel the stigma of suffering from a mental illness. I’ve taken almost a year off work, am still not back to full health, yet at work it’s as if nothing has changed because I can’t even begin to articulate how I feel. In the past year I’ve spent 6 months in a locked ward. From sheer despair I’ve tried to take my own life three times. On one occasion I spent 6 hours in A and E being told that if I went home they would call the police. I think that was the lowest point. It’s a cliché but after that the only way was up. Yet on an every day level I feel that I have to pretend nothing happened to me. I am so grateful for the lack of pressure, the only comments I’ve had are from the receptionist asking when I’ll be back full time but the thought of staying at work over lunch brings me out in a cold sweat. I put the pressure on myself and tell myself I have to man up and face the demons.
Knowing how widespread yet unspoken mental health difficulties are, I am keen to advocate and educate, though I have lacked the mental strength to do so. Luckily I’ve recently had a bit of a breakthrough, as I have very recently been put on Lithium. I was neutral about it since I was sure it was just another medication that may make me gain weight and probably make me drowsy. I was so wrong. Lithium has brought me back to life. For the last year I have been experiencing terrible despairing lows that came along every 3-5 days and which made even putting on shoes and a coat to take the dog for a walk impossible, answering even a text message took on mammoth proportions.
Now I can at least attempt relationships with people, though I still don’t always have the mental strength to initiate a conversation or a meeting. I don’t hate myself so much. It’s like waking up from a grey nightmare or seeing the sun for the first time after being buried.
It’s not to say that I don’t still struggle, I sure do. I have my bad days just like anyone else. The only difference is that the lows are manageable. As Winston Churchill said I’ll keep on buggering on.
It’s now over a week since my discharge from CH and I’m just about coming to terms with trying to live normally again after a good long stretch of having no motivation at all. It’s so easy to slip back into old ways and my general busyness has returned in full force. I don’t agree with those who think they know best that this is necessarily a bad thing though unfortunately, my latest visit to my dietician showed that I have managed to accidentally lose a little more weight despite a good intake of cake.
Changing from one state to another is never easy physically or mentally and I am still experimenting with intake and output but I think I need to accept that my body just doesn’t want to be (and actually never has been) the size that the medics see as acceptable. At present I’m still holding onto weight in annoying places; I have a little pot belly and big thighs and the rest of me is like a stick. That’ll teach me I suppose. With my increase in exercise my muscles are complaining like mad ; I think I need a few gym sessions to get things working properly. I never feel hungry or full, which I believe that is quite common in recovery, but it does mean that I am having to rely on being weighed regularly as having no integral fuel gauge I have absolutely no idea whether I’m losing or gaining weight. It’s a case of trial and error which can be exhausting. I’m always having to think ahead to the next meal.
Simple input and output aside, of course there’s always the psychological element too. Eating foods labelled ‘low calorie’ or ‘healthy option’ is always, always a bad thing for a recovering anorexic as it just feeds the part of my brain which wants me not to eat. Leaving food on my plate has the same effect. It makes eating out with normal people who may choose not to finish a meal, or who choose the salad a minefield.
I have no expectations that this will ever change, the connections between food and reward and restriction and punishment have been with me from a very young age. I have always been afraid of cake and puddings and a fear of being fat, it represents a loss of control. However, I have, and can exercise the need for control in a positive way, and, given the distraction of normal life, this the aim.
Food obsessive ramblings aside, I did meet with people from work at the end of last week which was a massive positive step forward and we have devised a plan for a phased return back to work. I am both humbled and so grateful at the understanding and humanity they have shown and willingness to be flexible, it just makes me feel so lucky and much more able to keep on going forwards. I am so looking forward to being slightly useful again.
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…..
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.
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.
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!
Just what it says. There’s nothing I can do except ride it out. It comes in waves and is all engulfing. I am missing my family, my home and the familiar surroundings, my animals and my freedom. A bubble bath, a hug on the sofa watching rubbish TV. I have to be the best version of myself here, to be always in control and it’s exhausting. Saying goodbye after visits is awful and despite being surrounded by people and checked up on every 15 minutes, I feel desperately lonely. Friday night in hospital is not the best fun. Most people have gone home for the weekend and I’m sitting in the lounge waiting for medication so I can then just go to bed, attain a bit of oblivion and dream of home.
Being Friday evening and August the usual staff are thin on the ground and the ward is being run by agency workers who have no idea what’s going on. I had to talk through each dose of medication with the nurse who simply didn’t seem to know anything. It took 35 minutes. I wonder at such times why I am here at all.
Seen better views……