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!

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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.  

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.

A sequel : The Picnic (a horror story)

I thought I’d provide an update on the picnic and it’s post-mortem. I honestly don’t know right now whether I actually feel worse or better after it, but I think on balance the sense of humour has kicked in and I am able to see the absurdity of the whole thing. 

So five of us plus two staff members sat in a field in a circle and were handed out the allotted food. It was all ok, it was just a picnic after all. The sun was out. Of course it wasn’t that simple, one member of the party ate the bread roll, filling and bag of crisps but flatly (and hysterically) refused to eat the chocolate bar. Of course it was not about the actual chocolate bar which was all of 95 calories but a perceived lack of control or a breaking of internal rules. She was clearly finding the situation incredibly difficult. It turned by degrees into a loud and angry discussion, while passers by looked on in interest and the rest of us sat in uncomfortable silence. I was actually mortified but tried to disassociate myself and pretend I was on a desert island, although I am told that this is not a healthy response. What, I wonder would have been a healthy response to someone screaming about a chocolate biscuit in a public place? I haven’t seen the rules. Maybe I should have shouted ‘just eat the bloody chocolate and let’s move on’ very loudly?

Seriously though, I feel a great amount of compassion for the poor girl, goodness knows I have been there. I just wished everyone would shut up. Oddly, another member of the party made a great show of adding an additional slice of chicken to her sandwich, despite professing to be a vegetarian, adding 2 sachets of mayo and eating an extra cake. Funnily enough, the staff did not berate her for this, though in my view this behaviour is just as disordered as not eating enough.

We decamped back to the unit for the post mortem. As you can probably appreciate spending an hour dissecting a picnic is not on my list of life goals. It took all my strength to follow mutely and not just simply walk away and go home. What followed can only be described as a bun fight, with one patient saying that she thought it incredibly unhelpful to her own recovery when one member of the party refused an item of food and the tearful one responding, increasingly distraught, that this reaction was totally selfish. Meanwhile the smug one made it clear to everyone that she in fact had eaten more than her allotted share. Great, well have a certificate.

It leaves me wondering what the hell I have subscribed to. I fear I am in danger of turning madder by the day. I just want to spend my time with normal people doing normal things and earning a living doing something I am good at. That’s all.

It’s Just a Piece of Toast

Having had three children, held down a demanding professional job and faced many other challenges in life, I would not expect to be floored by a piece of toast, but the fact that I have just goes to demonstrate the sheer power and torture anorexia can wield. If you can even begin to understand the effect this simple piece of toast can have, you may gain a glimpse of quite how fierce and painful this illness can be. Fighting it is so much harder than just giving into it and accepting ill health.
Today I faced a new challenge, I have graduated to the ‘upstairs dining room’ which allows for more freedom and less measuring but brings its own challenges. This morning, rather than making 2 slices of toast from the pre-sliced loaf of bread, we had to cut our own bread. The person who got there first made the usual mess of the loaf. As we all know, it’s a real skill being able to slice a very fresh loaf precisely. Being last to the loaf, I therefore ended up with 2 slices of bread looking like door stops. So much so that they wouldn’t fit into the toaster. I had no option but to cram them in, spread them (too) liberally with peanut butter and then…EAT THEM BOTH. Carb overload. Now this may seem like an amusing story, but believe me, the way I suffered afterwards was not in any way funny. Think the anxiety levels you would have if you were running late for an important job interview, got into your car only to find that it wouldn’t start. Or maybe that call you receive about a family member who has had an accident which starts ‘I don’t want you to panic but…’ then you have some idea of the devastating force of the illness. It’s a panic and torture which is inescapable and rationality plays no part. Yes, it’s just a piece of toast but it has the power to create such a forceful sense of terror and there’s nowhere to run away from it. This is exactly the reason why I so often feel the need to exercise, it’s the only thing which alleviates the pain, which can only be described as a mental version of stubbing your toe, repeatedly, on a concrete step. Ouch.

Running through fields of wheat (anarchist!)


Today’s other challenge was going out for lunch with some of the other patients. This was interestingly, easier than the toast incident, as it was carefully planned and I saw the menu in advance. We all suffered food envy in that everyone admitted to being jealous that other people’s meals looked smaller than theirs. I really hope that fellow diners didn’t overhear our conversation about who had the most chips as they would have thought we’d escaped from the nearest mental institution. Oh wait….we had!  

I am left feeling really quite battered and stressed this evening. I am so lucky that I can come home and have a wonderful and supportive family and friends that understand and are there for me. I try very hard, as I have all my life, not to be hurt by the lack of support from a few key people of whom I still foolishly have high expectations and who I now realise I cannot change. I can only change how I react and it is time that I accept this and move on.

Must keep swimming….

The good news is that we had a lovely weekend mooching around the shops on Saturday and then visiting Canons Ashby with a picnic on Sunday. Wish I’d managed the actual tea shop for food but then again the cakes in there were huge! (As were one or two of the customers) Later, I spent some time with the ponies. I had more energy than I have had for months and was able to put this to good although not necessarily physically beneficial use. It made me realise that there is light at the end of the tunnel and not only is recovery possible but the quality of my life will be so much better and is absolutely worth aiming for. It’s difficult to keep a grasp of this at all times but there are some occasional glimpses of what it is like to be fit and healthy and not allowing the punishing perfectionism to always gain precedence over living in the moment and enjoying being alive.

Pony time…..


I am attempting to keep on an even keel and think I am managing quite well for the most part though at the end of last week I had another unexpected and unannounced cliff-fall moment in an art therapy session! It would be helpful if I could have had some warning next time please brain, but it never seems to happen that way. The remit was to draw a pie chart with a pictorial representation of the most important things in your life. I drew a literal pie on an NHS plate (no food obsession or anything!) and divided my pie into three. One part was work; I drew a desk and a huge pile of files about to squash me. Second was family and friends; I was standing to one side while everyone else was together. The third was my need to exercise and be out in the open air. When I realised how important but how stressful these things are to me and what I had actually lost I was in pieces. I protect myself very successfully almost all of the time by putting everything into a box and firmly sticking down the lid. Not sure I really like it to be opened.

Jeremy Corbyn spotted at Canons Ashby…


Today I attended the weekly clinical team meeting. It was not as positive as I hoped. I have made a little less progress than I could have which is partly down to the challenge I have with eating the high calorie desserts at home but mainly because I have been doing a little too much exercise. That’s not to say that I have been running half marathons, far from it, but there is clearly a balance to be struck, and when spending time with other normal people, it’s very difficult not to join in with the activity. Especially if you’re me. I think Cornwall is going to be challenging next weekend unless I tie myself to a chair! I was disappointed too that I still wasn’t given the go ahead to drive thanks to some results not being quite as they should be. Ah well. Onwards and upwards. Next week maybe.

 

Beano, you have life so right. This should be me.

R.I.P NHS: A Rant 

A day off and I can’t help but appreciate the contrast with the clinic as I sit here in Costa in the sun drinking coffee and EATING A WHOLE BISCUIT. Doing something so simple that most people take for granted I feel like I’m choosing light over darkness and misery. I haven’t chosen to have this illness, absolutely no one ever chooses to suffer from an eating disorder and it so important to banish the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding this illness and mental health generally by creating a shift in our prejudices and allowing people to speak out. Though my illness is not a choice, I can however, choose to recover and by deciding to do so everything somehow comes into a sharper focus. 

I feel very privileged to be thrown a lifeline by those who are there to help but it is up to me to grab hold and hang on. That’s not to say that it is at all easy to do. Dave needs to know that I am still able to wrap the fingers of one hand around my upper arm and my hands around my upper thigh but Dave, being able to do this is not a badge of honour!

However much I may question the process and the means, I am lucky to have received the best of care; my poor GP must dread me coming through her door but has allowed me to talk nonsense for weeks and, the last time I visited, arriving at the surgery after having spent the night in a stable looking after a sick pony, she simply gave me a hug, which at the time was a pretty on the nail prescription. Having said that, and best intentions aside, we have all suffered at the hands of an overstretched NHS and I can add my own stories to this, including an A and E misdiagnosis, a child left on a trolley for over 12 hours and of course the interminable waiting times.

The NHS is under ever increasing pressure to work within ever decreasing budgets imposed by this government, together with launching an attack on junior doctors, the removal of bursaries for student nurses and the 1% pay cap. In the run up to the general election the party leaders seem to be intent on booting around gimmicky promises, such as extra bank holidays – really Jeremy? – rather than discussing the real issues which frighteningly will affect us all. Theresa May has promised an extra £10 billion to the NHS over the next three years but they need twice that money and now. The effect of Brexit will mean that the recruitment of staff from the EU will drop rapidly, and the pay cap has meant that some staff have chosen to stack shelves rather than continue to work in the NHS. It seems that the current government is intent on running the NHS into the ground by way of controlled demolition. After another five years of relentless destruction the rubble that is left will make pretty parks and cemeteries for those who have no means to do anything but die and everyone sensible will be expected to have a private health care plan.

Rant over. Thank you for listening. 😬