The road less travelled…

In my latest appointment with the consultant I mentioned my trepidation in going back to work because of the stigma attached to mental health issues and he asked ‘whose stigma? Theirs or yours?’ I have to admit that he had a point, most people won’t ignore the issue because they are condemning of me and my illness but simply because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. The problem is thus my interpretation of the silence; which unfortunately for me is abject shame. I am both ashamed of myself and embarrassed and even though there was nothing I could do to stop the crushing bulldozer of this illness I still feel that it has defined me as weak.

That said, there is a lot that still needs to be done to de-mystify mental health problems and bring them out into the open. There is much in the press and on TV right now on the subject of mental heath awareness and some high profile supporters. I watched (with not a little apprehension) Louis Theroux’s visit to an eating disorder clinic aired on BBC 2 last Sunday. It was sensitively done on the whole but I felt it didn’t even scratch the surface of what anorexia means for those who suffer, (though admittedly I am possibly not the best critic right now).  The portrayal of the woman who kept 4 boiled sweets in her cupboard which would last her many weeks as she allowed herself to take them out in turn for the occasional suck was heart wrenching and oh so true. The truth of the matter is that anorexics really really do want to eat but a force much more powerful than simple hunger is there constantly telling you that you do not deserve to. There is a bizarre comfort in hunger. Interestingly, what it highlighted was what I have also experienced, that anorexia is very often absolutely nothing to do with body image.

Overall, it’s positive to see that we are now beginning to openly discuss the once shunned illnesses that do affect so many of us and yet are so poorly understood. The challenge now is to channel this awareness into action so that people are able to access the services and treatment that they need.

My recovery is still fragile, I am holding onto rigid plans which mean I eat enough but I cannot yet let go and allow myself to actually enjoy food. I know that the day I instinctively reach for a biscuit without a second thought may never come but I know that I can keep healthy at least by following a regime. One positive is that I have been given the go ahead to take up exercise again; to begin with 30 minutes of swimming once a week, so am looking forward to getting going with that as soon as I can. Mentally, too I feel stronger and more able to think of other things. And not just food. I just need to hold on to the fact that recovery is so worthwhile, and the further I walk down that road the better.

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Into the Void 

I should have anticipated the fall after the initial euphoria of leaving the unit but I didn’t and so I’ve fallen cushion-less onto rocky ground. I’m struggling to find meaning in the things I’m finding to do and the sudden lack of support (2 weeks between appointments) has let the old thoughts come crowding back in. The fact that I’m almost at an optimal weight means I am worried about everything I eat in case it’s just too much and so I fear I’m under achieving on that front too. My dietician was actually so right, it only takes one missed snack to fall off the tightrope. Black coffee and lots of walks are my best friends at the moment. I suppose having been pretty much institutionalised since the beginning of May there’s bound to be some adjustment, I just stupidly didn’t see it coming.

I have been attempting to meet up with people but fear I’m poor company at the moment as I have no anecdotes to share except those gained from an eating disorder hospital and they are not that easy to talk about. It makes me into a very dull person indeed. Other people’s lives seem so happy and far removed from mine at the moment that I struggle to find a middle ground. 

I’m hoping that I have the strength to readjust and keep on carrying on. I have a meeting with work on Friday and want to make a plan for a phased return which I’m looking forward to and dreading with equal measure. Meanwhile, it’s jobs around the house and craft activities which at the moment just don’t fill the gap.

Tomorrow is another day… 

Random, but funny: 

 

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…..

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.

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!!

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.