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.
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:
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.
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.
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……
It’s taken me 5 whole days to muster up enough courage to write this but I have unexpectedly ‘stepped up’ to inpatient admission as of last Friday. I would prefer to skirt around the reasons why but consequently I am currently having a fun-filled stay in Cotswold House Hotel. I could really go to town on trip advisor, given the lack of bedside lamp, soggy towels, un-openable windows and poor choice of food. At least I haven’t seen any cockroaches (yet). The bathroom facilities are fine but if you need to use them during rest periods it means someone standing outside listening. It’s altogether best to hold on, believe me…
This holiday has also resulted in a significant reduction in activity which I suppose is a good thing but means in consequence a loss of freedom as I can’t go out unaccompanied (or sometimes at all mainly due to staff shortages) or spend time in the garden unless they forget as they did on Sunday. ( I have discovered that there is a fairly easy escape route from the garden over a fence). I am also facing really difficult questions from other patients, who obviously want to know all the ins and outs of everything. This place is a hotbed for gossip as generally there is nothing else to do. Think of Butlins/Hospital/Concentration camp and you won’t be far wrong.
Overall is an almost overwhelming guilt that the timing coincides with the start of the summer holidays; what sort of a terrible mother would absent themselves at such a time?
I don’t want to turn this into a rant as I know that the staff are all working under a lot of stress, but the inconsistencies in treatment are pretty frustrating. One minute I’m left alone for hours, and the next I am checked up on every 15 minutes. All electrical items have to be PAT tested which can take up to 3 weeks meaning I’m having to leap out of bed at just the right moment of sleepiness to turn off the overhead light, have no phone charger (though I have sneaked one in shhhh) and can’t dry my hair, which is now shaggy style.
Trying to find the positives; I have in fact made a lot of progress weight-wise since last week, which is scary but I feel that the little voice telling me not to eat is receding a bit and so I am hanging on in there working hard on getting better though sometimes I just feel like crying, and others like banging my fists against a door until I can escape.
On the bright side too, as I am no longer part of the ‘eating out’ group, I don’t have to endure the plan of take away McDonalds today! Given a choice, I’d opt for hospital food any day. Instead I had McHospital McCauliflower, McPasta and McIcecream, all while sitting with another patient who is as chatty as a gagged corpse.
Onwards and slightly upwards….