be like a peacock and dance with all of your beauty

20180518-IMG_1374

it’s been over a month since i wrote here. it feels like a lot has happened in that month and most of it has been bloody hard work. an attempt to wean myself off sertraline ended in abject failure and a few weeks of feeling pretty fucking awful. as a result of that, the anorexic voice grew louder and louder until i was fully back into restriction and starting to lose weight again at an alarming rate. at the same time, our lives have been a little up in the air as our planned ivf cycle was delayed and we’ve been living out of a suitcase for the last month while we have some building work done. i also had a falling out with my therapist after she accidentally sent an email about me and my lack of progress/engagement to me, rather than to my psychiatrist who is in overall charge of my treatment. whilst it wasn’t a great feeling, i think it was actually helpful because i don’t think we ever really clicked and it gave me the push to say that i didn’t want to see her again. so now, i’m just working with my psychiatrist and my nutritionist which suits me much better as i like both of them very much.

so things, finally, seem like they’re coming together and i’m getting back on track. and it’s not a minute too soon.

last week, i spent three intense days on a leadership course. the focus was on finding the ‘real me’ to become an authentic and resilient leader (hence the peacock; it was a metaphor that appeared time and time again throughout the week).

i was cynical going in because it sounded like the kind of thing that i hate and i was also incredibly anxious about the change in routine and coping with having to eat with other people (spoiler alert: i didn’t). in fact, it was life-changing. so much resonated with me not just from a professional perspective but in relation to anorexia recovery. it helped to crystallise what is really important to me, what my core values, dreams and strengths are, and what i need to do to become the very best version of my self. which is what i desperately want to do.

at the end of the three days, we had to come up with our personal leadership vision; a few words that encapsulated where we want to get to. i thought i would find this a real challenge but actually it came to me quite easily: the freedom to make a difference. both at work, to my friends and family and to society. but in order to be able to do that, i need to get out of my head, be healthy and learn from adversity, rather than crumbling every time something goes slightly wrong and resorting to my usual self-destructive behaviours.

at the moment, there’s still a disconnect between this vision and my behaviours. the anorexic voice is still deafening and is winning through more often than not. but i’m more hopeful now that it won’t always be like this.

{title quotation from debasish mridha)

the world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places

20180410-IMG_1370

at one point last summer, i told my old therapist that i felt completely and utterly broken. from memory, he seemed to think that i was being a tad melodramatic which may well have been a fair assessment. i remember that feeling so acutely though; mainly because it’s almost exactly how i feel right now.

this morning i had an appointment at our fertility clinic for a couple of internal scans / procedures in preparation for our ivf cycle which will be kicking off in a couple of weeks. it was supposed to be relatively routine – no worse than a smear test i’d been assured – but due to a complication with my ‘flexible’ cervix (way tmi i’m sure) it was a lot more difficult and painful than anticipated. as nice as everyone was and as gentle as they tried to be, the whole experience was incredibly traumatic. i’m still struggling now and have spent most of the evening in tears.

in some ways, my feelings about infertility/ivf are not dissimilar to my feelings about the rape.  there are, clearly, areas where the two are intertwined (like the months where we haven’t even been able to try naturally because of my fear of flashbacks and intrusive thoughts) but, more than that, there’s a lot of guilt associated with both of them and the feeling that either – or both – are no more than i deserve. and then sometimes i think that the infertility must be my punishment for being raped.

both the rape and the infertility play neatly into the construction that i have built of myself; reinforcing the belief that i am fundamentally broken.

(when i was at university, i did a paper in my final year on tragedy throughout the ages going from the plays of ancient greece to beckett via shakespeare, racine and ibsen (amongst others). i think i might have taken the concept of hamartia slightly too much to heart.)

if you’d asked me a few months ago, i would have said that, with therapy, some time off work and a fair amount of medication, i’d managed to fix myself. but it turns out that the glue that was holding it all together was the anorexia. and without that, i’m broken again.

{title quotation from a farewell to arms by ernest hemingway}

sunday evening…the very time of all others…when the heart must be opened, and every thing told

20180407-IMG_1366

somewhere along the line, i’ve grown to hate sundays. sunday afternoons in particular. for reasons that i don’t quite understand, i find this by far and away the hardest time of the week; it’s often when the intrusive thoughts are at their strongest. i often end up hiding, retreating from the world and burrowing myself in the sanctuary of my bed.

today has been no different.

i’ve not been sleeping well recently. partly because i’ve stopped taking diazepam / olanzapine at night. but mainly because there’s just a lot going on at the moment. work is busy and stressful; last week involved some late nights and early starts. the ivf process kicks off this week with a dummy transfer on tuesday morning to check that everything will go smoothly for the real thing. at the end of the week, all being well, i’ll start on the pill for 10 days or so to regulate my cycle. i’ve had a welcome break this week from re-living the rape in therapy but it’s always there. and then there is still absolutely no respite from the constant and exhausting battle against the eating disorder voices. it’s so bloody noisy in my head right now.

despite all of that, i actually had a couple of good days this week. i managed three meals without any restricting or bingeing. and then. as ever, i self-destructed. not spectacularly, particularly in comparison to recent weeks, but it was enough. i was, perhaps, slightly ambitious in inviting some friends for afternoon tea yesterday. the combination of anxiety about eating and being surrounded by food left me drained by the end of the day. and more conscious than ever of how much this eating disorder is still controlling every aspect of my life despite things appearing, on the surface at least, to be much improved.

i woke up early this morning, bruised and fragile. i felt defeated before the day had even begun and certain that i wouldn’t be able to resist the lure of a day of restriction. but a run helped a little, despite the rain and the hills that i forced myself up. an appointment with my lovely nutritionist also helped, at least enough that i was able to manage some lunch when i got home.

one thing that we talked about today was the importance of preparation; anticipating the bad times and having a strategy in place to survive them. and so, it’s been a deliberate strategy this afternoon of curling up on the sofa and distracting myself with a trashy thriller. so far, it seems to be working.

{title quotation from mansfield park by jane austen}

my doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. unless there are three other people.

20180311-IMG_1348

very briefly yesterday, i had a flash of what it felt like to be ‘normal’.

my parents came round for sunday lunch to mark mother’s day. we had champagne to start and then sat down to twice cooked chicken with chilli sauce and kaffir lime leaf salt (more delicious than anything with such a pretentious title deserves). with it, we had wild rice and green beans and crisp broccoli, roasted with garlic and ginger. and i ate. and i wasnt anxious about eating. that is mainly because i had cooked everything and i’m sure that the champagne helped (as it always does) but still, it felt like a step forward.

and then, because i’d eaten and, paradoxically, not felt guilty about eating, i decided to make myself feel guiilty by punishing myself with a binge. it wasn’t a massive binge – nowhere near the scale of friday’s – but it was a deliberate and conscious act intended to remind me that i’m worthless and don’t deserve to enjoy anything.

one thing that my eating disorder has shown me is how central food is to my life and how, without it, my world has become so limited. i’ve used a litany of excuses after the last few months to avoid social situations where i will be expected to eat. when i’ve had no choice – generally because my mother has mandated my attendance somewhere – the anxiety that it has provoked in me has rendered me unable to focus on anything else. how can i engage with other people when i’m so consumed by what’s on (or not on) the plate in front of me?

i’ve never really been comfortable eating in front of other people, immediate family aside. i can trace this back to the very start of my disordered eating habits; it’s the seed from which the last twenty years of restricting and bingeing has grown. i never ate lunch at school. the anorexic voice in my head (which i didn’t recognise or acknowledge as being that at the time) told me that anyone who saw me eat lunch would automatically think that i was fat and greedy. even though i know (and knew) that people are generally far too self-absorbed to really give that much thought to what anyone else is eating. i think this is relatively common with eating disorders; when you spend most of your time thinking about food and what you, and everyone else, is eating, you expect other people to do the same.

clearly now, the idea of eating anything in front of anybody other than my husband or parents is too terrifying to contemplate but i can also see that, even when i’ve been ‘healthy’ (ie not now), this anxiety has both limited and also dominated my life; even simple things like choosing my food in a restaurant based on what i think other people think i should be eating rather than what i actually want to eat.

so when i think about what ‘recovery’ might be like for me, i realise that actually, i don’t know because i’ve never been there. yes, there have been long stretches of time when the eating disorder has been quiet but i’ve always felt its presence, just waiting for me to slip up and fall back into its arms. and, frankly, the idea of not having it there anymore is simply bloody terrifying.

{title quotation attributed to orson welles}

i read the news today, oh boy

20180228-IMG_1331-2

another blogger who i follow posted ‘a day in the life of anorexic me‘ yesterday as part of #edaw2018 and i found it incredibly helpful to read of someone else’s day-to-day experience of living with anorexia so decided to do the same for today. i should caveat this with the fact that i am not really doing anything more than flirting with recovery at the moment therefore this post might contain examples of disordered behaviour. as ever, i’ll try not to get into any real specifics but please don’t think this is how anyone else should or does behave. eating disorders are different for everyone. 

7am – my alarm goes off. normally i get up at 6am, do a yoga workout and then aim to leave for work by about 7.30am. today, however, i’m working from home as i have an appointment with my psychiatrist later so i take advantage of the opportunity to have a lie in. i’m so tired all the time at the moment although the combination of my evening medication (diazepam and olanzapine) means that i sleep really heavily.

i lie in bed for a while trying to put off the moment when i have to get up because then i’ll have to weigh myself and, based on my weight before i went to bed last night, i’m expecting to have gained from yesterday. my first weight is always my ‘official’ weight and the weight that gets logged in my fitness pal. it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

eventually i get up, take my daily dose of sertraline and, most importantly, go to the loo. i can’t get on the scale until after i’ve been to the loo. i weigh myself in stones and lbs with my pyjamas on and am relieved to actually see a small drop from the previous day. my doctor will be less happy but it makes me feel safer and more secure to know that i have ultimate control over that number. my routine is then to take my pyjamas off and weigh myself in kgs which, unsurprisingly, also shows a drop from the day before. i have no idea why i do this, it makes absolutely no sense.

9am – yesterday was a bad day and i didn’t manage to eat either breakfast or lunch. february was a bad month really. i’m supposed to be aiming for three meals a day and i am just finding it too hard at the moment. but today is the 1st of march and i’m determined this will be a better month.

because i’ve seen a small drop in the scales this morning and i know that i’m seeing my psychiatrist later, i know force myself to have breakfast. the only way i can do this is to have a set routine. so i take my usual bowl out of the cupboard and weigh out exactly the right number of grams of plain yoghurt. i debate having some fruit with it but decide in the end that anything sweet will set me off on a binge so just eat it plain and as quickly as humanly possible. which is pretty quick as it’s still a relatively small portion.

i email my psychiatrist with my weight for the day. his reply is fairly terse but that’s to be expected; i know that he thinks that i’m not fighting very hard at the moment and i’m terrified as to what he’s going to say when i see him later. before i settle down to work, i do a 30 minute yoga with adriene video. my doctor is happy for me to keep up with the yoga for the moment but i’ve been banned from anything more strenuous (not that it matters hugely to me as i’m fundamentally lazy).

12pm – i’ve been relegated to the third bedroom/study as our cleaner is here. it’s the only room in our flat without a radiator and i’m swathed in blankets to try and keep warm. it’s a battle i’m currently losing. i have a long to do list but all i can think about is what i’m going to eat for lunch or, more accurately, if i’m going to eat lunch.

1pm – once the cleaner has gone, i can come out of hiding and can curl up on the sofa with my laptop. i default to my standard meal when i can’t think of anything else to have; roasted cherry tomatoes on a slice of homemade rosemary soda bread from the freezer. this time, i manage to sprinkle some feta on top which is a step forward. i eat quickly again, trying to distract myself by flicking through pinterest so that i don’t really have time to think about the fact that i’m eating lunch. the food weighs heavily in my stomach which registers its surprise at having to digest something at this time of the day with some painful and uncomfortable cramping.

i dutifully log the details of my lunch into the app that my psychiatrist uses to track my progress and i notice that i’ve missed a message from him saying that i need to eat a proper lunch before my appointment with him this afternoon (my brain automatically adds ‘otherwise don’t bother to show up’ to this although i know that’s not what he means). i don’t know if what i ate counts as a proper lunch but i can’t contemplate eating any more right now.

2pm – i have a deadline of 4pm to get something finished for my boss but i’m consumed by the thoughts of what i’ve just eaten, whether my psychiatrist will consider it sufficient and what else i am going to eat today. i was supposed to be meeting a friend after my appointment tonight but i’ve just cancelled as i can’t face being somewhere surrounded by people eating and drinking, even if i’m not doing either of these things. but cancelling tonight also means that i haven’t planned out what i’m going to have for dinner and i can feel my levels of anxiety rising at the prospect of having to make (yet another) food-based decision. in an attempt to focus on something else, i decide to hop back on the yoga mat for a quick 20 minute workout (my second of the day). i’m starting to worry that i’m using yoga as a compensatory behaviour for when i feel like i’ve eaten too much (or just eaten full stop) but i’m trying to balance that against the good that i feel it does both my physical and mental health.

4pm – i’ve done what i needed to do work-wise so now i have to get ready to go to my psychiatrist appointment. which means have to get changed out of the only clothes i feel comfortable in – my yoga leggings and an oversized jumper. i have hardly any clothes that fit me any more and i’m full aware that i look ridiculous in most things, like a child playing dress up. plus it’s bloody freezing out, just in case you hadn’t noticed. i’m trying to decide whether to walk to my appointment or get the tube. tube obviously seems the most logical option and i know my psychiatrist will be cross if i tell him that i walked there (it’s about a 45 minute walk). but i really want to walk because i feel like i’ve eaten so much today.

7pm – my psychiatrist was probably a lot nicer to me than i deserve (especially as i walked there and back. i haven’t told him that part yet). he’s still referring to me as being in crisis but he seems marginally less worried than he did a couple of weeks ago. the rational part of me thinks that’s a good thing. the anorexic part of me is screaming that i’m just not sick enough (yet). every conversation, every thought is a battle. even him telling me that i’m doing well feels less like a victory and more like an abject failure.

we talked a bit about what my life was like before the ptsd, and then the eating disorder, took hold. i feel so sad and nostalgic for my former life. i used to live in colour, now it’s just black and white. we planned out what i was going to eat tonight. the cold and the unbearable ache for my past have led me down the route of spaghetti bolognese; not an authentic slow-cooked melting ragu but the quick sauce my mum used to make sometimes when she got home from work and that tastes like my childhood.

8pm – we tend to eat dinner around this time. as usual, it’s in front of the tv (masterchef tonight; it goes without saying that our television viewing is dominated by food). in order to manage my anxiety around eating (and in particular, how i feel after i’ve eaten), i take some diazepam with my meal. i’ve weighed out the exact quantity of pasta, sauce and salad that i’m going to eat and already calculated the calories. i also throw down a cocktail of pre-conception vitamins on the very off chance that this is the month we get lucky (26’s the charm and all that). two-thirds of my plate is taken up with salad (no dressing, of course). the remainder is what seems to me to be an excessively large portion of pasta. it is, though, no more than i would serve to a child and the entire meal comes in under 200 calories. i desperately want to stop eating halfway through – partly just to show that i can – but i have promised to eat it all so i manage to clear my plate

9.30pm – the diazepam has taken the edge off the usual post-dinner anxiety that i feel although i’m having to fight a strong urge to binge (or self harm) because i don’t know how else to deal both with the physical feeling of being full and the waves of sadness and regret that keep washing over me. i’m in my pyjamas now though and i’ve taken my olanzapine so i’m fully expecting to fall asleep in front of the tv within the next half hour. and so ends another day of anorexic me.

this post has turned into something of an epic. if nothing else, it’s been a very useful exercise for me. one thing that came up today with my psychiatrist was the extent to which i was in denial about the anorexia. i said it was about 50:50. ironically it’s the anorexic part of me that is most in denial. how can my therapist be talking about weight gain when i’m still so fat? i’m functioning perfectly normally – able to hold down a stressful job, have a good relationship with my husband, spend time with my family – so how can i be sick?

but i need to accept that whilst i can do all of those things and whilst i can appear from the outside to have my shit together, it doesn’t change the fact that anorexia is slowly consuming me, little by little. and the longer that it goes on, the less of me there will be left.

as a little ps, i also wrote a short blog for beat about being diagnosed with anorexia in my mid-thirties after a lifetime of disordered eating as part of their #whywait campaign.

{title quotation from a day in the life by the beatles}

and that sweet city with her dreaming spires

20180213-IMG_1289

i went to oxford this week. although i’ve been there a few times (and, come to think of it, worked on a project there for a couple of months), it’s not a city i know well at all. i went to the other place and, when i was choosing universities, i never really considered oxford. i don’t know why. it’s not like my heart was set on cambridge at all.

i had a pretty miserable time at university. i didn’t mind the work and wish i’d spent more time taking advantage of the academic opportunities but i wasn’t really happy. part of that was down to what, with the benefit of hindsight, i know see was a very emotionally abusive relationship. part of it was down to the claustrophobic nature of cambridge itself. part of it was that i just missed feeling at home somewhere. i never felt at home in cambridge and i’ve realised, particularly over the last few months, how much i need that feeling of security and safety.

it was also the place where i first suffered from anorexia even if i didn’t know or acknowledge it at the time. to me, it was all just part of the madness of those years. disordered eating habits had been part of my life for longer – since my early teens really – but university was really the time when this pattern of trying to control the uncontrollable really kicked in.

so, it was weird being in oxford this week. so many of the buildings look so familiar to those in cambridge that it felt like i was back there and the world had just tilted a little. i was in oxford to take part in an academic study on how women with and without eating disorders perceive bodies (both their own and other people’s). it involved several computer based tests which would be almost impossible to describe and i deliberately didn’t think too hard about what the tests were trying to show so that i didn’t mess up the study at all. it also involved an interview with a psychiatrist and going through the eating disorder examination questionnaire. i’ve never officially done this before (my old psychiatrist didn’t seem fussed by my eating disorder; my new one prefers just to discuss things rather than fill in questionnaires).

whilst i am partial to an online test and have probably done thousands of ‘do you have an eating disorder?’ tests in the past, even i was surprised at my responses and how strongly i scored on the anorexia scale. i answered ‘every day’ or ‘markedly’ to every question whether it was how often i restricted my food and how frequently thinking about food meant that i couldn’t concentrate or whether it was how guilty i felt about eating or how i judged myself on my weight.

i said to my psychiatrist this week that i don’t think i’ve grasped yet that i have a problem. i think i’m beginning to do so.

{title quotation from thyrsis by matthew arnold}

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy

20180213-IMG_1275

today is pancake day. the day to feast before 40 days of restriction.

except 1) i am not religious and 2) every day is a day of restriction here.

no such caveats apply to my husband though and he has been mulling what to give up for lent. i suggested alcohol but, as he has just successfully completed a dry january, that didn’t seem much of a challenge. last year, he gave up all processed/added sugar and he was considering doing that again. he did pizza one year but has vowed never again. normally i join him in whatever he gives up, more for moral support than any other reason.

it’s been strange since i told him last week of my anorexia diagnosis. once he got over his initial confusion (‘is that the one where you throw up?’), he said he was sad. and that makes me so sad.

i can tell that he doesn’t know what to do or to say. this morning in bed, he had his arms around me and i could tell that he was feeling the bones which have gradually become frighteningly close to the surface. but i could also tell that he didn’t know what to say. we’ve had more arguments in this past week than we’ve had for the whole of our relationship, generally because he’s tried to make me eat something that i don’t want or – more often – can’t bring myself to eat. as much as i might be struggling right now, i think it’s even worse for him.

this morning, i emailed today’s weight to my psychiatrist. i’ve lost even more. his reply was stark. i’m heading for a hospital admission within a month. that’s not what he wants for me and that’s definitely not what i want for myself. i can’t even begin to imagine how it would devastate my husband. in order to avoid that, my psychiatrist has said we need a more ‘aggressive’ approach. i don’t know quite what that entails yet but i know it’s going to be fucking hard.

when i asked my husband earlier what he’d decided to give up and he said he’d decided not to give anything up. i think that’s his sacrifice for me; the last thing i need is more restriction in my life.

by the time lent finishes, on 1 april, i would love to have our first round of ivf underway. i’m not sure that’s a realistic proposition any more given where i am today but i have to believe that, 40 days from tomorrow, i’ll be in a much better place.

oh and whilst i can’t face our normal shrove tuesday pancakes, drowning in lemon juice and crisp with sugar, i’m not a total heathen so i’m planning a version of these alongside my latest obsession, broccoli roasted with garlic and a scattering of chilli flakes.

{title quotation from pope francis at the start of lent in 2014}

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped

20180113-IMG_1157

i was planning to do a weekly recap of good things on a friday. i know i’ll never keep it up though so i’ve shelved that idea. more pressingly though, i don’t really have any sense of what is good or bad any longer.

for example:

1) i had to buy a new (boring) black skirt for work on monday. despite buying a couple just before christmas, they are already hanging off me and i don’t think it looks hugely professional. i went into the next by my office and grabbed a uk size 8 off the rail. i don’t remember when i’ve ever bought a size 8 before in my life. i couldn’t bring myself to try it on in the shop as i was so convinced that i would be too fat for it. i got back to my office and went into the loos to try it on. it fit. more than that, it was actually a little bit too big.

is that good or bad? obviously my vanity thinks it’s a good thing. the rational part of my brain knows that being too small for a size 8 is a bad thing and had a small freak out.

2) i cooked two new recipes this week. one was an absolutely delicious lamb biryani which i will make over and over again. the other was a slightly less delicious (in my opinion) spicy pork, orzo and spinach thing. more to my husband’s taste than mine but still perfectly acceptable. this is good i think. i like making new recipes, particularly when they don’t turn out to be shit.

but i made both of them because the recipes, as written, came in at under 400 calories per portion. when you factor in the tweaks i made along the way and the fact that i always give myself somewhere between a half and two thirds of a portion, my calorie count for them was signficiantly lower.

3) i brought brownies into the office again on monday and have developed a somewhat devoted following. clearly salted caramel is the way to my colleagues’ hearts. i am going to make more brownies next week. my therapist told me this week that everyone probably knows that i have an eating disorder and that ‘people notice these things’. so whilst making brownies makes the team happy, which is obviously important, more than that i feel like nobody is going to guess that i have an eating disorder if i’m known as the office brownie queen (my new official title). so is that good or bad? i don’t know.

so there we have it. i’m mired in the middle of this upside down world, not knowing where to turn or what to think about anything.

in the meantime, i’m off to a meeting. my job, ironically, is to provide the treats.

{title quotation from a moveable feast by ernest hemingway}