be that self which one truly is

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there has been a lot written on eating disorders and the role of self-identity both in terms of the part they play in the diseases themselves and in recovery (for example, here, here and here). anorexia (and other eating disorders but i will use anorexia for short hand) is so all-consuming that it doesn’t leave much time for anything else whether that’s family/friends/work or whatever else it is you do for fun. that, combined with the body dysmorphia that often accompanies anorexia, makes it hard to work out where the eating disorder stops and where you start. as i’ve got waded further into recovery, i’ve been made to challenge the core beliefs that i have about myself and my identity.

many of these core beliefs have their roots in my childhood. growing up, i was always the fat, lazy, academic child, more interested in reading a book than running around the garden. in contrast, my brother was skinny, excelled at sports and could never sit still. i was a fussy eater and mealtimes often became a battleground between my and my mother; often i’d sit there in tears being forced to eat something that i didn’t want to eat. my brother would eat pretty much anything. we had our roles in the family narrative and i’ve been trapped in mine ever since.

and so, when someone says how fit i am or how think i am or how healthy my diet is, i can’t believe them (and just typing out those things makes me feel uncomfortable and i’ve already deleted this paragraph several times because they are so far from the truth). even when i’m being told these things by a medical professional, the bullying voice in my head just shouts louder than them. the disordered behaviours which feed off that skewed sense of my identity also perpetuate the cycle, continually punishing that chubby 10 year old for not being good enough.

as a result, i often end up feeling disassociated from myself; like my sense of identity and the ground on which i’m standing is constantly shifting. there’s nothing tangible that i can cling to other than the restrictive behaviours which have structured my life for so long. all of which are a response to what i believe i (still) need to change about myself. actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s not so much what i believe i need to change about myself but what i believe other people want me to change about myself. because my need for external validation is strong.

on the way home from an appointment with my psychiatrist yesterday, i realised that the main emotion i feel at the moment is fear. and one the things that i’m most frightened about is learning who i actually am when you strip away the anorexia.

{title quotation attributed to søren kierkegaard}

stirring dull roots with spring rain

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on friday, my psychiatrist and i agreed some rules for april. unless i make what he described as significant progress by the start of may, he will suggest that we take a break from treatment and i consider my options. for the last few months, i’ve been stuck in a sort of half-recovery, doing just enough to avoid getting into serious trouble but not really trying as hard as i know that i need to.

the rules are simple. don’t lose any weight. three solid meals a day, totalling at least 1,200 calories. reducing the bingeing that has crept in to twice a week, max. no purging behaviours. basically all the stuff that ‘normal’ people do (except maybe the bingeing).

april needs to be the month that i crack this. partly because being kicked out of treatment (even if it’s done in the nicest possible way) will be (yet another) way in which i’ve failed but primarily because we’re hoping to start ivf this month. my missing period turned up over the weekend so i need to call our clinic tomorrow morning to get the ball rolling; a prospect which is both more terrifying and more exciting than i can put into words.

sadly, yesterday – the 1st april – wasn’t much of a success. it was perhaps slightly ambitious to try and stick to the agreed rules and host easter lunch for my in-laws at the same time. at the moment, any kind of social occasion – even one in my own home which i am firmly in charge of – generates a huge amount of anxiety which generally translates into all the behaviours that i’m not supposed to be engaging in.

it astonishes me that we’re in april already. the year is slipping past, lost in a blur of bingeing and restricting and purging. i don’t want to go on like this. today is going to be a better day. it has to be a better day.

{title quotation from the wasteland by t.s.eliot}

the beginning is always today (part ii)

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a couple of years ago, i decided to cultivate a little garden on our balcony. this turned out to be much more challenging than expected. we didn’t get much more than seven raspberries (which i turned into donuts, obviously). my mother-in-law made some valiant efforts to help but for the last couple of years, it’s been pretty barren out there bar a rosemary plant which i was assured was indestructible but which i’ve been doing a pretty good job of slowly torturing to death.

yesterday seemed like a pretty good day to get back out there and plant some things.

my best friend texted a couple of days ago to ask how my week had been. it’s been hard, i said, but they’re all hard. and they really are at the moment. for every few moments where i feel like i might actually beat this, there are hours of despair, self-loathing and shame.

this week has been even more up and down than usual (as evidenced by the fact that the number on the scales has been ricocheting around). we had an appointment at our fertility clinic and got the go-ahead to start ivf when my period arrives. which is great except my period is currently awol. my doctor thinks that the stress of the last couple of months and the extreme cycles of bingeing/purging/restricting have caused it to disappear. i need to get it back asap. for a little while, focussing on the needing to eat healthily for a potential baby give me some much needed motivation but i soon (ie within a day) slipped back into my old habits. this led to a difficult – but ultimately beneficial – session with my psychiatrist who put some firm ground rules in place as to what i need to do in order to continue with treatment otherwise he’ll discharge me. surprise surprise, i’m a perfectionist who likes structure and rules so i’m actually grateful to him for being ‘mean to me’ (his words, not mine).

there have been many new beginnings. i can’t tell you how many times in the last couple of months there has been a day 1 (after the official day 1) or an email from my therapist that ends with some form of ‘don’t worry, tomorrow is a new day’. but it does sort of feel that something has started to change over the last few days.

i was going to blog yesterday about how it was a fresh start and i was really committed to doing what i need to do (three meals a day, no restricting, no bingeing and definitely no purging) and everything was going to be different this time. but i decided not to because i wanted to see if i could actually do it or if it was yet another false start.

but i did it (just about).

for the first time in a long time, i did have three meals. and although i had a bit more chocolate after dinner than i probably should, i shared it with my husband (rather than bingeing in secret). every minute of the day was hard and i really had to fight for it but i managed it.

and then, i had a really good appointment with a nutritionist today. her enthusiasm and positivity was inspiring. for so long, i’ve been stuck in the past, re-living the night that everything changed. the idea of a future – and a happy one at that – has seemed so far away that it’s not something i’ve ever even been able to contemplate. but it feels a tiny bit closer this afternoon. i know this feeling won’t last forever and my capacity to self-destruct will kick in sooner or later but i need to believe that i can and will feel it again and every time that i do, i get a little bit stronger.

{title quotation attributed to mary shelley}

god, how i ricochet between certainty and doubt

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i started writing a blog post on friday afternoon. it was full of positivity. i’d eaten breakfast and lunch. i’d made an appointment with our fertility clinic to discuss next steps. it felt like something had clicked into place and that i was going to beat the eating disorder. i was even considering cancelling tomorrow’s appointment with a nutritionist because who needs that? i was feeling pretty fucking good.

and then, somewhere between the stress of eating in a restaurant, a difficult session with my psychiatrist and the realisation that i am nowhere near at peace with the underlying cause of (this bout of) my eating disorder, it all went a bit to shit.

i sat at dinner on friday night in one of my favourite restaurants, too anxious to be able to let go of my husband’s hand under the table. every ptsd-battered synapse in my brain was screaming at me to run. but i couldn’t because we were out with some extended family and i had to be polite. by the time we finally managed to escape into our cab home, the anxiety was overwhelming. my therapist has given me all sorts of techniques to try and manage the anxiety but when i’m in the middle of the storm, i feel like i can’t do anything other than give into it. and so, when we got home, i waited until my husband fell asleep and then binged on anything i could find. anything that would make me feel something other than that crippling anxiety.

and that’s really set the pattern for the weekend. the sense of being out of control on friday night – both of my environment and of myself – spilled over into a saturday which alternated between restricting and bingeing and, just to top it off, some laxative abuse. because what else are saturday nights for? i’m sure at some point i used to have some kind of life that didn’t look like this shambles.

today i’ve tried to get some control back the only way that i know how. by not eating. this morning, i cooked brunch. avocado toast (because we like to pretend we are millennials) with crisp rashers of streaky bacon and some imperfectly fried eggs (in my defence, it was actually my first time frying an egg). and then i didn’t eat anything. instead, i ignored the messages from my psychiatrist pleading with me to eat and tidied up the spare bedroom because, clearly, when all else fails, i can tidy (i’m aware that this is just another way to impose control).

i wish i knew why i woke up on friday feeling certain that i was strong enough to beat this. and why i woke up this morning and couldn’t even find the strength to eat the miserly portion if yoghurt i usually let myself have. and i really wish i knew when i was next going to have a moment of believing that i can actually do this.

{title quotation from sylvia plath}

every morning, for every human being, is in some sort a morning after the night before

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last night was not a whole lot of fun. for the first time in my life, i ended up eating so much that i was sick. not deliberately sick but self-induced all the same. i ended up going to bed at 7.30pm leaving my husband to fend for himself all evening. this meant that i woke up at 4am this morning so now my body clock is totally confused and doesn’t really have a clue what’s going on. i feel like i’ve got a hangover despite not having had a drink for a long time. i’m still feeling quite nauseous (did a quick 10 minute yoga flow and thought i might vom during a downward dog) and uncomfortably bloated. more than that, it feels like my whole body hurts and i’ve actually just emailed my doctor to ask if i’m okay to take some codeine for the pain or whether that’s a bad combo with the sertraline / diazepam / olanzapine because the naproxen that i’ve already taken isn’t touching it. mentally, i’m all over the place, my thoughts jumping around trying desperately to avoid thinking about the things that i don’t want to think about. and i’m feeling pretty sorry for myself.

but today is a new day.

it’s saturday and i can hear my husband moving around. although it’s raining, the temperature is mild enough that i need the balcony door open and all i can hear is birdsong. it’s starting to feel like spring is in the air although i mainly say that because my hayfever seems to have started up. our plans for the day include sorting out the little garden we’ve been trying to cultivate and painting one of the walls in our bedroom which has remained unpainted since we moved in 5 years ago. tomorrow my parents are coming for lunch and i’ve planned an ottolenghi feast from the nopi cookbook. on monday, we’re getting a new floor in our bedroom to replace the cheap carpet that was only ever meant to be there for a few months and on tuesday we’re getting a new bed with a super comfortable mattress delivered.

last night was a new low for me and the thought of feeling like that/this again is terrifying. bouncing between starvation and bingeing for the last couple of weeks has taken its toll. it isn’t the way that i want to live my life. if i thought anorexia was all consuming, this form of ‘recovery’ (which i know isn’t really any kind of recovery) is a hundred times worse. i’ll be honest and say that, for the immediate future, i think that i will be clinging even more strongly to the restrictive eating habits which make me feel safest: i’ve cleared the fridge, freezer and cupboards of the foods i’ve been hoarding to binge on (not that there was a huge amount left) and although i generally think that our bodies are perfectly able to detox themselves without any help, i’m definitely going to make sure i consume a lot of water today so that i can feel like i’m flushing out all the crap that’s floating around inside me (even if all it is really doing is making me wee a lot).

when i was in the throes of bingeing last night, i couldn’t see a future. today, i can. for the moment, that may involve making my peace with anorexia and letting it have its way but i’m hoping that, eventually, last night will be a turning point.

{title quotation from the slaves of solitude by patrick hamilton}

even the dust would be running away

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today i really want to run away from my life.

i had a challenging session with my psychiatrist today. i think, ultimately, it will be challenging in a good way but the fall out has been pretty intense.

after a rough few days of bingeing, laxative abuse (the glamour) and self-harm, i’d found a little bit of relief in my familiar patterns of restriction. my weight – the number which dominates my thoughts from the moment that i wake up to the moment i go to sleep – had been settling after yo-yo-ing around by half a stone or more.

and so, i was feeling more like myself. or, at least, more at peace with myself.

and then my psychiatrist asked me today what i think the future holds with and without anorexia and, fundamentally, which future i’d prefer. and i honestly couldn’t answer. i can recite the reasons why i should want to get better without pause but i can’t picture what that life looks like. i know it’s not sustainable to keep losing weight and that the only place that leads is a hospital but the idea of a ‘normal’ life that’s not dominated by my relationship with food feels further away than ever at the moment. even though i had many years of just that before this relapse.

so i came home and i binged. it’s over 5,000 calories so far and i’m not sure it’s finished even though i’m in so much pain that i can barely move.

i think we have broadly come to the conclusion that i’m not really ready to recover yet. or at least i don’t want it enough to change. all i want to do is to see that number on the scales go down and therefore not to feel like my entire world is crumbling around me; which it does at the moment.

i’m just so tired of this constant battle though. there aren’t even good days and bad days really anymore. they’re just days and each one seems like such a struggle.

{title quotation by ali smith}

that happy-go-lucky wandering life

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i saw this t-shirt in new look a couple of weeks ago and had to buy it. not only was it black and white striped (and you can never have too many black and white striped t shirts in your wardrobe) but i felt like ‘happy go lucky’ summed up my approach to life.

as much as i am fully aware of everything that anorexia has taken / is taking from me, it made / makes me pretty happy most of the time. i probably shouldn’t say that. even though it’s true.

i’m happy because i have (the illusion of) control. it’s my safety blanket allowing me to focus on other areas of my life – work, my marriage, all the life admin that comes with being a grown up. it manages the feelings of instability and anxiety that otherwise cripple me. it gives me something that i can feel successful and, for want of a better word, ‘good’ at. i feel like it allows me to be the best version of me.

the last few days have been hard. harder than i even know how to put into words. harder than i found the weekend when i was only really at the start of my spiral downwards.

yesterday, having already eaten whatever i could find in the cupboards, i purposefully went out and spent over £50 on food that i then binged on, possessed by a force far stronger than anything i’ve ever had to fight before. within such a short space of time – a week maybe, no more than that – the foundations on which i’ve built my recovery from the rape, from the long, emotionally draining and ultimately unsuccessful battle i had to try and get justice, from the ptsd that made me feel like i was losing my mind, have crumbled.

my psychiatrist’s answer is to eat three normal meals a day. the rational part of me knows that he is right and that will help to prevent the bingeing. the anorexic part of me just desperately wants to get back to the restriction which gives me the strength to fight everything else.

{title quotation from guy de maupassant}

you truly belong here among the clouds

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i saw this quotation written on a wall when i was in oxford a few weeks ago. i liked it until i realised it was a slight mis-quotation from star wars which is something that is totally lost on me. it doesn’t really have anything to do with this post but i still like it, i think.

the last few days have been a bit of a shit show really. my psychiatrist said to me last night that he’s not sure i’m ready for recovery yet. on some level, i think he’s right. i don’t have the resilience and skills to deal with this emotional maelstrom that has been unleashed. i’ve spent hours this weekend eating. eating anything and everything that i can get my hands on. the list is endless; the calorie count horrendous.

as a result, i feel absolutely disgusted with myself. that disgust then translates into self-harm and a flare up of other ptsd symptoms (primarily intrusive thoughts and flashbacks). honestly, i haven’t felt this bad for seven or eight months. and this is after i took a diazepam this afternoon to try and make it through the day.

the only way that i can describe anorexia – or restriction in general because i certainly don’t feel justified in calling it anorexia at the moment – is that it makes me feel safe. the impact of my rape and the subsequent ptsd symptoms took away my sense of security. anorexia gave it back. now that i’m fighting the anorexia, i’m not safe again.

at the moment i’m curled up in bed writing this in between reading chapters of the woman in the window which the blurb on the cover told me would be unputdownable (sadly, not true). bed is where i feel safe. when i was off work last year, there were days when i wouldn’t get out of bed because everywhere else felt too dangerous and unstable. in the immediate aftermath of my rape (which happened in my flat although not, thankfully, in my bed or even in my bedroom), my clearest memory is hiding under the duvet, burrowing down to try and block out the fact that my rapist was snoring away just the other side of the wall. even now, i don’t want to move from my bed to the sofa (although my laptop battery is just about to run out so sometimes practical requirements take priority).

i’m seeing my therapist on wednesday and my psychiatrist on friday. this has all the makings of one of the toughest weeks of my life.

 

 

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life itself is the proper binge

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i had a dream last night that my husband and i argued over what type of waffles we should have for breakfast today. not only is every waking thought about food at the moment but it’s clearly started to invade my sleep as well.

the picture above isn’t today’s breakfast, needless to say, but a picture of some spectacular chicken and waffles that i ate at poppy and rose when we were in la for our honeymoon a couple of years ago. the buttermilk waffles were crisp and tender. the coating on the chicken was heady with seasoning and the meat was juicy and lucious. the smoked honey butter that it came with had just the right balance of sweet and savoury. god, it was bloody delicious.

i put on a fair amount of weight on our honeymoon (which was a slightly extravagant five week jaunt). it wasn’t a huge surprise really given that we ate out at least once, if not two or three times a day. i even ate foie gras carbonara (twice); surely that is the height of excess? there was no bingeing or restricting though, just a real and thorough appreciation of the good food that i was eating.

it’s just under two years since we went on our honeymoon. it was, without a doubt, one of the best experiences of my life. it came after a stressful few months filled with our wedding, a major operation for me and a long wait for the outcome of the police investigation into a historic allegation of rape that i’d made. we finished our trip staying in an apartment a few blocks from venice beach. on the last day, i went for a walk by myself and stood at the edge of the pacific ocean with my toes in the still-freezing water and realised that everything was going to be okay.

for most of the last two years – and the last year in particular – it hasn’t felt that way. i’ve never had to battle so hard and so constantly. and in that fight, i feel like i’ve totally lost myself.

twice in the last week, i’ve binged. i’ve not really binged since october so it’s been a shock to the system to say the very least. my doctor has said that it’s totally normal and part of the recovery process; my body is screaming out for calories and it will do anything to get them. last night i binged until the early hours of the morning, clearing out the fridge of anything that i could eat quickly and mindlessly. as a result, the number on the scales has risen hugely and my breakfast this morning has consisted of 200mg of sertraline and a laxative. i know this is wrong on all sorts of levels but i’m powerless to stop it.

of all the disordered activities that i partake in, i find bingeing the most shameful. our society does not look kindly upon those people who just can’t stop eating. they’re greedy and fat and unable to control themselves. i feel all of those things about myself when i binge and it just reinforces every negative self-belief that i have. but, just as restriction serves a purpose, bingeing also serves a purpose for me.

after i went to the police to report my rape, i had to give a video statement. if needed, this video could then be used in court in lieu of me giving evidence. the process lasted for two hours and went into all sorts of intimate detail that i never expected to have to tell anyone, let alone a police officer that i’d only met ten minutes before. my video interview was at 11am and i was too nervous to eat anything beforehand. after it was finished, i was supposed to go back to work. i didn’t (at least not immediately). instead, i went to buy as much chocolate as i could afford at hotel chocolate and gorged myself until i could think of nothing more than how sick i felt. only then was i able to force myself back into the present. that pattern continued throughout the two years that it took the for the cps to finally come to the decision not to press charges.

last night’s binge wasn’t related to the rape or any of the ptsd symptoms that characterised my long period of binge eating last year. but i felt anxious and sad and defeated by the thought of the fight ahead of me and so i binged. and today i know i’ll restrict.

and so the cycle goes on.

{title quotation from julia child}

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the shared meal elevates eating…from mere animal biology to an act of culture

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yesterday i ate a meal in public for this first time this year. a little under two months without eating in a restaurant or coffee shop or pub probably isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things – i’m aware that plenty of people eat out far less than that and are perfectly happy with it – but it feels like a lifetime to me.

my psychiatrist asked me last week to make a list of the things that anorexia has given me and the things that it has taken away from me. the latter list is, of course, so much longer and i still have enough insight to appreciate that even the things that i think anorexia has given me (a sense of control, better regulation of my emotions, reduction in ptsd symptoms etc) are all an illusion really.

my eating disorder has taken, and is taking, so much away from me. the first and foremost is obviously starting ivf but, beyond that, it has insidiously seeped into every aspect of my day-to-day life, even if i don’t always realise it. one of the most sobering things that my psychiatrist said to me this week was actually something said in passing – that he’d have to swap rooms for my appointment with him next week because his usual room is right at the top of a tall victorian building just off harley street without a lift and he didn’t want me walking up that many stairs. someone telling me that i’m too ill to climb up four flights of stairs? that hit home like nothing else has. (even if i do think it’s a complete overreaction, not least as i live in a third floor flat and still always take the stairs.)

clearly, anorexia is also having a huge impact on my social life and all of my relationships. i’ve had to come up with an increasingly elaborate series of excuses as to why i can’t go somewhere or, if i do, why i have to leave early and/or not eat or drink. it’s exhausting. so much of what i use to enjoy resolved around eating and drinking with my husband or family or friends and that part of my life just feels so alien to me right now. eating solo is all well and good but very little can beat that magic of sharing a meal with people that i love.

and so, when my mother suggested that we meet up on saturday morning for a spot of shopping and some lunch, my initial reaction was to decline and cite some mythical prior commitment. but i need to start challenging myself and pushing myself and gaining weight otherwise everything else is pointless. so i booked a table at one of my favourite places to eat, studied the menu online for far longer than is normal and decided that i was going to fight for it. and i did.

i got there early and ordered a blood orange tea (i’m not really a tea drinker but i was bloody freezing). when my mum arrived, we ordered our food and i allowed the conversation to distract me enough to eat most of the delicious shakshuka that i ordered. and nothing bad happened. my parents don’t actually know about the anorexia diagnosis although clearly they can see that i’ve lost a lot of weight. my mother twice made reference to anorexia in different contexts (once in relation to a friend of hers, once in relation to bone density…we really know how to have interesting brunch conversations) and part of me wonders if she was trying to give me an opening to admit it to her. if she was, i didn’t take it. i don’t know if i’ll ever be ready to tell her.

what we did discuss openly though was our plans for ivf (i made a couple of excuses as to why we haven’t started yet) and she, very generously, said that she and my dad would like to contribute to the costs once we get there. this was so overwhelmingly kind of them and i don’t think i’ll ever be able to thank them enough for easing the financial burden of treatment. what it does mean though is that i really do need to get better. the only thing standing in the way of our dreams now is my anorexia and i can’t have that any longer.

{title quotation from in defense of food: an eater’s manifesto by michael pollan}

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