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}

be like a peacock and dance with all of your beauty

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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)

life is so endlessly delicious

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one of the goals that my therapist has set me for this week is to think less about food. this means less time on pinterest and instagram scrolling past pictures and automatically starting to calculate the calories. less time reading recipe books and food blogs, planning meals that i may or may not eat. less time looking at restaurant menus online, paralysed by hypothetical indecision.

the idea is that food – and everything i associate with it – is taking up too much of my time at the moment and forms far too large a part of how i view and value myself, leaving very little left for any other aspect of my life. every thing that i eat – or just think about eating – takes on far more signficance than it should. sometimes i can spend hours just trying to decide whether i should eat breakfast or not and what either of those decisions means about me (which, the rational part of my brain knows, is absolutely nothing).

like many people with an eating disorder, i love food. i’m obsessed by food. in some ways, i think this is a legacy of being a fussy eater as a child – i was always thinking about food and whether there would be something i could eat at the next meal. without wishing to sound like a twat, my husband and i have been lucky to eat in some of the best restaurants in the country over the last few years (including a spectacular pre-wedding meal at the fat duck) and i’ve been fascinated by every single ridiculous course.  for a while, this was channelled into the food blog i used to run which legitimised it. there was a whole community out there of people who spent just as much time as i did thinking about food. although i might have been free from some (or indeed most) of my disordered eating habits, that obsession meant that they were never very far away. and then, when life went to shit, they came back with a vengeance.

i do understand my therapist’s point of view. my life needs to be less dominated by food. but, at the same time, food is so bloody delicious and the idea of a life that doesn’t celebrate that seems pretty grim. i guess where i’m struggling at the moment is to find some sort of middle ground and so i end up swinging from one extreme to the other.

 

{title quotation from ruth reichl}

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

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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}

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}

i’ve seen more battles lost than i have battles won

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in the week before easter last year, i found out that the cps weren’t going to prosecute my rapist.

there were a multitude of reasons for this, many of which i fundamentally disagree with but there was nothing more i could do to change their minds. after two years of fighting the police (thankfully not very often), the cps (most of the time) and, ultimately, the man who raped me, i lost. sure, i didn’t go through the hell of a trial (at which, i’m fairly confident, he would have been found not guilty) and didn’t end up with hundreds of commenters on the daily mail accusing me of making the whole thing up but still, i lost.

and he won.

he raped me and he got away with it.

and when i realised that i had to stop fighting him, i started fighting myself. i’ve been consumed by that fight ever since; i have the literal and metaphorical scars to prove it. although he knows nothing about it, he’s still winning. and that really has to stop.

{title quotation from the queen and the soldier by suzanne vega}

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}

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

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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}

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}