be that self which one truly is

20180528-IMG_1380

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

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)

life is so endlessly delicious

20180220-IMG_1312

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}

the beginning is always today (part ii)

20180324-IMG_1362

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}

even the dust would be running away

20160413-IMG_0945

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}

it takes a village

20180212-IMG_1268normally i work from home on a tuesday because i have therapy first thing in the morning and i generally need a bit of solo time after my sessions. apart from when i’ve run away, this has been the pattern for the last nine months or so.

today, however, i’m in the office because not only do i now have a new psychiatrist but i also will have a new therapist after tomorrow.

i’m very grateful to my now ex-therapist. without him, i wouldn’t have got through the crippling ptsd that i suffered for most of last year. but there were also things that frustrated me about him and i felt that our sessions – or at least the overarching theme of our sessions rather than the individual sessions themselves – lacked a structure or focus. and in the short time that i’ve been under my new psychiatrist’s care (is it really less than three weeks?!), i think it’s become clear that i need more intensive treatment than i’m currently getting.

i’ve had some success with bringing my calorie intake up but that has resulted in some other unhealthy behaviours rearing up. behaviours that i thought i had well and truly left behind including, but not limited to, one of the biggest and most shameful binges i’ve ever had last night. my new psychiatrist said that he’s still happy that i can be treated on an outpatient basis (even that sounds so serious) and i’m not at the stage of needing day patient / inpatient care. but he’s also made it clear that it’s probably only a matter of a few weeks and that continued outpatient support relies on me actively participating in my recovery and surrounding myself with the best possible people. he has pulled some strings to get me appointments both with one of the top nutritionists in london and with a highly recommended specialist in cbt-e. i know the rest is down to me.

and, as much as i hate to admit it because i like to think of myself as independent and resilient and self-sufficient and everything else that a seemingly professional and pulled-together woman in her mid-thirties should be, i’m not really any of those things. i need all the help that i can get at the moment. because i want to beat this. i really do. and i can’t do it by myself. this is going to have to be a team effort.

this week is eating disorder awareness week (#edaw2018). already i’ve seen so many inspiring tweets, blog posts, articles and vlogs from people who are suffering, have suffered or have watched someone suffer. inspired by all of those stories, i’ve gradually told more and more people in my life what’s been going on and have been staggered by the generosity of spirit that so many people have shown me. most people don’t really know how to react or what to say – which is absolutely fine with me – but just knowing that they’re there and cheering me on is enough for me.

it’s yet another one of those strange paradoxes that anorexia is built on; i don’t think i’ve ever felt so loved at a time when i’ve never hated myself more.

{title quotation from an african proverb}

we’ll be counting stars

20180220-IMG_1315

i like numbers. i’ve always liked numbers. i liked maths at school and, although i didn’t end up studying it at university, i chose a subject with a similar set of rules. you either get numbers or you don’t. there’s no judgement either way as far as i’m concerned but i’ve always considered myself lucky to be firmly in the numerical camp.

i like baking because i like numbers. again, i know this isn’t the same for everyone. but i love the precision and the rules (there they are again) and the magic that can be created from some simple ratios. the most traditional, of course, is the old favourite of the 4-4-4-2 sponge which i don’t think can ever really be beaten for pure magic. but there are hundreds of other ratios that i use every time that i bake and a little too much one way or the other will normally result in catastrophe (or, at least, a slightly flat cake which, depending on how dramatic i’m feeling, might well be a catastrophe).

my anorexia (i’m still trying to get used to calling it that) is dominated by numbers too.

  1. how much do i weigh?
  2. how many times have i weighed myself that day?
  3. how much weight have i gained or lost since the day before?
  4. since the week before?
  5. since the month before?
  6. how much does each ingredient of my dinner weight?
  7. how many calories have i consumed in total?
  8. how many calories have i burnt through exercise?
  9. how many glasses of water have i drunk?
  10. how often have i been to the loo?

there are many, many more numbers that i track on a daily basis, even if just subconsciously. in order to recover, some of these need to go up and some of these need to go down.

letting go of the numbers is going to be one of the hardest parts for me i think.

i tried to explain to my therapist this morning that my issues around needing to control my weight are far more about having control of that number than about my size or how i look. the latter two concepts are so fluid and nebulous. my weight is piece of hard evidence that i can use to demonstrate that i’m in charge of my life. i don’t think he really got it.

on the way home, i spent a long time wondering around waitrose, trying to decide what to have for lunch and was uninspired. i’ve never really been very good at working out what to cook when it’s just me at home. for that very reason, i’d bought signe johansen’s book ‘solo: the joy of cooking for one‘ on a whim the other day.  before anorexia, i would default to a bowl of pasta. these days, i’m lucky if it’s anything. the first recipe that i’ve tried isn’t technically a recipe for one i guess but it’s one that i hope will form the basis of many more solo meals to come; a simple seeded multigrain soda bread. it couldn’t really be easier – a mix of spelt, wholewheat flour, oats and seeds all squished together with buttermilk and a little treacle. cocoa powder gives it a beautiful brown colour and trusty bicarbonate of soda gives it a rise. i threw in double the amount of salt required and a handful of chopped rosemary from our just-about-surviving plant. i topped my first slice with some roasted cherry tomatoes, a few crumbles of goat’s cheese and a sprinkling of fresh basil. utterly delicious.

my doctor says i need to be eating at least 500 calories a day (although, it goes without saying that the more the better at the moment). i’m hoping today i’ll get there.

SaveSave