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I’m in that awkward position again… The one where I find myself dodging my blog because I’m too much of a perfectionist to just sit down and type just any old thing. Instead, I wait for the perfect conditions; the perfect subject; the perfect words; inspiration; motivation; perfect moment in time… You name it… body temperature, mind space, bit of wisdom, poetic stance; I could go on…

Suffice to say then, if I only put a tenth of the energy I spend fretting into actually writing, this would easily be material for about four books!

And so I come at it head on.  Ignoring the pull of perfectionism. Here are my plain words. I’ll write something more substantial soon…

Watch this space.

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animals-st-francis-2As a young girl, my conviction that I was able to communicate with animals, coupled with my parents’ point blank refusal to have anything other than a goldfish in the house, gave rise to my fantastical delusion that I was the living embodiment of a cross between Dr Doolittle and St Francis of Assisi.

Nowadays, despite still loving the idea of pets, the practicalities and the expense prevent it from becoming a reality.

So, I preface this post explaining that I’m not a real ‘animal person’. Not to be confused with someone who doesn’t care about animal cruelty. I do. Controversially though, I believe that human beings are of greater worth than animals (and find it endlessly sad that the NSPCC receives less donation money per year than the RSPCA) .

(I know. I know. There will be somebody somewhere wanting to spray paint the word ‘bullshit’ across my blog as I type this).

The reason I’m explaining my general attitude regarding animals is to provide some semblance of a context for what follows.

Yesterday  I was sitting on the sofa vaguely watching the early evening news while I threaded two tiny beads on a pair of metal findings. I rarely devote my complete concentration to the TV, and use that kind of ‘down time’  to make stuff; be it crochet, origami, knitting hats, scarves earrings, bracelets… whatever the current creative obsession affords.

Suddenly, a horrible bone splitting crash.

It had come from the large patio window at the end of the room.

Dusk falls darkly now that the October sun drops faster, and from a well lit room the opaque midnight blue outside seems blacker than it really is.  I went to the window, cupping my hands against it to erase reflection.

On her back, a female blackbird lay flapping, speckled breast skywards,  trying to right herself.  It was a heartbreaking sight, such a beautiful bird, so helpless and so shocked. It had happened so fast.

Instinctively, I scooped the bird into my hands and held her for a moment, felt her rapid heart, her tiny trembling. “Best left alone,” advised my companion. “They’ll very often pick themselves up and fly away when they’ve got past the shock”.

I set her down, right side up; draw away, the tip of my heels rolling forward to my toes.

female-red-winged-blackbirdThis evening, I am struck by my shocked response to her plight. My sudden immense pity for this little bird who, even if she could find flight, will never eat again. Her beak had clearly taken the impact of the smash, the glass sheet cruelly driving the top and bottom to twist in opposite directions. Never again will her meal be plucked from the ground with pincer precision. Never will the sharp beak meet to hold food for her young.

These twinges of sadness for my broken bird are suddenly shot through with irony. I realise that, for a decade, I have systematically denied my body the nourishment it requires in order to function in the way it is meant to.

Do I  pity for it?

Do I lament the months of deprivation? The semi starved state that results in hypoglycemia? amenorrhea? the inability to stay warm? a lower immunity? osteoporosis? reduced life expectancy? liver damage?  potential organ failure?

Why is it, that I am more upset about the broken bird than I am my breaking body?

I sound like my mother when she crosses into panic mode. And there aren’t any easy answers.

What I would say, is this.

An eating disorder pushes the sufferer to extremes that no sane minded person can conceive. It seems to contradict that which is instinctual: the drive to survive that ensures the continuation of the human species. Of course, the width of the gap between the urge to survive and the urge to starve depends on how deeply entrenched the eating disorder has become. I’d like to believe, that in its infancy, the illness may have been tempered, dare I say, hampered and arrested, by a glimpse into the future damage I would sustain. I’d like to believe that, because if that IS the case, then perhaps early warnings would make a difference to someone.

What I know is that part of the pathology of Eating Disorders, is that they can  somehow usurp the sufferer’s natural born instinct for self preservation. Anorexia hijacked mine to the point where my natural response to the idea of my body being ‘well’ is, at best, indifference and at worst, revulsion. In the topsy turvey world of Eating Disorders, many sufferers equate starvation with success.

Back in the natural world, nobody wants to fail. Failure is B A D.

This idea carries over into the world of ED. What doesn’t follow, is the notion that somehow failure is death. Anorexia screams that ‘wellness’ is weakness, health is self indulgent. Being healthy means being a ‘failed Anorexic’.

I know it sounds crazy, and it doesn’t apply to every person who has an Eating Disorder. If you have a loved one suffering, it’s worth a try to gently ask them about the contradictions between the ‘well’ part of them and the ‘ill’ part. Go easy though. They may not be aware of it or they may not experience it this way.

Personally, I’m trying hard to re-program my mashed up mind, so that I can go back to thinking about health and wellness in natural world terms, rather than the conditions set by Anorexia.

The little bird wasn’t there when I checked again. She has somehow flown away. I hope she will not starve.

20170619_150530If you think that being in hospital for five months would have afforded me ample time to write, you’d be right. Difficult then, to explain that although hours at my desk stretched like the Cornish coastline, my mind contracted and contorted like 17:30 on the M25.

Inpatient treatment for Anorexia generally leaves my insides steeped in a fluid sense of agony. Words curdle in my throat, congeal in my head. The process of weigh restoration at once answering the urgent cries of a desperately malnourished body, yet stealing every ounce of my self – styled safety. No half sane person can comprehend the half cocked comfort an Anorexic may take from being able to feel each rib; from seeing the deepened pit where the neck meets the sternum; feeling the valleys and protrusions of the clavicle and the hollow caves of the underarm.

It sounds like lust… Perhaps I am mourning the loss of my terrifyingly tiny body. Perhaps I am merely giving voice to the Anorexic fantasy, trying to confess the dark longings that lie like dogs with one eye open, just waiting for me to pass a full length mirror, or absently rub my recently re-fed arm.

In truth, I left the hospital against medical advice and nowhere near ‘healthy’. BUT, I have come a long way. I am not the death dodging spider that crawled up the hospital steps on March 15th. My heart beats without the frightening bradycardia… My white blood cells are better, I am no longer hypoglycemic (well… not AS much).

My insides are probably pinker…

I can string sentences together more easily. I can THINK enough to tackle some of the twists of a cryptic crossword (note: I say ‘some’!!)

I am grateful to The Priory hospital for their INCREDIBLE support. Their treatment was second to none, the best I’ve had by a long way. I was spoken to with such respect, kindness and, when I needed it most, logic. My views were listened to and the fact that the patient sometimes knows what’s best for them, was actually woven into my treatment plan.

I chose the groups I could manage and left the rest. I managed my own time.

I took comfort in creating.

I stuck it out until I reached the target I had set for myself, even went a little above. Three weeks later, I weigh exactly the same.

Sentimental bit…

My gratitude goes to all those who nursed me, and to Dr Iwona Kolsut, for her wisdom; Dr Lousie Bundock for her striking kindness and ‘normality’ ; Brian G for his immense compassion and the good guy Chris for his humour and humanity. They are all figures that my Anorexia resents but that I (the I that is ME) owe my life to.  Today I received my discharge notes. They make for positive reading. My hope is that I can sustain the light of hope that took such gentle hands and so many tender breaths to fan into a flame.

And as if that wasn’t enough… (More sentimentality…)

Huge thanks also go to those I know who prayed so much for me. My family (who won’t read this), my friends (some might), my beaut of a friend Chloe who so faithfully visited me every week to paint my torn up nails and encourage me with vision,  my incredible friend Valorie (who I’ve never met but who sent me an amazing box of gifts), my church friends, who never fail to love me as I am, those brave and suffering patients who I walked some of the way with, and all the people who I know hold me in thought and love.  I have everything to live for.

I just have to do it.

The following post is something I already published on a different blog. Call me lazy, but sometimes I’ve simply explained something as well as I can. No point reinventing the wheel, right?

Anorexia is a shapeshifter of an illness, deceptive in more ways than amyone could imagine. Don’t be fooled by the media perspective. Although anorexia makes its victims LOOK the same, the ways in which it infects each person, the periods of infliction and the ways it gets into someone are never the same. 

As some readers may know, I’m in a ten bed specialist unit and each person here carries their very own strain of Anorexia. 

Ive always been a fan of analogy. What follows is the story of how the illness got to me…

A small, blue clad child stands in the grey playground; back turned from her playmates; tiny hands pressed tight against her eyes as she chants numbers in a voice higher than it is loud.

Behind her, a group of dishevelled children move with silent, exaggerated care; the thrill of tension bursting from concentrated rosebud lips and then, delicious stifled screams as the blue child swings round, sudden and bellowing and the clenched stealth and stillness break, pouring a cool, white rush of pure delight over each small figure, even as they fight to keep the tension in their form.

Grandmother’s Footsteps.

The aim of the game was for the players to manage to creep up behind the person who is ‘it’ without being seen to be moving. ‘It’ could turn around at any point and the other players would have to instantly freeze. Those who were still moving when ‘it’ turned around were immediately sent back to the starting line.

Why am I writing about an old playground favourite?

You may well ask.
And quite simply, it is what came to mind when a despairing loved one asked me how on earth it got to this point.
Perhaps Anorexia’s approach is different for an adolescent or college student, perhaps it walks with a different gait, I can’t really speak for others. I can barely even trace its steps towards me. What I do know is that the illness wears many masks and easily poses as the smallest giggling schoolgirl until you turn away, reassured that it isn’t getting any closer.

For a 31 year old woman, Anorexia began as a wonderfully refreshing experience of exercising after giving up smoking. It’s steps were light, triumphant and exciting. Continuing to feel healthy, my body began to tone up and I lost a few pounds.
It doesn’t hurt to cut out a few foods in the name of being healthy, right?
Less bread, less cheese, less meat, less pasta.
Next time I checked behind me, Anorexia was a few steps closer and although a part of me knew it, another part didn’t really believe it would be interested in me. I was too old for that sort of thing. I was too ‘sensible’, too grounded, too self aware.
I turned my back.

No red meat. Only a few mouthfuls of pasta or rice. No bread. No cheese.
I swung round. Anorexia froze. I couldn’t tell if it had moved or not.
No meat. No carbs. No dairy.
Low calorie fish, salad leaves, fruit and water.
And where once I thought 6 stone would never be possible, now I dream of 5 and a half.

And Anorexia is playing. Oh definitely. It’s creeping now and it’s not bothering to freeze and I’m not bothering to turn my back.

Its steps, so quiet and so disguised at the start, are heavy and quite careless.

I can no longeer stop them in their tracks by turning around. I can’t make the fearless freeze.

Now my mind is full of the footprints and although I know tracks can be covered over, I’m not sure how and so the game has become a dance. My shapeshifting partner, both a close friend and a worst enemy, simultaneously giving and stealing life. One moment its steps bring elation, the next, bottomless despair. One day I dance with fluid grace, the next with lead-soled boots.
One thing I do know is that in reality, Anorexia Nervosa is about as much of a game as Russian Roulette. It has a higher incidence of death than any other mental illness and has clamied countless lives over the years.  Treatment is more effective the earlier the illness is caught but getting GPs to to take it seriously can be a problem (though why this is still the case, I don’t know).  You would think that in today’s social climate, any hint of onset of Anorexia, Bulimia or any other ED would be treated as serious enough to warrant immediate intervention. 

At thirty, I would have things mostly sorted. I mean, I would probably be settled down somewhere, I’d have a good circle of friends and a supportive and engaging church community.  I’d meet the man who could be my best friend for life and therefore be in a stable relationship and I’d have a challenging but fulfilling career.

At forty, I would be a fully grown woman.Although being middle-aged was a very hazy notion, I suppose I had something of an idea that by this point, I’d definitely at peace with myself. I would be content with my lot, and wise in to the ways of the world. I’d have worked abroad with my other half…. perhaps doing some sort of mission work. I’d be established in a teaching career of some kind. I’d certainly have written a couple of books, and maybe have kids or fostered for a while.

I shudder now at the assured faith of my younger self; my blind faith in the power of adulthood.

I think I must have believed that at key points in my life, there would be some sort of ‘latest update’ that would magically download and install overnight. It’d equip me with new software to enhance my resilience, bug fixes, small but significant improvements to my system. Just like the skin care products which companies like L’Oreal and Garnier so thoughtfully tailor to suit the relevant decade of a woman’s life, I thought I’d somehow just be able to apply certain elements to my life. Elements which would be suited to my age and stage… and again, like the miracle face creams, le28099oreal-paris-anti-imperfections-plus-whitening-cream-for-20-review4these would hopefully just get a bit richer as I got older.

I guess I might have believed that I’d still battle depression, but in my naivety, by late thirties, I would have gained victory over it, managing the dark hours with a quiet stoicism, helping others learn to do the same. Anxiety would probably always be present, but by forty, it really wouldn’t have any significant impact on my life. I’d have learned to combat it using my faith, my wisdom, a range of relaxation techniques and possibly my ole’ friend Pregabalin.

Whatever I imagined, one thing I wouldn’t have believed, is that at the ripened age of forty, I would be sitting in a hospital bedroom, typing a blog about Anorexia.

Nor would I have believed that by the time I got to this grand old age, a whole decade of my life would have been hungrily devoured by the same illness that would starve me to the point of death and leave me with the body of a malnourished child.

I’ve been an inpatient for almost nine weeks now..

You’d think by the time I’d endured four different inpatient admissions and three rounds of day treatment, I’d have got used to the agonies of refeeding. Think again. If anything it’s tougher this time than ever. Not that I’m in a different hospital than ever before, and not that my fellow patients aren’t amazing people who I feel privileged to meet. No… more perhaps that each period of recovery seems to ask for more energy than the one previous to it. It seems to demand more bravery, more patience, a higher pain threshold, more nerve.

At risk of sounding discouraging, I think that the longer a person suffers with an eating disorder, the older they get, the more entrenched it becomes and thus the harder it is to recover from. If there is anyone reading here who is suffering with an ED and is considering getting help, I urge you, please, GET HELP.  Do it before it gets worse. Do it before next week, or next month or your next birthday… Do it now and buy back some time because honestly, it might seem unimaginable, but this illness will sink into you until you are saturated. It sinks in a little deeper with each passing minute and before you can wring yourself out, it’ll rinse you of your strength.

The less time you tolerate this illness, the less time it will need you to fight it and the more of your soul you can save.

Get help.

 

My Dad and I have this discussion every now and then.  It’s silly and serious at the same time, as are some of the very best kinds of chat…

It begins when I tell him what an amazing person he is and how I think he’ll go straight to heaven (without passing Go, without collecting 200!)

He responds with typical humility, firmly assuring me that he is far from being the incredible person I see him as.

True to say, I’m biased but I continue anyway…

“… but Dad! You’re the kindest, most loving person I know… How can it be that you STILL feel as though you don’t love people enough?”

“It’s easy to love your family”,  he says, “even an evil person can look out for their own. It’s loving those we DON’T know that makes us saints”.

His eighty one years, the depth of his faith and his gentle, funny nature mean that I ponder his words long after he’s spoken them. They echo through my mind as I rip open the mystery parcel. A taped up cardboard box of beautiful gifts has interrupted the bleakness of another day in the hospital; a box sent halfway across the world by someone I don’t know, but who reads this blog and has intuited enough about my character to send presents that delight me.

I don’t take any kindness for granted, but I have come to believe that kindness shown by a stranger is a very different kind of exchange, an experience that can’t be replicated or simulated in any other situation.  It’s this type of kindness, love, that is so often woven into classic tales: the mysterious being who appears at the right time; the unknown benefactor in Dickensian stories; the God like figure in folk tales.

Why the inclusion of these characters and their acts of kindness?

Because they move us, they warm us, they melt us.

More than this, the kindness of a stranger possesses  a unique power: that of transformation.  Hence age old stories of Matthew the tax collector, of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, Pollyanna, Jean Valijean in Les Mis… Literature is littered with bad – characters – turned – good  by an act of kindness, because people love to have their view of human nature restored. How often do we hear someone sigh happily as they use that very phrase? How many times do people use the term ‘heart warming’ to describe these kind of scenarios?

Perhaps it’s the simplest answer to some of the world’s toughest problems. Perhaps the kindness of a stranger can combat some of the hardness and cynicism that grows in secret places; seeds of despair and cynicism sown and planted almost without us noticing. Maybe if we all vowed to impact at least one stranger’s life within our own time here on earth, the world may seem a different place to those who threaten it most.

Guilty of my very own brand of cynicism, sentimentality isn’t a trait I’m most likely to be associated with. The mysterious box of gifts though, was like a torch beam cutting the darkness.

Valorie. Thank you so so much for bringing spring to my hospital room. Thank you for such thoughtfulness and generosity. You act of kindness inspires me to pay it forward… If you’re reading, please know how touched I was by it all.

I wear the earrings even as I type, a cup of Tanzanian coffee next to me.
x

For once, I am going to exercise some discipline and force my raging, anorexic mind and (consequently) my restless, driven body to be still, while I sit here and type a post on my blog.

It’s something that I have been avoiding for a while, the reason born of a desire for this blog to be one that inspires others with eating disorders, and informs those who seek to understand more about the illness.

I can’t accurately describe my resentment towards the disparity between my healthy, passionate heart and my sad, bony frame. I hate the fact that I am desperate to encourage your suffering friend / sister / self, to offer hope and triumph,  whilst my own body becomes less and less and my own story one of failure. I long to prise the illness away from others yet I am riddled through to my marrow.

It’s disheartening. I always said I could write a comprehensive guide to Anorexia but still die of it.

It sounds as if I am giving in..

Don’t be fooled. I will never truly abandon the fight. I am certain that somewhere, albeit amazing at Hide and Seek, somewhere,  I still hold a small seed of hope.

I’m posting this because despite the horrible discrepancies I write of, my determination to avoid hypocrisy demands that I am honest about my own journey. That means admitting that I can’t find a way out; admitting that whilst I have the passion to educate the uninitiated and to offer hope to the hopeless; I can’t really do that until I have battled and won. It’s no good my standing, almost dead on my feet, whilst I preach recovery and restoration.

20170228_162610-02.jpeg

Do as I say, not as I do… The familiar face of Anorexic hypocrisy!

I am in a dangerous place, with a life threatening BMI and the illness is wrecking havoc. The shortage of beds on a national scale mean that I haven’t yet been put into hospital, but this is what my clinician is waiting for. She thinks it’s the only way ahead right now.

Determined to continue the trek, I have temporarily set up camp in the desert (not to be confused with the similarly spelled ‘dessert’ – Delight at irony still as prominent as ever). My arid landscape affords a pathetic diet, my feet are too tired to walk much further and, some of the time, I have my head in the sand. There are occasions though, where I can look around me and take stock of these hostile surroundings, and perhaps accept that I may need to be removed from here until I’m stronger again. There are also occasions where, if I squint at the burning horizon, I imagine a glimpse of water, of greenery.

I’ll let you know whether or not it’s anything more than a mirage.

For now, let’s try to hope

There can’t be many instances where your loved ones raise a glass to toast your  mental torment but then again. there probably aren’t that many cases where eating a beef sandwich is an achievement worthy of celebration.

Perhaps those in the loop will actually understand the bizarre situation I’m writing about, but if you’re a ‘normal’ person, you might struggle.

Wait..! Did I just use the term ‘normal’?

I can hear some of the cries of protest. “…But there’s NO SUCH THING AS NORMAL…” Protestations jet from all corners of the philosophical, semantic and *wince* pedantic realm. No such thing. Everyone’s weird. Everyone’s normal. There IS no normal.

But there IS. There IS in the tangled, screwed up world of we Eating Disorder folk. If you disagree, you might want to read on because I’m going to tell you about what normal is, often by arguing the case for what it’s not.  (If that goes over your head, don’t waste mental energy on it. Reading on will give you a clearer idea.)

“Normal” is our friends who happily pick a sandwich in a deli without an onslaught of mathematical conundrums running riot in their brain. “Normal” can actually have ANY kind of drink they like without even a whisper of a ‘value for calories’ haunting their thoughts.

Normal can choose food to satisfy their taste buds and not to keep them as light as possible. Normal doesn’t even think twice about adding one extra raspberry to their (carefully weighed) bowl of lowest calorie cereal.

Normal doesn’t consider black coffee a ‘snack’ or stir-fry an indulgent meal. It wouldn’t cast a suspicious eye over the size of a tangerine, or swear that an apple has the potential to be fattening. Nor would it question the amount of calories / fat / carbohydrate in a carrot. It wouldn’t distrust the carefully stated amounts of these ‘anorexic-life-threatening’ printed on each product, or regard cauliflower as an enemy to be avoided at all costs.

You see..?

Normal doesn’t experience eating as a trigger for a sort of inexplicably acute mental pain. It doesn’t really begin to understand that ‘food’ is merely an assortment of numbers. (Despite our health conscious Food Standards people’s best efforts!) It doesn’t ‘get’ that a carrot is 35, a berry, 2 and if you throw in a spoonful of yoghurt you’ve exceeded the limit. (Scrape half away, then share some with the sink…)

Normal might be conscious of the numbers, but it’s not ruled by them. It doesn’t carefully bite each Malteser in half to ensure it has exactly half the stated amount. It doesn’t have to ignore the body’s cries for rest in order to complete the requisite amount of high intensive ‘burn off’ exercises before or after a calculated amount of food.

Normal doesn’t FEEL fat growing ON them if they eat something frightening. It doesn’t feel the rush of shame and disgust if they slip up and allow too much food to enter the forbidding mouth. It won’t suffer an onslaught of blind fear, the compulsion to induce vomiting or crapping or even the wild urge to cut fat OFF any given part of themselves.

I realise there are degrees of ‘normal’; a continuum even. This illness, any Eating Disorder, defies all concept of normality and in doing so, isolates sufferers in a sadistic and divisive way.

As someone who, for almost thirty years, was pretty ‘normal’ about food, I feel somewhat justified, perhaps even qualified, to attempt to explain that there really IS such a thing as ‘normal’ in the world I, and so many others, inhabit.

The next nine years of my life have literally been stolen from me.

I find it incomprehensible that for almost three decades, I could actually EAT a meal without attaching any feelings or significance to the food at all. Nor can I recall how I might have RELISHED the chance to actually SIT DOWN and watch a whole film without the raging impulse to burn off calories, the torture of that insane edict.

It’s too hard to properly explain how Anorexia has unpicked and rewoven my ‘normality’, but I hope, in some small way, I’ve conveyed the havoc it wrecks upon its victims, some too young to ever have experienced the luxury and freedom of normality

I hope these descriptions may bring some small solace to those who don’t feel understood and information for those who want to understand.

There’s no such thing as normal, but there is ‘abnormal’, and this illness is one example of that.

Someday, I hope to eat again, with the freedom of that first part of my life.

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Doesn’t do a lot for my point, but I do love a bit of Edward Monkton…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining ‘Normal’

So it’s got to that point where it’s been so long, it’s embarrassing.

The multi-pack stack of Cola just can’t be tall enough as you dodge that friend you’ve been meaning to text for months.

penguin fishingThis is me breaking the silence.

And here are two penguins (because I love them).