Category: War


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.

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spaghettiJust eat! It’s really that simple”

The well meaning eyes of family and friends cast along the frame of an ED sufferer; pupils travelling the ridges of the clavicle, the skeletal hands and down the birdlike legs.

Just say, I CAN do this

Just make up your mind that you’re GOING TO do it and then DO IT

Lots of ‘justs’. Lots of good suggestions. Lots of spilled frustrations.

So why isn’t it ‘that simple’?

Surely it’s not rocket science…

Well…. in actual fact, although it’s NOT about rockets, there is quite a lot of science involved; physiology to be precise.

When someone is well below a healthy weight, the list of psychological blocks to recovery may be a mile long. However, unbeknown to many, there are also many physiological reasons. Chemical and hormonal shifts in the brain that induce behaviours which can make it incredibly difficult to behave in a ‘normal’ way around food. Experts in the ED field will tell you that a full recovery isn’t possible until weight has been restored to the point where a patient’s BMI is between 20 and 25. In fact, many argue that it is ONLY when a patient reaches a safe, healthy weight (and so, BMI) that recovery can begin.

I agree.

One of the strongest pieces of supporting evidence we have for this idea comes from a ground breaking, wartime,  experiment into the effects of starvation, performed by Dr Ancel Keys.

In 1944, as war raged throughout the world, Keys recruited 36 young men (mostly conscientious objectors) all deemed to be at a peak of physical fitness and mentally / psychologically healthy.  Over a period of a year, he studied the behaviours and mind set of the men as he systematically cut their calorie intake and increased their levels of exercise . By the end of the ‘starvation phase’, the men had lost around a quarter of their body weight and their physical appearance was skeletal.

Photographs of the subjects reveal bodies not dissimilar to those who had suffered in concentration camps. Certainly, the men appeared to have been subject to a lifestyle which denied them of their most primal need; much like the self inflicted discipline exercised by those with Bulimia or Anorexia Nervosa.

For someone attempting to recover from an eating disorder, the most pertinent revelations of ‘The Minnesota Experiment’ lie in the fascinating changes in behaviour displayed by Keys’ subjects. Behaviours and attitudes practised in secret, cloaked in a horrible sense of shame, perhaps feared by the sufferer to be so ‘odd’, so far from ‘normal’ that nobody should ever find out… Behaviour that actually, The Minnesota Experiment, proved to be a direct result of the human body being starved and therefore, some way beyond the sufferer’s control.

Keys documents that the more the men starved, the more overwhelming was their obsession with food. Food became an absolute priority while the rest of the world, family, politics, opinions, religion etc, all faded into obscurity.  The men were restless, their minds unconsciously forcing their bodies to forage for food, allowing little sleep as the need for nutrition overrode all other basic needs.

Interestingly, all the men developed ‘abnormal’ eating patterns, becoming ritualistic, taking up to two hours to eat a meal, cutting food into tiny pieces,  mixing food with liquid to make more of it and hoarding food so they could take it back to their bunks and graze on it. Moreover, the thinner the men became, the less able they were to judge their size as being thin or underweight. A few of them even went so far as to express thoughts that others were too fat. Spot the quandary of an Anorexic.

There were many, many physical effects, most of which an Anorexic will experience as par for the course, but in order to explain why it’s so damn hard to ‘just eat’, I wanted to draw from the physiological findings of Keys’ experiment. The state of semi starvation, of extreme self denial, is in itself, a trap. Being below a healthy BMI produces its own set of barriers to eating, making the initial ‘pre recovery / weight restoration’ phase about as difficult as it could be.

It’s really not as simple as it might seem.

Certainly, during the period of re-feeding, the men ate happily (obviously not suffering from an ED) but my point is that whilst starving, the men underwent such changes to the chemical balances in the brain, that food became an absolute obsession and habits previously unheard of, became commonplace.

When an Anorexic tries to recover, they not only battle the mental blocks that the illness creates, they also have strange, unseen physiological blocks.

(Another terrible hidden suspicion of The Anorexic, that their appetites will become insatiable once they begin to refeed, is also borne out in Keys’ evidence, producing yet another barrier).

I could go on and on about this great study in starvation, but it’s all for another post. What I want to convey is that, despite all appearances, recovery is never as straightforward as ‘just eating’. Refeeding, within itself, is fraught with unconscious physiological blocks and hurdles.

For me, personally, despite this knowledge, and armed as I am, I still stand on the wire, looking at that vast expanse that is ‘no man’s land’, weighing up the risk, trying to see where the mines are set, where the searchlight falls.

It’s been ten years raging, this war.

gripping barbed wireI still want to fight…

…but the real enemy

lies in the woodland

on the horizon

I still need to make it to.

THAT’s the pathology of an eating disorder.

THAT’S the physiology of starvation.

 

Dear ___________,
agony1

It’s hard to  know where to be
gin because I cant remember where or when the beginning was.  What I DO know is that you’ve no idea how hard I’ve had to work just to keep things balanced.

I want you to stop and shut up and LISTEN.  I’m going to try to tell you about what you’ve done and what you’re STILL doing. It’s a hard thing. Bear with me.

Despite your attempts to poison me and to harm me, I fought to stay healthy. I cleaned your blood, carried it round, battled illnesses, healed up your wounds.

You crossed what had become a very blurry line around ten years ago.  Then the real brutality began. You fought me with systematic, dogged determination; tried to change me, control me, reshape me with the tools of death you fast learned to use.

The irony of the fact it began with a health kick hasn’t escaped me. When you cut out the cigarettes, I was overjoyed! Clean breathing at long last. I’d been clogging up with thick tar, and in some ways, I think I’d resigned myself to the blackness, and to the knowledge that it would continue to seep and creep, until it covered all my tender healthiness.

But you cracked it! And I began to work at cleaning it up, helped greatly by your exercise and your healthier lifestyle. It was so good for a while.

Up until you stopped feeding me.

At first I wasn’t worried. I don’t even know when I first noticed. Those workouts of yours grew progressively harder to sustain. When I began to flag, instead of the little rest I was used to, you pushed me all the harder. After sprinting half a mile, you’d ramp up the speed. For a while, I thought it was normal; y’know, a good technique for burning my fat and making muscle. I trusted that you knew your stuff. I figured you’d stop when I reached my optimum, and I worked so hard for you, did what YOU wanted. Stretched to the limit, I kept going, convinced you’d be satisfied with my performance.  It’s hard to acknowledge just how far you fell from my expectations and it’s quite impossible for me to understand.

Over time, you and I underwent a transformation that nobody, NOBODY could believe. I think it’s fair to say that it simply wasn’t a you that I recognised.

You were brutal.

Whispers of encouragement became barked orders as coach turned to tyrant. I began to dread you.

Your lack of mercy started to take its toll as I struggled to balance your system.

I tried to tell you. I couldn’t help but let you feel the impact of your cruelty. You can’t flog someone half to death and expect the scars not to show. I stopped biting my lip and started to shout, but you lashed me harder, your determination a steel whip, your mission a desperate urge to keep control.

And all this talk of exercise is perhaps an avoidance of the most painful point: that of starvation.

I struggle here.

The louder I cry, the harder you starve. The more I plead, the more you withhold. If I let myself think of food, you give me less, and yet, I’m so hungry, I can’t think of anything BUT.

You’re killing me.

It’s not rocket science. If you don’t take care of something, it’s going to fall apart.  I’m SO tired of having to hold you up. You demand so much of me but give so little; a cruel rider lashing at his horse, numb to the pain of its seared flank; numb to the deep ache streaming down it’s legs, for all that matters is the win and the blinkers of victory blot out the damage.

If I was a separate being, you’d be done for abuse. The cruelty is almost intolerable. You tease me with the broken edges of foods that I crave. You tell me I can have it, then, just as fast, tell me I can’t. I’m starving and you lead me to the fridge fskeleton appleull of food that I’m not allowed to eat. Like an object of worship, you kneel in front of the full shelves, and as I cry that it’s nourishment you only see numbers.  For food has become a mass of calculations that stream through this brain, tangled wit
h the inevitable bargaining script of ifs and buts and onlys… And all the while, my mouth drools.

You’re breaking me. My bones are dry and brittle. Osteoporosis casts shadows on my hips and my spine is wearing thin. I can’t remember how many years since I bore the ache of fertility. This womb dry and cold, no longer fit to feel the moisture of tiny breath.

Every step is painful as bone grinds on stone. Every step is my protest. And yet, you carry on, rising above the screaming soles, too frightened to stop. You run away from me, barely look at me, only glancing to check that your clothes cover your skin.

I am weary, made tired by your disdain. I am weary of being underfed, ignored, tempted, denied.

I am weary of being brought to the brink of health, and then being starved to the brink of death.

I am weary of daring to trust that I no longer have to hunt to survive, then being shot at when I rest.

I am weary of empty promises, of bearing the weight of your illness.

If you continue, we will both die in this civil war and nobody will ever know who won or who lost.

All of me will rot; but, you if you remain, will rise above the webs of half rotted reasons, above the dry dust of me

And it will all

seem

so

completely

senseless.

******************

I didn’t want to seem rude when my very lovely clinician suggested writing a letter to myself. I almost squinted with the effort of holding back on the eye roll, resisted the sideways pull of my lips.

Been there. Done that. Got T-shirts to clothe an army.

But. This was a bit different. Not a ‘ years from now thing. Not a letter to myself, but a letter FROM myself. More specifically, from my body.

I put it here to remind myself why I need to keep eating. I also put it here hoping that it might be helpful in some way, to someone else.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

I’m not going to write about all the reasons why I was the least likely host site for Anorexia to burrow into. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that nobody could believe it, me included.

However, just ONE of the reasons why I am an unlikely candidate, is the fact that I have always been regarded as being “a block of sense”.

It’s true, I have suffered with lifelong anxiety, something which has only really been acknowledged in more recent years, but as a general rule, certain phobias aside, I really am an incredibly pragmatic, diplomatic, rational thinker.

I don’t mean that I can do all the lateral thinking puzzles that MENSA books torment people with. I don’t have an endless chain of resolved Rubik’s Cubes.  And I don’t sit down everyday to complete the Times Cryptic Crossword, just for kicks.2000px-Rubik's_cube.svg

No.

However, I DO have a high proportion of common sense and very level head.

I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, and again, you’ll have to trust me when I say that arrogance isn’t something that has been a strong feature of mine, but at the end of a long chat last week, a struggling friend looked at me quizzically and asked, “how did you get to be so wise?”.

At the time I shrugged it off, but later I heard it echo and I wondered… How come I have all this wisdom, and yet, can’t apply it to myself. How is it that I can see lights in other people’s tunnels, yet my own is the darkest shade of black? How can I have such insight into the pain carried by others, while I stumble in blind circles? Why can I feel what they feel, but not what I feel? How is it that people are consistently impressed with my intellect, my ‘wisdom’, when all the while,  my Anorexia is behind the scenes calling the shots.

It was my friend’s question that spurred me to write this post, because I want to illustrate something of the devious nature of an Eating Disorder. I’ve heard it suggested that sufferers of this illness choose to be thin in a ‘supermodel wannabe’ sense; that it’s vanity. I’m here to set the record straight. On the contrary, my illness makes me uglier, far less attractive.

I’m writing to explain that I CAN’T EXPLAIN how it is that my rational mind understands that I can’t be fat. It sees the figures on the scales at weekly weigh-ins at the unit. It hears the calculation of my (stupidly low) Body Mass Index, and yet, the Anorexia wraps itself round it all, and perverts it, twists it and denies it.

Lots of people ask the question, ‘do Anorexic’s see themselves as ‘fat’? It’s a massive (no pun intended) concern for those seeking understanding.

I know I’m not fat. Many seasoned Anorexics KNOW this on some level. I do however, feel that I look ‘normal’. I don’t see ‘underweight’. I don’t EXPERIENCE ‘thinness’.

So, I’m shocked beyond belief at a picture my dad takes of me.Picture altered to make background less recognisable.

I can’t recognise the scrawny person in it. She can’t be me. surely?

This is what I want to purvey. This is what I want to educate people about, because I think it’s the hardest aspect for those who watch, to understand. A person may have an IQ higher than the year they were born, but their perception of themselves can be as skewed as the government data on employment. Even with this photo, and the fact that I’ve lost weight since. I still cannot compute that I really look like that.

Such is the complete distortion of an otherwise rational mind. It’s one thing to know something in your rational mind, it’s another to experience it as ‘being real’. In this sense, I make the (somewhat controversial) assertion that Anorexia has an element which is akin to psychosis. This is where the illness becomes a mental health problem, rather than a ‘state of mind’.

 

 

… As Miranda’s mother says. (For those who don’t know, this refers to an uncomfortably comedic British comedienne’s show, ‘Miranda’)

I’ve taken a bit of time away from the blogsphere. Mainly because being an inpatient isn’t particularly conducive to writing. Then again, having an illness like Anorexia seems to make it nigh on impossible so, either way, I hope it explains the rather large gap between posts.

I’m out of hospital now. Not “better” in the stand-alone sense…. but “better than”…2013-08-12 08.34.49

Recovery is hard work. When I was in hospital, I longed for freedom.

Now I’m out, I realise that I’m still imprisoned.

BUT

I still have hope perched in my soul.

I can take up arms again now my arms are strong enough to carry them.

I want to thank readers who have been kind enough to message me and mail me. I have been so touched by your concern. Many thanks for all your thoughts and prayers. They have helped me stand when I have been all but bent double.

… sometimes takes more courage than to continue a fight.

Image may be subject to copyright

Image may be subject to copyright

Sometimes it makes more sense to submit than to lose everything by fighting a battle you’re not equipped enough to survive.

That won’t please the shiny miracle brigade. Those who remarkably manage to cling to a hope that pays off once in a very blue moon. I’m not saying anything is impossible, just that suggesting that holding out hope can sometimes be a little like burying your head in the sand.

Believe me, this isn’t an easy thing to write on a blog referencing hope in the title; a blog whose very essence was supposed to be hope. A place which might offer encouragement to others, and help deepen understanding about the struggle of recovery, insight into the world of mental health and eating disorders.

However, it would be dishonest to spout rubbish about a recovery that I haven’t yet made. This is where I find myself; admitting defeat. I’ve had to have an honest look at No Man’s Land and an inventory of my fire power tells me that I need to regroup in order to stay alive.

I am being admitted to an ED inpatient unit on Monday. The admission is for a month, at least, so that they can prevent organ failure and minimise the risk of death that is posed by my current BMI. (Body Mass Index, for those who may not know, is a calculation of relative body mass and height, which gives an indication of where an individual is in terms of the healthy weight range of 20 – 25).

I’m lying in the trench, a little wounded and very weary. It has taken guts to submit. I’m losing the battle in the hope that I might still win the war. If I carry on fighting, there’s absolutely no chance.

Tipped out and raked through, the innards of handbag look like an Emin – style installation.

I could write more about this, but this isn’t really the place for theorising about what does and doesn’t constitute a work of art.

I’m focused on one particular thing (though I may list or photograph the contents of my bag for those whose curiosity has been inexplicably peaked).

Amidst the clutter, the handbag holds the main thrust of my last weekly appointment at the Eating Disorders Unit. A folded piece of crumpled paper. A list, scrawled by my clinician in desperation: “Reasons to Increase Weight”.

Turns out that the essence of this list can’t permeate the tan leather of my bag. It isn’t going in.

Which brings me here. Perhaps the skin on my fingertips is more permeable? (I jest)2014-12-08 16.55.06

SO:

I want to increase my weight:

  • To prevent my organs from packing up
  • So I’m not hungry all the time
  • To have more energy
  • To be able to write
  • To be able to get a life?
  • To be able to eat out again.

They’re pretty broad… but it’s hard to think about the possibility of ever being well, especially when the illness has eaten so much of your brain; Worse, your hope.

I’m getting nearer that piece of land between two warring factions. The Anorexia versus Team ED. I should be in there somewhere… perhaps a third party divided between the camps. But I’m not.

Truth is, I’m lost at this point in time. The daylight is fast fading, the guiding lights are all extinguished and I’m stumbling through no man’s land clinging onto a crumpled list of reasons.