Tag Archive: Health


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.

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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.

 

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’

Here we are again. Supermarket aisles cram-full of anxious shoppers; shelves a-sparkle with opulently – packaged festive treats and the air space crowded with the blaring wish that It Could Be Christmas Everyday. I sound like  a humbug from the start but I’m not, I’m a struggling Anorexic.

Love it or hate it, Christmas is a truly mixed affair for most.

Yes the shininess and magic, the warmth of the hearth, and the gifts and the glitter and the glitz.

But oh! the bickering, the sadness, the missing and the grief filled, the stress and the gluttony abound!

The pressures of a Westernised Christmas seem to begin earlier and grow faster every single year! Those beautifully designed cards that gave you a little tummyglow when you picked them up in Marks a few weeks back, you’ve got to write them all and get them in the post, a new deadline you HAVE to meet. That adorable decoration that you chose in a magic moment, it needs hanging and then housing…

I’m not trying to depress anyone although you’d be forgiven for thinking it.  I’m just presenting the case that Christmas can really be, “the best of times AND the worst of times” for all of us.

Christmas with Anorexia then, is even more polarised.

The fevered chaos of Anorexia defies the norm on any other calender date but come Christmas…. well… it runs a temperature off the gauge.

I know because even as I type, I’m slightly delirious: my head swollen with seasonal dread, my hands shaking with unsated desire.

As for most people suffering with an eating disorder, Christmas loses most of its ‘proper’ meaning amidst the intolerable warring surge of temptation and terror. Some houses are literally, “choc full”.  It’s so much about FOOD… and not just any old food.. Oh no! Gone are the 11 months of smug self control; of Deliciously Ella and all the high protein, ‘clean eating’.  Not a sniff of the spiralised substitutions and berry laden breakfasts  In its place, adverts parade gastronomic delights,  luxury foodstuff dressed in shiny, unapologetic full fat robes; mouth wateringly glistening with seductive spice and the promise of satiety. For those living with anorexia, it’s like pouring bottled water over your head in front of a dying child in an arid land.

My Anorexic head aches all the more as the chocolates, cheese and port pass me by. I pick up a sausage and hold it near my mouth but my teeth are set like a portcullis and my mouth has turned to stone.

It’s a popular misconception that Anorexics don’t LIKE food, don’t LIKE eating. I can see why people might think this. After all, we don’t tend to tuck in to… well… anything much. Instead, we politely refuse dinners, the offer of a crisp, the chance to have a snack.

(Note: My ‘we’ is a wardrobe behind which my vulnerable ‘I’, hovers uncomfortably).

To help the uninitiated comprehend a little, I often liken Anorexia to a top secret agent who is holding a loved one to ransom. The agent is using inhumane methods to extract information. Most of us would cave in, I suspect. It would be too much to bear to see your nearest and dearest tortured. With the eating disorder as tormentor though, the one who holds the intel is utterly determined to remain silent, rendering the captive a martyr for the cause.

Picture the torture, sleep deprivation, water torture, perhaps a continuous brainbashing, Pinter style.

Starved to the point of death, fine food is plated and placed JUST out of reach, fresh bread, hot soups, Christmas pudding…

A stolid refusal to talk doesn’t mean the starved prisoner doesn’t want the food, because WANT! WANT is an understatement! His demented mind is driven crazy by it! He craves it so much that even his bones scream out for it to coat them, cover them, heal them.

But no.

No; the captor will not allow it and the agent will not talk. Locked in fatal battle.

Meanwhile the quiet captive body is a table on which the negotiations are played out.

This describes my everyday for the past decade, but at Christmas it’s worse; more enduring, more desperate; because it’s not about the baby Jesus, a gift to humanity. I know it should be and thankfully,  my heart still swells a little at the thought. But even as the spirit swells, it meets that which tightly binds it, and so hurts all the more.

My chest hurts and I am afraid. I am afraid of my illness and I know thatCandle-calendar unlike the analogy I used,  I wouldn’t die a martyr. Far from it. Rather, a weak and wasted waif who just didn’t have the courage.

If you are living with an ED this Christmas my heart goes out to you. It’s such a hard time. Please know, whoever you are, you are not alone in the struggle.

 

 

 

world-mental-health-dayOctober 10th 2016: a day designated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of those awareness type days where everyone is meant to have their mind jogged about the existence of mental health and the kind of struggles people can have.

I had no intention of writing, but the surge of mental health promotion that hit me when I turned on my laptop was so ‘full frontal’ that I almost feel I have a sort of obligation to this little gathering of mental moaning and metaphor that is my blog.

The public frequently hear the term ‘mental health’ and, despite the best efforts of organisations like WHO and MIND, there are still a variety of stigmas (what’s the plural of stigma? – Clumsy phraseology, I apologise) attached and often, that stigma either shrinks from it, or tuts at it dismissively, cos who hasn’t had a mental health problem nowadays? Who hasn’t seen someone exonerated on the grounds of ‘ mental health’.

Where am I going with this you ask? (I’m not entirely sure myself)

Thing is folks, we all ‘HAVE’ mental health. It’s true!  The term is used imprecisely (a fine one to talk!) because we often use it to refer to a person’s POOR mental health, their mental ILL health, I suppose.

Many people I know think ‘mental health’ is something they don’t have, because it’s Anorexia or Schizophrenia or any of those crazy things.. Actually though, I’d argue that there isn’t this clear line dividing mental health and mental illness.

Mental health is a continuum. It’s a gauge which can be set higher or lower in particular individuals; higher or lower at certain times in each and ever one of us.

I think what I’m saying, in the most convoluted way possible, is that I sometimes sigh and roll my eyes at all these awareness days… I sometimes tire of hearing ardent advocates shouting and waving banners about one thing and another… (I am hanging my head, a contrite cynic – if you’ve ever heard of such a thing!) BUT, this mental health awareness stuff IS something worth stopping and thinking about. It’s worth it because it is something which affects us all, no matter the extent. Mental HEALTH is something we all possess and something we need to nurture in ourselves and in those around us.

Looking after a person’s mental health isn’t something that comes naturally to all of us. Days like today give us the opportunity to have a quick look at ways we can make it possible to reduce the rising percentage of people struggling with mental illness.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/world-mental-health-day

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If I wersquirrele a squirrel, I’d never make it through the winter.

I’ve written some notes for a post in a notebook, but I’ve hidden the book so well that I can’t find it. (This is despite ransacking my room which, as a direct result, now looks like I’ve been burgled).

I wanted to continue my thoughts on ‘being normal’, not an easy concept due to its being riddled with both semantic and philosophical potholes.

So this little snippet – post is like a trailer:

‘ Coming Soon To a Blog Near You’

Meanwhile, I’ll continue my search for the missing script!

 

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.

Advent Calendar Alert

And now

I think

I’ve seen it all.

A Thomas the Tank Engine Multivitamin Advent Calendar.

Somebody shoot me. 

Her eyes flick over me twice before she levels with mine.Eye Kate

She has read me like a barcode and in a second, I know that she knows.

I try to smile at her but I can’t and so I shove the yoghurts into my basket and move away quickly.

My illness hangs around me like cellophane wrapping, and I am frightened that I’ve been branded with an, ‘Ah So You’re One Of Those’ sticker.

Everyone seems to have a ‘one of those’ story.

It’s their niece or their friend’s daughter… a colleague’s son or a friend of a friend.

Unfathomable, the visible signs of this illness can be a trigger for a multitude of thoughts and feelings in the strangers who might notice your matchstick legs, the bones in your hands as you hand over change, or the frailty of your gait as you weave down a supermarket aisle.

Once upon a time, I was one of the watchers. My sister had suffered with Anorexia for years and I was the one on the ‘other side’, forced to watch her fading form. I could spot the illness a mile off in the people I passed in the street.  My eyes sharpened and my ears so finely tuned to hear the silent cries of the girls who woke and slept under the cruel hand of the illness.

From pity to total outrage, I projected my frustration, my despair, my anger and my grief on the coat hanger shadows of those who I passed. Now, I am that hanger and I fear the disgust on the faces of those who judge (though I am aware that it might be my mother’s helpless anger on the faces of these women, rather than their own).

I realise that anyone with a physical disability must bear this same small cross that is the flickering eyes of those who can’t help but look. A small but constant reminder of their difference. I understand how selfish it may seem that whilst one appears to choose to wear an illness, another has no choice. An Anorexic can be judged to be somehow choosing their disability. I want to clear my name as I stand in the dock of the all too public courtroom, but that will take another post and a lot of energy that I currently don’t have.

I reach an end here with no more than a gentle reminder to those who stare, that the stared-at  may appreciate being smiled at.

Just saying.

Politician Frank Field says of Christmas;

“It is my favourite festival because it reminds us that we can always begin again”…

…A sentiment I like because it’s rooted in hope. Now, perhaps you are one of those enviable types whose boundless optimism shines forth, making you a beacon for desperate souls like me (who experiences hope in a short rush

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which passes the mind through like sand from a loosely clasped fist).

Perhaps you are a glass half full sitting on the sunny side of the table.

If so, great! You can probably look over your shoulder and give a grateful nod to those who brought you up (controversial point, I know).

If like me, you struggle to keep a faint ember glowing, this post is for you!

When I started writing this blog, I wanted it to be about HOPE. I wanted it to be a small ray of hope streaking through the darkness of cyberspace.

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If ever there was a time where we see the little lights of hope, “Advent” is it.  And I want to say that Christmastide, although an incredibly tough time for people like myself and perhaps, you, is also a time where there is a sense of something new… and not just the ipad or the SatNav in your stocking, but in the way that we can live our lives and make small changes in the ways we react and respond to people or situations.

Hope is intrinsically linked with change: something I’ve never really thought about before, but seems so relevant to those of us who struggle with eating disorders or addictions. It’s so easy to give up. Sometimes it’s easier to say; “I’ll never make it”; “I can’t change”; “my ED is stronger”;”my problems run too deep”.  But the painful truth is, believing these ‘despair-mongerous’ statements (okay, so I made up a word), is putting a jamjar over a flame.

And we’ve all done it. We all give in to the nagging despair. But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can fight for the life we want, or to be the person we want to be. Where there is hope, there is light and life. Christmastime can be full of angst and grief and despair. It can be a time of immense loneliness and suffering. But, as in the real Christmas story, there can be moments where hope is born.

The hope that we can make it… that we haven’t blown it.