Tag Archive: Mental Health


“Rebel against your own state of mind…”

The background noise penetrates my concentrated, musical rhythm of ‘knit one, knit one below, knit one, knit one below’…

A glance at the TV brings an advert into sharp focus; a sleek grey car wheeling across a dramatic rural landscape. It seems obvious that it was a car ad but really, it might just asRebel well be the Scottish tourist board (or another bloody Party Political broadcast – Please no more!)

It’s not important. What matters is the fact that I’m having to count my stitches again because one sentence has lodged itself in my mind. It’s vying for my attention, playing on a continuous loop which forces me to stop counting and think properly about how this one sentence resonates deep within me, and how relevant it is in the context of my recovery and, perhaps, recovery in general.

My state of mind is founded on a determination to recover.

But it’s complicated.

‘Complicated’ because I swing between an absolute conviction that I WILL beat Anorexia and that I CAN and AM; and the absolute desperation that highlights the impossibility of it all, the futility of trying and the agony of succeeding at weight gain. (Yes, the presence of absolutes is noted).

The twisted paradoxes that lie like fatal, open jaws, are manifold and make the journey towards recovery all the more perilous for those who crawl along the path.

I want to eat, but I don’t want to gain weight.

I want to gain weight, but I can’t let myself eat.

I pick up my food, but I can’t put it in my mouth.

I drool over supper that I scrape off my plate

I eat all my meals, but I can’t keep them in

I cut off my nose…

Irony after irony. Stacked up, an impossible pylon to climb up or climb down.

I’m losing my thread (which won’t come as as surprise). The point is, in order to recover, I have to rebel against my state of mind.

Anorexia has become a default setting, a default state of mind. It is no longer possible for me to remember when I didn’t much care what I ate, when life wasn’t just about food, or no food. Even when I am absolutely convinced that I am going to crack it, determined that I can do it, the resolve can evaporate before I can pull the top off the yoghurt.

Rebel against your state of mind.

This six word commands a practise that might help in the battle towards restoring some of the balance that the eating disorder has stolen. Rebelling against your state of mind means a battle, a defiance, a disobedience.

Making peace with my state of mind will be about as successful as Chamberlain’s approach to Hitler. Appeasement is not an option.

I realise this post is a slightly bizarre conglomerate of thoughts and metaphor. Out of the habit of writing, I am at once struck by how much Iies unexpressed, and how tangled and tangential, my thoughts.

A peacemaker would beg forgiveness but in a spirit of rebellion, I post this anyway and pretend I don’t care.

It’s that time of the year again.

The first brush strokes of autumn begin to tinge the greens and yellows of late summer. The air grows a little cooler; the sun, a little whiter and dawn’s breaking, slower and quieter.

And then there are the spiders.

Scaffold-legged, they run amok in our houses, apparently mo’t measured the fear of a fully signed up member of Arachnophobes Anon against the brazen tap dance of these too-quick-for-comfort creatures.

I digress hopelessly.

The fact that I fall apart when faced with a spider contrasts markedly with the way I react in a crisis. Put me in a room with the spider and I break into a cold sweat. I experience weakness in my major limbs. Paradoxically, when faced  with a REIMAG1372_1AL shock or crisis, I become almost ultra cool… Weeping and woe-ing makes me impatient and I will veer away from any kind of hysteria.

Today though, I was shocked to the core and though nobody would have known to look at me, inside I was choking on my own words. Words that wouldn’t form to express, to heal, to challenge, to cut through layers of psychotic deception.

Sometimes, words won’t do. They don’t hold enough power.

Then, there is nothing to do but fall to your knees and cry out. Cry for help from one who is bigger than the chaos outside and more powerful than the feelings within.

Today, I cry. I cry for a friend whose mind has descended into the hell of psychosis. The first episode.

I couldn’t help.

The irony is, as we sat on her hospital bed, she told me that her Anorexia has never been so good.

Straight swap? I wish I knew more about the mind.

Anorexia: A Lifestyle?

AnorexiaMonday’s Telegraph newspaper marked the beginning of Eating Disorders Awareness week with an article about ED websites: More specifically, ‘Pro Ana’ sites.  (For the uninitiated, these sites are sites set up to encourage those who want to starve themselves. They share tips and tricks about hiding food, fighting hunger, effective purging, dealing with interfering parents / loved ones and often sporting photographs of skeletal bodies to give ‘thinspiration’ to followers).

I skimmed Sarah Rainey’s article , too tired of the topic to want to engage with the politics and the emotion held between the lines of the pro ana blogger, the parent of a (nother) very bright, talented ‘whole life ahead of her’ dead Anorexic and a range of ED specialists and organisations.

One thing however, leapt out at me.

This:

“Anorexia is a lifestyle, not a disease”.  (A quote Rainey takes from a ‘pro ana’ blog).

It’s something I’ve heard many times in various forms and generally from sources who, clearly, have no understanding of the pathological nature of Anorexia. Without wishing to state the obvious, I find the implications of the statement upsetting because it embodies the attitude that somehow, Anorexia is a choice one makes.

For me, this is an absurd idea. However, as I have previously tried to explain (here), I think there are different types of Anorexia and it is possible that, for some people, devoting their time and energy to becoming extraordinarily thin, is a lifestyle choice, in much the same way that a total devotion to anything may lead to radical lifestyle choices. All well and good (excuse the irony), and perhaps in this instance, starvation is a choice… just another way of living. But, can a disease be a lifestyle?

Unfortunately, what the article I read didn’t point out, was that if this is a choice, it can’t be Anorexia or Bulimia or EDNOS. A disease, by its very definition and nature, isn’t a choice… Nobody CHOOSES to suffer with a disease. True, it can appear that way with some mental illness’, but nobody makes a choice to become sick. People don’t choose to die from malnutrition any more than they don’t choose to develop leukaemia. And this is where it all becomes very complex… because CHOICE plays a large part in the distortions that characterise this illness so vividly.

A person suffering with Anorexia, believes that they have CONTROL of their weight and their body. They believe in the choice element. They believe that they are IN CONTROL. In fact, the extreme opposite is true. It is the disease that controls them and the disease which distorts their thinking. The disease ROBS the Anorexic of choice. It STEALS their capacity for logical thought about their weight. It DILUTES the ability to rationalise their fear of weight gain and to recognise that they are no longer in control of their mind.

I understand the Pro-Ana blogger’s statement in the light of those who wish to diet, but “choosing an Anorexic lifestyle” is an oxymoron.

One last point, and perhaps the most important: Luckily, there IS some element of choice.

It is reserved for those who are in the grip of an Eating Disorder (or addiction, I think) and it is this: The sufferer may choose to remain in the half life that it forces on them. They may CHOOSE to give up the fight for wellness. Just as somebody who is diseased with cancer may choose to stop treatment, an Anorexic or Bulimic can CHOOSE not to fight the illness.

RECOVERY or NOT is the choice. A lifestyle of recovery is agony, but a lifestyle led by the choice NOT TO recover, is to submit to the power wielded by this dreadful disease.

The other day I woke up with the word ‘VIM’ in my head.

Quite why this was the case, I have no idea, but there it was, pinging round as I showered, dressed and ate my customary bowl of Branflakes.

It’s not really a word that you hear nowadays: vim. Like the Lemon Syllabub, once the darling of the dinner party, it has fallen from fashion and is possibly only really used in a strike of linguistic sadism by an evil cruciverbalist (to most of us, that’s ‘Crossword Complier’)  I had to look it up. Learn something new everyday.

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Anyway. Point is, this ‘vim’ is exactly what I’m lacking at the moment, hence the long gaps between posts here.

I lack the energy that writing demands, let alone the immense effort needed for continued recovery. How can I possibly encourage others when I myself am failing to practice what I preach.

Recovery takes VIM. It takes a robust energy, something I believe that comes from within, which is a good thing because Eating Disorders very often result in a weak or fragile body.

When we lack the spirit required to spur us on, instead of just stumbling on with our eyes shut and our fingers in our ears, we need to take time to CONSCIOUSLY (some say ‘mindfully’) focus our efforts, remember our goals and recall the reasons why life without an ED or addiction is worth aiming for, suffering for.

If you have experienced anything like this, please take a moment to share your thoughts here.

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.

Candle-calendar

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.

snowLooking at snow falling is one of those lovely, dizzying experiences that simple nature affords to man.

We have an outside light on the side of our house and if I’m lucky enough to catch it snowing at night, I love to turn it on and look up at the illuminated whirl of silent flakes, highlighted in the blackness. It reminds me of the trance-like screen savers, or virtual reality cinemas, where everything flies towards you. This though, rather than something invasive, is different: a bombardment of gentle beauty.  I

I’m writing about snowflakes because, as we well  know, each of them is entirely unique. No two constructs are exactly the same and yet, unless we examine them with microscopic care, we would never know this.

You’ve probably already cottoned on to the fact that I’m using this as a metaphor for Anorexia. And it’s not too bad a  comparison as they go, because Anorexia often presents in the same way, and yet, like the snowflakes, each individual case is very different. Despite outward appearances and behaviours, no two people have exactly the same strain of the illness, to the same degree, or with the same rate of development and recovery.

My personal belief, is that Anorexia Nervosa falls into three (very) broad categories. The first type (Anorexia A) is a ‘strain’ more commonly found in teenagers who tend to be very concerned with how they look, how they fit in amongst their peers, and how others perceive them. The media have received huge criticism for their role in the alarming growth in figures of those suffering with eating disorders. Young people are highly impressionable and a society which emphasises a relationship between popularity and thinness, a diet industry worth billions and a fashion industry parading waif-ish  models across the pages of every magazine and paper have a huge influence on kids who are busy trying to establish their sense of identity.  A recent trend I observed (again perpetrated by the fashion industry)  concentrates on the blurring of gender characteristics, promoting an androgynous look (and thus, I suppose, drawing in the gay demographic). In recent years, the sharp increase in cases of male Anorexia makes for worrying reading. The rise of the ’emo’ / indie folk scene produces a whole following of longer haired young men,, their rake thin legs in skin tight jeans. At one point this year, a popular hangout for indie teens  looked more like an inpatient ED unit than a skateboard park in the town centre.

I want to point out that Anorexia Type A, despite often being passed off as ‘a phase’, and despite having its beginnings associated with social trends or self esteem, can be just as severe as any other strain of the illness. The ’causes’ of Anorexia are never that simple and the illness has the power to morph into a monster, something completely unrecognisable from the form it took at the start.

Anorexia Type B is a different animal. It can strike at any age and is often more reactionary. This type often hits a person who feels that they lack control over their lives. It becomes a mechanism to help soothe the sense that they are out of control because it affords the sufferer some power over his or her weight. the irony here is startling because as the Anorexia worsens, the power an individual has to fight it, diminishes.  Many Anorexics suffering with this strain have suffered trauma, cumulative or sudden, and can pinpoint when the illness began because it usually follows a time of extreme distress or a combination of changes in their life. However, although some Anorexics have suffered abuse and severe trauma,  the trigger doesn’t necessarily have to be something that is obviously traumatic. A combination of life changes, perhaps a lack of resilience, may all be contributory factors.

 

Anorexia Type C is, I believe, the least common form of the illness, and the most fatal. According to BEATs statistics, 20% of those suffering from this illness will die of resulting complications. I submit that the majority of this percentage suffer with Type C.

Although I haven’t really heard anyone else propound this theory, I think that some people have this illness in a more ‘pure’ form, a form which may or may not take the shape of something being chemically or structurally different within the brain.  Either way, there do appear to be instances where Anorexia is almost inherent in the individual’s genetic make up. My younger sister for instance, has memories of thinking she was ‘fat’ at an incredibly (and, unnaturally) early age. She had no idea what she was suffering from, just that the ‘thoughts’ were there and then the uncomprehending instincts to deny her body its most basic need. Type C is not a reaction to fashion magazines, social trends, trauma or stressful life changes. It isn’t a passing fad, a rebellion or a manipulative weapon in complex family relations. It is etched into the fibres of someone’s being. It is by far the hardest to treat; and to cure..? Well… that is questionable.

I apologise for the fact that much of what I have said here may seem sweeping and generalised. It IS general… I’ve put an incredibly simplistic slant on a stupidly complicated illness in order to try to make some sense of it. As I reach a muddled end, I realise that I haven’t really managed to explain my original point, which was that no case of Anorexia is ever the same, despite seeming to be.

Perhaps in another post, I’ll be more successful. For now, I leave it in the somewhat mysterious and chaotic cloud that describes it best!

I have just completed my third week of refeeding at the day treatment unit and it has been nothing short of agony, which is a tough thing to be honest about because I want this site to be about positive encouragement and support. I want it to be inspiring for those who are thinking about going for treatment, motivational for those who are sitting on the fence, unsure which way to drop.

However, I also want it to be realistic and honest. Just as I’m not a great advocate of polite, ‘home counties, garden party speak’, I’m not great at literary niceties. It is possible (on reflection) that I value honesty above all other virtue. In the words of wannabe surfboard – wielding  teens the world over, I have to ‘keep it real’.

Back to the concept of agony then.

To any ‘normal’ person (for the purposes of this post, let’s just assume that such a thing exists) the idea that sitting around and eating all day should be anything other than a pleasure, sounds ludicrous! If I offered most of my friends the chance to take a few weeks away from work to join me in treatment,  they would literally jump at the chance! I almost wish that I could offer it as a free gift on one of those LoveFilm ‘friends and family’ type cards for Christmas.

For an anorexic however, the relentless pattern of snacking and sitting and eating and talking, resembles the slow medieval torture of The Rack; the steady tearing of bones from sockets, muscles from tissue and flesh resembles the inner sensations of being torn apart. Sounds dramatic? Perhaps, but I fail to find metaphors which can adequately illustrate the pain of beginning recovery.  Admittedly, being severely underweight heightens the trauma of refeeding, physically as well as mentally, but it’s a pretty horrendous process wherever you are on the BMI scale.

What I think is an important point to emphasise at this stage though, is that despite the immense increase in my calorific intake, in three weeks, I have only gained point 5 of a kilo overall. That’s a pound (in old currency).

We are weighed twice a week on a Monday and Thursday  (an event so anxiety provoking I am woken by palpitations in the early hours of a Thursday morning).  The pattern for me has been a predictable gain on the Thursday and loss after a weekend of Anorexia V Relief at ‘Respite’. The harder you work at the eating, the greater the agony as the Anorexia rears its demonic form, screaming and contorted, afraid of losing even an inch of its grip.

agony1

At this point, there is no comfort.

If Anorexia is being frozen to death, treatment is a hot water bottle that burns if you hold it close.

It flogs as it spares; it blinds as it darkens; it kills as it saves.

And just as the illness commands a dying body to keep dragging itself over upturned shards of glass, so recovery demands that the same body be dragged in the other direction.

Agony.

But

if you have to suffer it,

it may as well be suffering towards recovery.

Right?

In my last post, I borrowed the words from an old hymn to use in a metaphor for ‘the will to recover’.

I wanted to highlight(no pun intended) the importance of keeping that will alive, making it flare up and then harnessing it to use as a source of power and light as we progress on the dark journey towards recovery.

Not easy when the illness or addiction is playing King in your mind and all will and all incentive is laid prostrate before it, bent and unable to muster so much as a whisper of it’s own volition.

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Anyway, as I thought about my last post, I was nagged by the thought that it’s all well and good writing about keeping our oil topped up; keeping our willpower alive; maintaining the hope for recovery and keeping that spark that drives us clear and strong…

but

what IS the oil…  and WHERE do we GET it from?

I started to question how I fuel the drive towards recovery, and wondered what I needed to use more of.

And I came up with these:

  • Prayer

  • Mindfulness exercises I was taught in hospitallight-tunnel-01-220x130

  • my family

  • friends who are ahead of me on the journey back to a future that looks something near normal

  • allowing myself to risk dreaming of what ‘could’ be…

  • Music – Particularly songs with lyrics which inspire me

It might (or might not) be useful to think of things to turn to as sources of power when you feel like your will to make it is running dry…

I wondered, if it’s not too personal,  if anyone had any that they would share?

You never know, your oil could help to fuel someone else.

Emily Dickinson, one of my favourite American poets, didn’t have a single poem published at the time she died. Subsequently, her poetry has been flagged as some of the greatest literary work

Imagein the nineteenth century.

Biographers and researchers have scrutinised her poetry and letters to learn more about her reclusive life although, It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Emily was more than familiar with poor mental health. Loneliness and self imposed solitude were, no doubt, unkind relatives to the deep depression and anxiety she suffered.

One of the best descriptions of depression (to my mind) is to be found in her poem, “I Felt A Funeral In My Brain”. Contrary to this, I find one of the most uplifting metaphors for hope in a poem where she famously likens hope to a little bird, who carries on singing through the darkest of storms, making no demands (despite extreme conditions) and remaining alive throughout.

The poem is a reminder that hope, although fragile as a feather and tiny as a bird, can withstand our darkest and deepest depression, our cold fear and our flustered anxiety. It can survive the tunnel of sadness and it will not drown in the well of grief.

During recovery, there are moments of screeching inner agony, where the illness claws at the very lining of our guts, our gullets and our skulls. The challenge is to stay still enough to hear the sound of hope, singing its song, far, far beneath the aching and the clawing and the piercing scream

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops at all.
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

What gives you hope?