Tag Archive: Recovering From Eating Disorders


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I don’t really know who Lamott is, or where hope becomes important in her story, but once upon a time I copied this out and popped it in a back pocket where it remained until I fished it out some months ago.

I don’t have too much to say, except that to me, hope is one hell of a risk. It seems to require me to swim against the tide of mental reasoning and learning; perhaps in different seas altogether.

I admit, I find it exhausting. I think that I find it easier to throw my hands up in the air and quit, than to hang on to the cliff edge with torn up fingernails.  Funny that Hope is so often thought to be light, so feathery and fragile, so beautiful, so pure.  Stark contrast then, that the hope in me is a ripped, time worn, tear stained,  piece of paper pulled out of my old jeans’ pocket.

Hope is a risk. It might fail me. It might demand too much, grow too big, get too brave. It might start to grow secretly, against my own will…

… but if I don’t have any, my life will always look the same. The world will always look the same. My body will always feel the same.

Hope is a harbinger of change. Without it, we stop swimming altogether. The only alternative to swimming against the tide is to stand in stagnant pools, or to drown.

I don’t intend to do either.

Re the quotation that I carried round so long;  I’m still here in hospital (I showed up). I’m eating (trying to do the right thing).  I’m waiting and watching and working.

I’m just hoping to see the sun rise as I fight the tide.

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You know “the grass is always greener…”?  It’s a common enough expression.

But when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense.

WHY green when it’s actually red?

The grass outside my window is no more green than Bob’s my uncle.

I can hear your confusion and I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering where the hell this is going…  A puzzle. You’re frowning. Figuring out the point.

My point is this: that every time you look at that park, or that garden… you’re thinking that the grass is green. You’re SEEING it with your own eyes. ACTUALLY SEEING it.

So you believe it, right? You can see the grass is green so you believe it. Perhaps you’d even swear to it.

But you are, quite simply, wrong.

It’s not green.

You’re still frowning… or your lip has turned up slightly at the very edge…

What will it take to convince you that grass, as a natural product of this beautiful earth, is bright red ?

Stop and think. Just for a few seconds. What would it take?

Because that’s what everyone else sees.

Everyone else knows it’s red.

 

Have they just been agreeing with you?!

Going along with you… Not daring to challenge your view.

Nice one.

That’d be why you still believe it’s green.

 

I know and understand that you THINK this is madness. I know you SEE green… But it’s red.

FACT: Everyone else knows and sees red. You alone see it as that bright green colour.

red-grass-

Stay with me. I’m trying to make sense (despite all evidence to the contrary).

It can be argued that a certain degree of body dysmorphia is part of the human condition.

However, whilst for many of us the distortions in our perceptions are not significant enough to cause distress, it’s very difficult to gauge just how accurate our perceptions are, particularly when they involve our appearance. Hence, a person may grow up with a mole on their cheek and barely see it, whilst another with the same mark, may grow up feeling ACUTELY aware, paranoid even, that it’s all anybody notices. Certainly it may be all THEY themselves notice.

Although each case is different, Anorexia and Bulimia often incur constantly shifting distortions in the sufferers perceptions of their body. the extent of this may depend on the individual’s mood, the amount that they’ve had to drink, the whispering voice of their illness, or how full / empty they feel at any given moment. It doesn’t appear to matter whether the ill person is a  tortured artist or a brilliant scientist, the degree to which they are susceptible to absolutely absurd thoughts about food and the body’s relationship to it, remains the same.

For example, as a level headed and rational being, I know that I CAN’T be big in any way because the measurements, weights, body mass I am faced with are completely accurate. The ratio is too low for my body to be fat; too low for my body to be healthy.  The figures are scattered on the green grassy earth.

As a sufferer though, I look in the mirror and that grass is DEFINITELY RED. I can SEE it. DAMN IT! IT’S THERE IN FRONT OF MY EYES

AND YOU’RE STILLSTILL trying to tell me it’s green!

I’m fine! There’s nothing wrong with me! I look normal… healthy.

Some days, my arms look chubby… and my thighs often look massive towards the end of each day… but generally, I look perfectly normal.


Arguing with an Anorexic can be hugely upsetting, incredibly perplexing and downright frustrating. You see one thing, they see another.

Families in particular will suffer the agony of watching their loved one deny the truth; a blank refusal to hear the other side of the story. It’s painful to be stonewalled or to have your words hurled back at you. Few can identify with the desperation and helplessness experienced by screaming at a skeleton whose rock solid belief is that they are ‘fat’ or ‘fine’. Not everyone can trace the ridges of the bone along the clavicle of a loved one who refuses to eat because they think they’ve got plenty of fat still to lose.

My message is convoluted. It’s a poor attempt to somehow explain the complex illusion / delusion experienced by the victim of an Eating Disorder like Anorexia.

I know many, many women who dislike parts of their body, or at least, are dissatisfied with particular aspects of their appearance. When someone develops an ED, that dissatisfaction, becomes a rigidly held belief which apparently robs them of a realistic view of themselves. Much like joining an extremist party or cult, Anorexia transforms the mind in such a way that makes reasoning with them, impossible and unrealistic.

Hopeless as this sounds, my final message is to anyone who is having to watch a loved one starve .

Don’t give up.

It can be heartbreaking and it’s often a long, tiring path, but if there’s one thing that will help to save them, it’s a quiet, pervasive message that it’s the ILLNESS that’s lying to them and not the rest of you. If you’re met with a brick wall, don’t employ a bulldozer. You’ll flatten the person rather than the illness.

Remember the quiet echo of the drip that splashes against a stone surface. Gentle but unswerving,  the message will sink in, and though they may always see a tinge of red, at least they will accept that, mostly, grass is green

water on stone

It was clear from an early age that I wasn’t ever going to make a scientist. Certainly, the most memorable things from my physics lessons involved throwing wet paper towels at each other, and the time when I fell off my stool because Leon Kavanagh pushed me too hard.

It’s really Mr Thomas that I blame for my ignorance on the topic of magnetic force. He had bad breath and liked to lean over your shoulder to illustrate his point. Awful as it is to conform to the stereotype of the bored teenager, surely it’s even more awful to conform to that of the fairly greasy, and very definitely sleazy, Physics teacher!  All this to excuse myself for what follows; a very unscientific reference to a very scientific process.

It’s possible that if you belong to a certain generation, you’ll have had one of those arched magnets lying around the garage. You know the ones… a U – shaped piece of metal coated, in part, with bright red plastic.bare magnet

I loved ours. My dad’s. As a kid, I’d be content to mess about with it, trying to get to that point where I could move the screws / nails without the magnet actually picking them up. You know THAT point? What was it that was SO satisfying about THAT point?!

Anyway. The magnet is something I often refer to when I’m attempting to explain something about the nature of Anorexia and, moreover, the PURPOSE that it serves. Because it does HAVE a purpose. And just because there may be no apparent reason why a person is dogged with this illness, doesn’t mean that it’s a completely random occurrence.

Although I am writing mainly about Anorexia Nervosa, sufferers with other eating disorders will identify with the fact that before they even had a hint of their illness, they were chronically anxious. In my own experience, I had suffered with almost crippling anxiety and panic attacks for many years before Anorexia hijacked my brain. I have heard so many other patients refer to their inability to manage everyday anxieties, stories of phobias, extreme panic, fear.

Whether it was recognised in childhood or not, I would hazard a guess that it is actually an anxiety disorder, generalised or specific, that underpins Anorexia.

And so, a sort of Anorexic blueprint, is born.

The child who is very frightened about being left alone to survive in the playground; the one who studies to be the best and so is the best and then lives in fear of not being able to keep being the best; the person at work who is held up as being exemplary, and is terrified of being ‘found out’ because he or she has no self belief and feels like a fraud. Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety.

You may be reading this and identifying the fact that this is something we ALL experience. Perhaps it is… but everybody manages their fears in different ways, and Anorexia, whilst still being a severe and enduring illness, often begins as a means for managing fear.

Imagine a tabletop covered in iron filings. Horrible little bits of grey, scattered all over  Try to scoop them up and they go everywhere…

Now imagine that each of the filings is a different ‘free floating’ fear.iron_filings copy

So many different things to cope with, too many. It’s all very out of control and you can’t rest because you’re in a constant state of hyper alertness; a state where heightened anxiety is natural because everything, EVERYTHING feels like a bit like a threat… a challenge… The filings don’t shift, if anything, they seem to multiply.

Anorexia is a magnet.

And it’s bigger than anyfilings drawn to magnetthing else.

And it’s really powerful.

Due to a force that I should at least have some understanding of (but don’t because I didn’t bother in my Physics lessons) the filings are immediately drawn to it as it hovers over the tabletop, sucking up every little shred of metal.

It’s what Anorexia does. All the individual anxieties stick to it…. fuse with it… until, one day, they don’t really exist any more and all that’s left is the illness. One giant entity. One focus. One fear.

That of never being able to be thin enough.

Simple?

Yeah. About as simple as physics.

The hardest thing is the terrible realisation that you’re not holding the magnet any more and that it, in itself, is far, FAR stronger than you; As if somehow, cruelly, the incorporation of all those little grey shards, has strengthened the force that then turns on the sufferer him/herself and begins to diminish them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For whatever reason, I feel the need to preface this post with a declaration that I do not buy the Daily Mail. Finding it, all too often, a thinly veiled excuse to propound nationalistic views, I frequently have to remind readers that the world is not really that bad a place unless they believe all they read in this trussed up tabloid.

I was, however, drawn to the full page article about a long suffering mother, who, five years after her daughter’s tragic death, has made the decision to release the girl’s diaries. Diaries that record the tortured journey of Loredana Verta, a bright, talented sixteen year old, who was dead within three years. Heart attack.

Rightly or wrongly, some of  this young sufferer’s innermost thoughts and feelings are laid bare in newsprint for all to see.

The workiarticle-2713000-202CA0CA00000578-585_634x910ngs of this girl’s mind are utterly consumed by the illness. Her writing is littered with scribbled self loathing, capitalised screams of  “I HATE ME… I HATE MY BODY”.   Most teenagers feels like this at some point. Hormones, skin, peer pressure, perfection culture, fashion… It’s all there to taunt the aspiring, spot laden, hormone raging teen.

Except Loredana’s thoughts are all centred on weight loss and weight gain and wrongly perceived fat.

To my mind, what is more haunting than the poisonous self hatred, the desperation, the pleas to God and the cries for help, are the words of a grieving mother, who says,

“Lorry thought she could live with the condition – that as long as she was thin, she would be OK. She didn’t realise that anorexia is a deadly disease. It is a killer”.*

For long term sufferers, ‘old hands’, Anorexia can be so ingrained, so deeply habitual, that we forget that it is something UNnatural… an invasion. It becomes like Stockholm Syndrome… It’s is our natural fall back position.

It KILLS.

Let’s get real.

It is deadly.

We think it won’t ever happen to us, and yet, why wouldn’t it? It killed Loredana in just THREE years.

Of all psychiatric disorders, Anorexia is the biggest killer. TWENTY PERCENT of sufferers die prematurely.^

I hear my wake up call.

Can you hear yours?

 

* Emphasis is mine

^ Statistics according to B-EAT

One Direction...

It’s taken me a good few years of severe illness to reach a peaceful understanding that recovery is more of a direction than an actual destination.
Perhaps there is something disheartening in the idea that recovery is not an actual, secure, concrete ‘place’. I sometimes feel frustration… that I just want to ‘get there’. It’s hard to learn that there is no concrete place to stop when you are so weary from the journey you’ve already made. It takes strength, stamina and guts to pull yourself up, to brace yourself and carry on into 2014. I am taking a deep breath and, to borrow the words of a psalm in the bible, setting my’face like flint’, gritting my teeth and carrying on. My hope is that if you have been struggling with something for a while, you can do the same. Take small steps, one at a time, in the right direction.

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

Sand-Hand-1309326

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?

…And we’ll all sing along like before…”

Goes the song.

Irritating when your internal MP3 is stuck on the same track and no matter how hard you shake it, it won’t stop. Trying to get away from it is just about as effective as trying to go on holiday without your head. And don’t we all wish we could do that at certain times in our life. Take enough hallucinogens and it’s possible, but they’re not exactly pleasant or cost effective and the holiday insurance you’d have to take out would be ridiculous.

No.

No way around it but to play enough music to flush this one out of the system.
The particular musical ghosting I’m referring to is a song by… (I pause, not for literary impact, but because my memory function is compromised by malnutrition; although, it could just be that my powers of recollection are as shite as they ever were)…
Where was I? Okay. (Breathe) The music…
It’s a song by Del Amitri (who for some unknown reason, I always confuse with Dire Straits). An especially depressing number, aptly named, ‘Nothing Ever Happens’. For those who like to listen, go ahead.
Indulge.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeVOzaDBEmc

I guess it’s the theme of repetition that lends the song to my worn out inner ears; and for good reason.
On Monday, I retrace my tracks to the unit where my first attempt at recovery began.

March 2011.
Yep.
That’s right.
Monday will see me standing outside the gates of hell itself.

And to be clear, it’s not that nothing will have changed, because I have. My illness has. My way of thinking has. Three years of various treatments, including seven months as an inpatient, and rather a lot of medication, have put me on a markedly different rung of the ladder.
What is hard, is that it’s the same hole. The same darkness. And, pretty much the same distance to the light.
Hence, ‘we all sing along like before’.

I want this to work… which means that I will have to work. Very hard.

It will be bearable, though it won’t feel it.
It won’t kill me, though the process of recovery will involve the slow death of the illness, so it will feel like it.

In all the darkness, I must somehow manage to fix my eyes on a light I will not always see.

In order for recovery to take place, you have to believe that, just as there is always a sun and a moon, there is a new life beyond, and there is a different person behind, the illness / addiction.
The courage it takes to make this leap of faith is immense and for me personally, I don’t know if I can sustain it.

But Lot was so afraid he couldn’t move. So the angels grabbed him by the hand, and they grabbed the hands of his wife and of his two daughters, and they led them out of the city. As soon as they were safely out of the city, one of the angels said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”  And then God rained fire onto the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Thick, black smoke filled the air like smoke from a fiery furnace. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

(Paraphrased Old Testament story – Taken from Genesis 19:25 ff )

Sometimes in life, you have to grit your teeth, set your face like flint and let the hot tears run cold down your cheeks.

running woman

You have to put blinkers on and RUN, ignoring every twinge of agony and crashing through every brittle hurdle of despair.

Scream if you have to, but whatever you do… DON’T LOOK BACK.

Don’t look at what you were, where you’ve come from or how you felt.

Just keep running like nobody has ever run before.

There’s a point in recovery, be it recovery from an addiction or recovery from an Eating Disorder, when to look back is fatal. Just like Lot’s wife, to look at what you’ve left behind will destroy you.
In the case of Anorexia, to stop pushing through the pain barriers, to allow yourself a tiny backward glance, is to begin to slow down. Casting that quick over-the-shoulder peek, may not feel like it, but it’s going to make your feet like lead, your path like treacle. And all of a sudden, it’s got you. Again.

You were going through hell and you should have kept on going.

Why go through halfway through hell and turn back?
That’s what looking behind you will do.