Health

Eating Disorder Awareness Week, 2017

Before we begin

This post marks Eating Disorder Awareness Week and, as such, it’s necessarily about eating disorders. It discusses my own experience of living with, and recovering from, an eating disorder. It also touches upon self-harm and the diet industry.

If you are recovering from an eating disorder, or are vulnerable to disordered eating you may prefer to sit this one out. No worries – I’ll see you in the next post xx

Oh – and it’s also a very LONG post. So now you’re armed with all of the facts, let us begin.

I lived with an eating disorder from my teens until my mid-twenties and those years were, without any shadow of a doubt, the darkest I have lived through. It started, as I suppose these things often do, innocently enough: I was a teenager, I was growing and I didn’t like it. So I went on a diet.

Of course, now I know that it was a little more complicated than that. Thousands upon thousands of people go on diets every year and for most of them it doesn’t end in the horror and chaos that I brought to bear upon myself. For me, there were other factors in the mix. I was unhappy, I was angry, I felt I had no control. I was also quiet, conscientious and prone to perfectionism. Add to that the tendency to obsess and, well, safe to say, I was the perfect eating disorder storm.

It didn’t happen over night – it crept up on me, slowly but surely, until one day it was too big for me to stop: it was a juggernaut smashing its way through my whole life. On the face of it, it was a numbers game because I soon discovered that everything, including my own worth, could be counted. For the longest time, I valued myself in calories, pounds and ounces and BMI; the lower the better.

Beyond the numbers there was nothing but horror in my head. I hated myself with such conviction that I started to hurt myself – in part as punishment and in part to prove to myself that I was capable of feeling something. Of course, what I really wanted to prove was simply that I was still alive – because for years, I felt dead. I know how dramatic that sounds, but in the end that’s what it came down to – my eating disorder took the feelings that go with being alive and replaced them with an all encompassing sense of nothingness. When I think of myself back then the living dead is the thing that most vividly comes to mind.

living-dead

It took the best part of ten years to get that particular monkey off my back, although I would be lying if I said I don’t still struggle from time to time. Mostly it’s a fleeting thought that threatens to burn through everything before I stamp it out but I live in constant fear that one day, I won’t be able to extinguish it. To this day, I can still recite the calorific content of pretty much any food you can think of and find myself tallying up my meals as if its second nature. I still sometimes feel a little flutter of excitement when I realise I’m hungry because somewhere in my brain being hungry still equals good work. I still struggle to eat in front of strangers, and I still have the strong urge to a) always leave food on my plate and b) conceal what I leave. Habits, as they say, a minute to make, a lifetime to break….

Finding a path back to a healthy relationship with food is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. The urge to restrict my calorie intake was so powerful, the cycle of denial and reward so overwhelming, the desire to disappear so all encompassing, that there were many times I wondered if I was capable of swimming to the shore at all.

Above all else, I struggled with the conflicting messages from the people who were supporting me, and what I saw as the world at large. In every sphere of my life I came across people who were on calorie-controlled diets, and the biggest diet message at the time was low fat, low fat, low fat. There has been much debate about the role in the media in the prevalence of eating disorders, and it isn’t one I am going to be able to solve here. All I can say is that, for me personally, the never-ending dichotomy about how certain food groups are ‘bad’ (when they were the very food groups I was being encouraged to eat), and about certain body shapes being ‘beautiful’ (when I was – as I saw it – not allowed to pursue those body shapes) hindered my recovery.

In the end, of course, I made peace with myself. I came to understand that nutrition was a fairly straightforward balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals – and that the kinds of diets you find in lifestyle magazines were by and large, bullshit. I came to understand that healthy humans come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and that in the end, the size of other humans was really none of my concern. I made a promise to myself, a promise that I keep to this day. I promised that each day, I would do my best to nourish my body properly and, if I ever found myself unable to nourish my body properly, I would seek help.

As far as mantras go, I’m pretty pleased with it.

Pleased.gif

I still come across people who are dieting on a near daily basis, and that, as I’ve said, is none of my concern. Sometimes, though, it worries me. The diet industry seems so much more pervasive than it did twenty years ago, the messages so much more mainstream. The notion still persists that some food is good, and some food is bad. Fat is frowned upon and thin is the Holy Grail. More often than not, the nutritional science is sketchy at best, and to me, some of the advice seems to have been lifted straight from the eating disorder playbook (The 5:2 diet, for example). The constant pursuit of ‘thin’ over health makes less sense to me the further away from my eating disorder I get.

I can’t help wonder if the diet industry is designed to keep people on constant diets that don’t work, because they don’t work if you see what I mean. For some people, that will be endlessly frustrating. For others it will perpetuate negative messages about good food, bad food, sins, fat bodies, thin bodies, and fasting. And for some, it is more damaging than you can begin to imagine.

Eating disorders are serious psychiatric conditions that are difficult to beat. Research suggests that 46% of anorexia patients make a full recovery, 33% improve and 20% remain chronically ill; for bulimia patients these figures are 45%, 27% and 23% respectively*. I find it so very sad that more than half of the people affected by the two most common eating disorders won’t be able to escape the terrible clutch it has over them. At the same time, it seems clear that it isn’t all bad: if you approach the research from a slightly different angle, it suggests that 80% of anorexia and bulimia patients go on to make a full, or at least a partial, recovery.

Recovering from an eating disorder is completely possible – I’m a living, breathing example of that – but it isn’t easy and for some, despite their best efforts, it remains beyond their reach. Eating disorders are complex conditions, with a varied range of contributory factors, issues and challenges for each patient. Against this backdrop it is difficult to fully understand why some people who are affected by eating disorders find recovery so difficult to achieve.

As with so many things, early intervention seems to be key. In that regard, I was incredibly fortunate. I received swift referral to specialist support services and, benefited from having a sympathetic and knowledgeable family doctor. Years later, when I found myself struggling to cope with some significant changes in my life I started to worry about relapsing, and again, the best support network the NHS had to offer seemed to swing into action around me again. Sadly, that isn’t always the case which is why B-eat, the eating disorder charity, are focusing on getting people into treatment as early as possible during Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

You can read more about the work B-eat do, and why early intervention is so important on their website at the following link:

https://www.b-eat.co.uk/support-us/eating-disorder-awareness-week

If, like me, you understand how important this work is, you might like to consider signing the petition calling on government to ensure eating disorder patients are treated without delay:

https://campaigning.b-eat.co.uk/page/6557/petition/1

That’s all from me folks. So long, and thanks for all the fish……

Love you lots like jelly tots,

WeeGee xoxox

 

* https://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-beat/media-centre/information-and-statistics-about-eating-disorders [accessed 02/03/2016]

The C word

It’s okay – it’s not a post about that C word, because, you know, I’m rarely that vulgar…. This is a post about the other C word: CHRISTMAS. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Everyone loves it, right? Ho ho ho and it’s Chriiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaas. (A la Slade*).

For my own part I like this time of the year well enough, although I wouldn’t put myself down as one of those hard-core Christmas enthusiasts. Truth told, I’m happy to take it or leave it – I like buying presents, I like Dr Who, and I like being able to drink alcohol before twelve noon but apart from that, I like all of the other days of the year just as much as I like Christmas day.

drinking

I’ve been alive for 38 Christmases, and (of those I can recall) only three of them have been shitty. That’s a fairly good return, although PLEASE GOD can you not ask me to work out the percentages. Nobody should have to work out percentages during the season of goodwill…….

percent

My first shitty Christmas was 1996. I’ll never forget it, and to be honest, when I think about Christmas now my thoughts are still clouded by Christmas 1996** Christmas 1996 was, for me, Eating Disorder Central. I spent months worrying about how I would pick my way through the calorific reality that was coming my way, and then I spent months atoning for it. I sometimes wonder how different my life might have been, had it not been for Christmas 1996, but then I remember that there’s no good blaming your whole life on a few sausage rolls and I move on. Again.

My next shitty Christmas was my first year in Surbiton. That was the Christmas when everything I thought I knew changed IN A HEART BEAT and I found myself alone even though I thought I would never have to be alone again. It was also the Christmas I moved house and got tonsillitis all AT THE SAME FUCKING TIME. That year, it snowed four days before Christmas and I remember that because four days before Christmas I still hadn’t bought a single gift which meant I had to hike my way to Kingston in FIFTY feet of snow FOUR DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS and buy gifts for the people I loved even though I just wished I would drown in a puddle of melted snow, without the people I loved ever having to know. That was a pretty shitty Christmas…..

To this day, I still can’t explain my third shitty Christmas, unless being mental is an adequate explanation. Somehow I knew that Christmas was approaching but somehow I also didn’t give a shit about it. I stuck my head in the sand – as I’m wont to do – only conceding that Christmas was going to happen regardless a week before it actually did. It was around about this point that I shoved a tree up, flung some tinsel in its general direction and took to wearing a jumper with a quirky penguin on because, you know, quirky penguins are FESTIVE. Ho, ho and fucking ho.

I don’t think this Christmas is going to be a particularly shitty Christmas. I’m looking forward to it well enough (it’s that thing I said about drinking alcohol at noon): my tree is up, my gifts are bought and I’ll get to spend time with the people I care about. Most importantly of all, from my point of view, my head is in a reasonable place – I’m calm and collected and not especially mental. I head into Christmas knowing that a) I’m going to survive and that b) surviving isn’t going to be a problem.

Still – I keep thinking about those people who might be where I was during my three shitty Christmases: people who might be afraid, or alone, or just off the scale mental for no good reason. I keep thinking how difficult it is to find a way through at this time of the year, and I keep thinking how much I wish I could tell those people, who feel the way I once did, that however hopeless the hopeless things they are dealing with feel – there is hope to be found at the end of the hopelessness. You just have to hold on tight.

Christmas brings so many expectations with it, and it’s easy to get carried away with the idea that everything should be perfect for that one day. At Christmas all of your insecurities should somehow melt away, and you should be with everybody you love, and you should feel miraculously joyful and everything should be completely perfect BECAUSE CHRISTMAS. Here’s what I know: ‘because Christmas’ isn’t the answer to all of the challenges you were facing before Christmas. Here’s what I also know – ‘because Christmas’ doesn’t make anything worse, or more intolerable, or more unbearable than it might have been either.

Christmas is tough for so many people, for so many different reasons. But Christmas will be over soon enough, and the reasons make sense in the end. Tomorrow will come. Until then hope is important, shout up if you need help, and I’ll see you in the new year.

Oh. And ho, ho ho……

mofo

Love you lots like jelly tots

WeeGee xxx

*Wait – is it Slade? I’m starting to wonder if it might be Wizard…..

**Can everybody please be too polite to mention that 1996 was TWENTY years ago, thanks.

 

What if I can’t stop?

The first thing to do today is say: if you are at all vulnerable about food, weight, body image and other such things might be best if you skip over this one…..

I think there must be something in the air at the moment – because a couple of other bloggers have posted about similar things this week. Perhaps it’s National Former Eating Disorders Bite You On The Bum Week or something…..

I am recovering from an eating disorder. I say recovering rather than recovered because I don’t think disordered thinking about food ever truly goes away. It hangs around in the background and you have to work very hard to keep it there.

Nonsense thinking about food has been in the background of my brain for more than 10 years. During that time I’ve maintained my weight at an acceptable level with only one exception – when Mr Friendly and I split up. I lost an awful lot of weight at that point, dipped below ‘healthy’ and had a smallish battle to get back to where I needed to be. The point is, I did get back. The other point is that I have more or less maintained my weight for more than ten years. That other point is REALLY BIG NEWS by the way.

I still have a funny relationship with food. I eat because I have to. I rarely eat because I’m hungry and I hardly ever eat because I want to. The notion of ‘comfort eating’ makes no sense to me at all because I don’t ‘enjoy’ food. It’s just a necessity – like air.

My thoughts about weight are a little bit difficult too. I don’t know how much I weigh because I can’t know. If I knew it would bother me – I’d try to round the number down to something nice and even and then I’d get obsessed with it being even and I’d try to get it down as low as possible in an attempt to have the best chance at keeping it even…. If that doesn’t make any sense to you should count your lucky stars at this point.

Understanding of eating disorders has moved on a lot since I was poorly and I think most people know that eating disorders have absolutely nothing to do with being thin. What I don’t think many people realise is that eating disorders often have EVERYTHING to do with not being fat. It’s a subtle difference and one that still governs my life to a certain small extent.

I’m ashamed to say that I think unpleasant things about being fat. I have a morbid fear of being overweight and even if I could cure my fear I wouldn’t want to because it terrifies me too much to even think about it. This fear has nothing to do with vanity although it has a lot to do with outward projections and the space I occupy in the world.

Reading that back it must appear to you that I still have a very unhealthy relationship with food and weight. I know that it isn’t ideal but I do know that it is managed. I’m aware, I have insight and that means I can keep myself in check. It makes for a miserable existence at times, but the process of keeping a well body when you have a broken brain is actually like heaven on earth when you compare it to the horror that is an eating disorder in full flow. Forget the times when my brain wants to jump off a building, or eat three packets of painkillers, or write ‘POINTLESS’ on my arm with a razor blade. Those things are a walk in the park compared to what an eating disorder does to your brain, your body and your life.

I’m terrified of being fat, but going back to the dark days of the starvation diet terrifies me so very much more. It is genuinely my biggest fear in the world because I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you manage to beat twice in your life.

I suppose I should let you know why I’m telling you all of this (I’ve been putting it off). The thing is I’ve put a little bit of weight on recently. I know I have because I can see it, and because I can feel it. I know that I’m not anything approaching fat – in fact I look healthy at the moment. My backside has made a re-appearance and I can wear a WonderBra and look like I might have some kind of a bust going on. My skin is healthy, and there are two nice apple type things where my cheekbones used to live. My ribs are in retreat.

This is all great – it’s nice to look in the mirror and see a healthy human being looking back. But at the back of my mind there’s a scary, scary thought that won’t go away: what if I can’t stop.

It’s spinning round and round and round.

It’s screaming at me: WHAT IF I CAN’T STOP? It’s scary because I know exactly what the answer is.

The answer is JUST STOP. Just like that. Don’t just stop, make up for it – you don’t want to run the risk of being fat after all and the best way to avoid ever weighing too much is by weighing as little as possible. It’s like an insurance policy.

I know this is all ridiculous and disordered and not at all rational. But it doesn’t have to make sense for it to be scary. I am on guard at the moment. It seems I’m destined always to be on guard against something. If broken brain isn’t terrorising itself thinking about how pointless everything is it manages to find something else to keep me in a state of absolute terror.

Curse my broken brain.

Lots of love from WeeGee