Some Things That Happened When I Stopped Eating

No more carbs. No more fat. No more sugar. No more eating unless I am hungry. No more tea between meals. Nothing over x amount of calories. Nothing to eat if my weight has increased, even if it’s only by one hundred grams. Nothing to eat after exercise until I feel hungry again. Nothing to eat until  I am exhausted. Nothing to eat if I have “failed” a test (this means a score less than 90). Nothing to eat if I have made a mistake. Nothing to eat between meals. Nothing for recess except fruit. Nothing after dinner. No eating anything I bake; I will make it for my family, not for myself. And absolutely no disobedience against Ana, the voice controlling me from the inside out.

Thus began anorexia nervosa.

A few things happened when I stopped eating. For the first time, I could see my hip bones. For the first time, I had a space between my thighs. I could now count every rib from my clavicle all the way down my entire ribcage. I could go a whole day on only 1.5 weetbix, a measly dribble of milk, an apple or two, 3 rice cakes and some tomatoes. (And whatever anxiety-inducing dinner my family had prepared, because I needed to keep this secret a secret, and that was the only way I would be able to.) An hours walk. An hours cycle. Possibly more, depending on the day, and whether or not I had school. It didn’t matter, as long as I exercised until I was hungry and exhausted and empty and then a little bit more, a little bit harder, so that I was allowed to eat again six hours later.

I felt successful and fulfilled. I had purpose. I was complimented on my appearance, and on my self control especially. I was finally worthy of a shitty existence known as life.

These things all happened when I lost weight, and when I stopped eating.

I also stopped laughing. Stopped socialising. Stopped talking. Every opportunity for exercise, was consumed by it. Every opportunity for hunger was welcomed wholeheartedly. Every opportunity for weight loss compulsively took over my life.

Sure, I had a space between my thighs. I had collarbones, cheekbones, wristbones… I had a lot of visible bones.

But I also didn’t smile. Didn’t experience joy. I was tired all the time – exhausted, in fact. I lost my childhood to an illness I wasn’t even aware existed, much less manifested itself in my behaviours. I was bullied into oblivion. I broke a finger, while I was walking, which is just kind of sad, and because my bone density got messed up. I could physically no longer run, because I had no muscle. My skin was yellow, not jaundiced, just yellow. My eyes were sunken, the fake smiles never twinkled in my eyes. I communicated in grunts, and groans, and spits of sarcasm. I was alone. I was empty. I was starving and slowly killing myself.

I lost weight. But I lost so many other things too.

 

When Goal Setting Makes Me Suicidal

2017 was the first year I sought eating disorder treatment since anorexia developed in 2011. My recovery prior to this was undertaken by myself, without input from any health professionals. This was not a healthy decision. I know of people who have undertaken their own recovery and weight restoration and done an incredible job, grown stronger and beaten their illness. I was not one of those people. Solo recovery was a struggle for me. Especially weight restoration. It took me under six months to reach my LW, where I remained for 18 months, and then it took another three years for that weight to be restored. I was severely anorexic. People didn’t notice / didn’t push hard enough / the nearest facility was 500 kilometres away and I was fourteen and determined to stay out of hospital. I was also dying, but mostly ignored this fact.

Anyway. Moving on to what this post is actually about. Eating disorder specific treatment. There were a few non-negotiables involved.

First, I had to stay safe. Truthfully, this effort was harder than reducing my engagement in behaviours. If I couldn’t starve my body or sabotage any positive progress through binge eating, or self-harm, how would I handle all the difficult emotions that would inevitably arise? With great difficulty, as it turns out. Second, I had to follow a meal plan. This was something I had tried in the past when working with a dietitian, but never something I had actually followed. Finally, I had to set goals.

There are a few reasons why I don’t like goals. I’m a perfectionist, so I often set unreachable and unrealistic goals that I simply cannot achieve, so that I have an excuse to berate myself later when I don’t meet them. I don’t like goals because they’re too much like resolutions, and resolutions mean new beginnings, and new years, and these never work so well for me, considering every year just brings with it a whole new plethora of mental health struggles. I’m not a particularly hopeful person, if that’s not any indication. Mostly, I don’t like goals because they require thinking about the future, and the future makes me suicidal.

Now I’m not sure exactly why this is. I’m not sure why the future seems so bleak that escaping it all together is the only possible solution I can conjure. I’m not sure why I have no hope, although I suspect it has something to do with the fun clinical terms “emotional abuse”, “guardian invalidation” and “psychological trauma”.

Goal setting makes me suicidal. Having this as a compulsory treatment aim in itself was very, very difficult. I made messes of weekly ‘homework packs’ because the goals I set simply weren’t right. They weren’t good enough, high enough, hopeful enough.

The truth is that good is good enough. 

And anyway, that’s not the point of goals. Goals should be stars to steer by, not sticks to beat yourself up with. 

I started simple. My first set of goals looked a little like this:

  • Have calcium component of evening snack every day, even if I don’t feel like it. Actually buy calcium components so that I eat them. (Reminder to self – snack sized calcium component = one Up & Go, one glass of milo, 2 slices of cheese)
  • When I feel the urge to self harm, phone a friend instead. If I can’t phone a friend, then I should go for a walk to remove myself from the sharp-object strewn environment – a short one, not a compulsive and purge-driven one.
  • If I am working at the bakery, I shouldn’t do any additional exercise. If I must exercise for emotional regulation reasons, then I need to have 1.5 x my next snack.

I didn’t meet them. Not the first week, not even the second. Even now, I still struggle to meet goals. But they no longer make me suicidal when I don’t. If I don’t meet a goal, I re-evaluate why this was instead of immediately believing I’m a failure and the only possible solution is to disappear. Thanks BPD. The thoughts still come, but I’m getting better at the whole self reflection thing.

Why was I unable to take and eat my evening snack on the bus home? If I had taken it, I would have automatically eaten it to avoid waste. Why was I unable to phone a friend, and immediately reached for a sharp object? I no longer want to scar my body, but why was this action the only alternative? Why haven’t I been able to reduce the rigidity of my exercise? And why was it easier to stop in the park and turn around early than walk my normal full route but in the opposite direction?

And so on.

Recently, in my penultimate week of treatment at the day program I’ve been attending, I finally achieved some goals:

  • I had not one, but two rest days
  • I didn’t binge at work (I am sales staff at a bakery), but I also didn’t use the coping skill delaying as an ED excuse to restrict through the shifts instead
  • I mostly met my meal plan, probably the most I ever have
  • My weight has finally stabilised

As you can see from that proud little list, I’m getting better at goals. I’ve come a long way. But until I can set and meet all of my weekly goals, I don’t think I will be putting 100% into my eating disorder treatment. There are times when this may simply not be possible. There are times when mood will impact my efforts, or binging behaviours will sabotage all of the goals and set me back a whole week. But I have come leaps and bounds from the girl in the photos below. My weight is restored, and that’s the biggest treatment goal of all.

Trigger warning that shouldn’t be ignored like I’m sure you’ve done plenty times before, as have I, because you’re in the sort of headspace where you want to be triggered – I implore you not to ignore this one:

Please do not look at these photos if you’re currently recovering from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. They were taken in 2013-2014, at my most unwell. She is not a standard to compare yourself to, nor a goal to reach. She is sick, and she is not someone you want to be. But I am choosing to share them nonetheless – because they are a sign of the weight restoration goals I achieved, all by my screwed-up self. FYI – I’m the short one. The taller one is my big sister ❤

Help – The Universe Hates Me

It seems that in the past week, the universe has been strongly against me. It has been really hard to seem okay. It has been really hard to wake up, but also to escape to sleep knowing that I will have to face the same thing again the next day.

A few unfortunate things happened.

The first – the precursor to everything else that happened – was that I broke my wrist. One day after discharge from eating disorder treatment. One week before I went to Brisbane for a break. Two weeks before second year of uni starts.

It was panic attack after panic attack in the emergency room. Wave upon wave of breathlessness and heart palpitations, hot flushes and shivering fits, tears and numbness.

I wasn’t anxious about the hospital, or anything to do with getting my arm fixed. In fact, I was mostly just angry that I didn’t even have a cool story to go along with the really heavy cast I now have to lug around for six fucking weeks. (The very boring story of how I broke my arm is that I was skateboarding, on the footpath outside a train station, when somebody who was clearly running very late walked straight into me and I fell onto my wrist. Yay.) No, I was anxious about absolutely everything that I would now need to change, modify, or stop doing. Appointments I had to cancel, work shifts that needed covering, tutoring sessions that needed adjusting. I plan my life around being able to cycle everywhere so now my calendar needs fixing too.

Can I work for the next six weeks? Will I have enough money to last me six weeks if I can’t? What if I go to work and it makes it worse? What if it doesn’t heal properly? Will I have to ask my parents for money? My arm hurts.
Will I need to cancel my shifts or just change them? Do I need to call my boss? Is it rude to text my boss? My boss has seen my message and hasn’t replied. The other staff have seen my message and haven’t replied. Does everyone at work hate me? Everyone at work hates me. It’s because I’m a bitch. I’ve done something wrong and now they won’t help me. Why does everyone hate me?

And the more I waited, and waited, and waited, the more my anxiety escalated. I waited for two days (I went home in between, don’t fret), seventeen hours altogether, before the emergency department was quiet enough that I could have my arm manipulated into a straighter position so that it healed correctly and not at a funky sort of angle. At the end of the second day, when the surgeon apologised that I would have to come back tomorrow, again, I burst into tears from utter emotional exhaustion.

Just go. Just get up and leave. They’re not going to help you. Nobody can help you. This is your fault. You did this. Just get up and walk out and step in front of a car. You deserve it. This is your fault. Get up, shut your eyes, and walk onto the road. Do it. Just do it. Why can’t I move? What’s wrong with me? Get up. Just do it. My arm hurts.

I had to fast for three days in a row, and my eating disorder absolutely loved it. She (yes, my disorder is a she, her name is Ana) convinced me to use this to my advantage and restrict my intake at the end of each of these three days to get the most benefit from the whole situation. Also, I deserved to be punished for wasting people’s time and generally being a massive failure.

How am I going to exercise? I need to exercise. How else can I compensate? What if I binge badly and need to get rid of it? I can’t run.
My chest hurts – I can’t breathe. Am I hyperventilating? Can people see that I’m hyperventilating? I’m clearly not okay so why isn’t anyone asking if I’m okay? They’re probably used to people crying. Of course they are, don’t be stupid it’s a hospital. Why are you always so stupid?

This was the day after being discharged from eating disorder treatment. Things had been on track for me. What a bad time to sustain an injury that means I can do absolutely zero of the things that keep me sane and safe, and not depressed and you know, not wanting to kill myself all of the time. I can’t draw, I can’t run, I can’t practise yoga, I can’t write (I can’t type for too long either because it makes my arm ache), and I can’t even self harm. Which sure, is a blessing, but also just another coping mechanism I cannot use at the moment.

What if they see my scars? What if they send me to the psych ward because they see my scars? Are they even allowed to send me to the psych ward just based on scars? My arm hurts.
Will I be able to cycle in a cast? How will I get to uni? How will I get to work? Will my tutoring clients understand? Will I lose my clients? Maybe I need to be on the psych ward again? My arm hurts.

My anxiety hasn’t been this consistently high for a long time. I am frequently disturbed by “episodes” of severe anxiety, generally due to crowded places or shouting or being touched unexpectedly by strangers or being unable to control a situation where I may be late or otherwise be judged or made a fool of. Thanks high school for the trauma that those triggers originated from.

What if they can’t do it today? Am I going to be sent home, again? What if I need someone to cover my shift tomorrow as well? Surely they have to see me? I’ll be next. I’m going to be next. I’m next. I’ll be next. I can’t breathe. My chest hurts.

The anxiety is escalating, peaking. The worries aren’t subsiding. It’s unrelenting.

My arm hurts. Don’t cry here. Don’t let them see you cry. Don’t be a burden.
My arm hurts. My chest hurts. My heart hurts. 

The Toolkit and First Aid Kit – A Poem

It seems that the more I draw,

the more I sketch the sensations

that arise from riding this emotional rollercoaster,

the more I realise that hands and faces,

cannot heal me anymore than my attempts

to disfigure the same hands and faces.

Self-destruction presents itself in these sketches,

and also in starvation, compensation, self-deprecation.

It is not a simple case of eat, or smile, or stop –

these have never been felt centrally at my core.

These are not things that can simply be enacted,

but rather must be relearned, as a new skill,

new additions to the toolkit beside my first aid kit.

Sketches are plasters that cannot heal my wounds,

but only cover them, protect them,

and just momentarily.

Until the next time I pick up a pencil,

or a blade, or step onto the scales,

and fall into the abyss sideways of the rollercoaster.

This Rollercoaster I Ride

There’s this thing about being me. It’s that I live on an emotional rollercoaster. I don’t know if a particular mental illness is at fault (BPD, I’m looking at you) or a combination of the whole fun package. I can feel fine. I can feel more than fine, in fact. I can be smiling, smirking, laughing, making witty jokes instead of simple sarcastic jabs. I can be engaged with conversation, excited, energetic.

And then, I am not.

I am suddenly not fine. I’m depressed, numb, anxious, can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t talk. I’m dissociating, withdrawing, isolating, urge surfing. I want to binge, I want to restrict, I want to cut, I want to run, I want to hide, I want to disappear, I want to die. I’m planning my death all over again. Who will find me, where will it be, how will I do it, on what day, what with, will I call someone first, who will I leave letters for, who will I ignore until I’m gone. Will I be punishing them, or myself? Am I relieving them of a burden or creating more trouble for them to tackle? This occurs in the space of a few hours, but its effects last so much longer.

The thoughts are hard to shift. They appear for no reason. Entirely out of the blue. Like I said, smiling, smirking… suicidal. With such a rapid intrusion, you would expect them to be fleeting, but instead they linger.

It’s a constant undercurrent to every conversation, the low, growling tone of voice I use when I’m avoiding things, and people, and memories, and emotions. The sarcasm that belies my true feelings, a mask I wear to hide my pain. It’s visible in my scars, the physical pain I cause myself when I’m not strong enough to just do it. Visible in my appearance, when I hide behind my clothes. In my eyes, which remain unfocused while I’m in a constant dissociative state. I have given up on trying to hide my pain, my desire to die. It’s visible all over my body, from the loud scars to the silent internal wounds I nurture deep down, wounds that are wrenched open by the smallest of ‘triggers’ – a raised voice, an offhand comment that I need to smile more, or that I look slimmer or bigger or neither. I am used to being the bitter friend, because I feel undeserving of other’s care and compassion, and turn the hatred I am meant to express towards friends who have ‘betrayed’ me inwards to myself, because I’m the one who deserves to hurt, not them.

Most recently, suicidal thoughts appeared because I lost two tutoring students, and another fell sick, and I blamed myself. Something went wrong, so it was my fault. Something bad happened, so I’m a failure. Something fell outside of my control, so I deserve to be punished. What a petty thing to hurt myself over. And once I hurt myself, then I will realise what a burden I am to everyone who knows me, especially those close to me, especially those trying to treat me, or who are recovering alongside me, and that’s when everything gets worse. That’s when I grow suicidal.

This is an endless rollercoaster; just as I think I’m coming to a stop, I realise it’s just the peak of another hill. Just as life begins to glide slowly upwards, it halts, and plummets yet again. Shifting between living and planning to die, binging and starvation, busyness and isolation. I’m a chameleon of more than emotions, a chameleon of behaviours, of illnesses. My past intertwines at pit stops of failure, relapse and trauma. These are momentary breaks that I incorrectly perceive as blessings, before my world crumbles yet again.

This rollercoaster has no breaks. It has no brakes. No relief. It has no tickets for others to get on board to hold my hand and struggle together, it has no stops where I can step off to breathe. I am screaming, I am struggling, I want out.

An Award – after a month!

I’m honoured / awed / shocked / a little paranoid / panicky (thanks brain, hijacking all the good things as usual) to have been nominated for the blogger recognition award by the incredible Kaitlyn of With Being Alive.

blogger-recognition-award

After only a month of this new blogging adventureMe: sitting in bed, laptop on knees, coffee curled into chest for warmth and comfort, awed. In awe. Flawed with awe. Floored by awe.

Whatever. Ignore the rambling poet in me.

So I guess that is why I blog. For the connections, the worldwide network of strangers who would seemingly go to the ends of the earth for each other, even though we’ve never met in person, never met beyond back-and-forth comments of support, recognition, validation and compassion. I didn’t intend to make connections when I started blogging again (this is round two, read about round one here). Except, I guess that connection isn’t the true reason. Blogging is a form of emotional purging. Now that word has some fun connotations for me as someone with an eating disorder, but it is just that. Emotional vomit. And for whatever reason, dumping my thoughts as eloquent trails of syllables and poetry and punctuation, helps. Blogging helps. Writing helps. Not many other things do. So when I find something that helps, I’m going to fucking stick to it.

Cool, so, yep, awe has now been replaced by my pal shame (I’m afraid of recognition from the whole “traumatic bullying experience and invalidation of everything good I ever did as a child” debacle). Shame makes my head duck, eyes fall, and lips smirk – even though I’m alone.

Moving on, the rules for these awards are:

  1. Post the Blogger Recognition Award Rules.
  2. Use the Blogger Recognition Award badge on your website.
  3. Share the reasons why you blog.
  4. Share two tips for new bloggers.
  5. Nominate other bloggers for this award and notify each of them about this nomination.

Here are my own nominees…

Wishes Into Stars

The Art of Becoming

Insomnia Girl

New bloggers – here are my tips:

  1. Stay true to yourself and your voice, no matter how many followers you lose, or how many people dislike what you do. Your blog is written by you, but it should also be written for you.
  2. People aren’t going to like what you write, 100% of the time. Maybe not even half the time, especially if you’re following the above tip. Don’t give a shit about it, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Yay for positive goodness, nay for the whirlwind of emotions BPD is currently throwing at me… over and out.