Desperate Times, Normal Measures – A Poem

Eclipses decorate her flesh in a myriad mess

of alluring urges and sorrowful representation

of sadness and denial – suppression she says –

and painfully visceral confrontation.

Disproportionate coping mechanisms

and trickling stains and raindrops

without an umbrella or a bandage

or any real predisposition to stop.

What is life, when life is black,

when light is only darkness,

when happiness is only fleeting,

or non-existent, and harshness

is a safety blanket keeping me warm.

It’s the sad truth of this chronic condition,

these desperate measures in normal times have become

normal measures during desperate times.

I’m a plant taking root: a proposition

that I cannot grow without light,

no more than I can without water,

but there are no tears like flooding night.

If my mind were a pool, then the ocean

is an abyss to explore, an escape,

temporary or permanent or otherwise,

soothing waves and an attempt to abate

these thoughts that constantly batter

the ship of my body, bones of my soul,

heart-rigging, and panic-ridden chest.

Don’t follow me, but bring a torch to crawl

by, out of tunnels of sadness, and into

an empty household, bereft of loving kindness.

Hatred

It’s been a tough few weeks. It’s been a very tough few weeks. The suicidal thoughts have returned, just as strong as before. I hate this. It’s something I repeat to the friends I reach out to, over and over and over: I hate this. 

I hate not knowing myself, I hate that I can’t seem to control my mood on any given day. Will I be depressed, numb, anxious, lonely, distressed, suicidal, manic – or normal for fucks sake. I’ve kinda forgotten how normal moods work if I’m being totally honest. It’s been a long time. I see glimpses, little fleeting surprises where a moment completely captures my attention and drags me out of the depths of my thoughts, igniting a smile, or maybe I burst out laughing at work from something that popped into my head, that only I can see and understand. Awesome, now they really think I’m crazy.

I do really, completely, hate it.

Most of all, I hate myself.

I hate not fighting back against the bitch that shattered me in high school, the fists she threw, the kicks she landed. I hate the moment that I retaliated, and was punished by the school for physically hurting another student. She was never punished, not even once I revealed the full extent of what she did to me. I hate that I lost my childhood to anorexia, and my adolescence to bulimia, and my adulthood to a fog of suicidality and attempts at medication and hospitalisation and isolation. I hate that I feel like I’ve only ever made wrong decisions, but I know if I hadn’t moved to Sydney, and had stayed where I was, things would probably not have been all that different. In fact, if I hadn’t moved to Sydney, I’d probably be dead already. I hate that I can’t articulate to my therapist the stream of self-deprecation in my head, but I’m perfectly capable of sharing my deepest, darkest, innermost thoughts to strangers on the online international blogging forum. I hate that there’s something inherently wrong with me, that my mental illness(es) are chronic, that I might not ever be fully recovered from years and years of eating disorders. I hate that even though I know how bad certain behaviours are for me, and the damage they cause to myself and everyone who knows me, I continue to engage with them anyway. I hate the scars. The ambivalence. The trial and error. The money I spend on therapy that doesn’t seem to achieve anything.

I hate myself, for everything I’ve done and didn’t do. I hate myself for recovering from anorexia. I hate myself for wishing I hadn’t recovered. I hate myself for developing bulimia in its place. I hate myself for being chronically depressed. I hate the lure of the knife, the prescriptions, the busy road and waves that call to me from afar.

I hate the progress I’ve made, and the distance I have left to cover.

I hate this. I hate feeling this way. I hate it’s unfamiliarity. Mostly though, I guess I just hate myself.

I don’t want things to be different, just worse

I’m struggling at the moment, lately, still, always, of course I am, because what else would I be doing if I wasn’t struggling? The depression is back with a vengeance, anxiety tells me I’m going to die every time I catch public transport, suicidal ideation has been bad, self harm urges have been bad, the binge-restrict-exercise cycle that characterises my bulimia has been very, very bad. I’ve tried to scrape the word FAT into my body on three separate occasions this week, and none have been particularly successful. Of course, this only makes me feel even worse. Of course, this just emphasises that I am a failure. It emphasises that if I was just thinner I might be successful at something, even if that something is self mutilation. What makes it hardest for me is that the body dysmorphia was most intense while I was anorexic and attempting weight restoration, and now it’s not as bad. I was recently struck by the realisation that I don’t know what my body should look like. Anorexia disrupted puberty, it disrupted normal growth patterns, and it probably affected my set weight too. I have no idea what a normal weight is for me, because I went from underweight (six years or so) directly to overweight (when I moved to Sydney in 2017 and bulimia began). So now, when I am really, for the first time, actually, sincerely, fat, I’m really struggling.

(Wow, my syntax is not at all on point this post)

I wish things weren’t this way. I wish I wasn’t so consumed by anhedonia that even studying can no longer bring me joy. I wish I didn’t consider calories in and out every waking moment of every day. I wish I didn’t destroy my progress every night by binging. I wish I wasn’t so overcome by shame and guilt and self-hatred that I had enough energy to stop this awful bulimic cycle from repeating itself. Yet, I still wish things were worse.

I wish I needed stitches. I wish I had the courage to go deeper. I wish I could find something sharper. I wish, for fucks sake, that I could throw up. I wish purging with laxatives and exercise actually caused weight loss. I wish I could scrape memories out of my brain. I wish I could muster the energy to swallow the pills, step onto the road, jump from the building. I wish I could realise in reality all the twisted options that my mind offers in alarming detail. I wish things were worse. Because being depressed but not dead, bulimic but not medically unstable, bipolar but not psychotic, anxious but not obsessive-compulsive makes this harder. In every way.

No amount of wishes will make me feel better. And no amount of hoping is going to cause change. Maybe if I was dead, my wishes would come true. Maybe I’ll light myself some candles and blow them out before I slash my wrists, and maybe that will give me the courage. I keep being told that I’m brave to be going through this. I shouldn’t need to be brave. Bravery is not the job of lost souls. Bravery would be saving me. Bravery would be speaking out against my fresh scars, my comments about death, my shallow breathing and bitterly low mood. Bravery would be holding me as I cry, taking away the sharp things, calling an ambulance and explaining the situation. Bravery would be realising, that the very idea that I want things to be worse, is a sign I am desperately reaching out for you. Whoever you happen to be.

In summary: I don’t want things to be different – because the entire idea of chronic mental illness is that it doesn’t go away. The entire point of my super sad melodramatic story is that mental illness is part of me and my life, past and present and, undeniably, future too. I want things to be bad enough that reaching out is finally easier.

Step Into The Waves, Not To Come Back Out

I say that things are rough a lot, but things are rough at the moment. Not in the usual way either. Things are rough in a new way and I don’t like it. The urge to self-harm has become a desire to hurt myself, driven by a sense of failure and need for punishment. The suicidal thoughts have gone from passive to active and the recklessness is building; I walk as near to the road as possible, I cycle and run at night, I cut deeper and in new and different places to see where it’s easiest to cause the most damage. I think about taking a handful of pills. A bottle of alcohol. A jump into the ocean. I would love to die in the ocean. I grew up beside the beach, and the ocean is my true home. If I were to commit suicide, I would do it there.

I want sand between my toes, or maybe I’ll press my naked body into the damp instead. I’ll lay in the darkness under the stars, the beach will be deserted and I will consider all the reasons to go. All the mistakes. The burden. The despair and pain and memories. The pain that is yet to come. The pain it would take to heal if I were to get past this. I want waves to tickle my fingertips and caress my hair, I want the sea breeze to stroke my neck. I’ll take a sip of something toxic, something tasteful, because if I’m going to drink, I better make it worth it, and I’ll get drunk. I’ll slip beneath the waves. I’ll dive down deep, and I’ll stay there.

I won’t come back out.

I’ve come so close this past week. More than once.

I keep telling the people who ask that I don’t have a plan, but reading over that, it seems like maybe I do. I do have a plan. I do want to die. If I was offered an out, then I would take it. And if God doesn’t forgive me for that, and suicide is the sin that exempts me from Heaven, despite sending his Son and our salvation, then that’s okay. Maybe Sheol is where I belong. I always thought it was a strange word anyway – it reminded me of the beach. Sheol. Shoal. Shell. Sea.

I belong in the sea. What would be better I wonder, to OD on the sand, or drunk-dive into the depths? Which would be fatal?

Fuck. When I swear, it’s a sign that I am unable to express my true feelings. Swearing is just another coping mechanism, designed more to hurt those around me than myself. To keep people at a distance. I’m fucked, I say, utterly fucked.

Things are not going well. I wish I still lived close enough to the beach that I could jump out my window or the back door and run barefoot along the bitumen to the sand dunes, and slide down to the tide-line. It would make this so much easier. I wish I didn’t waste the opportunity of living so close to nature and not seizing it more, because I spent a lot of my childhood anorexic, and the ocean made me hypothermic.

I wish I were dead. I wish I was strong enough to die. I wish for so many things. I wish anorexia had killed me. I wish I could throw up, because even I know that laxatives and exercise aren’t ‘real’ forms of purging. I wish I had the courage to drink and get drunk. The courage to swallow. To OD. To step into the waves, and to not come back out.

The Art of Opening Up (and of lying)

They say it’s an act, as if opening up is purely an action and nothing else. They say ‘just’ open up, as if it’s easy in the first place, like ‘just’ starting the car, or ‘just’ cleaning the kitchen.

It’s not an act.

It’s an art.

Acting would be the way I lie to everyone around me. Are you okay, they ask. How’s the eating going, they request. You’re looking better, they say. I smile, I nod. I’m fine. I’m okay. I’ve been exhausted but I’m fine.

I’m not fine. Exhausted is my euphemism for depressed. It means getting out of bed has gotten hard again. It means I’m eating, but probably twice a day, probably binging because my body is freaking out that I’ve started starving it again and has to store as many calories as possible just in case, just to be safe, just to be sure I don’t kill myself. C’mon body, really? Killing myself is the goal here? Exhausted means that the suicidal thoughts are back. It means staying up late to avoid sleep, but sleeping in because I don’t want to face another day. It means my washing has piled up, the dishes have piled up, the assignments are piling up. It means my perfectionism and obsessions have kicked up a notch, and the act of actively resisting these is enough to exhaust me by itself, never mind all this other bullshit that I have to deal with at the same time.

Opening up is an art, but so is lying. I’ve gotten good at one, and I’m still awful at the other – no prizes for guessing which is which.

I used to do shut down immediately when people asked about my mental health. And when I say used, what I mean is that from when my mental health started crumbling when I was 11, until I was 16, I didn’t share a single word of what was happening inside my fucked up mind – with anybody. So realistically, I’ve come a long way. I can say the words “anorexic”, “depressed”, “anxious”, “bulimic”, “bullied”, “abused”, “traumatised” and “struggling” without panic immediately bubbling to the surface. I still suck at it, and I still have to write down word for word what I’m going to say to my therapist(s), I still lie to my friends and I definitely still lie to my family, but I think it’s gotten better.

Like any art, opening up involves progress, and I think I’ve made a fair bit.

Eggs For Breakfast

My eating disorder, who I named Ana, (even once my diagnosis became bulimia) took a lot of things from me. She took my memories, she stole precious experiences, friendship, smiles and joy. She took energy, warmth, strength, focus, self-worth, concentration and control – the irony of that last one is not lost on me. She took my health, my womanhood, my childhood. She took most of the pleasure out of my life.

She took away a long list of bad foods.

She took away eggs.

She took away breakfast.

She took away lazy Sundays with tea and toast and a book and a blanket. My mornings were replaced with strenuous exercise and meticulous calculation of calories in and out for the day ahead.

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This morning, I had eggs for breakfast. I was met with a torrent of guilt, a wave of uncomfortable emotions, and the familiar berating voice of my best friend and worst enemy as I took each bite. But I didn’t listen. I didn’t let Ana control me. I ate my eggs, I read my book, and I wrapped myself in a blanket on the first cold day of the year (winter is my favourite season) before migrating to my desk to study. There was no compensation. That’s what I would call progress.

Reasons to Recover

I was thinking about my eating disorder, as I do, as I always do. I was ruminating, remembering the sensations of anorexia. I remember, even as I try to forget, to force the images from my mind, the memories of bony reflections. I try to forget these tainted memories, the lies that Ana feeds me, the experiences I am convinced were good, were wonderful, even as I am simultaneously aware of how fucking awful this illness was, and the toll it has taken, and continues to take, on my mind and body. I made a list. Because lists are great, and deeply satisfying.

Here is a list of things I need to remember, as I am trying to forget. These are my reasons to recover:

The good things about anorexia:

  • being thin and perfect
  • feeling powerful, purposeful and fulfilled
  • feeling good about my body (this one’s more complicated than it first appears: I have a love-hate relationship with my body, then and now. I hated bones, but I loved them too. I loved what they represented – success, achievement, and perfect and total control)
  • having a very reliable, way too effective coping mechanism
  • having a channel and outlet to suppress uncontrollable emotions by restricting and over-exercising
  • being incredibly fit, never sweating, and having no acne

The bad:

  • I was no longer able to run, I physically did not have enough muscle mass to sustain a sprint beyond ten or twenty metres, and I love running
  • Constant cold
  • Constant exhaustion
  • Constant preoccupation with food and exercise
  • Constant weighing, and a mood dictated by the number I saw
  • Constant counting, calculating and measuring 
  • Broken friendships
  • I looked like I was “dying”, and people constantly commented on my gaunt appearance and yellowed skin, which only increased my insecurities and need to hide my disorder
  • Insecurity in general, about weight, eating and appearance
  • Fear of being discovered and of Ana being taken from me
  • Isolation and social avoidance
  • Social anxiety
  • Regular anxiety
  • Eventually being excluded from social events altogether after constantly turning them down because I couldn’t allow any interruption to my rigid routine
  • … Being controlled by a rigid, completely fixed routine
  • Becoming extremely distressed if I could not follow my routine
  • Losing my childhood
  • Losing my womanhood
  • Losing my strength, muscle, and physical health
  • Losing laughter and smiles
  • Losing hope

Isn’t it strange how the list of bad far outweighs the list of good, yet I still want so badly to return? It’s a sign of the disorder that still pervades my thoughts, and taints my memories, and clouds my judgement until I can only see what Ana wants me to see, and nothing else, until I lose my reasons to recover altogether.