These are not my only needs

I need to draw to calm my anxiety, but I’m shaking so badly I can’t hold a pencil steady.

I need to stop shaking because it’s freaking people out, but I’m so agitated I can’t stop.

I need to look after myself, but a worthless person places all others’ needs above their own.

I need to stop avoiding sleep, but I don’t want to sleep when sleep just means a brief and peaceful interlude after which I will wake up and have to do this all over again.

I need to starve myself in order to be perfect, but I keep failing because of this thing called “being a human who needs energy to survive”.

I need to exercise more to lose weight, but the weight of existence is exhausting me.

I need to relieve some tension by taking it out on my body, but I’m trying to self harm less.

I need to get out of bed in order to face the day, but I just can’t bring myself to.

I need to focus on the present, but I’m struggling to let go of the past.

Need and can’t and won’t and shouldn’t and couldn’t and would and could and should and wish and want don’t get me anywhere. Those words are a path paved with shallow possibility, that leaves me in a darker place than before I left the dusky shore. Each time I cross from the darkness to a brighter horizon, my standards are reset, until I find myself in the blackest place yet. Why must it come down to self harm, and suicidal gestures, and the extremes of my mental illnesses before I am noticed, before I am heard. Why must there be such a divide between the existence I live, and the one that you see. You think I’m better – I hear you whisper it to the person next to you – and you even congratulate me face to face, but you don’t see the tears soaking into my carpet, as I clench a knife in my fist, desperately trying to resist the overwhelming urge to punish myself, the pain I so desperately deserve, and the release I so desperately desire. You ignore the clenched fists and tense shoulders as if they are normal, and for me, they have become normal. But they are not. Normality is based on a timed spectrum, but a decade of suffering doesn’t make mental illness less real.

I need to get better, but I also need to cling to this pain and anguish and despair, because it’s the only part of me that’s left intact. It’s the only part of me that I know anymore. When I fail to meet all my other needs, there’s no point giving myself a chance if it means being let down again. So here I rest, clinging to the past, worried over a future I may not ever reach, yet trapped in the present thoughts and dark demons patrolling my mind. It doesn’t matter what I need. It doesn’t matter what you think I need. 

It just. doesn’t. matter.

Here it Comes

It’s happening as I check this label one more time, just in case I was wrong. It’s happening as I add and subtract endlessly in my head, always overcompensating just to be safe. It’s happening as I consider the lowest carb, lowest fat meal I can construct from the vegetables in my fridge. It’s happening as I step on and off the scales because they’re lying to me again. Why are they always lying to me? It’s happening as I pinch my sides and glance at my thighs as I pass by windows. It’s happening as I fast the time away, as I run, as I cycle, as I shake from exhaustion and low blood sugar, and feel the familiar dizziness of low blood pressure take hold. It’s in the lies and the fake smiles and the dim eyes and dark circles. It’s in that haunted tilt of the head as I eavesdrop – are they talking about me? It’s because I weighed more today, isn’t it? They can see it. They’re staring, they can see it. They’re gossiping about it. They can see it. I knew it. I knew it too. I told you. I told you they would notice. You need to try harder. You need to eat less. You need to exercise more. You need to do better. 

Isn’t it funny, how fast a relapse can take hold? How quickly this disorder latches on to a moment of stress, a moment of weakness and of sickness, and turns it into an opportunity?

Here I am, noticing the relapse begin to unfold, the patterns begin to set themselves in place, yet I feel powerless to stop it.

Or maybe I just don’t want to.

Starvation: the all-too familiar sensation

This sensation claws at my chest, crawls inside my belly, and shivers beneath my hands, an internal shaking that I cannot cease. It’s relentless, and stronger than my heartbeat, stronger than every intake of breath. Clinging to counter tops, resting on chairs, nodding the wooziness away, headaches and brain fog and heart murmurs that don’t recede, and an overwhelming exhaustion, fatigue deeper than my flesh – this is the sensation of starvation.

It returns to me, like an old friend that I once cherished, and parted ways with. Alas, this friend returned without invitation, without so much as a warning, and has squeezed her way back into my life. Ana returns, gnawing at my sides like the growling of my belly. She whispers to me, how much better these jeans would look if you were thinner. How much more they would appreciate you, if you were thinner. How much more they would notice you, if only. you. were thinner.

She whispers to me, praises me, for what I have done. This is how it’s supposed to be, she says. It’s supposed to be constant. Can’t you feel the weight slipping? Can’t you feel that I’m winning? 

And every time she whispers these words, that voice only grows, and multiplies. It only takes a small stumble to lose yourself in a crevasse.

But you need to be exercising as well, she adds. It’s not enough to be hungry before eating again, but you need to be beyond hungry, you need to be starving. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve restricted quite so severely, and for this long. It is both familiar and unwanted. These pathways – the starvation pathways, the rituals and routines and obsessions – were fixed for five years. They are not difficult to find myself slipping back into.

And I can’t even bring myself to care.

I miss my eating disorder – my real eating disorder, not this disgusting bulimia that has taken it’s place. I miss bones and my old body and I miss being thin. I miss the call of death, the oh so close call of death. I miss Ana. I miss anorexia.

There are lots of aspects to this monster that I don’t miss, the things that I couldn’t bear to return to, the things that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody. But I’m ignoring them. My judgement is clouded by her, and her only.

Because if I just listened, Ana would make things right.

So this will continue. And my pants will continue to loosen. My bones will continue to re-emerge. Finally, she will return, starvation will return, and everything will be okay again, because everything will finally be right.

Anxious Human Here (4.0)

Turns out, there’s still plenty on my mind. Here are some of the things that are making me anxious:

People on buses who sit too close, whose clothing brushes against mine. People on buses who cough, or sneeze, or rub their hands against the seat, or avoid sitting next to me when I’m wearing short sleeves (because they must be looking at my scars, why else would they choose to stand?). Buses which are late. Running late because of late buses. Running late. Lateness in general.

Trying to figure out if I have OCD because I pick at my skin and pick at my pimples and scratch my body when I’m in distress. Picking at fluff and dust and hair on clothing when there’s nothing really there as a coping mechanism for thoughts racing through my head. Different thoughts to normal anxious thoughts about being late and exams and study and my appearance and social situations, which just make me frantic and worried and panicked. Are these coping mechanisms really disproportionate? Are they in response to intrusive thoughts? I have always been obsessive and sometimes compulsive but they don’t necessarily follow on from each other so is that the same thing as having OCD? I don’t know.

Visiting home. Seeing my parents. Seeing my sister. My sister and my parents seeing my scars. Seeing their reactions. Potentially opening up to my sister, who I have never spoken to about my mental health struggles. It will go wrong. It always goes wrong. It will be my fault because nobody likes me and everything is my fault because I’m a failure.

Going to emergency for a self harm wound which I thought needed stitches but apparently didn’t and now it looks infected and I’m not sure what to do about it, but the doctor said it was fine so it must be fine, right? It looked deep to me. Deeper than usual. Does my opinion count for anything or nothing or is this just an example of splitting where I can only self-harm superficially or so severely that it kills me? Is splitting one of my BPD traits or a facet of my eating disorder or is it normal? The nurses and doctors and psychiatrist on call must think I’m a burden. I’m always a burden. Why am I such a burden to everyone around me? If I had taken the opportunity to go deeper, in a different spot, a little lower down, right about the artery that I learned about in physiology, then I could have bled out just like I wanted. Just a little deeper. Just a little sharper. Just a little more dead. Why am I always so stupid. 

Something is eating the house plants. The indoor house plants.

I need to clean the floor. Doing yoga in the lounge revealed to me just how much dust there was. But if I clean my housemate will notice and that might make her feel weird. I also want to do her dishes but maybe that will make her feel weird too. Does she think I’m a clean freak or have that stereotypical portrayal of OCD that revolves around hand sanitiser and cleanliness and neat organisation that can be observed simply by comparing her fridge and pantry shelves to my own.

I wasn’t supposed to eat today but then I did and I can’t remember how many crackers I’ve eaten and that’s important because I need to burn them off and I can’t do that if I don’t know how many there was because then the calorie count will be off. Instead I must overcompensate regardless, and not eat afterwards, because that’s how weight loss works. I worry this will only cause me to binge, and then to restrict, and then the whole fucking bulimic cycle will continue.

Not only am I struggling with intrusive suicidal thoughts, the intrusive anxious thoughts are also very loud.

Anxious human is done now.

But to see some other things I get anxious about, here’s part one, two and three.

Whispers – please don’t go

The Family Effect

To be perfectly honest, I have been under such a firm hold of dissociation that I can’t remember whether I already wrote about this or not.

Just before my nineteenth birthday, I almost killed myself. As in, the only reason I am alive today is because of one person who believes in me enough and trusts me enough to actually take every word I say seriously. Unlike countless psychiatrists in the emergency departments of various hospitals, and unlike doctors who don’t believe the severity of my mental illness(es), she understood. She knew that I was serious. That I was on the edge. I had shared my plan with her, and she listened. I shared my hope to die with her, and she saved me. I shared the ugliest parts of myself at my most vulnerable, and she still protected me from myself. This person saved my life.

It’s been about three weeks since that night. It’s been a rough three weeks of self-harming, eating disorder behaviours and dissociaton. It’s been rough visiting my family and having to keep all of this bottled up because mental health is taboo in this house, and we hold only shallow, superficial conversations. This is the problem. 

The problem is, that I can’t discuss suicide with the people who are supposed to be my biggest supports. Who are, for some / most people, their biggest supports. I don’t have that support. I cannot share anything about suicidality, self-harming, anxiety, or my eating disorder with either of my siblings, nor with my parents, nor with any other extended member of my family. The closest we ever come to a conversation about mental health is if I mention I am feeling particularly “down”. Sometimes, even this has no effect. It’s hard to be under the same roof as people who don’t understand me. It’s hard to return to an environment I deliberately isolated  myself from by moving interstate. And it’s an environment I’m not sure I can return to.

When I lived at home, I tried and tried and tried. I suppressed and suppressed and suppressed. I got sicker and sicker and sicker. All the signs were there, all the clues were laid out like the map of scars across my body, yet still, my family couldn’t acknowledge, and wouldn’t accept, my mental health.

They won’t accept that BPD exists. That I had anorexia for seven years. That I was bullied so severely during high school that I developed PTSD – and had the strength to recover from it. That I take medication for bipolar disorder and depression. That I avoid certain things like loud noises because of anxiety and panic attacks. They don’t understand.

And it affects me intensely. In every text, every phone call, every video chat and every visit. There is a subtle undertone of the unspoken, of things never seen nor heard about, and a tinge of disgust. Are they disgusted by me? By my brain, which can simultaneously think in hundreds of parallel directions, doing calculations and problem solving and applying logic, yet is inherently faulty and damaged? It’s as if my own faultiness, is my own fault.

The very fact that this is a belief deeply ingrained into my person reminds me of the family effect. Of the effect my family has on me. I wish I could say it were a positive one, but I’m not one to leave things unsaid. To my family, who are unaware even that this blog exists, I am not sorry. I am not ashamed. I am Rosie, and I am the same person before and after I reveal my struggles with mental illness to you. I am Rosie despite the scars traversing my wrists and thighs and forearms. I am Rosie despite the medication and hospitalisation and therapy. I am still me, even when that’s not good enough for you. I possess a superpower called The Rosie Effect, and it is the antidote for The Family Effect.

Triggers

Personally, most of my triggers escape me. The only ones I know for certain are the ones which produce anxiety; social situations and loud noise and public transport, among other things. But with regards to my depression, suicidality, self-harm and general life meltdowns, it’s mostly unclear. Because they’re a strange thing, triggers. Or more accurately, triggering situations. They can surprise you. They capture you, entangle you in a snare of despair. They’re traps laid by memories that are gaps in the concrete in to which I stumble, fall, and am lost. And once I’m lost, it becomes more and more difficult to return.

For the past few weeks over mid year university break, I have been with my family. First with my sister, on a small road trip, then with my parents at their property in regional south-western Australia.

It has reminded me of all the reasons why I left.

It has reminded me of the shouting. The bitterness. The sarcasm. The suppression I actively must force upon my own personality, because I am different to the rest. The words I must choose carefully, selectively, lest some intelligence leaks out to be taken as an insult. I am reminded of emotional abuse, and of neglect. I am reminded that I will never be good enough, that I will never quite be enough – thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough, relaxed enough, happy enough. I am not – and I never will be – enough in their eyes.

I am reminded of the years and years of mental illness that went unnoticed. Of years of anorexia. Bulimia. Anxiety. Depression. Bullying and PTSD and BPD and bipolar disorder – in that order. I am reminded of every single moment that I regret, that I left behind for a reason. The photographs in which a gaunt face stares back at me. The traces of a depressed, skeletal being who clung to life with only tea and fruit and vegetables. There are remnants of my past scattered everywhere: in the furniture, the garden, the boxes of books that I can’t bear to sell, but are too heavy to transport to Sydney.

A wall of suppression hides painful times in my mind, but the past is being clawed out from the mortar. It is gauged from my soul as I watch, dissociating impassively, and re-live all the anguish hidden beneath the surface. This is a place of triggers: depression swamps me, anxiety overwhelms me, my eating disorder consumes me, and urges to hurt myself leap out of the shallow place where they remain tethered and threaten to change my destiny from one of life, to one of death.

This shouldn’t be what spending time with family is like. But unfortunately, this is my reality. I am simultaneously surrounded by the nature I love, and the family I can’t. That it takes all my strength to simply exist with, never mind holding a conversation, or cooking dinner with, or doing chores for. I am surrounded by a minefield of triggers, and it is proving inescapable.