Dear body, can we be friends?

It took a deep breath and sighed, I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.

Slowly, slowly, I begin to reclaim my body. I reveal my scars in short sleeves and shorts, and I hide them beneath floral tattoos and deep quotes. Slowly, slowly, I am learning to define myself beyond my mental illness, beyond what others expect of me. I am learning to be me again.

It feels good.

Slides and Steps*

*pretend it says snakes and ladders, okay?

In the town where I grew up, the playground I frequented most often had a deathly metal slide. One of those really old-school, stainless-steel terrors with a ladder at the back and a field of prickles at the base. It was horror in summer, but epic nonetheless.

I feel like many years of my life are analogous with this slide. I started the journey expecting to leap off the bottom, collect my belongings, and run free across the dangerous grass, dodging the painful minefields of clover that dominated the park.

But, instead, this happened:

My life has been a scramble down the slide, where I constantly get stuck halfway because things have never been perfectly polished the way one expects, and I get trapped at the bottom trying to climb back up. I have struggled and thrashed in the pit at the base, desperately trying to claw my way back to the surface to no avail.

And this was where I resided, for many, many years.

Until recently. When, much like something out of an evil villain’s lair in a sci-fi movie, the hidden stairs popped out of the slide, and I was able to get my hands over the edge, and stand up for the first time.

Slowly, slowly, I am climbing the steps. And now, when things come crashing down, instead of slipping to rock-bottom, I stumble down only a few steps, recover, and begin to climb my way back up again.

The stairs are infinite, and I don’t know what’s awaits at the top, but I know that life has evolved from a constant slippery slope into a staircase that I can conquer, over and over and over again.

And that, my friends, makes my life a game of snakes and ladders.

That thing I never talk about

When I was in high school, I went through several severe stressors all at roughly the same time.

First, I was already suffering from anorexia nervosa, which isn’t exactly a great way to kick things off. Then I was bullied incessantly. And by incessantly, well fuck. I was physically and verbally abused every single day, from 8 until 3, and sometimes for even longer because of these magical little objects called mobile phones, and I withdrew further and further into myself the more she hit me and called me names. I felt helpless, and by helpless, I mean that no one helped me. I was hopeless, and by that I mean death seemed the only solution. And don’t let me forget to mention the fact that I was blamed for bullying her, after hitting her once on the thigh of all damn places, after she had been taunting me for months already. Don’t sit here, she would scream. Bitches can’t sit here. Don’t look at me you fucking bitch, bitch bitch bitch bitch. And that’s how I lost all my friends. ‘Cause you know, I had so many to begin with. Oh, and after that, my brother got cancer, and I started cutting, and the words “guardian invalidation” became my biggest trigger, and I got diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and a whole plethora of problems I knew I had but didn’t want to face including comorbid major depression, generalised anxiety, anorexia and bulimia. But because of the bullying, and this basis of self-abuse I had already sparked in myself via starvation, I developed this fun little thing called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What a scary set of syllables.

I knew what I was experiencing. I absolutely, 100% knew that experiencing nightmares and flashbacks by hearing a word or visiting a space was called “recollection”. I knew that isolating myself, and deadening myself to all emotion, was something called “avoidance”. I knew that I was hypervigilant, and terrified. But to hear my doctor say those eight syllables aloud – to me, a fourteen year old – was a shock. Like I had been electrified. Like, fuck, not only am I dealing with all this other bullshit in my life, but now my trauma can be equated to experiencing war and torture?

And the stupid, most fucked-up thing of all is that once this special diagnosis was dumped on me, after which my life continued to spiral out of control, not a single thing changed. I didn’t start therapy. I wasn’t medicated. The fucking school I went to didn’t change a single fucking thing.

I’m coming to realise how fucked up this all is. Today, of all days, when I’m studying stress and PTSD and the management of anxiety disorders for a neuroscience exam at university. Because where else would I learn more about a condition that intruded into my life and then was just wiped away, like a coffee stain on a countertop, never to be mentioned again, because apparently I wasn’t traumatised enough or some bullshit. It appeared in my medical record, and then it didn’t. That’s some fucked up shit. Surprise yes, just because I’ve gained weight now, my eating disorder hasn’t disappeared, and surprise, yes, just because the source of my trauma is no longer around doesn’t mean that the post traumatic stress part goes along with her. 

I’m ranting.

I’m sorry.

I’m honestly enjoying myself. It feels good. It feels good to relive hurt, when you’re being constantly reminded you’re not supposed to be hurting yourself anymore. There’s more than one way to self harm. There’s more than one way.

This is that thing I never talk about, and it feels good to get it out.

 

A New Therapy Path

I’ve seen a few people in the mental health blogosphere describe the process of leaving a therapist a bit like Nanny McPhee: When you don’t want them, but need them, they must stay, and when you want them, but no longer need them, then they must go.

This is not necessarily true. I am not leaving therapy, and I by no means no longer need therapy, but I am transitioning from one hour of therapy with my current psychologist a week to two hours a week of DBT group and one hour with a new (program-associated) DBT therapist.

I’m scared to end. I’m scared to begin.

And I keep circling back to that thought which underpins everything, which has always been at the core of my problems: I’m not enough. I’m not sick enough. I’m not deserving enough. I’m not bad enough. It’s put me in an interesting place, one where I self-sabotage and deliberately send myself down a spiral to confirm to myself that I am, indeed, worthy of therapy, that I am sick enough.

So I have to stop. Take a breath. Remind myself that that very thought alone – I’m not sick enough – is an ironic symbol of my inherent sickness anyway. It’s a thought distortion that has plagued me, and will probably continue to plague me for a while longer. It’s a thought distortion that I’m aiming to move away from by starting DBT. My therapeutic glimpses at DBT in the past have only been little glances of the help it can offer, but I was in such dark places at the time, it was difficult to apply them at all.

By the same token, it’s made me realise (in the same way that eating disorder treatment did) just how messed up I am. How messed up my emotions and thoughts are. How estranged I am from my experiences. How often I dissociate. How frequently I’ll avoid conversation to avoid reliving a memory. Isn’t it odd that the very act of starting DBT has made me realise just how much I need it?

I hope it gets easier.

Because right now, it makes me feel like a child. Maybe that’s what needs nurturing on the inside. I feel insulted when trying to analyse my behaviours. I feel pissed off at trying to change them, even though I know that they do need to change. I feel like crying when I have to confess that I self harmed, and no, I wasn’t able to use any skills, and no, they didn’t even cross my mind.

Trying to navigate this new therapy path is not so dissimilar to trying to navigate my own mind, so I guess eventually, I’ll just have to accept the winding turns and back-tracks and times where I get lost as bumps along the journey that I shouldn’t blame on myself.

 

Anorexic is not an adjective

This week, I saw something that frustrated me.

It frustrated me to the point of ‘borderline rage’, the kind that hasn’t consumed me for a long time, and the impulsivity that accompanies this. In this case, the impulsive act didn’t cause much corporeal damage – I posted a long, deeply personal post via Facebook. The outcome was that I felt more hurt than I had to begin with, and guilty, and sad, and nostalgic for Ana, and everything that I left behind when I recovered. Anyway.

The topic which frustrated me is a topic which has been in the media so much lately, too much. It is a topic dear to my heart, too dear. It is a topic that is being promoted, and that disgusts me. And yes, despite being weight restored, despite fulfilling the psychiatric definition of “recovered”, the anorexic behaviours, thought patterns, distortions, obsessions and compulsions still consume me.

Anorexic is not an adjective. And it is one used as such too often, by people who don’t understand, “celebrities” like the Kardashians, who have the reach to make real change, but are instead the ones blocking the way. It doesn’t matter who you are: you do not get to joke about an illness you have never experienced, an illness which takes more lives than any other. In fact, the more famous you are, the greater your capacity to create change by not stigmatising the illness any more than it already has been. I’m not one to “keep up” with these particular ladies, but what they said amongst themselves hurt me. It hurt me because they joked over an illness that nearly killed me. It hurt me because they joked over the mental illness with the highest mortality rate of them all.

Anorexic is not an adjective. Anorexic is being hypothermic in summer, and collapsing from exhaustion every night. It’s losing your childhood, your womanhood, your friends, and laughter, and smiles. It’s looking at your reflection and counting bones from your clavicles to your hips but believing you still need to lose weight. It’s yellow skin and a gaunt face and sunken eyes and hair that falls out as you stroke it. It’s wearing children’s clothes because nothing else will fit. It’s being controlled by numbers and calories and food and weight and exercise and a voice in your head that compels you to behave in certain ways, all whilst maintaining a facade of control that you yourself still believe to be true – even as this control spirals away like the soup you’ve been pouring down the drain. It’s hiding beneath baggy clothes, and a web of lies so intricate that a single breath could cause the whole system to come crashing down. It’s eating a single cracker, and punishing yourself for days and days or crying over a carrot that you’re being forced to eat. It’s narrowly avoiding hospital admission by convincing yourself and your doctor that you’re fine, that everything is fine, that nothing is wrong, despite the fainting, the collapsing, the low blood pressure and the anaemias, and the messed up hormone counts and missed periods and reversal of puberty that you brought upon yourself. Being anorexic means having a life cemented in obsessionality and despair and anxiety over the smallest changes to a rigid routine. 

Being anorexic means never being quite enough: not thin enough, good enough, smart enough. Just never enough. Being anorexic means giving up your life, physically, emotionally and mentally; and for some, even literally.

Anorexic is not an adjective. So please, don’t use it like one.

 

19 Good Things From The Year I Turned 19

Today is my birthday. Today is not a day I expected to see. For the first time, today it truly hit me just how incredible it is that I have lived nineteen years on this earth. I have survived severe anorexia, depression and multiple suicidal periods. In fact, just ten days ago, I came my closest yet to ending my own life. But, just as my newest tattoo reminds mehere I am living despite it all. 

Something I have struggled with almost every day of those nineteen years is pessimism. Mostly directed at myself and my future, but also at the world and others as well. So I challenged to create this list, of nineteen good things that happened between this birthday and my last.

24/06/2017 – 24/06/2018

  1. Having a beautiful birthday picnic for my 18th on a beautiful day, with beautiful new Sydney friends (that’s it above)
  2. Getting my first tattoo
  3. Getting my second tattoo
  4. Painting props for the university theatre society – even though I didn’t perform, I was still a part of something (and got free tickets!)
  5. Leaving veganism behind me
  6. Making incredible and unexpected friends during eating disorder and psychiatric treatment
  7. Becoming a Christian
  8. Getting to meet the alpacas at my parent’s new property in South Western Australia when I went home for Christmas AND THEN one of the alpacas gave birth
  9. Ticking off a bucket list item by hiking to the Figure 8 Pool in the Sydney Royal National Park
  10. Re-joining the gym 
  11. Moving from my tiny solo place into a 2 bedroom apartment with another hip person
  12. Reading the Vegetarian by Han Kang before realising it was quite psychiatric and a little triggering, but excellent nonetheless. Along with lots of other incredible new reads such as Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
  13. Creating my largest t-shirt rag rug ever, for a custom order. It’s a massive 1.5 metres wide, which was no simple feat to sew by hand. Finding energy to channel into my Etsy store.
  14. Teaching myself to sew clothes – I’ve always been able to sew, just never clothes
  15. Doing lots of headstands in new kick-ass places
  16. Also learning to do fore arm balances AKA Pincha Mayurasana
  17. Finally starting actual physiology subjects now that I’m in the second year of my science / arts degree – and loving them!
  18. Completing my first ever eating disorder specific treatment in the eight years I have suffered from anorexia / bulimia
  19. Surviving to see my 19th birthday, which, because of a near suicide attempt ten days ago, I wasn’t even sure I would be celebrating. The other things on this list are great, but this the best one of them all.

Permanency

I have tattoos.

People are genuinely surprised to hear this, because my first is on my hipbone and so not visible. My second is freshly done, and definitely visible (it’s on my bicep) but it’s winter now and hidden beneath layers of soft knits and scarves. Maybe people are surprised because I don’t look “the type” for tattoos; I’m not a barista. I’m not an overly muscular male pumping weights at the gym. In other words, I don’t fit the stereotype. I’m a tiny five foot nothing human, I’m a tutor expected to act as a role model, and I plan to become a doctor – eventually anyway, once I figure out my own health first. So maybe they’re just not expecting someone like me to have had ink permanently etched beneath my skin.

That’s kind of the point. The reason why I have tattoos is because they’re permanent reminders of where I am and where I’ve been and how far I still have to go.

The first is on my hip bone, and it’s a quote in cursive which reads “do not go gentle”, from Dylan Thomas’ poem by the same name. It represents the struggles I’ve been through and come out the other side of. It represents strength and perseverance and bravery in the face of adversity. It represents not giving a fuck. I will not go gentle into that good night. I will not let darkness consume me so easily.

On a slight anecdotal tangent, during eating disorder treatment, I was asked what kept me motivated in my recovery. I volunteered this poem as evidence. When I graduated the program, my team presented this poem to me, as a reminder. I told them I had had the quote tattooed on my body six months ago, and carried the reminder with me permanently.

I got my second tattoo a few weeks ago. I designed it myself based off of Rupi Kaur’s illustration “and here you are living despite it all”. Underneath, in my own script, is the word courage, and the O is replaced by the NEDA symbol. It represents being a badass, and reminds me to approach life as one. Recovery is one of the hardest things I have ever faced, and it takes courage, but here I am living, despite it all. Because recovery from anything, even just living with mental illness, makes us all badass.

Maybe people are surprised because my tattoos are not purely for aesthetic reasons. Maybe people are surprised because my tattoos mean something, and only to me.

They remind me of my own permanency, and my own fight. They remind me to keep on fighting when the struggle is dark, and now, each time I go to hurt myself, I will be reminded that I am living, despite it all, and with just a little bit of courage, I can move forward.

I will not go gentle into that good night, no matter how much I may want to at times. The lure of death may be strong but I will rage and rage and rage against the dying of the light. I will not give in, and I will not give up. I will not go gentle. Depression will not take me. The battle against my own brain will not take me, not yet. 

So yeah, I have tattoos.

Because here I am living, despite it all.

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