Me, Myself, and Ana – A Poem

Terrified of breathing, in case of collapse.

Terrified of existing, in case of relapse.

Fearing the voice clawing this brain,

but craving hunger to flood these veins.

Desperate for relief, for a bite or two,

all this hard work I’ll eventually rue.

Still she screams, oh, how she screams,

this parasitic illness destroying my dreams.

Seeking a way out of one’s own mind,

is successful, sure, but leaves memories behind.

A black pit of time marks the sickest years,

leaving a dissociative gap from a time full of fear.

How impossible it is to escape oneself,

envious of the lives mine might have paralleled.

Instead I exist in an ocean of darkness,

a voice for company tainted by harshness.

There’s no light for me here:

just myself,

and Ana,

and the bones we hold dear.

Broken streaks and bloodied sheets

I was able to go five weeks without self harming. It would have been 35 days tonight.

35 days of urges. 35 days of urge surfing. 35 days of ignoring the buzz of sharps calling me from afar, from the kitchen, from my desk, from the toolbox.

It would have been 35 days if it weren’t for tonight.

I am still addicted to self harm. I still hurt myself badly – deeply, the kind of deep that goes beyond the first few layers of skin and exposes that white bubbly fatty flesh beneath – and think this isn’t good enough. I hurt myself and the voice in my head, the Ana in my head, she cries you deserve to hurt worse than this. It would have been 35 days tonight, except now my thigh is bleeding through layers of bandage because that voice, that pesky little voice, she said this isn’t enough.

Because no matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough for Ana.

I don’t know what triggered me to break my streak. Once I got to 20 days clean it was easy motivation to stay clean. I reached a month, and was hopeful I had proven to myself I could reach three months clean, which was my next goal. Until today, when a few triggering conversations at work – I’m a pharmacy assistant – sent things crashing down around me:

The pharmacist mentions things as we work. Things I don’t want to know about our customers, even though they’re regulars, even though it’s important I understand their conditions and circumstances. He says, this girl, she stays stick thin despite all that seroquel, and all that lithium. He says, she used to have anorexia, poor darl.

And I want to scream. I want to scream SO DID I. I want to shout it from the rooftops until people start to listen. I want to bear my scars and my soul and these freshly puckered wounds I’ve carved into my flesh and I want to scream look at how I struggle. There is no ‘used to’ about this.

I used to be underweight. I used to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. I used to be bullied. I used to live in a devastatingly invalidating environment.

But there is nothing used to about my eating disorder, about the classic binge purge type of anorexia that enveloped my childhood. There is no ‘used to’, not for me.

Starving myself is a steady state, an algorithm that I cannot perfect the way I used to, but a formula none the less. In must equal out. Hunger is good, fullness is bad. In must equal out. Hunger is good. Hunger is good. Hunger is good.

There’s no train to my thoughts here, only the roaring train I want to leap in front of because I’ve failed. Once again, I’ve failed. And here we are again, nestled beneath blood-stained sheets that seep through to my mattress, with open flesh ready to add to the mess. There is nothing ‘used to’ about my journey.

I used to struggle. And I do struggle. I used to suffer from anorexia, and I still starve myself.

I used to listen to the voice in my head, and I still do. I still listen. Because trying to fight her, trying to win that losing battle, will only cause me more pain than the knives I take to my flesh in desperation. It’s a blood sacrifice; only blood will suffice. Only blood will subdue her. Only the punishment I deserve, the relief to the urges; that’s the only way I can quieten her.

The only thing louder than Ana is the grumble of my empty stomach.

A Surge of Urges

The urges rattle my bones as if there were an earthquake beneath my skin. Clenched fists hang at my sides as if the harder I press my fingernails into my palms, the easier it will be to win this fight. The thought consumes me: to cut or not to cut?

That is the only question. There is no alternative that rises in my mind despite the DBT skills that I’m supposed to apply at times like these. What’s the point? What’s one more scar? Or two? Or a smattering?

As usual, the trigger is food. Not the good food that I’m supposed to nourish my body with, my temple of a body, but the naughty, banned, bad foods that Ana forbids me to eat. Sugar coats my lips and fat sings as it touches my tastebuds.

I’m binging. I’ve binged.

I dissociate, and it’s over.

I sit on the floor, slumped, surrounded by crumbs and packaging. I don’t remember buying the bad foods, I avoid doing so for this exact reason, yet here we are anyway. I have failed.

And failure requires punishment.

I can hear the sharps vibrating nearby; they call to me. The stainless steel sings. I try not to listen, but these tools are like sirens and it is inevitable that I give in.

I do.

Red scatters across my skin, warm, but painless. I see beyond the first layer – that pesky epidermis – and I go further. I see the fat below the skin, and my hand lingers. My weapon lingers. Do I dare go a little deeper? It’s not good enough, she whispers. It’s not deep enough. You haven’t done it properly, you’ve just failed at something else. Do it again. 

I try not to listen but before I know it red has been flicked across the carpet and my sheets, and trickles down my thighs and my fingertips. I groan, and rest my head in my hands.

These pesky urges.

They just won’t leave me alone.

New Year, Old Me

Every year, I tell myself things will get better.

They never do. The pain is endless, and I am mostly left feeling distraught.

As 2011 ended, depression had a firm grasp over me, and anorexia was beginning to infest my soul. By 2012, all the behaviours of my eating disorder had appeared; excessive exercise, calorie counting, restriction, binging and fasting. In 2013, the bullying I was experiencing was severe, and so was anorexia. I hit my lowest weight. I tried to reach out so that going to school wasn’t such a fucking nightmare, but those words didn’t hit hard enough, and my grades weren’t bad enough, for it to have any real impact.

2014, the bullying continued, and I saw a psychologist for a first time, as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me (have you heard of anorexia? they asked. Yes, but no, I don’t have it – liar).

2015, and my weight had marginally improved, but the depression hadn’t and I was still barely existing under a cloud of darkness that weighed me down. Somebody pointed out I also suffered from anxiety, because I was constantly worried about everything, even when there was nothing to worry about.

2016 was the year I finally reached a weight that meant I was considered physically recovered from anorexia – just. But I self-harmed for the first time, panic attacks began to emerge, I was diagnosed with PTSD and borderline personality disorder, my brother was diagnosed with cancer, and I grew more suicidal with each passing day. In the midst of all that, I graduated high school.

2017 was chaperoned in by moving to the other side of the country, alone, to study at a university that was apparently one of the more prestigious ones in existence. That wasn’t the reason I had chosen it; I picked it for its distance away from everything that triggered my broken soul. The self-harm worsened and my thighs became peppered with silvery tracks. I finally started to see a therapist consistently. The binging got out of control, and my highest weight was double my lowest. I was hospitalised four times, and spent many hours on many other nights waiting to be patched up. I was humpty dumpty, and medicos were struggling to put me back together again.

Then, in 2018, the depression lifted for the first time since it began, but the emotional rollercoaster of BPD plagued me daily. I was addicted to self-harm, laxatives, and the delicious binge-purge cycle that left me feeling empty and punished, yet didn’t satisfy me like it once had. I desperately tried to avoid hospital. I attempted suicide, twice. My perfectionism disapproved of my sore attempts to finish the second year of my double degree in physiology and English. I spent Christmas alone, avoiding a place I loved to prevent being triggered by memories I hated. I welcomed the new year in sober, then drank the next night away.

And what of 2019? I pray that this year will be different, and I try to cling to hope, but it’s like grasping at a bubble on the surface of the sea. The year beckons me closer, as if inspecting it will help me survive it. In reality, I am an unknown quantity, and survival is impossible to predict.

Returning from the irreversible

There were many things I have told myself I would never do. I never thought I would let myself gain weight, but I have been physically recovered from anorexia for two years now. I never thought I would self harm, but now I have a body covered in the scars of my self-destruction. I never thought I would call myself a suicide attempt survivor, but now that is part of my story too.

I can’t bear to write this elegantly, but eloquence is in my nature. I never thought it would be an unfortunate trait for a writer, until it comes to a topic like this.

It was both eerily calm and satisfying, but horrific and terrifying. There was numbness. There was defeat, as I stared at the stars and listened to the waves; I always said if I was to die, it would be at the beach. Then there were sirens. And a frantic friend. Rough hands, broad shoulders, deep voices and a gurney. 

White walls, unbearably white walls, and a hard chair to sit in, and wait as the overdose kicked in. I began smashing my head against the wall as if that could smash the thoughts from my brain – unsurprisingly this achieved very little. I shouted and screamed and pushed my friend away – all this earned me was heavy sedation. 

The aftermath though. The relentless questions. As if there was a deeper reason behind my suicide attempt. I told them over and over and over, but still they questioned. They didn’t believe. It’s just like always. People don’t ever believe how much power she holds over my still. 

I told them the truth. I told them that I can’t bear to live in this body anymore, that it disgusts me, and there were too many memories in my head from before, and I wanted all of the bullshit to disappear.

Apparently, that answer isn’t good enough.

A Small Win – in your face Ana!

Tonight should have been a binge night.

See, everything was going well until I successively broke three of Ana’s most important rules:

  1. Eating after breakfast before I was hungry
  2. Eating a non-lunch food for lunch (in this case, leftover veggie nachos)
  3. Baking, and eating not one, but two muffins, again before I was hungry.

It was looking like a bad day. Motivation was low, my head was full of thoughts, my brain was scattered. The epic list of study I was hoping to smash out left barely touched. After breaking rule 3, I jumped on my bike for an exercise purge. One and a half hours of cycling, finding the steepest hills around of course, and another half hour of weights at the gym. To make sure everything was okay. To make sure I could be hungry again. To make sure Ana was satisfied, and I was allowed to eat my next meal. I had to double check the numbers three times to make sure I was safe again now.

So Ana quietened.

But I still felt down. The day seemed to pass both infinitely slowly and extremely quickly, which probably means I dissociated the day away. Somehow it was late, and I ate dinner, and went back to my desk for another round of attempted study. (My problem isn’t even external distractions – its thoughts, and dissociation, and emotional distress. All of which sucks, because once I get into the groove of it, I actually love studying. I love the process of learning, and I love what I’m learning about.)

I started to feel productive and then my progress was interrupted.

I still broke three rules… and if I’ve broken three today, then why not break some more? Thus began the spiral down the rabbit hole. Where was the closest pizza place? Ice cream place? Supermarket? How did delivery work (I’ve never done it before)? Oh, a $30 minimum? A 60 minute wait? No worries. Which one was the worst for me, which one would generate the most disgust, shame and repulsion? Which one would most likely lead to self-harming, and to releasing all this hurt?

And I don’t even know why my brain decided that this moment was a great moment to suddenly switch its circuitry, but I walked to the nearest shopping centre, and I bought a single ice cream cone. And I licked it slowly, and pushed the ice cream down with my tongue like I did when I was little, so that it went all the way to the bottom. I enjoyed the sensation of goose bumps in and out and realised that winter is the ideal time to consume ice cream because it won’t melt all over the place. Crucial, considering Sydney is hot – or at least it will be, in a few months.

I didn’t buy a tub of ice cream, and eat it all with a spoon. I didn’t waste money on binge food to feel guilty over later. I didn’t punish myself more, or send myself into another self-harm / restrict / binge / purge cycle. I bought one ice cream. I ate it. It was fucking great. I don’t regret it. Take that Ana. It’s a small win, but it’s still a win nonetheless.

Some Struggles of Late

Not sleeping. 

Not eating properly. 

Discovering alcohol. Which, as it turns out, makes me 1) not sleep, and 2) suppresses my appetite. So it’s both a problem (because I’m more exhausted than ever) and a solution (because I don’t want to eat anyway).

Self-harming to punish myself for not eating properly and discovering alcohol. My body is scarred. And finally, I look down and there’s a flickering thought that maybe I didn’t deserve that, at least not all of that. But I shake that thought away. I remind myself that I’m a bad person, and I deserve to be punished, and because I’m not strong enough to kill myself, I just need to hurt and desecrate myself as much as possible instead.

Exams. Wow, so before I had like a support system and stuff, because I had nothing else to do with my life, all of my energy – and I mean, all – went to studying. But now, people want to, like, see me because they, apparently, like me, and suddenly I’m not studying as much as I would like, even though it’s still more than almost everyone else I’m comparing myself too. And exams are less than a month away, and sure I’ll be fine, but also I need the best possible marks I can achieve if I’m going to be a doctor at the end of all this, and that means every quiz, every 1% assessment, counts. Why can’t people understand this? I’m a perfectionist. Anything that’s not a high distinction doesn’t count. And if I manage a HD, rather than being proud, I berate myself for that 10%, 7%, 1%, I could have gotten, I should have gotten, if I’d just tried a little harder, stupid piece of shit.

Grades that aren’t high distinctions. Because of the whole perfectionist-needs-perfect-grades-and-by-perfect-I-mean-exactly-100% thing. I got 66% in a tiny assessment last week and it absolutely shattered me. I mean, really and truly shattered. It triggered a week of self-harming and re-instigated that good ol’ restrict-binge-purge cycle that’s so dear to my heart.

Failing friendships. Failing to reach out. Failure.

Struggling to maintain any sense of okay-ness while my head reminds me how fat, ugly, worthless, stupid and useless I am, and always will be. Being unable to get across to others the truth that those adjectives hold to me, and feeling misunderstood as a result.

Waking up and immediately thinking “What a good day to die”. 

Be prepared for a long chat if you ask how things have been lately. Maybe get an ambulance on standby too.

(This post practically oozes with anger, isn’t it delicious?)