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.

Humpty Dumpty

I slipped. I broke down.

I went to emergency, where, just like humpty dumpty, they glued me back together again.

(FYI the glue didn’t hold a day. I was insisting on stitches, but the doctor wouldn’t listen)

I don’t have any words. I don’t know what I’m supposed to write here anymore. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about, it’s more that I feel like I can’t do my feelings justice with times new roman in pt 12.

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?)

Whoops, guess what I discovered?

Alcohol.

In that single word I can see all of the mistakes I’ve made in under a month. I have been sober my entire life, despite growing up in a town with a heavy drinking culture, despite desperately wanting to fit in at university where it seems damaging your liver remains the best way to stay cool, and despite all my emotional upheaval, I have never had a drink. Until the past three weeks.

It started with the bottle of wine I drunk sort-of-not-quite accidentally while making risotto. The day after it was a few too many glasses with friends to squash my anxiety. Then last week, it was three beers and two cocktails in an attempt to drown the thoughts in my head the way they portray it in movies.

I discovered it doesn’t work that way. Because 18 hours after getting the most intoxicated I’ve ever been in my life, I found myself in a very unsafe place, having some very dangerous thoughts, making plans, and eventually standing in a friend’s kitchen with a knife in my hand, unable to resist it’s insatiable pull. So off to the psych ward I went.

(Just on that note, I’m discharged now. No, I’m not okay. It was only for a few days – it’s only a short stay unit because the acute ward in my local public hospital has a pretty bad rep for young people. But yay, freedom and stuff)

Anyway, I get addicted to things. I got addicted to exercise, and to dieting, and to calorie counting. I’m addicted to impulsivity and bad decisions and spontaneity at all the wrong times. I’m addicted to hurting myself, and I’m addicted to replacing old coping mechanisms with new ones. Because learning to self harm less means I need another self-destructive behaviour in its wake. So I guess that’s what I was seeking when I finished the bottle, when I felt myself getting lost in hot cheeks and fatigue and agitation all at the same time.

The weirdest thing though is that alcohol seems to exhaust me, yet it also makes me insomniac? Probably a med interplay that I’m electing to ignore. I don’t want to think about the meds. I’ll just take them anyway and hope for the best and wish I was strong enough to gulp down an extra handful.

So here I am on another not-drunken but very-regretful sleepless night, starting a puzzle at 2 am with a massive pot of tea and soundscapes to keep me company.

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.

Chapter Zero: A Brief History of My Time with Mental Illness

I’m going to tell you a story:

There once was a girl who was slightly insane, with eyes so bright they matched her brain. She had no troubles of what the day might bring, and when it was silent she would secretly sing. There is still a girl who is more or less sane, but behind not so bright eyes, she hides layers of pain.

There was once a girl who was so energetic people described her as “crazy”. She had a wild, untameable personality, and loved nature, acting, art and school. She was proud of her intelligence, and she didn’t let being different stop her from doing anything.

Then her mind turned against her, and everything changed.

Looking back, things probably changed earlier than the date I’m going to call ‘the beginning’, but I think starting high school was the trigger for a spiral into mental illness. There were signs I suppose, before then, that I was not like the other kids, in more ways than one. Signs of BPD, precursors of anxiety, hypomanic episodes. I hated making decisions. I couldn’t stand it when I wasn’t in control. I was a perfectionist, and couldn’t make mistakes for fear that I would get in trouble and everybody would leave me.

In 2011, I started high school. All my friends from primary school except one had moved to other schools, or other towns. I was alone. I was isolated. I started to retreat to the library during lunchtimes. I was constantly irritable. I was constantly alone. This is what depression felt like to begin with.

Around the same time, I developed an eating disorder, which I’ve written about pretty extensively here, and here, and here, and a little bit more here, and here. It started when I realised I was never hungry. I needed to be hungry, otherwise it meant I was consuming more calories than my body could handle. No wonder I was so fat! (I was not. I could see ribs, even at this point in time) It started with sit ups and push ups and being really ‘healthy’ by not eating carbs or sugar or fat or anything over x number of calories that I had arbitrarily decided was the magic number for weight loss. I had a growth spurt, because, you know, puberty, and that was the final trigger. I weighed myself every day. I counted calories every day. I exercised every day. I needed to be hungry. I needed the numbers to go down. I needed to be perfect. Slowly, I saw hip bones creep to the edge of my shorts, I saw ribs peek through beneath my tummy, which was gradually falling away. By the time I was thirteen, I was at my lowest weight. I was emaciated, malnourished, exhausted, and alone. My inconsistent periods became non-existent, and wouldn’t return until my final year of high school. I was constantly anxious, self-conscious and insecure. The depression had also gotten worse. I was suicidal.

Oh yeah, and I was being bullied at school. Physically, verbally, and online. It only emphasised to me that if I was just thinner, if I was just better, that she might stop tormenting me. I tried to open up and was told to ignore it. When I retaliated, I was punished by the school for physically hurting another student. So I made a promise to myself that I would never open up. Two years later, when I eventually told the principal the whole messy story, the culprit was still never punished.

(Tears are starting to drip onto my keyboard)

I was sitting by myself every day. I was taunted every day. My eating disorder was at its worst. I had stopped socialising completely unless it was absolutely necessary. Not that I had ever been very social, but I honestly felt like my ‘friends’ were treating me horribly. They hadn’t noticed, they didn’t care, they weren’t interested. They could see my being bullied, and to this day I cannot understand why they didn’t step in for me. I maintained high grades – I remained top of my cohort year after year. I maintained a facade. Eventually, this facade shattered, and came crumbling down around me.

The strangest part throughout the development and maintenance of my eating disorder is that to me, this was normal. There was no problem with this sort of behaviour. Not for one second did it cross my mind that I had an eating disorder. It took me two years to realise. It took until I lost control, and until Ana consumed me entirely, and I couldn’t distinguish between myself and her anymore. And when I did finally realise my behaviour could be classified as both anorexia and bulimia (this came much later), that’s when things got really bad. Because I knew that if someone found out, they would try to take Ana away, and by this point, she was the only friend I had.

But at least I felt good about my body, at least my body was lithe and petite. Although, I hated buying clothes because nothing would fit. I didn’t feel like a woman. I didn’t feel alive. All I ever feel is numb. Exhausted. Hungry. But still, I thought this was okay. This was good. But I knew I could do better. It was a challenge, and I accepted it. It’s 2014.

Then, something changed. I don’t know what. I guess I looked up from the scales, and into the mirror, and I saw a skeleton staring back. I couldn’t believe it was my reflection.  From that moment, I started fighting. It was difficult. I wasn’t really gaining weight. I was still alone. But I was trying, trying, trying. Still on my own. For whatever reason, I began to eat more, consciously made an effort to try and eat more. I actually lost weight. I thought I had been in control. I wasn’t and I never had been. Every single thought was conflicting. If I felt strong, and ate a little more to try and combat these thoughts then I would instantly feel awful, instantly it was like another person (this voice is who I named Ana) had put these horrible horrible thoughts into my head and that little bit of extra food quickly disappeared when I went for an hour long bike ride, or a run, or obsessively engaged in sit-ups and push-ups until I was certain I could still get hungry.

I hated my skinny wrists. I hated getting my picture taken. I hated myself for doing this to my body. I hated myself for considering getting better. I hated eating for making me feel fat. I hated exercising for making me feel skinny. I hated a certain member of the female species for monumentally fucking me up. I hated my friends for leaving me on my own. I just had a lot of hate inside of me.

At some point, I told my mum that I was worried I couldn’t gain weight. I had lost control. Ana was in control now, and Rosie was fading away, a ghost for her to leech off of. Even now, I did not mention anything at all about an eating disorder. I did not really know it was an eating disorder. I knew I was doing it deliberately, I knew what anorexia nervosa was, what bulimia was, but I didn’t know they could manifest in quite this way.

My mum didn’t get the hint. She took me to doctor after doctor after doctor who all asked the same question “are you starving yourself?” and “the next step is a psychologist”. Over the next two years, I gained a very measly amount of weight, just enough to keep me out of inpatient treatment. Just enough so that nobody would try to take Ana away from me.

It’s 2016 now, and my weight has increased to just within the normal range. My eating disorder is still bad. Ana is still loud. My brother just got cancer. I’ve started self-harming. I’ve made plans to kill myself. I cry myself to sleep every night. I have finally started seeing a therapist. My parents still don’t know about Ana, or about depression, or about being bullied. My hatred for them is stronger than ever. There is constant yelling in my house with my brother at home. It’s my fault he has cancer. It’s my fault they’re always fighting. I worry my parents will get divorced. I’ve broken friendships with what I now recognise as BPD rage. I ask my parents through tears if I’m bipolar, a question that won’t be answered for another two years. Graduating high school is the best thing that ever happened to me, because I can finally leave behind the shithole that promised to protect me, and didn’t. More people who didn’t notice, and didn’t care. I thought I had beaten my ed thoughts but I hadn’t, they’re back. The feeling of being split in half has also returned and, even though I feel fat all the time, I can’t decide if I do or don’t want to be skinny again. Ana says “I’m fat” but Rosie isn’t so sure…

The problem is, when I have ed thoughts, I eat to try and combat them. Maybe I’ll have dessert tonight; that will counteract those thoughts. But then I feel terrible for eating extra, so I exercise in the morning to burn off the calories, and it just goes around and around and around and around. And this is the start of the shift from anorexia to bulimia. The irony is not lost on me. Recovering from one eating disorder by undergoing weight restoration alone, led to the development of another eating disorder. The underlying issues of low self-esteem, self deprecation and perfectionism weren’t addressed – so I never really recovered. Physically recovered, but not mentally. Never mentally.

And so concludes 2016, the year I actually started to open up. After nearly 5 years of endless anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and borderline personality disorder.

It’s 2017, and I’ve moved to Sydney, on the other side of the country. I thought I could escape my past, but turns out that I couldn’t escape my own mind. I thought I could escape an emotionally abusive and invalidating environment, but self-deprecation is its own form of invalidation. My eating disorder has faded somewhat, or so I thought, but it is actually bulimia in disguise, and that was just a fact I didn’t want to face, because being diagnosed with bulimia after suffering from anorexia is a giant slap in the face. I’m suicidal again. I have never been more depressed in my life. This year I will be hospitalised three times, and accumulate more scars on my thighs and wrists than I ever thought possible. I don’t speak to my family. I am still alone. I graduate my first ever eating disorder treatment, but there’s hatred simmering inside of me for the disorder I lost, and the one it was replaced by.

It’s 2018. Things have finally gotten better, just a little bit anyway. Rather than constantly being depressed, now I ride the emotional rollercoaster every day instead. I’ve been formally diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bipolar II. I’ve tried a heap of medications and rotated through a bunch of psychiatrists and doctors who don’t know what to do with me. I’m coming to terms with my diagnosis of bulimia, and the anorexia I so desperately wish I hadn’t left behind.

And I draw on my arms when I feel down, and scribble poetry on scrap paper, and do headstands in dangerous places for the rush, and practice yoga as I revise material for exams, and binge on peanut butter and bread and chocolate, and exercise to cope with the aftermath of binging, and gauge at my skin with sharp objects, and scrape the word fat into the body parts I like the least, as a reminder that good will never be good enough. All in an effort to feel better, to feel safe. To feel okay again. Finally.

Because the only time I have ever felt good about myself and about my body was when anorexia took hold completely.

For much of this time, I never knew that what I had was an eating disorder. It took me a really long time to realise that maybe, just maybe, what I had been doing to my body was what is known as anorexia. I was scared to use the term, because it made what I was doing seem real. Real and wrong, when to me all that it felt was right. I have never been diagnosed of course, and there are very few people who know how I really felt/still feel, and fewer still who have called it ‘anorexia’. I am still scared to use the term, because now that my weight is restored, it feels even more invalidating.

I called her ‘Ana’. Because you’re not in control, there’s another person inside your head, a voice telling you to act a certain way, feel a certain way, appear a certain way. This voice tells you that skinny is never skinny enough and that a single calorie is a calorie too many. She tells me that good will never be good enough, and that only bones will ever be enough.

Sometimes I want to kill these thoughts. I want to be happy. Sometimes I want them back. These thoughts tell me I would be happy if I was just a little skinnier. They tell me that I’m fat, but now that I’ve gained weight, I don’t know if these thoughts are actually true, or if I’m just making them up.

It took four years to reveal I was struggling with depression. Five to reveal I was anorexic. Five and a half to be medicated. Six to be hospitalised so I didn’t kill myself. And now, nearly seven years after ‘the beginning’, I finally come to realise that the first thing I should have done is just say what was on my mind. Instead of waiting, and berating, and getting sicker and sicker and sicker, and more and more isolated and withdrawn and losing more and more time, I should have just spat the words out:

Anorexic. Bulimic. Depressed. Anxious. Bullied. Obsessive. Traumatised. Borderline. Bipolar. Self-harming. Suicidal. 

Eleven adjectives which do not define me, but are a chapter in my history, and a part of my identity nonetheless.

My Self-Harm Story

The first time I hurt myself I was sixteen. I used a pin, and scratched the part of my body I despised the most at the time – my hips. I blamed myself for my brother’s cancer diagnosis. I blamed myself for the shouting that accompanied his move back in with my parents. I blamed myself for the failures I encountered daily, for every small mistake I made – the flickering in people’s eyes when I made social errors, the disappointment from teachers when I got B’s instead of A’s, and the isolation I felt no matter where I went. I didn’t feel safe anywhere. Not at school, where I was bullied incessantly. Not at home, where there was shouting constantly. And there was nowhere else for me to escape to except the beach, where I didn’t feel safe because of strangers, and suicidal ideation, and hypothermia from being so underweight.

I might have lost anorexia, but self-harm filled that space. It served the same needs. It has the same purpose.

The first time, I was angry at myself. I had made a promise to myself that I would never follow in the footsteps of my friends (friends who had by this time stopped self-harming), and scar my body. They told me it was addicting, but I didn’t believe them. The next time I hurt myself, I was angry at my parents. For ignoring me, for not believing me, for neglecting me. I took a pair of nail clippers and I slashed my calves. The time after that, I used a pair of surgical scissors stolen from my mum’s nursing office at the hospital.

Then, I turned to more dangerous implements. The typical ones. What started out as an immediate release for anger and rage became a coping mechanism for any emotion at all. If I was numb, I hurt myself to feel something. Sad, I hurt myself to focus on the pain. Angry, I hurt myself to find relief. Dissociating, I hurt myself to feel real. Worthless, I hurt myself to be punished.

What began as small, localised scars that soon faded, became deeper, more dangerous wounds. And I clutched them tightly to my chest, like memories I needed to cherish. The thing about a starved brain is that it will do everything it can to conserve energy. It will divert energy from memory-making to keeping your heart beating, and that’s it. So there are spaces in my mind, years, where I have no memories. It’s black. The only points of reference are the first time I cut, and the last time I cut before moving out of home, and the lies I told my family when they asked.

After that I move to Sydney, and it becomes a blur. A monthly release becomes a daily habit. Single scars on single limbs become messy thighs. I always hurt the parts of myself I hate the most. And I always need a clean space. So once the thighs have been filled, I move on. The wrists are next, so that people can finally see how much pain I was in. Look, I invited, when I didn’t try to hide my wounds, look and help me. For fuck’s sake, help me.

I was told that self-harm was an addiction, but never did I think it would become a desire. It went from being something I needed to do in order to cope, to a way to punish myself, to the only reliable part of my existence I could count on to keep me from falling apart. I have self-harmed at home, crying on the carpet. I have self-harmed at work, hiding from coworkers. I have self-harmed in psych wards using earrings or my fingernails. I have hurt myself inside and out. The wounds were external, and the scars are external, but the pain remains internal. The shame is internal.

The last time I hurt myself was yesterday. Ana was screaming at me – you ate too much you fat pig. where are your bones. where are your bones stupid girl. where are your bones because there are no bones anymore. I had binged, and I’m not allowed to do that. I convince myself beforehand that it will make me feel better, but it never does. Neither does hurting myself.

Hurting myself also doesn’t silence Ana, and it doesn’t silence the thoughts inside my own head, but it does satisfy a need. It serves a purpose. It helps. I know it’s bad for me, but it helps.

It helps.