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.

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.

The Verge Becomes The Edge

I don’t generally include trigger warnings on my blog posts, but as a forewarning, this post deals pretty explicitly with suicide and suicidal ideation. You know yourself. If this isn’t a safe topic for you, please don’t read on.

It started on Wednesday. I say that’s when it started, but of course it’s difficult to know for sure. In fact, this breakdown wasn’t unprecedented. I was expecting it.

So, it started on Wednesday. I’m not sure why this particular Wednesday was difficult. It just felt bad. I felt bad. The sort of negativity and numbness and self-hatred that I have come to recognise as signalling the distress which will soon follow. It’s a whole new realm of emotional dysregulation. It’s own category of sadness and despair and hopelessness and regret. Memories were pursuing me as strongly as ever, laying a trap which would become impossible to escape, threads of triggers tying me down and rendering me hopeless and defenceless. The torrent of memories and past failings and present failings and future failings brought with it a torrent of anxiety, and finally, a need to suppress that.

So I binged. And binged. And binged. And binged.

And I curled up in bed, and the dark thoughts consumed me.

On Thursday, I made a plan. I went to work. I bought blades on my break. I intended to slash my wrists at the end of the shift. I would do it at the beach. I would do it at the beach because the beach is the only real home I’ve ever had.

I was no longer treading the edge of the precipice, no longer dancing around pieces of facade crumbling around me. No; I was submerged between the cliff and the river, I was dangling, I was unsafe.

And I kept repeating the same things, over and over and over.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I can’t do this anymore. Please don’t make me do this anymore. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.

A friend picked me up at the end of the shift, and she saved my life.

We didn’t go to hospital. Because my values have always been fucked up, and even though I have never felt so utterly worthless as I did in that moment where I collapsed in her arms in her parent’s lounge room, sobbing uncontrollably, inconsolable and in my darkest place yet, I knew that I couldn’t go to hospital because I had an exam on Saturday.

I didn’t kill myself because of an exam. 

I think I seriously need to re-evaluate my life.

Anyway. I got through Thursday night.

And on Friday, the suicidality returned with a vengeance. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About the knives and the scissors in my friend’s house. About the busy road a short walk away. About the nearby bridge I could slip off. About the fucking knives. About the knives. About the knives. About the knives.

And I melted. I melted again, for the second time. I can’t remember what happened that desolate soulless Friday night. This isn’t uncommon for me. I know there were memories being regurgitated, but that’s not what truly triggered the distress. I know that I was trying to hide my tears, and my face, and my shame. I know that I was lying on my back, dissociating, crying, and someone touched me, and it was triggering, and I started sobbing, and curled up and wanted to scream and run away and act on my plans. In that moment, I was more suicidal than I have ever been before.

And then, I slept.

I slept it away.

I sat my exam. I made a safety pact. I went home.

And I have taken a step back from the precipice. It still lingers there, in my periphery. It still glistens in the distance, in the charming disguise of “an out”. An end. An escape. But it’s fading again. And sometime soon, I hope to be okay again.

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.

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.