Blank space

On this day, World Suicide Prevention Day, I reflect back with great difficulty at a time when I too had the inability to distinct between giving up and asking for help, a time when I believed I was alone and that no one will understand, a time when anorexia had convinced me that there is no other way but her way; be killed by her or have my blood on my hands.

The morning of April 1st 1998 I woke up with a plan: tell mum that I do not need to attend school as it was the last day of term and as a senior students it was not mandatory, pretend to eat breakfast, wait for her to leave for work, slouch on the couch and watch tv all day long, but most importantly, NOT TO EAT! I had become a master of hiding, pretending, lying and manipulating as I already managed to fast for 4 months prior to this day without my parents knowledge. I would not eat between 6am and 6pm during the week, only have a small plate of food at dinner time and over weekends I would binge eat. The guilt I felt for binge eating led to self-punishment and fasting, and the guilt for not eating and deceiving my parents led to the binge eating, it was a vicious cycle that I had lost control over.

The day started as planned, mum accepted my excuse for not going to school, telling me she will stop by early afternoon to check up on me. I pretended to eat a small and healthy breakfast but as soon as she left I binned it. I made myself comfortable on the couch and did a bit of channel surfing. Not long after I remembered dad’s whisky stash and thought now is the perfect time to have a drink as there are no adults around, I’m not out in the public and seeing as I am not of drinking age yet, I can have a drink at home on my own. I have had sneaky sips of dad’s whisky before, but didn’t know anything about single or double shots, and I poured myself a generous helping. I drank it with ease and seeing as I didn’t have breakfast my head felt fuzzy and I felt courageous. I made myself a sandwich filled with peanut butter and crisps, and also helped myself to the leftovers from the previous night. I had another drink, a stronger mix this time, a second sandwich and a plate of chicken. By lunch time I had consumed a lot of alcohol, and had eaten more than I could stomach. I had this sense of utter disappointment, and a voice telling me “You are worthless. You can’t control what you eat. That is why you need me. You can’t life without me. Just look at you, you are ugly, fat and you don’t deserve to eat”. In that moment I had what you would call a blank. It is difficult to explain what that blank feels like, and perhaps it is easiest to describe it as nothingness. You feel nothing, you think about nothing, you become nothing. I didn’t want to feel anymore. I didn’t want to wake up tomorrow knowing that I can’t change how I feel and what I think. I wanted out. The next hour in this blank space seems unreal. I only remember snippets. I know that I went to my parents’ bathroom where I found my dad’s blood pressure medicine and my mum’s kidney medicine. I also found a box of Panadols. I can’t remember how much I drank or how long it took to drink the pills. I do remember sitting up against the bathroom cabinet and crying uncontrollably. I crawled to my dad’s bedside table and found a pen. I wanted to shout for help, I wanted to call my parents and tell them how desperately I need them. I remember feeling a sharp pain on my wrist as I was trying to scratch out the words HELP and GOD on my lower arm. My cry for help was silent yet visible. The alcohol and pills had now taken its full effect and I was losing consciousness. I felt my body shivering, my face was ice cold, and I fell over into a foetal position and that is how and where my mum found me. Mum tried to wake me up, and I do recall my name being called. Mum is little, petite even, and couldn’t lift me up or carry me. She ran off to phone my dad, and I can only think that the wait for him to get home from work must have been the longest and most agonising wait. I do remember being in my dad’s arms as he was rushing me to the car…to the hospital…through the hospital doors.

I don’t know what was discussed, which questions were asked or what instructions were given. I don’t know how long I was in the ER, when I was rushed to ICU or when the tubes and IV drips were inserted. I don’t know how long I was unconscious for or when the nurses started to force liquids orally in order to pump my stomach, rid me off the poison that was slowly killing me. Once I realised what was happening to me, I was already crouched over with my head in a bucket, vomiting all contents from my stomach. I was weak, tired and felt sick to my core. I knew what I had done, but was numb to any feelings. The curtains were drawn around my bed and I was isolated. The night dragged on and my short sleeping spurts were rudely interrupted by vomiting spasms. During the night I wished I had perished on my parents bathroom floor then I wouldn’t have to experience this discomfort, the concerning looks from the nurses, the internal voice telling me what a failure I am, and the knowing that I had to face my parents in the morning.

I didn’t realise that I was already in the midst of anorexia and that my first suicide attempt was just the start of my restless battle with mental illness. I didn’t understand the word depression until that day: the despair, darkness and desperation. I didn’t understand the label “she’s an anorexic” until the doctor diagnosed me on the day I was discharged from ICU. I didn’t know that I would stare death in the face twice before reaching a turning point and head towards recovery.

*fast forward 17 years* and here I am. Life sure has been a whirlwind of uncertainty but I’m still here. If you are reading this and have a blank space filled with nothingness, I need to tell you that right now, at this very moment, I am thinking of you. I need to tell you that life is so much more that the struggles you are facing; there is hope, kindness, forgiveness and love. 

What’s in a name?

A name is simply a label to distinguish something from another.  It does not create worth nor does it create true meaning.  What is important is the worth of the individual or thing.

One of the first things you think of when starting a blog is the title (or name) and this will set the scene of the content to follow. When my friend gave me instructions on how to start my blog, she asked me firstly “What is the name of your blog?” I knew the content long in advance, so choosing the name wasn’t all that difficult, but trying to explain it if I was ever asked could be – then again I have some experience in explaining names as mine is a name I have to repeat when asked as I usually receive blank stares or “Pardon? How do you spell that?” I am (un)fortunate enough to have been given my ouma’s name. I am not known by my full birth name, but rather a shorter abbreviation, which she too had been given. I think by having her name family members thought I had received her blessings and gifts that go with it, an expectation that I should be good in certain things: she was a GREAT baker, I’m a confident baker but not great. She was an exceptional seamstress and had the most amazing knitting machines, I find it frustrating and immensely difficult to sew on a button. She was comfortable with water colours and painting, I must have been born colour blind as I can only draw with pencil. Even though I have inherited the creative flair of my grandmother, I certainly did not excel in any of her abilities.

So what is in the name weatheringtulip? In order for me to explain the name, it is important to explain each of the two parts:

(tulip) is the most influential part. During my struggle with the two sisters, I developed not only insecurities about myself, but believed the lies that I was being told, lies such as “You’re not good enough”, “You are nothing without us”, “You can’t afford to gain weight”, “Your friends are against you, they don’t even like you very much”. These voices were constant, from the morning I wake up to the when I rest my head at night. It was not until I met my therapist, and after countless sessions, that I discovered my own voice, a new voice that wasn’t going to listen to these lies anymore (my therapy sessions will be discussed in more detail during later blog entries as this was a crucial time in my battle against eating disorders). The new voice came about when my therapist once asked me “If you could give yourself, the voice that wants to survive, a new name, what would it be and why?” I have to admit that it didn’t take me long to think of a flower. “Tulip” I answered. “A tulip – as with any other flower or plant – need certain things to blossom; sun, soil, water, basically their food, and nutrition. I see myself as this tulip, because I too need food and its nutritional properties to blossom”. I certainly surprised myself with that metaphor, as months of self-hatred seemed to be cleansed by this vision of a tulip. I felt a sense of achievement and even though this new voice wasn’t yet strong enough to fight off all the death threats from the two sisters, I have discovered the needed motivation to fight. I felt that my voice which was trapped behind a barbed wire fence, is being freed, even though fighting to get over that fence is painful at times. From that moment on, tulip became my scapegoat; a comforter at times when all I can see is ugliness, and a motivator that I am strong, I am capable, and I am me.

So why (weathering)? An object that has been exposed to weather elements such as rain, hail or wind becomes eroded over time, which in turn changes the appearance of that object. We all have such elements in our life, whether good or bad, that when we bare ourselves long enough to them, we begin to change and our ‘old self’ wears away. I was exposed to some interesting remarks while at high school. Due to my athletics and gymnastics career I had a very muscular build. Yes, strength is needed when you endure hours of training per day, building the required muscle tone that will help you succeed, but for this teenage girl those changes were often a bit too much, too soon. I was called various names as my body changed, but the one name that caused the most wear, was the name ‘steroids’, given to me by the younger male athletes. It literally broke me down bit-by-bit every time they called me that. I just shrugged it off as playful antics, but over time it eroded my mind and changed how I felt about myself.

Therefor weatheringtulip is forever changing, as new elements enter my life. New labels such as wife, mother, employee brings about a whirlwind of change and a flood of elements such as intimacy, pregnancy, sleep deprivation, nursing, etc. I am challenged by these elements daily, finding myself amongst it all, rediscovering my name and my self-worth, finding TULIP.


World, meet Tulip!

A life, any life is more than its own particulars: it has a social, historical, political, gendered, religious backdrop that gives it context and meaning.

How very excited yet nervous am I to introduce myself to you – reader, blogger or the accidental passer-by. I am, in many forms, a survivor (please refrain from singing that all too familiar song…oops too late!): I survived my first 10 days on earth, I survived several primary school crushes, I survived being the youngest sibling to an older sister, I survived falls of the gymnastics beam, I survived many “serious” and heart-breaking high school relationships, I survived (in my later young adult years) childbirth…twice!, but more than anything else, I survived food deprivation.

Why blogging? A dear friend of mine introduced me to the thought of blogging after I told her that I’m FINALLY working on my memoir. At first the idea of putting words to feelings and thoughts on a blank screen was daunting, but then I remembered what my objective is with a memoir. I have, as many before me and many still to come, a story to tell; a story of living, battling, recovering and surviving a disorder I often refer to as the two sisters (but for many this disorder is called anorexia and bulimia). But unlike the memoir, which mainly focusses on that snippet of my life, this blog opens a starting point to all that is me. Unveiling myself, one layer at a time, to those who struggle with the same two sisters, those who have been indirectly affected by this disorder, but more so to those individuals who are searching for that glimpse of a faint light at the end of a torturous and often dangerous dark tunnel.

My blog is most definitely a “hold on tight, it’s going to a bumpy ride” and a “I know you can’t see it now, but the end reward is so much greater”, and it is a journey I want to share with those willing to step on board.

This is my story, this is my life, I am Tulip.