Quantity during recovery

One of the times I visited Jess (please see Be that someone! for an introduction on Jess), she was an inpatient at the Child and Family Unit (CFU) at Starship Hospital in Auckland. I remember being apprehensive to see her as I know that sending her there was (another) final resort from her parents, clinging to any hope for recovery. I knew it meant that she was again very sick which meant she isn’t reaching her target weight set by one of numerous dieticians. The last time I stepped into a rehabilitation centre was for my own admission while battling bulimia. I didn’t know what to expect and felt very nervous.

When I walked in the unit felt welcoming. The living and dining quarters were all open plan with a lot of natural light coming in from the wall of windows. There were several private rooms in which Jess accommodated one. The unit had several teenagers staying there, receiving treatment for a variety of mental illnesses. The majority were for drug abuse, self-harm and depression. There was an entire unit separated from the main centre for high risk individuals. You can’t imagine that the patients in here are no older than 18. I felt great sadness as Jess showed me around. The light coming into the unit is in stark contrast to the darkness which bears down on these youngsters.

Jess and I spend some time in her room, talking and looking through her diary entries and art work. We must have been in her room for nearly an hour when there was a knock on the door and a nurse announced that it was lunch time. As I wanted to excuse myself and leave Jess to it, the nurse asked if I would like to stay and sit with Jess at the communal dining area? Jess sounded desperate when she said “Yes please, will you?” I felt my heart sink to my stomach but I couldn’t say no to Jess.

There were about 15 teenagers and staff seated to have their lunch. They offered me a plate too, the exact amount that Jess was being served. Everything in me wanted to reject the offer. Why? Not because I wasn’t hungry, but because of the amount of food that was presented. The meal was served in a plastic sealable container. In it was a small tub of yogurt, a fruit, a juice and a lettuce, carrot, chicken and cheese filled sandwich. I looked at this meal with dread and could only imagine the internal battle Jess was having with her demons. Jess picked at her food, but was forced to eat it all within a given time. When her time was up, I had just finished the sandwich and juice. I was so full! The only excuse I could think of for not eating all my food was that I was planning on having a meal on my way back home on my 2 hour drive. I couldn’t admit to Jess that the meal was too much even for me to eat even though I am recovered.

I honestly don’t know if this extreme approach to recovery is doing any good. Perhaps when you are further along in your journey and you have overcome the fear of weight gain. But for someone still in the midst of recovery, continuously relapsing? I completely understand that these measures are often taken because of frustration, taking a no nonsense approach to the patient. But at what point do we ignore a patients’ mental state and start enforcing far-reaching treatments?

During my stay at a rehabilitation centre (receiving treatment for bulimia) I too was forced to eat a considerable amount of food. I couldn’t believe how much they were expecting of me to eat. I was not treated any different to the other patients there. I was the youngest in my ward and the ONLY one with an eating disorder. My food was not prepared any different nor was the quantity adjusted. I remembered dreading meal times. I purged a few times during the first two days. It was as if they didn’t understand that I was there to learn how to control my binging and not be overwhelmed by large food intakes and feeding off the need to purge. When the second week came around and I have had intensive therapy sessions, I was able to eat the meals without feeling guilty for which I am now truly thankful. It still strikes me as odd that the meal plan was not adjusted and gradually increased.

I need to add that the above mentioned approach was so much different to my personal dieticians though. She was amazing! She was there during both battles with anorexia and bulimia. She was careful with all the meal plans, slowly increasing as was needed. Yes she was disappointed when I lost weight, but elated when I ate any additional food that was otherwise stated on my meal plan, or when I controlled any outbursts by going for a walk instead of binge eating.

I wonder if that is the difference with private and individual care compared to state care? And is there even such a thing as a standard meal plan when treating an eating disorder? Obviously it will be adjusted depending on the needs of each individual, whether they are diabetic or have food allergies/intolerances. Or should health professions look at quality vs quantity?

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Night anxiety

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For most people having a large meal accompanied with a drink or two (whether it be alcoholic or not) and perhaps a sweet treat to end the evening off, the feeling of being full is satisfactory. And I can say with confidence that a lot of the times that is the case for me too. But then there are nights like the one I had a few nights back  when anxiety creeps in as I feel how the food pushes up. If there is one thing I am most uncomfortable with, not only during my battle with ED but also after recovery, it is the sensation of feeling full. And it has nothing to do with how much I have eaten either.

I had a late dinner as I only ate after fetching my daughter from gymnastics training, followed by a cup of tea and a biscuit (I can’t have a cuppa without something sweet) and not long after went to bed. Lying down I could feel the food pressing up and even though I didn’t over-eat, my mind immediately went into defend mode.

Defend mode = compulsive behavior:

  • repeatedly going over how much I ate during the day
  • mind racing trying to justify what I ate
  • combating negative thoughts with constant reassurance

Apart from the compulsive behavior, I also battle the old voice of bulimia trying to convince me that I should just purge. “It’s easy, you should know.” I don’t though because I know if I start I won’t stop. I have not spend years in counselling and recovery to relapse. The post-recovery battle is often worse than the recovery itself.

Nights like those are dreadful but my assurance comes from knowing that I will be okay. That after the night dawn breaks and I wake up with an empty stomach and another day starts. A day which I can take head on because I survived my internal nightmare. A day which starts with a cup of tea and a small breakfast whether it be a muffin, slice of toast or an egg on toast because I need to fuel my body. A day I can celebrate because I am no longer defined by my mental disorder.

You will be okay.

Recovery, it is worth it!

by Anonymous Recovery is a constant decision. It’s downloading and deleting that calorie counting app over and over again. It’s having a panic attack after hearing your family talking about diets at the Christmas dinner table. It’s texting your best friend and feeling like a burden because you’ve needed her support every day this week. It’s…

via Untitled — Beating Eating Disorders

The above piece of writing is worth sharing, and for you, worth reading. Recovery continues to be a daily decision, and at times not an easy one to make BUT it is worth choosing life, overcoming and victory.

Much love to you all battling this horrid illness. May today be better than yesterday, and tomorrow may you claim a small victory over your ED.

Be that someone!

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My first job after immigrating was as an assistant house manager for the local campus of an international bible school. I met some amazing people while working there, many who I still have contact with. One such lady is the wife of a staff member. She approached me shortly after hearing my testimony, as her 15 year old niece was hospitalised with anorexia. She wanted to know more regarding this dreadful disorder and also asked if I was willing to speak with her niece’s parents as they were left in the dark and felt uninformed.

I spoke with her dad over the phone soon after and he asked a lot of questions as well as vent his frustrations towards her and the fragile situation they found themselves in as a family. I tried to explain to him the he should be upset with anorexia, not his daughter, that his frustrations should be directed towards anorexia’s influence and power over her thoughts and demeanor, that it is not something she can switch on and off nor is she allowing it to happen to her. I offered to borrow him a book called Hope, Help and Healing for Eating Disorders, written by Dr Gregory Jantz, founder of The Centre – A Place of HOPE. It is a very insightful book that looks at the inner struggle a person face while in the grips of an eating disorder as well as the physical, mental and spiritual battle while recovering. I also agreed to visit his daughter in the hospital as she was willing to speak with me.

The first time I met Jess she was in the children’s ward of Waikato Hospital. She was sitting on her bed, frail and ghost-like. She had a full time care person with her in the room as she was on suicide watch. I introduced myself and sat next to her on the bed. I didn’t prepare anything. I didn’t know what I was going to say or where I should start. All I knew was that my focus was 100% on her. She was the most important person in that room. I decided that instead of trying to start a conversation from an already uncomfortable situation and sensitive topic, I’d asked if there is anything she wanted to know about me? And there were, lots!

We spoke for approximately 40 minutes. I found out that she was a dancer, that she absolutely adores her grandmother, she loves being creative and often paints and that she is saddened by the fact that her older brother recently moved to Wellington for his studies. We spoke about the small things that brings her great joy and how important it is to hold on to those moments. I also mentioned the coping skills I learned during my counselling sessions and how I still apply them today. The reason why I thought it necessary to mention my coping skills was that during my short visit with her, the feeding machine went off twice and her facial expressions on hearing the noise it makes and knowing that she can’t escape it was that of utter fear. I told her that when it goes off she should not think of it as “food” but as nourishment. That it is not a punishment but a necessity. And if she really struggles with her thoughts during that time then perhaps she can keep herself occupied with her art until the machine stops.

I gave her a hug, said good bye and left.

I had the privilege to meet up with Jess another 4 times over the course of 2 years, sometimes under worse conditions than what she was in when I first met her, and other times at her grandmothers’ house where she stayed when she showed progress. It took 5 years of treatment and rehabilitation before she was able to break free and walk away from her demons.

I am truly thankful to have been a someone on her path of recovery.

 

 

We matter!

You Matter

I recently came across this image and it resonated with me. The idea that I matter is often not instilled in me and I have to convince myself that merely being me is okay. Yes my children matter to me, my husband and my family, friends I love (and miss dearly) matter to me, but do I matter?

My counsellor who helped me through my battle with both anorexia and bulimia, had once made a list of the things I am. We were discussing skills that I have acquired throughout my counselling sessions (coping skills as he would call it), skills that I can use as part of  my weaponry during ED’s attacks. He started the list by adding the first thing he believes I am, helpful, and asked me if I can think of others. When I got stuck he reminded me of all the things we have discussed, the things I have achieved. And with his guidance the list grew:

I am …

Gentle and mild spirited

Caring

Determined

Adventurous

Different

Curious

Sensitive

Creative

Respectful

My own individual

I soon discovered that I am many things separate from my eating disorder. I do not need to be defined by anorexia’s voice. In all honesty it was very hard remembering this list in times when anorexia convinced me that I am nothing without her, but having the list as part of my coping skills made a huge impact on how long her voice lingered in my head.

Today this list looks very different. I am a mother, which makes me a nurturer. I am a wife, which should make me loving and understanding. I am an employee which makes me loyal and hard working. I am a blogger and therefor I am imaginative and speak my mind.

I would like to believe that I matter because of that who I am today. And because I matter, my words matter, my presence matter, my knowledge and guidance matter, what I have to say matters.

And I would like to encourage you that you matter, no matter what!

My fit with FitBit

I have many friends who has a FitBit, talks about their FitBit, compare steps with other FitBit friends, and update social media on their progress. Honestly, those I least expect it from, owns one.

I don’t want to step on any toes, but here are the reasons I will never brace this fashion on my wrist:

  • I am not a gimmick kind of person. Yes I have a smart phone, but only because my life is organised on this device. I lose it, I lose myself! And yes my kitchen is filled with electronics that makes my baking cravings more manageable.
  • I am lazy. Regardless of whether it is something on my wrist encouraging me to exercise or a boot camp instructor shouting spurts of motivation at me, I prefer to come home, run around after my kids, prepare dinner, tidy/clean the house (depending on the severity), and end my day curled up in front of the TV.
  • I enjoy tramping, filling my lungs with fresh air and admiring the God given scenery. But I want to do that in my own time. I do not need something constantly reminding me of the above point, filling me with feelings of guilt and resentment.
  • I DO NOT NEED ANOTHER ADDICTION!

How easy is it to use such  a “fitness craze” as an excuse to fall back to old habits? Too easy if you ask me.

Fit over 🙂

Small steps creates leaps of courage

The one group I follow on social media shared the above image and I wanted to repost this as during my battle with eating disorders I had applied almost all of these tips at one time or another. The only two things I didn’t do was to keep a food dairy (as this was a trigger for me) and put an elastic band around my wrist and snap it when I had an urge.

The ones I found the most helpful was to have an accountability partner, call or meet up with a friend, and to go for a walk. Most of these tips are there to get you away from your temptations and distract your thoughts from ED’s destructiveness.

Obviously these are all temporary steps to take in preventing your binge eating habit, but at least you are actively doing something which I commend you for, and taking some of the ED’s power away!