The scArlet letter

Anorexia, a word I have come to hate. Why hate? Because the word alone brings with is discomfort, confusion, questions and often misinformation. The disorder itself is a death trap, literally. It destroys the victim, their families, creates distances between friends and dishonesty, doubt and brokenness spread like a disease. It is a word that usually doesn’t cross my lips and the only time I talk about it is when I blog.

Imagine my surprise when my 12 year old daughter asked me if someone we know “has anorexia?” In utter disbelief my first reaction was, “where did you hear that word”? I could feel my heart racing and a cold shiver run up my spine. She said very innocently that her best friend (from gymnastics) mentioned it. Now I don’t know where her friend would have heard the word, but she is first year high school and I think it is something her mom would say is general talk. I then asked my daughter what does she know of that word? She said that it is when someone doesn’t eat and gets very skinny. I told her that yes, it is correct but there is more to it than what most people make of it. I know that my daughter need to be aware of these disorders (and others) but I truly believe that 12 is too young to expose her mind to such knowledge. There will be a time and place for it, and I will surely correct her if her friends provide her with non-factual information.

The person she was referring too when she asked the question is a lovely young lady and ex-rhythmic gymnast who has now turned her passion for this beautiful sport into a small business as she makes gorgeous leotards. I met her for the first time last year March when my daughter trailed to compete overseas. She attended the event as one of the gymnasts needed alterations to a leotard she made. I didn’t know at the time who she was, but it was clear that she was not healthy and you can also see why most people would jump to the assumption of her suffering from ‘anorexia’. An extremely skinny rhythmic gymnast in a highly competitive sport = you must have an eating disorder.

I contacted her early December of last year to ask if she is available to make my daughter’s leotard. She was and I was thrilled with her design and colours. So we started the process. Several months had gone and I didn’t hear from her. I took it that she must be a very busy young lady so I will leave it just a little while longer before I contact her. Soon after, my one friend who is also waiting on a leotard from her contacted me and I found out that she is actually very sick. No, not due to an eating disorder, but because she has gastrointestinal problems yet to be diagnosed. She had been sick for over 2 years and her health deteriorates each day. She eats 5000+ calories a day, yet still looses weight. In her own words she describes how the doctors have told her she is dying and there is nothing they can do to help her, except send her for more tests. It is absolutely dreadful and my heart breaks for her. I have seen a recent photo of her on Instagram and I cried.

To place a label on someone before knowing the truth is to dehumanise them. I feel like it could be associated with having a scarlet letter stitched permanently unto your skin. We forget that the person carrying a mental and/or physical disorder is still a person. They are separate from their illness. The disorder should not define them. We would rather whisper behind our hands, these days behind a phone screen, before offering assistance or help.

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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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Fuss over Vitamins

I have been encouraged, by my husband and mother, to consume a large amount of Vitamin C for my current head cold. Vitamin C helps your body to fight the nasty little bugs by boosting your immune system, and also helps with the absorption of other vital minerals such as iron. Vitamin C is essential to combating colds and flus. And I know this because I remind my children of the exact same thing and therefor they have their multi-vitamins and Vitamin C with Echinacea every morning. But as an adult I almost feel like saying “Do I really have to?”.

I don’t have a problem with taking additional Vitamin C although I prefer it to be in an effervescent tablet. What I do have a problem with is taking multi-vitamins. It is really hard to explain the reasons and no one actually understands because I am not allergic, or have a health related issue that I can’t take it. No, the reason is simply that in my post-recovery mind multi-vitamins provide additional nutrients, which I can’t get myself to accept.

During my battle with ED, both anorexia and bulimia convinced me that anything additional I put in my mouth, whether I glass of water or a multi-vitamin tablet is one extra foreign object in my stomach which will make me fat. I know how ABSOLUTELY  ridiculous that sounds, trust me even typing it out and reciting it back to myself I sound like a complete nutter! But it is the honest truth. I think it most likely came when the doctor informed us (my mother and myself) that taking a multi-vitamin will give my body the desired nutrients it needs as it was then being stripped from all that is good. My corrupted mind told me otherwise: drink multi-vitamins and you will be feeding your body. Uhm, what?! I didn’t touch a single tablet during that time much to my mother’s frustration.

Some years after my recovery, when I found out I was pregnant with my first child, our doctor instructed me to drink a pre-natal vitamin, which is required for when you have another little human growing inside of you. I forced my fears aside and took the tablet once a day. Shortly after her birth I stopped taking the tablet and tried to continue with a multi-vitamin supplement but I often “forgot” to drink it that I gave up.

Apart from drinking Berocca in the morning, as I suffer from fatigue due to low iron levels, I can’t fathom drinking anything else. But I DO want to get better from this horrid head cold! What a conundrum. Perhaps I should just put my big girl pants on and take the vitamins like the grown-up I am. Sigh!

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.

Chapter 2 – part 1

I was discharged from ICU a few days later which was also the same day the doctor diagnosed me with Anorexia Nervosa and depression. I was no longer myself, but instead labelled a ‘depressed anorexic’. I wasn’t told the reasons for his diagnosis, but I knew that something was wrong with me. I weighed 65.2kg at the beginning of 1998 when my obsessive behaviour started, and on the day of my discharge I weighed 57kg. Within four months I lost 8.2kg, controlled what I ate and how much I ate and started to have an unnatural relationship with food. Surely this isn’t normal?

The April school holiday was well into its first week, and with two more weeks left before school starts there was no rush for me to get back on my feet. Once I was home my mom told me that one of my friends called while I was in hospital as she was concerned that I didn’t attend our last day of term. To be honest I can’t remember what my mom told her happened, but the realization that she or anyone else at my school might hear of my suicide attempt left me with a sense of embarrassment and fear. At the time I didn’t know that this realization became a pinnacle moment, as that was when anorexia’s voice resurfaced and a decision was made that this will be kept a secret. She will be kept a secret.

Most of my friends went away on holiday so the first few days was lonely. I was in bed most of the time as I felt weak and had several dizzy spells throughout the day, and had difficulty eating. My dad decided to send my mom and I away for a long weekend so that I could get out and that we can ‘bond’, because apparently that’s what I needed.

We booked into a resort in the Free State called Thaba Nchu Sun. It is very warm there and being inland the surrounding area is flat with not much greenery. There is plenty of wildlife and often the local monkeys and ducks will help themselves to our food.

I found this to be a very awkward time between my mum and I. I didn’t know what to talk about, and was not interested in answering her many questions about the incident. As much as I didn’t want to be alone, I didn’t want to be there with her. Meal times were the worse. I ate what I found to be manageable, but that usually started arguments between us as we both had our own opinions of what is a suitable portion of food. I believe this is when she consulted my dad and the idea of a dietician and a visit to a phycologist is needed. I didn’t have any say in this, and was not too thrilled with the thought that I have to talk to a stranger about my secret, about anorexia. Was I really that sick that I needed help? Surely I can do this on my own.

To be continued

 

 

Inked (part one)

Confession time … I LOVE tattoos! Ever since my husband (then fiancé) and I went to a tattoo parlour on a whim when we were 21, I have been interested in body art. We each selected a tattoo, mine on my lower back and his on his back between his shoulder blades. The tattoos themselves don’t have a specific meaning as I merely choose an image that appealed to me the most, but the event itself was memorable:

On our first holiday together, a little pre-honeymoon in the making, we stayed in a small cottage called Duck Tree Cottage on the Southern Coast of South Africa. It was idyllic, peaceful and a few steps from the beach. We fell in love with this quint cottage and its surroundings. We made several early morning trips to the beach, walked endlessly picking up shells, talking about our future and planning a life together.

One morning we decided to go to the township and local shops. Down one of the side streets there was a famous tattoo parlour…famous because I think no one leaves their holiday without making a pit stop here to permanently savour the memory of their time away in paradise. Once inside your eyes are immediately drawn to the 1000’s of samples, from animals, to skulls, to flowers and new age shapes, and in all sizes. I was captivated! The decision of what to get was lengthier than actually deciding on getting a tattoo. I felt lost amongst the walls of endless body art. It wasn’t until I thought about what I would like to get, something with a heart symbolising my love for my fiancé, that my focus turned to a particular tattoo. It wasn’t a personalised designed tattoo but it was good enough to have it placed on my body for eternity.

What I took from that experience is not only that my fiancé and I did something together set in time, but that I braved the then unknown pain. I didn’t doubt myself. I put my mind on a set target, and I saw it through. I grew. I understood my own pain threshold. I didn’t look back.

My battle with anorexia and bulimia left its own permanent mark; emotional scars that resurface when I have self-doubt, or am under immense pressure. Battling these eating disorders taught me resilience, not to give up when I am overwhelmed with negative thoughts. I am not trying to make light of the distressing effects of an eating disorder, but I am convinced that my recovery from these grappling mental disorders gave me the necessary tools to overcome such internal and physical challenges.

I will forever bear the marks of triumph over pain.

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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!