Distorted reality

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Whenever I am in the company of another female friend, I feel obscurely ‘large’. As if I am hovering over them, standing a head or 2 taller. The giant in Jack and the beanstalk comes to mind. I might as well be sliding down the beanstalk, grotesquely shouting “Fee-fi-foe-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman” (sorry, no offend to any of my British acquaintances). And I suddenly become very aware of my size.

Now I do not consider myself small, never have and never will. If you have read of my earlier entries, you will see that I have been referred to as “thin”, “small”, “tiny” by fellow work mates which I resent and despise, and what a laugh really! Yes, I am 5’3 and the last time I weighted myself I float around 57kg. And to be honest, that doesn’t matter one little bit, because in my head, I am huge. I know that my self-image struggle manifested during my battle with eating disorders. Convincing myself that I am no good, a failure, ugly, unimportant, fat, was a daily occurrence, but I honestly would have thought that after all these years living as a recovered anorexic/bulimic, that logic and common sense should prevail?!

I have a lovely friend who is of Thai decent and naturally petite. She has the perfect skin tone, amazing cheek bones, always dressed well even if she stayed at home all day in her slacks. Please note that I am NOT jealous. Jealousy is a character that I have outgrown. I notice her looks, but when we are together, visiting, I certainly do not ‘see’ her in this manner. At that time she is just a dear friend and we can have a relaxing (and often funny) conversation. No, it is my own stupid insecurities that silently sits and waits until it is time to show themselves. And it is always when I ring the door bell, she opens the door and we are now face-to-face, often standing and talking for several minutes. This is the time when I feel the most discomfort, as if I overshadow her small stature with my huge body frame.

I hate feeling this way, and I hate admitting it.

 

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.

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!

Day 34 3 February – revival

Several weeks ago my husband was mowing the lawns and noticed what he thought was a large weed growing in the flowerbed. It is safe to say that the weed didn’t get see the sunset. Early that evening I went outside to collect some eggs when I noticed the Christmas Lily is gone! I looked in disbelief at the non existing stems, and thought ‘surely my husband wouldn’t have mowed over it?’ But he did. I was disappointed so say the least and upset. They were very close to forming buds, which blooms around Christmas time. I know they are only flowers, but I honestly felt like sobbing.

About 3 weeks ago I noticed a stem peeking out of the soil…surely not…it can’t be the Christmas Lily? A few days later once the stem started growing leaves I could tell that it was indeed the precious flower. I was hoping that it’s not too late for it to bloom. Over the weekend it formed a bud and this morning my daughter came rushing into the house after feeding the chicken and with great excitement announced that the flower has bloomed. I was so happy and I knew that it was going to be my photo of the day. It is majestic, pure and elegant.

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This afternoon I couldn’t stop thinking about this plant, this single, lone standing, young plant. How it survived being torn up, shredded, hurt. How above all odds it grew, even though smaller than what it would have been. How it was revived through nutrition, water and sunlight. How it survived. Our mental health struggles are very similar to this phenomenon. Our disorders destroy us, strip us from our identities. But when we allow for healing we have an opportunity to grow again. And once we bloom, we are magnificent.

Next year, if it remains unharmed, the Christmas Lily will have a supportive shrub and more stems which will produce more buds. The same applies to us. If we take care of ourselves, feed our minds with positivity and our bodies with nutritional substance, we too will have opportunities to expand creatively, think clearly and make progress.

May your day be filled with rejuvenation.

Day 33 2 February – comfort

I’m not sure how comfortable I was today, as I woke up with an extremely sore throat, aching body and slight fever. I took a additional vitamin C, drank some Panadol and off to work I went. I don’t think I was the friendliest person today towards our costumers as I spaced out several times, whishing to be in bed sleeping this horrid cold off. I really don’t like being sick, I feel completely immobilized yet I have a family to cater too. I am also a whimp when it comes to pain, the slightest throb or ache and I pop a pill, which in itself is a struggle as I HATE swallowing tablets. I try to drink a liquid where I don’t taste the pill as it slides down my throat and heaven forbid it gets stuck!

The reason for my dislike in taking tablets stems from my two suicide attempts. Both times I took an overdose of medication (anything I could find my hands on), but they were all in tablet form. Unfortunately the memory of both those days are reawakened when I tilt my head backwards to swallow a tablet. I have since mentally healed from those attempts, but my recollection on feeling empty and the darkness that surrounded me still lingers. I have not written about the second attempt yet but you can read more of this time in my life under Blank Space.

Apart from feeling unwell today, I found solitude in comfort food aka mac & cheese, and I am truly grateful for modern medicine to get me through the day.

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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.