All Change, Please: Recovery (sort of) and Recovery Stories

Breaking with what seems to have become a tradition of NOT updating my blog, i thought today i might talk about recovery from mental illness.  Perhaps not everyone who does recover actually has a recovery story.  Maybe most people don’t, really.  It’s rarely that simple after all and, if you’re like me, it probably just isn’t an obvious or discrete period in your life.  It just… happens.

Today, i don’t feel like i’m an “ill person”.  In fact my Mum remarked the other day that she doesn’t see me as someone who’s ill, now; and to my initial surprise, i absolutely agreed with her.  I’m not sure i could accurately describe myself as “well” either, but somewhere over the past year, dog knows how or or why or when, i seem to have found myself on the scale of normality.

youneedhelp

Before you or anyone starts on with that “oh, but what IS normal?” bullshit, please save your breath to cool the porridge of your own uncomprehending thoughtlessness.  I am certainly not the only one who can very easily tell you what normal ISN’T: mental distress involves all manner of fun stuff, including (but not limited to) severe eating disorder behaviours; self-injury and self-harm; drinking yourself into a stupor of memory blanks; waking up in a police station in some far-flung part of town you’ve never been to before early on a Monday morning with no recollection of getting there; waking up to a messed-up kitchen covered in empty wrappers every fucking day; feeling completely worthless and hateful all the bastarding time; regularly stepping out into the road in the vague hope you might get hit by a car; shoplifting shit you don’t want or need at least a dozen times a day with no desire to do it and no idea why you’re doing it; feelings of complete lack of control and inability to trust yourself to do or not do ANYTHING; feeling so depressed you physically, bafflingly, can’t move; not being able to leave the house for days or weeks on end; wishing yourself dead but not having the energy or motivation to actually do anything about it and being really fucked off waking up in the morning because you haven’t died in your sleep — these are but a few examples.

Approximately a year ago all this, and worse, was me.  Today i am not like that at all.  Like i said, i don’t think i can actually call myself “well” either, but i DO think i am finally just like most people: a mundane life, full of petty grievances and irresolvable frustrations; i still get pointlessly angry over stupid, unimportant little things about which i can’t do anything; things are not amazing; i’m usually tired, cross and feel generally unwell in some non-specific way; every day is a struggle and i still have seriously shitty days when i binge eat, maybe make myself throw up, drink myself into a stupor or whatever; i still feel like i never have full control over my thoughts/actions and don’t feel able to trust myself; i still catch myself wanting to lose all the weight i’ve gained and i ALWAYS want a drink; i still have anxiety, which is sometimes incapacitating, but not always; etc etc etc.  I’m still lonely and sad and i still tend to isolate myself, because yeah, i’m still eye-rollingly socially awkward — things do not change overnight and these are habits/fears to be broken and gradually overcome, i suppose.  There’s a lot that’s still wrong, or not quite right, but it’s no longer constant, no longer all-day-every-day, no longer overwhelming and all-pervading.

Yeah, there’s still plenty of shit i don’t want, but all this is just called LIFE, innit?  It’s all right.  I don’t mind it really.  I enjoy my job in a FE college even though it’s only temporary and, although i don’t have much of a ‘life’ yet (after the turbulence of the last couple of decades, it’s time to rebuild it) i also don’t have much to worry about.  I’d imagine it’s approximately the same for most people who aren’t actually seriously mentally ill or in some other kind of real trouble, along a sliding scale that doesn’t include the extremes any more.

The other day i went out with someone new (a sort of date?  It was such a nice, ordinary thing to do on a day off work, i could hardly believe it was really happening.  It went all right, thanks.  No idea yet if we’ll see each other again, though it’s been a few days with no word so i suspect not.  But i digress) and my usual thinking for many years upon meeting someone new has been that, uh-oh, i’d better let them know about all this bonkers stuff as it’s only fair to let them know what a bloody nutter i am and what they’re potentially letting themselves in for.  Y’know, put them off ASAP, because it’s not like i’m likeable or worthwhile and they’ll realise this before long, so why prolong anything?  In fact i’m like that with people i already know — like i have a duty to update them or something, because when they say, “Hi, how are you?” that’s what they’re expecting.  Pity The Poor Mental.  Because what else have i got to talk about?

But actually, now, maybe that’s not what i’m all about.  There might be more to me than that!  Maybe i don’t have to justify or even explain myself to anyone and maybe i no longer have to tell new people either, because it’s kind of in the past and i don’t have an obligation to dredge that up now because… well, maybe it’s not really relevant.  Just maybe, when someone asks, i can just say, like everyone else does, “Fine thanks. You?” — and mean it, because that’s the truth today.  Now there’s a strange and unfamiliar concept to get my head around.

Because i am fine, thanks for asking.  I’m not awesome, i’m not deliriously happy; who the hell is?   For the record, treatment didn’t help me in the slightest.  All those so-called professionals and their patronising pity and/or their patient-blaming, all those friends/acquaintances telling me what a terrible/weak person i am, all that self-disgust and abject rage that i just can’t seem to control my own actions and my inner of cries of, “FOR FUCK’S SAKE, how hard can it be?”, and all the rest of it, all that stuff neither spurred me on nor did it break me.  I don’t love myself or my body or my life or whatever we Empowered Survivors are supposed to do.  I’ve long been utterly indifferent to myself and to my appearance, because i’m a fucking normal middle aged woman, not some fictitious, leaping image of youth trying to sell you tampons.  I do accept myself though, most of the time.  And as i said right at the beginning, i don’t have a recovery story to share with sufferers, much as i wish i had.  No, there was no miraculous emergence from my cocoon, no spreading of beautiful butterfly wings: my life has not transformed into something exemplary.  I’m merely fine, like everyone else.  I’m ordinary.  Which, in its own, really grey, very unexciting kind of way, is pretty extraordinary.  It’ll take some getting used to, but perhaps this is Early Recovery and the next chapter in my life — and actually, that IS awesome, if you think about it.

All manner of whatnot

Firstly, here’s something that you or your loved ones might find helpful:

http://www.bulimiahelp.org/course/kickstart-your-bulimia-treatment-these-useful-guides

There are two guides there – one to help a sufferer prepare for telling a loved one that they have bulimia and one to help a loved one deal with the news.

I do think it’s important to admit to it, to talk about it.  If people don’t know, they can sense you’re keeping something from them.  They’re not stupid.  They appreciate honesty.  Those few that turn tail and run, well, frankly, who needs people like that in your life?  As for talking about it, of course there are many people with whom you don’t feel able to go into detail; but that’s why there are therapists (if you don’t get on with one, try another), support groups (not just O.A. if that sort of thing doesn’t suit you), message boards (decent ones, i mean, that are properly moderated, like Something Fishy – beware of pro-E.D. boards) and so on, where you can tell it like it is.

Denial never got us anywhere, right?  So try something else, just to see how it goes.

So, Amy Winehouse, R.I.P.  It does hit me, a little bit, despite my lack of emotions and ‘normal’ feelings, when a fellow addict bites the dust.  I’m lucky, i think, to have not seen any of the ill-informed and judgemental bolloques that some people have been spouting about her.  About how it was her ‘choice’ and that she ‘deserved all she got’ and the usual sort of thing you get when a famous person shuffles off this mortal coil.

To be fair to those people, i think, to be honest, that it’s a defence mechanism.  It’s scary when a 27-year-old carks it, so long before their time.  And yes, i think people are afraid to admit that, there but for the grace of ‘god’* go i.  So they trivialise it.  I know i trivialise my own problems and am embarrassed to admit the seriousness of it, even to myself.  I know it’s not an exaggeration to say that bulimia is going to kill me.  Yet to my ears (or eyes, when i type it) it looks like some kind of teenage melodrama, so i make a darkly humorous comment or slightly off-colour joke and change the subject.

But lately i have been thinking about it a bit more, about how deadly this illness is and that i could very easily die.  Not just because of Amy Winehouse, with her alcoholism, drug addiction and bulimia; not just the shock, unsurprising though it was, of her dying so young so recently.  It’s because i know all the dangers and sometimes, especially late at night after a whole day of nothing else, i actually feel like this might be it.  I feel ready to give up, physically as well as mentally.

Sometimes i forget (perhaps conveniently) that part of my problem is anorexia.  I’ve hardly been eating lately, other than the binges and purges, so of course i feel weak and worn out, despondent and even slightly paranoid.  Have you read about Ancel Keys and his Minnesota experiment?  Malnutrition does that to people.  Anyway, i didn’t think much of it (and to be honest, i kind of still don’t) but a mate commented on my appearance lately; in fact a few people have said i look ill.  Cheers, you look a bit shit yourself, eh?

Anyway, where was i?  Anorexic tendencies – now there’s a good name for a band, ha ha.  It certainly doesn’t feel like i have these, when i’m stuffing my face with all manner of crap all day and most of the night… but life’s not so simple, is it?  There are so many myths around it all… look at this excellent article by the excellent Ilona Catherine:

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/08/01/daily-fail-strikes-again/

You may notice my own comment beneath.  I never comment on articles!  Well, never that is, except for this once, clearly.  A sneaky bit of self-promotion was included, i’ll admit, but the point i wanted to raise was that it’s (a) not all about anorexia, as if that’s the only eating disorder out there – and there’s more than one type of anorexia, y’know?  I’ve been anorexic myself for long periods of time, but often i’d still binge-eat and purge in some way or another.  And (b) that it’s not just the tabloids or the sensationalist programmes on the telly that spout a lot of ill-informed bullshit about this sort of subject: even supposedly reputable sources like BBC radio 4 and the Guardian and, yes, the Independent itself, contribute to the perpetuation of these stereotypes and myths and untruths that just make it harder for a person to seek and receive help.

It can be so, so damaging to be told that your problem is not valid, that you aren’t entitled to help and that frankly, you can go and fuck yourself.  If that’s happened to you, or someone you know, please please please, go to a different GP, try O.A. or another support group, try online support communities, you know – whatever it takes, don’t give up.  I know you’re not in a position to fight.  It’s awful that we have to fight when we’re at our weakest.  But if there’s someone who can fight on your behalf, or if you can find people to listen and support you, or if you can just take it a little at a time and do what you have to do, then please, do it – for all of us.

Do you really want to die young, before you’ve really lived?  Do you really want your gravestone to say, “(S)he was desperately unhappy, but (s)he stayed under X kilos”?  Fuck that.  You’re worth more than that.  We all are.


*Yep, still having trouble with “the G word”, as i like to put it.  Although someone said something to me recently that may have helped me take a small step closer towards being OK with it… i think.  We’ll see, though.  It’s early days, innit.

Blitzkrieg Bop

O, hai.  How iz you?

Yeah, everyone starts their blog entries, or zine introduction, or whatever else, with “sorry i haven’t posted in such a long time, but i’ve had all this stuff on…”  So i’m not going to, because it goes without saying, right?

Here are some things i’ve been meaning to write about, here in my blog, recently:

  • Going back to Overeaters Anonymous
  • Having a nasty incident and going teetotal
  • Money money money
  • My dissertation/placement
I think there may well have been more, but, well… i’ve forgotten what else.  Anyway, that’s quite  enough to be going on with, isn’t it?  It’s not like i’m an especially prestigious blogger who Must Tell The World Everything.  Even though i am a bit of a bigmouth and can’t seem to shut the fuck up, i’ll admit – part of the point of this blog is so i can Talk About That Shit here and not in my daily life where, quite frankly, i imagine most people i know are sick of me referencing it in every other sentence.  Let’s do ’em one at a time, then.

Twelve-step Fellowships

Yeah, i’ve started going to Overeaters Anonymous (O.A) again.  I’d been meaning to for ages – years in fact – but for some reason never got round to it.

(There’s also A.B.A – that is, Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous – but to be honest i prefer O.A because all sorts go, including anorexics, bulimics, binge-eaters and compulsive eaters; plus there are a lot of similarities between all eating disorders.  You can learn a lot from someone who might, upon first glance, appear to be very different from yourself.  I prefer the variety and i just prefer the style.  Seems many people do.)

So i went back, finally, after what, three years of intending to, perhaps?  Ha ha… never let it be said that i faff about or procrastinate, eh?  And to my surprise, it was very good to be back.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, despite having been before; i wasn’t sure if it’d be any good or if i’d feel weird or uncomfortable or anything.  But no, absolutely not: i was reminded how kind, accepting, welcoming and non-judgemental people can be.  They all have their own stories and real lives and experiences.  They’re all pretty amazing if i’m honest.

Now, i am still having reservations about the whole Twelve Step / spiritual approach.  I mean, what a load of freaky-cult pseudo-religious bollocks, eh?  To be fair, i don’t really think that – i’m just voicing (well all right, typing) what a lot of people think and, to a certain extent, what i did and still do think.  People who dismiss it like that, let’s face it, are the people who’ve never been.  But anyway, i certainly don’t think it’s bollocks, but i do kind of think, well, that’s not going to work for me.  I’ll just go along to listen and talk – you can see how that’d help.  But how do i explain my thoughts on this?  All this God and Higher Power stuff, well i can’t see how i’d do that – i can’t just switch faith on and off – nor, for that matter, can i see why i’d want to.  Meditating and saying i’m powerless and praying to some non-existent deity to ‘cure’ me?  How’s that going to stop me bingeing and puking?

Well, the answer is, firstly it’s not that simplistic.  There are all manner of things going on in the programme and within the meetings themselves.  People who ‘get it’ are there to support each other.  It’s all very well, me half-saying bah, what do i need them for when i’ve got loads of lovely mates who know about my shit?  I’m not isolated or lonely.  It might be a good thing for people who are, but i’m not like that.  Right?

Thing is, i do feel lonely.  I isolate myself, choosing the eating disorder over real life.  And there’s only so much you can talk about with your mates and your family, isn’t there?  They can be caring and patient and supportive – and yes, mine certainly are and i’m incredibly grateful and glad to have such amazing people around – but it’s hard for them to understand what we do and why we do it.  I mean, it’s hard for us to understand!  And let’s face it, it’s a horrible subject and we don’t really want to overburden anyone with it.

As for being so resistant to the twelve step approach itself, well i think i’m just being an arsehole, really.  What makes me so special, so different, that a programme that’s worked for who knows how many other people, won’t work for me?  And when did i get so wise and clever that i can know this before even giving it a proper go?  And finally: what i’m doing now certainly ain’t working, so maybe it’s time to try Something Else.

“Fuck-ups of the world, unite!  You have nothing to lose but your eating disorder!”

What’s next?  Oh yeah…

Having a Nasty Incident

A couple of weeks ago i got really drunk and things went badly.  I’ll point out here that i don’t have a drink problem, as such – but when i drink, i have problems.  I was stupid: i know i can’t take a lot of booze, but still i over-do it.

This time i seriously over-did it.  I woke up in hospital on Monday morning, still drunk, concussed, gash on my head, all my possessions gone.  Bruises everywhere that still haven’t gone.  Seems i slept on the street and maybe got robbed whilst unconscious.  Then i think i tried to walk home across London early in the morning, caught the bus with a complete stranger who paid my fare (perhaps altruistically, perhaps not), went into my local police station to shake the fella off then passed out as i left.

What i am certain about is that they then called an ambulance and my sister and later my Mum turned up to sort me out.  I spent the morning, a few days later, writing thank-you notes to the paramedics and everyone.  Thank fuck i wasn’t raped and murdered – it means i have another chance to live properly and take better care of myself.

So that’s it for me as regards alcohol.  I know people often say that, myself included, but i’ve never ended up quite this bad before.  Drinking just doesn’t appeal now.  I’ve never enjoyed getting even slightly drunk and i can live without it, thanks, especially if that’s what happens.

Some of my mates have said stuff like, oh, how awful – you must’ve been so scared.  That struck me somewhat.  Fear is not something i experience much, if at all.  No, i wasn’t scared, though perhaps i should’ve been.  If i felt anything much, it was more along the lines of mortified – that i could be so fucking stupid, act like such a cunt, upset and worry other people, piss them off with whatever drunken behaviour i, perhaps mercifully, couldn’t remember.

And all my stuff had gone and had to be reported missing or possibly nicked, bank card cancelled, new phone chosen and figured out (a particularly baffling subject for me), new this and that and the other.  It’s all too much to cope with and just served to remind me what a useless sod i am, no clue how to manage my life or look after myself.  At 33, that’s just shameful.

So it’s time for change.

My dissertation

Oh it’s all go.  Well, it would be, if i could do more than sit around in my pants staring into space with my mouth open.

Obviously i put on a few extra clothes before going off to where i’m doing my placement.  I don’t actually want to get arrested.

But it’s bonkers, how hard it is to fit all that work in around being unemployed.  Yeah, unemployed.  It’s bad enough feeling like a pointless waste of space, when not earning a living; self-confidence wanes and vanishes but time also loses its value.  I end up doing even less now, despite having more time than ever.  I sleep far too much and of course i Do That Thing i Do all the more when my time’s unstructured.

Just to give you an idea: quite aside from what went on earlier in the day, i’ve binged and purged four times just while writing this blog entry so far.  That’s almost eighty quid down the bog today alone – and this is budget bingeing.  Yeah, it seems a bit unbelievable and unreal to me, too; but unfortunately it’s only too real.  This is why everything hurts and why i’m in such a dire financial situation.  As my Mum says, it’s like being a drug addict – and she’d know because she used to work for the needle exchange.

It’s funny, or interesting, though, isn’t it – how ‘addiction’ appears to combine ‘a-‘ (not, or lack of) with ‘diction’ (speech).  I’m not sure it does actually mean that, because ‘diction’ comes from the Latin ‘dicere’ (to speak) whereas ‘addiction’, according to the dictionary, comes from ‘addictio’ which seems to be something to do with… deciding on and awarding property of uncertain ownership.  No, me neither.  I prefer the thing about not having a voice.

My dissertation, anyway – i don’t ‘alf go off on some bloody tangents, eh? – is underway this summer.  I’m on the final leg of my journey to being a qualified librarian.  Of course, there’ll be no library jobs – no fucking libraries, in fact – by the time i graduate.  Bah.  So i’ve been thinking about a move into the wacky world of I.T.  I know, right?  Nerd alert, nerd alert!  Still, it’s quite sobering to think, i’ll be qualified for something; assuming i pass of course.  And i’m nearly middle-aged.  Time to grow the fuck up, innit.

For my dissertation i’m looking at poetry in relation to health and wellbeing.  It’s amazing there, where i’m working.  People keep bringing me cups of tea and i’m surrounded by lovely books.  I keep getting distracted by all the lovely books though and have to make a supreme effort not to just read poems all day.  I’ve already half-wasted three weeks and i really, really don’t want to end up in that situation AGAIN where i’ve got two days left to do three months’ worth of work.

I’d like to write more about librarianship and politics in this blog.  I’d like to write about things that matter to me, those other things that factor enormously in my life.  It shouldn’t be all about bulimia and how miserable and crap i am.  There are other aspects to me, other things that define me.  I have hopes, ambitions, a dark sense of humour.  Libraries are my passion.  I’m a feminist and an anarchist.  I’m a veg*n.  (I mean, i’m vegetarian at the moment, but when i sort my stupidhead out, i’ll go vegan again.)  I used to feel so strongly, get enraged or excited; i used to really care about stuff.  I find it really difficult, these days, to muster more than slight irritation or despair.  I keep telling myself i won’t be this way forever, but then i wonder, is it because i’m getting old and i’m just too tired?  I’m writing a novel (ohmigod, aren’t we all?) although it’s on hold till i’ve finished my Masters.  I love zines (i write one myself) and comics (or comix, as i like to call them).  And my dream is to be on radio four one day.

What about you, dear reader?  What makes you, well, you?  Even if it’s buried under the misery and overgrown with weeds and you’re not sure how to dig it out again, what can you think of or even just remember being really into?  What about now – can you see a way to get back into those things?  Or, if you’ve been through and out the other side, how did you re-discover, well, life?

Street Harrassment

Now, in case anyone’s in any doubt, it is not a compliment when a stranger comments or catcalls.  Even if it’s meant as one, it’s not: it’s insulting, rude and downright intimidating and women do not need the approval of strange men to walk down a public highway.

Thank god it’s not as bad over here in the U.K. as it is for our sisters over the pond, but it ain’t perfect here neither.

Of course, i’m sure anyone actually reading this already knows better and in a way i’m preaching to the choir.  But maybe you could challenge a mate’s behaviour if he acts in such a disrespectful, degrading, stupid manner or tells you about a time when he did.

Yeah, all right, some women get drunk and lairy and shout at men too.  It’s far less common and, frankly, not the same sort of threatening; but nonetheless, that doesn’t make it all right.  I’m sure it’s pretty horrible for the men concerned when that happens.  From/towards any gender, harrassment is harrassment (or however you spell it), so i say “shut the fuck up” because frankly, who asked you and what makes you think your opinion is so very important that you’re entitled to shout it across the street?  And really, what response do you expect??

“But some women do find it flattering!”

Do they really?  Or are they just smiling and acting like they do, in order to avoid confrontation?  Or do they think they ought to enjoy the attention, because that’s what society expects of men and women?  Are they of a basically insecure disposition whereby they feel they do need the approval of complete strangers with little sense of what is and isn’t socially acceptable to validate them?  Or have they been brought up to believe that men’s approval is all that really matters?  And  Isn’t that perhaps the sign of a fucking sick society?

What do you think about this?

One of the (very few) advantages of being anorexic and very underweight was that i became invisible to men – if you can call these childish little arseholes men – and  all the bloody comments stopped.  Maybe i looked like a boy myself.  Who knows.  Who cares.  It shouldn’t happen to anyone, regardless of shape, attire, location, time of day or night, anything.

And now the old anger i used to feel about this topic is seeping back into me.  It’s something i’m not used to feeling and i know that going off and doing that thing i do with food will follow shortly.  I’m still not sure i “do” bulimia as a reaction to things on a day-to-day basis – but maybe it is to pre-empt them, because i used to get so angry about so many things i could barely cope.  I often forget how angry and how intensely i used to feel things.  I’ve lost relationships and huge swathes of my life to anger.  This is an interesting and relatively (sort of) new concept to me: that maybe my ‘triggers’ occur, not daily, but stretch far back and act almost (but not quite) like PTSD – without flashbacks because they’re blocked out with these all-consuming ‘behaviours’.  Does that make sense?  Am i wrong to compare it with PTSD?

One of the ladies (from that telly programme) and i, had a few chats about this sort of thing whilst waiting around on filming days.  She certainly hated the fact that boys had gone after her because of her figure, the way she looked.  I wonder how many people do become anorexic, bulimic, turn to bingeing or compulsive eating, in part as a way to disappear (become “too” thin or fat to attract unwanted attention) and lose their strong emotions, like anger, which you just don’t feel when you’re so ill.

In my case, it was (and is), of course, a lot more than purely getting a bit of unwanted attention and disrespectful comments – and i’m sure it is just one of many factors for anyone affected.  But i have often said, half-jokingly, “well, i’m a very angry person”, with this big grin on my face, making out like it’s all a big joke, or “oh, i don’t have feelings – i’m British”.  Hahahahaha, eh what?  And yeah, i used to be a very angry person, both outwardly (vocally) and inwardly (self harm), but then i retreated into the dubious ‘comfort’ of first anorexia then bulimia and, well, it all went away, sort of, y’know?

But you know what?  It’s no better.  Every time i’m there, crouching over the lavvy with my stomach so full i worry i might rupture the bastard, forcing that crap that passes for food back up again, i tell myself: “remember this.  Remember how much it hurts, physically and mentally.”  And yet it seems i forget every time and go right back to it, hours, even minutes later, like an abusive relationship.

And it’s the longest relationship i’ve ever been in.

Flying Visit

Hello, dear readers (yes, both of you!  Hi Mum, hi Dad!) and how are you?

Firstly, please accept some of these apologies – i’m afraid they’re a bit chocolatey – for my apparent inaction lately.  Yes, i’ve been too self-absorbed and crap to update this blog in, like, a couple of weeks.  Sorry about that, but i’m sure you coped.

Indeed, now i’ve only time for a quick update.  I think i’ll employ our good mate Ms. Bullet Points, then elaborate later, as i have to get my knickers on and fuck off – to a job interview, at long bloody last.

Things that remain the same:

  • When people ask how i am, i still say, “oh, same as ever”
  • Yes, that means i’m still ill – in that way – though the diarrhoea seems to have abated at last (to be replaced by the usual state of semi-constipation and what i like to call “glue poo”)
  • I’m still jobless and even more skint/in debt than ever
  • Still struggling with my dissertation proposal for uni
  • School’s out for summer though – just got to finish the above so i can do my placement and dissertation which, in theory, starts NEXT WEEK.  Oh my god, where does the time go?  Oh, yeah…
  • Public sector workers are still getting the crap end of the stick so i’ve been posting the following on arsebook since midnight: “Remember when firefighters, teachers, nurses, doctors and lollipop ladies crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? No, me neither. Please copy and paste to your status for 24 hours to show your support for the strikes against the government.”
  • Still having trouble shortening that sufficiently for Twitter…

Things that are new:

  • I’ve started going back to O.A.
  • I’ve been and come back from visiting “the ex” – yeah, i’m definitely dumped
  • I got recognised in the street the other day, by someone who (very tactfully) said, “excuse me… were you on a documentary?”  Fame!  Or, er… not.
  • Job ninterview today!  If you think of it, between about 12:30 and 2, please feel free to send luck and success my way (central London).  Am currently trying to figure out how to mask the smell of desperation…
  • London Pride 2011 on Saturday!
I’m sure i’ll elaborate and remember loads more things when i get back later.  Bet you can hardly wait, eh?  Oh go on, be nice and pretend, eh?

Life Without.

Hello again.  And how are you, this grey and rambling morning?

Something i’ve thought about a lot, in the past, then kind of accidentally tried to ignore for ages, but now am thinking about again – a very compelling thought, actually – is this: getting better and recovery from eating disorders… what does that even mean?  What would happen if i just… stopped bingeing and vomiting?  Ate only what and when i intended to eat, not restrictively, not overdoing it, barely thinking about it the rest of the time?  Ceased to give a fuck about all the things i so obsess over or fear now, or at least went through the motions, living life as if i didn’t have any eating disorder, a bit like Pascal’s Wager.

It seems to follow without question that i’d feel “better” – but how?  How does “better” actually feel?  Bulimia makes me feel rotten, psychologically and physically, of course.  I have no time or money because it all goes on you-know-what.  I have no energy or enthusiasm, no motivation or  inclination.  I don’t understand the concepts of “fun” or “happy”.  My concentration span’s a joke.  I have only a vague idea what daily, weight-maintaining meals look like – for as long as i can remember i’ve only ever been anorexic, or on a weight-gain programme in a hospital; or i’ve tried to do it “right” but look where that’s got me.  (Scoffmore Bingeypukesville, in case it had escaped your notice.)  Plus of course there are all manner of other complications and layers of misery, lots of other things wrong with me: so many things that i’m so used to, i suspect i barely notice most of them anymore.

I realise that, in a strange, fucked-up sort of a way, i consistently choose bulimia over other people and things, over life itself.  It wasn’t always like this: i used to fight it.  I used to feel like a woman possessed when “it happened” – like the loss of control you get when you’re on a bike, careering down a hill, suddenly realising too late that the brakes don’t work.  Shit!  Too late!

It’s not like that anymore.  Now i’m wise, if you can call it that: i know the bike has no brakes, yet i get on it time and time again, knowing what’s going to happen and that it’s going to be messy and miserable – but going ahead with it all anyway.  Why, i’m always asking myself.  Why the fuck do i do it, when i actually do not want to?

But i do realise that the only way to stop is to stop; and i also realise that there’s nothing so simple or easy about that.  If it were, i’d have done it a long time ago, believe me.  I can’t remember a time when i wasn’t bonkers, so quite frankly i’ve no point of reference.

But surely there are others out there who wonder the same things and maybe even have an inkling of how things were and/or could be again.

Back to that all-consuming (‘scuse pun) question.  How would it feel, i wonder, if all of a sudden i stopped eating cack, stopped bingeing/overeating altogether in fact, stopped skipping meals, stopped throwing up… and started eating consistently healthily, exercising sensibly and treating myself with care and respect?

So yeah, presumably, physically and psychologically, i’d feel “better” – but what does that actually mean?  In what specific ways?  I always feel sick, sore, unhappy and listless and can’t remember a time when i wasn’t like this: like i said, i’ve nothing to compare it against.  I can’t imagine what Life Without an eating disorder would be like, so how can i head towards it?  It’s a genuine, not rhetorical, question – i want to get there, need to in fact, but… how?  How, whenever i put a foot on the proverbial path, it turns out to lead me into a dead-end and off a cliff of confectionery?

Assuming i’d have loads more time and, eventually, money, how would i spend and save these fascinating resources i barely know?  Would i achieve greater things in work, study and life?  What would it feel like to be calmer and to get a grip, to have a fuckload more time and money to achieve greater things in my personal, academic and professional projects, to not constantly feel on the edge of a breakdown and like i can’t cope with even the smallest of things that life necessarily throws at me?

I suppose it goes without saying, really, that there’s only one way to find out.  Try it for a day, lovey.  Just for one day.  But you know what – it isn’t that simple.  I may admit to “choosing” bulimia over life, but when you’ve been doing it over and over again for years, decades, how do you Choose Life?  How do you choose, when there isn’t an alternative option – or maybe there is, but i’m buggered if i can see it – it’s hardly a choice, you know?  I don’t know how to even look for, let alone find and act upon, that fabled other.  It’s a well-trodden path, this; the other is so overgrown i can no longer see it.  I’m not sure i even know it’s there.

Maybe we all are drawn to take the path of least resistance.  But some people can tear themselves away, see and take Frost’s famous “one less travelled by”.  I don’t know how to do that and i don’t know how to find out.

Does anyone else, reading this, who has any kind of detrimental disorder, wonder this sort of thing too?  Do you have an idea in your head as to what Life Without would be like, be it lucid or vague?  And do you have thoughts on how to get there?  Maybe you remember what it was like before the eating disorder.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to eat normally, live normally, not constantly fret and worry about food and everything, not ache all the time, not get scarily dizzy if i so much as tip my head back, not feel numbly depressed, devoid of emotions and like death or dying most of the time.

The other night, when i was even more down and full of self-pity than i clearly am now, i ended up having a horrible, uncomfortable conversation with a mate of mine who, quite frankly, doesn’t need my problems on top of her own. It went a bit like this:

Me: “Mehhh mehhh mehhh!  Mehhh mehhh mehhh!  Blah blah fucking blah!”

Her: “Oh for fuck’s sake, you’re depressing me. Shut up and snap out of that downward-spiral mentality or you’ll never get anywhere.”

Well, my words, not hers, but that’s basically what she said.  And it was entirely fair and a hundred percent true: i was just talking myself into a tizzy.  I do it a lot, i know.  It’s a pointless, stupid habit and one i need to break – again.  In fact i did manage to break out of this chasing-my-own-tail bollocks briefly, admittedly when i was in an eating disorder hospital, but unfortunately i slid back into my Bad Old Ways gradually after i got cut loose and now i’m pretty much back where i started.

But, as i said to her, somewhere along the line i got old and tired and the fight went out of me.  Which is a shitter, cos i need it, eh?  How do i get it back?  I don’t know.  I have a fascination with other people’s “turning point” – because i’ve hit a sticking point.  I want to stop all this crap but i’m stuck, somehow.  That was how the conversation started.

But when she said stuff like, oh, it takes lots of determination and positive thinking, etc., i kind of got… well, not cross, but i suppose i did the equivalent of rolling my eyes because this is precisely what i don’t have and can’t find, despite searching down the back of the settee and the armchairs: i’ve lost the will and the motivation for so many things so how do i get it back like some people do?

Case in point: i was a committed vegan for about a dozen years – for all the “right” reasons, i hasten to add, and nothing to do with cutting out foods to lose weight.  It was because i really believed in it (and still do) and i wanted to step lightly on the earth and opt out of all that exploitation and cruelty and oppression (of humans as well as animals), not to mention the impact on the environment… so actually, no, it wasn’t difficult. It took some effort, because of course you initially have to check ingredients on packets and whether cosmetics contain fish scales or dog’s testicles (i kid you not), whether shoes and belts and guitar straps contain leather, which restaurants and caffs will happily make something nice for you or piss in your risotto, and so forth, until you get used to what is and isn’t suitable for vegans, plus you end up learning how to cook a lot of things from scratch.  But if you really want to do something, these are trifling hurdles that can be kicked over in an instant.

Then i went back to being vegetarian and ended up anorexic* – again, not eating animals was NEVER about restriction; indeed i’ve no idea, really, why i stopped being vegan – and now, although i’m still very much a strict vegetarian (no, i do not eat fish!  Since when did they grow in the ground?) and although i still believe very strongly that a vegan diet is the “right” choice, although i know how to do it and there’s nothing i particularly want to consume or buy that isn’t vegan… i can’t seem to muster the motivation that i used to find so easy.

So that, i concede, is my sticking point.


You know, what i feel like doing right now is, kind of, screaming and smashing something.  I say “kind of” because i don’t know what that thing is, mind you.  I think it’s something intangible: the barrier i’m up against at the moment, psychologically, perhaps.  I feel like i need to kick and bite and break that unknown, nameless something but, i think, perhaps i turn that fury upon myself because i don’t know what it is i want/need to break.  So i break myself.

What am i so angry about?  Oh for fuck’s sake.  It used to be “everything” but now, well, i just don’t know.  I don’t feel angry – or very, very rarely and even then, it’s incredibly fleeting.  It’s quite possible i just block it, numbing myself out with bulimia; but i don’t do it intentionally.  I do get these frankly nuts, recurring, incomplete thoughts, such as “i want to smash myself up” or “i want to break my face” but i know that’s not the whole truth.  I also get sentences like “i want to go…” and i suppose i kind of want to end that sentence with “home” but i don’t feel i have a home, nor ever have had one.  I suspect that’s part of it all, as well, but what the fuck?  I’m not homeless, i’m not isolated, i have friends and family; i really am very lucky – so what’s missing?  Why don’t i belong anywhere?

For a while i thought “home” was with my girlfriend, but when she recently dumped me, i was slapped with the realisation that that’s no longer an option and maybe never was.  I feel lost and adrift – even more so than before.  And i know from past experience that the heartache never goes away, you just kind of live with it; and, you know, i really don’t need another gaping hole in my soul.  I’m enough of a mess already!

But it’s tough shit.  There’s to be no screaming and breaking things for me.  Instead i just sit around in my pants eating sweets, half-heartedly trying to apply for jobs or do my uni work, just feeling mildly sad and mostly drained.  I’m nearly a middle-aged woman, you know?  Like i said, These Things i Do have become so ingrained that – like my flatmate yelled when, stretched to breaking point, she had another go at me the other day – it’s just something i do every day, as part of my daily life.  And i give the impression, at least, that i don’t give a fuck.  Again, entirely fair – her anxiety rockets sky high because how can anyone live with someone who’s always in the bathroom, puking when she’s trying to have her tea, puking when she’s trying to work, puking when she’s trying to sleep, puking all the fucking time because, quite honestly, i don’t think i can stop.  Not without some major intervention.  But as we all know, there’s nothing out there for those of us who just try and carry on as best we can, nothing unless your BMI drops below 15; when we all know that you can die from eating disorder related complications at ANY weight.

Which is kind of why i just don’t know the answers to my own questions. I’ve no idea what it would be like to “just not do it”.  Would i be calmer?  I don’t know.  There are many other stressors in life: i accept and welcome this.  But i don’t think bulimia calms or soothes me, like some people might feel their eating disorder does.  It just makes me miserable and, as i said above, numb.  Lethargic, listless, no motivation, no give-a-fuck, nothing.  Depressed, rather than calm.  If there is a (rare) day when i don’t binge or overeat and i get into bed having had a “good”** day, i feel pleasantly surprised at best, but also frightened of and resigned to the “fact” that i’ll almost certainly binge and purge tomorrow.

Back on the subject of money because, yeah, i’m afraid this is something of a chip on my shoulder.  Good grief, this is an expensive illness.  I’m incredibly frugal in all other respects, except this one.  I don’t mean i deprive myself; i just don’t need many possessions to feel like a valid person.  I couldn’t give a shit about fashionable clothes, i don’t enjoy going out to nightclubs or bars, i quite like ONE drink because the decent stuff is, well, nice, but hate getting drunk and i only smoke a couple of roll-ups a month, if that. The things i enjoy most don’t cost anything or are very cheap – a walk in the park, a free gallery or museum exhibition, my mates’ bands playing in seedy pubs, pottering around in libraries and reading.

What would it take, then, for me to get better?  What needs to change?  What do i need?

Trouble is, when people ask me that (and healthcare professionals often do, of course), i have nothing useful to say.  I don’t know what would make a difference because i’ve always been like this, innit.  The only thing that’s ever stopped me from doing what i do was being under constant scrutiny by a nurse in an eating disorder hospital.  And that’s not a long-term solution.  I can’t ensure there’s always someone else around: life doesn’t work like that.  I certainly can’t live my life in a hospital.  I can’t even get a short-term symptom interruption programme, for fuck’s sake.  Chances are i’ll be dead before i get even any outpatient ‘help’ at all and i can’t honestly say i’m that optimistic about what that’ll entail, having tried and failed so many times in the past.

But after all this outpouring of misery, all right, i mayn’t be optimistic in the way i used to be, but i haven’t actually given up hope.  There’s still O.A. which i used to go to, though it obviously didn’t help me then because i ended up almost killing myself through starvation and threatened with section if i didn’t go quietly (i went quietly); but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for me this time.


*This is, of course, a vast oversimplification of the matter. I’ve had some kind of eating disorder for as long as i can remember.  Being vegan certainly improved things, for a good long while, but it never really went away because, well, it’s never that simple, is it?

** Yeah yeah yeah, all-or-nothing thinking.  I don’t really think like this.  I was just being lazy and trying to describe it in a way i thought most people would understand, without being EVEN MORE long-winded than i already am.

Published in: on 11/06/2011 at 1:59 pm  Comments (5)  

Part of the Problem

You know what really doesn’t help?  Apparently, for us eating disorder sufferers to recover, we have to come to terms with the fact that life is not about weight and shape.  But when it comes to treatment, we’re given the message, loud and clear, that it is ALL about your weight.  This is precisely one of the problems i wanted to raise on That Telly Programme i was on; indeed, they even asked me about it and i replied, but of course, that ended up on the Cutting Room Floor along with 99.9% of everything else.

This is part of what i’m talking about: eligibility criteria.  This from the biggest and, arguably, best Eating Disorders unit in the country.

http://www.national.slam.nhs.uk/services/adult-services/eatingdisorders/eligibility-criteria/

So, basically, it comes down to this.  If you’re severely anorexic – actually at Death’s Door – then, and only then, will you get ‘timely’ (!) help.  You know, timely in the sense that it’s got to the point where you’re so ill, you can’t read, finish a sentence or even look your parents in the eye; so ill you can’t climb the stairs unless you crawl; so ill you start to feel euphoric because that’s your body’s way of making impending death less of an ordeal.

But if you’re bulimic, a binge-eater, or a compulsive eater, malnourished, physically and mentally fucked, but your BMI’s not low enough, you can fuck off and hang around on waiting lists, in limbo, for eventual outpatient treatment if that, till such a time as you get so ill there’s no option but to sling you in a hospital bed, because you would actually die if you tried to carry on as normal.

That’s precisely what’s been happening to me for the past ten or twenty years; and to dog knows how many others.  I’ve no idea what the statistics are as regards people dying, at a normal weight, of eating disorder related complications; but anyone can find out from a quick internet search or a flick through the literature, that bulimia* can lead to tooth decay, malnutrition, osteoporosis, electrolyte imbalance (blood salts are fucked up), irregular heartbeat, heart failure / cardiac arrest and all manner of other things… not to mention the psychological damage and massive financial debt.

Don’t, as i seem to say far too often, get me wrong: i do not blame the NHS.  Andrew Lansley, Tosser, says we “can’t afford” the NHS: http://s.coop/1oia; and yet apparently we can afford to continue subsidising the fucked up banking system with £100bn/year of taxpayers’ money.  Plus who knows how much on some Diamond Jubilee shit next year.

But, as i attempted to point out on That Telly Programme, there is a dearth of help out there for normal-weight and overweight people with eating disorders, however severe.  It bothers me that things like that got cut out: that was the whole point of going on the telly – to raise awareness, not re-inforce or gloss over the problems and assumptions bulimics face all day every day.

Seriously, now.  Is someone like me, who binges and purges 6-12 times a day and is now over £20,000 in debt but “looks normal” or “acts normal” not worthy or in need of help?  Or what about someone who has no social support at all and quite possibly can’t even manage to go to the doctor, let alone get the help they actually need to live a free and happy life?  Are people like this less worthy and less in need, than a visible (by which i mean visibly anorexic) person, who lives with their parents and has other people to fight on their behalf for treatment for which they can’t fight, themselves, and for which no-one should have to fight?

Oh yeah, i have a lot of issues and yeah, i shout about them from the relative safety of my soapbox, chocolate in one hand, bog brush in the other.  But it’ll take a lot more than one mouthy bulimic thirty-something out-of-work librarian with a blog and a penchant for Writing Stern Letters to change anything for the better.  ‘Something’ needs to be done – and by everyone.  But what is that elusive something?

Just look at this, for example, if you haven’t already:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/31/incapacity-benefit-cuts-mental-health

So people who really need financial help are denied the paltry sum they get in benefits, while bankers and people like Andrew Lansley, Tosser, have more moolah than they can sensibly use?  Because, what, they’ve earned it?  By doing what, pray?  The distribution of wealth in the world makes me spit bile, if you’ll pardon my somewhat inappropriate (well, wholly appropriate, let’s be honest) figure of speech.  The fact that people are driven to suicide, too… i can just imagine some snooty fuckers rubbing their hands in glee, saying, well, that’s one less scrounger to support!  All helps to meet those targets of getting the lazy sods off benefits!

Here’s part of a message i recently got from the Eating Disorder service:

“I confirm you are on our waiting list and we will be in touch once we have a date available – probably not until August/September due to long waiting list”

So what happens, then, if you can’t afford private healthcare, but the NHS unit leaves you to continue bingeing and purging your way through the next four (or, in my experience usually considerably more) months?  And even if you can afford private healthcare – is that the answer?  Help the rich, fuck the poor?

Oh, don’t mind me.  I’m at a loss as to what to do about the world, that’s all.


* Don’t believe for an instant that binge-eating and compulsive-eating aren’t ‘real’ eating disorders, with their own set of dangers. Malnutrition, lethargy, osteoporosis, depression, inability to concentrate…  Again, plenty of information can be found on the internet and in books.

** http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl1jPqqTdNo

Time flies when you’re… oh. Yeah.

At the moment i’m out of work again.  I’ve been temping whilst studying for my MA but the last one finished about a month ago.  I still miss my old (permanent) job in the library.  I worked there for six years.  But i was in a rut and i wanted to go back to university, to become A Proper Librarian, so i know it was for the best that i left.  But i do miss it.  And now’s not a good time to be looking for work, is it?  Then again, is it ever?

At home, with no structure to my day, only my rather vague resolve to work on my research proposal, and with no-one else around, my eating’s worse than ever.  No surprise there, eh?  So i’ve been looking for work, half-arsedly, in this strange state between life and death.

But i know that having a job won’t magically change my life.  Now, having a real job, a proper one where my skills are fully utilised, where i’m interested and engaged and busy with both my mind and my hands – that, i think, will make a big difference.  It’d be knackering at first, but that’s what i need.

Of course, the sort of work i can get, with a sickness record like mine and constraints on my time for studying and endless doctor’s appointments, well… i know from experience that it’s not great.  It’s mindless drudgery.  I can just work with one hand and binge with the other, sloping off every so often to the toilets.  And that’s just what i do.  Perhaps it’s a way of getting through the day, in order to ‘survive’ doing a job for which i can barely drag myself out of bed.

When the “trolley dolly”, at my last temp. job, came around to our floor one morning with her usual array of slightly battered fruit, unpleasant snacks and sugary drinks, as ever she spotted me stuffing my face with my usual bags of confectionery.

The previous time she’d been in, she’d joked, “Hide it under the desk, eh?” as i performed an unimpressive attempt at subtlety, chowing down on yet another bargain box of chocolates in a strategically-placed carrier bag.

This time, she said, loudly enough for the whole office to hear, “What are you munching?  You’re always munching something, aren’t you?”

I smiled, nodded mock-ruefully.  I did my little polite laugh and turned back to my computer, pretending to work.

Undeterred, she continued, “I seen you on the telly,” still too loudly.  “I know.”

“Ah, busted,” i said, feeling maybe the tiniest bit of shame, 99.9% indifference.

“No, is OK.  You keep munching,” she said.  Magnanimous.

And i did.  No-one around me said a thing.  Used to it, i suppose.  Like me.

“Ah,” i kind of felt like saying, but didn’t, “what can i do?  I’ve been doing this for over twenty years.  Maybe it’s all i know.  It gets me through, these days.”

I don’t fight it, like i used to.  Maybe i don’t even hate it like i used to.  I used to scream at myself, inwardly, stop, stop!  Put the food down!  I can just stop now!  Fucking stop it!  Walk away!  But something went on auto-pilot and my body carried on, despite my mind.

But now?  Resigned, accustomed.  This is what i do.  We all have vices.  We’ll all die one day.  Happiness is fleeting; who needs it anyway?


I don’t really believe that.  About not needing happiness.  Everyone needs – and deserves – a happy, decent life.

I’ve had a few messages since going on the telly.  Some are sad and desperate, wanting to recover but not knowing if they ever will.  Some of them are from partners of eating disorder sufferers, worried sick, wondering how they can cope.  A few of them are so young.  If i had a normally-functioning heart, i think it would break a little, each time.

A few are from well-wishers, telling me, oh, you’re so brave; or oh, you’re doing so well.

Thanks.  I’m not, you know.  Neither brave, nor doing well.  I’m as ill as ever – maybe slightly worse at the moment.  Binge-purge wise, i’m approximately as bad now as i was a few years ago, at my worst.  Then, of course, i was frighteningly under-weight, whereas now i’m at a normal, healthy weight.  Which doesn’t make me healthy, by any stretch of the imagination; but of course, that’s what people see.

So perhaps going on the telly hasn’t made the difference i’d hoped for, as regards raising awareness of “the invisible disorder”.  And although it’s helped the other two as regards further  medical treatment, i’ve stayed the same as i ever was – just as i expected.  Nothing really changes much, for me, so my old optimism that used to astonish people with its unceasing buoyancy, has dipped and waned into the reflection of a new moon.

Was it all a big fat waste of time, then?  Well, i don’t know.  I don’t regret doing it, but for my own objectives (which didn’t include my own recovery, because a few meals and shopping trips aren’t going to “fix” anyone), maybe it wasn’t so successful.  So little material was used, so much was over-simplified or simply mis-represented, that i’m left thinking we may as well not have bothered.

I wanted to tell people that, look, i’m an apparently normal person, with a very debilitating disorder.  This is what it’s like.  I don’t do it on purpose, or to piss anyone off.  I’m not a white, middle-class, heterosexual, teenaged girl.  I carry on, stoically most of the time, coping with life as best i can.  I’m not in A&E every week.  I’m not trying to kill myself: i’m trying to survive.  I may well be like this for the rest of my life.  There are loads of other people out there, of all ages and all sorts, who are very ill.  And you can’t tell by looking.

There are dog-knows how many people out there with eating disorders.  Old, young, middle-aged, queer, straight, asexual, transexual, intersex, male, female, neither, tall, short, fat, thin, medium-sized, black, white, brown, blue with yellow spots… there are people who overeat compulsively, people who binge, people who purge, people who binge and purge, people who over-exercise, people who chew and spit, people who only eat certain things and cut out entire food groups… and yes, there are white, middle-class, heterosexual teenage girls with anorexia.  There are as many different kinds of eating disorders as there are eating disorder sufferers.

Say what you like about this illness; but it does not discriminate.

But people do discriminate.  Even if they don’t realise, they have pre-conceived ideas about eating disorders.  Strangers, acquaintances, even healthcare professionals.  “Aren’t you a bit old for this?”  Or, “you’re not thin, so you don’t need help.”

There are so many people with eating disorders who are at a normal weight, or who are overweight, but although there is some (and it’s by no means enough) treatment for anorexia, there is almost nothing for bulimia, binge-eating, or compulsive over-eating.  If you look normal, if you’re (oh god forbid) FAT, if you act normal or put on a brave face and appear to be coping as best you can… you can fuck off.

The squeaky hinge gets the grease.

It’s another thing i’ve accepted.  I may be ill for the rest of my life.  People like me slip through the cracks for decades.  The illness gets so ingrained, it becomes part of us, harder and harder to beat as the years drain away.


Now… i often wonder, as i swing by my usual confectionery stops: do the shopkeepers recognise me?  Do they notice what i’m buying and guess what i’m going to do?

Back in The Old Days, i’d assume they were too busy and disinterested to notice, had so many customers there was no way my face would stand out.  But of course, that was Back Then, before i was on the telly, announcing my madness for the nation to gawp at.  Now it’s far more likely people will recognise my face.

And when i buy £50 worth of confectionery, eny fule can put two and two together.

Eating Disorders and Collateral Damage

It’s tough being the partner, friend or relative of someone with an eating disorder – or any kind of disorder or addiction.  In all the fuss around the person with the eating disorder, the other people involved are all too easily forgotten.

Pretty often, people ask me: how does your girlfriend cope with you being bulimic?  Doesn’t it upset her, that you’re doing that to yourself?  Why do you still do it?  Why hasn’t love ‘cured’ you?  Is she OK about it?  Or, what can i do to help so-and-so who has an eating disorder?

Well no, of course she’s not OK about it and of course it upsets her.  She may be going out with me, but she’s not a complete nutcase.  She copes because she accepts that she has to.  We all have to accept people’s bad points as well as the good, if we’re to accept a person at all.

That’s not to say everyone can tolerate something so distressing.  Anorexia and bulimia have destroyed some of my relationships in the past – one of them quite spectacularly; this is, sadly, one of the realities of Living With An Eating Disorder.  It’s wrenched some people out of my life; it’s pushed some people away gradually and over time; yet others can’t accept it and maybe have chosen to not think about it and carry on as if it’s not really happening.

I suppose to an extent that’s what i do.  I’m altogether too good, to be honest, at not thinking about things – all sorts of things – just putting them away in a closet of my mind where i can’t see them.  Yet at the same time, i do acknowledge and accept things the way they are, more and more as the years drip by.

Perhaps things change as we get older.  We can accept things we couldn’t accept before, such as that we’re actually not that powerful and we can’t change other people.  I’ve accepted that, no, love does not cure everything.  I suppose we all have to calm down in order to survive: we get more worn out and tired – that includes people who haven’t got an eating disorder (or any recognised disorder) too – we get subdued by major stresses, yes, but also just by life, work, mundane worries, etc.  It all takes its toll.

As time slips away, we feel things less strongly, we feel less angry, less passionate; we no longer belligerently feel like we SHOULD have all the answers, nor that we MUST change the world or control how other people behave anymore.  I have some grey hair now; i’m always tired and have aches and pains all over the place; i no longer have the energy to stomp my righteous boots till 4 a.m.; i don’t actually have the inclination.  I can’t even finish a book in less than a week these days.

That probably sounds all very depressing, but actually, from my point of view, it’s just another thing i’ve come to accept.  We all have limits and we must know what they are.  I mean, i don’t mean to sound like the veritable octogenarian dishing out wise advice.  How can i, when i clearly don’t have the answers?

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the world, but there’s also a lot that’s right and good and wonderful.


Are you the friend, partner, relative, colleague, teacher or anything like that, of someone with an eating disorder?  Have a butcher’s at this – it might help:

http://www.mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditions/eating_distress#friends

The thing is, my girlfriend, my mates and my family DO mind that i’m bulimic; and at times i get very sad thinking about how it affects them.  But like i said, i quickly pull my thoughts away from such things, rather than get upset.  If i didn’t, how could i get through the day?  But i think people need to know it’s not their fault, not their responsibility, not something they can do anything about… and not to take it personally.

Oh, there are always theories, aren’t there, as to why someone like me Ended Up Like This.  This or that factor in her childhood, or this or that incident or event drove her bonkers.  But what good is laying blame anywhere?  How does that help anyone deal with now?

If you want to help someone with an eating disorder, you do need to accept that this is the way they are, AT THE MOMENT; that “here and now” is the only place anyone can start from, and they’re the only one who can change things.

As anyone who’s ever had anything like an eating disorder, addiction or similar will know, of course, it’s not as simple as just “choosing” to get better. None of us chose to get ill. It takes a lot of work to even realise where you are, mentally and emotionally; often people will SAY they want to get better – that they’re ready, even, to get better – but they may not realise that they just aren’t yet.

A typical example might be someone with an eating disorder who’s underweight: they hate the way their life is, because it’s fucking miserable, but when faced with having to put on weight, they think, oh no. I want to get better, but i don’t want to put on weight.

Well, there’s no such thing as half recovery. If a person wants to recover, they can’t pick and choose. They have to take it all. And that’s REALLY fucking hard, especially as it will mean giving up the one thing, or the main thing, that makes a person feel ‘safe’.  Such as… retreating into food, as if it were a shelter (and it is, in a fucked up sort of a way: it’s familiar and we know how it works; it’s something we know how to do; it’s a distraction; it rarely brings surprises).  Like being underweight and therefore visible or even invisible.

It’s different for everyone – i hardly need tell you that, dear reader!

But for as long as a person ‘needs’ to cling onto any aspect of their eating disorder – and they will have good reasons, weird though it may sound – for as long as they are unwilling to completely let go that piece of driftwood to which they’re hanging on so grimly, for fear of drowning… they’ll never be free.  They need to trust, just trust that they’ll be all right – that they can swim.

So why am i still gripping that bit of flotsam, when i obviously know SO bloody much?  I dunno, maybe i’ve got so cold from being in the water so long, that my hands have frozen and i can’t uncurl my fingers.  OK, this metaphor’s getting ridiculous now.

Importantly, partners/friends/family need to think a little more about themselves and their own needs.  What do you need to do, to keep yourself OK?  I mean, if it means distancing yourself, so be it i suppose.  That’s what i’ve said to people i’ve ended up having to lose in the past.  You can be a friend without being a lover, you can be a good mate without being a best mate, you can step back but stick around, if that will mean YOU can cope better. Because you coping better means you can be there for someone, whereas if you’re not coping, you’re not helping – in fact you can end up dragging them down.

OR, you can hold on as you are, in the relationship you have with them, and you can accept that everyone’s got problems of some sort or another.  You won’t meet some miraculous person with no baggage whatsoever – anyone who reckons they haven’t is either deluded or lying!) – but you must just work out whether this is a problem YOU can deal with.  Just remember, you haven’t got a magic wand with which to make everything better – or how you want it to be.

Because all too often, in life, we really really REALLY want something, but we just can’t have it.  And there’s nothing we can do.  And that’s just how life is.

Many authors have said that life is a series of obstacles to overcome. That’s the point of life. You’re faced with a problem, you solve it, you move on to the next problem, rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. Sometimes the “solution” is to accept that there is no solution, that there’s nothing you can do right now, if ever. That’s all life is.

The best thing, in the end, is Honesty And Communication.  That’s what it always comes down to, innit?  Talk.  Don’t pretend.  Don’t hide.  Don’t make out like everything’s OK when it isn’t.  Forget pride and forget shame.  They don’t help anyone.  We need to understand, not avert our eyes.  We need to stand up and let people know more about these things, not hide away in denial.

If you want to help someone, talk to them, ask what it is they need.  They may not know yet.  But Rome wasn’t built over a single cup of tea.

The only person who can work out what’s going on inside someone’s head is that very person.  Deep down (maybe very deep down) they know what will work for them.  It takes a lot of patience and a lot of talking, but anyone who’s capable of giving that level of support to another is a Seriously Remarkable Person.

We need more people like that in the world.

Published in: on 11/05/2011 at 1:57 am  Leave a Comment  

The contradictions of self-hatred

Because of (or perhaps despite) years and years of therapy, i am (a) incredibly self-aware and conscious of everything that goes on in my mind and why; and (b) still bulimic.

But anyway.  Something i’ve noticed – a long time ago, but only recently put it into words – is that when those familiar thoughts, along the lines of, “i’m such a stupid worthless old crapbag”, pop into my mind… it’s because i’m remembering past wrongs.  Stupid things i’ve said and done, ridiculous ways in which i used to behave, teenage arrogance, pathetic childish moments from when i was… a child.

And even as i think “i hate myself” i think, no i don’t.  I’m all right.  No better or worse than anyone else.  (I’m an anarchist, so of course everyone’s equal, in my eyes – but let’s not go into that here.)  Of course, there’s plenty wrong with me.  I’m bulimic, for a start; i’m boringly self-absorbed alongside.

Despite the fact that i did such-and-such a stupid thing ten, twenty or more years ago, despite the fact that i remind myself no-one but me even remembers, let alone cares… yet still these intrusive thoughts dwell on my mind and kick up the dust of self-disgust into my eyes.  How can i just put the past where it belongs and forget about it?

I’m sure everyone gets intrusive thoughts.  In fact, everyone gets moments of self-hatred and quite probably often eats a bit too much chocolate when they do, from time to time.  It’s just that when you find this happens all day every day, you know you’ve got a problem.

But although it seems that most people with an eating disorder have certain triggers which will set them off, actually when i  binge-eat, it’s not as a result of negative thoughts, feelings or situations.  I just… do it anyway.  Without any apparent reason, or ‘trigger’, i stuff my face with everything i can carry from the local shops and may as well be flushing a handful of notes down the toilet every day, because that’s where my money ends up.

My challenge, i realise, is still to find out why; or more importantly, how to break what really seems to me to have become some kind of inexplicable habit… and choose not to do it.  Why would anyone choose to do this to themselves?  Self-hatred?  I mean, is that really the answer?  And what’s the answer to the more important question: how do i get better?

What’s more baffling is, why don’t i get better?  Why cling to a so-called coping mechanism that does nothing to make me feel better?  Of course, when i say “feel better”, i’m talking twisted logic.  But when people have a destructive habit or addiction, in a funny way, it tends to make sense.  “Smoking calms me down” or “I drink to forget”.

But me, well, i hate everything about bulimia.  It does nothing for me.  I hate how wasteful it is – of time, money, health, water, food and packaging.  There are people starving because of the shit distribution of wealth and resources while the planet can’t sustain how much we produce and waste.  I hate how pointless and futile bulimia is… how ineffective and useless i am.  And all it does is make me tired and hopeless.  So really, why do i do… what i do?

As ever i have more questions than answers.  And isn’t that what life’s all about?

But on the plus-side, my periods seem to have come back properly.  After nearly ten years, i’ve now had two in a row, only five weeks apart!  AND i’ve been getting tampons in, for the first time in my life.  Plus i have a massive zit on my chin.  Woop woop, third (or is it fourth?) puberty!  Bye bye anorexia!  Now, if i can just show bulimia the door…

Published in: on 03/05/2011 at 7:16 pm  Comments (4)