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

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