Just keep swimming!

Pretty good quote from Disney there.

When I last posted on here I thought I was coming out of a blip, and then said blip continued. I 100% thought I could positive think myself out of the hole. I don’t really recall what happened but it worked very temporarily, perhaps a day, and then things became worse again. I ended up in hospital a couple of more times, but only overnight…and then slept a lot in the day time. I mean positive thinking is vital and I 100% believe that what we think, we become. That being said mental illness and being low is not exactly the same as being negative, and positive thinking can only do so much. I think when you are at rock bottom, it takes more than positivity to help you, but once you are beginning to feel a little better, positivity can really help.

Things are better now though! I went through a couple of days at the weekend where I was looking after myself better, but I felt incredibly low, which is the usual process after a blip. It’s like you are letting go of the ways you have been coping, so it’s relatively “normal” to feel a bit rubbish and it’s a lot like when you have been physically ill and it takes a few days to get your energy back, but here we are!

I can’t say I am entirely sure how things have turned around. On Friday I was in A&E from about 3am-7am…but I was determined to still go to work, but then I fell asleep. I was so angry with myself when I woke up. I woke up 15 minutes before I was due at the hospital for an appointment that I was planning to go to on my lunch break. I had to practically run to the hospital and I was not exactly wide awake. The clinic was running an hour late, and I basically slept in the waiting room for another hour and then saw them. They asked a lot of questions and were worried about me, so they wanted me assessed by the crisis team but I managed to avoid it. I walked home in a daze and really disappointed in myself. I think sometimes you get to the point where you are drained, tired, and sick of letting yourself down. I spoke to the mental health team I am under for a planned phone call and I attempted to act “fine”…but the plastic surgeons, police and the university mental health team had all contacted them within a day so the “I’m fine” routine didn’t work. When I got home I rested all afternoon/evening, and my pain levels were so high that even with prescription painkillers, I was struggling. It helped me to keep safe because the idea of more pain was, to be honest, intolerable.

I am still on extra meds, plus the pain killers and antibiotics. Apparently it’s harder to get antibiotics these days but I swear I’m given them so often! It can’t be healthy!

I’ve been to work, and the gym for the last 3 days. On Monday I saw my MA supervisor, and I’ve also been super challenging myself with food. At home especially. I had been eating the same things every day for all meals including my evening meal, and then having set rules about lunch at work that I won’t go into, but I’ve had different meals every evening, eaten foods I haven’t eaten in a long time (cheese, avocado, salmon, cous cous, houmous, crisps and more), and also eaten different things at work. Every time I start panicking about it and my head wants to go back to eating the same old things I actually get really angry with the thoughts and I feel like, and excuse the swearing, “f**k you, you don’t get to dictate my life any more” and I love it when I am able to have this attitude.

I actually feel like my recovery from my eating disorder has had two stages; stage one was forced treatment as a child, stage two was actively choosing to “recover” as an adult, and I feel like I am entering a third stage where I am no longer accepting what I previously have. I’ve not been “ill” in terms of my anorexia for a few years, but I have been making a deliberate effort to keep my weight at or just below the target weight range eating disorder services set for me, doing as much cardio as possible, eating at certain times, eating the same foods, avoiding a lot of foods and other similar things…and I feel like I am beginning to challenge that.

If I gain more weight, who cares?! I’d rather be happy. Just because my current weight is what I need to be to be regarded as “healthy”, doesn’t mean it is my bodies healthy weight. I mean BMI isn’t the most reliable of measures, everyone’s weight/BMI varies, and a minimally healthy weight doesn’t have to be the end goal. A BMI of 20 is healthy, but so is a BMI of 21-24. I choose a little extra weight, happiness and being able to eat dessert any day! More than that, I choose being mentally healthy over spending my life restricting what I eat, not eating things I enjoy and having to put so much energy into not gaining weight. There are far better things to be putting so much effort into, and some food is good for your body, some food is good for your soul!! A healthy body is important, but so is a healthy mind.

I am a big believer in lifestyle changes for anyone who has weight related issues, rather than dieting. I am a big believer in body acceptance – body positivity is great, but actually you don’t have to love your body all of the time, but you can accept it and not criticise every aspect of your appearance. I despise the money making diet industry. I despise the guilt that so many women (and men), feel over their bodies and what they eat. I despise body shaming of any description albeit fat shaming, or thin shaming, and I absolutely hate that some people feel they have to adhere to certain standards. I hate that we are bombarded with messages such as ‘fat is bad’, ‘low calorie = healthy’, and ‘no pain, no gain’ – and I want to practice what I preach!

AMEN.

A Reminder of Why I Gained Weight

Sometimes I still catch myself looking back and wondering why I “let” myself gain 40lbs. Who does that? Who chooses to gain 40lbs? I feel like a failure. I cannot figure out why the hell I ever chose to do that. I regret it. But then I push those thoughts away and focus on the here and now.

Things have been slipping for months though. You see despite weight restoring I have never really “normalised” my eating; I still choose the lowest calorie sandwich in the supermarket, I still check the calories for restaurants and choose accordingly and I do not know the last time I chose something because I WANTED it. I avoid dessert unless I can “make up” for it, and I have a huge heap of food related rules. I do not eat things that my disorder stupidly labelled as “bad”; chocolate, burgers, sweets, white carbs, pasta, high fat foods (except peanut butter haha), crisps, non-diet versions of things you can get diet versions of, potatoes, milk, ice cream, chips…you can probably guess the kind of things. I eat the same breakfast, lunch and tea every day, and the same snacks, and the only variation I have managed to add in is different sandwiches at work so long as they are from the healthy living range, and different protein with my evening meal sometimes..but which is still limited to a few options.

I have been at my target weight of a BMI around 20 for a while now, but the food related rules have been plentiful. Eating out still scares me, Christmas still terrifies me although to a lesser extent…and I still often wish I could eat what the other people I am with are eating. I still avoid social situations involving food, I still long to eat certain things and I still feel like I deprive myself. And I convince myself it is ok because my weight is “fine.”

A year or two ago I started exercising again in the form of the gym. I have stuck to three times maximum mostly, with the occasional increase before reducing it back down. Three times is fine, I convince myself…while ignoring the thoughts I have. The panic at not being able to go because it is bank holiday, the panic that I might not fit in three times if I go home. The desire to go every day and the irritable mood I find myself in on my days off. The increased frequency of going an extra day. The obsessive thoughts about burning fat and building muscle.

It has gradually worsened. And in the last 6 months it has completely deteriorated. I had a few weeks where I was running three times, going to the gym three or four, and I ended up triggering an old injury and I felt suicidal. I know that sounds dramatic, but that is what happened. I have been weighing myself daily again, and when I was arrested and placed in a cell (don’t ask!), I was not bothered about the prospect of a criminal record so much as I was bothered about not being able to go to the gym; when I was released I rang my Mum crying that I could not go to the gym (it was too late) and that I was in so much pain I could barely even walk. (By the way I was not charged and I hadn’t committed a crime..it was mental health related and complicated – I will explain if anyone wants to know, but not on here!) I have been going to the gym extra days per week, doing a lot extra cardio and walking 10-20km every day, even if it means walking in the middle of the night.

I should have seen how bad things were getting but I wanted to ignore it. Or rather, because I am a healthy weight, I felt like I had to just act fine, pretend to be fine, get on with it. It was like I did not deserve to feel like I had a problem, and I know that the one person who really knows how things have been has been irritated with me for trying to pretend there is not a problem when it is blatantly obvious that there is, but the underlying issue has been the weight part. How can I need to cut down my exercise or eat more, or challenge my eating rules, when I am at a healthy weight?

But the thing is, being in that semi-recovered but still pretty damn disordered state leaves you not just miserable, but also very vulnerable to relapse, and while I feel like I only relapsed last weekend, it had been coming for a while. Last weekend I decided to lose weight. I was in bed when I made the decision and I planned to simply cut down a little on what I was eating, but then I got up the next morning and ate less than planned for breakfast, then skipped lunch and snacks, ate less than planned for tea, and skipped supper. I went to work without breakfast and had no lunch, I just ate a fiberone bar. Roll on to yesterday and I had a glass of unsweetened almond milk, some egg whites and veg…burnt 500 calories in the gym and 600 calories walking.

And guys, it worked. In 6 days I lost 6lbs. YAY WELL DONE NATALIE (not). How I feel reminds me of a quote by Marya Hornbacher:

“And when, after fifteen years of bingeing, barfing, starving, needles and tubes and terror and rage, and medical crises and personal failure and loss after loss – when, after all this, you are in your early twenties and staring down a vastly abbreviated life expectancy, and the eating disorder still takes up half your body, half your brain, with its invisible eroding force, when you have spent the majority of your life sick, when you do not yet know what it means to be ‘well,’ or ‘normal,’ when you doubt that those words even have meaning anymore, there are still no answers. You will die young, and you have no way to make sense of that fact.
You have this: You are thin.”

You are thin. And that is all you really have.

You are depressed, anxious, isolated, suicidal and empty. But you are thin. And at times your head convinces you this is what you want, especially at the start…but then one day it hits you. I remember a moment where it hit me in my last major relapse. It was 2011, I think. I was on an acute medical ward for refeeding in a general hospital. I took my first shower in the bathroom there and they had a full length mirror. I had been avoiding mirrors, and the sight of my own body reduced me to tears. I was thin, and that was all I was. I was nothing else. I was empty, and dying, and I cried. Usually I was pleased to lose weight, to be told I looked sick, to be wasting away…but it was like suddenly my eyes opened up to the reality, and I knew that this was not a life I could carry on living.

I remember looking at my body, seeing that I really was just skin and bones, and crying. I remember thinking “what have you done to yourself?” I remember having to crawl to get to bed because I could not walk at home, and as soon as I was in hospital, not being allowed to go anywhere except in a wheelchair. How can you be 19 years old and in this state for the third time?

 

 

So yes, I spent the last week losing weight as quickly as I could, taking diet pills that used to be prescription only on the NHS but were then banned for causing heart failure, and feeling moody as hell. I had a rubbish appointment with my mentor at uni. I have laid in bed making weight loss plans. I have worried about managing my degree and work, and doing pretty much anything. I have cancelled plans, avoided going home for my sisters birthday, and to be honest, been a wreck all while hiding what I was doing from everyone.

And then today I got up and I ate breakfast and I walked to Tesco and bought food, and I ate lunch and tea. I took the day off the gym, and after I had walked so far, I forced myself back home…and it was literally force. And I do not know how I have managed it. My stomach hurts. I have cried. I feel like I am about to gain a stone in the coming days and weeks, and I think I need to make the decision that a BMI over 20 is not the end of the world. That if I want to minimise the risk of relapse and stop living my life by so many damn food and exercise rules, I have to accept my body wants to be at a higher weight than eating disorder services told me to be.

Back to wondering why I ever let myself gain weight:

I did not gain weight because I wanted to gain weight. God if I had waited for that day, I would be in a grave by now. And that is the thing. An eating disorder is not a diet. There is no ‘end’. You just keep on going and I am one of those people who either eats nothing, or eats 3 meals and a snack every single day without failure. I am obsessive, and very rigid and that is how I go. There is no middle ground.

I have remembered why I gained weight.

  1. Social stuff! When I am losing weight and restricting I avoid people. I avoid family and friends and anything that might involve food. This is my biggest reason to eat; I am focusing on wanting energy for work and to help at an event on the 7th of June. I have arranged to see friends on both Monday and Tuesday, and my sister for the day after her birthday. This will be challenging, especially with food, but I know that being able to remind myself that eating = being able to spend time with the people I love will help me manage eating properly again. And I am not going to just try and return to where I was a few weeks ago…I want to start eating what I WANT and not trying to maintain a minimally “healthy” weight. I do not want to spend my life micro-managing my eating and weight.
  2. Because when I starve myself and become severely underweight I am an awful person. At my worst, as a teenager, I attacked my family, smashed windows while cooking, threw plates of food that my Mum was trying to force me to eat at her, and hid food in socks, pockets…anywhere. But beyond that…I was silent, empty, dead. I know if I relapsed I would sit with my mentor every week in silence, or talk and feel as rubbish and as guilty as I did yesterday. I do not want that life back. I do not want the life back where nothing is important except avoiding food and losing weight.
  3. I really, really, want to go back into treatment, and USE it. GET BETTER. If I go back there at the end of this year, two stone underweight, I will not be able to use it to get better. (It is not for eating disorders) I will struggle; I will struggle to talk because I will be a zombie. I will struggle with eating there. I will struggle to manage to physically cope with getting there and being there all day. Managing just to sit there in silence would be an achievement. I need to be better than that; I need to be able to make the most of it.

There a whole heap of other reasons; enjoying food, being warm, not wanting my osteoporosis to get worse, concentration, Christmas, energy…but those three are my main reasons.

It feels strange admitting what the last six months have been like, and what it has accumulated to in the last week. It feels scary to admit that I am not as “recovered” as I would like to think, or as I would like other people to think. It is hard to say that I have a lot of things I need to change, and possibly some weight to gain, when I am not really underweight and nobody can see that there is a problem.

But there is a problem. I do not care if you are under eating, or over exercising, or not; I am telling you that if you are psychologically obsessing over food, or have rules surrounding food and exercise that cause anxiety, make you depressed, and that dictate your life to you, you deserve more.

You deserve so much more. And I deserve so much more, and if I want to get anything from this week of hell, it is to get truly better for the first time ever, and make other people aware that being at a healthy weight does not mean you are “recovered”, or that you cannot gain more weight. And that being “fine” does not have to be the end. You are worthy of more than “fine” and I am here to tell you that just like me, you can fight for more. You can fight for more than just “fine” and for more than managing, and for more than having to follow your life with rules. I am here to tell you that being weight restored does not mean you cannot still be struggling, and does not mean you have to pretend to the rest of the world you are ok when inside you are still fighting a battle.

Between rock bottom and recovery.

Everyone talks about rock bottom, and talks about being better but it feels like nobody talks about the in-between. Everyone talks about rock bottom as being this one particular solid place you hit. This one particular solid place you hit right before you get better.

I have spent some time searching online to find something I could read that did not just talk about this, but nothing seems to really come up. I want to understand. I want to be understood. How do I manage this stage? How do I put it into words? How do other people do this? I want to read someone else’s words, and feel less alone.

I cannot find them.

I do not know if it is specific to certain mental illnesses, like borderline personality disorder, which are more long-term and up and down, up and down… but rock bottom for me is not one time or one place, nor does it always look how you would imagine.

I have the kind of rock bottom times you read about a lot when people talk about their mental illness. The hospital admissions following serious attempts at harming or killing myself, like New Year. On December 30th I took all of my prescription medication I had been collecting, and I woke up in hospital on January 2nd. I think about that a lot. I woke up with no recollection of the paramedics taking me to the hospital, and no recollection of being in hospital. I woke up in a different year. To this day I have no idea where I was in the hospital or what treatment I had. That sounds like a rock bottom place, right? The sort of rock bottom you read about and think “Oh my, that is bad.” The sort of rock bottom that would make a good real life story. Or what about when I sat with my legs over the edge of a multi-storey car park? That was definitely a rock bottom kind of moment. Sadly what made it rock bottom for me was the fact that fear was forcing me to stay alive. It was a moment where I realised I had little choice in living, and walking down from the car park was far from a moment where it all clicked and I suddenly wanted to be alive. I took three more overdoses instead, and ended up in hospital on a drip each time. One time I ended up in the psych ward. It must have been awful, right?

And it was.

But this world between rock bottom and recovery is worse, I think. It is longer. It requires so much more. It is painfully slow. The bad times are horrific. I wish I could point out a particular time and say this was rock bottom and that it does not get any worse; but rock bottom is not some fixed tangible place. Rock bottom is where you make it. For me, the car park does represent a rock bottom, but rock bottom could have gone further. It could have changed. It could easily have ended up being somewhere else.

I hate that rock bottom moments in people’s stories within the media need to have the shock element to make them newsworthy. I mean sitting on the edge of a multi-storey car park and being found by security was pretty rock bottom. And people would be interested in that, maybe shocked, and sad. People are not so bothered about the in-between world.

The world where I do not wash for days upon days. The world where the sofa and my bed are the only two places I feel ‘safe’ (and I do not really feel safe at all). Nobody is so bothered about the nights when I cry myself to sleep, miss deadlines, withdraw myself from everything and everyone, or have to seek emergency support to stop me from self-harming, or overdosing, or finding myself back on top of the car park. It is not so interesting when the person does not actually do anything. I think people think it means it is not so bad, or perhaps I wrongly assume that. But it does feel that way. That by not hurting myself, things must be better or easier or somehow less painful.

I will tell you now, not hurting myself is much more painful than hurting myself.

It is like with eating disorders. Everyone is fascinated and interested in shocking images of underweight bodies. Stories that tell readers that this girl was on deaths door. They would be interested in the parts of my story where I would not even drink water or brush my teeth for fear of gaining weight. The bits where I ended up in hospital. People are less fascinated by the battle of eating, but eating any way. The battle of not wanting to gain weight, but gaining any way. They think that means that the problem is better, or easier, or perhaps even over.

Everyone with an eating disorder knows that is not true. I have not had any serious issues with my weight or eating, apart from small lapses, in years. It does not mean it has gone away, but nobody is really bothered that I had two months where things got a bit worse again and I lost a bit of weight. Nobody is really bothered that I struggle to eat out, or eat the exact same things every single day. It is not life or death stuff.

My previous psychiatrist was the first professional who made me feel like there was someone in my life that knew that gaining weight, eating more, and not hurting myself, was the harder option. I recall some of the things she said. She told me that I did not need her support to destroy myself, that I had proven I was perfectly capable of doing that by myself. She told me to eat, was to choose the harder path. She told me that to not take an overdose, to not cut my skin, was harder than giving in. She saw my weight going up, and she did not think everything was fine. She knew it was not. She knew inside I was falling apart.

By her understanding this, she probably saved my life a million times. Her understanding of the struggles I was facing when I was doing all of the “right” things, is what kept me doing the right things even when they felt incredibly wrong. If she had thought that my weight gain meant I was happy and absolutely fine, I would not have been able to explore just how difficult it all was. I would have kept it all inside, and I would have, in the end, gone back to restricting and losing weight. Her understanding that I needed her support most when I was looking after myself, and keeping myself safe, helped me to keep going. If she had assumed things were great purely on the basis that I had not self-harmed since she had last seen me, I would have slipped backwards.

The biggest thing I have ever needed to get better, is for someone to recognise that “getting better” is more painful and more hard work than not. That the time I needed the most support was when I was fighting against the thoughts inside of my brain. A brain that is very often trying to kill me. All I have ever needed is someone to see that I am managing to look after myself, but still sit in front of me and tell me they know I am not ok.

Right now I am in a good place with my eating. A genuinely good place, but that is not to say my eating disorder is not present every single day, it is. There are some real shit times still; probably at some point every day. But I have gained so much knowledge and understanding, and so much help, that even now my previous psychiatrist is no longer present in my life, in the moments where I could easily slip backwards, I hear her words in my head. They are no longer just her words, they are mine too. Her retirement did not hit me that hard. I wondered why for a while, but then I remembered something she said; that one day I would have got what I needed from her and be ready to move on. I got what I needed, and it is inside of me for life. I am ready to move on and work on the rest of my issues elsewhere.

The self-harm and suicidal thoughts side of things is a work in progress. Bloody slow progress. Painfully slow. Sometimes so slow I feel like I am sinking. My focus right now is on stability and I swear to god I am sick of hearing that word. I head the word ‘stable’ and my eyes automatically roll back. I have, in the last week or so, come to acknowledge that right now I am not really aiming to “get better” as such. Not really better. Right now I am aiming to survive. I know, it sounds defeatist and depressing, but it is not. Not for me. I mean, just surviving is crap. But it is also essential. Sometimes, temporarily, it has to be enough. Sometimes just surviving is brilliant. My plan is to survive for now; to be stable and reduce/minimise/stop my destructive behaviours. The “getting better” bit will come after that. Aiming for my end goal right now just leaves me feeling deflated and defeated. Aiming to cope and survive is best for me right now. It means that I do not feel disappointed in myself for still feeling so god damn sad every single day.

My biggest realisation is that the help I could return to mirrors (I think and hope) the attitude and understanding of my psychiatrist; that not engaging in a behaviour is much harder than engaging (or a different kind of hard at least). And that support is still VERY much needed after someone stops hurting themselves regularly. And my belief that the people who I might return to for help in the future know this, gives me an insane amount of hope, and an insane amount of trust, in them and in eventually getting myself where I want to be. I just hope that everyone can find someone who gets this, and if you can’t, I hope you can be brave enough to tell someone, and give them that chance to be the person who supports you when you are roaming in the no mans land between “ill” and “recovered”.

rock bottom

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017 – Not your typical “before” and “after”

It is Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) this week.

Originally I was going to get people onboard to make alternative “before” and “after” images – get people to submit photographs representing before and after in a way that was not using images of emaciated bodies. This felt complicated; what images would do that? An image of someone alone, then surrounded by people? It did not feel completely right nor possible.

Then I gave up on doing anything for two reasons; number one, because I was feeling deflated. What is the point in raising awareness? It does nothing. I felt sick of hearing about mental illness. I struggle with it every day and I want it to go away. Why talk about it? I want to run away from it. Number two, what is the point of any of it? I felt like help does not help, and that all these campaigns do is glorify eating disorders and other unhelpful things. I did not see the point – to understand where I am coming from, this article is partially helpful. I really advise you read it as it makes many of the points I feel we need to become more aware of; it is a problem in the mainstream media, but increasingly more so on social media. It is what my message is for EDAW 2017 (and probably every EDAW ever).

I have also wrote three other posts – the last one being my favourite:

This year to tackle the issue I have with EDAW images I have decided to focus on making posts via graphics on social media myself. There will be two different types:

  1. Alternative “before” and “afters”
  2. “I have to learnt to…” – which talk about things I have learnt in recovery to show was recovery is really about, beyond food or weight.

To see these posts, and to share them, take a look:
Instagram
Twitter

They are also available on my personal Facebook account, and on Friday 26 March I will post a collection of them on here.

 

 

 

 

Why we need to get angry at the diet industry.

My postgraduate research is focused on social media and dieting. I have looked at the history of dieting and the role of social media in reinforcing the ‘thin ideal’, and I am now beginning to look at how social media is used by people with or in recovery from an eating disorder and how social media is used for body image activism and education. For my final research project I will be looking at the impact of female fitness and dieting accounts on social media users.

There is a reason I am so passionate about this topic, and that reason is connected to having had anorexia nervosa, but it runs so much deeper than that. My experiences of anorexia as a teenager, developing into an adult, have seen me become very aware of the messages that the diet industry puts out there. I do not buy into any of it. Living with an eating disorder has made me less immune to the diet industry than the typical person is, of that I am sure.

What I have become most aware of goes beyond the impact that diet culture has on people with eating disorders, and my interest now is heavily on the impact of diet culture on everyone. Being surrounded by other people my age (and of all ages) has made me extremely aware of this; as someone in recovery from an eating disorder I often find myself questioning who is the one who has had the disorder. It often feels like the people around me are now more disordered than I am.

I am anti-dieting. Ridiculously anti-dieting. This does not mean I am against weight loss. It does not mean I am against healthy living, nor does it mean I am against exercise, weight lifting, or most other things. It does mean I heavily question standard approaches to weight loss, and how we are defining healthy. It does mean I am against diet pills, valuing ourselves based on our weight or shape, and denying ourselves pleasures in life.

The dieting industry is primarily a money making industry. I often remind myself of that. Those diet plans you pay for? Yep, they care about money above anything else. The message is that if you spend enough money, you can be perfect.

Diet culture has been built around the ‘thin ideal’ that tells us that in order to be happy and healthy we need to be thin; it leads us to judging our self-worth on how we look and what we weigh, and often it even leads us to judging other people in this way too. Weight gain is seen as being related to a lack of self-control and so we see ourselves and others as flawed when they gain weight, and yet often when people gain weight it is because they have learnt to let go of the strict rules and boundaries dieting places on our lives. Do not feel guilty for falling into this trap – sadly, I think we all are guilty at times, and this is because of the messages we receive.

The reality is that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes based on a multitude of factors beyond lifestyle choices; genetics, age, gender, race, physical health, mental health and hormones. Our size changes over time, and it is not something we can always control.

Health is so much more than a number on a scale, and happiness is never going to be found in pounds lost.

We need to learn how to trust ourselves and our bodies. We need to get angry. We need to get angry at a society that dictates how we should live our own lives. Angry that we are sent mixed messages. Angry that we feel bad for eating chocolate, and feel that we are better people for eating “clean”. We need to be angry that we can book a consultation with a plastic surgeon who will point out all of the surgery we need to look better like we are not enough as we are.  We need to be angry that our body dissatisfaction is now affecting the younger generations. We need to be angry that we are being pushed down a road into a way of living that can ruin the happiness of our children. We need to be angry that when we exercise we are thinking about how many calories we burnt rather than running like we did when we were young; for fun.

Health is important, but health does not equate to thinness. We need to be approaching our lifestyle in a way that is sustainable – and dieting is not. We need to be leading a lifestyle that is in balance, and that enables us to eat and exercise and enjoy ourselves.

I always remind myself that nobody is on their death bed thinking that they are glad they said no to dessert every now and then.

 

 

 

The Reality of Anorexia Nervosa: There is no magic wand

Mark Austin has admitted to The Guardian that he told his daughter, who was suffering from Anorexia Nervosa, to “starve yourself to death.”

Undoubtedly it was not an easy thing to admit to, but the reality is that when you are a parent with a child who is quite literally starving themselves to death, you get desperate. I can recite the desperation of my parents when I was destroying myself. What do you do when your 15 year old daughter is laid up in bed, and has not eaten or drunk for the last week? We all say things in anger, but more than it being in anger, it is pure desperation to get a reaction, to change the situation. It is hoping that she will get up and eat.

The problem is, she won’t.

People close to me went to some shockingly desperate extremes that make me want to reach out to Mark Austin and say “it’s ok, really it is ok”. Some of the extremes people around me went to were not ok.

This admission from Mark is to make people see that eating disorders are a serious illness that cannot be ignored. People suffering with eating disorders are not selfish, they are not attention seeking, and neither are they vain. In order to help someone get better it is important, vital in fact, that we realise that this is a serious, life-threatening condition, that is going to require much more than anger, threats, or “just eat” comments to treat. It is a mental illness that requires treatment. It is a mental illness that carries the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders, a fact, that even today still shocks and terrifies me.

There is no easy fix to an eating disorder. There was nothing my parents could do, not really. They could love me unconditionally, they could get me the help I needed, but this was something that was going to take a lot of time, and professional help.

At 15, I spent a year on a child and adolescent psychiatric ward being fed, some time of which was spent sectioned under the Mental Health Act because I could not see that I was ill. Life consisted of breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, tea, supper. I was fed all of the foods we are told not to eat. Doctors were forcing me to do the opposite of what most GP’s are telling their patients to do. Sponge and custard after lunch and tea, toast and cereal for breakfast. Insane amounts of milk (full fat of course!) and fruit juice. No exercise. Meals were followed by observations where we would have to sit in the lounge, watched by staff, being told off for so much as tapping our fingers. Bi-weekly weigh-ins where we were woken up, taken to the toilet where we would have to prove we had been, and were not water-loading, followed by the dreaded stepping on the scales.

It was a strange time of my life. I forgot the real world existed, I almost thought the real world was on pause, waiting for me. But it was not, and when I was finally discharged I had gained 37lbs which I lost in a matter of weeks.

I was not prepared for life outside of the hospital. It was a bleak time. I started giving up on the idea of ‘recovery’. I thought at best I would manage to survive.

Here we are, nearly a decade later. I underwent further treatment;  I had outpatient treatment in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services  (CAMHS), plus outpatient and day patient treatment in the local adult Anorexia Nervosa Service including some time on a gastroenterology ward in a general hospital following a bad relapse…and here we are! (I make it sound simple, ta-dah! It was not.)

Am I 100% fully recovered? Nah. Am I surviving? Yes. But more to the point, I am doing more than that. My eating disorder does not have a devastating impact upon me anymore. I can go out for lunch, eat in front of people, have cake on my birthday and roll my eyes when people tell me how they no longer eat chocolate (more fool them!). Most importantly I have the energy to live my life. I will admit that my eating disorder still lingers there, constantly. I still do not get a day free of it, which is sad. Ten years of not a single anorexia free day. However, it is not loud any more. Yes it is always there, but it is floating in the background. I control it, it does not control me.

How did I get here? Time and professional help, plus support from the people around me.

This is not the sort of illness that can be easily fixed. There is no magic wand. There is no overnight transformation. It requires a lot of patience, specialist care and baby steps – but it is possible.

Mark Austin did not get it perfect. No parent gets it perfect. I do not read his account to The Guardian and feel shocked. I do not think anything negative of him, in fact I applaud him for speaking up. I know what it is like to go through this kind of illness. It is arguably harder for the family than the sufferer when the person is at the worst stage of being unwell, with no sign of wanting to get better in sight.

What is not acceptable is to have professionals that do not take it seriously, like the GP who met me aged 14 and said I would be fine after my exams, and who never saw me again because I was sectioned in hospital; this is what is not forgivable. It will not be “fine.” It is not a problem that will go away however hard you try to ignore it.

We need to be willing to face up to the reality of eating disorders, and the support that people need. Recovery is not easy or quick, but it is possible.