Chilli con carne, jacket potato, side salad.
White chocolate digestive ‘Nibbles’.
Poached salmon, baby potatoes, garden peas, hollandaise sauce.
Not sure yet!
First official blog-post typed whilst sat, cross-legged, cuppa tea to the right (with 9 sweeteners I have to bashfully say – anyone with a ‘Sweeteners Anonymous’ contact number, fire it my way…), on my very OWN bed! Back in Grimsby! The last (and first) one I uploaded at home, consisted of multi-tasking with my phone on the sofa in the front room, so I could join my family, Ant and Dec for some Saturday night telly. Although ‘chilling out’ (“what the chuff is THIS?” says Anorexia) was just smashing for my first night back, I found my thumbs were fighting for the touchscreen-tapping space and the claustrophobic-ness of my hands was making my head and thoughts feel like a claustrophobic cloud.
So fingers are LOVING the extra leg-room across my laptop keyboard right now…
Before I get on to my main bit of chat, about Thursday evening’s tea, I thought it was worth sharing that I’ve not long come back from a lovely meal with my Mum, her partner and my bubbly, warm, (youngest but tallest-of-us-all sister). Moments like this still feel like such a novelty at this point in my recovery. I guess ‘normal eating’ still feels a novelty, an ‘indulgence’ which can sway to and from helpful/unhelpful thoughts sometimes… but practice, practice, practice and trust, trust, trust of no longer wearing my mathematical goggles with installed, complex ‘calorie-cam’, seems to transform meals with my family altogether. The plate looks pretty with food instead of a dark swimming pool of impossible algebra sums, throwing spears in my eyes if I don’t count and re-check. But most importantly, I feel like I am THERE with my family, instead of sat in an empty hall with an exam paper, watching the clock in my lonely Anorexic mind.
Don’t get me wrong – times in-between these recovery perks, and pretty much daily at the moment, are difficult. General anxiety and uncertainty that I’ve not learnt to sit with long enough before turning to a quick mental escape, a distraction. It feels like I’m constantly trying to navigate my way through a garden maze of over-grown hedges, trying to keep the thoughts away, like Pac-man. Both mentally, and with my changing body image.
This evening we went to a carvery restaurant, which is one of my absolute FAVOURTIE meals. (it makes me proud to be English!) But I opted not to go for that option, because of a couple of wobbles I had last weekend. Fantastic couple of days again, and I wouldn’t trade that quality chunk of time with my best friend for the LACK of any of these wobbles, but I felt my thoughts spiral and anxiety set off like a silent sparkler when it came to portioning for myself at a ‘help yourself’/’all you can eat’-type set-up.
I’d bounced into the carvery idea like a puppy; it was all food I enjoyed and felt ‘safe-ish’ with in terms of the components… but I didn’t consider how it would feel to portion my own meal at such an overwhelming ‘all-you-can-eat’ place after over four months of the security of reassured portion sizes. It triggered old cob-webbed thoughts and mistrust in myself, and suddenly the spears fired at my eyes were back, but so was hunger after a long, busy (and great) day. So the tug-of-war around food and my emotions re-appeared. I’ll explain about the ‘wobbles’ in my next post, as I feel it’s important to raise awareness around that aspect too. And of course they weren’t huge wobbles, as I’m of course on my weekend leave now, so I am still making progress.
But as I’m learning, every little trip and fall, you learn from – if you are determined to keep cracking on, you will get there. You figure out why you tripped, what was in your way, and then learn how to manage it next time. But basically, it scared me after that carvery last week, so I’ve decided to attempt a carvery meal with one of my support workers from the Unit before doing it again in the ‘real’ world. I recognise I need support (cringe to admit it) with ‘help-yourself’ type meals.
My team felt that last weekend I may have put too much pressure on myself – it was a fabulously spontaneous weekend, we ate out a lot, there were no rigid times, but, in hindsight, I feel like I took a bit of an eager-beaver dive into the deep-end. I don’t regret any of it mind you, but it made me more self-aware. So that’s why I didn’t choose the carvery option tonight – it was tempting, but I know it would trigger scary behaviours, and I knew that the menu-option would lead to a more positive outcome which it did.
Back to Thursday tea…
…one of the amazing things about this Unit, in terms of help with long-term recovery, is the range of groups they offer. One of them, which I started just last week now that I’m at the stage of self-catering, is the ‘Eat Well’ group. In this, all patients along with the dietetic assistant who runs it, brainstorm ideas about a meal that we could plan and cook together – something that raises particular challenges in the ‘real’ world that we could test out in the safety of the supported environment. In the past they’ve done things like paella and fajitas. ‘Composite’ meals when food groups are mixed together often are more challenging for people with Eating Disorders.
A good few suggestions last week came up during the planning session – I felt my recovery torch flick on as I thought, digging right to the bottom, about what meal seems like a ‘no-go’ still in my mind, something I still never dare to poke with my pinky when looking through a menu in a restaurant. What scares me most?
An all-day breakfast.
That’s probably the more innocent way of saying it, but I think I used ‘fry-up’ when I suggested it out loud, which holds many more negative connotations in my mind. It’s so weird how certain foods bring stereotypes. When I think fry-up I think grease, working men in high-vis jackets after a shift up on a crane or lifting very heavy things. Or ‘hangover’ food…
…that’s the thoughts from the part of my brain where all the rats live, and perhaps my Eating Disorder feeds off, and there’s nothing wrong with either of the above reasons to eat that meal. It makes it difficult to see any reason why I would ever deserve a meal like that.
BUT the curious, human, the ‘wanting-to-now-embrace-life-in-lots-of-ways’ part of me thought – but what is it that could be so scary? It’s meat, eggs and all things I’ve had before – just not together in this way for many years. Just because you have sausages with a fry-up does it mean they have to be ‘greasy’?
And also, throughout my Eating Disorder mainly, I’ve always had a bit of a fear of eating too much protein-type things. Which seems to be quite a common thing with the illness. So if I’m having sausages, it seems like an unnecessary, very greedy thing (for me, not anyone else, please note) to have an egg or bacon alongside. Almost like if you were to wear a gold, sequinned dress, then decided to wear a disco-ball on your head and flashing light-up trainers. Bizarre and unnecessarily over-dressed – just stick with the gold sequins.
Obviously when I was in the depths of Anorexia, my mind-set around the putting-together part of meals was very rigid, so there was definitely no arguing about the rules and fears around protein and meat, but even since I’ve let go and fully chosen to keep stepping one foot in front of the other with recovery, this still presents a confusing challenge. And this boring echo of ‘over-indulgence’… (it actually turns out you can never each too much protein as such, you literally just ‘wee’ it out, whatever your body doesn’t use up…)
…so THIS was why I KNEW it would be a helpful choice for a meal. I didn’t want this to be an ugly rock in my path outside in the ‘real’ world – if a friend invited me for an all-day-breakkie, or after a night-out I was very hungry and it’s something everyone else was eating, would I be pleased with myself to say ‘no’? Would this leave me feeling fulfilled… ? Trapped, controlled and still mistrusting, yes.
So this was the place to do it… and Thursday evening was the result of this. Sausages, bacon, mushrooms, scrambled egg, hash browns, potato cakes, beans, toast and grilled tomato… cooked by some of the patients, and we were to help ourselves. I take credit for nothing more than chopping the mushrooms and tomatoes… ! Being in the kitchen around others when preparing food is something that still really worries me. I was encouraged by the dietetic assistant to help out, and it made me feel selfish for not feeling ready to join in with the social cooking, but I was also aware of my limits – and as this was the first of this group that I have attended, I thought it was okay to be kind to myself.
Usually, in these groups, we would have to plan a pudding to also prepare alongside this. But when discussing, we actually decided, would it be normal to want a pudding after a cooked breakfast? Maybe, sometimes. But we set the challenge of not having a pudding… not to be restrictive (obvs) but the dietetic assistant explained that to bare it in mind, when portioning our meals, so that we almost ‘make it up’ with the main course. I loved the idea of this practice for ‘real life’… some meals are bound to be bigger than others, and you are never going to have a pudding with every meal for every day of your life.
The other challenge/goal set for this particular meal was: to go up a second time. (aaagh!)
SUCH a fantastic idea of something to challenge though – we won’t get much better preparation for facing the outside world around food than this.
Casual bit of Lady Gaga music in the background, everyone did it. It was pretty special, too, to see those that you have spent a few months with, at their most vulnerable and now, being able to see the progress of people’s changing mind-set around food. As difficult as it may be, the fact you can see they are choosing to listen to what they’re learning is right for ‘them’, and instead maybe hear their Eating Disorder without as impulsively responding.
Yep it felt wrong having sausage, bacon and scrambled egg like three mighty proteins on my plate. But just because it ‘felt’ wrong, doesn’t mean it ‘was’ wrong. It was bloody tasty, I’ll give it that. And my first experience of a toasted potato cake. I thought they tasted like flat, squashed scones… ?
And I even had a splash of HP brown sauce, to put the ribbon on the occasion.
Instead of mushrooms being the MAIN event of my meal (like in the past, oh crikey they were an obsession… and I MEAN an obsession… I practically started growing INTO a mushroom, my brain cells were morphing into the shape of them…), they were a casual backing dancer. A spoon or two, to compliment my main substantial bits on the plate. That’s how it’s supposed to be… it was nice to enjoy them in their right, fitting place.
You could tell by everyone’s faces, it was a battle to sit with the uncertainty of the cooked breakfast experience afterwards. You could almost hear the self-doubt of portion sizes, the scary lack of reassurance about a set ‘plan’ of how you ‘should’ portion your meal, and how much you should have, which isn’t what we’ll be presented with in the ‘real’ world. But doing what we all did and sitting through it, makes me proud. I don’t talk a great deal with the rest of the patients here, due to my main insecurities and I guess, my own form of mental protection at the moment, but it still makes me very proud every day to be able to watch and share this journey with them, even at a distance.
The result of Thursday… what tastes better than Anorexia? Scrambled egg is deffo UP there… and a bit of hash brown dipped in brown sauce.
I will continue to challenge my negative perceptions/stereotypes of certain meals! This group was such a helpful head-start…