FIRST NEWS: Last night was binge-purge free!!
Almost a week since the AGM, and by ‘eck it’s gone fast. I built it up to be this humongous milestone in my mind, since 3 months ago when I was told I had a slot to do it, because it meant so much to me. You probably know that feeling well when you have a big event coming up that you’re nervous about – even a doctor’s or dentist appointment, and you can’t imagine life beyond that event until it’s done because it’s all that’s on your mind. That’s what it felt like for me preparing to give my talk. My hand wobbled for a good 5-10 minutes holding the microphone… but coming out the other side, completely out of my comfort zone, I would still have done it all again. Because that feeling was amazing. To prove to yourself you can do something that your head is convinced you won’t be able to cope with. The audience were so supportive and I was gobsmacked to get a standing ovation at the end, even though I fleed the stage area as soon as my last word was said! I so didn’t know how to react to this so I think I just looked really awkward about it. But I was very, very humbled and grateful!
Anyway, I thought I would share my presentation with you from the day which I named ‘Lessons of Hope and Recovery’. I’ll post pictures of the slides when I used them during the talk. I’ll have to upload it in a few posts over this week, as it’s quite long and I don’t want to bore you off.
So here’s the first lot…
I’m 16. I’m sat in a stuffy classroom for my Psychology lesson. The teacher wheels in an old-school television and says: “Today we’ll be learning about Anorexia…” and presses ‘play’. Not only does it sound like a breed of dinosaur, but she could have said “today we’ll be learning about plumbing…” I had as much understanding. I turn to my best friend and joke: “I could never have Anorexia, I love food too much.”
Fast forward seven years, it’s my third inpatient admission on an Eating Disorder Unit. I’m hiding behind the door of my bedroom, waiting for staff to disappear down the corridor after their 15-minute checks, so that I can compulsively throw myself into my exercise routine. My weight is the lowest it’s ever been at a BMI of 12.6, but something in me tells me it’s not enough. That I’ll get fat easier than other people if I eat too much. I feel relentless, even though I am close to my death-bed.
I still love food, but I also have Anorexia.
Fast forward to now, seven years of outpatient therapy later with NAViGO, I’ve been sectioned a number of times, had a few feeding tubes down my throat, spent thousands of pounds on binge food to make myself sick and get rid of it all, and taken multiple overdoses. After receiving a new diagnosis recently, I wanted to share what I’ve learnt, even through the darkest of times. About what kept me going and gave me hope. Because whatever your diagnosis is, it is not a life sentence. It just means you’ll be pointed better in the right direction to achieving wellness.
Firstly, I just want to get you thinking about these two photographs. In which one do you think I had an Eating Disorder? Which one tells you that I’m suffering?
Now, I’d totally get that you’d choose the first one. Bones jutting out, muscle wastage, a tired face. Looking like a weak, fragile little girl. But if I told you in the second one my relationship with food was just as frayed, and I felt more suffering than I did in the first photograph, would you believe me?
Maybe not, but I promise you this is how it was. This is the first time I’ve worn make-up and felt brave enough not to wear a woolly hat, which I thought helped cover my face, in quite a while. My Bulimia is back in full-force. In fact my Eating Disorder started this way back when I was 18, and I’ve yo-yoed to and from this to Anorexia and back, ever since. I’d spend my nights binging and purging, and at my worst times – all day. Late at night, I’d listen to the overwhelming urge to feel full then empty, slip my coat over my pyjamas and power-walk to the supermarket, struggling to trail back the bags heaving with food. The amount I’ve spent since this first began, on binge foods, would be enough to buy a brand new car. A bloody good one, too. The fear of debt has not been as strong as my Eating Disorder. I used to binge and then be sick into bin-bags in my bedroom through the night, back when I was living with my mum. I was too scared and too ashamed to use the toilet. Then I had to find the right time to dispose of the bin-bags out of fear I’d be caught. One night, in the early hours I was dragging a very heavy bin bag down the stairs, to put it in the wheely-bin when no-one was around… when my worst nightmare occurred. The bag split and sick spread across the whole of the hallway floor. Luckily it only splashed the carpet, which would have been more difficult to clean up and disguise.
2018. I’m laying in a hospital bed. There’s a drip in my arm because I took an overdose of paracetamol yesterday. I’m so tired of binging and purging, of feeling like I have no control of my life. I made a pact with myself never to turn to Anorexia again, since my last hospital admission. But I’m struggling to know how to live any other way. “How do I cope?” “How do I find control?” It comes up to visiting time… on the ward, sons, daughters and grandchildren swarm around beds of old ladies who have a whole story-book in them. They produced these people; how amazing – they have their own little tribes. I have only given 27 years to my own life. With no tribe. I’m too worried to even tell my mum and dad, I’m pushing everyone away – so the scary concept of dying alone creeps in. Do I really want to leave it there? I want to be able to give grandchildren to my Mum and Dad one day. I feel pathetic, as my story has only just started; I’m only a few chapters in. I realise this; even when I’ve tried too many times and I feel like there is no hope for a better life. I remember the little girl I want to bring into the world and raise to be a strong woman. To protect her from diet culture and remind her that she is enough. I want to show her that being shy isn’t a weakness. She has just as much value as the most bubbly person in the room.
Overdosing, shortly, became a habit. It was like pressing restart in my head – I’d hope and hope that reaching rock bottom by doing that to myself, dancing close to death, would be enough to scare and motivate me to want to survive. But each time I did it, that feeling would come and then flicker out again. I’d then, as I sometimes do nowadays, wonder how on earth I’m meant to survive this overwhelming juggling act they call life.
What I don’t want to give in this talk, is a sob story. I am not a sob story, or a recovery success story, just to clarify. I am recovery in progress. But what the suffering of mental illness has given me, is a hell of a lot of lessons to carry forward into the rest of my life. If I choose to stay around.
I even gained my best friend of now 6 years, who I met in Rharian Fields, our local Eating Disorder Unit. She was the first inpatient and I was the first day-patient. Now, she is my soul buddy. For that, I am grateful to Anorexia for giving me one of the best things in my life.
I’m going to share with you, five lessons of hope that have helped me re-write my values. That have re-shaped how I see the world; the ones I remind myself of when I have a blip or a relapse. Some of them I have learnt and cemented through my hospital admissions. Some of them have taken me a long time to believe, without thinking it’s just a wishy-washy phrase that really chilled out gurus and hippies live by. Others have just clicked with me straight away.
(continued in tomorrow’s post…)