In five days so much can happen. Your thoughts can take you up to Mars, looping around the whole planet, then backwards, crashing into aliens, sucking you into a dark, black hole, with only a flicker of a white tit-bit light (not enough to be quite a circle or for an adequate shine coming off it to know how to get there) so you try and force your eyes open to track down a nearer, bigger star so that you can find your way home… but as much as you feel like you’re holding your eyelids open wide for enough hope of a way forward… nothing.
That’s the kind of five days I’ve had, so I apologise for not committing to posting each day that week about the lessons I brought home from Malta about my mental health recovery, like I said I would in my previous post.
But I’m sort of back on the horse again, as of yesterday (half anyway… sort of like I’ve got one foot in one stirrup but my other leg that should be on the other side, is this side, so I’m clinging on while the horse is running. (thanks for the analogy, Leighah, ha!) but I’m grin-and-bearing the friction burns on my hands in the process of getting back on it. That means trying to tolerate a lot of uncomfortable things and feelings which feel engulfing, whilst I’m still unsure there is hope. And I’m tired of trying. But there’s something about the rest of the world that keeps me curious to keep going… which I’ll only really get to discover if (no – when!) I discover how to throw my leg over to the other side of the horse, taking a better hold of the horse so that I can take a proper view.
I want to talk about the positive bits that I’ve taken back with me from Malta, things to keep in mind when it comes to my eating disorder. Despite having pretty much a full-blown relapse, I am a firm believer now that not everything’s black and white. There’s still a few spots of grey on what feels like has become a black canvas. In fact, they may even have a bit of sparkle…
So when I was away, and the breakfast was a buffet at the hostel, of course there wasn’t a set of kitchen scales beside the basket of oranges and apples with a sign above reading ‘Please make sure to weigh your fruit so that you can keep an accurate calculation of your calories today. We don’t want you losing control of your mind. Oh and please clear your breakfast trays away afterwards, thank you.” (they did, that last bit)
I couldn’t weigh out my portion of fruit in the morning, or the millimetres of milk on my Weetabix. Nor was there any Weetabix. And as much as I’ve moved past the Anorexia in lots of ways, with my freshest, ongoing struggle being the Bulimia, there’s still certain bits and pieces that act as security behaviours throughout the day. The act of not weighing my fruit, or not weighing my cereal or milk and therefore not feeling like I have a hold on the day. Trust for myself around food going out of the window. This all adds to my low self-esteem and self-doubts, which then makes me perhaps sometimes agitated or more withdrawn… a few things amongst others.
But I had to bite the bullet, eat cereal that wasn’t two trusty rectangles… instead, flakes all over the place, so it felt. Flakes dancing round the bowl with no order. And milk, because I had no number to assign to it, felt too much, no matter how much I added in. But if I didn’t add enough, it tasted dry and rubbish so I didn’t want to give myself away that much to a shitty, controlling eating disorder. So I put more in, but instantly, just because it was no longer dry cereal but I didn’t know the calories… it felt too much. Greed was my friend for the day, from first thing in the morning.
I couldn’t control the numbers in the fruit, so what if I under-guessed what they were? Which meant I ate more elsewhere? I know rationally, this doesn’t matter for the insignificant amount of what that could be… but mixed in with my very, very insecure body image because of the tiring Bulimic episodes and blips and whatever, and how it’s controlled my body over recent years, this is added pain that I mentally can’t take. If I wasn’t binging and purging and I hadn’t put on weight to the point where I feel so stuck in my own skin, I wouldn’t be as concerned about the calories. So it’s a bit of a confuzzling situation.
I know deep down that the ‘easiest’ of all the behaviours I want to be rid of to achieve the healthy, at peace relationship with food… would be to no longer weigh or count fruit or vegetables. For me that would be the safest. But it’s still terrifying the loss of control I would feel, and the mess in my head. At home, I guess it snuck back in because as I was calorie-counting everything else, I thought well I can’t be having full control of awareness over myself if I’m not counting EVERYTHING. And so behaviours grow, without you being fully aware.
What being in Malta did do… as I still wanted to eat fresh fruit and vegetables rather than avoid them because of no scales, was to give me a step back from my own head. Especially when being an observer in the breakfast room of guests waltzing over, having 3 course breakfasts (whilst still looking incredibly healthy) – definitely not batting an eyelid at the numbers in an orange. I knew I had to lose grip of some of this disordered control, so I ate the fruit whilst being preoccupied by the excitement of this unknown/terrifying 3-week adventure and not even allowing it to take more than a bubble of space in my head, after that initial discomfort.
Of course I did that dirty hotel guest thing of smuggling 2 or 3 more pieces of fruit for the rest of the day. (who doesn’t)… and making myself a sandwich to tuck away (I even bought foil guys) for lunch… and eventually 2 of the other girls on the trip, theirs. I felt like sandwich mum.
Since being back home, (my instinct after relapse is to instantly take back all control with full force, so this was quite hard) I decided to hold on to that sparkle of grey on my black canvas… and no longer weigh fruit or vegetables with my main meals. At the moment I do have to weigh certain fruits on an evening, like melon as this time of the day is the hardest emotionally for me, and also ‘scarier’ bits of veg, but what I don’t do now is let myself be pulled back to weighing everything, as though full-blown control is the answer to everything. Because it’s not. It’s tiring, soul-destroying and life-limiting in my eyes. Eventually I want to not have to count calories, or weigh anything at all… but baby steps.
I have also stopped weighing things that automatically suggest a specific number of portion sizes. So that I can invest a bit more trust in myself. Like when I make cous-cous for example. Before Malta, I used to weigh out specific grams, altering the portion whenever I felt like I had differing numbers of calories ‘left’ for lunch. Whereas now, I read that a certain amount prepared would be 2 portions… and instead, creating an estimate middle-line with my spoon in the bowl, and going with it. Accepting the suggested portion. No scales. No fannying around. The same with sweetcorn too.
In terms of my eating patterns, they were definitely challenged being away. I do have a habit of becoming fixated on planning out specific times for eating my meals during the day, having to leave a certain amount of time between. Whereas, as much as this baffled me in Malta at first, and made me a little on edge and agitated in the first few days, after that I gained some rhythm to just ‘go with it’, especially being in groups you adapt to the people around you, and feel less contained in your own head.
So it may not seem like life-changing lessons I took back with me, but they are my little particles of hope and change I feel empowered to continue to apply back in my home-life. I don’t just want to see those behaviours as part of just some ‘holiday’ motivation or experience, but as proof that I have the power in me to make changes to live a better life. And that’s why I’m harnessing what I’ve learnt so that it can be a permanent, forever thing. One building block towards a peaceful, confident relationship with food.
Just a flicker of hope can be the start of do-able change. It may take a while to find the meaning in it, but you will. I feel like we are naturally inclined to see hope even when there appears none. You just have to stick it out, and feel the pain in the wait.
It’s eating disorder awareness week from tomorrow… a week I try to avoid really doing much about because it’s quite difficult reading about everyone’s painful experiences dealing with mental health services, and their mental health in general, because of how close to home it is. But I’m not going to avoid it this year and I will try and read and show up to certain bits and pieces. Just before Christmas, I also got asked to make a short film talking about my eating disorder journey, whilst also promoting our local mental health services. I think this video is being shown during that week, so if it is posted out there I’ll put it up on here too. I’ve watched it back and I was absolutely mortified at the way I look in it. Honestly mortified. But I’ll still share it because of the meaning behind it and sod off to negative body image…