Eating Disorders And Gender Identity

As you can probably tell from reading my blog, I am pretty open about my mental health, and I suppose, by putting my life online, you could argue that I am pretty open and honest about most things I experience. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of my identity that I have kept secret for years, not just online but with friends, something which I have only spoken about to my mother and certain therapists. In the past few weeks I have been asking myself why this is, and the answer to that is fairly easy (far easier than answering the question what is 4504 divided by 789 at least…NO CALCULATORS PLEASE), that being that I fear judgment and still see this aspect of myself as somewhat taboo. 

However, I have started to realise that by keeping this part of me on the “down low” because I feel embarrassed, is only perpetuating the idea that this “secret” is something I should be ashamed about, and that isn’t going to help anyone out there struggling with the same thing. What if there are people who are feeling as uncertain as I am about things but who are scared to speak out? What if they feel as alone as I do?

Ok, so it is probably time for me to stop beating around the bush and get on with the topic (the bush is fairly battered by now…there are so many leaves about I can barely see the keyboard…sorry bush, you didn’t do anything wrong…not that if you had done something wrong that would be an acceptable reason to beat you…I don’t condone violence of any kind…gosh I feel I might still be beating around the bush…SORRY AGAIN BUSH). 

The topic around which my “secret” revolves? Gender, though more specifically, my personal gender identity and how that affects my mental health and experience of anorexia. 

As you have probably all assumed, I was born and am biologically female, yet I do not see myself that way. In all honesty I feel quite ill when people refer to me as “a woman”, and every time a stranger refers to me as a “lady”, I feel physically sick. Saying this may make people think that therefore, inside, I see myself as male, but again this is not the case. With regards to my gender, I do not feel like a woman (just one of the many personal emotions Shania Twain and I disagree upon), nor do I feel like a man, in truth, I feel simultaneously like neither and both all at the same time. Thankfully more and more people are talking about gender these days what with the transgender FTM/MTF bathroom debates going on in the US, and there are even labels out there to describe people like me who do not see themselves as belonging in either of the binary box options presented on health forms. Names like agender/gender-non binary/genderqueer/gender neutral are now words many people, rather than just those whom they affect, are familiar with, and there are even more pronoun options and gender identities available in the “about me” section of your Facebook profile. Which of these “non binary terms” I best identify with I am still not sure as I find my gender identity rather confusing. 

The one thing I know for certain however, is that I am not female, and having a biologically female body has had a bigger impact on my anorexia than most people would understand. 

I have written before about how anorexia functions in my life, as a sense of achievement, sense of control, friend, identity and many other things that make it a lot more complicated than the common understanding of “people with anorexia just want to be thin”, but the other way in which anorexia functions for me is as a way of trying to minimise the “femaleness” I am uncomfortable about in my body. 

I see a lot of females on recovery websites listing perks of recovery to motivate themselves and others to keep fighting their demons, and more often than not one of the things on this list will be “recover to get your boobs back” (for when a person’s eating disorder leads to weight loss/becoming underweight, “boobs” are obviously a part of the body that will undergo some shrinkage.) Indeed I have known people whose cup size has fallen several letters of the alphabet due to their eating disorder (side note: who the hell coined the name “cup size” as a way to describe the space taken up by a boob? Why don’t we just say “boob size”? Who the hell is putting their boobs in cups? Don’t people realise those things are for drinking out of not measuring body parts? You don’t call your shoe size your “colander size” do you? No! So what is this…SOMEONE EXPLAIN). 

This loss of BOOB SIZE is often met with discomfort and people saying things like “I don’t feel female anymore” as if that is a bad thing, when for me, that is part of the point. For this reason, people trying to motivate me to recover by saying things like “recover for boobs” or “recover for curves” is more like a threat of “if you gain weight you are going to have to wear massive bras and stop running for the bus incase you knock yourself out with a rogue breast”, so I often find that I cannot relate to people with eating disorders despite sharing a diagnosis. 

In a way the idea of my chest increasing in size shouldn’t scare me as much as it does, as, in terms of revealing another aspect of myself that people are unaware of, I actually wear a binder rather than a bra. 

For those of you who don’t know, a binder is basically a very tight vest like thing that “binds” your chest somehow (magic and wizardry I think), to give you the appearance of a flat chest, and it is often a thing warn by transgender men. Indeed it was from a trans man that I myself first heard of such a garment and immediately picked one up because I too hated my chest. What I couldn’t relate to with this trans man however, was the need for things like testosterone hormone injections and a desire for facial hair, and it is there that my confusion of “what the hell gender am I then” began. 

I have worn my binder for six years now at both healthy and underweight BMI’s, so I know that technically, no matter how far I am in terms of physical recovery, when I have to go out in public I do not need to worry about my chest. At either weight I know that my binder will give me the appearance of a flat chest, but I also know that I cannot wear my binder in places like the shower which is where the appearance of my chest really bothers me. 

I know that in the past when in the process of getting to a healthy weight, one of the main parts of my body I have feared gaining weight on is my chest, and my bare chest makes me so uncomfortable that I have often refused ECG tests in the past to check how my eating disorder is affecting my heart (these scans are apparently very clever but involve you having to be naked from the waist up…not that clever in my opinion then). 

It has caused such issues in hospital before that even nurses have been confused and contemplated forcing me to stop wearing a binder as they wonder if it could actually be an eating disorder driven choice to “make me look thinner”. People have also suggested that me wearing a binder could link to my desire to remain a child and not grow up into the scary world of adulthood, but as possible as that is, it doesn’t explain the other issues I have with regards to being called “lady”, “she” or even “daughter”. You might not have noticed but if you look through any of the posts I have written previously mentioning my mother, I always refer to myself as her “offspring” and never as “the D word”. Maybe you thought that was just because I wanted to sound fancy, but in actual fact all of those instances were me trying to write on my blog honestly whilst keeping a secret, which is sort of like trying to make a cup of tea without any tea leaves. 

Other things I have seen on websites to motivate females to recover is the idea of getting their menstrual cycle back/being able to bear children, yet again this possibility is something from which I want to run away in fear rather than welcome with joy. When I lost my menstrual cycle I was secretly thrilled and as terrible as this sounds the idea that eating might make my womb work properly was terrifying. I feel so guilty saying that, as I know there are so many women out there who can’t have children so I shouldn’t be wishing my fertility away in such a manner, but I can’t help it, I don’t want a womb and I do not want a monthly reminder that I am trapped in a female body with no escape. When I was told I had osteoporosis (caused by the lack of periods), I even refused to take oestrogen hormone replacements because the idea of getting my menstrual cycle back was more frightening than the idea of breaking my spine, and my google search history has more searches like “can you get a womb or breasts removed” than I care to count.

Unfortunately, I realise that yet again it is one of those “here is a mental illness problem people struggle with” without any conclusion or advice to support those out there struggling with the same thing, which sucks because I know how horrible and complicated this whole relationship between eating disorders and gender can be. That said, considering I don’t fully understand my gender identity in relation to anorexia myself, I would be hard pushed to say anything of any worth, yet still I wanted to write this post if only to get the topic out there and the conversation started. I haven’t come to a conclusion as to “what” I am and I haven’t given advice on how to manage an eating disorder when gender identity is one of the things causing problems with recovery, but I hope I have at least shown another aspect of how complex mental health problems like eating disorders can be, and done something to dispel the idea that they are simply a case of going on a diet that gets out of hand to look as thin as the people in the magazines. More importantly though, I hope that I have made anyone else who feels as confused and alone with this as I do, feel a little less weird, knowing that someone out there does understand, and that though they are also confused, at least you are confused together. Maybe the more people who talk about it the more research will be done and the more will be understood, so as anxious as I am about posting this, I am doing it anyway to add to the voices of those telling professionals that this is a problem only to receive responses like “I have never heard of this happening before”. As I always say, when it comes to mental health problems nobody is weird or a freak, and none of you are alone in any of your struggles.

Take care everyone x

Gender

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The Fear Of Moving Out With Mental Health Problems

So it has happened. My parents have finally had enough of my mental health problems and consequently I am being forced to move out this week on July 14th 2018 (it was supposed to be Friday the 13th but when I realised the date I, being a very superstitious bean, begged for an extra night at home.) I am absolutely dreading it and could not be more terrified if I tried (not that I imagine anyone would try to be more terrified than they were in any given situation…that would be weird). It is what I have been dreading my whole life, leaving home, especially now when things are particularly prickly in my old brain, but that is why I have to leave. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not being kicked out with nothing more than a bag of my belongings and a tent, I am in fact going to live in a small flat my mum and I bought with some inheritance money (god bless Grandma and Grandad), but at this stage in my life I think I would be terrified even if I were moving into the Ritz. A lot of fellow 26 year olds may read this and think that there isn’t much to be afraid of, but I am not your average 26 year old and I don’t know how to do anything I should have learnt by now. Because of my OCD I have never done a load of washing nor do I know how to, I have never changed a bed sheet, done a weekly shop for food,  nor have I ever paid a bill. Ok my parents will be living five minutes away and will hopefully help me out a bit for the first few weeks but within a month of me moving in they will be jetting off to Malaysia for their summer holiday and consequently I will be all alone in my flat with no safety net for two and a half weeks. I don’t know quite what else to say other than that I am crying as I type this as I have never been so scared in all my life. I cannot believe it has actually come to this. 

My parents have mentioned that they couldn’t cope with me before, but I always figured that we would work it out like those previous times, yet this week there is no working out, I am actually going and it makes my stomach do all those fancy somersaults you see trapeze artists do in the circus just thinking about it. I just wish I could have recovered from all my illnesses before now so that it never had to come to this. To be fair I guess a lot of people my age are moving out from home, if not now then earlier, but i simply don’t feel ready. Maybe nobody ever feels ready to move away from home and maybe this is normal, but regardless I don’t like it at all. I want to stay at home in my childhood house where I grew up with my mum and dad. I want to live in my room that I have slept in for 26 years and I want to shower in the same shower I have used for all of that time too. I want to pour water from the same kitchen tap I have lived with all my life and I want to sit on the same sofa I have sat on for every movie marathon I have ever had with my mum. I am not ready to be alone, being alone is my biggest fear and now I am being forced to face it head on. I don’t know what I am going to do with myself. It is pathetic but because of my mental illnesses I have become so dependant on my parents that I seriously have no idea how to manage without them. How do I wake up without my mum there to help me get ready in the morning? How do I prepare food alone with all the voices screaming in my head? How do I avoid alcohol as I have been trying to and failing to do for the past month? How do I get through the day? How do I go to bed? How do I breathe? How on earth do I survive? 

I know I must sound extremely melodramatic and immature to be worrying about all these things at my age, but I think that when you have mental illnesses your ageing process slows down so in reality I am mentally nowhere near where I should be in comparison to other people my age. I have written about it before but I must reiterate the fact that when other people were growing up and learning to do all these things, I was too busy washing my hands or starving myself or crying into a pillow because I was so depressed. I never did the usual teenage rebellion of independence, I never snuck out of the house, dated people who were bad for me or got grounded, because I never had time to do anything wrong. I was mental, that was my identity and it still is and now I am going to have to live as this mental lunatic alone, with no idea how to cope. 

I guess my message this week then is that if you are mentally ill and are still living at home, seek help now before it gets to the stage where you have to leave home and figure it out alone too. Seek help now and learn to be independent before it is too late, cherish living with loved ones before they run out of patience and cherish knowing that there are people there when you struggle. Hopefully within the next few weeks I will be getting a carer from social services to help me figure all of this out in my flat, but for now that carer isn’t available so like I said I will be trying to do it all myself. Just please seek help out there even if you have the most loving parents in the world as I have, because at some point, with mental illness, everybody breaks down and gets to the point where they cannot manage. It feels weird to think that the next time I post a blog it will be from inside my new flat. I still cannot quite believe it, although I am sure reality will kick in and I will realise what is happening soon enough. Until then I hope you are all well and are keeping yourselves safe. 

Take care everyone x 

LifeChange

Why I Am A Hypocrite

So I have a confession to make. 

I am a hypocrite. 

Since I am confessing things, I suppose I should also tell you that sometimes I like to sit in the bath waving a fork in the air pretending I am Neptune, king of the sea, wielding his trident, but that confession is slightly less relevant to this blog post and perhaps we can discuss that more at another time. 

So yeah, I am a hypocrite, and this is something that has been pointed out to me multiple times by a number of psychologists, friends, fellow mental health warriors and, of course, my mother. To be fair to all of these potentially rude sounding people, none of them have actually stomped over to me, looked me straight in the eyes, and said “you are a hypocrite”, but it is something that is (quite rightly) implied when people ask me questions like “do you even read your blog?” 

In answer to this question, of course I read my own blog (I write it too funnily enough…MULTITASKING), yet I think this question is less a question as to whether or not I actually read the articles I hope other people will be reading somewhere else across the globe, and more a question of do I take note of any of the advice I often spout in my attempts to help other sufferers of mental health problems. Sometimes my posts are about misconceptions that I want to tackle, some are personal insights into my own experience, but there are a fair few tips of ways to manage mental health problems…tips that I tend to broadcast for everyone else and then ignore in my own life. To quote Lewis Carrol in his novel Alice in Wonderland, “Off with their heads!”…no wait that’s the wrong quote…what was I saying? Ah yes! “I give very good advice but I very seldom follow it”. 

In fact I think this is the case with a lot of people around the world, but it is something I have noticed is extremely prevalent in people with mental health problems, and on paper, a lot of my friends with mental health problems are very much sitting beside me on the “hypocrite” train. 

Trust me, if you want advice as to how to deal with eating disordered thoughts or a lie that OCD is trying to convince you is the truth, talk to someone who experiences them too and it is likely they will have the answer that will logically solve all your problems. Indeed, most of the best advice I have ever received is from people with mental health problems, and in hospital it was a daily occurrence for me, or another patient, to turn to someone struggling before a meal, tell them that it was ok to eat, that their body needed the food and that they weren’t greedy, before immediately walking through to the dining room, plunging their face into their bran flakes and sobbing about how they couldn’t eat because of all the reasons they had just spent time telling someone else they didn’t need to worry about (to any people who visited me in hospital and wondered why I had bran flakes in my hair, now you will know why. It was all of the face plunging). This kind of thing can be quite baffling in its blatant hypocrisy to a passer by who may assume that the hypocrite in question is some kind of fool, so I thought that I would try and provide an explanation as to why this happens and why so many people with mental health problems are, when it comes to their own advice, hypocrites. 

A lot of it is probably due to the whole “it’s different for me” thing that we all tend to feel a lot of the time, that ability we often have to feel like “the only one” in all of human history. For example I strongly believe that other people need food. Obviously people need to eat, doing so isn’t greedy, it is the only way to sustain life, yet when it comes to me I feel guilty and gluttonous no matter what I eat because I don’t deserve food, I am different, a person so horrible and disgusting that they cannot possible be considered in the same category as other people. 

That said, I don’t think it is this “it’s different for me” thing that is the main issue, I think the real issue is that when people are confused as to how someone can give advice but not follow it themselves, it is because they do not realise or cannot see the level of control the disorder has over their abilities to do what they may know is the right thing. 

If I had to explain it in an analogy (lord knows how much I like analogies), I would simply explain the issue by asking you to imagine a plumber named Mario (not THE Mario. This is a different plumber called Mario who hasn’t got a whole Nintendo franchise or a moustache. This Mario is in fact hairless and hates video games.)

He is however a great plumber, with all the knowledge in the world about pipes and water and…plumbing things. 

Now imagine Mario standing behind his apprentice Luigi (again, different Luigi, they are not related), and giving him specific instructions on how to fit a shower. In a booming voice of authority Mario tells Luigi exactly what to do, which pipe should be at which angle, what spanner is required and he knows the second it is time to do something with the stopcock (suffice it to say I know very little about plumbing). Every time Luigi makes a mistake Mario yells something like “that is not what I said! You have to do exactly as I say because I know exactly how to do it.” 

Were someone to overhear Mario yelling at Luigi from the next room, they may ask “why the hell doesn’t Mario stop telling Luigi what to do and follow his instructions himself”. Indeed, Mario looks rather bad and lazy on face value. However, were the person overhearing the scene to become so frustrated that they stomped upstairs and swung open the bathroom door to bring justice to the situation, they would see something that paints Mario’s inaction or inability to follow his own instructions in a different light. 

Mario it turns out, is not ignoring his advice because he is lazy or because he is a fool, rather it is because he is caught up in the arms of a giant octopus who somehow escaped from the local aquarium, burst into the bathroom and proceeded to entangle Mario amongst its many flailing limbs. Mario knows that the big spanner needs to be used first and he knows that it would be best for Luigi in the long term if he turned the stop cock (can you turn a stopcock?), but knowing what to do logically, doesn’t mean he can physically perform the actions himself due to the aforementioned octopus entanglement issue. His arms are glued to his side, his legs bound together, and there is a large sucker covering his left eye. What he knows or doesn’t know is not relevant to his situation, because the situation is being controlled by that damn octopus, and that is how I feel whenever I give advice to other people. 

In real life, I AM Mario. The majority of people with mental health problems ARE Mario. 

They have read all of the self help books available, know more about their disorders and have filled out more healthcare questionnaires about their condition than a potential doctor in medical school could hope to, but it is hard for them to use all this knowledge because of the control their disorders have over them, much like that octopus had over Mario. I can watch someone else wash their hands and tell them to stop after one squirt of soap, yet when I try to do it, the OCD steps in, and regardless of the physical possibility of turning the tap off, it feels like I can’t. OCD will not let me leave the sink because it has me in its grasp and it can’t hear my rational thoughts or cries for help because one of its many tentacles is wrapped around my brain. I cannot get to the information I have cleverly gathered over time no matter how much I wiggle, there is a massive tentacle in the way, and OCD is in control. 

Maybe it is different for other people, maybe you will read this and angrily disagree with me by stating that people with mental health problems aren’t all hypocrites and that it is just me being rude and making baseless generalisations (though I would like to believe that there are a lot of people out there reading this and thinking “OMG YOU ARE RIGHT, ME TOO!”) 

Nevertheless, this is the best way I could explain the fact and reasons as to why I am often a hypocrite, and if you know someone similar to me in that respect, then maybe it is why they are a hypocrite too. 

People with mental health problems who do not follow their own advice don’t act in such a way because they are being silly or give out fake advice they don’t really believe to other people just for fun. Instead, it is because knowing every trick in the book as to what should be done in a situation doesn’t always solve a problem when an octopus or mental health disorder has you in its grasp.  

Take care everyone x

Octopus

The Difficulty Of Having A Job When You Have Mental Health Problems

Oh what a week it has been! Friends gather round, because boy do I have a disaster of a story to tell you! 

So let’s go from the very beginning (a very good place to start I hear) which takes us back a few weeks ago to a time when I was feeling very guilty about the idea of applying for benefits from the government due to mental health problems. I know that technically I am entitled to monetary support but I have always struggled with the guilt over accepting it and for this reason, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try and get a job. Ideally I wanted a job for only a few hours a week  because I knew that anymore and I couldn’t cope, so I was thrilled when a few days into my search I found that my local supermarket were looking for someone to do a 12 hour contract. Consequently I filled out an application form, had an interview and bingo! I got the job! But the problems did not end there… 

The problems started on my very first shift of 2-10pm on June the 23rd 2018. I arrived promptly to meet the manager who was lovely, and then I was placed on the till with the idea of shadowing another member of staff. When I was shadowing it was all fine as all I really had to do was stand there and try to figure out what was going on, but then it was my turn to go on the till and it was here that the problems began. You see, because of OCD I find it extremely hard to touch things, primarily money. Now you may be wondering why I thought I should accept a job where touching money was going to be part of the proceedings but hey, I will be honest, I didn’t know it was going to be as much of a problem as it was. From my very first customer I was in trouble. I not only had to touch money but I had to touch the till, and inside my head was screaming. Unfortunately though, I hadn’t told the members of staff about my problems so I had to simply do my best and soldier on as if nothing was wrong. It was agony. With every customer that came along I became closer and closer to tears as my anxiety levels rose and rose. I was making silly mistakes on the till because I was so anxious I couldn’t focus on what I was doing and the more failures I made the more embarrassed I became. Not only was I struggling with touching things though, I was also struggling with members of the public looking at me. You see in recent weeks my self esteem has taken a violent plummet to the depths of the bottom of the ocean (around the place the Titanic lies buried under a hell of a lot of water), and I strongly believe that I am the most hideous being to ever grace the planet. Consequently, being looked at by members of the public was really difficult and raised my anxiety levels further. 

For two hours I did my best, touching things and being seen, but then someone I knew came into the store and from there it all fell apart. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely to see a friend as I was working but it was a friend who I haven’t seen since all of this alcohol induced weight gain and therefore they naturally commented on it. Again don’t get me wrong, nothing nasty was said, my friend just told me how well I looked, but this was enough for me to feel like the fattest person who has ever lived on the planet and from then on as I stood by that till, I was swallowing back the tears. I tried to carry on swiping and talking, being as good as I could be with customer service but soon I started to feel a panic attack coming on. All the touching, all the being seen, the encounter with a friend all got too much and soon I was finding it hard to breathe/hold back the tears/not faint. Immediately I realised that I couldn’t do the task anymore, so I ducked away to speak to the manager in the office where I had one of the most humiliating discussions I have ever had. 

Luckily the manager I spoke to was lovely, beyond lovely but it was incredibly humiliating having to explain that I was struggling on the till because I am completely mental. In hindsight I should have told my employers about the problems before (note to all people out there, if you are going to get a job, let people know about your problems first) but foolishly I had kept all that quiet in the foolish hopes that it wouldn’t be relevant . Thankfully the manager accepted what I said about my mental health problems and he sent me home, which was a big relief. I practically ran home in tears, anxious about disappointing my parents but thankfully they were lovely and understanding too. 

Cut to now, the next day, when I am currently sitting and writing this blog not knowing what to do about anything. I had a job, I managed two hours and then I ran away, so who knows what is going to happen next. I don’t know whether or not to quit (that is if I even still have a job to quit after my behaviour) or whether or not to try and give it another go. All I know is that that two hour shift was utterly and completely terrifying and I feel like a massive failure for giving up on my first day of work. I so desperately wanted to achieve something, to be normal, to have a job and I messed it all up. 

I guess on the positive side I have learnt the lesson that when you go into a new job with mental health problems, it is important that you tell the employer, but other than that I cannot see any good that has come from this. Maybe I should run away with the circus and become a clown. 

So that is my latest update, I had a job, I lasted two hours and then I have potentially quit the job. Like I said I won’t know what exactly is happening until I next get to speak to the manager, but it looks like this career has gone down the drain before it ever got the chance to start. In the meantime I am going to keep going, keep blogging and trying to keep myself safe at this still difficult time (I still haven’t managed to stop drinking yet and I am sorry to all those that news disappoints…still working on it though…). Anyway, that is all I have for now…

Take care everyone x

Job1

What Do People With Anorexia Eat?

Over a year ago I wrote a post about how people with eating disorders were misrepresented in the media via their use of skeletal pictures when interviewing or discussing someone with the disorders, yet lately I have noticed there is another stereotypical image being promoted that drives me equally round the bend, that being the idea that people with anorexia do not eat anything at all, and it is this myth I really want to tackle in this post as it is simply not true and is unhelpful to everyone.

You see when you come across articles in the paper interviewing someone with an eating disorder, they always make it sound as if the person has gone years without ever letting a morsel of food pass their lips. 

I am often reading pieces stating that someone lived on half a cornflake for three years or something ridiculous, a statement that is physically impossible and that must be taken with a pinch of salt as everyone knows journalists will often exaggerate or make things sound worse by picking and choosing details from an interview to make a good story. If an article makes it sounds like someone interviewed supposedly hasn’t eaten more than half a cornflake for three years, it is most definitely false and cannot be taken as a fact in general or by which other sufferers can be measured. 

Admittedly, people with anorexia frequently do not eat enough, it is after all one of the symptoms, the classic restricting of calories to lose or prevent weight gain. Indeed people with anorexia often eat very little, nowhere near as much as they need to keep themselves alive, but that still doesn’t mean they don’t eat anything at all and spend years living on air. In addition to those in relapse  who still eat at least something (regardless as to whether it be enough or not), when people are in recovery and on a weight gain meal plan they may actually eat more than some “normal” people. I know I have certainly followed meal plans that exceed the “government guidelines” irrelevant calorie limit, which have been prescribed to me both in and out of hospital. People in relapse and recovery are still considered as having “anorexia” if their mental state dictates that diagnosis, no matter how much they eat, and they should all be counted and taken seriously as a voice for people with eating disorders without being discriminated against for (brace yourselves)…having breakfast. What about the people who have severe anorexia but eat to keep their families off their back or to maintain a job? The ones who eat purely to stay out of hospital or the ones who are trying their best to eat to get better yet are still in as much mental pain as anyone else and hating every second? The ones who want to scream and shout every time they eat but force themselves on anyway because they don’t want their kids to see them worrying about food in fear that they may also pick up on the anxiety? That image, of people with anorexia eating, is never represented in the media, as equally valid or not it isn’t a dramatic image that would sell a story in a magazine. After all, headlines of “anorexic eats an appropriate number of calories, not because they are better but because they don’t want to scare the children” are never going to sell or create as much drama as “anorexic eats nothing and only licks a blade of grass once a month for 10 years”.

I am pretty sure that every member of my family is aware that I have anorexia and in a way I find this helpful. With them knowing, it means I don’t have to lie all the time, if I disappear for a few months to go into hospital it isn’t a big secret and I don’t have to pretend I have been off travelling, climbing Kilimanjaro or building schools for orphaned penguins in the Arctic, but in a way it actually makes things harder because I feel there is an expectation of the way I should behave at family gatherings. I am currently unable to eat outside of my house or with family anyway, but even if I were able to I would find attempting it incredibly intimidating as I imagine if I were to eat anything, people would be confused. If a person without an eating disorder goes out for a meal and eats, nobody raises an eyebrow, but if someone who is known to have an eating disorder goes out for a meal, when they eat people start to question whether there is anything actually wrong with that person in the first place. If you hear someone has to go into hospital for a new leg and then you see them prior to admission dancing the tango pretty happily using their old one, you might wonder why on earth the new leg is needed as clearly there is no problem. The issue is of course that though someone may appear to be eating happily on the surface, they could still be going through mental torture inside and may be just trying not to make a fuss and embarrass themselves or draw attention.

The dangers of this misconception that “anorexics don’t eat” are very similar to the ones created by the idea that people with anorexia are underweight. Again, family members or professionals may not be concerned about someone they suspected may have an eating disorder because the person often sits down for a family meal. Sufferers also might find themselves in situations where they don’t eat, not because of their disorder in particular, but because they feel they can’t incase people suspect that they are faking the whole thing. Much like images of skeletal bodies, people hearing the myth that people with anorexia don’t eat can cause people to think that they are not “that bad”, “not ill enough to warrant help” or even worse it can trigger them to restrict their intake further because they think there is some “anorexic standard” they have to live up to. You cannot compare the severity of a person’s illness with that of someone else’s just by looking at what they look like or how much they eat without having any idea of what is going on inside their heads. 

Overall I guess the message of this post is that when it comes to the portrayal of people with eating disorders in the media, take all the pictures and interviews as pieces of journalism to sell a paper with the nuggets of truth inside partially skewed or not representative of eating disorder patients as a whole. Making judgements based on accounts that are for the purpose of selling papers rather than truly giving a voice to people with no ulterior motive is never going to provide an unbiased piece that one can make conclusions from. Basically what I want to say is do not trust the media at all, instead you should trust strangers on the internet like me…actually don’t trust strangers on the internet…that isn’t the message I want to promote at all…. just don’t think that people with anorexia don’t eat. 

Take care everyone x

Sandwich

Why We Need To Stop Rating Pain On A Scale From One To Ten

Whenever you go to A&E or are admitted to a general hospital for a physical illness because of an injury or disease that hurts, you are always asked the same question. 

“On a scale from one to ten, how would you rate your pain?”

They make pain sound like a hotel that you recently stayed in on holiday. You know, those hotels where at the end of your stay you are handed a feedback form to let staff know what you thought of the experience provided (although with the pain thing ten tends to mean “the worst pain you have ever felt” and zero “no pain at all”, rather than the hotel ten to zero equivalents of “I found a dead man in my bed” to “the room service was excellent.”) I always find this question a difficult one to answer, which is silly really because it isn’t exactly a question that requires much revision (unlike GCSE biology. I swear I read those text books so many times that I will never forget the fact that most of the energy released during respiration comes from the mitochondria), and really I am the only person who can answer it. Then again, how can you answer such a subjective question and how can you quantify pain? When you are in pain, that is it, all you know is that you are in pain and the ability to rate it on a scale is somewhat diminished by the agony you are experiencing. 

Were someone to ask you to rate your pain on a scale seconds after you had just stubbed your toe, most if not all people would probably cry out “10” and then perhaps yell some abuse at the person who was asking such a silly question when they were leaping around with a potentially broken toe. In those moments when the injury has just occurred (aka the toe stubbing), you are unable to rationalise that really, the pain is unlikely to be the worst pain you ever felt. You don’t hear the question and really think about it, employing reason to figure that stubbing your toe was probably a lot less painful than the day you had your whole foot bitten off by a shark (suffice it to say you are rather careless with the body parts that exist below your knees). No, in that pain your stubbed toe is a 10, the worst pain ever, and you would say that whether or not that is true. 

The question is then further complicated by the fact that people have different pain thresholds. For example, I use an epilator to remove unwanted hair on my legs (lovely image for you there…enjoy it), and for me the “pain” that causes doesn’t bother me at all because I have been doing it for years and am used to it. My mum on the other hand couldn’t epilate because she finds the process agony, a pain that I have somewhat grown out of fearing through repeated experience. How then can you ask someone to rate their pain when one person’s 10 could be another person’s 4. 

All in all the question of rating pain in medical settings is problematic, yet I would say it is far more problematic in the way it is used when it comes to mental health problems. 

Whenever you are admitted to a psychiatric hospital or sent to see a new therapist, it is likely you will be given a form to fill out with a lot of questions, scales and little boxes to write numbers in. The questions are differently worded each time but overall they are pretty much the same and include things like “On a scale of one to ten how depressed have you been in the last 28 days” or “In the last 28 days how anxious have you been on a scale of one to ten” (Mental health professionals love measuring time in 28 day blocks. Weirdos.)

I myself have filled in many forms like this over the years, and the questions stump me every time. Asking me to rate how depressed I am with numbers is like that song in the Sound Of Music when all the nuns are singing about the difficulty of solving a problem like Maria being akin to pinning a wave upon the sand. When I am depressed, it simply feels like I am drowning. How on earth can drowning be rated? You can’t be more drowning or less drowning, you are either drowning or you are not, and if it is the first of those options then the important thing is to send out the life boats rather than asking exactly what percentage of your lungs have filled with water. On the most recent questionnaire I filled out I was asked to write a number from 1 to 10 describing “how suicidal” I had felt in the last 28 days and then there were further enquiries as to how many days I had felt that way and what each of those days looked like when rated and compared. What kind of question is that? Can you rate how suicidal you have felt? Much like with the depression question, when I feel suicidal it is a feeling with a depth and breadth far greater than I can put into words, let alone numbers. Never have I ever turned up in a session saying I feel like “a 4” or indeed “a 10”. Instead I try to capture what is going on using any adjectives to hand, hopeless, guilty, lost, useless, depressed, like a waste of space etc, and even those aren’t good enough. Furthermore, if I have been feeling suicidal for a length of time I am unable to distinguish the levels of the feelings with each day that passes because on the day I am asked, the pain I am CURRENTLY experiencing is all I can think about, much like the person with the stubbed toe can only think about their bruised digit. Even if I could distinguish the difference, how can you measure “how suicidal” you are? What are you supposed to think? Should I reflect on my week and think “well Tuesday was clearly better than Wednesday because I only prepared a noose without planning on a place to hang it and working out how to get to such a height? Isn’t the fact that someone is suicidal enough to ring alarm bells? Professionals should hear that pain exists and take action immediately because to feel suicidal at all is incredibly serious and not something that should be dismissed because the form rated the feelings as “1”. If the number is anything other than a 0 in whatever box, the pain should be addressed rather than swept under the carpet as insignificant. 

Of course I understand the need to rate pain in the physical illness world and to some extent in the mental illness world as well. If you need to tell a doctor where something hurts, telling them how badly it hurts could be a handy indicator as to what is going on. Indeed I think numbering pain has great value and for a brief glimpse into how life is for a certain person, it has a place, but it is still incredibly limited. I am not saying we should stop rating pain by numbers, I am saying that we need to rate it in other ways too. For people who are scientifically minded maybe numbering things is a helpful way to look at distress. I myself however, am not a mathematical person, I instead deal with words and images. When I am distressed I feel my heart racing at such a rapid pace that I feel it will burst from my chest, when I feel hopeless I can see nothing but a bleak black hole, and when I am overwhelmed the world is a screaming canvas of differently coloured paint splattered chaotically like a Jackson Pollock painting. How on earth am I supposed to get all of that into a little box on a form using a secretary’s leaky biro? Mental illness questionnaires need to offer a variety of ways for people to express themselves, maybe some lined paper so that they can write if the number system is unsuitable, hell maybe a watercolour pad and some paint to at least attempt to capture the uncapturable and intricate complications of the human mind. Patients need to be seen as individuals who all feel and express themselves in a certain way, and the questionnaires they are required to fill out should reflect this. 

In my most recent forms, to be honest I found myself writing random numbers in a lot of the boxes (or at least numbers that my head didn’t deem as “dangerous and likely to cause harm to a loved one”), because I couldn’t rank my levels of distress in numerical order and I would be surprised if other people hadn’t had to do similar things just to make the professionals happy when really the idea is that they are trying to help YOU as an individual get better, not YOU helping them fill out their paperwork. Let us explore the diversity of experience in diverse ways, use any method possible to express some of what is going on in the depths of our souls and listen, look, even smell what is really going on rather than capturing it in an insignificant number on a scale of one to ten. We need to focus not on rating the pain but acknowledging that its mere existence is a problem and that if someone is drowning the key is sending out the life boats, not waiting for them to be “more drowning” or to cry out a number that is in double figures. By then who knows? It might be too late. 

Take care everyone x

Pain1

My Alcohol Confession Part Two

It is currently 2am on Monday the 4th of June and this blog post is due up in a number of hours. Normally I have the blog and picture all prepared almost a week before it is due to go up, but this week I am unprepared because this week I am scared.

All week I have been trying to write yet I have been unable because I am so scared of letting something slip that I should have explained last week and therefore in holding my words back I am unable to say anything at all. You see last week in my post ….. I came clean about a new problem I have, that being the problem of me binge drinking alcohol, but what I did not mention is a consequence that has come from that binge drinking and it is that consequence that I want to talk about today.

 

I am so scared to admit it because it is something that has both been terrifying and upsetting me lately, even though it is nothing to be ashamed of. I feel like a right idiot and hypocrite for being so upset about it considering I would be the first person to tell anyone out there that what I am about to say doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t show how ill or well anyone is, but I cannot help it. 

I am shaking as I am writing this and it is so stupid because it isn’t even a big deal. I am sure all of you out there are going to be thinking that I am about to admit to murdering penguins or something as I am making it out to be such a big and terrible crime, when really it is all going to be incredibly disappointing when I actually get round to spitting it out. Oh God I am practically going delirious with fear and I can’t believe I am actually going to come out with it. Ok, shut up Katie, just get round to the point.

So here goes, here is my confession: I am a healthy weight. 

OH MY GOODNESS! I CANNOT BELIEVE I ADMITTED IT! WHY IS THIS SO HARD, GAH, WHY.

I have just read back all that I have written and good lord it is the biggest amount of codswallop I have ever read. What am I even doing? What is going on? 

Right, time to explain. So like I said last week, I have started binge drinking and I have been binge drinking every day for almost two months now, pretty much ever since my suicide attempt. When I started I was extremely underweight and you all probably think that that is still the case, but in actual fact it is not. You see, before I started binge drinking, I was barely eating anything, but then I got drunk for the first time and in my drunken stupor I started eating. I have heard of other people with eating disorders turning to drink and from several people I have heard that they tend to replace food with alcohol when this happens, but this is not how it has happened with me. You see when I get drunk, I get happy and I don’t care about anything and consequently I eat and that is what I have done for the past two months. “You have eaten food” I hear you cry “what kind of a confession is that?” But when I say I have eaten food I mean I have eaten out of control, drunken quantities of food and because of this I have gained a lot of weight. I don’t want to admit this because I am extremely ashamed but I have gone from being very underweight to being a healthy weight in two months. It has been extremely traumatic and what’s worse is that I cannot seem to stop. Weeks ago I said that I was going to stop drinking so that I could lose all the weight, but I still haven’t managed to do that and so the weight is piling on. Even worse than that is it is all a vicious circle. You see one thing I didn’t mention last week was one of the big reasons why I drink and that reason is that it helps me deal with all this new unexpected and extremely painful weight gain. Problem is, I drink to make myself feel better about the weight and consequently eat which makes me gain more weight, hence this most vicious of vicious circles that I am stuck in. It is like a massive whirlpool from Moby Dick (in actual fact there is no whirlpool in Moby Dick but I just wanted to use this opportunity to drop in a Moby Dick reference to show off the fact that I have read that massive book).

I have decided that from the day I put up this blog I am going to have a new start, no alcohol and I am going to try and lose this weight again because like I said it is making my eating disorder scream louder and making me want to drink alcohol more which I really need to give up. In the interests of losing all this weight again I have joined a gym and come up with a new meal plan to try and help me, but I have no idea how I am going to do it because I cannot seem to give up alcohol and I am scared. I am scared that I will never get sober and that I will gain so much weight I will get overweight .

I guess here is where I should probably take a moment to explain why I think all of this is such a big deal because in actual fact being a healthy weight is not a big deal at all as I have said multiple times. Being a healthy weight doesn’t mean I have recovered from anorexia, far from it, I am so distressed by anorexic thoughts that I have been driven to drink, and I am no less anorexic than I was two months ago, but I worry that all of you reading this will now think that I am not worthy of listening to. It is ridiculous because I would never think that of anyone else, but my brain is just such a mess. 

If anyone else were a healthy weight I would listen to them and hear them as much as anyone but I worry that all of you only read my blog because I am underweight and now I am a healthy weight I am terrified that you won’t like me anymore. Does that make sense? Gah THIS IS SO STUPID! WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? Oh purple pansies I don’t know what else to say because I am so anxious about posting this…maybe I can distract you from all of what is going on…OH MY GOODNESS LOOK A TURTLE!

GAH ok so what is the message of this post? What am I saying? Well, I have no idea and to be honest I am flip flapping all over the place, but basically what I wanted to update you on this week is the fact that I am still struggling to stop drinking alcohol since my suicide attempt and that this alcohol has made me gain a lot of weight which I now need to lose but please don’t stop listening to me because of all this because oh dear no please. Ok, now for me to run away and pray you don’t hate me. Cool…bye! 

Take care everyone x 

Fatty

Why Alcohol Doesn’t Go Well With Mental Health Problems

Ketchup goes well with chips. Rhubarb goes well with custard. But do you know what doesn’t go well with mental health problems? Alcohol, and this is a lesson I have learnt fairly recently. 

You see there is something I have been leaving out of my most recent blogs, partly because I didn’t think it was a big deal and partly because I thought it was an issue that would resolve itself fairly quickly, but it turns out that that is not the case. Basically, over the past month I have become dependant on alcohol to get through life with my mental health problems and it is causing a lot of issues. 

It all started five weeks ago on a jolly evening out in a rather sunny April, when I was at a concert by my favourite singer. The concert was brilliant, the music exceptional, but In between each song my favourite singer would pause to talk to the audience and on one of these occasions she stated how much she wanted a drink to help her to relax on stage. Obviously I have known about alcohol before this moment in my life, but as soon as she said about how it would relax her, my anxious brain got all excited and I decided to try drinking myself to see if I could relax too. Cut to today, five weeks later and I have not been able to have a day sober since.

Naturally, I have been trying to stop drinking for multiple reasons. For one thing I know that it is not good to spend your entire life totally off your rocker on vodka, but I can’t help it and it is now that I am realising how silly it was to start drinking in the first place. Obviously I never intended to get addicted to it but come on, we all know I have a rather addictive personality (actually I don’t think I have a personality at all, just a thick blob of addictive in its place) so maybe I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t and now I am left to try and deal with this extra problem on top of all the others and that is why I am writing this blog, to tell people out there with mental health problems that alcohol is not going to be a solution to your issues, rather it will add another issue to the pot. 

It is like making a cake. When you have mental health problems you have all the ingredients of insanity swirling around inside you, anxiety eggs, depressed flour, paranoid sugar and melancholy vanilla extract. Then comes alcohol which you think will wash all of those ingredients away and leave you free of all problems and to be fair, temporarily it does. When I drink alcohol, my anxiety goes way down, I laugh rather than cry and suicidal urges become a thing of the past. For once I am happy, dare I say merry to the point of feeling pure joy. If you could see all the things I have done in the past month you would be shocked at how much I have “achieved” under the spell of alcohol, from touching a door handle to eating out in public and for this reason you may think that alcohol therefore goes well with mental health problems. It takes the pain away so surely it is a great combination? Wrong. Instead, as I have learnt, alcohol only masks the problem by placing a big old blanket on top of all of your mental health ingredients so that you can’t see them, but underneath that blanket things are getting worse. The more you drink the more the mental health problems blend together, the closer they get to the oven and then BOOM! Before you know it you have sobered up and instead of finding your problems gone you find that whilst they were covered up things have got a whole lot worse and you are suddenly left not just with all these nasty ingredients to deal with but a giant three tiered cake covered in icing and cherries, and that is where I am now. 

I think alcohol is very sneaky that way and to be honest I wish I had never started drinking in the first place. It was just so easy to get addicted to it. When you are anxious and depressed all the time and then find a magic potion that takes all that away, why wouldn’t you drink it and then keep going? Even if the relief from your problems is temporary and the potion is actually creating more and more problems, wouldn’t you keep drinking it? Now I am sure some of you out there are reading this and are saying “no Katie, no I wouldn’t” in which case I have to congratulate you for being far more sensible than me! 

Like I said I am trying to give up alcohol right now and I have managed two days sprinkled in amongst the five weeks of drinking, but it is far harder than I ever imagined to go without alcohol, even though I have only been using it as a solution to my problems for five weeks. I don’t think one can become an alcoholic in that time but you can certainly become pretty damn addicted and that is why my team have referred me to alcohol services to try and nip this problem in the bud before it gets any bigger. Alcohol certainly hasn’t solved my problems, it has just added to them and that is why I wanted to write my blog about this today because I fear that other people out there are likely to fall into the same trap as I have, the trap of seeing alcohol as a quick fix to all the nastiness in your head and therefore becoming reliant on it for life, which seems good in the short term but in the long term will only create bigger problems and lead to more addictions and issues than you ever imagined. 

I can’t offer any advice to people like me who have already fallen into this trap, because like I said, I am still in it but what I wanted to do in this blog was to warn about the fact that mental health problems do not go well with alcohol and alcohol is certainly not a solution to your demons, it is instead a new one of them poised and ready to make itself at home with the rest of the insanity family. 

So that is my confession for the week, a jolly one I am sure you will agree! Still, at least in the past five weeks I have learnt something and hopefully in writing this blog maybe I can use that lesson to benefit someone else out there who was maybe on the brink of turning to alcohol but now realises that it is really not a good idea…I can only hope! In the meantime I m going to try and give up alcohol myself before services have to get involved, but considering how hard I have been finding that, who knows how well that is going to go.

Take care everyone x 

NoVodka

A Message To Parents Of People With Mental Health Problems

In life, people like to blame people for things that happen, regardless of whether or not it was the person’s fault. If there is nobody to blame, things that happen are random and don’t make sense, so really we blame people to make the world tidy. When I was younger I lost my banana scented gel pen (it was a tough time in my life but I think I am just about getting over it), and in my head it was incomprehensible that the pen was just lost. I didn’t think at all about the fact its loss was probably the result of many little events, dropping it somewhere, someone spotting it and tidying it away, a gust of wind blowing it off a table under a chair, that was too much to think about, so instead who did I blame? My cuddly monkey, a culprit who made a lot more sense than some complex chain of events I couldn’t figure out. It was the perfect story, my cuddly monkey was clearly having jungle withdrawal symptoms living with me in Bristol, in my eyes he had heard the call of the wild and hankered after the scent of his favourite food in his homeland. I assumed he must not like the invisible bananas and cups of tea I provided (let it be known I did pretend to feed him and in my eyes this thievery was not an act of desperation out of hunger, I am not a monster who starves cuddly monkeys thank you very much), and that the taking of my pen was for nostalgic scent purposes. Obviously, my monkey did not really steal my banana pen (I am 99% sure he didn’t anyway…), and it was silly to jump to that conclusion before the idea that the pen was just lost, but like I said, people like to blame people to make the world simple. 

Unfortunately, this desire to blame often happens when someone gets diagnosed with mental health problems. After the initial surprise has worn off and people have time to really think, they always look for someone to blame. They start wondering why someone is ill, what could have caused it, and often, especially in young adults or children, the conclusion will be that it must have been something to do with the parents. Even professionals say it sometimes. My mum used to work in a school and one day a nurse came in to talk about how to spot eating disorders in pupils. One of the possible causes for eating disorders listed in her presentation was “Troubled upbringing/home life”, which naturally upset my mum and had her worrying more than usual that the past decade of madness in our household has been because she failed as a parent. To her and to all parents I therefore want to say this:

If your child has been diagnosed with mental health problems, that does not mean that it is all your fault or that you have done anything wrong. 

Your child does not have anorexia simply because you tried a lot of different diets when they were growing up. Your child does not have OCD rituals around washing because you insisted they washed their hands before meals. Your child is not depressed because you didn’t hug them enough and they don’t cut their bodies just because you didn’t give lessons in self acceptance over breakfast. Maybe you did all of those things, maybe you did none of them, but either way they are not the reason your child is ill. Many people with eating disorders grew up in houses that promoted a healthy relationship with food just as many people without eating disorders grew up in houses with parents who ran weight loss classes at the local leisure centre. The complexities of mental health problems are not as simple as A causes B, they are often frighteningly random, they don’t make sense enough to have someone to blame at all, and sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. 

Like all illnesses, mental health problems do not discriminate. Depression doesn’t go door to door and interview the parents to see how well they have brought their child up before it attacks. If depression is going to happen, it will just charge in and make itself known, it will not peer through a window, notice that you have a lovely home with a matching three piece suite and freshly plumped cushions and walk away to find someone whose mum didn’t cut the crust off their sandwiches. 

Now I will admit, upbringing can have an impact on a child’s development and mental health, if you locked your child in a basement and beat them with a wet slipper every morning, that may have played a part in their low self esteem, but generally things are not that clear cut and the reasons are so numerous and so bound up in random life nonsense anyway that you can never pin point a cause. You can list a thousand reasons why I have mental health problems, a history of mental illness in the family, certain events, loss of loved ones, broken hearts, a desire to control a world whose unpredictability frightened me, being the geek with glasses, you can say anything and even then you could not grasp the reason why, because all of those potential influences are glued together with a million invisible things that nobody will ever know or understand. It is rare that an illness can be pinned down to one thing, just as you can’t entirely blame a cancer on the fact someone smokes, when it comes to any illness, it is too complicated to be anyone’s fault. If someone watches a man on a bus stop raise his arm and stop the bus they could conclude that the stopping of the bus was caused by the arm lifting into the air. Okay it may look like that on the surface and make sense as a neat tidy story, but it takes no account whatsoever of all the other knots in that chain of events stopping the bus. For example the driver had his eyes open to see the arm, his brain recognising it as a symbol for “stop” (and hopefully not “Heil Hitler”), someone else having already pressed the button, a foot had to go on the brakes and various cogs and things in the mechanics of the bus played a part too. Blaming someone for causing a mental health problem is like blaming that man for stopping the bus without thinking of all the other things that come into play. 

If you are a parent and your offspring has mental health problems, I beg you, please do not blame yourself and assume you must have done a bad job in raising the baby you dreamed would grow up to have a perfect life, that is unlike the one you see in reality. In life, shit just happens and there is very little you can do about it. Your role as a parent is not to stop the bad things from happening, to wrap them in cotton wool so that the monsters don’t get in. Monsters do not give two hoots about cotton wool. Don’t blame yourself for things that were not your fault and that you cannot change (for even if you could blame someone, talking about whose fault something is will never resolve the situation), instead do what you can with what you have. Love and support your child even when those monsters get in and help them fight those assholes until they flee the house rather than checking the locks and wondering how the hell they got in in the first place. Nobody can raise someone to not have mental health problems and that is  not a necessary requirement of a parent. Mental illnesses suck, but nobody can stop them, your only job is to offer love and support regardless of what is going on. That is what a good parent is, so relax, if you are doing that, then you are doing everything. 

Take care everyone x

Parents

Anorexia And The Fear Of Being A Healthy Weight

When people hear that I have anorexia and am scared of gaining weight or scared to maintain a healthy weight, they always assume that this is because I am scared of getting (or eventually being), “fat”. In actual fact, this is not because I fear getting or being thought of as fat or large at all, and funnily enough being fat is probably one of the things I worry about the least when it comes to anorexia. 

The majority of my friends are a healthy weight, (by which I mean a healthy BMI which is of course not a foolproof way to measure anyone’s health due to all the many variables at play, but for now it is the best we have). Some of them have always been a healthy weight and have never had an eating disorder, but there are others I have met in treatment during times in which they were very underweight, that have since regained to a healthy place in their quest for recovery. Sometimes I was in hospital with them for the entire weight restoration process, but never at any point did I ever look at them gaining back the weight they never should have lost and think that they are “fat” once their BMI has returned to a healthy range. On the contrary, without exception, I always think people look more beautiful and fabulous than ever before when they have gained the weight. It is like seeing a shrivelled up flower come back to life again and bloom brightly coloured petals all over the place, and in seeing this surely I shouldn’t fear being a healthy weight myself? After all, who would want to look like a shrivelled up flower when you could look like a fresh one at the peak of its colour? I know I certainly don’t, so why do I fear being a healthy weight? 

When it comes down to it, it is all to do with the way I feel on the inside and the way in which people perceive me. Inside, I feel broken, scared, weak, sad and very much shrivelled in every sense of the word. When I am underweight people treat me as if they know all of these things. They don’t ask me what I am doing with my life or how I am because they know I am too unwell to be doing anything in life, which saves me having to tell them these things and acknowledge the catastrophe that is my current situation myself. When I am healthy however, they assume that my mind is naturally in the same corresponding state, and when that isn’t the case, it can be incredibly frustrating, confusing and dysphoric. 

To explain it in another way, I would like you to imagine that I am a penguin (and if you know me well enough that will not be too much of a stretch. Literally all you need to do is add a beak and the ability to eat raw fish, I mastered waddling before I could talk.) 

Inside I know I am a penguin, and I feel like a penguin. I know that I like sliding across sheets of ice on my tummy, I know that I can swim faster than an olympic athlete, I know I can catch fish with ease, I have fully accepted the fact that no matter how hard I flap I will never be able to fly and I know that in terms of career, my goals are to waddle around various agencies to pursue my dream of becoming an extra in the children television show “Pingu” or to model on the front of the wrapper of a chocolate biscuit that is named after me. When I am underweight, everyone else around me can see that I am a penguin. Fellow penguins nod to me in the street to acknowledge our solidarity in species, when I go to a pub the bar keeper knows I will want ice in my drink without me having to ask and friends compliment me on the elegance of my waddle and ask how I achieve such shine on my beak. If they hear about an audition for an actor to play Pingu’s second cousin twice removed, they call me right away and offer to give me a lift, but when I am a healthy weight, they see that audition sheet and don’t even think of me. 

When I am a healthy weight, nobody can see that I am a penguin, instead, they see a meerkat and treat me accordingly. When I nod at my fellow penguins knowing that I am one of them they look at each other aghast as to what this fluffy stranger is trying to say. People keep putting me in sand pits so that I will feel more at home, they buy me air conditioning systems to install in my desert home because they know how hot it is in my country of origin, I am offered jackal repellent to help me avoid predators and passers by ask me for help comparing different offers they have received on their car insurance. Nobody is unpleasant or horrible, but still I hate it and want to scream at them because inside I know that I am a penguin. Jackals don’t hunt me in the arctic! I hate sand because it gets stuck in my flippers, I am cold enough as it is without air conditioning units in my igloo and I know nothing about car insurance! When I am a healthy weight there is such a disconnect between the meerkat people see and talk to on the outside and the broken, cold little penguin on the inside that it almost feels like being two different people or that people can’t really see me at all. I feel I have to try and act like a meerkat to live up to their expectations yet I don’t know how. When I am underweight, people see the penguin I know and feel that I am, I don’t have to pretend, I am instantly understood and treated as the waddling little creature I am. 

That is why I fear being a healthy weight, and from what I gather from friends with eating disorders that is also why they fear it too. It is nothing about fearing being fat or looking unattractive, it is fearing being seen and treated as something or someone that is totally different to the person you know you are in your heart, it is fearing being put in a sand pit that burns your flippers rather than being taken ice skating for a pleasant afternoon of sliding on your tummy. 

I realise this whole thing is a really difficult thing to understand (and as you can probably tell, a difficult thing to explain what with all this talk about penguins and meerkats), but I hope I have helped it make some sense. I have anorexia, but I am not scared of being fat, I am scared of people thinking that I am “ok” when inside I feel anything but. 

Take care everyone x 

Meerkat