Being Afraid Of Your Own Brain When You Have Mental Health Problems

I feel like there is someone in my brain who is trying to kill me. It feels like I am being stalked by something, like a lion stalks a gazelle, but I can’t see how close or far away they are because when I turn around there is nobody there. Nobody else can see them either, they are in my head and unfortunately my eyes are positioned in a way that I can only see the outside world rather than what is going on internally (sort it out evolution for goodness sake, you gave us opposable thumbs now can you please work on swivelling eyes…And whilst you are at it can you please take this appendix away because it is taking up valuable storage room).
I am scared that this thing in my head is going to succeed in trying to kill me and I am also scared that it will fail. I don’t like being chased and sometimes I just want the thing to catch up and get whatever it is planning over with.

You might be wondering how on earth it is possible for someone to be afraid of their own brain because surely if the brain belongs to me, I am in control of it and what it decides to do. You don’t go round worrying that your own fist is going to punch you in the face because if your fist were to ever get such an idea it is likely you would tell it that you would rather not be punched in the face and could it maybe do something more helpful like make you a cup of tea.
That’s the thing though. I don’t feel in control of my brain and I don’t feel like I know what it is going to do at any given moment anymore. I always thought that if I owned my brain and my brain was me, then I would know my way around it. I would know every lobe, every memory, every thought and every desire because…well…they are supposed to be mine. If I have a secret that I keep from other people I tuck it away in my secret brain cupboard so they won’t be able to find it, but lately it has felt like my brain has a whole separate section where it is keeping its own secrets in its own secret cupboard that I cannot access.

“Maybe it is a nice secret” I hear you cry, “maybe your brain is preparing you a surprise party” but I don’t think that is the case, partly because it doesn’t feel like a nice secret and partly because I know for a fact that my brain hasn’t been balloon shopping recently and as I have said many a time on this blog, one cannot have a party unless there is at least one balloon present. If there is something magical in this secret cupboard, I know that it is not Narnia and is more likely to be a direct doorway to the White Witch.

I am worried that I am not making any sense and that I am being confusing in this post but if I am I guess that would be an accurate representation as to how things feel with my mental health right now, confusing and making little sense.

The Depression and BPD are still there, the OCD, and anorexia still have their claws in and dictate every one of my actions, yet still it feels like there is something different, something weird going on. I am more out of control than ever and half the time I don’t know who I am or what is going on.
I keep seeing things and I can’t tell if they are real or if I am imagining them. It started off as spiders, not the most pleasant things to imagine crawling around you and I would far rather imagine waddles of penguins approaching if I have to imagine anything, but I don’t think I have much of a choice in the matter. I started seeing spiders out of the corner of my eyes yet I was able to turn to face the place I thought I saw a spider and I could see that there was nothing there. Now though the spiders are bigger and they have tails. They also have fur and have lost four of their legs. They are rats now. Even when I know I am alone in a room I can feel people standing behind the curtains or crouching just outside beyond the window sill. I don’t know what they are doing there and it must be incredibly stuffy wrapped up in a curtain for hours every day (I can confirm this after years of playing hide and seek as a child), but they stand there anyway.

I am scared that I am actually “going mad”. More often than not I have been having to wake my mum up in the middle of the night to come in and sleep in my room because I don’t feel safe from my brain. It is as though, if I close my eyes and go to sleep for a minute, I am leaving myself unguarded and it will be able to sneak an attack in whilst I am busy being unconscious. I don’t understand the logic behind this fear as surely if I am asleep, my brain is asleep too, yet still I feel so disconnected from it these days that I can’t be sure what it is up to when I am not looking. It is clearly doing something underhand during my snoozing of late because I keep waking up screaming and often have no idea why.

I stay awake all night to keep myself safe and I also have stay awake all night to guard the house, because if I go to sleep ,not only will my brain start wreaking havoc but the people outside below the window sill will also find a way in somehow. It is ridiculous, if there ever was an intruder in reality I highly doubt my presence would be the thing to deter them (a point my psychologist pointed out last week…I think she was trying to be helpful but to be honest I took it as rather rude because clearly rather than assuring me of my safety she is actually implying that I don’t look as terrifyingly strong and powerful as I clearly am and I take the insinuation that I could not intimidate a burglar very offensively.) Still, logical or not, sense or nonsense aside, the feeling that I must guard the house is always there.

It is just a difficult situation to be in because I know that I should be responsible for my own mental health and therefore should be responsible and keep myself safe. I am 25 years old, certainly old enough by society’s standards to look after myself but I don’t feel responsible or in control and consequently I don’t feel certain I can keep myself safe. I have been disassociating for days on end (I will do a post soon explaining exactly what that is because it is an important mental health topic I somehow haven’t discussed yet…FOR SHAME!), but basically it means that there are a lot of days where I am not really “present” and therefore I have a lot of blank spots in my memory. It is all so frustrating I could scream, yet I don’t think that would make any difference. All that would mean was I was scared and could hear myself screaming and I would rather have the former without the latter if I have to have the former at all.

Like I said before, I am worried that this post won’t make any sense as I am not sure I understand it either, but still I wanted to write about how this feels. To try and explain or raise awareness of this side of mental health problems, the side where your brain is so mixed up all over the place that you are frightened of it, just incase there is anyone else out there experiencing the same thing and feeling as scared and alone as I do right now. Sometimes my mental health problems involve being depressed, being suicidal, or self harming. A lot of the time they focus on being afraid of germs, being afraid of food, and now, apparently they involve being afraid of myself.

Take care everyone x

ScaryBrain

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“I Wish I Had The Self Control To Be Anorexic”

Several times in my life I have heard the phrase “I wish I had the self control to be anorexic” and, considering I am now writing this blog post about this phrase, you can safely assume that I have a lot to say about it.
You may be thinking “Katie, you already wrote a post about people wanting anorexia and how silly that is, why are you repeating yourself?” (a post you can find at the link here: A Message To All The People Out There Who Are “Pro-Ana”), but please hold that thought as I actually think that the problem with this phrase is not about people wanting eating disorders.
Indeed, unlike people who are “pro-Ana”, in my experience, people who say this are not actually craving the bulging rib cage and hip bone images promoted on “pro-Ana” websites. The mistake these people make is not that of idolising a mental illness, rather it is of completely misunderstanding what an eating disorder actually is and what it is like to suffer from one.

I think when it comes to illnesses such as anorexia, there is a misconception that when people with the illness don’t eat, it is because of their will power or an extreme superhuman ability for self-control. They assume that sufferers feel hungry and want to eat but powerfully override the primal urge to seek food because they are strong, yet in my experience, it is the total opposite, and it is in the times that I am unable to follow this primal urge that I feel the weakest that I have ever felt in my entire life (even weaker than the time I was beaten in an arm wrestle by an rather arrogant and ambitious sloth I met drinking tequila in a bar a few years ago…that was a BAD evening.)

Whenever I miss a meal or don’t eat a free sample handed to me in a supermarket, it isn’t because I implement my ability to make decisions/affect my actions as the word “control” implies. Instead, it is because I am not in control at all, a point I think is easier to explain if we take a trip down memory lane and travel back in time to any birthday I have had over the course of the last decade.

Most years, when it gets near to my birthday, if I am out shopping in a supermarket with my mum, when we walk past the birthday cake section, she will look at the birthday cakes and sigh. Following this signal, we may have a wander over to look at all the intricately decorated creations topped with thick white icing and pictures of various Disney characters (I don’t look at the plain old boring cakes for “adults” that simply say “Happy Birthday”. Seriously who wants one of those when you can have an sponge shaped like a minion or a giant chocolate caterpillar with a cheeky grin?!), and then after five minutes of eye wandering my mum will turn to me and ask the question “can I get you a birthday cake this year?”.
Now, if I had any degree of “self-control” when it comes to food and my ability to nourish myself, I can honestly say I would turn to my mother in these moments and say something along the lines of:

“Can you buy me a birthday cake? Why of course! There is no question regarding such a matter! It is my birthday in two weeks and I simply cannot celebrate the occasion without a cake! Quick! Let’s go around all the supermarkets and bakeries in the area to try and find the biggest penguin shaped chocolate cake available. I want nothing more than to share such a delight with all of my nearest and dearest friends! Ooh can I please reserve the chocolate beak for me because it is my birthday? I do love a chocolate beak! Hurry mother, let us away to the automobile and get started on this quest immediately!”.
I would probably then insist we head to the candle area to pick the most garish, brightly coloured candles on offer to adorn my perfect penguin centrepiece, poised and ready for the moment when I am ready to blow out the flames and make a wish that Helena Bonham Carter hurries up and marries me already.

That is the response of a Katie who is in control. Unfortunately though, we haven’t seen “In Control Katie” around much lately. That Katie popped out for bread about ten years ago leaving an out of control mess in place, and since then we haven’t heard anything (better be picking up some damn good bread is all I can say…I’m talking a good quality ciabatta or we are going to have issues).
Therefore, with “In Control Katie” otherwise engaged on a mission to find a tasty source of carbohydrates, it is the “out of control” one that turns to Mum year on year with a dejected look and says: “I wish. Maybe next time”, at which point we agree to try again next year before repeating the annual routine in roughly 365 days time.
I know it would mean the world to my mum to buy me a giant penguin birthday cake to share with her/the family, and I desperately want to accept her offer each time mainly because I want to see her reaction. I want to see her face light up with the brightness of a birthday cake candle, filled with hope that for once she can do something that normal mothers do rather than having to come up with some kind of eating disorder friendly replacement for her neurotic offspring (e.g. the act of sticking a candle in a pink lady…the kind of apple I mean…not an unsuspecting blushing female who doesn’t know what’s coming).
When I do not accept the offer of a proper birthday cake then, it is not because I don’t want to, it is because my mind throws up barriers that make me feel that I physically can’t.
It is like a “normal” person standing in front of a bonfire and wanting to put their hand in it to retrieve a particularly nice log. They can look into those flames and want to put their hand in to get the log (this person really likes logs), but no matter what, they can’t. Of course they are physically capable of moving their arm into the vicinity of the fire, but the fear of pain stops them (no matter how much they like logs).
Saying “I wish I had the self-control to be anorexic” then, is basically like saying “I wish I had the self-control not to put my hand on a bonfire”. Of course eating and setting yourself aflame aren’t the same thing, one is vital for life whilst the other is downright ridiculous and not something I advise anyone to try at home or anywhere else for that matter, but the similarity exists in the sense that both the person who doesn’t put their hand in the fire and the person with the eating disorder do not carry out their actions because of self-control, rather it is because they are both scared and fear the pain that could result from their actions.

Whenever you hear yourself or anyone wishing they had the “self-control” and “will power” to eat like someone with an eating disorder then, please know that when it comes to eating disorders, self-control has absolutely nothing to do with any of it. When someone is unable to keep themselves healthy by eating enough, it is because they are not in control, and because the reins of decision are actually being held hostage by an evil dictator in their head who is trying to kill them.
If I had self-control and willpower over my life I could write a list of about a million things I would use it for. The ability to fill my mother’s eyes with disappointment, to refuse sharing a dessert with a friend or turn down the offer of a birthday cake would not be on there.

Take care everyone x

ControllingPea

Why It Can Be Scary To Take Medication For Mental Health Problems

Recently, my psychiatrist prescribed me a new medication to help me with some of my mental health problems. I am on various medications already with a variety of different purposes and have been for some time, but in terms of what these new tablets are “supposed to do”, the aim is for them to reduce some more of the anxiety that my current medications are allowing to linger long after they have done their jobs. Ironically though, despite having had this packet of anti anxiety medication on the kitchen worktop for over a month, I am too anxious to take them.

I think being scared of taking medication for a mental health problem is extremely common and to be fair it would be weird if people weren’t a little afraid of whatever tablet their doctor has recommended them to take. A big reason for this is of course the long list of side effects that comes in any box of medication from Calpol to Morphine, although when you think about it there are no medications that have side effects, there are only effects.
Tablets do a lot of different things and it is the scientists/elves (I am not sure who makes medicine these days but I am sure it is one of the two) who decide which effects to put in the “Purpose of tablet” column and which go in the “side effects” column, aka the effects that are harder to advertise. For example, for some people Paracetamol can have the effect of giving them yellow skin so that effect is categorised as a side effect because that effect is less easy to advertise than the more attractive “this will help take your head ache away” effect (unless of course you are dealing with someone who wants yellow skin so that they can look like a Simpson, in which case I suggest body paint which is probably a lot safer).

I think mental health medication is scarier to take than “normal” body medication though, because there is a fear that it will fundamentally change you as a person, your characteristics, interests and identity. When you take a physical medication that may turn your skin the colour of a freshly picked banana, there is a separation there between you and the skin. Ok the skin is your skin, but aside from holding all your body parts together your skin doesn’t affect who YOU are and no matter what the colour of your skin, you will be the same person you were before and will be able to react and interact with friends and family in the same way as you did prior to your sudden transformation into a Simpson. The skin is just the irrelevant wrapping paper on the more important gift. If you wrap a new video game in white paper and then colour it yellow, you will still have the same present inside.
With mental health medications however, they are designed to interfere with how your brain works and the side effects of that can feel more personal. By changing your mind, it feels that they are changing an integral part of you, so that one second you could be a lover of Julie Andrews dancing round your kitchen belting out “the hills are alive” and the next you are on some uncontrollable rampage to burn every copy of the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins
I think we can all agree it is infinitely less stressful to take a tablet that might change the colour of our wrapping paper rather than one that risks turning the games console under the Christmas tree you have been waiting months for, into a sardine which in comparison is about as much fun as…well…a soggy sardine.

Indeed, I know from experience that medications can change fundamental parts of my personality. When I was a teenager there was one medication that practically turned me into the incredible hulk. I was filled with rage all the time, a rage without reason, and I became violent and out of control. I am really ashamed of a lot of things I did during that time of constant fury, as it changed my character so dramatically that I ended up doing a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do like kicking through a glass door.
As well as medications that have changed my character, I have experienced medications that have simply had mental side effects that were unpleasant such as one tablet that pretty much knocked me out and left me sleeping twenty four hours a day. I guess it did its job of reducing the number of OCD rituals I was carrying out, but that was only because I was a comatose zombie who could barely lift a duvet let alone shower for several hours.
I have also been on a medication that gave me hallucinations (if the police are reading this I would like to make it clear that these tablets were prescribed to me by a medical professional and were not in any way purchased in a dark alley from someone in a rather large coat). This was yet another unpleasant side effect, and every day I found it even harder to tell the difference between what was real and what wasn’t, what had happened in reality, and what was just a figment of my imagination. Luckily, during this time I was in hospital so there were nurses around constantly to help me distinguish between the two or sit with me through the scary ones, and though a lot of that time is a blur, looking back I find it easier to separate events that actually happened during that time from the more fantastical fictions written by my dodgy brain chemistry, based on what things are most likely to be true. For example nowadays I reason that it was most likely a hallucination when one of the nurses danced around my bed waving an assortment of Hawaiian shirts but obviously real life when I was awarded the Nobel prize for literature and rode around the country on an ostrich…I just wish I could find the prize money…and the ostrich…

It is also scary to take a mental health medication because the same medication can affect two people in completely different ways so it is impossible to hear of someone else’s experience with a particular tablet and know what to expect when you swallow it yourself, so you sort of go into it blind like some medication Russian roulette. Will you continue dancing around the kitchen singing “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or will you wake up next day to a smouldering pile of ashes in which you can vaguely make out the image of Julie Andrews dressed as a nun.
Indeed I have friends who have taken the same tablets as I have but with completely different results, and the medication that turned me into the Incredible Hulk (a medication I was swiftly removed from), is the same medication as the one that my friend has been taking for years because for her, the effect is far more calming than the urge to kick through the conservatory door.

With this medication I have been prescribed most recently though, the fear I have isn’t actually one that is related to the fear that it will change my brain chemistry and me as a person. To be honest things are so difficult at the moment that I wouldn’t give a curtain wrapped Von Trapp child if the medication changed me as a person (please forgive me Julie Andrews).
No, this time, the fear is more about the physical side effects listed in the instruction manual, most specifically the one that says “possible weight gain”. I know that whenever medications put this as a side effect it generally means that the tablets may increase a person’s appetite, consequently leading them to eat more food and gain weight because of that, rather than directly from the medication itself, so as someone with an eating disorder who eats the exact same rigid meal plan and amount every day without taking heed of hunger cues, that reason for weight gain would not happen to me. However again, as someone with an eating disorder, the fear of risking a random weight increase because of a tablet, even if I don’t change my diet, is terrifying. If that were to happen I would feel totally out of control, more anxious and likely to restrict my diet more than I already do. It is a difficult thing to balance, on one hand I could take this new medication and it could help me with anxiety, and on the other it could simply make things worse.

I know that medication is not always the answer, neither does it solve all your problems (a topic I really want to come back to sometime if you are willing to stick around as a reader of my blog…I will give you cookies…), but right now I do think that I need to give this medication a go considering the fact my brain isn’t responding to any of the other therapies/attempts to sort it out. In a few weeks time my psychiatrist will ask me how the new medication I have been taking for the past few months is going and at the moment I will have nothing to tell him because all I have done is look at it and I can wholeheartedly confirm that staring at the tablet has had no therapeutic benefit to me whatsoever. I really am determined to try it…at some point…possibly…definitely…I think…It is just the case of taking the first one and getting over that hurdle, cracking out a pot of maple syrup – going with the grand advice that a spoonful of sugar will make the medicine go down and not my weight go up…Good lord, where is Mary Poppins when you need her eh?

Take care everyone x

WheelOfFortune

Mental Health Problems In The LGBTQ+ Community

This is just a little note to say that this post mentions incidents involving self harm so if that would trigger you, I thank you very much for joining us today but maybe go and treat yourself to a good cup of tea and biscuits instead. Safety first pals!

I once had a psychologist who, during a talk about my mental health and how broken my brain is, asked me if I thought any of my issues “were because of being gay”. I was appalled.

“How dare you!” I replied. “What homophobic nonsense is this? I am deeply offended! You think people who are gay must also be mad because nobody with common sense would be queer? For-shame! A plague unto you and your ancestors! Watch me flounce out of this room waving my rainbow flag in a fury! Watch me flounce I say!” (please note that this was what I replied in my head…in reality I think I just squinted my eyes a bit and formed a quizzical expression).

At the time I didn’t see what being a member of the LGBTQ+ club, had to do with my mental health at all, but after a little bit of discussion, research, and no actual flouncing, I realised that this psychologist was on to something.
Turns out, rainbow folk in general show higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts than heterosexuals, so seeing as it is Pride month in the UK this month, I thought I would use this post to think about why that might be. It’s like that old saying, “if you are gay and you have mental health problems, it is your duty to mush those experiences together and write a blog about it.”

In my experience,I wouldn’t say that for me personally, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community has been THE trigger that led to all of my personal mental health problems, although I know that for some people, it can be.
Often I think it can be things like homophobic bullying and external discrimination that are the reason people who are LGBTQ+ might go on to suffer problems, and in that respect, I have been very lucky.
I have never been bullied for my sexuality, my family have always been very accepting (my mum to the point where she is basically a walking gay pride parade all year round and always gets very excited/becomes a fan every time any celebrity comes out as a homosexual), and I live in a country/time period where it is safe for me to be “out” without fearing arrest.
The only discrimination I have ever had has been the odd homophobic slur shouted out of a car window at me as I was walking down the street, but this has never really bothered me as I don’t have that much respect for the opinions of people who shout abuse out of car windows… I might admire their ability to project with their vocal chords out of a moving vehicle, but when it comes to their judgements on who I fall in love with, frankly, I don’t give a damn.

However being LGBTQ+ has certainly affected me because of discrimination, it is just that all of that discrimination came from my own head and in the early days of my queerness, led me to feeling very ashamed.
Nobody in my external surroundings was telling me I was weird or shouldn’t be gay, but my head was, and consequently I was scared to tell anyone about it incase they felt the same. Indeed I decided that rather than tell anyone, I would start a grand “make Katie straight” mission so that nobody would ever have to find out. You may wonder how on earth one goes about “de-gaying themselves” as surely to do so is impossible, and in that assumption, you would be right. Little old me however, was convinced otherwise.

The idea came to me whilst watching a television program which funnily enough, was about a straight woman seeing if she could undergo treatment to turn her gay…Good lord they show some weird things on TV these days…
Anyway, in the program, this woman was told by some mad scientist to use this machine that would give her electric shocks every time she thought something heterosexual in an attempt to recondition the brain to stop thinking those things. The theory was that if your brain experiences an electric shock every time you think about something, it will stop thinking about that thing (either that or your hair will stick out all over the place forevermore and you will run up one hell of an electricity bill).
Unfortunately, I did not have an electric shock machine. I did however, have access to a lot of sharp things around my household, and I think you can guess how things went from there without me providing any more detail. As part of my “make Katie straight” plan, I set about trying to literally cut the gay part away from me, a futile pursuit considering “gayness” is not an extra body part or a long fingernail you can clip away at until it is gone. Unsurprisingly, that plan didn’t work, but it did get me into a cycle of self harm that I couldn’t get away from and still struggle with to this day.

Admittedly, my struggle with self harm is not about being gay anymore, but the whole situation introduced the idea of self harm as a punishment, a coping mechanism to try and remove guilt or shame I was feeling about anything in life.
Rather than being a punishment for being gay, it has become a punishment for things like bad marks on a test at school, or saying something mean in an argument, and I actually used to keep a little notebook in my pocket throughout the day to keep track of my “crimes” so I knew how many “punishments” I deserved later.
At first I was only doing a few things “wrong” a day, but because I was scared to talk to any of my psychologists about it as that would involve telling them how self harm started, and though I was ok with being gay, I didn’t expect everyone else to be. Consequently the notebook of punishments escalated and got so out of hand that after a few months, every action was considered a crime deserving of punishment, from using a “large blob of toothpaste” (which would use up the family tube sooner and lead to money needing to be spent on a new one), to “not smiling well enough at my friend in the corridor at school”.

It wasn’t until my mum found some blood soaked clothing in my bag which I had been trying to smuggle into school to wash in the school sink before she could see it in the laundry, that the whole self harm as punishment thing came out, and even then I wouldn’t tell people how it had started.
By the time I did tell people that I was gay, I had already been in therapy for 8 years or so and had been through two admissions to psychiatric hospitals, always keeping that part of my identity hidden. Like I said, being gay has never been a cornerstone in the almighty Jenga tower of my insanity so I don’t think that keeping that part of me a secret severely hindered my treatment. I was still able to talk openly and honestly about the depression, OCD, BPD related problems and anorexia in therapy, yet although it isn’t the source of my mental health problems, when I finally came out to professionals it did serve as some kind of relief. Whether it had been important to OCD or not, I always had to watch what I said in sessions incase I accidentally let a possible clue slip like “I LOVE HELENA BONHAM CARTER AND I WANT TO MARRY HER IN A BIG GAY WEDDING WITH A BIG RAINBOW CAKE BECAUSE I AM A BIG GAY MYSELF”. Being able to talk openly without worrying about that certainly made a difference and made me feel more connected to my therapists, because I think if you are ever keeping a secret from anyone, you are automatically reserved around people even when that secret isn’t being discussed.

As you can see then, compared to some members of the LGBTQ+ community with mental health problems, being queer hasn’t had anywhere near the impact on me that it has on other people. In essence, being gay is the vanilla extract in my giant cake of insanity rather than the flour of which the majority of the cake comprises.
That said there are a lot of LGBTQ+ folk out there who struggle so much with their identity either due to judgement from outside sources or internal judgement on themselves, that being LGBTQ+ can be a direct cause of certain conditions like depression or anxiety and it is for these people that we need to talk more about this kind of thing in the hopes that they will be able to seek help themselves. If shame about your identity leads you to having mental health problems, it is likely that shame will prevent you from seeking help for them, and as we all know that is just going to make things worse.

In this post I do not want to do a shoutout to all the LGBTQ+ people out there who are hiding in the bushes and tell them to run about telling everyone about their identity, because I understand that for some people in certain families or countries, that might not be safe for them.
All I want to say is that if you are struggling and feeling like there is nobody to turn to, you are not alone and I can promise you that there are people out there who understand (I am one of them. Hello, it is nice to meet you. My name is Katie and if you bring me penguins we can be best friends). If being LGBTQ+ is causing mental health problems and it is not safe for you to speak to people around you, there are hundreds of LGBTQ+ mental health charities out there for every country (I will link a page recommending some existing in the UK below), and if you can, I would encourage you to reach out to them for support.
I am not going to demand you just get a rainbow flag and feel proud because it is pride month, as I understand it is not as easy as that, but I do hope to offer some sense of reassurance that being LGBTQ+ is NOT something anyone needs to to be ashamed of or punished for, no matter what that voice in your head tells you.

Take care everyone x

RainbowBlog

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/lgbtq-mental-health/useful-contacts/#.WV0XKlKZPVo

 

How Summer Can Affect People With Eating Disorders

When you live with an eating disorder, there are a lot of things that can affect it. For example my eating disorder rules are often impacted by things like my location, what time it is, who I am with, what is going on for the rest of that day, and, as I have learnt very recently, what season it is.

I have always known that things like the season can affect my eating disorder, but never have I realised this more than this summer, especially the past few weeks of June. If you do not live in England you may not be aware of what has been going on, so to clue you in, you should know that for the majority of June, England has been doing its very best impersonation of a Sauna. IT WAS 34 DEGREES.
For those of you who are used to living in hot countries this may not sound particularly hot, but for people who have always lived in England, 34 degrees feels like you are wearing three hundred woollen jumpers and have been thrust into a furnace with a hot potato shoved down your trousers, a feeling that is not helped by our inability to go for more than 24 hours without a good cup of hot tea (seriously we can’t do it. This isn’t a joke. Tea withdrawal disease is a very serious problem in the UK and 90% of hospital admissions are poor folk who cannot find their favourite teapot).

Now when the weather is hot, people like to take off their clothes or at least wear as few clothes as possible. Gone are the winter coats and snow boots and out come the shorts and crop tops, items that I find rather terrifying due to my eating disorder and body confidence issues. Throughout the year I live in large baggy jumpers so as to cover my body up and out of sight, so that people cannot see all of the disgustingness I see when I look in the mirror, which is a slightly problematic practice when the weather is hot. In summer when you have an eating disorder or body dysmorphic issues, you basically have two choices, stick to your normal wardrobe and roast to death or wear sensible clothes that allow a little bit of breeze here and there but that simultaneously leave you incredibly uncomfortable/stuck in the high street rigid with anxiety because you are wearing a pair of shorts.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I also find summer and warm weather extremely triggering to my eating disorder because I am so used to being cold and being cold is a symptom of being “unwell”. Indeed being cold is a feeling so synonymous and such a documented symptom for people with eating disorders that thermometers were shoved in our ears multiple times a day in hospital to see if we were at risk of hypothermia (an unpleasant experience though I suppose better than that of having a thermometer shoved anywhere else…).
Every time I say or am told by someone that I feel cold, doctors will say things like “it is because you are underweight” or “it is because you don’t eat enough”, so when I am not cold, I panic.
Due to the association with being cold to not eating enough, if I feel warm or heaven forfend “hot” at any time, my head will immediately convince me that it is because I must have accidentally eaten ten buckets of lard and have gained one thousand kilograms. If I feel warm, my eating disorder states that I also must be fat.
It is completely nonsensical but I cannot help it. As much as I try to apply logic to the situation, my brain will always convince me that being warm has absolutely nothing to do with the giant ball of fire burning in the sky (aka the sun…calm down this is not the apocalypse), and has everything to do with what I have eaten and how much I weigh. For me then, eating becomes a lot harder in the summer time because it is easier for my eating disorder to convince me that I don’t really need the food seeing as I am already abundantly covered in enough flesh to keep me toasty warm.

Another problem I have faced this year more than ever, is that of the longer daylight hours we have in summer. I know a lot of people find that sunlight is beneficial to their mood and can actually help them with mental health problems like depression, but for me it is the opposite. I hate sunshine (which is why I live in the UK).
In the sunshine everything feels too bright, too loud, too intense, and I feel calmer in the quiet winter months when people are tucked up inside rather than running around out doors with no clothes on.
I have also always struggled to eat when the sun is up, a problem that has somehow got worse this year. You see, I am currently sectioned under a CTO, a part of the mental health act that means I am allowed to live at home as long as I adhere to certain conditions like staying above a certain weight and going to appointments. I want to say that my main motivation to eat is to be healthy but as true as that is, I am ashamed to say that if I am completely honest, the main push that gets me eating is the fear of going back into hospital and having to eat more food and gain more weight. In the day time however, that fear is not as strong. When the sun is up my brain thinks “hey it is fine, you will stay above your CTO weight, if you don’t need to eat now, you can do it later”.
When the sun is down, there is no later though, and I realise that if I want to maintain my weight and with it my freedom, I am going to need to get some munchies out. The problem is that I know my weight will be acceptable as long as I eat and does not depend on when that eating happens, so naturally as with most things you fear/dread in life, I avoid it as long as possible.
In the winter, this was not such a problem because it was dark by 4pm, but in the summer with all this daylight savings malarky, it isn’t dark until around 10pm and as the months have gone on I have found my eating getting later and later in the day until the point I am at as I write this, a point where I am basically carrying out a year long, eating disorder motivated version of Ramadan. This would make sense if I was a particularly devout follower of the Muslim faith, but my adherence to such rules is not driven by a special spiritual meaning or importance, it is is because I have an eating disorder in my ear who is a total idiot.

In summer as well as taking their clothes off, people tend to change their way of life in the sense of what food they eat and the roast dinners and steamed syrup puddings of the winter time are replaced by cold salads and ice cream.
Again however, this is another seasonal transition that my eating disorder leaves me struggling with, because I eat exactly the same foods in the exact same proportions every day and one of these foods is porridge, aka that boiling hot bowl of oats that most people don’t whip a pan out for until there is a significant chill in the air.
When it is 34 degrees outside, nobody in their right mind would start getting oats out of the cupboard to perform their daily Goldilocks’ impression, but I am not in my right mind, so that is exactly what I do (the slight difference in my impersonation being that I am a brunette version of Goldilocks…Oh yeah and I don’t break into people’s houses to get my oats, especially if those people are bears).

In June then, during the hottest week England has seen in my lifetime, I was stuck in the predicament of being boiling hot and thus convinced that I didn’t need to eat because I was clearly obese. Then by 10pm when the CTO fear would hit me, I would force myself to eat despite being so warm, only I would trigger myself even more and make it even harder by making the food I was consuming a steaming bowl of porridge.
“Eat cold porridge” I hear you cry, “try overnight oats which is the exact same thing but you don’t cook it”, yet even that couldn’t solve my problem as OCD has rules about how porridge is prepared and naturally has me convinced that unless my porridge has been cooked for exactly 4 minutes and 40 seconds with stirring at the appropriate intervals, I will kill everyone on the planet. What logic!

As you can see then, summer/the season and weather in general is one of the many things that people may not think about affecting people with an eating disorder, another thing that complicates the simplified idea that people with eating disorders “just don’t eat”.
They are complex creatures, mysterious as the dark side of the moon (10 points to anyone who got that reference), and the control they hold over a person’s life creates anxieties and difficulties most people might not think about. I am of course happy for everyone out there who loves summer and if you are one of those people living in England, I really hope you are having a lovely time in the June sunshine and are feeling as sunny as…well…the sun…
In the meantime I guess I will just have to suck it up and count down until the winter months when jumpers, porridge and 24 hour darkness are socially acceptable again. My God I am a jolly soul!

Take care everyone x

SummerBear