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