The Importance Of Listening To People With Mental Health Problems

This Wednesday the 14th of March is a very special day. Why? Because as of the 14th of March 2018 this little blog you are visiting right now will be two years old. That is right folks, as of Wednesday it will be two whole years since the birth of Born Without Marbles, nay not birth, the hatching of this tiny little mental health blog egg that I had been keeping in my oh so sufficient plumage until that moment (and my my do I have a lot of plumage).

How crazy is that? Pretty crazy if you ask me as two years is a really long time…Like a baby can go from a screaming ball of tears to a waddling and talking human creature in that time and I would like to think that my blog has undergone a similar amount of progress.
Now, you are going to have to forgive me in this entry as I fear I am going to sound very much like one of those actresses in a ball gown making a thank you for my Oscar speech and I am well aware that two years of running this blog does not entitle me to any award, but still today I really wanted to thank all of you out there reading this for making this blog what it is and for putting as much effort into reading it as I put into writing it. Indeed, you readers have helped and supported me more than you can ever possibly imagine. “How?” I hear you ask “What have we done?”. Well dear friends, you have done the most important thing that one can do when living with or dealing with someone with mental health problems: you have listened, and I think that this whole listening malarky is a seriously underrated piece of malarky on the scale of all things malarky.

I know people have messaged me in the past, people who may know or care for people with mental health problems and who have asked me what they can do to support them and the answer I want to advocate today is to listen to them. That is it.

I think a lot of people often find that when they have a loved one with mental health problems they want so desperately to fix their problems and unfortunately that is seldom, if ever, possible.
Mental health illnesses and disorders are complex and difficult to understand, intricate beings (which is why I have managed to write about and try and explain them for a whole two years now without really scratching the surface as to their mysteries), and I think that when people see themselves as responsible for curing a loved one it is simply too much responsibility to take hold of. It would be like asking one person to fight a whole army of sword wielding warriors who will need a lot of strategy and weaponry to defeat as apposed to one lone soldier with a mallet (for we all know it is notoriously easier to get hold of a mallet than it is to get hold of a sword…seriously where do they even sell those? Are they available on Amazon? Not that I want a sword of course…I am just seriously curious as to how one would obtain such a thing were one to be in need). If you ever set yourself the challenge of you and you alone curing someone with mental health problems then I think you are setting yourself up to fail.

This doesn’t however mean that when it comes to mental health problems and people who are struggling with them that it is best to do nothing, and that is where this listening thing comes in that I want to thank you all for today.

You see, when you live with mental illnesses, you live with a constant stream of noise and mayhem between your temples and that noise is difficult to deal with. Maybe that noise comes from the barrage of thoughts that come with depression, maybe they are the intrusive thoughts from OCD or an eating disorder, maybe they are audible hallucinations from psychosis or schizophrenia, whatever the condition, whatever the disorder, there is a lot of noise, and keeping quiet about it is a sure fire way of making that noise louder.
If people don’t speak about the noise, the noise tends to build up, louder and louder until all “real” sounds are drowned out by the cacophony and therefore it is important to have an outlet, a place to talk about and release a bit of that noise, not necessarily because that will make it all go away but because it will slightly lessen the burden that staying silent will weigh you down with.
That is where listening comes in. When you simply listen to a person with mental health problems, when you allow them to be heard, you are helping them more than you could ever know because you are sharing in that noise and therefore are giving it a little less power. I think when a lot of people think about going to see a therapist they assume that they will have these big elaborate contraptions designed to zap the mental illness away or physically remove it by some grand operation when really that is not what therapists do. There are no magical contraptions (unfortunately) and there are no magical zappers (also unfortunately), instead therapists listen, they hear and take on some of the noise because when you speak out loud about something it loses power. That is why in Harry Potter everyone is so scared of Voldemort, they don’t speak his name and by keeping it locked up in their minds as this big scary word they increase the fear. As Hermione wisely once said, “fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself”, and that is exactly how I feel about mental illnesses. When we fear them and keep quiet about them, we give them more power to control us, we give them authority as some big terrifying thing never to be spoken about and alright, I admit it, they are terrifying, but unless we talk about them and get them out into the real world, they cannot be tackled. If everyone were to keep their illnesses inside of their heads then they would be kept in a place where nobody else could reach them but by talking about them, they become tangible, they become part of our world and thus are something that can be dealt with.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that talking about a mental illness is going to cure it instantly, if ever, as I know very well myself that after a lot of talking and a lot of therapy, things are still pretty terrible (hey, I am nothing if not honest), but as terrible as they are, at least I have an outlet to get them out of my head both in therapy and on my blog. I have people who listen to me and hear all the pain it is hard to speak out about and if you have been a reader of this blog from the beginning, last week, or even if this is your first ever entry (welcome!) you have been a part of that and you have helped.

So what do I want to get across today as we approach the two year anniversary of Born Without Marbles? Simply this: That if you want to help someone with mental health problems, the first and best thing you can do is to listen to them, and if you have been listening to me for years or just today, then I want to thank you for hearing and taking on my noise. Trust me I do not know where I would be without all of you wonderful people out there listening and supporting me and I want you to know how much I appreciate, and how much all people with mental health problems appreciate it when people listen, when they are heard and when others are there to share in the noise. From the bottom of my heart and from my head to my toes, today, my message is thank you for being there. You do more than you know, and more than I can ever thank you for in a mere blog post. I hope you all know that I am also here to hear all of you struggling out there and share in any of your noise as well.

So happy second birthday Born Without Marbles and to all readers and mental health sufferers alike, remember to keep talking and to keep listening, for doing so is one tiny tactic we can use to tackle the mental health demon army.

Take care everyone, and thank you x

Anniversary

Being Institutionalised After An Inpatient Admission

Humans are very much like lions. They have very fluffy manes and they like to stalk antelopes…no wait…that wasn’t my point…what was my point…ah yes, humans are very much like lions: they are not supposed to live in captivity. When you see a lion in a zoo standing behind the glass peering out, longing for freedom, they do not look happy, they do not look free, they look listless and bored and tend to pace around a lot because that is not an environment they are supposed to be in. Similarly, humans are not supposed to live in psychiatric units, it is not their natural environment, it is not where we evolved to be and being in one is an abnormal and temporary experience. Problem is, when you have been staying in a psychiatric unit for almost half a year, you start to get a little bit institutionalised and consequently over these past two weeks I have been struggling with my new found freedom.

Indeed, going back to the lion thing, I feel very much like a lion who has been living in captivity for a long time and then has suddenly been chucked out into the wild without any of the coping skills or natural instincts necessary to survive. I didn’t like living on one small corridor but at the same time it was a contained space that I knew every part of, it was a place I understood, yet now I find myself in this big wide open space of a world and no idea what to do or where to go. Over the past months I spent so much of my time desperate to get out of hospital that I never really thought about what it would be like when I got there and am now finding myself feeling a bizarre sense of “right….now I am out…what the hell do I do now?”. It is like my sense of direction has gone, my goals and my aims were all so focused on getting out and being free that I forgot about what would actually happen and what I would actually do when that freedom was achieved.

What troubles me is that I am not living in a place where I should feel like this, I am not living in an abnormal environment as I was when I was in the hospital, I am living where I am supposed to be, out in the wild, out in the real world, yet it is suddenly a world in which I do not feel I have a place anymore.

To be fair I am quite a homebody, I don’t go out much and the most adventurous trips I have been on since I have been out have been to places like the local supermarket, but every time I go to these places I find myself wandering around watching all these people casually buying food as part of their day, part of their lives that they are living and I wonder how on earth they do it. How do they live in this big scary world? How do they have jobs and families? How do they know what food to buy in a shop and then how do they go back home and make it into something to nourish themselves before maybe going on an evening out to do something similarly alien to me like socialising? I am not a part of that world. I am part of a world where I am used to waking up and being timed to eat a bowl of cereal under the watchful eye of a nurse or other mental health care professional, before gathering in a group room around a box of tissues to talk about my feelings. For five months the biggest deadlines and expectations I have had on my shoulders have been things like making sure I turn up to emotional regulation group with my notebook on time and making sure I am at the clinic to be weighed at 7:30 on a Monday morning. True I didn’t like it, to be honest I hated it, which is why I spent such a long time fighting professionals and trying to get out. I didn’t belong there anymore than a lion belongs in a perspex box, but it feels like so much time has passed and I have become so institutionalised, this admission more than any other even though this has not been my longest, that I don’t belong out here either. I don’t belong anywhere, I am like a ghost wandering around aimlessly haunting old places that I used to know yet now don’t feel a part of.

I think all of these feelings highlight one of the main problems with putting people into hospital for long periods of time, that being the institutionalisation I have mentioned and the fact that people forget how to survive anywhere else. They forget what it is like to be a person with a life and an identity other than a mental patient required to take their medication and have a stab at some therapeutic writing on a Wednesday morning or creative group in the art room on a Tuesday. It probably sounds ridiculous because I wasn’t even in hospital for that long and I have had many admissions before that I survived, some of which were longer than this, but I can’t help it, I just feel so out of place and so confused as to what to do now, A few weeks ago I talked about how living in a psychiatric unit is very much like living in a fish bowl and now I believe in that analogy more than ever. I am a fish out of water, or I suppose to put it more accurately since this is where I am supposed to be, a fish who has been used to a tiny little bowl with a little castle and a turret and is now presented with this great big ocean with giant sharks and other fish busily swimming past as if they are all going some place important and all know a lot of things that I don’t.
If it wasn’t for this blog I wouldn’t know what I was doing at all and to be honest I am even struggling with this. At least my blog gives me structure, my blog gives me a plan to work to, every week I write it, I draw the picture, upload it on the Monday and then pray that people read it and don’t suddenly hate me, but even writing has got harder since I left hospital because I am at a loss as to what to do with myself and my brain doesn’t feel like it is working properly. There is too much stuff out here in the real world, too many people, too much noise, too much responsibility and I am just an unemployed head case living at home (for now). It isn’t as if I am some boss at this high powered company where I am entrusted with the responsibility of managing loads of people and their lives and actions as well as my own.

I guess it is all about what you are used to and that I will settle into the real world and get used to it again eventually, but still I wanted to write today to highlight how institutionalised you can get even if you only stay in a psychiatric unit for a couple of months and how very disorientating it can be once you leave. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to go back there by any stretch of the imagination and I am doing everything I can every day to keep myself safe enough to stay out. Like I said, it wasn’t that I belonged there at all, I just want to know where the place I belong is now because at the moment I cannot seem to find it. I am supposedly back where I should be right now, yet I am very lost and frightened and really in need of some kind of map to find my way home. I just wish I knew where home was.

Take care everyone x

Lion

Why Boundaries Are Important When Living With Mental Health Problems

A few weeks ago when I was talking about the fact that I am getting discharged from an inpatient setting on the 20th of February/tomorrow if you are reading this on the day of upload, (handy link to that blog post here: The Pressure To “Get Better” When You Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems), I mentioned that there were going to be a lot of rules and boundaries in place regarding my mental illness that I would have to follow back home.
Seeing as these boundaries were set by my parents you might think I live in a particularly strict household with rules and regulations more often seen in a school rather than a home setting, but actually, I am starting to think that when you are living with mental health problems, it is vital for everyone to set some boundaries.

Thing is, when you have a mental illness bobbing along with you through life, you can guarantee that it is going to do all it can to interfere with any plans you had prepared. Thought you were going out for a night with friends? Surprise! Depression has crossed that out of the calendar and scheduled you in for a good old evening of crying into a pillow and thinking about what a terrible person you are. Decided to spend several hours working on that novel and actually being productive with your life? Nope! Instead OCD would like you to waste those hours antibacterialising various objects in the house that were already clean to begin with. No matter what illness you have, it is obviously going to impact your daily routine, and if left with total freedom, it is likely that it will impact your daily routine more and more as time goes on until you find yourself looking back and wondering how on earth things managed to get so out of control. Now when you are in an inpatient setting this aspect of mental health problems is managed somewhat by the rigid structure of your day to day life on the ward, but on the outside it is a hell of a lot easier to get carried away with your own rigid routines.

The reason for this is that I have started to realise that mental illnesses are much like dinosaurs, and living with them is analogous to being that professor that Richard Attenborough plays in Jurassic Park and it is that analogy (to be fair it has been a while since we settled in for a good old traditional Born without Marbles analogy) that I want to talk about today.

Maybe some of you out there haven’t actually seen Jurassic Park (and if you haven’t you really should, it is fabulous), but basically in Jurassic Park there is this guy called Professor Hammond (that’s the person with mental health problems in this analogy), and he owns this safari park of dinosaurs he created out of some blood that has been hiding inside of a mosquito for several thousand years (in the analogy the park is your brain and the dinosaurs are your mental illnesses, except obviously in the mental health version you did not create your dinosaurs/illnesses, rather they appeared one day and as a result you found yourself as keeper of this prehistoric zoo of insanity).

Having the dinosaurs there is obviously dangerous, so Professor Hammond does all he can to keep that danger to a minimum. In order to keep the visitors safe, he has a whole team of keepers helping him to keep an eye on his dinosaurs (aka psychologists and other mental health professionals), and there are physical boundaries/electrified fences set up all over the island around the dinosaurs to keep them in check. They are still dangerous dinosaurs, but when confined by their boundaries, their level of threat is somewhat controlled.

However in the film, before long, this idiotic man with absolutely no common sense turns off all the electric fences and cages that were housing the dinosaurs, and utter chaos ensues.
Without the fences, the dinosaurs do not remain in their neat little pens, they run amok and cause a hell of a lot of destruction and noise when doing so. That image (aka that of dinosaurs running madly all over the place eating people and crashing into everything), pretty much illustrates the importance of boundaries when living with mental health problems and why I have so many regulations in coming home.

For example, whilst I have been in hospital at my local eating disorder unit, there have been very definite rules set out to govern my behaviour. These rules are numerous and I cannot list them all for fear of boring you all to floods of uncontrollable tears, but as an example they have been things like the fact that if I do not eat my meal, there will be a replacement issued which if not completed will lead to consequences in ward round, or the rule that meal times take place at set points throughout the day with no option to delay that peanut butter sandwich for another five minutes. Meal times are meal times, you eat your meals in meal times, end of discussion.

Similarly there are rules to govern my OCD such as time limits for showers because without this kind of rule, my OCD tends to grab hold of all control over how long I take to shower and run with it a lot faster than I can chase after it (I was never one for athletics in school.)
When I have a time limit however, I have something to aim for, and though my OCD will still be present in my behaviours for the duration of the shower, it is my attempt at controlling it as best I can. If in hospital I weren’t to shower within the allocated time, I would be removed from the shower, so I sort of had to reason with my little OCD dinosaur to get through it. My dinosaur wanted to spend the next three years washing yet the rules meant this was impossible, so we had to work together and compromise. I would shower and do all the rituals I was told to, but only for a certain length of time. Having a time limit obviously didn’t always work and there are times where I still couldn’t stick to it, but like I said, it gave something to aim for and consequently I will still have that shower time limit now that I am heading back home again. Again it is unlikely that I will always be able to keep myself in check, but I know that without any rules in the shower things would be a lot worse than they often are and if I didn’t have a boundary set in place, then I doubt I would ever be able to get out of the shower at all.
I can of course tell my OCD that I have finished washing but OCD will always come back with “just another five minutes”, a request that, when given into, will be repeated every five minutes leaving me stuck in a ritual with no way out. With my rule, I at least have an argument against that. In the shower the OCD still dictates behaviours, but when it is time to leave the shower, I at least have the statement of “time is up and we must leave now to avoid consequences” to come back at any “five more minute” suggestions that should arise.

If you are living with mental health problems then, it is important to have your own rules in place to try and keep track of the interference it causes. You can’t control whether or not you have a disorder, but there are some things you do have control of that can help lessen the impact. Say you have an eating disorder and, as I will be attempting when I get home, you are trying to give yourself enough nutrition.
If you say to your eating disorder “I am going to eat better today”, then it is unlikely that you will achieve much, as “better” is a negotiable, subjective term that you will find yourself debating. Instead, hard and fast rules like “I am going to eat three meals and three snacks today” are more likely to merit results. They won’t necessarily mean you achieve what you want, yet again, like the shower time limit, it gives you something to aim for rather than a wishy washy “I will eat something” or “I will shower quicker” which without specifics don’t really mean anything and give too much control to your illness. I know that especially with eating disorders, giving into little things are a sure fire way of letting them spiral completely.
Whenever I have a bowl of cereal for example, I weigh out exactly the same number of grams each day without question. This is disordered of course, and one day I would like to pour cereal with all the gay abandon of a cereal pouring professional, but I know that if I don’t have a weight from my dietician to stick to, aka a boundary, then my portions will just get smaller and smaller. My eating disorder won’t ask for anything dramatic at first, just little requests like “just one flake less today” or “one gram less”, which doesn’t sound much but if you keep listening to that you will end up a few weeks down the line staring at a solitary rice crispy in the bottom of a bowl wondering where all the others went (and possibly hearing a very quiet pitiful sobbing from the rice crispy as they are very social creatures who, when portioned out individually, often get rather lonely. Rice has feelings too kids.)

You don’t have to make loads of rules and they can be small rules to start off, but no matter what the size it is vital that the rules are there. If you have depression, that sucks and you cannot control the effect depression will have on your mood. What you can control however, is things like taking any medication you have been prescribed or attending any appointments to try and keep it in check. If you have an eating disorder and a meal plan you have been told to stick to, make that meal plan your rule, your boundary that cannot be negotiated. Ok the eating disorder will still be there screaming and it may interfere with your behaviours, but having that meal plan there is a non negotiable that is not up for debate. With OCD rituals put time limits on how long they can take so that a quick five minute tidy doesn’t descend into a five hour mass organisation mission or at least put a limit in place as to how many times you are allowed to do something simply to give you something to aim for.
Like I said, this is not going to cure you of any mental health problems nor is it going to stop them interfering/being dangerous beasts much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. In or out of a cage, a T-rex is a T-rex (unless it is a bunny in disguise), and you cannot control the existence of that T-rex or its nature/behaviour as a stomping, roaring, chomping scaly thing. What you can do however, is put boundaries in place to try and limit the destruction that dinosaur can cause, to do the best you can to take control of something that otherwise will take lack of rules as a chance to run amok to see what it can get away with, and that is why, as I go home tomorrow, I go with a set of rules and boundaries in place.

Coincidentally, that is also why mental health problems are like dinosaurs and why it is vital to have boundaries when living with them in your head/prehistoric safari park. Rules may be broken, but having certain rules in place at home does often help me to manage typically unmanageable situations a little better. If you have been in hospital, take hospital rules back home when you are discharged so that the illness doesn’t have the total freedom to reinvade, and if you haven’t been in hospital then maybe come up with some rules with friends and family who are willing to support you in your battle for sanity. Remember, a dinosaur is always going to be a wild destructive interference, but with boundaries, that destruction can at least be controlled as much as possible…I hope…

Take care everyone x

BoundariesDinosaur

Should The Government Be Teaching Children To Count Calories?

When it comes to the government, they are always coming up with handy suggestions as to how people should live their lives. You know the stuff, “eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day”, “don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week” and “drive on the left hand side of the road” (actually that one might be a rule rather than a suggestion…I wouldn’t know. I failed my driving test and every time I asked my instructor for more driving tips after that, he ran away screaming which really did not help with answering any of my questions…)
Always ready to tell the population what to do then, for 2018, the government in the UK have come up with a new suggestion, complete with its very own catchy advert, where play-dough people morph around the screen and a happy jingle plays advising parents to teach their children to restrict themselves to “100 calorie snacks, two a day max”. Now I am not one to turn down advice from our dear Theresa May who is doing such a wonderful job of running the United Kingdom without any trouble whatsoever (pause for laughter), and even I can admit that it is a catchy slogan with a tune that isn’t bad either, but in my opinion this “handy lifestyle suggestion” is a terrible thing that should cease being taught to children immediately.

Obviously for someone (aka me) who is in hospital trying to recover from anorexia and is following a meal plan where snacks exceed 100 calories and are more frequent than twice a day, this kind of thing is unhelpful and triggering. On one hand I have dieticians and psychiatrists coming out of my ears (I really don’t know how they got in there in the first place), telling me that I need to eat this far higher meal plan than the one Theresa May suggests and on the other hand I have play dough people telling me to restrict my intake, which as I have said is obviously confusing and not particularly useful, but it is not just to people with eating disorders that I think this advert is detrimental, rather it is bad for the entire population (far worse for your health in fact than, dare I say, more than two snacks a day comprised of over 100 calories each).

The problem I think with any lifestyle suggestion or diet tip from any source, is that people hear it and immediately take it as gospel. In the real world however, nutrition isn’t governed by blanket black and white, one size fits all rules like that, and there is no such thing as a “diet expert”, only people who have done a lot of research about food and have opinions about it, a point highlighted to me during my brief stint working in a bookshop.
Unsurprisingly, this job involved various tasks including book shelving, and one day I was in the self help department (insert joke about how I need to spend a lot more of my time in such a section here), which was helpfully next to all the diet books. Therefore whilst shelving, I couldn’t help but get a good look at all the titles and diets being advocated.
Now generally, when it comes to reading about a topic, one would assume the more books you read, the more educated you become. For instance say you read 30 books about penguins, it is then likely that you will be more intelligent on that topic than someone who has only read one and that you would do better on any quiz regarding penguins. Alas, when it comes to nutrition, things are not like that, for as I shelved those diet books (working very hard I might add just incase my former boss is reading this…), I realised something ridiculous. Turned out if I were to read all of the diet books, take all of the information, all the “no carb”, “no protein”, “no fat” nonsense and I were to mush it together to make one overall diet plan (which you would think would be the best and most informed having been the culmination of so many books’ worth of information), I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. All the health advice added up together in the world and the conclusion from it? No food is safe, which I think is fairly unhealthy considering such a thing would lead to death, and, were we all to follow that advice, the extinction of all human life on earth. Marvellous. Therefore when it comes to rules like this “twice daily 100 calorie snacks” thing dolled out by nutritionists, taking them as gospel is never a good idea as they are merely opinions rather than facts.

“But for some people limiting snacks to twice daily amounts of 100 calories might be a good, healthier idea than their current lifestyle choices” I hear you cry and I am not going to disagree with you on that, but another thing I want to point out when it comes to guidelines is that they are not universal and are actually only helpful or beneficial to SOME people, which is why it is not helpful to have them rolled out as rules for the general population. As I have already said, this advert is obviously not applicable to people who are in recovery from eating disorders, but neither is it applicable to a large number of the population who all vary in height, weight, activity levels and nutritional needs. What about athletes for example. Is this rule supposed to apply to them too because I am pretty sure that that Mo Farah and Usain Bolt wouldn’t get very far nor would they get any more gold medals were they to restrict themselves to two 100 calorie snacks a day…
Okay I get it, there does need to be some kind of suggestion out there as to how to live a healthy lifestyle and it is important to teach children about food and nutrition but whatever happened to “general education” and suggestions like “eat your vegetables”, “everything in moderation” and try to have a “balanced diet” as opposed to these rigid rules and guidelines ridden with fixed numbers. Where pray did these numbers come from because last time I checked people don’t eat numbers, they eat food (and for good reason too. I once tried to eat a number nine and it was terrible. Tasted purely of pepper.)

It is just somewhat ironic that the whole focus of this campaign is to encourage health but encouraging children to see food in terms of calories and numbers really is a disordered habit struggled with by many people with eating disorders. If healthy snacking is the priority then advising healthy snack foods and providing possible examples would be a far better way to go about it because this focus on calories isn’t healthy at all. When numbers are brought up things start to get obsessive and this is where I think the problem lies. By specifying 100 calorie snacks they are labelling a strict limit to adhere to, but how ridiculously close are people supposed to stick to it? Is a 101 calorie snack ok? What if it is a really healthy snack that is slightly over? Should an “unhealthier” food be chosen instead simply because it fits the amount? Should we weigh already healthy fruit to check that they are “safe” in this new government scheme? Should children be taught how to count calories from the moment they exit the womb? Is that a normal healthy attitude to food? Seriously, think about it, does all of this sound healthy and worth advocating or more akin to rigid disordered behaviour seen in people with eating disorders aka a mental health condition needing treatment?

Overall then, if I had any say or control in any of this government malarky, I would say the whole “100 calorie snacks” with “two a day max” idea needs to be binned and for calculating numbers to be kept in children’s maths lessons in schools rather than in their lunch boxes or at the dining table at home. If you want to educate and give healthy food guidelines from the government then fine, go ahead, but when this advice is given it should be just that, GUIDELINES like the old “eat more fruit and veg” rather than strict, prescribed, rigid calorie counted rules that must be followed exactly and are carved in stone and sung over the breakfast table like some terrible national anthem.

If you have or even if you don’t have an eating disorder but are finding these adverts unhelpful, as hard as it is, my advice would be to do your very best to ignore them. Remember, just because it is prescribed by the government it doesn’t mean it is automatically healthy and it doesn’t mean that its obsession with numbers is not disordered. Nobody is the authority on rules regarding food and diet, it is all opinion, and strict rules, hell even general guidelines, are not applicable to everyone.

Take care everyone x

GovernmentFood

Is It Ok To Give Food Related Christmas Presents To People With Eating Disorders?

As soon as winter rolls around, there are certain questions that suddenly pop up every time you interact with another human. These questions vary but include things like:
“Are you doing anything nice for Christmas?”
“What do you want for Christmas?”
“Do you really need to buy more penguin themed decorations this year?” (Yes. Yes I do)…
And of course the ever sigh inducing “Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?”

Due to the birth of commercialisation and consumerism (two things that, although very much involved in Christmas, were not actually born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger), Christmas shopping is a big stress over the festive season both for money reasons and of course wondering what the hell to buy for everyone. Mental health wise however, there are further complications because sometimes there is a question not just to what you should buy a friend or relative, but whether there is anything that you should definitely not be buying…

As you may know, I have a lot of friends with eating disorders and several of these friends have come to me in the past exasperated and fed up, poised with a story to tell me about a distant relative who sent them food as a birthday or Christmas present. I know a lot of people with eating disorders might get frustrated, find the gift insensitive, rude, or even cruel, like taunting an alcoholic with a bottle of gin, and the majority of people I know have stated that “people should not give food related presents to people with eating disorders”.

I think that one of the difficulties in this issue, is trying to decide whose responsibility it is for someone to manage the whole gift giving/receiving situation. Is it the responsibility of the person who is choosing the gift to give (maybe an unfair burden considering not everyone will know every personal detail of whoever they are buying for this December and surely if it is “the thought that counts” any present is incredibly kind and generous), or is it the responsibility of the person receiving the gift, to manage what it is appropriately for them?
If you give a Dolly Parton hater (for-shame! Come on now, you have to at least like Jolene? 9-5? IT IS A SONG ABOUT THE MONOTONY OF WORK LIFE! DOLLY GETS US!), a copy of Dolly Parton’s Greatest hits, whose responsibility is it to deal with the CD? The gift giver for not knowing about a person’s hatred of the world’s greatest country singer and for not being too careful, or is it the responsibility of the gift receiver to simply donate the generous present to a charity shop where it can be enjoyed by someone else who is able to appreciate a bit of “I will always love you” blasting from the speakers? However, what if a gift is medically inappropriate? Whose responsibility is it to manage then?

For example what about Horris who is deathly allergic to peanuts? Maybe Horris didn’t write a Christmas list this year (always a risky move), and maybe his third cousin twice removed’s husband’s goldfish wants to send Horris a gift (for he is a very generous goldfish), but is unaware of Horris’ unfortunate peanut condition.
If this lovely Christmas loving goldfish sends Horris three tonnes of peanut butter, a t-shirt made from knitted peanuts and a trip to the “World of Peanut” theme park with the “Ultimate Peanut Experience Peanut roller coaster” (you ride around the track within the shell of a giant genetically modified peanut and then at the end enter a flume tube filled with peanut butter that will leave you utterly soaked upon plunging into it). If Horris uses this ticket to the theme park, surely it is partly his fault for not taking proper care of his health requirements (aka the requirement to not plunge into a pool of peanut butter at 100mph in the shell of a giant peanut). Then again, what if Horris is so allergic that the mere sight of the ticket and the tonne of peanut butter sends him off in an allergic reaction without him having any warning of the deadly gift? Who do we blame? Goldfish or Horris? Surely this is a very different kettle of ethics than the previous Dolly Parton debate? So what about people with eating disorders?

On one hand, as a person with an Eating disorder myself, I can see the point of those who say that giving food as a present to someone with an eating disorder is inappropriate or something they don’t like happening. It can indeed be frustrating to be given food presents that you fear every year and are possibly unable to enjoy due to your illness. I have heard people with anorexia say that it makes them feel more isolated from the rest of the Christmas festivities because being given, say a Christmas present that is a box of merry smiling gingerbread men with chocolate buttons, a freshly cut yule log or a batch of homemade mince pies is like being shown something “normal” about Christmas that others can enjoy and that they may want to take part in like other people, but due to their illness, feel they can’t. Some could say that getting food presents makes them feel misunderstood or like their problems/disorders have not been taken seriously, belittled and assumed to be “a mild difficulty with food” that can easily be solved if you put a nice bow on a box of chocolate penguins, rather than a fully fledged eating disorder ruining their lives no matter how many bows you stick on top of that box of rich 70% cocoa waddlers.
As well as food presents for disordered eaters being problematic in the sense the present receiver may be too scared to enjoy them, there is also the risk that food presents could trigger someone in other ways, for example someone who feels the compulsion to binge and maybe purge afterwards. Some sufferers keep certain foods that they are likely to binge on out of the house to make them feel more in control, so when that food is suddenly handed to them wrapped in glittery ribbon tied paper, they struggle to deal with it in the way they might like to when fighting their disorder.

That said, though what I am about to say is something most Eating Disorder sufferers would disagree with, I don’t think that people should put a full-on ban on food presents for people with eating disorders and I think that getting a food present once in a while is more likely to help rather than hinder your recovery.
What if one Christmas as the countdown to the 25th was underway, you went into some form of new treatment that you started to find more beneficial than any you had tried before. What if an image of what life could be like without your eating disorder started to give you hope in a positive future and what if, like a Christmas miracle, your eating disorder backed off a bit and you felt strong and determined enough to kick some ass. What if in this Christmas miracle you became so inspired to fight your demons that you made a promise to join in on all the scary Christmas food things this year, finally buy that advent calendar, make that gingerbread house with the candy cane decorations, try one of Aunt Enid’s famous mince pies and join in on all the party canapé platters at the work Christmas buffet (I hear the brie and cranberry filo tarts and chocolate penguin profiteroles are a delight). What if all of these goals arise, all this determination to fight and join in with everyone else…and then nobody gives you the opportunity to do any of it because they are all too scared to offer you that filo tart or wrap up that tub of Celebrations. To me, that would be incredibly triggering, if I were to be there ready to fight, ready to eat and join in and everyone just left me out anyway because they assumed I wouldn’t do it. This year, considering i am in hospital and not particularly well right now, that assumption might be right but in my head, never being given food presents at Christmas or any other time of year like Easter or a birthday, is simply a way of other people confirming the idea you already have in your head that you don’t deserve or need food and therefore shouldn’t eat it. People treat you like an eating disorder and you will find it hard to see another identity for yourself. Furthermore, when would the food ban stop and would it ever? How would that be decided and wouldn’t that be more triggering in itself to have food presents suddenly reintroduced? If you have an eating disorder at one point, are families to avoid food gifts even if you are recovered “just incase” which again isolates you from certain celebrations. Yes food can be triggering as a gift but wouldn’t it be more triggering to be very unwell for years and then one year to be maybe doing a little better mentally and physically, so much so that people notice, give you food and then you freak out thinking that they are insinuating that you “aren’t ill anymore” or that they think you have put on weight so are clearly fine with eating again.
Personally to avoid all of these issues, when it comes to food presents, I would rather be treated as normal, like everyone else, receiving the odd box of Quality Street and being offered the iced mince pies. Even if I can’t accept the mince pies or have to give the Quality Street to my mum, I would rather they were there to make other people treat me “normally” until I am in a place to play that role of “normal person who eats food presents at Christmas and gets two candy canes stuck in their gums by getting a bit too enthusiastic when impersonating a walrus”.

Overall though, I guess that with this topic, it is impossible to make any conclusion because whether or not you give food to someone with an eating disorder is going to be a tricky thing to gauge and will vary from person to person. As I said, even I and my group of friends who share the diagnosis feel very differently about the topic so to be on the safe side, if you are wondering whether or not to give someone with an eating disorder a food related gift, you might want to check with the individual or maybe a relative of that individual first to see how they might react to it. There are many types of eating disorder and even people with the same one will experience them differently at different times, such as when they are going through periods of relapse or recovery, so as much as I would like to have given you a black and white simple answer (and we all know how much I love things that are black and white ahem penguins ahem), I am afraid I will have to conclude in a rather hazy grey as the answer will vary from person to person.
All I would say is, if you are the gift giver, try not to get too anxious or caught up in overthinking it because ultimately you have a 50/50 shot of getting it right and if you get it wrong, it isn’t your fault, nor does it make you a bad person. Similarly, if you are the receiver I am sorry if food present wise, things don’t go your way this year, but equally remember that other people may not be thinking as deeply into the meaning or significance of a box of chocolates as you might be and maybe it is just their way of trying to show they think you are pretty awesome. A Christmas present is a Christmas present, it isn’t a holy significant statement laden with meaning as to how someone views you or your body, it is a sign of appreciation, a sign someone cares, and at the end of the day, it is always the thought that counts.

Take care everyone x

Pudding blog

The Difficulty Of Knowing What Counts As “A Behaviour” When You Have An Eating Disorder

How do you tell the difference between an elephant and a letterbox? You check to see which one has a trunk and which one is filled with neatly addressed handwritten letters that will soon be lost in the abyss that is “the postal service”.
How can you tell the difference between a brand new slipper and a boomerang? You throw it to see which one comes back and smacks you in the face.
So far so good (apart from the fact you may have just been smacked in the face with a boomerang or lost a perfectly good slipper), but now for the third question:
How do you tell the difference between the genuine preferences of someone with an eating disorder and the disordered behaviours of someone with an eating disorder? The answer? With extreme difficulty…if at all.

When you are on an eating disorder unit, the food aspect of things/what you can and cannot do with food, is a lot more regimented and controlled by sets of rules than it is in normal life.
Rules will vary depending on what hospital ward or inpatient unit you have been admitted to, but as a general list of examples these rules will be things like “no eating cereal with tea spoons”, “no breaking food up into tiny pieces”, “no sleeves at the dinner table”, “you must scrape the plate that you are eating from clean to complete the meal”, “only X number of minutes to eat your meal” and “no inserting parsnips into the nostrils of the person sitting next to you” (pretty sure that last one is also relevant in real life actually but I am not quite sure…my mother was never very clear when it came to table manners.)
These rules are often frustrating and can seem a bit harsh but they exist because often an eating disorder controls how a person eats and behaves around food, as well as how much or little of it they eat, so part of treatment during recovery involves tackling those food behaviours as well as things like the amount of food someone might be eating. Like I said it can be annoying, but it makes sense. Take the “you must scrape your plate to complete a meal” thing. It may seem over the top (and is a rule that will destroy the lovely willow pattern adorning all of your best crockery), but were it not for rules like that in hospital, there is the risk of people arguing that they have finished their meal when really all they have done is smear it across the good china.

With behaviours like that, I think it is easy to tell the difference between them and genuine food preferences as I don’t think I know any people without eating disorders who “prefer” trying to mash a lasagne into oblivion rather than consuming it.
There are however, a lot of actions people do where it is far harder to tell if the person is making a genuine choice or following a behaviour, and in these situations it is less like trying to distinguish an elephant from a letter box, and more like trying to tell the difference between an elephant, a tea pot and a vacuum cleaner (if you line all three up together you have to admit they do look rather similar…trunks, nozzles and spouts are easily confused…I learnt that the hard way…and broke a teapot).

For example at the hospital I am in at the moment, there are certain rules regarding condiments such as “only two pepper/ketchup/vinegar/mayonnaise/brown sauce etc sachets per meal”. The logic behind this is that some people with eating disorders tend to totally cover their food with a certain condiment in order to make it all taste the same/spoil the food and make it taste horrible as a punishment etc.
Then again, as well as people who use pepper to burn the roof of their mouths off by using it excessively, there are people who use what looks like an excessive amount of pepper simply because they like it. Every time my Dad eats a meal he uses so much pepper that even people scuba diving at the bottom of the Atlantic start sneezing because he likes the spice, and I have a friend who uses what may look like a lot of salt because she has been brought up using that amount and things taste wrong without it. Neither of these people have eating disorders, but they would still struggle living by the rules that are in place to help someone in recovery from a disorder. I guess you could say that the way you tell the difference is to see which came first, the food preference or the disorder, but that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Eating disorders are sneaky, they slip into your life gradually without you really noticing, so it is rare for someone to be able to pin point the day they officially became unwell.

What if my Dad, who currently does not have an eating disorder, developed one in years to come and had to go into hospital? Or my friend who likes a lot of salt? They might, quite rightly, argue that their preferences existed years before their illnesses began and they may be right but the thing is, in hospital, that doesn’t really matter and this is where it gets frustrating. Once you are tarnished with the Eating Disorder brush, suddenly people assume that EVERYTHING you do around food is because of that disorder and they rarely give in or believe you even when you are expressing a genuine dislike. It can be really annoying when you know that your love of toast that is not particularly well cooked is because you like soft as opposed to crisp bread, yet when you are consistently told that everything you do is disordered, sometimes you can start to doubt and be unable to tell the difference between your own choices yourself (aka the is it an elephant, teapot or a vacuum cleaner situation).

How about timings and things like time limits on eating disorder wards? Admittedly they are necessary to avoid still working on Monday’s bowl of cereal at Sunday dinner time (rather soggy cereal I would imagine), but in addition to timings perhaps being affected by disordered thoughts or behaviours, people naturally have varying eating speeds. I certainly know that in my household my Dad will always finish his dinner a good 10-15 minutes before my mum for the simple reason that he has a bigger mouth and more violent set of gnashers (not abnormally large I might add…like he is still a handsome chap and isn’t frequently being mistaken for a shark who needs to be sent back to the aquarium…just clarifying…love you Dad.)

The main rule/“behaviour” that got me thinking about this topic however, the rule I have seen come up in every single one of my admissions to an eating disorder unit and the rule that is carved in a stone tablet and worshipped on a mountain guarded by holy cherubim:

“Thou shalt not dunk biscuits”.

Some of you reading this, who have never heard of such a rule, may be a little shocked, stunned and perhaps distressed to hear that there are people all over the country being forced to eat rich teas that have never actually taken a dip in a real mug of the beverage after which they are named (I know, it is upsetting but we can get through it).
Again, as with all hospital rules there is a reason behind it, that being that people sometimes submerge and drown their biscuits rather than dabbling in a quick dunk and then smear the soggy remains around the inside of their mugs or leave them in sorrowful abandoned mush mountains at the very bottom.

The issue though, comes when you are someone who wants to safely and appropriately dunk their biscuit, yet are prevented by the rule that may not be relevant to you. Of course rules have to apply to everyone on the ward to make them fair, but that is what is annoying, i.e. having an eating disorder and then having EVERYTHING you do with food put down to your disorder when maybe you have just grown up liking a lot of ketchup on your curly fries, or genuinely prefer the texture of a cookie that has had a quick swim in a mug of hot chocolate. Dunking biscuits CAN be a disordered behaviour, but it isn’t always.

Just imagine if the world had to live by eating disorder ward rules with the act of dunking a biscuit being classed as a disordered/unhealthy behaviour and thus banned for all. How would any of us ever eat an Oreo? The dunking aspect to those delights is even in the damn advert! They literally explain how to eat them on the packet! First you twist it, then you lick it, then YOU DUNK IT. If that bit was deleted from the process the country would grind to a halt and living rooms across the world would be filled with poor distressed people holding opened licked Oreos and crying out in agony “WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?” Think of the number of teeth that would be broken on undunked ginger nuts!

You could maybe be a generous dictator and say that only people who appropriately dunk their biscuits are permitted to do so (something I have asked for on multiple previous admissions), but how can you tell if someone is dunking appropriately? What if someone is genuinely dunking for the resulting soggy biscuit end goal but is such a poor judge of the strength of their chosen biscuit that they get the timings wrong and remove their Custard cream or Bourbon from their brew not to find a perfectly melted vanilla or chocolate cream centre but instead a blank space, an empty half in which biscuit perfection had existed seconds before it was too late and the perfection turned into a sinking disappointment of heartbreak, sorrow and missed opportunities.
Should biscuit dunking be classed as an eating disorder behaviour just because it can sometimes be used as one or can it just be a preference?

Overall then it is clearly very difficult to tell the difference between an eating disorder behaviour and a genuine food preference, especially when you yourself have the eating disorder. I guess when it comes to people who have no issues with food the answer is obvious…until that person is unfortunate enough to develop the disorder and we are caught in the whole confusing “which came first the soggy biscuit or the mental health problem?” dilemma which has plagued scientists for years (scientists who I feel are doing valuable work but are also perhaps taking advantage of their right to order in free biscuits from the big companies under the guise of “research purposes”….)
Of course there will always be ways to figure out the disordered act from the genuine preference but it isn’t always as clear cut as the elephant and the letter box example and sometimes even knowing your own reasons for doing things can get you into a confused muddle of soggy biscuit yourself.

Take care everyone x

ElephantHoover

How It Feels To Be Recalled To Hospital Under A Community Treatment Order

If someone had asked me what it feels like to be recalled on a Community Treatment Order (part of the Mental Health Act), before it had ever happened to me, I am not sure what I would have said. Possible guess answers that I might have offered would have probably included things like “scary”, “shocking” or “dramatic”. Probably one of the last answers I would have given, would have been “it feels like having your car stolen by a band of incredibly apologetic thieves who are very sorry for your loss”. However, as it turns out, that is exactly what it feels like…

As you will all know from the fabulous explanation of the Mental Health Act that I posted last year and linked to again last week (hint…it is right here: Demystifying The Mental Health Act…With Penguins), when you have a CTO, you have a list of conditions hovering over your head which must be adhered to if you want to avoid being legally recalled to hospital. Rather than conditions hovering like ominous wasps at a picnic who like a look at your jam sandwiches though, I like to think of them as “things that hold you accountable” or “reasons to do things”.
Every time I was scared to challenge my eating disorder and follow my meal plan I had an argument I could use, that being, “you have to do this because otherwise you will lose weight and go back to hospital”. It was a system that worked but admittedly I felt really trapped by it.
Every day I would wake up and force myself to eat a number of calories that made me feel depressed, knowing that it would keep me at my CTO weight which felt equally depressing.

All I wanted to do was give up, give in and lose weight but I felt I couldn’t because that would only involve being recalled to hospital which was simply not an option. My CTO weight was the border to a war zone and I was not taking a single step into no man’s land.
Then however, the recent hospital surgery medical drama, naturally led me to lose weight and I crossed that barrier without even intending to. Before, that CTO number had held a power over me, every digit had felt significant, like a law from the gods that I would probably find carved into one of those massive rocks at Stonehenge if I visited and looked close enough (a lot of people have theories as to why those mysterious stones are there including “for religious reasons” and “rituals”…My theory is that they were simply put there by some cheeky prankster who wanted to leave a pile of stones lying around so that future generations would ask “why the hell are those stones there?”)

When I went under the weight however, the power of that number and the spell was broken. I had thought that one step over the border would have resulted in guns and tanks sending bullets and bombs flying all over the place…but nothing happened. Of course it would have had the weight loss been “my” fault, but I had an excuse, my appendix did it not me, so it was almost allowed. Obviously the CTO weight still mattered and I had to get back to it, but with this medical “it isn’t my fault” get out of jail free card, I knew that I could take advantage and lose more weight without getting into trouble.

Thus it was that, as you know, I ventured further into no man’s land, and it was a sudden surprise when after all this “oooh this feels quite safe and allowed” turned into the previously expected “guns and tanks and swords and back to hospital for you”. Unsurprisingly, it was pretty distressing and traumatic, so a lot of people have been very sympathetic which has been lovely. I really appreciated comments from people online who were not directly involved in the situation because they felt genuine, but it is when we get to the words of the people closest to me that we get to this whole “I feel like I have had my car stolen”.

To use another analogy, I suppose you could view my body as a car that the garage have been keeping very strict rules on. I may have owned the car but there were restrictions as to what I could do with it, what colour I could paint it and how far I could drive. Then, when the CTO barrier was broken, I suddenly regained control over that car, so I grabbed that wheel, painted it purple and zoomed off into the distance (I suppose if we are combining this with the other analogy I zoomed it off into former no man’s land…just like people did with BMWs in World War Two…I may need to retake GCSE history).
With the car all to myself I set my speed limit, I pumped the tyres to a level that I wanted and I filled every seat with penguins because that is what I wanted to do. I could chose…until I was ambushed by bandits who seized the car and stole it, meaning that it didn’t belong to me anymore. Suddenly they would decide how much petrol went in, how plump the tyres were and how many miles it could run and my opinion was irrelevant (the bandits in this analogy being all the doctors and psychiatrists who recalled me to hospital).
Naturally, having just had my car stolen, I was not best pleased. Thing is, when you ACTUALLY have your car stolen you never tend to see the thieves who are the new owners enjoying a trip around the block in what used to be your very own automobile, and they are unlikely to be very apologetic.

Being in hospital though, I am not only seeing the “thieves” every day, I am living with them, and watching them abuse my car. The doctors and therapists decide what I eat now, when I sit down, where I can go and it is all very hard so I try to talk and work through it with them. I say how scared I am to eat, how scared I am to gain weight, how scared I am of everything and like many people online said last week, they say things like “I am so sorry you are in this position”, “this must be very hard and scary for you” but unlike when people online say it, it makes me angry, and all I can think is “WELL YOU CAN’T BE THAT DAMN SORRY BECAUSE YOU ARE THE ONE DOING ALL THIS. YOU STOLE MY CAR, I AM UPSET ABOUT IT AND CRYING AND NOW YOU ARE SAYING HOW SORRY YOU ARE ABOUT THE SITUATION BUT YOU ARE THE THIEVING, HYPOCRITICAL VAGABOND! VAGABOND I SAY!”

I don’t believe that they can really be sorry because they have what they want, they have the car and are legally allowed to do whatever the hell they want with it. I feel the same way about professionals as I do about close family members like my mum, which I know is terrible and I know I shouldn’t feel that way, yet still as much as I love our visits and I would not be able to get through this place without her, what I get out of them is entertainment, love, company, kindness and knickers (she brings in my clean washing…thanks mum). What I do not want from my mother, is sympathy because in my eyes she is kind of like a thief. Admittedly she did not do the legal act of stealing the car, but she gets something out of it, she now has a say over the car and the thieves will take her views into account. If my mum insists on yellow wheels and the thieves like that idea, those wheels will be the colour of sunshine within 24 hours. She could not have stopped the legal act from taking place but she has more say in it than I think she has used, I am sure if the next of kin kicked up enough of a fuss someone would have to listen, but no fuss has been kicked. On top of that, by me eating and being forced to stay in this hell hole gaining weight, she has benefitted from the thieving.
Again it sounds AWFUL to describe it like that, to compare my mum to someone who is in cahoots with criminals and joyrides around with lemon wheels, when I know she would argue that all she has actually done is not try to stop the people attempting to save the life of her offspring by their actions. She isn’t joyriding (my mum is not a joyful driver…especially if there is a cyclist nearby), she is finally offloading this nightmare she has been living with to professionals who can look after it instead and she can finally sleep rather than stay up into the early hours arguing about sweetcorn. She is benefitting because she gets a break, because as I gain weight she will feel safer and therefore I assume happier yet again, any “I know this is hard and horrible and I am sorry” inspires that same “WELL MAKE THEM GIVE ME THE DAMN CAR BACK AND WHY DID YOU PAINT THE WHEELS YELLOW” rage.

That is why if you were to ask me “how does it feel to have been recalled on your CTO and sectioned back in hospital” I would tell you that it feels like some very apologetic thieves (some of whom are related me), have stolen my car.
Now I am just watching them all make the changes they want, implementing the modifications they have decided, desperate to run out and stop them but with my hands tied. I am just an observer watching people do things to my car, watching things happen to this body that I have had to disconnect from and pretend isn’t mine anymore for my own sanity. I guess a more accurate explanation/analogy then would be to say it is like having your car stolen and then having the thieves force you to be a mechanic carrying out every wish of theirs or risk being whacked on the head by a spanner, but that isn’t how it feels. It feels like things are being done to me, any movements I make are via the puppet strings that they hold, I have no say. When it comes to living with an eating disorder you don’t have much say or control either, but this feels different, this feels more stripped, more naked. This is not my body, it is just a body that I am trapped in, and I am witnessing it be torn to pieces every day. Every meal. Every bite.

CTORecall

Why Familiar Surroundings Are Important When You Suffer With OCD

The original title of the blog I was planning to write today was “Tips on staying away from home when you have mental health problems”. You see, my parents were jetting off to Malaysia and seeing as I am not well enough to manage by myself at the moment, the plan was for me to go and stay with their friends in this lovely little house out in the countryside.
We have been planning it for months, I had visited the house and felt OK about it seeing how nice my bedroom, personal office AND personal bathroom were going to be. There was even a cat called Pingu. A cat. Named after my favourite childhood penguin. Ideal right?

Well I thought so, but was still worried about managing my mental health with new carers who do not know me as well as my parents, so I came up with a list of coping strategies and ways to manage it. Consequently I decided to write a blog sharing my oh so helpful tips incase anyone else out there was in a similar situation, but then…well…I went to the house where I was due to stay for two weeks, lasted approximately four hours and then was driven home in hysterics at midnight with my parents due to fly the next day despite having still not packed so much as a flip flop, because we have been spending weeks packing for me to go away (if you want to imagine how many things and bags it was, think of the average stuffed car that people often drive off to uni in, double it and chuck a penguin on top for good measure. Oh and a Christmas elf. One must never travel without one’s cuddly Christmas elf. Oh there we go! I did give a travel tip! YAY ME.)

Clearly then, I am in no place to be giving tips about staying away from home right now BUT over the course of this traumatic experience, I have been reminded of a valuable lesson about mental health problems, so I thought I would share that with you today instead.

Having been mentally ill and having been in therapy for over a decade, I would say I understand my conditions and myself rather well, which is why I felt that I could make a plan about an approaching situation in advance without running into any unforeseen issues.
Trying to do my same rituals in a different place however, really reminded me of something a lot of people might not realise: that being that sometimes with OCD, it is not just about carrying out a specific behaviour like a shower routine, it is about carrying out a very specific shower routine in a very specific shower.

I always knew that because of OCD and anorexia, I have a LOT of routines, rituals and specific ways of doing things. I eat out of certain bowls with a certain spoon, I drink tea out of a certain mug at certain times of the day and I wash my hands, shower and get dressed in very specific ways. As rigid as these and a number of different actions in my day are, logically you could assume that I could carry them out in a different place so long as I had the correct equipment. There was a shower where I was going to stay so of course I could do my shower routine, there was a sink so of course I could wash my hands and I was taking all of my cutlery/crockery so obviously I would be able to eat all in my usual ways.

Even I can admit that years ago, though still having OCD, I was able to do these fixed ritual things in other places with other sinks and showers. I have been on holiday since my diagnoses, have stayed in a hospital and went to university (kind of…), always carrying out the same actions just in different locations. Therefore I tried to do that this time going to a strange house but, with things how they are at the moment, as hard as I tried and as good as my intentions were at the time I attempted it, it isn’t possible (at least to a manageable realistic degree that doesn’t involve hysterics 24/7 for a fortnight which is less “a good challenge” and more cruel torture. I am all for accepting challenges and trying things out of my comfort zone but sometimes you need to eat a few mini muffins before you are up to demolishing an entire five tier wedding cake by yourself).

I was truly shocked as I sort of hadn’t realised how bad things have got again.
The descent has been a gradual process, little slips that in the end add up to a sky diver height of a fall. It is like what they say about if you put a frog in boiling hot water it will hop out but if you put it in warm water and gradually turn the heat up it will boil to death before it realises (that is what they say isn’t it? Who are these people? Please dear readers, do not go putting frogs in boiling water. If you really want to see some green bubbling in a pan just whack in a bag of frozen peas, far more humane AND one of your five a day).

When we pulled up at the house I fully intended on staying for the next two weeks (obviously I did, I had my penguin and my cuddly Christmas elf, I was committed to this trip). Even though I was anxious, by using multiple packets of anti bacterial wipes and with support from my parents, I got through the unpacking and after two hours my room, bathroom and office all looked really nice, filled with familiar things, a comfortable home from home.

It was when I tried to shower that things went so horribly wrong. First there was the issue that the shower was a stand in shower cubicle with a door. At my house our shower head is hanging above the bath, so when I am getting all lathered I can stand out of the flow of water to reach the required bubbliness (I know that this is not the most environmentally friendly way to live my life and that I could just turn the shower off but just know that I am unable to do that at the moment and to be honest when you are focusing on just keeping yourself alive your carbon footprint is not a top priority. At least I am not flying across the globe in an aeroplane to Malaysia like SOME people…).
With this stand in shower however, I was unable to reach the desired bubbliness needed to get through all of my thought routines because before I had time to count to the required numbers the suds had all been washed away.
Then there was a problem that I had to put my soaps in a basket so my lemon shower gel for feet was too close to my banana shower gel for body and far too close to a wall that I couldn’t touch, and the way you turned on the shower made my usual vitally important life saving way impossible.

I took so long to shower that all the hot water ran out and after a while of forcing myself to stand under the cold ice like hail pelting me in the face, I got out though I still didn’t feel clean. I was in a bit of a state but I didn’t want to give up so I persevered and tried to get on regardless but it was one thing after another. I couldn’t wash my hands in the sink because the tap distance to the back of the sink meant holding my arm at 135 degrees rather than 90, I couldn’t step off the towel I had laid on the floor because my bare feet couldn’t touch the tiles and I couldn’t put on the socks that I had brought into the bathroom with me without direct access to trousers and slippers. “You should have taken slippers in and trousers too” I hear you cry but I had thought of that already and couldn’t because there was nowhere safe in the bathroom to put those things at an acceptable distance away from each other. I found myself standing stranded on this towel shivering and blue with cold, so I naturally did what any other person would do in that situation. I cried uncontrollably and screamed in terror for my mother.

Luckily my parents were still there because the unpacking had taken such a long time that they had ended up staying for dinner whilst I showered.
Seafood rice was cooked and eaten and a homemade rhubarb crumble was just being served when the screaming happened and mum came running. She tried to help by offering solutions, one being the ideal “I can go and get the trousers and not let them touch anything”, but I didn’t want to do that. Yes it would have been safe, but I wanted to solve the problem by myself somehow with support.
Mum could have easily gotten my trousers and I could have left the bathroom but what the hell would I do the next day when she was on a beach somewhere in Malaysia? Around this point my “in a bit of a state” descended into full on “out of control don’t know what I am doing dangerous risky chaotic hysterics and panic” and from there things are a bit of a blur. All I know is that I cried for several hours (I tried to talk too but was at that hiccuping crying point so “I don’t know how to manage I want to disappear” came out more like “Hic gasp gulp hic scream”), and my parents and friends frantically tried to decide what to do.
When I was able to talk and sob at the same time I made it clear that I felt it was a challenge too many and that rather than tackling the “parents away and totally different location for all rituals for two weeks” I wanted to attempt the “parents aka usual carers away, in a familiar place” challenge. Losing both was like losing both of my homes, a tortoise rudely ripped from his semi detached terrace house and his shell in the same day leaving a cold naked slug unable to survive in its place.

There were then more hours of discussion before we realised that this really was not a feasible option and then after two hours of packing all of my things back into the bags we had unpacked them from (we didn’t have to pack my elf. He went and got himself back in the car the second he heard the first bout of screaming. He knows me well), we were back in the car driving home in the dark, leaving the abandoned now cold homemade crumble on the dining table. It is a big shame. My parents love rhubarb crumble.

So it was that I ended up back home after my much shorter than planned and somewhat failed “stay away from home with mental health problems”. On the plus side I did manage to get to the house and unpack…I just left two weeks too early.

Clearly then, I think I have proved my point and raised awareness to all the people who might not understand OCD, that when it comes to OCD and other mental health problems with ritualistic behaviours, it isn’t just the rituals that are important to a sufferer but the specific location and circumstances under which those rituals are carried out.

Take care everyone x

Bubbly

The Frustratingly Illogical Existence Of Life With An Eating Disorder

A few days ago, I met up with a friend who I have not seen for 15 years. It was a friend I have known since the tender age of zero after we stumbled across each other at an antenatal class our parents had been attending in the hopes of learning what the hell to do with the new humans they were about to produce and were expected to raise without any prior knowledge of how to do such a thing.
We may have only been newborns but our connection was instant, we bonded over Thomas the Tank Engine and have been friends ever since (although like I said, we haven’t seen each other for fifteen years because when you get to senior school and puberty a lot of nonsense gets thrown at you and there isn’t any time left to discuss the wonderful intricacies of your favourite blue tank engine…senior school is cruel.)

Recently however, after reconnecting over the 21st century miracle that is “social media”, we decided to meet up, and thus it was that I found myself sitting opposite my oldest friend in a coffee shop several days ago.
I think when you meet up with anyone, either new to you or as old a friend as your life itself, there is always a tendency to compare yourself to that other person in some way. Frustratingly, even though I know that appearance and weight are the least important of all things, my eating disorder automatically compares my body to those around me and without fail will always manage to convince me that I am an inferior disgrace who should go home and hang their head in shame. Like I said, I know weight doesn’t mean anything and I quite frankly don’t care what other people weigh. The number of pounds shown up on someone’s bathroom scales does not matter to me in the slightest, nor does it affect my opinion of them, yet for some reason when it comes to me specifically and my body, weight is of the highest significance and summarises my self worth as a person.

When I saw my friend standing there then, I felt really embarrassed and had it not been for the desperation to see her after such a long time, I probably would have run out of the coffee shop and would still be hiding in a bin somewhere.
Eloise Unicorn McGlitterface (I may have added the “Unicorn McGlitterface” myself just for fun…she really likes unicorns…and glitter…), looked fabulous, and I wished I could look like her.
Immediately my eating disorder was triggered and the thoughts telling me to lose weight struck up their familiar bellowing.
I didn’t want to be thinking about these things at all, as I left I wanted to be thinking about how lovely it had been to see my friend, but as I got in the car to go home, my head was screaming at me to lose weight, and here is where I get confused.

I know for a fact, that my friend Eloise Unicorn McGlitterface, on paper, is a healthy weight, and even though I don’t believe the “facts” my psychologists tell me about me being “underweight”, I understand them, sort of like someone understanding the theory behind someone’s religion without believing in that religion themselves. Logically then, according to doctors and science, most people would conclude that in order for me to look as fabulous as my friend, I would need to gain weight. On paper and if talking to anyone else, I would easily be able to agree with this argument yet somehow, when it comes to me, even though I cannot explain the science behind it myself, I am convinced that the only way for me to look like someone who weighs more than me…is that I need to lose weight. WHAT KIND OF LOGIC IS THAT.
When I tried to explain this to my mum I couldn’t. Naturally she thought that I sounded irrational and like a lunatic (she would have a point), yet despite my inability to explain the science behind my thoughts, I remain utterly convinced of their truth without really understanding them…
I even thought that if I tried to write this blog post and tried to explain my theory I would realise how ridiculous I sound, how my thoughts make no sense and therefore cannot be true, yet still here I sit, unable to explain how my body defies science and needs to lose weight to look like someone who weighs more than me, yet utterly convinced that this is the case.

There are a lot of things I believe that make no sense to other people when it comes to my eating disorder, but at least I can see the logic behind them. I know it doesn’t make rational sense that I cannot eat unless my hair is tied up in a very specific way at a very specific angle, but I understand where that belief/behaviour comes from and the rationale behind it according to previous experiences. I know it doesn’t make sense that I cannot eat with forks, knives or plates and am only able to use spoons and bowls, but again I understand the reason I feel this way. There is no science behind it, but it makes sense to me and I could explain it to people.

This however, I do not understand, yet like I said, this doesn’t make it any less compelling. I guess going back to the religious comparison, it is like being a devoutly religious person who can hear all the arguments against their beliefs but believes nonetheless and is convinced in their heart by pure faith. I don’t want to insinuate that my eating disorder is at all some kind of religious movement, it is a murdering mental illness that destroys lives, but I think this example goes to show that when you have an eating disorder your belief in your thoughts are held and driven mainly by a faith that you cannot explain the logic behind. In my experience at university studying theology and when talking to religious friends, if you ask them to explain “why” they hold their beliefs, any explanation will be secondary to the feeling they hold inside them. They can say “why” but when it comes down to it the thing that convinces them is a faith, an indescribable feeling that they have which means that they “know” what they believe to be true even though they can hear people arguing about why they might be wrong.

I don’t wholeheartedly believe my eating disordered thoughts because I am stupid and don’t understand science, somehow I believe them in spite of that understanding. This whole “to look like my healthy friend I need to lose more weight” thing is exactly like my obsession with green tea. I hate the stuff and over the years hundreds of people have told me that it makes no difference to your weight, I have read the studies and I know they are true and more scientific/rational than any thoughts I get from my eating disorder…yet somehow I am still convinced that if I don’t drink a certain number of millilitres of green tea I will gain several stone overnight. Consequently I drink that green nasty fluid that I am horrified is held in the same category as all other teas. WHERE IS THE LOGIC HERE EATING DISORDER? HMM?

I think what this really proves is the fact that eating disorders make no sense and that even if their thoughts don’t have a reason behind them, they are nevertheless believable. People with eating disorders aren’t stupid people who don’t understand how bodies work, they understand all of those things, often better than most, yet still the disordered thoughts are so strong and so compelling that they are convinced to follow them without being able to say why. Eating disorders have the power to make science sound ridiculous and nonsense sound like fact. I guess this example also proves the fact that eating disorders are flipping stupid and will always manage to convince you and tell you that you need to lose weight no matter what the facts of any situation.
Usually when I write blogs about eating disorders I do it to try and explain the reasoning behind
them to people who don’t understand, but clearly, sometimes life with an eating disorder is about not understanding a damn thing about your thoughts yourself and just basking in a frustrating confusion.

Take care everyone x

NonsenseBin