Guilt And Depression – “What Do You Have To Be Depressed About?”

When it comes to physical illnesses, it is rare that someone is told that they shouldn’t feel the pain or discomfort they feel. If someone has kidney stones for example, it is unlikely they will be told that they have no reason to complain of the agony (I haven’t had kidney stones myself but from what I have seen on television it doesn’t look like a pleasant experience), but are accepted in their distress and treated accordingly. You would think then that the same would apply to mental illnesses which are after all as legitimate and debilitating as any physical illness out there, but for some reason this is not the case, especially when it comes to things like depression. 

Over the years I have been diagnosed with depression, one of the most common things I hear is that I shouldn’t be depressed.

Indeed, several times after people have heard that I have depression I have been told to imagine I am a person in a concentration camp during the holocaust. Now I am all for using one’s imagination, without people using their creative abilities to imagine scenarios separate to the ones they were experiencing we would never have had Harry Potter (cheers J.K.Rowling. Good work there mate), but I find it hard to understand exactly what benefit using my imagination to pretend I am living in Nazi Germany will have on my mental health. 

I think when people give me this advice the purpose is to illustrate how lucky I am in comparison to other people. They think that people in concentration camps who were unhappy were allowed to feel that way because their circumstances justified the emotions. They didn’t need to feel any shame or guilt for complaining about their situation because their situation was truly horrendous and beyond comprehension. So what is my excuse? What have I got to be depressed about? 

I am not being held captive in disgraceful living conditions, I voluntarily inhabit a light and bright flat with running water, heating and a television with over a hundred channels. I do not have an army of Nazis in my life, I have two loving parents who often go out of their way to make me feel better about myself and demonstrate how much they value me as a human being. I am, compared to many people in this world both past and present, incredibly lucky, so I suppose I understand the confusion someone would feel when they hear how incredibly unhappy I am on a day to day basis. That said, when people tell me to compare myself to someone who has been in a situation as traumatic as the holocaust it doesn’t make me feel better or happier at all. Instead all it does is make me feel guilty for sounding so ungrateful in my privileged existence, ashamed of my emotions and, like many people with depression, likely to bottle my feelings up to avoid stigma attached to them.

It is almost as if people think that people with depression need to carry around a permission slip with them at all times to justify their condition and thus mean they don’t have to feel guilty about it. Who on earth would decide who had permission? I know when I was unwell at school my mum was allowed to write a note to the PE teacher excusing me from playing sport, so does this mean she is the one who needs to write my little “Katie is allowed to be depressed” note. If my mum is the authority does that also mean that she needs to write depression permission slips for everyone out there? Do people realise how many people out there have depression? Where do people expect her to find the time? More importantly where the hell do they expect me to keep this document that must be carried at all times. Most of my clothes don’t have pockets and my rucksack is already full of things I need on a day to day basis. My bag is not a bottomless pit! I AM NOT MARY POPPINS! (Though I am practically perfect in every way and am rather fond of a spoonful of sugar alongside my antidepressants every morning). 

Without a permission slip then, clearly I have no right to be unhappy and should be taken to court for the crime of feeling emotions without just cause. Its odd really because people would never complain about a person who is feeling unexplainably happy. Sometimes a person might wake up in a good mood for no particular reason, they may walk with a spring in their step and a merry tune hummed between their lips, yet if someone asks why they are so cheerful that day and they reply that they simply are, nobody whips out the truncheons to demand they provide a valid list of reasons to justify their emotional state with the threat of shame and judgement were a list not to be provided. 

I really can’t help but wonder how on earth people telling me how to feel expect that to resolve the situation. If someone complains that they were hungry, me telling them that they aren’t hungry isn’t going to take the pain away and magically make a well filled baguette appear in their digestive system. Similarly, when someone hears that I am depressed and then tells me that I am not or that I shouldn’t be, happiness doesn’t suddenly start flowing through my veins. All it does is make me feel invalidated, guilty, ashamed and embarrassed, all of which are emotions that are a large problem in people with depression and are reasons that many don’t speak out to seek treatment. Depression as an illness makes you feel enough guilt and shame as it is without other outside influences supporting those inner voices. To feel the need to keep quiet because of those outside influences is an incredibly dangerous game and unfortunately one that I would argue is a reason many people lose their lives to this illness.

When it comes to depression I honestly think that the best thing to do is not to deny that it is a problem in the hopes that will make it go away, but to accept that it is the way it is and that that is ok. Obviously it doesn’t feel OK to be so desperately painfully unhappy for no reason at all, but that doesn’t mean you are not valid in your experience. When you actually listen to someone with depression rather than trying to make sense of their inner turmoil, you are far more likely to help them than you would be telling them to picture the bleak and terrible atmosphere of a Nazi concentration camp. When you listen to someone with depression you are allowing them to feel validated and sometimes feeling heard and validated is all people want. When someone speaks out about a mental health condition it doesn’t mean they are demanding you provide an explanation or solution for it. Sometimes they just want people to hear them. If you have depression it is OK to feel whatever you feel and rest assured that you don’t need to come to my house to get a permission slip to justify your emotions (you are more than welcome to come over for a cup of tea of course but as for the permission slip thing there really is no need to bother.) You are allowed to feel and justified in feeling sad, whether you are suffering in a traumatic situation or if you are “lucky” enough to live in Buckingham Palace with a crown on your head, five hundred corgis and are able to pay for your daily newspaper by simply handing over a self portrait printed onto a circular metal disk. Feel whatever the hell you are compelled to feel whether that feeling be positive or negative, even if it makes no sense (especially if it makes no sense), and don’t let anyone tell you that you should do any differently. 

Take care everyone x

Judge1

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The Difficulty Of Eating In Public When You Have An Eating Disorder

To the average person the idea of going out to eat is a pleasant one, and when someone suggests going out for a coffee and a piece of cake in a local cafe or out to dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant, the usual reaction would be “Why yes what a lovely idea”, or “of course! I think I shall order the lasagne”.
To someone with an eating disorder however, it is likely that the idea of eating food out will be a terrifying one, reserved to the realms of nightmares rather than sweet dreams, and if you are anything like me when it comes to life with my eating disorder, it is likely you would rather dance a tango with a giant hairy spider than go out to “grab a bite to eat”. It is for this very reason that when I was in ward round this week and I was told that I had to go out to a local coffee shop for a snack with a member of staff, I started to wish there was a chance to whip out my dancing shoes and go to a ballroom with an enormous arachnid instead.

It is silly really because like I said, as a rule people generally enjoy going out for food (even if, like my mum, that is simply because you don’t have to wash up at the end of the meal), but for me there are so many things to be scared of and I don’t think people realise just how many things there are to worry about when it comes to going out for something to eat when you have an eating disorder rampaging in your frontal lobes.

First off there is the difficult task of looking at a menu and choosing what you are going to eat. Alright you may have to make some food choices in the home or out at the supermarket, so choosing food shouldn’t be a sudden and new experience, but at least with that kind of thing you can plan far in advance and prepare what you are having yourself so you know exactly what the meal comprises of. When you are eating out however, the ability to plan everything and control each stage of the process is whipped out from under you quicker than a slippery yoga mat on a vaseline coated floor. Ok, nowadays most restaurants and cafes tend to have menus online so in a sense you can prepare for what you are going to attempt and do not have to make a choice on the spot, but even if you make a choice from an online menu you can never guarantee that what you decide on will be available in the branch of the restaurant that you visit in particular. What if you have your heart set on the roasted aubergine spaghetti and then get to the table only to be confronted by a waiter breaking the news to you that they are all out of pasta and severely lacking in terms of aubergine supplies? What if you get your head all psyched up to tackle a chocolate muffin with multicoloured sugar strands and then find that the muffin man got caught in a traffic jam on the way to deliver his cocoa rich rainbow sprinkled delights? HOW CAN ONE RELAX AND MAKE A DECISION WHEN THE WHEREABOUTS OF THE MUFFIN MAN AND AUBERGINES ARE ALL UNKNOWN?

Then again, what if the aubergine harvest has been plentiful and the chef can prepare your chosen dish? How are they going to prepare it? How much pasta will they use? Will there be oil? Will there be butter? How will it be arranged? Will the sauce be served on top of or mixed into the spaghetti? Exactly what kind of concoction should you expect? Also what if you can’t even get that far and can’t make a decision as to what to have in the first place, either because there are too many options or not enough safe ones? When it comes to people going to restaurants a little bird told me (a very little bird. about half the size of Tweety Pie to be exact) that people chose what they “fancy,” but again when you have an eating disorder and find most of your decisions controlled by calories and grams of fat, what exactly does it mean to “fancy” something?

Even when food is chosen and aubergines can be found in abundance, the worries don’t end because then you have what I would say is the hardest thing about going out for food and the thing that I worried about most after this news about a snack out had been broken to me: eating in public. Indeed the choosing from a menu worry wasn’t even what made me anxious about the excursion as when I went out for snack with my nurse I actually took the food with me to the coffee shop from the hospital (not that that is technically allowed in terms of coffee shop table taking up without making a purchase regulations, but when you are terrified and have an eating disorder you don’t give a damn about the rules!), so it wasn’t the menu issue but the eating in public part that was troubling me.

Truth is, when I eat I prefer to do it in private because even though I am well aware that other people have too many things on their minds and in their lives to have space to think about what is on my plate, I am always paranoid that everyone around is looking and judging me for every mouthful that I consume. Why do I care what random strangers have to say about my choice of snack of an afternoon? I have no idea. Why do I think that a business woman on her lunch break or a student cramming for an exam over an espresso and a laptop, care about whether or not I eat a hobnob? Who knows, but regardless of the reason, I do care and I care a lot. For other people I do not see the act of eating as something to be ashamed of at all but when it comes to me there is something so guilt and shame filled about it that the idea of eating in public is sort of how I imagine the idea of showering in public would feel to most people, aka self conscious and like you want to throw a sponge and curl up in a ball so nobody can see you.

No matter what you do or what you eat, it feels like everyone is staring at and judging you, even if you can see for a fact that others around you may even be eating more than what you have on your plate and are not actually looking anywhere near your direction. When I was out for snack there were plenty of people busy reading papers over plates far fuller than mine, yet still I thought that they were somehow looking at me with some kind of laser vision and thinking that I was greedy for attempting what I had before me. It was so bad that just to get through the snack I had to close my eyes and play that childhood game where you imagine that because you can’t see other people ,they can’t see you either (side note: it is surprisingly hard to eat a snack when you can’t actually see it…).
Somehow I got through it using my head down, eyes closed, just keep munching method but still it was a horrendous experience and one that I am not planning to repeat in the near future or ever if I can help it.

Overall then, though it would seem that the idea of eating out in public, either for a snack or a meal, is some kind of treat to be looked forward to, when you have an eating disorder, it really isn’t that simple a task nor is it a particularly enjoyable one either. Like I said, I know I for one am not going to be attempting such a thing again voluntarily simply because even without the ordering stress and malarky it is the actual act of eating in public and being judged (however irrational that thought may be), that causes all of the anxiety. A snack out in a coffee shop may be a piece of cake physically, but in practice I can assure you that it certainly isn’t! PLEASE DON’T EVER MAKE ME DO IT AGAIN!

Take care everyone x

EatingPublic

Eating Disorders Away From The Table

If I were to hand you a pencil and ask you to draw a person who, in the moment depicted, was struggling wth their eating disorder, you would probably draw an image of a person sitting at a meal table with a plate of food in front of them (Unless you are anything like my mother who instead, when given a pencil and asked to create a picture, will throw that pencil back in your face and run for the hills screaming “I can’t draw – leave me alone!”)
On one hand, drawing someone at a table would be right as it is likely that if someone has an eating disorder, meal times are going to be difficult for them. However I think there is an idea that when you have an eating disorder your struggles come into action at the dinner table and depart once the meal is over, a nice idea, though one that is unfortunately far from the truth.

For me at least, my eating disordered thoughts are there from the second I wake up and my first thoughts of the day will be about food and how much/what I am planning on eating during that day. It is silly really, because everyday I eat the exact same foods in the exact same amounts, so there is no decision to be made and any dithering is futile. There is no point in wondering whether or not I want Coco Pops or toast, I can ponder and postulate pancakes and Pop Tarts all I like but no matter what, the first thing I will eat that day remains the same as every other, in the same amounts and even on the very same plate. It is also pointless to think about this from the second I wake up as currently I am struggling with this rule that I cannot eat when the sun is up so, being summer, the first meal is usually hours away and shouldn’t be an immediate concern.
Nevertheless, every morning the thoughts and worries about what I am going to eat are immediately there, thinking about infinite options, things that might be healthier, lower calories/lower fat, before inevitably settling with the usual. It is like this for every meal no matter how far away that meal is, be it hours, days, even years.
There are several reasons why I have the same foods every day. For one thing I know what my weight does/how my body reacts to this meal plan, but mainly I stick to the same thing because it removes the need to debate the decision for hours each day.
Everything is planned down to the smallest most specific detail, I don’t just eat an apple a day, I eat a Pink Lady apple specifically to avoid the chance of spending three hours debating between a Golden Delicious or a Granny Smith, yet even if I know the debate is heading nowhere, it still arrives before every meal. I will spend the hours leading up to it debating the options and calculating various calorie amounts without ever getting an acceptable result.

Then, even when the inevitable decision has been made, the eating disorder is still there for the food preparation extravaganza, controlling every movement and weighing out ingredients to the exact gram, no matter how long it takes. I often weigh things multiple times on different scales to check that one set isn’t lying to me (I once saw a set of kitchen scales on Jeremy Kyle who failed the lie detector test. Turned out he WAS the child’s father and I have never trusted a pair of scales since). As always, the weight will be the same on every set of scales, but still I will spend time worrying that the food I was weighing was “different to usual” and that I randomly managed to pick up an incredibly dense courgette with twice the calories of a normal one.
Food prepared, there is then the obvious struggle people know about, the bit we all picture when we imagine someone with an eating disorder, the eating that takes place at the dining table. However even when I leave that table, the battle is still going on, and rather than sitting at the table politely waiting for the next meal, anorexia follows me rabbiting on about what went on at the table and the meal that, for everyone else, was over hours ago.
Did I eat too quickly? Did I eat too much? Do I feel fuller than usual, aka a sign that the scales were lying earlier and I was dealing with a magically calorie dense genetically engineered superhuman courgette? Have I gained weight that I can see? All of these questions swirl around in my brain amidst the thick soup of guilt and I replay the meal in my head over and over again incase I missed some key piece of evidence of something that I should be worrying about. I said in the part about worrying about meals before they occur that the meal can be hours or weeks away, and similarly the worrying afterwards can carry on for years after I put my knife and fork down on a plate.

Eight or nine years ago, during one of my admissions to hospital, I had a meal involving mashed potato. I had been eating the hospital mash for months and months before so I knew exactly what to expect, yet there was one particular day that the mash tasted different. They say variety is the spice of life, but as I ate that mash the difference frightened me and as someone with an eating disorder I wished that variety would keep its peppery little paws off my food thank you very much.
At first I wasn’t sure what the difference in the meal was but then it hit me that the mash tasted sweeter than usual. Immediately I became convinced that someone had mashed a doughnut into it and hoped I wouldn’t notice. Other than the slightly sweeter taste I had no evidence to support this theory, hospitals were not struggling with an epidemic of caterers with an uncontrollable urge to shove an iced ring into every dish, but that sweet taste was enough to have me convinced. It has been 9 years and yet I still think and worry about the doughnut that I am convinced was in my mashed potato nearly a decade ago.

Every waking hour between meals is consumed with food fears and often every sleeping hour is too. Not only does anorexia not live at the dinner table, it doesn’t live in the land of conscious thought either, and is well known to infiltrate and get its claws into the snoozetastic unconscious place known as “The land of nod”.
I have nightmares most nights, all of them with varying storylines, characters and background music, yet a lot of them have similar themes, one of these themes being food. I will dream that I have been held up at gun point and forced to eat an entire chocolate cake, before waking up and fearing that I did it for real and that I therefore have to go for X amount of time without food to make up for my behaviour. On many occasions I have woken up so convinced that I have eaten something that was actually part of a dream, that I have had to search the kitchen for evidence to prove to myself it wasn’t real. One specifically memorable dream involved me cooking and eating a gigantic spaghetti bolognese and the fear upon waking made me feel so sick that I had to go downstairs and check cupboards to see that all the pans were clean, the pasta wasn’t open and the bin was bolognese free, so I couldn’t have cooked and made it for real (apparently my brain believes I might unconsciously cook and eat a meal but draws the line at the idea that I would have washed up afterwards.)
I also dream about exercise and whilst some people have unconscious thoughts that lead them to sleepwalk, mine sometimes drive me to do sleep sit ups on autopilot so that I will wake up halfway through a set, stomach muscles aching, out of breath, wondering what the hell is going on.

For me then, having an eating disorder isn’t just about struggling at meals, it is about being constantly controlled and dictated to 24 hours a day 7 days a week, a voice that follows me no matter where I go or how unconscious I am, interfering with thoughts and my ability to function even when food is nowhere nearby. It is a nice idea to assume that eating disorders do just live at the table and that meal times are the only difficult times for sufferers, but to tell you the truth, when you have an eating disorder, that devil will stick to you like an unrelenting shadow.

Take care everyone x

EatingDisorderTable