Stigma: Anorexia Vs Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder

Every mental health problem has a troubling mist of stigma surrounding it, but recently I have noticed that not all stigmas are created equally, and often the level of judgement varies depending on what condition that judgment is focused on. 

It isn’t even as simple to organise as “personality disorders get this level of stigma and mood disorders get this level”, because the amount of stigma can vary even between conditions of the same category, especially, I have noticed, when it comes to eating disorders, more specifically, anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders. 

I am sure there are exceptions out there but as a broad overall in my experience, I have found that the stigma surrounding bulimia and binge eating disorder (henceforth referenced by its acronym BED), is a lot worse than that existing around anorexia, and considering they are both so similar in being considered under the umbrella category of eating disorders, it makes me wonder why that is. 

I hate to say it but the level of judgement isn’t even exclusive to people who don’t know anything about mental health, and I have found it is incredibly prominent in the world of eating disorder sufferers themselves. 

For example, over the years in various groups and hospitals, I’ve met a lot of people with anorexia and I have found that many of those people actually had the fear of becoming bulimic or having BED as one of their reasons to fear recovery from their anorexia. I even remember one particular incident in treatment where a new patient asked another patient if their eating disorder was bulimia and the insinuation that that could be the case was taken as extremely offensive. Obviously it isn’t exactly polite to go wandering around introducing yourself by asking people intrusive questions about their mental health, but that wasn’t the part of the question that was taken as offensive, it was the bulimia part, and I know for a fact that had the question been “do you have anorexia?” the reaction would have been more “yes I do but blimey that is a bit outright as a question, we haven’t even had a cup of tea together yet” rather than “how very dare you accuse me of such a thing”.

I suppose in life it is common to fear the unknown, so it is more likely you will fear something that you haven’t experienced as opposed to something you live with everyday. 

For example I used to be terrified of blood tests but now I have them every few weeks and am not scared of them at all. Indeed I am quite the professional and can now have blood taken whilst remaining perfectly relaxed and without so much as a shudder (as long as that blood is being taken by a professional using one of those syringe things…I don’t mean I am cool with having people stop me in the street and attack me with a chainsaw…I imagine that would result in quite a lot of shuddering so please do not do that to test my statement because I will certainly shudder and you will certainly get arrested).  

Still, as much as that would make sense for people who don’t already have eating disorders, it seems a bit odd for someone who is familiar with the life of living with an eating disorder that is trying to kill you, being so scared of basically an eating disorder trying to kill you with a different name. It’s a bit like the experience of having a tabby cat, living with a tabby cat, yet still fearing ginger cats when really it is the exact same thing only with a slightly more tangerine-esque glow. 

I actually don’t think the fear of the unknown is really a part of the increased stigma around bulimia or BED versus anorexia at all though, rather I think it has to do with the fact that so many traits and behaviours that are associated with anorexia are praised in society.

Despite the fact that not all people with anorexia are underweight and, contrary to popular belief, people with anorexia DO eat, as a general consensus, people associate being anorexic with losing weight, being thin and never letting a morsel pass your lips, three things that are seen as good by most people. 

Think about it, when it comes to all of those diet clubs out there like Slimming World and Weight Watchers, you get things like certificates and “I lost half a stone” keyring prizes for losing weight and I am pretty sure they only hand out certificates in life for things that you are supposed to be proud of. When I was learning to swim as a child at least, they certainly didn’t hand out prizes for the person who was drowning in the bottom of the pool (which is understandable as that is not exactly the aim of a swimming lesson but still a bit sad as it is the person who was drowning at the bottom of the pool who could use a bit of cheering up with a certificate, as opposed to the person who managed to swim a perfect ten lengths of front crawl…what do they need cheering up for? Isn’t it enough not to have water up your nose? Kids today are so ungrateful!). 

Similarly, as I have mentioned before, in society we have this weird obsession with associating refusing a piece of cake at a birthday party as “being good”, while those of us with icing on our chins are doing something “naughty”, so the idea that anorexic people don’t eat unhealthy foods is similarly admired, rather than feared as a sign that someone is potentially starving themselves to death. 

Anorexia is often seen as a sign of strong self control, whereas bulimia and BED on the other hand is associated with things like a lack of control and even more infuriatingly, greed/gluttony. These two things are so opposite to being admired that they are two of the seven deadly sins for goodness sake, and it drives me up the wall, back down round Tottenham and up the wall all over again because neither bulimia nor BED are anything to do with greed or gluttony. I am seriously considering getting that as a bumper sticker so that at least whilst I am doing all this being driven mad I am educating people along the way, although I would really rather not drive at all because I do not have a license and petrol is incredibly expensive. 

If a person with bulimia or BED goes around a supermarket and buys a lot of unhealthy food to binge on or eats excessive amounts to the point that they are compelled to purge (or not), it is not out of personal want or greed, it is because they have an eating disorder in their head that drives and compels them to do so. It is not the person with the disorder in control thinking “ah this will be a lovely way to spend an evening, I thoroughly enjoy a few hours weeping into a toilet with a throat as raw as sandpaper”, it is the disorder that is at the steering wheel, and when people are attempting recovery it is more about learning to steal that control back from the disorder rather than trying to control their personal desires. 

Similarly, anorexia is nothing about self control and I would even argue shows an extreme lack of control. You can praise people for not dunking a hob nob in their morning cuppa all you like, but how in the hell is it a sign of good self control to be incapable of eating and starving yourself to death? Who would give a certificate out for that? (I realise this may sound hypocritical considering I was arguing that we should give prizes to people drowning in a swimming pool five minutes ago but let’s just set that example aside for the time being…). Much like the person with bulimia, when I struggle to eat I do not feel in control of the situation and I do not look forward to an evening crying over a bowl of cereal, excitedly clapping my hands at the prospect of a few hours staring at a Weetabix. 

Bulimia, BED and anorexia then are, despite the varying stigma, very much the same and very similar in that they are about wrestling with a deadly eating disorder. That’s it. It doesn’t matter that two of the disorders are known for expressing themselves via binging and possibly purging, whereas the other has its name up there as a sign of a lot of lettuce and weight loss. Aside from the treatment required, the expression of the disorder has nothing to do with it just as the colour of a ginger cat means nothing next to the tabby, THEY ARE BOTH JUST CATS AND BULIMIA/BED/ANOREXIA ARE ALL EATING DISORDERS. Both bulimia and BED are as much about greed as anorexia is about self control, aka they have nothing to do with it, and I really think we need to spread that message to stop the level of shame surrounding such disorders. 

Admitting you have an eating disorder is hard and embarrassing, but it is even harder and even more embarrassing when you have extra stigma piled on top just because of the name of your condition. If bulimia and BED are portrayed as about greed and shame, people are far less likely to admit to having a problem and seek help which is incredibly dangerous as both disorders are serious, they are deadly and can be fatal with complications caused by things like electrolyte imbalances, heart attacks and other consequences of recurrent purging, so seeking support for these conditions is as important as seeking help for any restrictive disorders. We need to stop the judgement and discrepancies between different names for eating disorders and need to see them back under the same deadly umbrella, they are ALL serious, ALL dangerous, and ALL are worthy of the help and support needed to get better. 

Take care everyone x 

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What It Is Like To Be Taken Into Hospital Under A Section 136 Of The Mental Health Act

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this week’s blog, as lord knows it has been a fairly traumatic seven days.

I guess I will just have to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start according to a certain Maria Von Trapp), the beginning being Saturday afternoon when things with my mental health blew up like some atomic bomb (and by atomic bomb I mean a really massive nuclear weapon of mass destruction and total insanity. There was even a mushroom cloud). 

So, picture the scene, it is Saturday afternoon and I am with my mum in the car outside my house (as in the family home where I grew up, not the flat) and we were talking about the fact that from today, my parents are going on holiday for two and a half weeks. Now, I realise that I am 26 years old and should therefore feel fine about being left alone for two and a half weeks, but due to my issues I am incredibly reliant on my parents and in reality they are more like a pair of carers as opposed to members of my family. Indeed, as I may have mentioned before, my mum gave up work to look after me full time as my level of independence is quite low, especially when I am struggling as much as I am now, and in fact my level of independence has been rapidly falling in recent weeks because the noise in my head is so loud that I have been finding it hard to take care of myself properly. I also fear this holiday because due to my diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder (or Emotionally unstable personality disorder as the kids are calling it these days), I have an extreme fear of abandonment, which manifests itself in me doing anything I can to keep people from leaving me alone. I want to write a full blog about this fear of abandonment thing one day but for now just know that the idea of being left by my parents strikes absolute terror into my very core.

When mum and I were talking about the holiday then, I became extremely anxious and things only got worse and worse as time went on. It was then after about ten minutes of conversation that it happened. I snapped. 

It is extremely difficult to explain what I mean by that but basically it was like a switch went off in my brain and I became so terrified of being left alone that I completely lost control, so the rest of the scene happened in a total blur with me sort of watching the action and what I was doing rather than taking part in it. As soon as the thing in my brain snapped I just started hysterically screaming and crying and then for some reason I started to lash out. Like I said, all that happened was a total blur but from what I have been told afterwards in this lashing out I ended up hurting my mum and then in an act of total wildness I grabbed her phone and smashed it in the road. Naturally, my mum was terrified so she ran into the house without me, at which point I was left alone in the garden and the screaming in my head got worse. As you know, I have OCD with an extreme fear of contamination and in my daily life I barely touch anything unless it has been antibacterialised before hand, yet at this point I was so out of control that I started actively tearing up plants from the garden, running my oh so perfectly washed hands through the filth and soil, ripping roots and flowers like a maniac. I could feel the dirt wedging itself in my fingernails as I grabbed at the earth but still I couldn’t stop until the point where the anxiety in my mind reached such a point that I realised I need to stop the noise and the only way I could see to do this was to end my life. At this realisation I ran from the house, sprinting faster than Usain Bolt on steroids, the only thought in my head being that I needed to end my life. I won’t tell you exactly how I planned to do this as I don’t think that is helpful for anyone, but just know that I ran and I ran, desperate to reach the moment where I could end it all and in turn end the terrible thoughts. 

For about half an hour I was running alongside a river, looking around in fear that someone was going to save me and it was at about this point that I saw the first policewoman. As I saw her I started to panic but she let me pass without a word so I thought I was “safe” and continued on. Soon however I reached a pub, and it was here that I spotted two police cars in the distance as well as two police officers coming towards me. It was then that I realised that they were here for me and I froze like a deer in the headlights. I wanted to run but as I turned I saw the other policewoman coming from the other way and I found that I was completely ambushed. Still I tried to escape, but the three of them managed to trap me in a corner where I stood crying and shaking uncontrollably. As we stood there they asked me a few questions and then told me that I had to go with them. Naturally, this was not what I wanted at all, I wanted to be left alone to die but I had no choice in the matter and after a few more words I was escorted by the police through a giant crowd of people in a beer garden, enjoying their drinks in the summer sun, and into a police car. It was quite possibly the most humiliating experience of my life. Once in the car I was then driven home, but as two police officers went into the house I was left locked in the vehicle with the third police woman who was trying to calm me down. I however could not calm down and this fact was only made worse when the other two police officers came back to the car and told me that I was being arrested for assault, and criminal damage against my mum’s phone and the garden. It was honestly like something out of a movie with the police officer saying that whole speech about how I didn’t have to say anything but anything I did say could be given in evidence etc etc. Desperately, I pleaded to be allowed to speak to my mum or at least give her a hug as I was so afraid, but the police officers refused and with that I was driven to a police station where I was supposed to be interviewed by a sergeant. I however, was far too distressed to talk, so I was taken into a police cell with a new policewoman, an extremely empty, cold and uncomfortable room with nothing in it other than a bench. Together we sat on the bench, me frantically asking questions and begging to go home but the woman would not talk to me. I don’t know how long we stayed in the police cell (it felt like forever) but eventually one of the previous police officers appeared to tell me that because all of my actions were due to mental health problems I was being “de-arrested” and instead sectioned under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. It is likely that if you have any mental health problems yourself you will know what a 136 is, but if you don’t it is basically a Section of the Mental Health Act under which police can detain you if they deem you to be at extreme risk of hurting yourself or other people. This then meant that I had to go to a hospital, so without further ado I was placed into an ambulance, driven to a 136 hospital and then I was escorted inside by the police. Once there a mental health nurse came out to ask me a lot of questions but I was still so distressed that I just cried and could barely speak. Questions over I was then escorted to my room, possibly the barest room other than the police cell that I have ever seen. Naturally, because a 136 suite is a hospital where people who are trying to end their own lives are taken, there is nothing in the room that you could hurt yourself with which basically meant that there was nothing at all. Ok I have been in mental hospitals before but this was an entirely different kettle of fish, with nothing other than a bed nailed to the floor and not even a door to the bathroom or a seat on the toilet. 

I am sure the place was clean (after all it was a hospital) but because I was in a new environment it was this point that OCD kicked in and I totally freaked out. As I had been picked up by the police I didn’t have any belongings (they had searched me and had taken everything away from me at the station) so without my trusty hand sanitiser I was at a loss and started having a panic attack. Thankfully the staff were absolutely amazing and a kind HCA talked to me to help me calm down. She then went to find some anti bacterial wipes as well as a mop and bucket and together we cleaned the whole room. Even when clean though I was still desperately suicidal and at risk of self harm, so she stayed with me and helped me to shower and get into some clean clothes . Naturally I continued to beg to be allowed home to see my mum, but obviously because I was sectioned I wasn’t allowed home for 24 hours or until a mental health team could come and assess me, so to my dismay I had to stay the night. Thankfully the staff there were completely amazing and kept me safe until I fell asleep around 3am. 

I must have been tired after all the drama because I slept then until 3pm (other than a few five minutes during the night where I was woken up by the screaming of other patients) and at 3pm I was awoken by a nurse telling me that the doctor was there to assess me. From there I went in pyjamas looking like a right scruff bag (not that I really cared at the time…I was so out of it and traumatised that I would have probably been assessed in a penguin suit and not been embarrassed) to another bare room with a few chairs to talk to a social worker, a doctor and a psychologist. Naturally their main goal was to assess how at risk I was to see if I needed to go to a longer term hospital, but I was so scared of that that I am ashamed to admit that I lied. They asked me if I felt in danger or suicidal so I told them that I felt safe over and over again. I must have been convincing because thankfully they agreed to not renew my section and said that I could go home, which I guess takes me to this point right here, writing this blog in my flat feeling as unsafe and at risk as ever, all alone and traumatised by the past 24 hours. On the plus side, if any of you out there have ever wanted to know what it is like to be picked up by the police and taken to a 136 suite, now you know! Hoorah for small mercies! 

I am not really sure how to end this blog other than to beg all of you out there not to see me as a terrible person for all that I have done and explained in this post. I will admit I have behaved disgracefully and I am extremely ashamed for all my actions (especially hurting my mum who like I said I love more than anyone in the world and would never hurt whenever in control of and feeling rational about my actions) but I really want you all to know that all that has happened has happened because I am really not well at the moment and am more out of control than ever. As you know I was un-arrested in the end and was taken from the police station to a hospital, so please do not think any less of me or assume me to be some kind of criminal, as when I am in my right mind I would never behave as I have done this past few days. I cannot control what any of you will think of me after admitting this (I hate admitting it but as I have always said on this blog I am nothing but honest) but if I could influence your way of thinking whatsoever please do not think of me as some violent, nasty person, but rather as a person who is very unwell and struggling with their mental health problems more than ever. 

As I go forward after this incident all I can do is hope that I can manage to keep myself safe even though when I told the psychologist this, it was a lie. The next two weeks are going to be extremely tough for me as my parents are away, but thankfully I do have friends who are coming in to look after me and the crisis team are visiting every day. I hope I can stay alive for them and equally I hope that I can stay alive for all of you too. For now though, I will end this post and simply hope that you have all had a good week. You all mean so much to me and I am eternally grateful for all the friends I have online who supported me during this “incident”. 

Take care everyone x 

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Can Some Treatment For Mental Health Problems Make Issues Worse?

Peanuts are a great source of protein, anti oxidants, and have been shown to be beneficial to heart health. When I eat a peanut, my heart throws a little fiesta in celebration and uses every ounce of peanut to make itself extra awesome. When my imaginary friend Jimmy eats a peanut however, he explodes and turns into a bucket of water (Jimmy has a very severe imaginary peanut allergy. Don’t worry though, I gave him an imaginary unicorn to ride on as compensation for his unfortunate condition). 

Clearly then, sometimes, things that are supposed to be good for us and that are supposed to be beneficial to our health don’t work for some people, and the same can be said of mental health treatment. 

Now before I get carried away I would like to express that I am VERY grateful for all of the mental health treatment I have received over the years, even the things that haven’t worked out, because they have taught me what kind of things do and don’t work for me. I know I am very fortunate to have had so much and such a variety of support, as there are all too many people out there who don’t get any treatment at all and that is heartbreaking. Anyone suffering with a mental health condition should be able to access treatment, end of discussion, so I am not saying “screw all of you people who have never had any help, I have had some unhelpful help so pity me”. 

Instead, I think it is important to look at some aspects of mental health treatment that can maybe cause more problems than they solve so that we can improve that treatment and make it better in the future. It is all well and good to say “all treatment is good treatment and you should just take it no matter what” but if we did that we would never move further in the ways people with mental health problems are supported and increase the benefits that support can bring.

Hundreds of years ago, people with what we might potentially diagnose with mental health problems, were seen to have evil spirits lurking inside of them and were treated by having a drill shoved through their skull to let the spirits out. If nobody had ever stopped to think “hey, maybe this bashing people about the head isn’t very helpful after all”, we might still be doing that today (which would make my weekly trip to my psychologist even more terrifying), so although I don’t think anything around today is as detrimental as head drilling, I have personally found some treatments to be quite problematic. In this post I therefore I want to be seen as looking at the peanuts and trying to keep all the goodness in whilst getting rid of all that stuff that turns imaginary people like poor Jimmy into imaginary buckets, rather than as throwing all the peanuts into the bin and declaring them all to be useless. 

I am sure there are a lot of people out there who can attest to treatments that have been more detrimental than helpful in the sense that a lot of times, group treatments and inpatient settings can be rather triggering. I have known many people who have picked up behaviours from other people they have met in hospital, but I think this is less a problem of the style of treatment and more a problem with the competitive/comparative nature of certain illnesses themselves. It would be unrealistic to say that everyone who is ever hospitalised should be kept in a separate room away from other potentially triggering patients because that isn’t real life, there are always going to be people who trigger you no matter where you are, and the key is to learn to deal with and manage that. 

When it comes to problems with treatment however, an important example for me in terms of an actual treatment style that made things worse for me, was a certain inpatient unit I was in for my eating disorder, and their extreme “this is the most important thing ever” focus on weight. 

Before I went to that unit, I did not weigh myself, nor did I care about the number of kilos on the scale or what my BMI was. 

My eating disorder was all about how I saw myself in the mirror and how I felt inside. Some days I would struggle more because I “felt” and saw myself as extra disgusting, whereas other days I would do better because I maybe didn’t feel as terrible about myself. 

If I had been weighing myself during those times, there probably wouldn’t have been much difference between the numbers shown on the scales on the days that I “felt massive” compared to the days I “felt not as bad”, like I said, it was all subjective and all internally measured by my emotions as apposed to any little plastic square I could stand on that would then flash numbers at me. Ok, I counted calories obsessively, but when it came to weights, numbers were irrelevant to me, and if you had told me what I weighed it wouldn’t have had any meaning to me. 

During my first inpatient admission for my eating disorder however, all of that changed, and it is since that admission that my eating disorder has progressed to the point where my it is still concerned with how I feel but also obsessed with the number on the scales and the great significance “what that means” (spoiler alert: it means very little nothing at all in terms of a person’s self worth or value on this planet. That kind of thing is instead measured by how lovely you are to people and whether or not you are one of those cheeky people who puts an empty carton of milk back in the fridge just to destroy someone’s morning hopes of a bowl of Coco Pops. THE MILK CANNOT TURN CHOCOLATEY IF YOU DON’T LEAVE ME ANY MILK).

I understand that in eating disorder treatment it is important to be aware of weight to a certain degree for various reasons (not that the weight of someone with an eating disorder will tell you how ill they are or how physically at risk they are of serious complications), but in this unit, weight meant EVERYTHING and every number on the BMI scale had a significant consequence to it. It would have been one thing if there was a rough weight band stage thing to use as a guide, but instead of that each number specifically told you what you were allowed or not allowed to do. 

Some I could vaguely understand. There was a weight at which you were allowed to do yoga for example, a weight at which you could go bowling, and a weight at which you were given permission to walk around the grounds. It is the more arbitrary number obsessions that I think should have been focused more on the individual and their struggles/progress, rather than simply basing it on silly numbers. For example there was a weight under which you were not allowed to pick your own food at lunch and instead had to keep your fingers crossed that the nurse wouldn’t pick the one option that you genuinely hated for reasons outside of your eating disorder, a weight at which you were allowed to pour your own milk into your cereal, even a weight you had to reach to earn the right to spread butter and jam on your own toast. 

Again I get the importance of this, very early on in treatment people may be unable to spread an acceptable amount of toppings on their toast or decide what option to chose at lunch so that extra support may be warranted, but who is at what stage should not have been decided by weight alone. 

For example what if someone who was severely unwell came onto the unit above the weight of toast spreading privilege. Was it fair to leave them wrestling with the marmalade on day one just because their weight was a few digits out? And what about people who mentally progressed very quickly and although they came in at low weights were able to manage marmalade responsibility before their weight reached acceptable levels. I knew of several people whose bodies struggled to gain weight no matter what they ate and they got frustrated in feeling mentally held back by not being allowed to spread their own toast or pick from the options at lunch themselves, skills that would have been beneficial for them to practice to carry out responsibly. 

Obviously if they had started demanding dry toast and a celery stick for meals it might not have been the best idea, but neither is holding people back or pushing them forward simply because of a number that doesn’t measure the mental part of the mental illness. 

Like I said, before that admission, weight was not a concern, but ever since then, what I weigh has always been significant, and I still think of my personal weight as a measure of how well I am to some degree, regardless of the mental struggle. Even now I still see those weights as the “well enough to spread jam” weight which allows my head to use these opportunities when I am at these weights to convince me that I am “ok now” (clearly when one has the ability to spread jam on one’s own toast it means that a person is fully recovered and needs no other progress to enable a healthy life…YAY EATING DISORDER LOGIC.) It just seems a bit confusing to me how so many therapists and eating disorder services over the years will tell you to “ignore the number” and tell you that “it doesn’t matter”…yet then go on to measure your level of wellness by that number and dictate your rights accordingly, showing that it actually matters and means a lot…contradictory much? 

The second example of treatment that I personally think caused more problems than it solved was my first admission to hospital when I was about 11. Admittedly I needed to be there, my OCD behaviours were controlling my life, everything was completely out of hand and someone needed to step in, but remember I was a scared 11 year old suddenly waking up in this mental hospital and  living away from home for the first time. I needed treatment yes, but primarily, I needed mental support, and that wasn’t what I got.  

My shower and soap rituals were instead physically controlled by means such as locking me out of the bathroom and stealing my soap. Now, exposure therapy for things like OCD is a very valid method of treatment, you are scared of something, you expose yourself to it, people help you through that exposure with support and you keep practicing until it isn’t scary anymore. 

Problem was, I had nobody to help me work through that exposure, all treatment was physical and ironically there was no mental support whatsoever despite the fact it was a mental hospital. 

Therefore, instead of working through my problems, I was just traumatised for weeks and left to struggle alone in absolute terror, so naturally, when I went home, I was not a fan of psychologists and would refuse further treatment. Had they worked with rather than “on” me, I would have trusted them and would have seen them as people I could work with to get through my problems, but in my 11 year old brain that experience taught me that therapists were nasty people who take you away from your parents, lock your bathroom, leave you to suffer alone and then send you home with all the mental pain you had before plus a little bit of bonus anxiety. Consequently, there were several years where I refused to see therapists and would lock myself in our home bathroom when they came to visit, refuse to go to clinics, or “forget” to leave lessons when they came to visit at school for sessions (that’s right…I hated therapy so much I voluntarily stayed in Maths lessons that I was allowed to get out of…MATHS!)

It has taken a long time for me to get to the point where I can trust therapists again, actually talk to them, see them as humans rather than soap stealing villains, and still every mention of exposure therapy sends me bananas because my first bad experience of it has not left me excited to give it another go… 

So, can certain kinds of mental health treatments actually make a person worse? Well, yes, and though I think it is important to try new things and approaches, it is equally important not to label all treatment as helpful and to be able to critique the bits that maybe aren’t as helpful and could use a bit of a rethink so that we can improve them, keep the good and edit out the bad, or else we would still be in the time of drilling people in the head, and nobody wants that. By all means use a drill to put up a nice painting or build a table, but when it comes to my noggin, I would rather you kept all power tools at a safe distance. 

Take care everyone x 

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Struggling With Body Self Hatred

Trigger warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of bodily self hate and suicidal ideation so if that would trigger you then please go and make yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit instead of reading. I care about you all too much to cause distress to any of you.

So good news: as of today I am one week and three days vodka free and I don’t want to toot my own horn but TOOT TOOT, considering I was on at least a bottle a day for the past three months I think that is pretty damn good! Ok I still have a long way to go and I still crave a drink everyday,  but as a start I have to admit that I am rather proud of myself and if I was a flexible human bean I would be giving myself a well earned pat on the back right now.

Bad news however is that I have woken up into a nightmare, that nightmare being my body.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, over the past three months, due to drinking alcohol and consequently eating things I never have before, I have gained a lot of weight and to be honest when I was drunk all the time it kind of numbed me to what that felt like. Obviously I was bothered by the weight gain on some level, but at the same time there was a large part of me that was too drunk to care. Now though I am sober and I really care. A lot.

I have quite literally woken up into a body that isn’t mine. 

For three months I have been practically unconscious but now I am awake and I can see the dramatic changes. There is simply flesh everywhere, thick rolls of the stuff where there never was before. The gap between my thighs is gone, I can no longer get my fingers around the top of my arm, my hands are puffy balls with thick ugly fingers stuck on the end, my face is smushed and piggy, I have several chins, everything wobbles when I walk and my stomach is a giant gelatinous mass. I cannot look at myself in the mirror without staggering back in shock and crying because I simply do not recognise myself and I hate it. I hate what vodka has done to me and what I have become, I am in all honesty a monster. 

I am just so angry at what has happened and so distressed because it is going to take me months to lose all this weight again. As I sit here my skin is literally crawling with disgust. I want to get a knife and slice all this flesh from myself, I want to grow nails like talons and rip my skin to pieces to claw out all this lard, I want to tear the fat from my bones and leave my body looking as broken and torn as I feel on the inside. 

Ok I will hold my pudgy little hands up and that admit I have never been happy with my body and even at my lowest weight I thought that I was fat, but the disgust I felt previously was nothing compared to what I feel now. I see my reflection in the mirror and I want to be sick, I am a grotesque, ugly, disgusting creature with glasses and nobody reading this blog can tell me otherwise because none of you have seen me in person for months because I have been hiding away. Trust me, if any of you saw me you would be shocked and as disgusted as I am right now. 

It is just so frustrating because I wish I could write a blog that was inspiring, telling you all how I have gained all this weight and how great I feel, to inspire others to do the same. I wish I could tell you how happy I am now I am a healthy weight and I wish I could be the strong recovered person you all deserve. I would love to be able to come on here and say how it is all sunshine and rainbows, how I sneezed the other day and a unicorn flew out with a multicoloured mane and a horn made of candy but to tell you this weight gain has been a positive experience would be to lie. It is hell. I just want to be thin again more than anything in the world because despising myself this much is unbearable. I cannot get across how angry I am with myself for letting things get to this and all I can think about is how I wish anorexia had killed me when I was in hospital last admission. All I can say is that I damn well hope it does this relapse because I never want to feel like this ever again. 

I just don’t know how to deal with this level of self-hatred. Hopefully, now I have stopped drinking alcohol by the gallon and eating all food in sight, the weight will start to come off but it will be Christmas before I am anywhere near where I want to be and I just don’t think I can keep myself alive for that long. I know that people will probably say that losing weight isn’t the answer in this situation and that what I need to do is learn to love myself as I am, but that is simply impossible. I hate to be so negative but once again I am crying as I am typing because I just cannot physically stand to be within myself. My body feels like a prison that I cannot get out of and I want to break free. 

I just wish I could go back in time three months to before I started drinking, before alcohol ruined my body and consequently my life. If I could turn back time I would have never had that first drink and then I wouldn’t be in the state I am in today. 

It sounds so melodramatic to say this but I hate my body so much that i don’t know how much longer I can live in it. I know all of the classic things they say about how it is what is inside that counts and I know I shouldn’t be bothered by something so superficial so much, but I cannot help it and I feel absolutely ridiculous. Honestly, I am on the brink of another suicide attempt all because I cannot stand my body, how pathetic is that? What you look like doesn’t matter and if it were anyone else I would be telling them that it doesn’t matter what you weigh at all, but knowing that doesn’t make it easy to put into practice. I know I shouldn’t care about my weight, that I shouldn’t be this tied up in physical appearance but yet here I am crying about the fact that my trousers no longer require a belt. I probably sound incredibly vain but that isn’t it at all. I don’t want to be thin because I want to look nice or because I want people to think I am attractive. Hell, being as thin as I want to be doesn’t make people think I am attractive, I know that from experience. I know that in the past at my lowest weight everybody thought that I looked awful but at least then I felt safe. Ok I wasn’t safe, I was so close to death and in so much danger that they stuck a tube up my nose but it felt safe to me and that was all that mattered. I have said the phrase “I wish” so many times in this blog post which is ridiculous as I know that wishing won’t make any of this go away. You don’t get things simply by wishing for them, there is no fairy godmother out there with a magic wand and a fabulous gown and yet I wish regardless. They say that one in five people die from anorexia and I wish that last autumn I had been that one in five. I just don’t want to be here anymore especially in this disgusting body. It isn’t about vanity, it isn’t about wanting to look nice, it is about not being able to live with a level of self loathing so high it makes my stomach lurch and my eyeballs spurt tears like never-ending waterfalls. It is about being so distressed that you go to bed every night and pray to God that you don’t wake up in the morning because another hour in this existence is just too much for you to muster. 

I am really really sorry to be so negative today I don’t know what is wrong with me, I am just struggling so much at the moment with the level of self hatred going on in my brain and I guess I needed to use this blog post to vent it out. I just need to get things back to the way they were. I wish I could be the inspirational healthy weighted Katie you all deserve rather than this fat mess who is determined to be thin again. I wish I could find my sense of humour again and make light of the situation, make jokes like I used to be able to do but my sense of humour has all but disappeared and all that is left is lard. I just can’t do this anymore and I want to give up, I want to disappear, I want to die. I am so sorry I cant be the person you all want me to be or at least the person that you all deserve. I wouldn’t blame you if you all turned away and gave up on me now, lord knows I have all but given up on myself.

Take care everyone x 

SelfHatred

Eating Disorders And Gender Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

Gender

The Fear Of Moving Out With Mental Health Problems

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x 

LifeChange

Why I Am A Hypocrite

So I have a confession to make. 

I am a hypocrite. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

Octopus

What Do People With Anorexia Eat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

Sandwich

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

The Pressure To “Get Better” When You Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems

It is official. After five and a half months of being cooped up in hospital with very little interaction with the outside world, I finally have a discharge date and I will be going back home on February the 20th. Considering this hospital admission has been possibly the hardest and most traumatic of my entire life so far (not that I am planning on having another one to top it), I am thrilled, but at the same time I have to admit I am a little scared because the pressure for me to do well when I go back home is overwhelming. Indeed I have had to make a lot of promises in order to get this discharge date agreed, and every day I am starting to doubt a little more whether these are going to be promises that I can keep.

It may be a surprise for some of you reading this to hear that I have a discharge date, considering my posts of late. After all it is only a few weeks since I was writing about the difficulty of being on 1:1 observations and living with a tube up my nose and I will admit this has all moved ahead fairly quickly. To be honest though, I think staff and I have finally come to realise that we have come as far as it is possible for me to go right now and any more time spent in hospital is simply going to be detrimental from now on. As you will know from my post about the body recovering faster than the mind in recovery from an eating disorder (a post you can handily read here…The Difficulty When Mental And Physical Progress Move At Different Speeds In Eating Disorder Recovery), I have been getting rather overwhelmed with the rapid physical progression of my body and weight gain side of things and I really am at a point where I cannot take it anymore. With every ounce of weight I gain my head is screaming louder and louder and the ability to stay alive and simply keep breathing is becoming more and more unbearable to the point where suicidal thoughts and urges to relapse are at an all time high. (God this isn’t a very jolly blog post is it…don’t worry I will try and fit in a knock knock joke or something soon to brighten things up a bit).

On the day that you read this (if you are one of those extremely wonderful keen beans who read my posts on the very day they are uploaded….high five to you and a chocolate chip cookie if you are one of them), my discharge date will still be two weeks and a day away, but in reality I have already checked out of treatment mentally. Then again I suppose you could argue that for the duration of this admission, I never really checked in (it has been five and a half months and I still haven’t fully unpacked and set up my room because I refuse to accept that I am a patient here even now).
I think inpatient admissions for mental health can only ever really be beneficial when both staff and patient are working together to the same end goal, but this time around I have been in such a dark place that I have been finding co-operating impossible and it has very much been an admission of having things done to me, staff feeding me when I was unable to do it for myself and staff keeping me safe because being left alone was too risky even for five minutes. Admittedly, for the past few weeks I have been eating without the tube and keeping myself safe, but that is only with the end goal in sight of going home, and now I am reaching that goal I am not sure if I can carry this good behaviour on. Unfortunately though, like I said there is a lot of pressure for me to carry on because in actual fact, me going home at the end of this admission was never really the plan.

Indeed with the way things have been lately, my parents have been saying that they do not want me back in the family home for the sake of their own mental health. These illnesses may look from my blog that they are only killing me but they are killing them too, so the plan has been for me to move to a more long term hospital. However, though I have been on the waiting list for places you can stay in for over a year, no beds have been coming up (a shortage of mental health beds being available in the NHS?! How shocking and unheard of!) and as I said, since that blog post I linked to earlier, staff and I have realised that I simply cannot wait anymore and that I need to get out of here now.
It may sound harsh to say that my parents have said that they do not want me living at home at the moment but to be fair to them that isn’t exactly what they have said and is only how I have taken it. In actual fact what my parents have said is that they cannot stand having my illness in the house anymore, and after 15 years of dealing with an utter lunatic in their living room (and other rooms of the house of course…I do move around sometimes … I just specifically mentioned the living room for alliteration purposes…) who can blame them? However, as someone who struggles to distinguish between what is “me” and what is “the illness” in my head, them saying that they do not want my illness in the house is very much the same as saying that they do not want me either, seeing as the two in my eyes are so inextricably linked. I know there will be people commenting to say that there is a Katie aside from the mental health stuff and that is very kind of you but really, in the past five months, Katie hasn’t been around much if at all.

Because I was never supposed to be going home then, in order to get my parents to agree to the plan, I have had to agree to live by certain very strict rules to stay in the family home. There are many of these rules but overall they cover general things like agreeing to maintain my new unbearable weight (I don’t even think I will be able to leave the house even when I am “free” because I simply cannot stand the idea of people seeing me with all of these extra kilos I have gained), agreeing to stick to my medication (a medication I hate with a passion due to the side effects) agreeing not to harm myself and agreeing to keep eating. When I made all these promises that I would be able to do these things I honestly meant every word I was saying, but as time has gone on, the doubts have crept in. When I agreed to these conditions initially I was several kilos lighter than I am now, but at this new weight I really don’t know if I can manage and the harder it is getting.

I think there is so much pressure for me to stick to things this time round though because the consequences if I don’t are extremely dramatic. I will be blunt, in my head right now the only thing I want to do is relapse and lose weight, I cannot stand how I feel now in my head or my body and the urges to give up are so strong I might explode, but at the same time I know that if I do, I will quite literally be homeless and back in hospital, neither of which are particularly appealing options. So what do I do? How do I deal with this overwhelming pressure for me to “be well” mentally when it all feels so out of my control. Physically I know what I have to do to be physically well enough to stay out of hospital but how do I manage that when I have pressure to do the opposite piled right alongside the pressure to stay where I am now? Well, if you were looking for answers, I am afraid I don’t have any (and I am afraid I don’t have any knock knock jokes at this point..sorry for that), all I have is pressure, buckets and buckets of it.

I think that for anyone leaving an inpatient admission it is hard because there are so many expectations to be upheld. Will you be able to uphold the changes you have made/carry on with any good behaviour? How? How long for? How long until the million pairs of eyes watching your every move tell you that you haven’t done it well enough and are going to have to be recalled.

What I want to raise the awareness of however is exactly what I have been talking about , the pressure to be well when you leave hospital after a mental health admission which is supposed to have “helped” you, pressure which causes a lot of stress you really don’t need because you are already stressed enough as it is. It is ridiculous really, with physical illnesses you never get this pressure which is why I struggle with this idea in society that mental illnesses are any more in your control. When I left hospital after my appendix there was no pressure to not have another organ explode (although I am rather glad one didn’t and hopefully such organ fireworks never happen again), yet now, leaving a mental hospital, pressure is all I have. I am not sure what will happen when I get home so I guess we will have to see, all I know is that I am going to have to do my best because I cannot afford to not succeed this time. I wish that felt like a manageable task. It just feels very much like a case of knock knock, who’s there? A very scared and messed up in the head person who really wants to stay home but doesn’t know if they can manage (haha see! I told you we would get a knock knock joke in there somewhere…)

Take care everyone x

Pressure