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

How To Tackle Suicidal Thoughts And The Fear That Things Will Never Get Better

So, I will be honest, I am currently in a very dark place (my parents haven’t paid the electricity bill and I ate our entire supply of candles because they smelled like Jaffa cakes…Alas they did not taste like Jaffa cakes and I am still picking wax out of my teeth. Life lesson: do not eat scented candles).
Seriously though, mentally, things with me are pretty terrible and I am on the brink of giving up entirely. I am losing hope in the idea that one day things will be better, and recently I have noticed a lot of friends or people online with mental health problems feeling the same.

I think that there have been times in my life where I have just assumed that I am going to get better, just as you grow up assuming you will naturally fall into the stereotypical life of getting married and having a few kids. When I was younger I was always watching Disney films, and when it comes to Cinderella or Snow White, there is never any doubt as to how things are going to end. When you watch Cinderella you don’t sit around worrying that she will be stuck sweeping floorboards for the rest of her life, you know straight away that the girl is going to go to the ball in a big ole pumpkin and that her poor choice of ill fitting footwear is going to result in her marrying the man of her dreams. Naturally then, I assumed that one day I would lose a shoe and automatically fall in love with and marry some Prince Charming, without realising that my mother would never allow me to buy footwear I hadn’t tried on to ensure a perfect fit, or that I was a queer little thing who wasn’t interested in princes no matter how “charming” they may be.
Similarly with mental health problems, I guess I have always assumed that somehow, no matter what happens, one day there will be a fairy godmother with a magic wand and things will get better. I do not know how or when, but I simply couldn’t get my head round the idea that this could be it, that recovery isn’t as automatic and as assumed as I imagined princes to be, that sometimes, people spend their lives as tortured mentally ill souls with no happy ending.

Thinking like this, if I am going be in this state forever, it is easy to ask myself why not just end it now? Why draw it out? Why not rip the plaster off quickly as it were. It sounds incredibly bleak, but mental health problems are incredibly bleak and I am not going to sugar coat them to insinuate otherwise. Recently I have been having suicidal thoughts every minute of everyday, and when you don’t think you are ever going to get better, it is hard to come up with a good argument to fight them.

Like I said, I am not alone in feeling this, and I have had many conversations with fellow mental health warriors who have lost hope, who don’t think there is any chance of them getting better so why carry on? Maybe you yourself reading this have resigned yourself to the fact that you are a terminal case, perhaps because a professional has given you the label of “chronic” or simply because the weight of your struggles is so heavy that trying to imagine life without them is akin to trying to imagine a penguin without the adorablessness which, as we all know, is impossible (if anyone wants to debate this issue feel free to contact my solicitor and I will happily see you in court).
There is however one thing that I do find comforting, even when I fully believe that I will be like this forever, one argument against the suicidal screaming in my head telling me to jump into oblivion and end the debates/suffering once and for all, an argument that funnily enough, comes in the form of basic mathematics (don’t panic, I hate maths too but this is cool maths I promise and you don’t even need a protractor or a calculator to join in).

If you hark back to your maths lessons at school, you may remember the point where you started learning about things like probability. The lessons get more complex as each year passes, but in the early days of primary school education, the grand complexities of probability and chance are usually explained via some kind of analogy involving a bag filled with balls, for as we all know, in later life it is an incredibly common experience to be confronted with a bag of balls and the need to calculate your chances of picking out a specific kind of ball.
In the lesson, it is likely that the teacher produced a bag to explain things, and would say something like “there are ten balls in the bag, five green, five purple” before waffling on a bit about how if you put your hand in the bag there is an equal chance that the ball you pull out will be purple as there is for it to be green. Then the teacher usually complicated matters (don’t they always), and added say ten more purple balls to the bag. This would then make the chances of picking out a green ball less than they had been previously, and you will spend the next twenty minutes of that lesson calculating chance and ratios surrounding various combinations of coloured balls in a bag.

Now for the purpose of this discussion lets scrap the balls and replace it with a bag of Smarties because let’s be honest, we are not in some official school right now, we can do what we want in this maths lesson and if we want Smarties instead of balls we will damn well have them (I told you this maths would be fun…THERE ARE SMARTIES INVOLVED).

So, picture life as a bag filled with millions upon millions of Smarties (it is a really really big bag and these are really small Smarties).
All the Smarties in this bag are pink. Except for one. One of the Smarties hidden somewhere in that bag is blue. That blue Smartie is the chance of you getting better in a world of pink Smarties telling you that that isn’t going to happen. If you put your hand in the bag you may very well be right, you may get a pink Smartie and be mentally ill and miserable forever. In your mind the chances of you getting better are as rare as that blue Smartie, but the key thing is, as long as you are alive, that blue Smartie is still there, and the only way to guarantee 100% your belief or the professionals’ belief that you will never recover and are going to be miserable forever, is for you to end it all now.

When I have days that are plagued by suicidal thoughts so loud I can barely breathe because I don’t think things will ever be better, I always remind myself that the only way to make sure they don’t get better, is to listen to those thoughts. Killing yourself is basically like pouring all of your Smarties into the ocean so that the colour washes off and they all become white Smarties with that blue Smartie existing only in the realms of myths and legend. If you hang in there, aka you keep plunging your hand into that massive bag, there are no guarantees of you getting better, but by keeping yourself alive, at least you are keeping that chance alive too, however small and insignificant that chance may be.

Now like I said, I am going to be honest in this blog, because if you are someone who reads this blog, then I consider you as a friend and friends tell the truth so I refuse to sugar coat any of this (the only sugar coated contents of this blog are the Smarties).
If you are in a dark place like me right now, and have spent the day contemplating your demise, I am not here to tell you that if you keep fighting through this rubbish it will all work out in the end. I am not a fortune teller, I do not have a crystal ball, and the only conclusion I have ever gleaned from reading tea leaves is that I seem to have run out of tea. If you keep yourself alive and keep fighting maybe you are right, maybe things will stay rubbish and maybe you will keep plunging your hand into that bag and pulling out the pink Smarties. However, no matter how hopeless you feel, if you keep yourself alive, the chance that the blue Smartie will crop up is there. I cannot tell you the probability/ratio of how likely you are to get better, but you must always remember that if you are trying, there is at least a chance. Don’t allow the fear of being mentally ill forever, convince you to do the one thing that ironically does nothing but solidify that conclusion.
Fight back, keep trying, keep safe, and even in the darkest days, no matter what, you have to believe in that blue Smartie.

Take care everyone x

SuicideSmartie