Tag: Disordered Eating

Ten dishes – #1

Cooking has long been something I struggle with.

I struggle to do it because of the pain and lack of strength that comes with my physical health problems. After a day at work it’s too much to cook as well. Plus, I tend to crave junk food when I feel rubbish physically. Also, when I’m feeling low and anxious and the voices are loud or I’m mad with myself, it’s very hard to allow myself to prepare nice food for myself. There’s so much guilt and conflicting emotions associated with eating.

I used to be a fairly competent cook. Actually I used to prepare all my and many of the family’s meals from the age of 9 or so, as my mother stopped attending to that aspect of life for many years,  as her mental health worsened. It used to be something I enjoyed. It made me feel “grown up” and responsible and I enjoyed trying new recipes. But recently I’ve totally lost that confidence, apart from liking to bake for friends sometimes.

So, I have decided to set myself a little challenge of learning to prepare ten different savory dishes, to try to rediscover some of the positive sides of cooking and be a better hostess on the rare occasions someone does come over. Here’s the first attempt – cottage pie. My friend came to stay for a couple of nights so I made it for our dinner. That gave me good motivation to do it. My friend liked it so that was a positive start.

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I’ll be trying to prepare low budget meals as money is still very tight. Perhaps that will make it interesting to share ideas here too for anyone else in a similar situation.

Hope today is a good day for you.

Ginny xxx

 

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry: too much; too big

 

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry

Eating disorders and personality disorder

My body becoming too much

WARNING: this post contains potentially triggering content on the topic of eating disorders, weight, body image and emotions. Please proceed with caution. Please note that in this post I express my distressed thoughts about my body and the relationship between my body, needs, emotions and relationships. I’m aware that a lot of these thoughts are part of my personality disorder and historic eating disorders. I am not advocating or encouraging these perceptions and feelings but describing what the process of trying to live with my body and face emotions is like. I think the stage of therapy I’m going through is bringing a lot of this distress to the surface. 

My body is changing. It’s out of my control (or so it feels, though the angry punishing eating disordered voice in my head says it’s me that’s out of control – disgusting fat b*tch – and my own disgusting failure).

I have gained so much weight in the past 2 years. I have tried hard in the last few weeks to lose and done all the things that used to be my trusted go-to solutions, with the exception of using illicit medications. I have failed and no matter that I succeeded in restriction, my weight has hardly dropped. If anything, now I feel more out of control. Sometimes I wonder if any of it is to do with being in my 30s now (quarter aged spread instead of middle aged spread?!) and my mobility being poorer with so much physical pain just now.  But that does nothing to justify the gain or calm me. Many people taking the medications I take report weight gain as a side effect even when restricting.  I think it increases my appetite but I know so does my need for comfort and my lonely emptiness and my…feeling. Feeling that’s dangerous and unchecked and explosive.

Anorexia meant I was never alone. I was cold and numb and empty and hurting, but needs and unbearable feeling stayed where they belonged and I dissociated, living somewhere whiter, higher, safer, always with the twisted pleasure of bitter success in my spiral to greater protection and greater weakness. Anorexia was my companion, that reassured me all would be well if I did not deviate from this path,  spurring me on with wild energy to control and deprive and make dangerous need and demands unreachable. Soon enough I would detach and dissociate totally then maybe disappear.

Anorexia left me. Abandoned me. I failed yet again. Just like my friends, even my family, my protector and guide left me. Found out I was a vile disgusting greedy failure, undeserving of that whiter place. Anorexia too abandoned me, and sped away to a place I can no longer reach, now that it is proved yet again that really the evil inside consumes and demands and if anyone else thinks differently, it’s only that I’ve tricked them into staying and caring. They’ll leave soon, when they find out.

I could take it if it were only for my protection that I needed my friend anorexia. But the thing is, it was to protect everyone else, first and foremost, from the danger and “too much” “too big”that I am. Without my friend I hurt beyond control and I hurt others beyond control.

I look in the mirror and I’m frightened and recoil from what I see. I wish I could rip myself away from the “too much” in the presence that I see, hating every part of the space I occupy, the weight, the body that absolutely does not seem to fit together right and screams too much, too much. I cannot escape. I cannot get rid of this body and these needs. I cannot stop what it contains, the out of control, the demanding, aching. … alone without my friend to starve and cut and numb and leave this place, I cannot stop the damage I will cause to everyone I so care for and so wish to save, protect and love.

Ginny xxx

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #6

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #6

Protection in Emptiness

Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #6

“Closing the drawbridge” – eating disorders and rigidity

PLEASE READ WITH CAUTION – this post contains discussion of eating disorders (primarily anorexia), description of my eating-disordered thinking patterns, and a link to an article about studies on calorie restriction

[Wow, again it has been too long since I have posted in this series. Sorry.]

Many books about eating disorders, in particular anorexia, mention rigidity of thinking as a symptom which emerges as restriction of food increases and weight drops. When I worked at an eating disorder service, it was frequently described in inpatients on the ward. I’ve been pondering why this is and how much did I experience it when I was anorexic. I never used to think that my eating disorder was about control, although I now would take that back and I think I did use it if not exactly for control, in order to separate myself from my mother’s abuse and protect myself (and, I thought, others too) from demands, emotions and the dangers I felt they presented.

Perhaps it is logical that counting calories and measuring portions and exercise, forcing yourself to adhere to a punishing regime of starvation and painfully excessive activity in the very weakened physical state of anorexia, requires a strong, almost angry, obsessional drive. Sticking to this above and against all the natural urges of your body to keep you well and nourished, to the point that your body consumes its own muscle for energy, requires a steely determination that must be fuelled from somewhere. This could be seen as rigidity. It could easily spread to other areas of cognition and daily routine.

Certain chemical changes in the brain are thought to contribute to this rigidity as well, I believe. Two studies were conducted in the 1950s, using as participants conscientious objectors to National Service and former prisoners of war. One of these is the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, where starvation was imposed on physically and psychologically healthy participants who had no history of eating disorders. As the participants’ calories were reduced and their weights dropped, their thinking patterns became more rigid and obsessional thought and behaviour patterns emerged. When their calories were no longer restricted, they also became vulnerable to binge-eating. You can read more about Ancel Keys’ Minnesota Study here. (It would be considered highly immoral by today’s standards, although perhaps it is worth bearing in mind that one purpose of the study was in order to find out how to care for and manage re-feeding and weight restoration in victims of starvation in several countries following World War II.)

I am not sure to what extent rigid thinking was a big feature in me when I was severely underweight. Others who knew me at the time might disagree! It was mentioned to me on a couple of occasions.

On further thought, perhaps I did not struggle so much with rigidity over, say, my daily timetable – with the notable exception of excessive exercise, as I forced myself to swim a certain distance a certain number of times per week, until I was so exhausted and weakened that I could no longer move through the water which felt ice cold, my legs cramping, and I would drag myself to the changing rooms with my skin purple and blue, bruises appearing that did not heal and no number of layers of clothing warming me up.

However, if the rigidity was not externalised, it was certainly internal. This is what I think of as the “closing drawbridge” of anorexia that locks up or locks away everything we fear. I’ve talked in previous posts about the blissful, safe numbness of anorexia, ensuring my emotions were in check and flattened, and ensuring the evil I perceived in me was locked away to hurt only me, weaken only me, so that I could not hurt anyone else. Locking up the perceived evil locked up feeling, too. No more panic – just obsessive counting calories, distances, how to hide or avoid food. No more fear – just explicable pain, wonderful blanks and emptiness, safe empty gnawing in my stomach. No need to feel others’ feelings. No need to be hurt or be overwhelmed. Just glorious numb, nothing, whiter. lighter, clearer than before. No needing; no taking; just closing down, separated, apart from everything, locked up safe, pushing away and always succeeding, taking nothing in, frozen.

As a friend pointed out to me recently, emotions take energy, just as physical exertion takes energy, so with vastly insufficient calorie intake, there simply is no energy with which to feel. Despite the lack of energy, the drawbridge was shut tight and closing harder. The further I starved and restricted, paradoxically, tighter shut the door and even stronger came the energy driving me on, not to need, not to feel, not to fear, not to touch anyone or anything.

Coupled with that strength came a desperation never to leave this closed up place and never to need or feel again, to remain unreachable, to keep safe away and to keep everyone else safe away from me. If I could just be sure to hurt myself enough and never to eat, this wonderful place would stay with me. The fear of everything the drawbridge kept away joined the energy and both drove me harder and deeper into the numb place of anorexia.

Combined with my mother’s illness and abusive actions, there was no shortage of reinforcement from the outside that this numb place was good. The only period of my life in which my mother’s emotional abuse and threats reduced and in which she was even caring towards me, in which interactions with her were free of threats and scorn and twisted statements about the harm I was doing to her and my father, was when I was severely underweight with anorexia so severe it was probably life threatening. I was no longer a danger and no longer seemed to be so evil. I even thought perhaps she loved me. I even dared to hope perhaps the evil thing I was sure was in me and that came out and hurt and controlled and deceived everyone, was gone. If I could just stay like this, perhaps it wouldn’t come back. On the other hand with the drawbridge tight shut my body was mine as well, only mine, and the anorexia was mine, and she would never come near me again, literally never touch me again.

(Perhaps that was the one thing that was eventually true in all my twisted anorexic thinking. She did abuse me sexually during the anorexia but afterwards, she didn’t ever abuse me sexually again.)

Until I started to eat again and weight restore, there was only one thing that cut through my rigid defences, and that was singing. I’m not a particularly good singer but I was in a musical at my school (more because I used to be able to dance, than for my voice, I think!) and afterwards I took singing lessons, which were about the only part of my later school years that was enjoyable. Although I enjoyed singing, during the anorexia I would find that the music had a peculiar effect. We didn’t usually sing particularly emotive songs but I would often find music bringing me to want to cry or causing a strange twisting feeling of unease inside me, as though it was draining away the rigid kind of energy but I wouldn’t let it go. My mother prevented me seeking any professional help for my eating disorder but the only two people to whom I did talk about it honestly at all at school were my singing teacher and my art teacher. (My swimming coach was also very concerned about me and to some extent I did talk to her but, for some reason, although I knew she cared and was a safe person to trust, I was never able to be truthful to her, I think because in some way I feared hurting or disappointing her too much.) I don’t know why music and to some extent art, broke through the rigid protective mechanisms, but it did. I know that music can be very helpful in therapy for people with various conditions, including dementia and depression. I’ve never read about it in relation to anorexia but that might be something I should look into!

The struggles I have with overpowering, overwhelming emotions in my Borderline Personality Disorder, are the complete opposite of the protective place I entered in my anorexia, and they are an excess of feeling and needing which are probably, actually everything I feared. If I’m honest the numb place was safer. I’ve long lost the way back there and lost the key to the drawbridge and I hate that and I’ll admit that in the worst times, when I really hate myself and everything I feel and need, I wish I could return and it’s hardest at these times to try not to punish myself with cutting or purging. I’m trying to learn how to choose life and staying connected to other people – and to my body and my emotions – without the unbearable and dangerous becoming all that there is.

Ginny xx

“It’s all grand and it’s all green…”

“It’s all grand and it’s all green…”

I’m trying to give myself permission to eat better foods. When I’m filled with self loathing thoughts it’s very difficult for me to allow myself to eat proper prepared food and meals, partly because of thoughts that I’m too disgusting to deserve it and partly because I’m just so tired I have no energy left for cooking after getting through the day.

Yesterday I decided to get some nice fruits and greens and I got my juicer out, which I haven’t used for months. As you can see, the result was a somewhat alarming colour and might have fitted in well in Oz*. However, it actually tasted very nice.

It’s a small start. 

[*Title from “One Short Day in the Emerald City” from the musical “Wicked”.]

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #2

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #2

Protection in emptiness

Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder

Chapter 2 – My History, 1 of 2 : ages 3 – 16

In this chapter, I’m going to tell you a bit about the history of my own eating difficulties, as an overview. I am not going to go into detail of my feelings and the reasons I started to restrict or overeat at each stage, as I will go on to that in subsequent chapters.

I have done my best not to go into any detailed description of the techniques I used to eat less or conceal how little I was eating and so on, as I understand that this can be triggering for people who are unwell with eating difficulties.

It has proved much more difficult to write this “history” than I anticipated. I think what lies behind each of the periods of my life is more raw than I had admitted to myself.

Although I probably did not meet clinical criteria for an eating disorder until I was about 15, my relationship with food and my body was distorted throughout my life from preschool age.

I first knew I was “fat” when I was 3 years old. I remember vividly sitting on the stairs. It was shortly after Easter. On Easter Sunday I had been given a chocolate Easter egg with my name iced on it, and some other chocolate treats. As a typical child, I guess, I delighted in the egg. I shared it with my Nana and my parents but probably not very generously! (Typically, again, for a 3 year old.) I remember that on that Easter Sunday, I was praised for sharing. But then that day on the stairs (I don’t know how long after Easter), my mother was calling me “greedy” and shouting at me for how I had stuffed my face with chocolate and everyone else just had a crumb. I remember so clearly and it hurts even now. I remember knowing I was greedy and bad, and FAT. How exactly I knew to make that link, I am not sure, but I knew it meant FAT, and BIG, and that was bad. Perhaps I had already absorbed some of my mother’s preoccupation with food and body size.

My mother began weighing me in secret around this time, and keeping the fact hidden from my dad. (My dad recalls this and has told me about it. I myself recalled it from when I was a little older, maybe 5 years old.) When my dad found out what she was doing, he told her to stop, and she agreed, but actually continued with increased frequency and forbade me to tell my dad.

From the age of around 6, she would regularly tell me that I looked “too plump” and would send me to weigh myself and report back to her my weight. She would not believe the figure I told her and would then have me get the scales, bring them to her bedroom or the upstairs landing and weigh myself in front of her. Then she would stand me, often undressed, in front of the long mirror in her bedroom and point out the bits of my body that were too plump and too fat. Then I had to go on a diet until she considered I had lost enough weight. She did not want my father to know so I still ate the main course of the evening meal, but the diet meant no snacks or biscuits (most of the range of sweets and chocolates children ate were banned in any case) and something like lettuce and rice crackers or a small amount of plain pasta for lunch. Not the most extreme by any means, but I didn’t like it. When I got older, it meant exercise in the living room as well, sometimes with exercise videos and tapes.

I did dance classes from the age of 3 or 4; two or three classes twice or three times a week. This was about the only contact I had with other children and the outside world (my mother taught me at home until secondary school age and almost completely restricted any contact with friends or wider family members). In my classes, I knew that I was bigger than the other girls. I think partly I actually was rather a fat child and partly I was very tall for my age and so of a larger build than the other girls. In any case, candy pink leotards and tights or white ankle socks were not the most flattering outfit, to say the least!

I wanted to be little, thin and tiny. I wanted to be the smallest, not the biggest. From as soon as I could start to read (which was early, around 5 or 6 years old), I would go through my mother’s Prima magazines whilst she was asleep (there was a big stack of back issues beside her bedroom mirror).  I’d look at the pictures of the women there and, as I got older, read the diet features where you were supposed to live on grapes, yoghurt and hard boiled eggs. I remember in particular, one picture of a woman in a sparkly red dress. This was the late 80s when the extremely thin, emaciated look of models was popular, perhaps even more than it is today. I had pretty much uncensored access to these magazines whilst my mother slept. (My dad would go to work but my mother frequently would not get up until a good 2 – 3 hours or more later, during which time I’d play by myself or read books and magazines that I could find lying around.)

My mother, meanwhile, was very concerned with her own weight. She was convinced that she was fat (she was not). Her morning toiletry and beauty routine took an incredibly long time. She would spend a long time on extremely precise application of a lot of make up, then in front of the mirror looking at her body. One of her delusions with her schizophrenia was that she was being bitten by insects or that there was poison under her skin, which she would try to scratch out in front of the mirror. Her eating patterns were very irregular. She would eat nothing at all during the day and instead smoke a vast amount and drink coffee and later, wine. She would then eat an evening meal (except during the terrible arguments, when she might not even eat this). I thought that was how grown up women ate and waited for it to happen to me that I didn’t want to eat any more during the day. I didn’t have enough contact with anyone other than my mother to know that this wasn’t normal. I thought something was wrong with me that I still ate breakfast and lunch.

Food was also a big focus of my mother’s ill thoughts and actions. Arguments often started during the evening meal. If the argument (her shouting, crying, threatening and so on) had already gone on all the day until she suddenly went away to bed, it would resume over dinner on my father’s return from work. When I was older and had been out to school during the day or, rarely, elsewhere, dinner was the time for her cross-examinations about what I had done, what marks I had got, who I had seen, what conversations I had had, what I had said and what the other person had said, usually followed by a rehearsal of why that was not good enough and exactly what I had to say the next time and what the  other person would say in response.

During dinner she would watch me intently, observing in minute detail how I held cutlery and crockery, commenting and criticising and even accusing me that particular mannerisms or movements were done to punish her or because I was “pretending to be a little girl” and knew it would upset her. My father and I had to give effusive praise of every part of the meal if she had cooked it. She had a rotation of elaborate dishes. Not liking something was not acceptable. Other times she would completely stop cooking at all for months on end. The food had to be set out in dishes in a particular arrangement on the dinner table. She would eat with particular precisely repetitive actions that on top of everything else, just raised the tension to absolute boiling point. If she was eating yoghurt from a bowl (it had to be decanted into a bowl, never eaten from the pot), she would circle her spoon twice clockwise and twice anti-clockwise round the bowl, then tap it three times on the top of the bowl, before taking each mouthful. As a result, she ate incredibly slowly. My father and I had to sit still until she had finished. (Even writing this my anger is boiling!) If she was angry, or going to accuse me of punishing her in some way, her actions became more elaborate and pantomime-like. It was frightening and the spring that lived in my stomach around those years coiled tighter and tighter waiting for the explosion that came no matter what I did, anyway.

By the time I went to secondary school aged 11, having been taught at home by my mother from 4 – 11 years old, I was probably a completely average weight. I was still tall although not quite as extremely so as when I was younger. I was not particularly slim but I was not fat either.

At school, able to choose what I wanted for lunch and with some spending money for break time, suddenly I was away from my mother’s intense scrutiny of my food intake. She would always watch me extremely intently if she was sitting with me when I ate. At dinner time I hated the feeling of her intense gaze. It was strange. In other ways she almost ignored my food – for example, I got my own breakfast (unless my dad did before he went to work) and lunch from the age of around 6 years old. After her hospital admissions started I often cooked all or part of the family evening meal, when I was around 8 years old. But when she was present, she watched intently, worrying and judging and controlling.

So with this new-found freedom at school, I wanted to try all the foods my friends were eating which I had not been allowed. I wanted to eat sweets when they had them. I was hungry with the busy school schedule. The result was I did definitely have too much candy and sweet food in my diet. I ate it in secret from her, fearful of what her reaction would be.

Unfortunately, when I was around 12, my physical health problems started, first from an ankle injury and then a serious knee injury, following which I was on crutches for a long time. I have a mild form of joint hypermobility which did not help.

Not able to continue my dance classes or to join in sports or move around so much whilst I was on crutches, my weight started to go up. I yo yo’ed for a while, restricting severely when I was on a diet (drinking only fizzy drinks during the day at school and eating nothing) and at other times eating far too much sweet food. My physical health problems did not really get any better from this age and I was in constant pain in my legs and back (apart from a brief period when I was about 14).

By this stage, my mother was going into hospital with increasing frequency. When she was at home, she seemed the more angry with me. I was starting to challenge more her world that was wrapped up in the schizophrenia and closed in at home, I guess. She became angrier with me for my weight. The weighing had become less frequent but she would still call me to stand in front of the mirror and undress for her to show me what was wrong with my body. I was plenty old enough now that I did not want to do this in front of her.

Nevertheless, I did want to lose weight. I still wanted to be the thinnest, the smallest, the youngest. Over the summer I was 14, turning 15, I started to diet in earnest and this was probably the start of the longest period I had yet spent on a diet. I also started cycling into the next town, swimming, then cycling home. I had gone from being fairly inactive to doing a lot of activity. My stamina had increased and I pushed and pushed myself. I would swim 30 – 50 lengths of the 50 metre pool and cycle 5 miles there an back. Though I hated my body at this time, looking back I can see I was strong and fit for perhaps the first time. All I saw was fat, and my mother ensured that it stayed that way and commented constantly on my food combinations and portion sizes and if I went down a clothes size, would say it was ridiculous and I could not be that size, the clothes were sized wrong and I was much bigger. Nevertheless I enjoyed my swimming and cycling. It gave me some freedom to get away from my mother and out of the tiny village where I grew up. I was free of her whilst I was cycling and swimming and it was something she couldn’t take over.

When I went back to school that autumn, I was pleased with the comments on my weight loss. I continued to further restrict my food intake and fill up on fizzy drinks. I would skip breakfast, hiding it from my dad, and eat only vegetables sometimes with a tiny bit of potato or pasta at lunch time. I was in a musical production with my school, which I also loved (plus more time staying at school for rehearsals equalled more time escaping my mother). I was losing weight very rapidly now and by the time the performance came, the costumes that had been ordered to fit to me a few weeks earlier were hanging loose and had to be pinned in. I collapsed from exhaustion on one day and was so very cold and could not get warm. Although nobody appeared to notice at the time, and I certainly did not acknowledge it, I was probably entering the underweight range at this point.

I then took my dieting further and further and could not stop. My memory of this time is really not at all clear so it is hard to write about. People started to express concern – teachers and even other children at my school who normally hardly paid me any attention at all. I hated the concern and attention and was angry inside. I didn’t want anyone to notice me. I didn’t want anyone to stop me. I was fine. They should leave me alone, I thought. Nothing was wrong and what right did they have to try to reach me. They didn’t understand.

I kept on going swimming in this time, but my energy was now wearing out fast and the distances that I could swim were reducing. It was as if a switch flicked. For weeks I was able to push myself on, swimming 50 or 60 lengths of the pool despite being underweight, determined to go further and further and wishing I could keep going forever. That was safe and everything else stopped. But then within a couple of days, the power had entirely gone. I was so, so cold in the water. It was hard to move. I was being dragged down and it was so so very cold. Everything was pain and not being able to breathe. Even getting changed and getting into the pool took longer and longer and I could see the teachers watching me now. Suddenly it wasn’t where everything stopped anymore – I was being watched there too. I can still remember the last day I went swimming and the cold I felt then somehow seemed to get right inside me and I could not warm up and the feeling did not leave me for years.

I was still dropping weight and by now experiencing physical effects. Downy hair grew over my arms. I was shattered all the time. I caught a cold and cough that I could not shake and would cough over and over in the mornings waking up. It hurt. My skin cracked and split and didn’t heal. I was freezing cold and even basic things like washing and changing became painful because I could not bear taking my clothes off – partly from hatred of my body but a big part of it was the intense cold. I bruised easily. I injured my toes in a fall and the bruising did not clear up for months. I started losing bladder control, often barely making it to the toilet in time. Moving anywhere was such an immense effort and I walked more and more slowly.

Somehow this did not stop me or shock me. I brushed everything off. Nothing mattered because it was all obscured by the need to become smaller and disappear and shrink. The drive not to eat was overpowering. It was a desperate, driven, angry need.

My parents were late to express their concerns. I had done quite a good job of hiding from them what was actually going on and how much food I wasn’t eating. The illness made me nasty and devious. I did not tend to wear revealing clothes anyway and wearing more and more layers against the cold hid how thin I was.

When they did express concern I was furious. It was probably the one occasion on which they both, eventually, when I was severely anorexic, expressed unified concern for me. This stunned me. I hated inside that I was hurting and worrying them. Yet, starvation was stronger.

It was my dad who got me to admit to having a problem with my weight. He spoke to me one morning before my mother had got up and there was something in the distress in his eyes that finally shocked and scared me. I admitted that morning that I had a problem. I was 15 years old.

There were still many months before I actually began to regain the weight. During this time I suffered a serious back injury from which I still have disc damage. I was painfully helpless and I think this made me start to hate the disorder. I was walking with crutches and could not get up from a chair or out of the bath without help. The starvation which had previously protected me now threw me into far more intimate dependency on my mother than I could stand.

Nevertheless, I received very little medical input or help. My memory around this time is again very very poor. It was a really distressing time and I can remember arguments I could not cope with and immense sadness and fear and anger. I know now I was causing my parents a massive amount of hurt and pain and I feel terrible guilt for this.

My mother, in her illness, was adamant that I should not have help from the GP or specialists. My GP wanted me to attend a centre nearby for children and teenagers with eating disorders and to go to therapy and group sessions there. My mother did not want me to have this. She told me what to say to the doctor and what to hide so that I would not be sent to this centre. As she had done with the threats of her, my dad or I being sent away when I was younger, she made the idea that I might be sent away to a hospital into a terrifying thing that would destroy her and mean I was sent away from the family permanently.  She coached and rehearsed me on exactly what to say. She said that she had to be in complete control of my food.

For some reason, her power over me was so great that I went along with what she wanted me to say. For some reason, the doctor believed it. For some reason, my father did not know what was really going on.

So I didn’t get the referral. I didn’t see any specialist. I saw the GP for monitoring a few times, where I’d be weighed and spout the rehearsed sentences that would make it clear that I did not need any help and supposedly was completely in control.

What realised a few years ago, when I was working in an eating disorder service, is that at this time at the age of 15, my BMI was about 13 (I will not share my weight as I know that this may be sensitive and triggering to anyone in the midst of struggling with anorexia). I had Anorexia Nervosa so severe as to be considered life threatening.

When I realised just how unwell I was when my mother had done all she could to prevent me from getting help, my view of her started to change. I believe now that she prevented me from getting help from a specialist because she knew that if I was seen by a psychiatrist, the abuse she was subjecting my dad and I to might be discovered.

A physiotherapist I was seeing for my back injury realised exactly what was going on, I think. My mother hated her. The physiotherapist urged me to try to get more help. I was too much wrapped in my mother’s constructed world to understand what was happening to me. I could not speak outside of what she had told me to say and pretend was true.

I started to gain weight and I could walk again, but just as she said, she got complete control of me again.

This is the first time I have written about this period in my life. It is very very hard and it feels incredibly shameful. I am not ashamed of having had an eating disorder and/or still having eating difficulties. I don’t know exactly what it is. Somehow telling the story seems scary, unreal and I think part of the problem is knowing it won’t just be hidden inside anymore now that I’ve written it.  It hurts much more than I thought it would. However, I think it needs to be said. It’s almost as if the purpose the starvation served is lessened as I tell it. That probably doesn’t make sense right now but in my later chapters I hope it will.

Making it home

Today, I had some new furniture delivered – fantastic bargains in a local furniture charity shop. (The large number of charity shops round here is a particular blessing for those of us on a tight budget and possibly more creativity than money 🙂 .) So I spent the best part of the day re-arranging and cleaning and installing the items.

I have been in my flat several months now and it is my first place of my own, as opposed to renting a single room as lodger. I am thankful beyond words to finally have a housing association flat. Without this I would never have been able to afford to rent a whole flat as rents are incredibly high here. I cannot believe this place should be mine and thank the Lord for it every day.

I was a lodger in a family home before moving here. The family could not have been nicer and gave me privacy but I was struggling a lot, just as I had been in all my previous properties. That was probably one reason I moved around so much. Apart from financial issues or having to move when jobs ended and new jobs started, getting to a new place sometimes provided a temporary illusion of escape. When the illusion came crashing down it would just be worse than ever.

Anyhow, at the last place my OCD and obsessional thoughts were very hard to cope with and hide and my anxiety was increased because there was a young baby in the household, which seemed to increase my fears that I would cause people harm. At my worst times, which was becoming most of the time, I would dread bumping into anyone in the shared kitchen and having to speak, so I just stopped preparing food. The close proximity to others made me want to run and hide. So hide I did, in my room, which was the only place to spend time anyway, since there was not a shared lounge, only a kitchen (and bathroom, but that’s not exactly the place for small talk or hanging out). Then once I was in my room for any length of time, I felt trapped. The panic attacks, flashbacks and terrifying thoughts would come and there was literally nowhere to run.  There was not anywhere to go to get a breathing space or a different environment or to be in a different place for a while to help me step out of what was happening in my head. I’d lie on the bed or sit on the chair and do my best to employ the distraction or self-soothing techniques the clinicians told me but feel I was just suffocating in the world inside my head.

I can’t say how helpful it now is to have more space. It turns out that it really is true that you rest better when the bedroom is set apart as a relaxing place. I have the space I need in the kitchen to cook when I am able to. It is rare that I am able to at the moment, for many reasons, but the fact that I have my own kitchen does at least increase the likelihood that I will prepare food. My lounge is cosy and I’m even so fortunate as to have a view out to the communal garden. I have a very tiny garden and a flowerbed and although I do not enjoy gardening, I do like to keep it tidy and there is a certain satisfaction in pulling the weeds from the earth to let the little plants breathe.

In some way, I can begin to make this flat my own. Having a place where I can start to feel safe in the space, make some choices about how to lay it out, use my creativity to make it the way that I enjoy and even bring other people into it, makes it a home. Caring for it (cleaning, tidying, doing the little flower bed outside, feeling thankful for what I have) gives a constructive focus.

Much as I was longing for a home for a long time, I am still surprised at the difference that it makes to have one. Often I do not realise the value of doing something quite simple towards making it more of a home – such as tidying and choosing how to arrange things, as I did today, or perhaps painting the walls the colour that you like. Even on the very bad days, being in this home makes it slightly better, somehow. Maybe it’s a little bit less scary, a little bit safer, a little less unpredictable, a little more space, or a little bit more of beautiful or positive things around me.

Thank you dear Lord, for HOME.

Ginny xx

 

PD and ED – some thoughts about personality disorders and eating disorders

The majority of other sufferers of personality disorders that I have met with, as an inpatient and in the community service I go to now, have difficult experiences surrounding food, for example, having diagnoses of anorexia or bulimia, struggling with fluctuating weight, punishing themselves with food-related actions (starving or making themselves sick or bingeing, or deliberately eating foods they are allergic to in order to provoke a painful physical symptom) and so on.  This is just an observation from what I have encountered and there could be many factors involved – for example, issues around weight do seem to be on the up in the UK (or at least more prominent in media coverage?) and the majority of people I know with personality disorders are women, amongst whom eating disorders are also more common.  However, it did get me thinking and resonate strongly with my own experiences of food and disordered eating and of working in an eating disorder service.

I think food is tightly bound to feelings of anger at self or at one’s own uncontrollable emotions, and makes an effective – though it hurts to use that word – form of self-harm.  When you have thoughts like: I’m so disgusting I don’t deserve to eat / don’t deserve good food only rubbish, I do not deserve to care for myself so I only eat junk, I hate my body for making these demands [to eat], go on you disgusting bitch [I say to myself] look what you’ve done you greedy pig, now get rid of it, throw up til your throat bleeds….you’re foul, you’re disgusting, look how much you’ve hurt everyone, starve and make sure it hurts……. Those kind of thoughts; or even just being too low in the darkness to respond to the basic need for nourishment.

When my eating was the most disordered, I didn’t get specialist help or even much acknowledge the problem in the worst times, despite the efficacy of the function it was serving for me.  I was also blind to it.  My mother (in part because of how her thoughts were twisted by her own sickness) also prevented me from accessing the help that my GP desperately wanted me to get. Now I know that I was underweight enough to fall into the severe anorexic weight range where dire physical consequences were a risk.  My periods stopped and I suffered damage to discs in my back during this time.  (More on my own disordered eating in another post.)  This was long before I was diagnosed with personality disorder (my eating disorder first started when I was about 14) and it is only now, nearly 15 years later, that I am acknowledging it and can articulate what its functions were.

The other day I spied a leaflet for carers in the community service I’m part of, which discussed some of the signs of personality disorders.  “Eating disorders” was actually specifically listed as a “symptom”.  This struck me in particular because personality disorder often occurs jointly with other psychiatric diagnoses but these would not be classed as a “symptom” of personality disorder.  (For example, many people with forms of personality disorder also have bipolar disorder, but bipolar would not, at least to my knowledge, be classed as a symptom of personality disorder – it is a different diagnosis which someone may have at the same time.)

I would agree that struggling to feed myself well and at times, actions that would be classed as eating disordered behaviour, are tightly related to my emotional instability, lack of control over strong emotions or thoughts that are repulsive to me, and the need to punish and hurt myself.  So yes, I would say these are “symptoms” of my personality disorder.

I talked to two friends about the leaflet I had seen – both are highly experienced in the treatment of eating disorders.  One point they made was how much eating disorders are a sign of something else painful.  It’s often thought that once someone’s problems with food and weight are treated, they are “all better”.  However, that is very much not so.  The eating disorder is often masking, indeed a mechanism for coping with, something else.

It could be numbing, or controlling.  Overeating could comfort, suppress, bury, emotions.  Starvation, I think, ironically consumes; the hunger that gnaws painfully eats away other feelings and leaves a blessed numbness.  Thinking back to my own times of starvation, I have to admit that it was, at the very least in a significant part…. fantastic.*  I was wrapped in a protective, protecting numbness, for long periods.  (The times this cracked were utterly terrible, but the times it lasted froze me in a lighter, safer state, so it seemed.)  I will explore more of this in another post.

One struggle in personality disorders is that our emotions may, with less stimulus than it ordinarily takes, reach an unbearable high where we cannot cope or think, where there’s only fear, upset, panic, darkness, anger, sadness… or much more occasionally, extremes of joy (I am not sure why the extremes of positive emotions are so much more occasional.  Perhaps do they just trouble us less as these emotions seem more acceptable, and therefore we remember these extremes less?)  In these extreme states we can’t think, we don’t act rationally, our memory may be affected, and we may take extreme actions like overdoses, self-harm, suicide attempts, and so on.  Then it takes longer to come back down from that extreme state to “normal” – the level of emotion where it is possible to cope and function and think – than it ordinarily would take.

So I think one interaction of eating disorders with personality disorders could be this.  First, the eating disorder may serve the function of numbing emotions in the first place, so that those dangerous high extremes are not reached in the first place.  Second, it may serve the purpose of bringing us down from the extreme, with their numbing, consuming, controlling effect.  It’s similar to other forms of self harm.  When I am in extreme distress and I cut, for a brief time, it deals with the emotion or makes things feel safe again because I can be sure I’m hurting myself, not someone else.

These are just my thoughts and I would love to know more about research into this.  I wonder how much there is.  I have read quite widely in my work and studies about eating disorders but have not come across very much on this topic, beyond the fact that the two diagnoses can occur together.  It strikes me that the interaction between eating disorder support services and other support services like personality disorder teams or wider community mental health teams, is something that warrants much exploration if we are to support someone not only to recover physically from an eating disorder, but emotionally as well.

*When I was in the midst of the eating disorder it frequently did feel fantastic.  I am NOT advocating eating disorders and I know rationally now – thankfully – that it was anything but fantastic when I was anorexic.  I am thankful to be recovered and for the work of specialist eating disorder counsellors and services, GPs and CPNs who so dedicatedly help sufferers.  I urge anyone struggling with food and eating to get help.

At the same time, I am acknowledging that disordered eating does serve a purpose and function.  It is a way of coping.  It is harmful, as overdosing, cutting, other forms of self-harm are harmful and risky, but it is a way of coping, just as I believe other forms of self-harm are.  I think eating disorders are a way of coping with so much more than the thought processes I have outlined here.  It is different for everyone.

I believe – and I think the clinic the two friends I mentioned work in takes this seriously – that for it to be possible to survive recovery from an eating disorder and take the next steps, treatment has to respect that eating disorders are a coping mechanism, and then enable the sufferer to find alternative coping mechanisms, for example in this case, other ways to deal with the terrifying emotions and extreme lows and highs.

Though I never was specifically in treatment for my eating disorders, I am now very very fortunate that the service treating me now is helping me find these other ways of coping, and I think that as this is the start of dealing with so many aspects of my personality disorder, it will also restore my relationship with my physical body and its need for nourishment.

Ginny x