Three years and Four months

In November 2016 I was admitted to an adult mental heal unit for the 17th time that year. I had let my illness consume me, all that I was had seemed to disappear and the only place I could be safe was in hospital. Three years and Three months ago I was discharged and I never went back, I engaged in counselling, took my medication, used outpatient services but with the support of family, friends and professionals I began to claim my life back and rather than be sad that I had to live with mental health issues I was angry and I was not going to let my illness steal anymore of my life from me.

In that time I went from being told by a doctor that the reality was I would eventually take my own life to having no more suicide attempts or self harm.

In that time I went from being told I would always struggle with relationships with other people to strengthening the friendships I had and making new ones

I went from needing medication to needing no medication, from needing interaction with services to needing no interaction.

I went from being told I would be signed off work sick forever to holding down a full time job with ease.

I went from being Borderline to being recovered

The way I write those things may sound like big deals, which in some way they are and they are things I can celebrate but this is just the reality of recovery and is the same for anyone on the journey to recovery. It didn’t mean that life was easy and that I didn’t have any symptoms or struggles with one of my diagnosis but it meant I had a way of dealing and it not longer consumed me and I found who I was again, separate from my poorly wired head organ.

The past 2 months I have been dealing with a different part of recovery (because that is what it is), Relapse. I began to get ill and things spiralled quickly to the point a couple of days after I first felt the symptoms reappear I looked myself in the mirror and told myself I was no longer in control. I stayed out of control cycling quickly, falling deeper into my depression and sometimes flying into hyper mania without noticing my feet wernt even of the ground. When I realised that I could not work whilst in that state I rang for help and was put on home visits each day to make sure I was staying safe and for about 3 weeks I did.

I thought I was getting better and went back to work, picked up my normal routine but I was not better, I had found myself in the eye of the storm it seemed chill, calm almost, like normal just a bit darker but then the storm hit me, full force and I was no longer me. Something in me changed and I decided I would give way to whatever my illness wanted. I didn’t want to fight it anymore because I felt like a failure, I had failed in my recovery, I was worthless, I was not made for this world, I had failed to be a person and now whatever happened would happen. In this time I was still adamant that I was OK that things were harder but I was OK and this was not a relapse, I was not Ill, they were dirty words that only added fuel to the fire of my failure.

I encountered a trigger, it may have been small but I could not deal with it and it made me explode, the home treatment team came for there visit and I told them I was fine but they were worried and came out again later in the day. I told them to leave. I told them I was fine and did not want there help, that I was getting better, I was back at work and doing things I was meant to and that they should get out of my house. Looking back I was rude, arrogant, a liar, but mental illness can change my personality. They said ok and they left the house and I thought that was the end of it. I’d already taken a lot of pills that day so I (for some reason which probably illustrates how out of it I was at that point) cleaned the house from top to bottom, did my hair and make up and got dressed up and then sat in my room, got everything organised I needed and set about ending my life. At the moment, not even exaggerating for dramatic effect, literally at that moment there was a knock at my door and there stood two doctors and a social worker. If you’ve been involved with mental health before you know shit is going down when you see two doctors and a social worker. They spoke to me for what seemed like forever and I lied my why through, argued my way through, thought I’d done a good job of showing them just how fine I was until they told me they were writing “pink slips” I have never been more angry or cry shouted so much but it did me no good and I was put on a section 2 and transported straight to a inpatient unit.

I spent 9 days at the unit being angry. How could they do that to me? I was fine? I was getting on with things? It was nothing to do with them that I was hurting myself, surely that’s my right? Why have they got the power to ruin my life? I wasn’t even that I’ll, why did they even bring me in?

It has now been 2 weeks and it is only now that I am ready to acknowledge what happened, accept it and take back control of my own recovery, I have 6 days until I am discharged and I plan on working to make sure I am able and on it when I come out!

I am saying this, not because it’s just a story to tell but to say it is OK to relapse, it doesn’t mean you have failed, it means you’re unwell, or something is wrong that needs addressing. Radical acceptance is accepting myself/yourself in the worst days as well as the best days and understanding that mental illness is not you but a part of you.

If I had had that mindset that maybe things would not of gone so far, I would not of been scared to admit my relapse and might of got help sooner, I defiantly wouldn’t have been in hospital as long because I was wasting days being angry with the situation and myself.

Rather than being angry that after more than 3 years there has been a life halting relapse, it’s time to celebrate that there was 3 years well and it is not impossible to have that again, but accepting myself is the only way I will have that again.

The hardest thing to deal with this time round has been the shock, the shock that I was ok for so long and then suddenly wasn’t, it was shock, guilt, fear and an overwhelming sense of failure that led me here.

But to myself and anyone else that needs to hear it, you are strong, you are enough, you have not failed and you can ask for help. I have questioned myself a lot the past week, does this mean I am ill again forever? Am I strong enough to do this again? Brace enough to rebuild myself again? Do I have the hope that that’s even possible? I may not know all the answers but I do know that so far I, we, have lived through 100 percent of the worst days and I plan to live through the rest of them, holding out for the good days knowing that eventually there will be more great than terrible, there will be more average than difficult.

Fighting with Food.

I’ve never been a normal weight. I’ve always been big. When I was 5 I weighed 5 stone, and every year I put on another stone until I was 14 stone at 14. After that I started to try and do something about it for myself, I was motivated for myself rather than other people telling me what to do. I became the queen of yo yo dieting. At my lightest I was 11 stone, my heaviest 18.

Funny thing is I don’t particularly remember being an unhealthy child, I don’t have recollections of eating too much or eating junk food, I remember looking at my thinner friends at meal times and thinking “you eat three times as much as me, why am I the fat one.” I may not remember how I got that way, but I do remember what happened as a result of it.

When I was 5 my school sent me to a dietician, I was told I wasn’t allowed seconds at meal times and wasn’t allowed puddings at school. I was never bothered about losing the food, what I was bothered about was the isolation. I was 5 and I was already different to everyone else but I didn’t lose any weight.

When I was 10 my mum took me to weight watchers. She’d send me off to school with i box of lettuce (literally) and I’d weigh in with the adults every week. I never lost any weight.

When I was 12 I went on slim fast. I took milkshakes for packed lunches and ate salads for dinner every day, I still never lost any weight.

The reason I didn’t lose weight was that I ate in secret, I was and still am an emotional eater and even worse sometimes a bored eater. At those young ages, I was already unhappy, and the thing that distracted me from that was food.

But then something changed. At 13 my mood was even lower, I suddenly wasn’t just a bit sad, I was depressed. I wasn’t struggling with puberty, I was struggling with my existence. That’s a tension that takes more than food to release, that’s also when I found self harm. Suddenly I didn’t need food to calm the emotion anymore, I had a new way. So I started dieting, really dieting, i did every quick fix in the book and learnt all the tricks. I was determined and I was going to be thin. Little did I know then that that was just another coping method, another thing for me to obsessively control. But, I did it. I lost the weight.

Then disaster struck, my self harm was discovered. My mum ran through the house and collected anything I could possibly hurt myself with. She checked by bags after I’d been shopping, there was no where to hide anything. Suddenly my coping mechanism was gone.

So I ate. I ate a lot.

Then I felt guilty I’d messed up my diet. I felt ashamed I was so weak. I felt horrified at the disgusting person I thought I was.

For the first time I made myself sick… and I loved it, every single second, especially getting on the scales.

I felt safe in my habits, I would lose weight, I’d get pretty, I’d finally fit in with my friendship group, and best of all I’d never be caught. Because no one expects the fat girl to have an eating disorder.

It became a daily occurrence, multiple times a day for as long as it took for my mum to forget about the self harm and weaken her guard so I could pick it up again. When I could start self harming again the food stuff became less intense.

It was always there.

Always.

But the vomiting emerged and disappeared again like the moles in the old arcade games of whac-a-mole.

The dieting came and went.

My weight yo yod. I could go from obese to normal weight and back again in a couple of months. I was good at losing weight. I was good at putting it on.

I learnt the calories in everything, I learnt every pro-mia and pro-ana trick in the book. I could sit for hours and tell you the easiest and most effective methods. The film ‘to the bone’ (which is probably one of the most accurate ED films I’ve ever seen) describes this as ‘calorie Aspergers.’ Although I don’t appreciate the analogy fully, I get where this is coming from. It’s an obsession, an addiction, it’s time consuming and all consuming.

I spent years like this, and they came and went pretty quickly when I look back on it. Sometimes eating disorders are made to look glamorous but the very real side effects meant that –

I started to lose my hair.

My teeth started to rot to the point they would just break in half and fall out.

My nails were yellow.

I was always shivering.

I missed social events that involved food or drinks because of fear of calories.

I failed a subject at school because I was to scared to get up and get some more paper because I thought I would draw attention to how ugly I was.

I refused to leave the house, I firmly believed I was so ugly if someone saw me in the street it might make them sick.

I found a new thing, chewing food and spitting it out, all the taste, non of the calories.

Then I went to university. The freedom only made my habits worse until by the end of first year I was spending so much on binge food I was getting myself in debt, I was throwing up over 5 times a day. Some days I felt like that wasn’t enough so I would take 40 laxatives as well. I even started smoking because I read it was an appetite suppressant.

One night, like many others, I passed out on my bathroom floor. When I came round again I had the realisation that I was literally flushing money down the toilet.

The next day I registered for a doctor and made an appointment, I was referred to the ED department of the local mental health services (after being told, really helpfully, that I shouldn’t get my hopes up for treatment because they only treat ‘proper eating disorders’).

A few months later I sat infront of a doctor. He told me he’d read my notes and asked me what I thought the problem was.

I told him I didn’t know.

He told me that was a lie, that I was a smart girl and I knew myself that I was bulimic.

He told me we would break for lunch, he said I could stay in the room if I didn’t want to eat and he would bring me some water.

He recommended me for treatment and put me on meds to stop my oesophagus rupturing and sent me on my way.

He got it. He didn’t tell me I was to fat to be Ill. He didn’t tell me I was making it up. He told me it was real, I wasn’t on my own and I was going to get treatment. After the session I went to the shop, I bought food for dinner and I ate it, and I didn’t get rid of it.

I had a mixed experience in treatment, in the end I gave up going because it was setting me back but it didn’t make the treatment itself wrong, in fact the skills and thing I learned set me well on the way to recovery.

For a while food wasn’t an issue anymore.

But like any addiction that’s not dealt with properly it was always in the back of my mind. My mood cycles change regularly and you can guarantee that each one changes my relationship with food. My disordered food behaviours are always the first coping mechanism to reappear and the last ones to leave.

I catch myself with different thought patterns depending on my mood.

When everything so stable I get healthier, I eat better and I exercise more and I find myself losing weight in a healthy way. Weight loss is always in my mind. But when I’m stable in my mood I think about it logically, I am overweight, that is physically unhealthy and needs to change. To do that I need to eat better and exercise. I can talk about weight loss, tell you that I am comfortable in my appearance but need to lose weight for my physical health and be confident that I believe this.

When my mood is low I catch my own bad though patterns and behaviour but I’m never willing to change it. I have an underlying belief that my weight is what makes me unhappy, so when my mood sucks I believe that I’d be completely happy all the time if I was thin. So I start the quest.

Firstly, I stop eating and drinking. A few days in to that I’ll start to feel ill from dehydration so I’ll drink. Then I’ll feel like I’ve messed everything up so why stop there? I’ll eat again. Immediately after I eat I’ll feel like a failure, get rid of the food by any means possible and finally feel empty again. Feeling empty gives me a buzz, getting on the scales everyday to see the weight coming off gives me even more of a buzz. Then the cycle will begin again and will last until my mood changes, and then a bit longer while I work on breaking the cycle I create.

When my mood goes up, I’m awake for days, I shop for clothes even more than normal and I work on smashing calorie and weight loss targets. I get weighed everyday and depending on what the scales say set my calories for the day, anything between fasting and 1,800 calories. I burn off what I’ve eaten because of the boost in energy that comes with hyper mania. When I’m in that state I’m always successful and nothing can stop me. I get the buzz from going down clothes sizes.

I have come to accept that although generally if my mood is stable food isn’t a big issue for me anymore, it will always be an area I relapse into. I will never have a normal relationship with food, and to be honest I don’t even know what that would look like for me. Now it’s about controlling the patterns, maybe my next relapse will only last for a couple of weeks rather than a couple of months. Maybe I can pick up warning signs quicker than normal.

A stable mood means more stable thinking, I can identify the things that trigger my behaviours and I can avoid them. I can stop conversations that will set me back. I can stay motivated by health rather than a desperation to have a thigh gap.

But nobody is permanently stable, whether it’s mental health related or not there are always Highs and lows, and for me there will always be food based behaviours that go along side that.

While I was in treatment I was given a list of what normal food behaviours were, it was explained to me that I just take them to extremes.

It is normal to eat junk food or overeat on a bad day. It is not normal for that to mean repeatedly binging and feeling guilty about it.

It is normal to not eat as much if you’re stressed or agitated or even just busy. It is not normal to stop eating for a week because your preoccupied.

It is normal to cut out certain foods to try and get healthy. It is not normal to cut out all food.

Being diagnosed with bulimia and BPD has made me realise how most of my issues come from living in the extremes and struggling to find a middle ground. I rarely focus myself on eating disorder recovery, what I need to focus on is living in the middle and not the extremes. In BPD talk we use the terms black and white and grey. It is natural for me to live in the black and white, I need to live in the grey. We also call it ‘splitting’ or ‘split thinking’ which are terms I identify with all to well. I strongly think that when I get to grey, if I ever can get to the grey, most of my issues will fall in place. I think my issues with food aren’t issues with food, they are issues from the mentality I carry in most areas of my life, they are issues that don’t belong in the grey.