I woke up at 5.45am feeling absolutely dreadful – stomach cramps, nausea, paaain. Still, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. I have IBS and any change in diet sets it off, so coupled with the amount of anxiety that eating normally for the first time in eight or nine months provoked I was quite prepared for feeling a bit rubbish this morning. It passed within an hour or so anyway, and I had breakfast at 8ish. This morning I had raspberry oats with oat milk, toasted coconut, ground mixed seeds and a little bit of brown sugar. I don’t like my porridge too sweet but the coconut tasted wrong without sugar! My snacks and lunch were similar to yesterday, and for dinner I had this:
I made wrap dough out of Dove’s farm gluten free flour, oat milk and water (with some salt, pepper and basil), fried it in avocado oil (which made it turn a bit green, hehe) and filled it with a boiled egg and marinated butterbeans. I wrapped it up after I took the photo. I also had the same salad as yesterday, and another dairy/gluten free chocolate muffin for dessert. I feel overly full now but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as yesterday.
I spent the morning looking through a diary which I kept on a forum for people with EDs for the last three years. I’ve left the website now but I still have my diary saved to my computer. I was specifically looking at what I was writing when my long term problems with EDNOS turned into anorexia in August 2007 after I lost a lot of weight by accident due to digestive issues, then the pages from when I started the day programme last time, when I stopped going, when I relapsed a couple of months later, when I got back into recovery, and when I started to relapse again just before leaving for university in October last year. I was looking for things to tell me about how I was thinking at those points – the thought processes which led to relapse. I copied and pasted a lot of stuff – the document is 17 pages long in 10 point font! But this is condensed from over 100 pages of diary. I am going to go through the parts that I’ve copied and pick out the main points, because even just looking through it casually I can see that there are a few common themes expressed time and again. I am hoping that if I can work out where I went wrong last time I can avoid the same traps this time.
It was funny – I can see how much I’ve changed even just over the last couple of years. During the time when I was starting the day programme and beginning to gain weight last time I clearly hated every moment, felt trapped and out of control and wasn’t at all interested in full recovery. I half accepted the neccessity of gaining a few pounds because even I could see that I couldn’t function at the weight I was at, but I was planning to stop gaining as soon as I had reached the lowest weight that my body and my treatment team would accept. This wasn’t because I felt fat or preferred the way I looked at lower weights – in fact, the happiest I ever remember being with my body was at a BMI of 20, a few years ago when I had been free of eating disordered behaviours for about a year and was eating and exercising healthily. I hated my body and my face at low weights, I felt ugly – but that felt safe. I didn’t particularly want to be pretty. I didn’t want to inhabit the same body that was attractive enough to gain the attention of two evil rapists six years ago. And the behaviours made me feel safe too. I was convinced that without the psychologically numbing effect of restriction I would become suicidal or psychotic from anxiety again, like I had at the start of 2007 when I was physically and behaviourally healthy, but severely depressed. I kept writing about how I had loved the external circumstances of my life back then – my degree, my boyfriend, my social life – how I had felt like I fit in with people for the first time in my life, I had direction and purpose and I was helping people, I had a great life – but even though I was eating healthily, not self harming and had all these great things going for me, I spent most of my time wanting to die.
I can look back now and realise that it was the effect of untreated post traumatic stress disorder. When I was raped I was already in therapy – my eating disorder and self harm preceded the attack – but my psychologist left for a new job shortly after and I ended up on waiting list after waiting list for further treatment, for the next three years. During that time I couldn’t sleep without the light and the TV on because I was convinced that monsters would come through the wall and attack me, I had to stay in a state of constant vigilence. I would sit in shopping centres staring at the people around me, wondering how on earth they could carry on with their lives when they were just going to die at some point. I was obsessed with death and what happened afterwards. I was terrified of the concept of nothingness. I couldn’t get death out of my head, I was just waiting for a meteor to fall out of the sky and kill me, or a car to run me over, or someone else to come along and threaten my life like the two human monsters had done. Now I know that those are classic signs of post traumatic stress. Back then I was certain that there was no point to being alive and that everyone else just tried not to think about that. It sounds kind of arrogant now, but it wasn’t like I thought I was more insightful than everyone else for ‘realising’ that life was pointless – I was just completely bewildered as to how everyone else wasn’t suicidal too. It didn’t make any sense to me.
This is before I ended up at a low weight for the first time. At the start of 2007 all of this plus a change in antidepressants got too much for me, and I ended up actively suicidal and in hospital. Then came the side effects of the medication, the mania, the digestive problems, the accidental weight loss. The shame of being a psychiatric patient, the embarrassment of my friends from university visiting me while I was manic and not myself, the devastation at having to leave my occupational therapy degree, the growing apart from my boyfriend of four years. The months of physical illness, completely unexplained at the time – week after week when I was too sick to eat, and then when my stomach settled down a bit I started getting horribly and constantly dizzy, so I felt sick from that instead. Being phobic of being sick there was a period of about two months when I barely ate or slept at all, I was in a constant state of terror. I lost a lot of weight. Then, after a further week’s stay in hospital over my 22nd birthday because I was suicidal again, something snapped in my head. I decided that if my body was going to torture me anyway I was going to fucking well join in. If I started deliberately trying to lose weight then I would be finding a positive aspect to the sickness, as twisted as that sounds. I had been virtually recovered from my eating disorder for almost two years at that point, and it was different this time around. As a teenager I went through endless cycles of restricting and then bingeing and overexercising and my weight stayed within the same 10-15lbs for the most part, but when I relapsed two years ago I found that my phobia of being sick completely overwhelmed the urge to binge. Within a few months I was at the lowest weight I had ever been as an adult.
At the time it seemed like everything in my life was being stolen from me, piece by piece, everything and anything that I loved and valued, when I had worked so fucking hard to put my life back together after the rape. It’s no wonder that I went back to the eating disorder, because it was the perfect distraction. I stopped looking and feeling like an attractive female, which felt safe. I couldn’t think about anything other than food and numbers and hunger, so death and monsters were pushed out of my mind. I had a huge void in my life left by having to leave my beloved occupational therapy degree, and so losing weight became my reason for getting up in the morning. Losing weight felt like all I had left. And I became convinced that not eating was stopping me from being sick too. This was before my intolerances and allergies were diagnosed, so food really WAS making me ill at the time – when I started starving myself I actually felt better for a few weeks, until my weight loss started affecting my health more severely. I felt like I was taking back control, like if I HAD to be so depressed and physically ill then it would be far easier to accept if it was me doing it to myself. By starving myself I created a reason for being so ill. I could convince myself that any symptoms of depression, anxiety or nausea and dizziness were due to my restricting – it was so much less scary that way than when it was unexplainable, when I was trying SO hard to stay well and not hurt myself and things still kept getting worse and worse.
Vision is 20:20 with hindsight, eh? When I was living through all of this it was fragmented and chaotic, my mind was still in bits from the antidepressant induced mania and I didn’t know what was going on half the time. Now I am piecing it together into a coherant story. Although overall I’ve had an eating disorder to various degrees for the last twelve years, that period of my life two years ago was the beginning of this particularly severe phase of anorexia. I still want to go through and work out what was going on in my head when I left the day programme so prematurely and then relapsed, applied to university again and used it as motivation for recovery – then relapsed again in York, worse than ever. It’s actually less triggering than you might think. So far it’s been quite a comfort, because it is so clear how different my attitude towards recovery was this time last year. I really think things have changed. I really think I could do it this time.
Mmm. My stomach hurts. Still, short term pain, long term gain, right? It’s just a case of hanging in there…