It was such a beautiful day that I didn’t mind that forgetting to close the curtains last night had resulted in being woken up at 6.30 am by the sun. I drifted for an hour or so, feeling content. I am an early person but my boyfriend never woke up much before ten, thanks to the antipsychotics he took to control his bipolar disorder. Still, it was a small price to pay – he had been out of hospital for two years, we were both stable and healthy and doing our best to make eachother happy. After a quick shower I slipped out of his room and walked up to the supermarket at the top of the road, to buy their freshly baked chocolate croissants for breakfast. It wasn’t like I was completely free of the eating disorder back then. As I was walking through the aisles to the bakery section I could hear myself automatically calculating the calories in each croissant, wondering if I should buy the healthier option of eggs and pittas instead – I did that some mornings just because I really liked that for breakfast, but it did happen to be a less anxiety inducing choice as well. But sod it, you only live once. I might have still found myself calculating and hesitating, but that didn’t mean I had to give into those thoughts. I bought the croissants, took them back to my boy’s flat and woke him up. He was duly appreciative!
When I think about the time I spent with Andy, particularly after the first six months up until the end of the second year, I mostly remember how free I felt. I wasn’t always happy or well – I was still suffering from depression and the PTSD affected me to quite a terrifying degree, particularly when I was sleeping alone. But we were good for eachother. We brought eachother out of our heads and back into the real world. I gained 10-15 much needed pounds in the first few months we were together, and he lost about 30 that he’d gained when he started the medication. Whilst my new body did make me anxious I knew that I was still at the low end of healthy and I accepted that, stopped trying to starve it back off and even began to be able to see what my body must look like to Andy, rather than always viewing it through the warped lens of my eating disorder. He lived in supported accommodation – a house for people with mental health problems, but only staffed from 9-5 because most of the residents were relatively stable. It was still heaven for me to escape to, because I’d grown up living with six other people in a three bedroomed house, and even though we had moved to a bigger house by then it was (is) right in the middle of nowhere, and I didn’t have my own transport. I got to live half of my life out in the countryside at home and the other half in the town (almost city) with my boyfriend, which felt like a perfect compromise. He had lots of friends, mostly other musicians, and they made me feel included straight away. We went out most nights.
A lot of the memories of free, uncomplicated, unhurried days that I have involve food. I remember our attempts at making homemade falafel (deep fried, no less) – the first time we tried it it came out fine, the second time we buggered it up completely and it turned into deep fried crumbs (we ate something else 😛 ), and the third time it was perfect. We went out for dinner a lot. I ate chips, vegetarian lasagnes, pasta, curries, pizza. We got takeaway – more of the pizza and curry! I was a bit of a pizza snob though. I loved Pizza Express (two words: garlic doughballs. Ohhhmigod), and even had a soft spot for Pizza Hut, but the cheap takeaway version never did it for me. Curry was another story however – vegetarian takeaway curries can be a.m.a.z.i.n.g, though probably largely due to the copious amounts of coconut milk and oil! We probably got takeaway once a week, and ate out two or three times, so it’s a wonder that I didn’t gain any more weight after those first two or three months when I’d needed to anyway, but the whole time we were together my weight seemed to naturally stay within a perfectly healthy 5lb range. I don’t remember restricting in between meals out and I don’t remember counting calories obsessively, although I still estimated through habit. Some days my total would reach 3000, and I would think ‘wow, that’s a bit of an overkill – oh well, sex is great exercise!’. I guess the truth was, I was very active (no, not only sex, I was running regularly too!), and although I wasn’t scared to overindulge occasionally I would usually actually genuinely crave healthy food for a couple of days afterwards, so despite never restricting it all balanced itself out. That’s a weird thought now – that I could eat far more than usual on occasion, guilt free, AND that it wouldn’t have any effect on my weight at all.
We held barbecues in the summer. All his friends would come over, we’d buy cheap burgers (and quorn burgers for me and a couple of other veggies), buns, beer and salad, crisps and cake. We set up outside, Andy always insisting on doing the man thing and taking charge of the barbecue. One time we made our own garlic bread, and it was so indigestible that I felt horribly sick for a whole two hours afterwards! It was worth it though, yum. When everyone else was digesting I’d get my fire poi out, or Andy and his friend Jennie would get their guitars out. If I was tipsy enough by then I might be coerced into joining in with the singing. I used to have singing lessons, and a choir I belonged to performed in Eurodisney a couple of years running, but I quit formal lessons when I had a bit of a breakdown at 16. My party trick at barbecues (requiring quite a low level of blood in my alcohol stream) was Pie Jesu, since Jennie was always drunkenly enthusiastic about my ability to hit the high notes.
It feels like these are the memories of a different person. This was after the rape, yet I wasn’t nearly as tightly controlled and introverted as I am now. It wasn’t like we ate crap and got drunk all the time, for the most part I enjoyed eating healthily and knowing that I was taking care of my body these days, but I wasn’t scared to behave like a normal person in their late teens/early 20s. Sometimes these memories give me hope. I think – well, this period of virtual recovery was after a whole six years of eating disorder, and I managed to get to a place where I passed for normal, pretty much. If I recovered to that extend once, surely I could do it again, surely I could get that relaxed and balanced attitude towards food back? But then, before my relapse two years ago I had never been at a very low weight. I had hit the criteria for anorexia a couple of times but not maintained a weight there – when I was a teenager my eating disorder mostly consisted of losing and regaining the same 10-15lbs through cycles of restricting, overexercising and bingeing. It was just as hellish mentally as the anorexia would be later on, but I didn’t have the added complication of the effect that being at a low weight has on my body, my emotions and my cognitive function. Every type of eating disorder has similar risks and symptoms associated with it, but they do have some differences too. I know my mental state, behaviour and physical health were affected in very different ways when I was a (non-purging) bulimic compared to during the depths of my anorexia. I also recognise that maintaining a low weight for the last two years has completely destroyed my perception of normal or healthy. I wonder if it will be possible for me to recover quite as completely, given what I have done to myself these past couple of years.
On other days I can see the other side of the argument. Although I was physically and behaviourally healthy back then, I still sometimes had the thought that if I was handed extreme weight loss on a plate, I would take it. I stupidly and naively wished that I could have hit the ultimate weight goal I’d had as a teenager before I’d given the eating disorder up. As if it were as simple as becoming a ‘real anorexic’ and getting it out of my system, just like that. Do a lot of teenagers with bulimia feel the same way? I don’t think I’m alone. Particularly in the UK, all the ED treatment resources seem to be reserved for people at very low weights. The EDU I go to won’t admit anyone as an inpatient unless their BMI is below 13 or they purge so much that they are at immediate risk of heart failure. This EDU has a very large catchment area for inpatients – they have twelve beds for people from, I think, four different counties, so they are hugely overstretched. I know the admission criteria aren’t quite as stringent in other parts of the country, although IP treatment is always a last resort over here. But when I was a teenager, desperately hating my body and tormented by the fact that I always ‘ruined’ my phases of restriction with a month of rebound bingeing, I saw becoming anorexic as a way out of the hell. I thought if I was visibly and undeniably sick, people would finally see how much pain I was in and take me seriously. I could go into hospital and get some ‘proper’ help. My mum never seemed to take my problems seriously, she mostly reacted to my weird behaviour with anger, telling me sometimes that I was selfish and attention seeking.
Looking back, I can’t blame her. She was scared, she thought I was going to end up committing suicide, and no wonder she lost her temper and wondered why I couldn’t just pull myself together sometimes. There was nothing obviously wrong in my life back then – the rape was years later, and the bullying at school years behind. I was clever, I had friends, I had a lot of hobbies, I had a roof over my head and food on the table, if I would only bloody stop either refusing to eat it or eating the whole weeks’ shopping in one go. But – being a teenager and suffering from anxiety disorders and depression – I saw her reaction as proof that I was weak, should stop hurting, should get a grip. There was nothing wrong with me, so why did I feel so fucking awful? It must be my fault. It must be because I was bad and weak and melodramatic and too sensitive and God, why was I so pathetic? My solution was always to run after the emaciated body, the *genuine* problem.
I wonder, without the experience of the last two years when I did, in fact, become anorexic, if I would ever have entirely let go of that idea. I might have continued being happy to eat in restaurants, to maintain a weight at the lower end of the healthy range, to have sex with the lights on – but could I ever have called myself truly recovered while I still bought into the eating disorders lies like that? Would I have been more vulnerable to relapse at stressful times in my life, because I’d never let go of the eating disordered mindset? See, I wouldn’t suggest that all bulimics go and become anorexic so they can see for themselves what bollocks that thought process outlined above is 😛 buuut on the other hand, I do actually feel like I have been there, done that, and seen that the emaciated body causes pain and misery and almost insurmountable problems rather than offering the stability, solutions and help (seriously, how could I have been such an emo teenager?!) that I longed for. I have seen through the eating disorders lies first hand. It can never again convince me that the answer to ANY problem is to lose weight. And – best of all – when I did get to the low weight and was in danger of ending up in hospital, I finally realised that actually, that was no long term solution either. That I had to pull myself out of it by myself, for myself. I had to save myself. And I did. Well, I suppose I’m not exactly out of the woods yet, I wouldn’t fancy getting a stomach virus in this condition – but I have gained half a stone since being home, I am eating healthy, balanced meals again, I feel focused and committed to recovery and I am seeking appropriate support of my own accord. For the first time in the whole twelve years that I’ve had an eating disorder, I’ve stopped a downward spiral on my own. I could have gone further. I decided not to. That is kind of mind blowing to me. It’s proof of real change – not change you can see this time, but the kind of deep, personality shifting change that you always feel recovery demands but can never quite get hold of.
So, can I be that Katie from a few years ago again? No. I wouldn’t want the boyfriend back for a start – although we had a lot of fun, I did love him a lot and I hope we remain friends, we broke up for good reasons. I wouldn’t want that life back. It was a great experience but I’ve done it now, I want new experiences, when I finally get my butt out of the house! And I wouldn’t want to be entirely the same girl as I was back then. I wouldn’t want to have a happy life but be silently internally dragged down by depression. I wouldn’t want to go back to before I had started to deal with the PTSD. And I wouldn’t want to be behaviourally recovered from the eating disorder, but always wondering and never quite letting go. I want to take the good things from that time and build on them instead. I want to find the sense of freedom around food again, and to rediscover how good it felt to look after my body, how it rewarded me by staying healthy and letting me run and have fun and stay out all night if I felt that way inclined. I want to remember that I CAN be sociable and accepted. I want to remember that I used to take risks, and that they usually paid off. And I won’t be eating chocolate croissants for breakfast again thanks to the allergies – but with enough persistence, one day I will hopefully have gotten the spirit of those mornings back.
Three good things about today:
1. Last night there was a programme about pro-anorexic websites on ITV – I didn’t watch it, but I read a wonderful review on it by my friend Catherine earlier. I agree with her opinions both on the sites themselves and on the sensationalism involved in the media’s portrayal of anorexia. It makes me angry. This gets to be a good thing for several reasons: I didn’t watch the programme (the first ED documentary I’ve made myself avoid in years!), it’s nice to have strong reactions and opinions about things again (feeling like much less of an ED zombie these days), and it’s a good excuse to promote Catherine’s blog 😛 she’s a lovely girl!
2. I weighed myself this morning and I had gained that extra pound – I can officially book my hair cut now! Now on to the next target: pass plus here I come. Give me a month or so and I’ll be driving again!!
3. I had a list of things to do today – washing, replying to emails, a bit of studying – and I got through it all. I’m not great at replying to emails because of the OCD – I always get there in the end, but it’s such an arduous process, I often start and delete emails five or six times before I finally send the damn things. I got through my to-do list today though! I emailed the therapist from last week to let her know I wouldn’t be coming again (on reflection, I just didn’t feel comfortable enough with her) and I have set up definite appointments with the next two for Wednesday and Friday next week.
I hope you’re all having nice relaxing Easter breaks 🙂