Yesterday afternoon after I hit publish I started feeling kind of sad. I am twenty five and what do I have to show for my life? I was full of potential at school, in the top sets for every subject and always busy with as many extra curricular activities as possible. I took exams in the flute, recorder, music theory, ballet, I had singing lessons, the choir I was a part of performed in Eurodisney for two years running, I was good at art, turned up in the local theatre three or four times a year for various plays, pantos and ballets, went on the German exchange, took myself out running every other day. My teachers encouraged me to think that I could be a doctor or an author or pretty much whatever I wanted to be. Instead my life fell to pieces for the first time when I was 16 and I ended up being thrown out of school. A decade later I am still jobless, degreeless, partnerless, spending most of my days at home working on sorting myself out. I am proud of what I have achieved but I wish I had something a bit more socially acceptable than ‘recovering anorexic’, ‘ex self harmer’, ‘haven’t committed suicide yet, whoo’ to base my self esteem on.
I ended up sitting on my bedroom floor crying (for more than 30 seconds! Actually more like two minutes. It’s an improvement, honestly 😛 ) because I felt sad and lost and useless. I thought of all the people I know my age or younger who are studying for Masters or PhDs already, or getting married and having children, or working somewhere they love. Sometimes – less often these days but still, sometimes – I feel like it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to the world if I just stopped existing. I don’t contribute to society, I don’t have many friends, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life or even what I’ll be capable of given my history.
Then I decided I’d had my moment of self pity and I needed to pull myself together. Honouring your feelings is one thing, but getting morbid never helps anything. As Katies tend to do at these sort of moments, I…hoovered my bedroom then unloaded the dishwasher 😛 yeah, I rock at this healthy coping mechanism business! I started feeling better anyway. So it’s taking me longer than many people to get my life going – like I’ve said before, I still have a lot to be grateful for and even my various crappy experiences have led to meeting some amazing people and doing and feeling and hearing and thinking things that I might never have done otherwise. So I have compiled…
The Epic List of Gratitudes 😛 (aka: 25 good things about the last 25 years!)
1. I have had, in the past and the present, some truly wonderful friends. Caroline and Alice stayed with me during virtually every panic attack I had at school, missing half of their GCSE year lessons in the process. Freddi gave me a place to stay and Ellen kept me company the next day when I ran away to London. Cait let me stay at her house when my parents kicked me out. Louisa picked me up the day after I was raped, bought me lunch, got me to talk about it and make a plan of action. Cait – again – came with me to the police station and sat there while I had to describe what they did to me. Katie came to stay with me for a few days after Hazel left, although I must have been the worst company ever. Andy ‘reverse bullied’ me into believing that maybe I wasn’t as ugly as the kids at school had told me. 99% of all my memories of feeling happy, normal, calm and hopeful are related to the time I spent with Andy. When I was hospitalised and completely out of my head Allie, Sean, Fran and Sharon from university came to visit me, Allie and Sean repeatedly. My supervisor from my placement in the OT department turned up in my room on the day I was admitted, and it made all the difference to see someone I knew when I was so scared and bewildered. Fiona, Henri, Hannah and Sybil helped make my first overnight trip since my breakdown and physical illness a million times less scary, putting up with a lot of agoraphobic paranoia in the weeks beforehand. Fiona and I kept eachother company on MSN throughout last winter, when we were both ill. Without her I would have felt completely alone. Antonia helped me pack my stuff up in my last week at York when I was too ill to do it all myself. Jon – yes, I know you’re reading this 😉 – took me out for a goodbye cup of tea the day before I left and it was only ever when I was in my physics lessons messing around with him and the other guys that I felt remotely normal or happy. Fiona, Hannah, Antonia and Jonathan made me feel like a normal 24 year old this summer when I went on that road trip with Fi. And that’s only what comes to mind immediately. I am so grateful to have known so many wonderful people.
2. My mum might have had problems coping with my illness when I was a teenager, but she has made a huge effort to understand and support me in the last few years. I am lucky to have had a safe and welcoming place to come back to when I was ill, where I could focus on getting better in my own time.
3. Other than the IBS, allergies and osteopenia (which I think I have a chance of being able to reverse) I have no lasting damage from the anorexia. You know, I am actually very grateful for my phobia of being sick – I would have been in a lot more trouble if it wasn’t for that! I realised a month ago that I can actually sleep without needing to prop myself up almost vertically on three pillows now – the reflux has finally sorted itself out. Bodies are incredible things 🙂
4. I’m not only a scientific or a creative person, I get to enjoy both. I love physics and astronomy as much as I love drawing, making jewellery and writing music for the recorder. I make no claims as to how good I am at any of that 😛 but it is enough to appreciate, understand and have fun with them all.
5. It is impossible to cure cancer or diabetes with therapy and insight. Although mental health problems are painful, dangerous and capable of destroying peoples lives, at least my recovery and my future are in my control. That’s not to say that it’s just a matter of ‘choosing not to be ill’ because it doesn’t work like that: depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders – they are all genuine illnesses. But as long as I work hard and don’t give up I really believe I will recover from it all eventually.
6. Without the eating disorder I would not have met all the brave, kind, supportive, funny, intelligent and generally amazing people on the various websites for people with eating disorders I have been a member of. I was a member of something-fishy for three years from 2001-2004 and then I switched to Lunchbox from 2004 until March this year (I was kailyn on SF and ghost on LB if anyone used to belong to either and is curious 😉 ). I am still friends with some of the people I first met on SF eight years ago. And starting this blog introduced me to another brilliant community!
7. On the subject of the blog, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when someone emails me randomly to say that something I have written has helped them or made them think about recovery differently. Honestly, it makes all of this shit worthwhile.
8. I live in the middle of nowhere – no neighbours, no street lamps to steal the perfect dark skies for my telescope, no litter, no noise (other than horny deer and foxes 😛 ) no stress. I have somewhere quiet and peaceful where I can hide if I want to, and now I can drive I can escape if it starts feeling claustrophobic as well.
9. My allergies and intolerances are a pain in the ass but at least they forced me to try new things and learn to cook 😉 now come on, why else would I EVER have thought of topping pizza bases with soya cream cheese, cauliflower and pistachios? Or trying the recipe for chocolate-avocado cupcakes? Or hanging around vegan and allergy conventions sneaking free samples of dairy free chocolate?! I wouldn’t get to laugh over Fiona nicknaming my food ‘glutton free’, or be infamous for never going on an overnight trip without allergy friendly chocolate muffins and a jar of marinated butterbeans!
10. If things had worked out at Cardiff uni I never would have started the OT degree and had that year when everything in my life was almost perfect externally. I don’t think I could ever have felt that sense of acceptance and belonging in Cardiff. My 18 months at Bournemouth university were the first time I ever felt like I was a useful and wanted part of a group of people not connected by mental health issues. I wore short sleeves, went out clubbing, I knew I could come in five minutes late to any lesson and it wouldn’t matter who the last empty chair in the room was next to, I would be able to work with and chat to any of them. They gave me hope that I could be…as much as I hate the word, normal. You know what I mean. It was my first experience of making friends without the sick identity, and it meant so much that they liked Katie-the-person, not Katie-the-patient.
11. Recovering from anorexia makes me appreciate being able to: carry heavy shopping bags or run for the train without being exhausted for the rest of the day, sleep without ending up with constantly bruised hips, knees and tailbone, sleep at all without first spending five or six hours staring at the ceiling in despair, have a bath without my blood pressure going crazy and passing out, have a shower without being too tired to do anything else for the rest of the evening, go out with my telescope at night without freezing my butt off, enjoy social situations that involve food, run again for no other reason than enjoyment, have enough brain power to keep up my end of a conversation, read, study, laugh at things, be interested and curious again, feel hopeful…it certainly makes me appreciate feeling warm and having energy and not being constantly hungry and in pain.
12. My cousin’s son Jordan died at the age of 13 from leukemia. My friend Sam died at 16 from hydrocephalus. My cousin Gemma died at 16 after overdosing on her antidepressants. I am not on that list of people who died far too young.
13. I am so grateful for all the help and support I have received over the years, both from people whose job it was – Hazel, Eileen, Eve, Julie – and people like teachers who really didn’t have to spend hours dealing with my panic attacks and helping me work out how to tell my parents about what was going on – Miss Thompson, the first person I ever told about being bullied when I was 13; Roni, another teacher who also helped out at my choir, who let me come and visit her at home sometimes at weekends to talk and kept me sane when I was 15; Mr Russell my head of year, who rescued me from the girls toilets several times when I was having panic attacks; Mrs Cobb my english teacher, the first person I ever willingly asked for help with my eating disorder, self harm and panic attacks, who was also frequently dragged out of classes by my friends to help talk me out of a panic attack and who was the person I went to straight after I cut myself in my maths GCSE exam, who sat there and stroked my hair while I cried in absolute horror at what I had done. I always felt so guilty when people who didn’t HAVE to help me were drafted or dragged into these situations but without them I don’t know what I would have done.
14. I love my dogs. They make me happy, make me laugh, make me feel better when I’m sad or anxious, just by being themselves. I would say that they are like honorary people but I think that might be a bit of an insult because they are a lot nicer than some people I have met 😛
15. Random: I am grateful for having almost perfect eyesight. In fact I am grateful for ANY part of my body that works like it should! Just waking up not feeling sick or crampy makes me happy – I cope with the IBS pretty well now but I really appreciate it when I have a day free from all the annoying symptoms 🙂
16. I am so glad that I have beaten my agoraphobia. Two years ago I thought I would never be able to stay out overnight again, let alone take myself off up to London, move to York or go on road trips with friends. I am never going to take that freedom for granted.
17. Unlike many of my extended family I have been outside of the UK on holiday – with my family, my ex, my old choir, my high school – to Paris, Barcelona, Hemsbach, Frankfurt, rural France, the Austrian Alps. Next time I have enough money to go on holiday again I am leaving the continent 😛
18. I have dropped out of university three times but not given up – thank goodness the UK has a reputable distance learning university 😉 I really enjoy studying, especially physics. It’s like doing a degree in solving sudokus!
19. I am grateful for the existence of music. I wouldn’t enjoy going to the gym half as much without my iPod, and when I’m all happy and hyperactive afterwards it’s great fun to listen to excitable things when I’m already totally overstimulated! I was listening to Muse’s cover of ‘Feeling Good’ when I came out of the gym yesterday and I felt like I was drunk. It was brilliant 😀
20. Even after all of the abuse I put my body through I can run again. I did 5K in 30.03 on the treadmill yesterday and I was so pleased with myself! I was training for the London marathon before I was hospitalised in 2007 so it means a lot to be to be able to run again. It means even more than I feel strong and healthy afterwards rather than dead 😛
21. I am grateful for people who give me hope and inspiration even though I don’t know them personally. Danny Wallace’s books always make me feel like the world is essentially a good place and that things usually work out eventually. ED wise, Jenni Schaefer and Anna Patterson. More generally every time I read an article about someone who has overcome incredible odds or done something amazing to help people for purely altruistic reasons it helps me to chip away at the fear and paranoia instilled in me by the PTSD.
22. Is my favourite number and the date of my birthday 😉 My birthday makes me happy. Christmas, Easter and other family members birthdays make me happy too – I love special occasions, I love giving people presents and having dinner with my family and playing scrabble and laughing when the dog tries to pee up the Christmas tree and singing Christmas carols and meeting up with friends like I’m doing for my birthday tomorrow – without my anxiety I think I would be quite a sociable person. I like being with people, I like feeling like I belong, I like being a part of something. For all of the complex things that have kept me unhappy, the things that make me happy are usually very simple.
23. Stealing things back from the anorexia makes me happy. For lunch earlier I ate soup for the first time in seven months. I ate the same stupid low calorie soup for lunch every day for months in York and it kind of ruined it for me, but today I made my own from last night’s roasted vegetables, half a can of beans and some vegetable stock. The roasted beetroot turned it purple! It was without a doubt the best soup I have ever had. So there.
24. Today I got a phone call from people who interviewed me Friday, inviting me back for a second one 😀 apparently it’s between me and two others. This makes me think that maybe I am not so unemployable 😉
25. I feel like someone who lost everything and then had it given back to them. I am just grateful to be alive still at 25.
On my birthday last year I was freaking out because I had eaten 300 more calories than usual, when usual was the start of a relapse and 300 more wasn’t even the amount an average woman should eat on a daily basis. Today is definitely going to be different. I’m not going to go nuts for the sake of it but I am going to eat whatever the hell I want to! In fact, this whole next year is going to be different. I don’t mean that I think I somehow deserve for things to go well after all this crap, I know I have to work at it and stay focused but I can do that. I am going to make things different. My birthday present to me.