I realised a few days ago that when I go to Durham to stay with Fi next Friday I will NOT want to be studying, so I needed to do three weeks worth of work in two. That would be 150 pages of 2nd year university level physics to read, understand and memorise. I’ve done about 70 so far but I also have to take at least one day off to finish my latest assignment, which is due in next Thursday, so now I only have seven days to get through it all. Ouuuch. Of course, my body decided that this would be a GREAT moment to catch a virus, so I have no idea how much of what I’m studying is going in, because I’m sneezing every five minutes and I think my temperature is high enough to start melting my brain. After eating dinner earlier I was sweating like I’d been on the exercise bike for half an hour (lol TMI 😛 ), I have been coming over all lightheaded every time I go upstairs to get something and at one point I got palpitations just from walking to the bathroom! I keep getting all giggly too, having a high temperature feels a bit like being drunk (and I’ve been teetotal for two years, so I’ll take anything I can get!).
Here’s the odd part: this is, as much as I hate to use this word, triggering as hell. Having spent half of my life feeling physically ill – even at healthy weights I was usually alternating between restricting and bingeing, neither of which are great for a person’s health – it feels more natural than being healthy. Feeling faint, seeing stars when I stand up, the tiredness, the heavy limbs, the aching. Most of all, the sense of being in an altered state of consciousness. When I was anorexic nothing scared me, nothing hurt me, nothing touched me. When I used to cut myself, that was another way of going after that trance-like feeling. Being in a similar state, even due to a virus rather than my own actions, results in a physical longing, like a body memory of the false comfort and emotional numbness the eating disorder used to give me.
On the morning that I moved to York last year I woke up with a sore throat. My voice had disappeared by the time my parents and I had driven up there, and for the first week, while all the other students were partying and making friends, I spent my evenings falling into bed at 7pm, exhausted from having to keep up with the introductions and orientations during the day when I was so ill. I had a temperature of 104 for two of those nights. I usually won’t touch any type of medication unless I’m in too much (physical) pain to function, but for a fortnight I had to take ibruprofen to keep my temperature down during the day, otherwise I would end up shivering and feeling like I was about to pass out. I was almost at a healthy weight at that point, and funnily enough I never get that sick when I’m more underweight than that. My immune system tends to give up and roll over so every virus I catch hangs around for about a month but only affects me mildly (it’s your immune system fighting the virus off that makes you feel ill, not the virus itself). That virus I caught just before York was the last until this one I’m fighting off currently. But that’s besides the point, which was that the virus that I had when I went to York was the catalyst for the relapse I was already heading for. I had already slipped to the degree that I wasn’t eating enough to gain anymore and I had begun losing very slowly, but I lost my appetite entirely while I was ill and several hundred calories fell out of my intake, not to be seen again for several months. I wonder now, if I had been well when I left for York, if I hadn’t spent my first week in a fever that reminded of the addictive nature of sickness, if instead I had been present enough to make friends and get involved…maybe I would have managed to tie myself to my fresh start tightly enough to avoid slipping as far as I did.
That thought doesn’t really upset me anymore, because now I think last winter changed something fundamental in me, forced me to confront reality and to switch sides – from apathetically killing myself to fighting to live. I wouldn’t give that up for anything. And although feeling like this is strange and disturbing, in recovery there is no way to avoid every single triggering situation. In fact, it’s not a good idea to go out of your way to avoid them for the rest of your life, or you never learn the skills needed to deal with the ones you can’t escape. So being ill is good practise for me. It puts me into a state with startling similaries to the experience of an eating disorder, and I just have to deal with it in the same way that I deal with every other eating disordered thought or feeling that wanders on through. My brain might be a bit confused by the sensations involved but my behaviour hasn’t changed – I am still eating the same amount, appetite or no appetite – and my motivation hasn’t changed. I don’t want to be ill again. And I don’t say that in the sense that I don’t want to relapse but I don’t know if I can stop myself – no, I mean that I don’t want to and it’s not going to happen. I am strong enough now that common inescapable triggers will not shake my recovery down to its foundations.
When my parents went on holiday in 2008 I relapsed because the house was too empty and quiet and I couldn’t stand being alone with my thoughts. When my parents went on holiday last month I was fine. When I was 18 and an older girl I looked up to hugely relapsed I did too, because I lost hope that I could do it if she couldn’t. This time I have kept going regardless of where my friends are in recovery. When I tried to talk about the rape last year in therapy I started cutting my intake back that day to cope with the anxiety and disgust. When I starting talking about it with Julie a couple of months ago I felt proud and defiant to be facing the PTSD, and I was happy to carry on fighting the eating disorder alongside that. In 2007 I stopped eating when I was very depressed and hopeless that things would ever change. This year I became convinced that the depression was coming back in September, and although I was terrified and exhausted I carried on eating just the same, because I finally realised that starving myself is not the solution. And last year in York my relapse snowballed after I had the flu for a fortnight. I’m pretty sick at the moment but I’m not using it as an excuse to let my standards or my motivation slip.
Most things in nature, micro and macroscopic, follow the path of least resistance. Humans are no different. For me, staying anorexic was a lot easier than even contemplating the idea of recovery, so recovery would not have happened naturally for me. It is going to take time and effort. It has gotten so much easier to keep myself motivated and to ignore eating disordered thoughts since March, I can’t believe how quickly things have improved myself. But becoming complacent would be dangerous, because the most unexpected things can make a person suddenly vulnerable. I can’t completely control everything that will happen to me in my life. Things are going to depress me, disappoint me, make me anxious. I am going to catch illnesses, lose my appetite, get stressed out, worry about people I care about, have to spend time alone in my head. But what I CAN control is how I react to those things. I can control my behaviour and I can refuse to allow myself to slip back into habitual thought patterns. I can keep reminding myself that anorexia is not really comforting or safe, it’s not a cure for depression or anxiety, it’s not a solution to anything – it’s an opportunistic mental illness that WILL try to jump on me every time I am vulnerable. But as long as I am vigilent, honest with myself and continue to work to keep myself motivated, I won’t let it slip under the door. I am in control of my life now, and my plans require being alive, fully conscious and able to feel and react to my experiences. There’s no room for anorexia in my head or my future now.