Silence

Reintroduction update – I had two more ginger biscuits with my lunch earlier (about 48 hours after the first one) and I’m fine! Ginger biscuits are officially acceptable. This is great, it really goes to show how much my poor digestive system has healed over the last couple of years. It’s still a bit dodgy, but now it can eat ginger biscuits! I can’t wait to try something else with wheat in, but I have most of a packet of biscuits to get through first…

My blog has changed its spots in the last couple of months. There are a lot more pretty photographs and not so much angst. I can think of three reasons why this could have happened. First of all, my new camera is wonderful and I have become a photography addict. Secondly, my mental health is fairly stable at the moment. And thirdly, the problems I DO have tend to be ones I can’t talk about on here. For example, Jonathan reads my blog and so do many of our mutual friends, so although there have been a lot of relationshipy-type things I could have and wanted to write about over the last fifteen months, I haven’t done out of respect for him. I know some bloggers seem to have no personal boundaries at all, and I don’t seem to understand the concept of “too much information” when it’s only applied to myself, but I am far more careful of what I say when it might affect someone else.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about today wasn’t really anything to do with that. I was going to talk about choice in recovery, because it’s a theme which keeps appearing in things I read. For a start, I randomly came across a blog a few days ago where someone stated that they find stories of how people recovered without specialist help really triggering, because it makes them feel bad for needing help. That made me feel guilty, because of course I have a massive section of my blog dedicated to solo recovery, and upsetting other people was the exact opposite of my intentions.

I still feel a bit weird about how I recovered, to be honest. If, at my lowest weight, someone had offered me inpatient treatment (somewhere other than the local EDU, because I knew exactly what they were like!) I would have taken it – but it just wasn’t an option. I recovered by myself out of necessity rather than choice. But someone else in the same position might have not been able to do that – hell, at any other time in my own life I would not have been able to do that – and I can’t work out what makes one person able to recover where another would not, or how someone who has always been resistant to treatment suddenly becomes devoted to recovery. I know people who have been at death’s door and gone on to recover without going inpatient. I know people with purely restrictive anorexia, binge-purge subtype anorexia, normal weight bulimia, BED and EDNOS who have recovered solo. I know people of all ages and duration of illness who have done it. So if it’s not severity, type or duration of eating disorder, then what? I certainly don’t think it has anything to do with willpower or determination. Recovery DOES take determination, but mental illness is far more complex than that. Eating disorders are not choices, they are not rational and they are not under the control of the person who is unwell. But still, occasionally someone gets lucky enough to escape without someone else leading them out, and nobody knows why – least of all the people who find themselves in that position.

For the record, you all know what I think about eating disorders – they are biologically based mental illnesses. But with that in mind, I still thought this was a good analogy for aspects of my experience. I am a big Doctor Who fan, and I love the new series’ as much as the older ones. At the start of the current, sixth series, the Doctor faces an alien called The Silence. The clever thing about them was that you only knew they existed when you were looking straight at them – once you turned your head you immediately forgot about them. In episode two, some of the Doctor’s companions overcame this by marking themselves with pens and leaving themselves voicemails every time they saw one, and gradually over time they started to be able to retain information about them even when they weren’t looking at one.

Anyone who has ever had or tried to recover from an eating disorder knows how bloody tricky and slippery they are. You can decide to recover a thousand times, but each time you will magically forget why on earth anyone would want to recover a few days into the attempt. I know I did – I started trying to recover at the age of 15, and only actually managed to stick with it at 24. Previous recovery attempts were incredibly frustrating. Certain things (health scares, wanting to get back into education, talks with friends, etc) could switch me into recovery mode on a temporary basis, but as soon as I started feeling a tiny bit better or the anxiety over eating more kicked in I would suddenly be unable to remember why I had ever wanted to recover in the first place. It’s like being brainwashed. Any little tremor of disquiet is automatically drowned out by thoughts about losing weight, tallying up calories, getting more exercise into the day. I also know very well that it would only take a few weeks of restriction now before I would be in exactly the same position again – all my knowledge and insight into recovery gone, all those eating disordered thoughts seeming entirely logical again. That’s just the way that malnutrition affects me cognitively.

The other similarity between eating disorders and The Silence is the way I managed to overcome this particular problem. I knew exactly what would happen when I gained a bit of weight – I would promptly forget all about my plans and go back to restricting. So I wrote down exactly why I wanted to recover, all the crappy things about anorexia and my goals for the future on some revision cards, and I read them twice a day, or more if I was really struggling. Just like how the Doctor’s companions left themselves messages.

So I liked those aliens, I thought they were interesting and highly applicable to my life. But even so, this is an analogy which is very much lacking. No one knows what causes eating disorders and no one knows how some people recover. I stand by my belief that it has nothing to do with personal strength, motivation, determination or willpower, because that makes it sound like all anyone has to do is make the decision to get better and stick to it – and if that were true, I would have recovered at 15, not nine years later. If that were true, no one would stay ill for long. It felt more like a thousand circumstances and thoughts and feelings all came together at just the right moment in my life to somehow make it possible for me to break out of the downward spiral I was in. I hope one day someone does work out the common link, because it would mean the end of so many people going in and out of treatment and recovery for decades, running round in circles. In the meantime I will continue to feel a strange mixture of guilt, happiness and confusion over having spent the last two years avoiding that fate.

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6 responses to “Silence

  1. Pingback: What’s wrong with CBT? On recovery, part II | Seeking Myself

  2. This is a really interesting post. It’s great that we’re writing about some of the same issues at the same time!

    I recovered from self-injury more or less solo, and like you I wanted to share the things that had helped me with others. I also wanted to get my story out there to show that it *could* be done, especially for people who weren’t able to access effective treatment, so I set up Sirius. I only ever wanted to be encouraging, and it didn’t occur to me that it could make people feel inadequate.

    I don’t know what allowed me to recover in this way, but I have some ideas. I’ve always been the type of person who will try to solve a problem herself rather than ask for help from others, and this is both a blessing and a curse – in a way it’s the cause of many of my issues, but it also stood me in good stead when I couldn’t access appropriate professional help. I suspect some people may be inherently more suited to solo recovery than others, but I don’t see this as an issue of willpower or determination, just different approaches working for different people (some people are much better at trusting therapists than I am, for example). Self-injury is a different beast to anorexia, and for me there was not much denial involved – I always knew it was not a good way of coping and I wanted to stop as soon as I was able, just didn’t always feel able. Given this, one thing that really helped was that I saw relapses as part of the recovery process. I knew that sooner or later, I would give in and cut, but that was OK, I would pick myself back up again, I would keep trying out different ways of coping, sometimes they would work and sometimes they wouldn’t, but I would keep on learning from it all.

    I like your idea of a thousand circumstances, thoughts and feelings all coming together at the right moment. What can we do to make this happen? Can we do anything to make this happen? I don’t yet know.

    I’m going to write another blog post about self-help / solo recovery, so expect more thoughts on this matter. 🙂

  3. I think it’s amazing that you recovered on your own, Katie. I was mentioning you to a friend I met for coffee on Monday. She has a 25 year history of restricting AN – with very similar preesentation. She has been inpatient 4-5 times in her life, managed to gain weight while inpatient, but never been able to transfer the skills she learnt inpatient to the home or work environment. She’s very intelligent and keen to get better, but quite stumped by the concept of changing. But she needs to learn skills in her home environment. I certainly believe that people can better alone, difficult as that is. So don’t feel guilty!

    Oh, and I don’t need to remind you that I also believe that EDs are biologically based! 😉

  4. Pingback: Self-help or self-harm? On recovery, part III | Seeking Myself

  5. I don’t watch Dr Who, but I think that what you wrote about the Silence monsters is so so true. I think that your idea of writing down reasons why you are recovering is a good plan – I shall devote some time to that today (involving many coloured pens etc). xxx

  6. Oooh, that’s great about the ginger biscuit! Congratulations!
    I agree with what you said about the silence- I tried to recover by myself quite a few times and I always slipped back quickly. I’d start telling myself that skipping a few calories here and there couldn’t really matter, and before I knew it I’d be right back where I started. It was partly that I simply forgot how awful things were and convinced myself I’d feel better if I went back to restricting, and partly that I could see that my life sucked but couldn’t believe it would ever get any better whatever I did.
    I also thought that the Silence were brilliant in Dr Who. I’m really enjoying the current season- I wasn’t so keen on Matt Smith in the last series (maybe David Tennant was just a hard act to follow), but I think that this season has been one of the best yet!

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