Forgot to mention, if you want the password to the protected post from last week send me an email. I would appreciate advice/feedback on it but didn’t want to make it public. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to sit through one of my rants about my job need not bother 😉 you’ve heard it all before…
Here’s a catch 22 situation for you:
Once I reach a certain level of mood-rubbishness, I lose my words. I have no motivation for blogging, no pressing insights to share through comments (being facetious there by the way), no ideas, no sense of humour, no confidence in myself, my thoughts, my opinions, my social skills, even as they pertain to online communication. I also start worrying that I’m annoying people by being too negative and angry and irritable. Half of that is clichéd depressive paranoia, but part is grounded in realistic assessment. Anxiety and low moods do make me grumpy and put my ranting tendencies on a hair-trigger. I’m not a likeable person when I’m stressed out.
All of this is highly unfortunate considering that writing and having supportive friends are even more useful than usual when I’m feeling crappy. Instead I end up feeling like I’m stuck in a little glass box, alternately banging on the walls and sitting in a corner feeling rather helpless. The lower I get, the more isolated I feel, both because I have no energy or brain power left with which to communicate, and because I am terrified of upsetting people or convinced that I already have, which makes me feel like I should do the world a favour and stay out of everyone’s way. And this perpetuates the problem by making me feel worse about myself. Simple to understand, harder to change. It’s taken me over an hour to write these last two paragraphs, I feel like my neurons are firing treacle rather than electrical impulses.
And here’s another tricky problem:
At 24 years old I felt like I had nothing to be proud of. I had a few good academic qualifications from my school years, but had completed nothing after my A levels. I had no friends, no social life, no personality to speak of, since the manifestation of my personality seems to be inversely proportional to the severity of my eating disorder. Since then, I’ve managed to accumulate quite a bit of self esteem through blogging, my voluntary work, my counselling courses, my move away from Dorset and so on. All of this has been a direct result of my recovery: it is only when I am healthy that I am able to act in a way that makes me proud of myself. I’m not making any generalisations to other people with eating disorders here by the way, I am just saying that personally, my eating disorder was incompatible with any form of achievement or contentment other than the brief thrill of waking up at a slightly lower weight than I’d been the day before, which made for a rather empty existence. My concept of myself is based on my recovery. And it feels like other peoples’ views of me – all of that stuff about bravery and strength which makes me a bit wary anyway – are also largely based on my recovery. It makes me worry who would stick around if I got ill again. Probably no one, after I’d finished snapping at them all repeatedly from a combination of hunger and self hatred. It’s not only my survival but all my quality of life which depends on my ability to stay healthy.
Given all of this, it really messes with my head when I suddenly realise that I’m displaying all sorts of eating disordered behaviours which weren’t there two weeks ago. I also want to smack myself upside the head when I realise just how predictable I am – my anxiety and mood got to the point of feeling really intolerable and overwhelming a couple of weeks ago after months of chronic stress (mostly work related), but have been mysteriously much better this week, improving quickly in tandem with my slipping back into restriction. To give myself credit, I’ve not had even a slight lapse since January, and in 2010 it was happening every couple of months – so I guess that’s some improvement. However, patting myself on the back for that is not helpful at all if it makes what’s going on seem any more excusable or acceptable. This is why at this stage I much prefer the term remission to recovery. I can say that I’m in full remission when I’m behaviour, thought and urge-free without doubting the crap out of myself and feeling like my entire life is a lie if I later stray into the borderlands of ED territory for a few weeks.
Full remission is not exactly a term I could apply to myself retrospectively for the last couple of weeks. It’s more like, if-you-know-what’s-going-on-and-are-doing-nothing-about-it-you-can’t-really-claim-to-be-in-any-form-of-remission-at-all. And you’d think the doing something about it part wouldn’t be all that difficult considering what I’ve just written about how anorexia screwed up every aspect of my life and recovery has led to me to finally getting back on track with where and who I want to be in life. Then again, looking for rational thought processes in relation to eating disorders is a bit of an exercise in futility. They are designated mental illnesses for a reason.
I never understood the self-acceptance approach to recovery. That whole thing about how you just need to learn to love yourself and believe that you’re worth taking care of. To me, restricting was showing respect for and taking care of myself. It calmed me down, stabilised my mood and made me feel invulnerable and capable of coping with anything life threw at me. My answer to every single problem was to eat less and lose more weight, so nothing other than gaining had the potential to upset me. It was a second skin, deadening my senses and emotions, stopping me feeling overwhelmed and bombarded. Recovery was a fight; it was hard, painful, panic-inducing work. Every time I lapsed back into restricting I felt like I was finally back in tune with my body. Even my digestive problems would disappear, and I would no longer go to bed in pain and wake up feeling sick. As time progressed I could tell that my body was in pain and I could feel that no volume of vegetables was going to satisfy the massive energy deficit which had accumulated, but it was more like the discomfort associated with having a filling in an anaesthetised tooth – I knew it should hurt, but I was too numb to feel it.
I never mean for this to happen. It’s always a stomach bug or stress, a few days of accidental undereating, and then this deep sense of everything finally being okay and the feeling that I must hang on to it at all costs. Two weeks later I suddenly wonder what the fuck I’m doing, but by that point I’ve lost weight and my hunger signals, cut my intake well below where it should be and am in rather deep water. By the time it occurs to me that I really shouldn’t be doing this if I want to continue having a life, both in the literal and colloquial sense of the phrase, it is incredibly difficult to pull myself back over the edge. I can do it – I did so several times last year, and I still remember doing so in January. I nearly asked a good friend to come and stay with me on the first day (for distraction rather than support) because I felt so panic-stricken at the idea of eating more, but my pride got in the way and I managed to do it alone. I never make things easy for myself.
One of the central dilemmas in anorexia is that having little to no motivation to recover is an intrinsic part of the disorder. It doesn’t feel like an illness, it feels like a choice – but that in itself is a symptom. When I’m doing well it’s obvious that I was thinking and behaving in all sorts of ways which completely contradicted my personality, values and goals during my eating disorder, and that there is no way a healthy version of myself would ever want to go back there again. But once I’m a little undernourished for whatever reason, that way of thinking suddenly becomes terribly persuasive. It’s completely bizarre to have this understanding of the mechanisms of the illness but STILL catch myself buying into the eating disordered thoughts. There’s no loss of insight here, no switch from one way of thinking to another – instead, there’s this weird co-existence between intellectual knowledge and delusional belief. Both are in there. Both are shouting at me. I just want to cry.
I hate to disappoint people. I’ll sort it out, don’t worry – I just hate that this can still happen at all. It worries me that I can slip back so quickly, despite usually being the champion of relapse prevention. All it takes is a few weeks of taking my eye off the ball because I’m concentrating instead on not letting my job-related stress turn into a mini breakdown. I’m sure I’m being too hard on myself, but at the moment I feel so incompetent and ashamed that I can’t seem to keep myself stable and healthy. Is it really too much to ask that my job not destroy my mental health? Is it really the job or is the problem me? Am I really so weak?