Oh, have I got news for you…updates from 2013-2018

It’s been a really, really long time since I’ve updated this collection of pages, and boy, do they need updating.

Lets start with the good news. Goodish. It could be worse.

I’ve maintained around about my original recovery target weight since 2010, which is astonishing to me, given that my previous record was about six months! I am pretty proud of this, and I suspect a lot of the good things about my life today wouldn’t be there if I was still underweight. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean I’ve reached some kind of recovery nirvana. I originally based my target weight on my sister closest to me in age, since we have pretty similar heights/builds and she has a great relationship with food. However, this was eight years ago, when I was 25 and she was 22 – now I’m in my early 30s, I could really do with being a bit bigger, especially since I’m fairly fit and muscular. Operation FFS Will This Never End (i.e. gain another 7-10lbs) has been an ongoing project since about 2014, which seems a bit ridiculous given that I once managed to gain 40lbs in the space of a year – but there are mitigating factors. My digestive system is, frankly, crocked. I have endometriosis and related scar tissue sitting on nerves involved with my intestines, which may or may not be responsible for my poorly controlled IBS, and I suspect this means I don’t absorb a fair proportion of the calories I eat.

I can’t blame my failure to deviate from my original target weight entirely on my dodgy innards. I also still really struggle with figuring out when I’m hungry, and my appetite disappears at the drop of a hat when I’m stressed out. I am a creature of habit: if I don’t put an enormous amount of effort into changing something, I default to doing things the same way over and over again. These are all the same things that kept me stuck when I was anorexic, and the fact that they didn’t get better when I reached a healthy weight caused quite a lot of distress and confusion. I kept trying to eat intuitively, only to lose weight and have to get back on the meal plan. Eventually I found a balance involving eating intuitively, but roughly to the same sort of meal plan – I still eat three meals and at least two snacks per day, with the same sorts of carb/protein/fat proportions as I used during weight restoration, but I try to be led by what I want and when I want it within those confines, so I’m much more flexible about what I will eat and when these days. Still, my inability to ‘fully recover’ in terms of getting to a place where food and weight are non-issues on a day to day basis has been deeply frustrating to me.

It’s not all toil and frustration…

Some aspects of my life have dramatically changed in a very positive way in the past few years. I’ve documented many of these on my blog, but as a brief roll call: I finally managed to permanently leave my parents’ house in 2010, and from then on have been living independently, 400 miles away; I started dating my housemate in 2012 (theoretically this was a risky plan, but…); I married her in 2014 (whoohoo!); I finally graduated from my undergraduate degree on my fourth (fifth? I lost count) attempt; I followed this up with two  full time Masters degrees and am due to start a PhD part time later this year; I qualified as a counsellor in 2013 and have been running a private practice which has paid my rent and bills ever since.

Bloody hell, that list covers a lot of societally constructed markers of success!

Wow. Okay, so I’m still a bit on the straggly side, but I must be a proper grown up now! I’ve made it!

I will preface the deconstruction of that bit of sarcasm by saying that all of those points on my list are great, and I am deeply grateful for every one of them. I adore my wife, my education has opened doors I never dreamed I’d step through, and I’ve been privileged to meet and support dozens of bloody brilliant people through difficult times in their lives. And also to escape having to rely on the UK benefits system, which quite frankly was far more stressful than my job. But, honestly? The last few years have been incredibly tough, well beyond the usual “oh noes, a deadline!” that comes with studying, and my mental health is still really quite poor.

I referred to a few wobbles during vulnerable periods in the first version of ‘My Story’, but a series of difficult situations during 2014 rapidly descended into Wobbles: The Extended Edition. I was depressed, self harming, crying about socks, and really tormented by all sorts of memories from my past. Basically, my symptoms of complex-PTSD got completely out of hand. It was pretty hellish, but I got through it. Things basically just started going right again, instead of wrong. These included a) surgery for endometriosis (was it the reduction in inflammation from having active endo removed that helped? The amitriptyline I started taking afterwards? The relief that not all of my pain was in my head? The ketamine used as anaesthetic?! Who knows, but I felt a hundred times better afterwards), b) starting my MSc, c) learning how to better communicate my feelings to my wife. I saw a couple of therapists throughout this period, one who was good with validation and compassion, but who I ultimately fell out with (oops) over some of her weirder views, and another, who was really pretty terrible at communicating that she gave a crap (she still frequently got my name wrong after a year!), but who practiced EMDR.

EMDR! I have read all the things, and I know how it’s supposed to work, but it was still a bit like witchcraft. I went, I waved my eyes around while thinking about a Bad Thing, felt all the feels about the Bad Thing for a few days, and then magically stopped feeling traumatised by it. It was truly weird. It wasn’t just the direct symptoms of PTSD that it fixed either, like nightmares or flashbacks – my self esteem improved, my ability to validate the general awfulness of what I’d been through, my…pretty much everything got better. It was creepy. EMDR is creepily effective. 10/10, would EMDR again.

So, a final struggle before the happy ever after

Except it didn’t quite work out like that, either. If only life would conform to a neat narrative structure! Post-post-traumatic stress, I did feel a lot better. But there were still things about myself that didn’t add up in the context of trauma, and thanks to a serendipitous choice of MSc thesis topic, I finally started figuring out what else might be going on. After a very nerve-wracking assessment mid-2016, I was given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

*Insert various autism myths and stereotypes here*

I am a 33 year old woman, happily married, working as a therapist. How can I possibly be autistic? Well, research suggests that women are hugely underdiagnosed, partly because they are subject to pressure to mask their social difficulties from a very young age; the subject of autism and empathy is far more complex than most people realise; and actually, stories that look like mine and include a late autism diagnosis are ridiculously common. Being autistic mostly just means that a person processes sensory and social information differently to the majority. But when the things you say, your emotional reactions, your body language and facial expressions don’t match people’s expectations, fraught misunderstandings, bullying, and chronic invalidation of your feelings and experiences are common responses from non-autistic people, including those with caring responsibilities like parents, teachers, and health professionals. Everyone expects you to be someone you can’t be/continue being, and in that gap between “can’t” and “must”, desperate attempts to cope frequently include eating disorders and self harm.

Understanding that I am autistic gave me a framework with which to understand my experiences. It gave me context. Initially, I was excited that I finally had the knowledge with which to make my life easier. But actually adapting my life to make it more autism-friendly has been really complicated, and I know I’ve not got the balance right yet, because I’m still struggling a lot with burn out and depression. Still, at least now I know why I’ve always found life so hard, why things that work so well for other people don’t help me, or make things worse, and I have the words with which to explain myself to the professionals I sometimes come into contact with.

So, as of 2018, that is where I’m up to. A happily married, somewhat unstable autistic therapist with more degrees than the average British winter’s day. One of my better qualities is my complete inability to give up trying, and I am fairly certain that, unless I get hit by a bus, in five years time I will still be here, still trying to change my life for the better. For some people, recovery is much less of a destination than a journey, and it looks like I’m one of them. But that’s okay. Things have been an awful lot worse.