Time for a change

I love this blog. Genuinely, it’s been a huge source of comfort and support for the last six years. My life would be unrecognisable if I hadn’t started writing it – I even met my wife through a mutual friend who I first got to know through blogging! I’m also very attached to the name ūüėČ which is understandable, because it is fabulous.¬†However. This week I started a new blog, where I can be a bit more anonymous and talk about subjects I’m not hugely comfortable reaching the extent of the audience this blog has/has had in the past. If anyone wants to know the address of the new blog, it’s likely that I will be willing to share it, so please email me (my email is that way –> )

Because I have started this new blog due to privacy concerns, if anyone does find a way to discover it without me telling them (unless you follow me on twitter, where I’ve been sharing links), I would be really grateful if you could let me know so I can plug any gaps.

Love to all of you who have read and replied. Even when I’ve not been up to replying to individual comments, they really have been appreciated.¬†I do still intend to update this blog every now and then – certainly no less frequently than I have been doing for the past two or three years!



Hung parliament

TW for self harm (naming specific methods, but not going into greater detail), mention of eating disorder.


I had the idea for this post last week, but then it was more of a thought exercise. Now it’s turned into a debriefing. The original idea would have been preferable.

I thought of another scale. For the last six months or so, I’ve woken up wondering how likely I am to cut or otherwise harm myself that day. Prior to – let’s say, late November – I didn’t think I would actually act on it. I had stopped regularly self harming in the latter half of 2007, when I was 22. Since then, it had been a less than once-per-year occurrence. The very brief lapse in January 2014, during the week following the death of a friend, had been easy to dismiss as a moment of madness when I had good reason to be highly distressed. There was no reason to think it would get out of control again.

I conveniently forgot a couple of things. The latter half of 2007 was when the last major relapse into anorexia started, so the fact that I had also stopped cutting regularly at that point should have told me something. Until last autumn I was still a bit underweight. It wasn’t entirely deliberate: my hunger cues and digestive system are still fucked so it’s hard to eat enough, and after being dangerously underweight for a few years, achieving any definition of healthy seemed pretty damn impressive at the time. Even so, this may have been keeping my anxiety and mood swings dampened down a little, because I’ve felt a lot less stable and able to cope since gaining a few extra pounds. The other thing I managed to ignore was that over the last few years I WAS still self harming on a semi-regular basis when I was upset or agitated, but as I was ‘just’ biting or hitting myself, I convinced myself it didn’t count. Story of my life, really, that mix of denial and defensiveness –¬†I feel like I’ve been running around for the last six years shouting ALL BETTER NOT TO WORRY at anyone who implies concern, only to finally run out of steam and slump in a corner, whispering to myself: okay, fuck. Maybe worry after all.

I spent yesterday afternoon in the accident and emergency department of the city hospital, the first time I’ve had to seek medical attention for something self inflicted since 2007. I felt ashamed enough having to tell people that I had started self harming again at the end of last year, but this was exponentially more humiliating. Nobody else contributed to that – I was worried that the staff would treat me like a time wasting attention seeker (my brain thinks this is true so why wouldn’t other people see it the same way?), but they were all lovely. The member of staff from the psychiatric liaison team was particularly nice, and sent me home with a stack of self help materials and crisis numbers. She emphasised that I shouldn’t put pressure on myself to promise it would never happen again just because I was mortified, because in all likelihood, this particular method of coping is going to be difficult to leave behind now I am minus the eating disorder.

This sort of message gives me mixed feelings. On one hand, even being aware of the likelihood that it will happen at some point in the not-to-distant-future is¬†a huge disappointment to me after many years of very infrequent self harm, so if I’m feeling vulnerable already, the sense of ‘fuck it, it’s inevitable’ could possibly tip me over the edge. But then again, the last six years of investing in the idea that I will never do it again have only resulted in denial, minimisation and vast oceans of shame when I have self harmed, which has the added bonus of making me feel compelled to lie about my actions to preserve my sense of identity as A Recovered (ha) Person who is responsible and stable and not at all crazy.

I think a fair amount of the shame is down to the fact that I don’t really understand my self harm. I don’t mean intellectually, because I’ve been reading books and research on self harm since I was a teenager, and I could give many coherent descriptions of how it might begin/become habitual: neurological processes, the role of attachment and trauma, similarities and differences to addiction, common meanings of behaviours, conditions it is often associated with and why, etc. But the actual internal experience of being an adult who cuts and burns themselves is so very resistant to rationalisation. My experience is one of self-contempt and terror and so much shame I can’t get my head around it.

An example: when does an urge become an intention?¬†A came to A&E with me yesterday, which made so much difference. I’d never had company before; in my teens and early 20s I always chose the right time of day to take myself off to hospital so no one would miss me, which added to the dissociation-inducing illusion that nothing had happened. Anyway, while we were waiting to be seen by the doctor, she started helping me write a harm minimisation plan, so I could do my best to avoid that particular type of injury happening again. One of the stumbling blocks was that I had no idea – even after eighteen years of experience – how to tell when an urge was just a random thought that wasn’t going to lead to anything, and when it was something more serious. I made a guess that if the urge persisted for more than three hours, or occurred on two or more days in one seven day period, I should take it seriously. And I probably should, it seems like a sensible guideline. But intensity, frequency or duration of urges is not at all the whole story. Whether there is any intention to act on them is missing.

I can rationalise being triggered, given my history and my understanding of self harm. It’s not that difficult to find some compassion towards myself when my mind is being bombarded with self destructive thoughts and images. I can even be kind to myself when some part of me feels it needs to self harm for whatever reason. But when thought, image, urge, need or whatever else I have designated as an invasion of my mind that I am not to blame for, merges with my sense of self, and I start feeling as if I want to hurt myself and that I will do it at some point soon, I am disgusted with myself. I start treating myself like I’ve crossed an invisible line from victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances to a calculating waste of space who knows exactly what she’s doing and just isn’t trying hard enough to control herself. A sense of intention¬†means I take all the blame, that I am just a bad person. Never mind if this is true – I’m pretty sure I would never think of other people in the same situation in this way, and I’m sure no one who loves me would condemn me like that either – but that is how I feel.

My experience of intention is strange and nuanced.¬†Going back to the ‘will it happen today’ test, on days when the likelihood seems less than 50/50 (yes/no) it’s still a possibility, but not necessarily – aside from sudden crises – a probability. That’s what around half of the days in the last six months have been like, and I can deal with that.¬†Other days (weeks, months) are more confusing. A 60/40 split is a nebulous, non-specific intention. 70/30 means direct intention, but I still have a reasonable change of being able to distract myself until A comes home. 80/20, in¬†which I will feel reasonably sure it will happen, will ensure a vast amount of cognitive dissonance if I do somehow manage to keep myself otherwise occupied – not harming myself will feel more like an accident than a success. 90/10 means there will be a plan as well as intention, although I will usually keep nagging at outs: do you have to? Do you still have to? Is there anything else you could do? Honestly? Come on, are you really going to do this? At that point I’m unlikely to get answers other than yes, yes, no, yes, yes (and fuck off) – but I’m always aware of a small part of me that’s still arguing.

Anything over equal in the yes direction ensures I will feel awful regardless of how intact my skin is at the end of the day. If I survive in one piece, I will feel like a fake: I didn’t really mean to, it’s not exactly a victory, I just ran out of time, maybe I wasn’t that upset after all, if I *had* to I would have. If I do self harm, I will also feel like a fraud: but surely I wasn’t that desperate, wasn’t there something else I could have done, why now when I was far more upset on [X]day, I know all sorts of other ways to cope with urges, why didn’t I use that knowledge? For every urge I have an almost-equal opposite. If I feel strongly compelled to self destruct, I will drag my heels, pull back from the edge, and then panic if I get to the end of my time alone without having acted on the original intention. If I do act on it, I will panic anyway. Many days I feel like Schr√∂dinger’s cutter: part-way through those bad days I feel I have somehow simultaneously already hurt myself and avoided doing so, and I have no idea which way reality will assert itself until someone else looks at me. It is a huge mindfuck, and¬†I can’t explain it any better.

Thinking about the eating disorder equivalent reminds me that there can be intention in more than one direction at the same time (which is part of what I was trying and failing to explain in my super-short post last week). The quietest that self destructive side has been was when I was originally and deliberately gaining weight; the rest of the past six years has been spent somewhere between 40/60 and 60/40. I’m currently at my highest ever adult weight, but as mentioned previously, I’ve been in a constant battle to get here for years. Some of that time I vaguely accepted I should have probably been few pounds heavier, but didn’t act in a way that made that outcome more likely. Other times I felt like I would really prefer to maintain or to be a few pounds lighter, but acted as if I was trying to gain weight.¬†I don’t mean eating or gaining weight in a totally uncontrolled manner, more like I was being governed by a hung parliament: no part of me had overall control.

I suppose what I’m really trying to do is come up with a convincing argument for forgiving and being kind to myself. I think I’m probably going about this the wrong way, because I seem to be trying to simultaneously berate myself for acting with complete deliberation, and convince myself that I am a blameless puppet, strung to my neural pathways. Maybe I’m going about it all the wrong way, switching between the extremes of free will and determinism. Maybe I’m on the wrong spectrum entirely, and it’s too complex to fit into a philosophical concept. Maybe I’ve just internalised a hundred of the people who had some sort of caring responsibility towards me, treating me with contempt when I was forced to discuss self harm with them.

Maybe I wasn’t ever taught how to manage my emotions, instead, as a thirteen year old rapidly heading into a psychotic breakdown, being forced to make up my own system. And maybe the system of a terrified child doesn’t always age well.

Counting to ten

This year it feels like Newcastle has taken an unusually long time to defrost after winter. I’m not entirely sure if this is an accurate reflection of reality – that we really are missing a few degrees on the average day, and have had fewer of those nice little heatwaves than usual – or if I am just projecting onto the weather, because my mental health seems the same way. This is far from an original analogy, but the depression I experienced last year felt like the psychological equivalent of having lain on your arm the wrong way in bed; waking up to the sense of intolerable, agonising numbness. It seems wrong to suggest that numbness can be painful, but that kind really is. That strange, aching, emptiness, that heaviness, that absence.

I’m being investigated for endometriosis at the moment, due to episodes of extreme physical pain. I’ve experienced that pain on and off for over a decade, and have slowly become familiar with it. I know which conditions are most likely to set it off, the different ways it usually starts, the course it generally takes, how long it lasts. Just to be weird (because my body seems to enjoy that), if we’re going to ten out of ten on the pain scale of holy fuck rather than taking the shorter route to eight and back, I can almost set my watch by the different phases. From lack of awareness to when it passes five and I know I’m in trouble is most often ten minutes, although on very rare occasions that phase can last a couple of hours, taunting me with will-I-won’t-I (end up retching and screaming on the bathroom floor today). From five to eight, another five minutes. If I top out at eight, usually I’ll be fully in charge of my faculties again in twenty minutes. If it keeps climbing to ten, I’ll stay there for half an hour. After forty-five minutes in total it’ll start dropping again, and after a full hour I’ll be back on the sofa, chugging tea like my life depends on it, because my body seems to go into a sort of mild shock. But before I can curl up safely on the sofa, I have to get through the panic that happens when I realise that today my body is not going to stop at five, and the loss of all rational thought past nine. I’ve only found one way to hang on to any sense that it will ever end, and that is to count. Minutes elapsed, minutes to go, where I am from nought to ten.

Without really being aware I was doing so, I started counting in a similar way over the winter, although without any reassurance as to how long I would have to do so. I started counting at eight, and kept half an eye on the daily fluctuations between there and nine-and-a-half. I didn’t really plan to do anything with the information, there was no concrete intention to use it to look for patterns or to report back to my therapist or GP for safety’s sake, I just counted because then I had something to hold onto. If today is an eight, I will be just about in control of my actions. If today day is a nine, I need to keep very still and quiet so the pain cannot see me. I stop panicking and fold into myself at physical nine, and at psychological nine. Nine means regressing to the little, vulnerable notion that if I hide so it can’t see me, maybe it will leave me alone.

Some research¬†(that’s just one study, there are many more) has suggested that psychological and physical pain can activate the brain in similar ways; that neurologically, my sense that depression is similar to my experience of extreme physical pain might be justified. Switching analogies again, the long climb out of the worst ravages of depression feels more like that numb arm coming back to life. It’s slow, painful, and terrifying, and feels as if my neurons are shooting off all sorts of confused, chaotic signals. Any stress sends the whole thing half way back to numb, with bigger and more violent distress signals once I’ve realised what’s going on and removed the pressure again. Case in point: I spent most of last week veering wildly between deadened and panic-stricken while trying to recover from burning myself out with anxiety on Friday 8th, which was distressing for personal and political reasons. There was one point a few days ago when the numbness lifted suddenly, passed through anger, fear, and sadness at warp speed and settled at the highly disturbing sensation that my whole nervous system was on fire, which was just…odd. I would have done anything to make it stop, but luckily it escalated at the exact time I had to leave the house to pick A up from work, so I took the scenic route back to baseline rather than the faster, pointier, methods I am susceptible to at the moment.

I am trying to see the return of any sensation, however frightening, as A Good Thing, a sign that I am coming back to life. But it takes so long, and involves so much pain and humiliation as I fuck up multiple times trying to find something to hold onto. My analogy seems ironic when I consider that the way I was dealing with life before really was treating my brain like a numb arm: acting as if it was any other body part, as if the symptom of numbness was the whole cause, rather than taking into consideration the position I habitually lie in bed. My consciousness might be nothing more than a bundle of neurons chattering to each other in a frustratingly dysfunctional manner, but that conversation has been shaped by experience, in particular by trauma. I wasn’t just made this way, randomly defective, with nothing to blame but my genes. Dealing only with the symptoms makes the numbness worse in the long term, and is clearly¬†not going to work.¬†I’m still not really sure what, if anything, will work. Therapy, safe relationships, talking to people, trying to get in touch with my emotions, grieving past losses – these are all such nebulous concepts. It was so much easier when I thought everything could be solved by eating more and treating my mind like a vicious sadist needing to be policed 24/7.

My psychological pain scale originally consisted of one axis, similar to its physical equivalent: from having no awareness of pain to intolerable pain that is an immediate threat to my life. All I could see then was absence: nought being an absence of pain, ten an absence so profound I felt as if it would kill me. But there are different types of pain. The numbness of depression and the nerves-on-fire of chaotic, awakening emotions couldn’t be more different, but they are not on opposite ends of a scale either. Shame is different too. The shame of writing in a way that makes me feel exposed, the shame of claiming trauma when my head tells me I’m melodramatic and pathetic, the shame of still finding it impossible to disconnect from that shame when so many people have tried to validate my experiences and feelings over the years, the shame of having resorted in panic to some self destructive way of dialling back from nine to short-lived oblivion. Today I’m writing rather than anything else, but there is shame and confusion in the fact that I can’t guarantee the rest of the week. And anxiety: I count anxiety too, and it behaves strangely. This morning, the forecast predicting thundery showers, I walked calmly home from the shops while a massive black cloud bore down, beginning to spit at me. It held at five for the majority of the walk, seven when the rain started, but under control. It spiked hugely when I went to get the washing in, three steps from my kitchen door, no longer raining.

I don’t long for axes on which to plot happiness or contentment or peace. I long for a basic sense of predictability and security which allows me to let go of counting as irrelevant.


I feel frustrated. Not just emotionally; it feels as if I’m stuck in quicksand, and my body is instinctively and furiously struggling to escape, making me sink faster in the process. I keep starting things – movements, thoughts, sentences – and jolting to a stop again, coming to a standstill and staring off into space. This isn’t peaceful reflection or even indecision, it’s more like my brain is attempting to do several opposing things at once, with the result that I go nowhere, but feel like I’m expending a huge amount of mental energy in doing so.

It took me two hours to write that paragraph. Fucks sake.

White-knuckle sobriety

I am currently reading a wonderful book on the neuroscience of attachment and trauma, The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk. I could (I may well) write a whole series of posts on how relevant and helpful I’ve found different ideas from it. I keep finding parts of my life on the pages; specific, eerily accurate details about the way I think, feel, and behave.

I searched my blog, and apparently I’ve never mentioned that the first psychiatrist I ever saw, when I was 16, diagnosed me with an attachment disorder. I do know this is something I’ve spoken about during talks on eating disorders, generally in the context of how my mum felt alienated and blamed by this psychiatrist. I don’t remember him being critical (I thought he seemed very friendly and had an interesting bow tie), but one way in which he definitely slipped up was not explaining his diagnosis to me. Lacking an explanation, like all sixteen year olds recently acquainted with the internet in the very early 00s, I went home and googled (or rather‚ĶJeeved? Binged? Yahooed? I’m not sure Google was a thing I was aware of then) attachment disorders, and I was horrified by what I read. Most of what I found described much smaller children who exhibited severely disturbed or out of control behaviour, who wet the bed and grew up to be serial killers. Anxiety might have exaggerated this memory a little, but those were the basic messages I got from my research. I couldn’t see myself in those descriptions.

The descriptions in the book ARE me. They are more me than anything else I’ve ever come across. Reading this book is like encountering the Minnesota Starvation Study for the first time and being creeped out by how a group of men in the 1940s can have the exact same cognitive and emotional response to starvation as anorexic 23 year old me in 2009. My lack of joy in 2001 was mostly to do with the fact that the internet was more of a blunt instrument back then – what I found was mostly in relation to the type of attachment problems correlated with a diagnosis of psychopathy in later life. A few years later, when I could have found more relevant information, I had had The Fear Of Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis put into me by various mental health professionals, and so wanted nothing to do with the line of thought that insecure attachments and chronic invalidation could result in a person who behaved very much like me.

I’m quite grumpy about this. Not that I want a personality disorder diagnosis, but I feel like a lot of my behaviour over the last ten years has been geared towards making sure that no one can ever suspect me of this. As a result, I’ve not talked about how difficult I find making and keeping friends, or not reacting self destructively during arguments with loved ones. I’ve become chronically bitter about experiences in which I was invalidated or dismissed by professionals, because I was so desperate at the time to act as if I was ‘okay’ with being treated like that. I’ve hidden self harm relapses as an adult. I’ve walked around feeling empty and lost and like I have no idea who I am, but been too scared to ask for help for this, instead going to the doctor with specific problems, like my phobia of thunderstorms. I’ve lived my life feeling a weird combination of both numb and incredibly oversensitive/overwhelmed, using self harm, the eating disorder and alcohol to switch when one state or the other becomes unbearable. Part of it was down to the pervasive idea that these sorts of experiences and behaviours can’t be “fixed”; I always wanted to believe that if I just tried hard enough, I could force myself to act in a socially acceptable way, and that if I did that for long enough, maybe all the inner turmoil would just disappear. Fake it ’til you make it.

This didn’t work. This is essentially what I tried to do in recovery from anorexia. I came across the concept of “white-knuckle sobriety” the other day – the AA tenet that if a person uses nothing but willpower to stay sober, they will struggle to maintain their recovery. In The Body Keeps The Score, van der Kolk uses this phrase to explain why, similarly, trying to stay in control of your emotions by sheer force when you have no natural ability to regulate them never ends well. I very much relate to this. For a while, recovery was just as distracting and all consuming as the anorexia had been, and the rigid rules and beliefs I had about recovery gave me something concrete to focus on and cling to when I was feeling unsettled. I was incredibly inflexible and defensive when anyone even gently challenged me, because to my mind, those rules and beliefs were the only things stopping me losing any grip on sanity. And when the immediate process of gaining weight was over I started struggling a lot more. I felt empty and lost, fairly minor stressors resulted in small relapses or self harm, and I was constantly terrified that any strong emotion had the power to knock me so off balance that I’d end up in hospital. As a consequence I kept myself as numb as possible, and am now suffering from all sorts of weird side effects of that. Anxiety was the only feeling I could just about work with, because I’ve had so much fucking practice, so every emotional response I had got turned into anxiety. When I couldn’t cope with anxiety it became some sort of somatic problem: headaches, IBS, dizziness. Those I could medicate. Problem solved.

Except it all broke down last year. Situations relating to my problems with attachment kept cropping up, triggering all sorts of incredibly strong feelings that I couldn’t escape, and I’ve not been able to just swallow them or turn the other way and claim ignorance. As the depression has lifted a little I’ve become less rather than more stable: there have been more episodes of self harm in the last six months than there were in the six years previous, and problems with dissociation and panic attacks have either increased or I’m noticing them a lot more. I can’t just grit my teeth and pretend this isn’t happening any longer.

My current therapist wonders if this is coming up now because the rest of my life is more stable than it’s been in a long time (possibly ever). I have a very part time job I can just about cope with, I am in a supportive relationship, my health is okay, there are no major crises apart from the one in my head. Maybe there have been signs for years, but now is the first time it’s been safe enough to notice them. Maybe now I have the right people around me to help. Maybe.

I just wish none of this was necessary. I wish I could solve all my problems with extra cake.


Insert joke about my blog posts being like buses here. As in, none for ages and then several come along at once, as opposed to being like several tonnes of metal hitting you. I hope.

I was once criticised by a commenter for retelling the same stories over and over again. No point denying it – I do. I find it helpful to pick out different facets or feelings of various experiences I’ve had, because goodness knows I’m more than averagely rubbish at actually processing things as they happen to me.

This post is one of those retellings. This is something I wrote this afternoon after therapy, about why this week has been so difficult, particularly in regards to self harm urges. I didn’t add to my last post that actually, the depression has been slowly lifting for a few weeks now. This latest crisis was set off by a specific comment someone made to me last Friday, which triggered remnants of the PTSD I didn’t even realise were still lurking in my head. So now I know, apparently. I’m posting what I wrote here because my therapist is off on holiday for a fortnight now, and I want to let go of it rather than sit on it all that time, if you know what I mean. But just to say, posting this is more about what I need to do with it than wanting it to be seen/read, so if no one feels up to graphic descriptions of self harm on this fine Thursday afternoon, that’s okay with me.

If you do, TW the size of that bus for rape and self harm.


“Your hair looks really nice today”.

At the moment, my hair is much longer than I usually allow it to grow. This is not intentional, I’ve just forgotten to care recently. People tell me it makes me look younger than thirty, although this is not something I particularly want. Compliments about my appearance, especially from men, make me feel uncomfortably vulnerable. He is twice my size, and he could easily –

I don’t know if sleep is the correct word. It seems obscene to think that I could have fallen asleep on this floor, in this room, with these people. If I was capable of sleep, does that make me complicit in this, somehow? It is possible that after the incredible pain and terror I just passed out. It’s possible that my body is trying to play dead.

They think I’m asleep. I lie rigidly still and keep my eyes closed, although pretending to sleep didn’t stop them mauling me earlier. I am prey in the lions’ den, and if I play dead, they might lose interest. I feel subhuman, incapable of thinking in sentences, nothing but fear and instinct.

“She’s beautiful. Her hair is beautiful”.

Two feet away they talk about me quietly, as if I am a delicacy she has dragged home for him to eat. What’s left of me is equally disgusted by them, and by myself. My appearance – an immature, childlike eighteen, long curly hair, the fucking hair – I want to rip it out. My inability to foresee this, when now the way in which I have been groomed over the last few weeks seems so laughably obvious. My physical weakness. The predisposition of my nervous system to freeze when others would fight or take flight. I should have, I should – I don’t know. I do know that all I have done has been wrong, and now I might be dead.

I have never been so alone. I didn’t bring my bag, with my phone and my money and everything else I’d need to escape. I left it at her house. She said just a couple of drinks, and we’ll go back to mine. I want my bag, I want my mum, I don’t want to die, I –

Later, safe at home, I reconsider. Now I wish they had killed me. I numbly weigh up the benefits of dying at the hands of others, a blameless victim. Now all I can think about is death and if I kill myself, people will be so angry. But surely I can’t survive feeling this way. I am just as trapped, just as desperate, just as alone as in that tiny room two towns over. Not physically: my family are downstairs, my friends at the end of a text message or email. But I still can’t think or feel or talk, and my head is full of static.

I retreat to my cave but there are no wounds to lick, because what they did to me only survives in my head. I ritualistically go about making the damage visible. I start with my right leg. I come home from college, mechanically choke down my dinner, and go up to my room. I switch on my television. I cut myself one hundred times, in counts of ten, with pauses in between tens. The next evening the number is two hundred. Three. Four. Five, then seven-fifty, and finally one thousand. There is no room left on my leg, so my right arm and stomach are recruited in service of my sanity. The television stays on while I try to sleep, limbs wrapped in towels. After a week of these evenings it hurts so much to walk that I don’t have to cut myself any more. Nobody stops me. Nobody rescues me. I learn just how alone it is possible to be, and I have my hair cut shorter than I’ve ever dared.

Years pass, and every time I try to squash this vast and shapeless horror into a coherent narrative I find myself more able to remain present, to anchor myself to reality so I don’t float away – into the carpet, or the painting behind the latest therapist’s head – or go home and recreate the carnage I inflicted on myself after the fact. And sometimes it can be months since I last thought of it. Sometimes the anniversary passes and I almost forget.

And sometimes someone makes an innocuous comment about my hair, and ice runs in my veins and I shake, and I am confused and disoriented for days. I feel so strongly compelled to re-enact my original reaction to being raped – the television, the counting, the defining of my boundaries with sharp edges. It’s not something that can be argued with, or rationalised, it just needs, or thinks it does. The cognitive dissonance created by not going along with this is intense.

I try to wait it out patiently. And I think about cutting my hair.


Consider this a heads up: I will be talking about self harm in this post.

I often find that talking/writing about things I’m struggling with makes them easier to manage. There are several reasons for this that I can think of: it helps me get my thoughts all in a row; sometimes trying to make things that are confusing to me, coherent to other people, makes more sense of them to me too; responses from other people who give a crap are always appreciated regardless of whether I’m looking for feedback, advice, or just “wow, that sucks, sorry to hear it”; and finally, I am prone to keeping things to myself, so making an effort to communicate sends my brain the firm message that actually, the world does not end if I talk. Writing my last post and the reactions to it genuinely helped during the worst phase of the depression. It was like realising I’d been carrying around all this incredibly painful muscular tension, and deliberately relaxing. Not in the way of Hollywood-style catharsis, not that I got up the next morning and the birds were singing – I mean, I just hadn’t realised how isolated and alone I felt, how hard I was finding it to cope by myself, and indeed how fucking obvious it was that this didn’t have to be the case. But brains are strange creatures, and for a supposedly intelligent person I do seem to need reminding on a very regular basis that I don’t have to carry everything myself.

I think part of how this forgetting happens is related to feeling like I say more than I do. Sometimes I feel like I do an awful lot of ranting on social media sites (particularly Twitter). But often, I look back through my recent tweets or updates and realise I haven’t been nearly as outspoken or open as I thought. Because my fear of the consequences of leaving myself to stew in my thoughts for too long is very strongly counterbalanced by my fear of clients finding me on social media, I often come away from attempts to talk about something difficult feeling like I’ve said too much and too little all in one go.

This is definitely the case with self harm. I know I’ve communicated my annoyance about the lack of focus on/service provision for people over the age of 25 (or even 21) who self harm. I have retweeted and favourited and even gone as far as posting something on Facebook about Self Injury Awareness Day (tldr: ¬†I hate ‘awareness’ events. Too many myths and stereotypes get reinforced, and they always end up being about a population rather than for them. Ooh, look at all the skinny/scarred people in the media this week, how interesting, I feel so much more aware of this issue now. NOPE forever). But I can count on one hand the number of people who knew prior to that FB post that the last time I cut myself was just a few weeks ago in January this year, and even fewer know that I would probably be writing ‘yesterday’ (or even ‘this morning’) if I hadn’t managed to get my arse out of the house to meet a friend at the last minute, and then seriously ripped the contents of my brain to shreds with my wife’s help in the evening.

It’s sad how surprised I was when I started cutting again at the start of that last relapse early on in December last year, like somehow being a proper grown up with a proper job and a wife should make me invulnerable to such things. It’s not something I ever would have said, or even consciously thought without correcting myself. It’s more like internalised stigma, a result of slowly, over eighteen years, absorbing from various institutions and authority figures the rhetoric that people who self harm are attention seeking, a waste of NHS resources, copycats, stupid teenage girls, over-privileged children who need to grow up, spoilt idiots who should be sent to see true hardship (“think of the starving children in…”), people who don’t try hard enough to cope or to control themselves, people who are hopeless and pathetic. The internalised voice of all those consultant psychiatrists and newspaper articles and ignorant teachers tells me, to bastardise Dickens, that if they want to kill themselves then let them do it, and reduce the surplus population. This is what I have been taught to believe about people who self harm, and although it doesn’t at all tally with my experience or what I know of friends’ experiences, it is surprisingly hard to unlearn.

This semi-conscious shame stops me being specific when I vaguebook something about having a hard day, when what I mean is that I’m having a staring match with razor blades. It stops me asking friends for help, or even considering that this is something they could help with, or that I deserve help. Often I’m so busy being in denial that I don’t even notice there’s a problem until the urge to harm myself is so loud I can’t think clearly enough to avoid the situation I was trying to ignore. And by that point it’s almost too late, because by that point it appears in my head as a decision that’s already been made, and it is obviously the right thing to do, and that decision is tortuously difficult and psychologically painful to unmake (case in point: the slow dawning on me yesterday evening, having wanted to – intended to, even – act on the urge all day, that actually maybe it wasn’t strictly necessary, and the absolute brainfuck that caused. More NOPEs needed in service of explaining just how little I wish to go through that undeciding process again in the near future). Even on this blog – the number of posts in which I specifically talk about an aspect of eating disorder recovery (hundreds), versus the number of posts in which I try to deal with lapses into self harming (this post makes four or five, I think?). The last time I cut myself before this January was January 2014, after Charlotte died, and I told one person. I know for a fact that I was incredibly triggered for weeks on end at different points during 2011, 12 and 13, even though I didn’t act on it (much – there may have been biting and hitting at various points, but no cutting) or, again, talk about it. And before January 2014 the last two times I relapsed were during the winters of 2010 and 2009, and although I was updating this blog very frequently in those days, I wrote one or two posts about each incident. Maybe five posts, and I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months fighting the urge to hurt myself over the last six years.

It’s somehow easier (and this is entirely personal, I’m making no generalisations and I know everyone experiences these things differently) with the eating disorder. I think it’s partly that I’ve had more practice distancing myself from eating disordered thoughts, and recognising that they lead nowhere good. I also think any return to eating disordered behaviours affects more areas of my life more quickly than self harming does. Within days of starting to restrict, I might feel some relief, but I will also feel cold, start obsessing about food, find it harder to concentrate at work, realise I’m becoming much more short tempered, my relationship with A will suffer in subtle but noticeable (to me) ways, I will be constantly exhausted and yet hyperactive, I will start to realise that I’m actually just as anxious as before I relapsed, but it’s just all been funnelled into food and numbers, so I might not be worrying about someone shooting me or dying of ebola, but I am obsessed with how quickly I could reach Xlbs, or with calculating and re-calculating calories eaten today. My motivation for staying in recovery is easier for me to rediscover and hold on to when I experience all of this and remember just how much worse it all gets the longer it goes on. Motivation to avoid self harming is so much more tenuous for me, and is easily lost when the inside of my skull feels and sounds like a crowded shopping centre on Saturday morning. That same noise, that claustrophobia.¬†And it is not helped – not at all – by the fact that of all the different things I have experienced, this is the hardest one for me to talk about. The hardest, and because of how helpful I find the process of working things out loud or in writing, possibly the one thing I would benefit most from talking about.

Now I’ve started writing this I almost don’t want to stop, but I also don’t really know what else I want to say. How do you talk about something that is so hard to pin down? It’s like one of those magic eye images – you look through them, slowly move them away from your face, you avoid looking directly at whatever starts to emerge, and if you can do all of that, you might be successful. I was always completely and utterly shite at those things. Couldn’t do it if the coordinates to the only antidote of a poison my nemesis had slipped me were hidden in one, although that’s an interesting idea for a future James Bond film.

So lets all be glad that I have a competent therapist at the moment instead.

When everything goes right and everything feels wrong

This post is coming to you from my bed, where I am currently hiding from the workmen who have colonised my bathroom, living room, and spare room. They are sorting out the damp problem in various ways, which will be lovely when it’s done. In the meantime I am trying to stem the rising tide of hysteria induced by the sheer state my home is in by…well, mostly by just not looking at anything other than my laptop.

So much happened last year, and I only updated this blog twice. In September, I turned 30, which felt particularly meaningful because it was the end of the five years I gave myself to decide if recovery was worth the effort. A huge amount changed in those five years. My life didn’t stop while I was spending time trying to catch up with all the social and emotional development I missed out on in my teens and early twenties. My late twenties were no less eventful, and I feel like I’m going to be playing catch up for a while yet.

The other big occasion was in October, when Audrey and I got married! I was surprisingly calm about the whole thing until about two weeks before. This was partly because we insisted on doing so much of it ourselves, including but not limited to the table decorations, the bouquets for us and our bridesmaids, the music to be played during the ceremony and dinner (give a woman with OCD a playlist to organise, and she will be there for days), the wedding favours, and so on. I’ve been meaning to post photos for months, but haven’t quite got around to it.

The not-getting-around-to-it has been largely sponsored by my mood. I have only just started trying to tell people what’s been going on, purely because it didn’t occur to me until it recently started getting really obvious and a bit scary that I was depressed rather than a lazy fuck (ah, depressed brain, you are so friendly and charming). In more¬†subtle theories, for a while I failed to take it seriously because I thought I was just burned out from my dissertation, and would bounce back eventually. Bouncing back has totally failed to occur in the last fifteen months or so. Following the stress of having my hours at my last job suddenly cut in September 2013, my mood never recovered after Charlotte died a year ago, and every time something else stressful happened – writing my dissertation, reintroducing wheat into my diet for a few weeks so I could be properly tested for coeliac, getting married (fabulous things can be stressful too) – it dropped lower. Apart from a couple of weeks before and after the wedding, when I was sufficiently distracted by A Project, the vast majority of 2014 (and 2015, so far) was spent sitting on my sofa, staring into space, trying to find the energy or motivation to move and DO SOMETHING. ANYTHING BUT SIT HERE FOR ANOTHER DAY. But although I’ve managed to carry on working, at home all I can seem to get myself to do most of the time is sit. A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday when I had no (paid) work to do, I had to get on top of the cleaning. I cried while I was trying to hang the washing up because I couldn’t decide where to put anything, and again when I couldn’t get the bloody duvet into the fucking duvet cover (expletives were totally necessary at the time), and again when I got in the shower and considered that crying over the soul destroying properties of damp socks was not what I had intended for my life at 30 years old.

I’m certainly far more tired, both in the sleepy and the fatigued senses, than is strictly necessary for someone my age, but most of the time the difficulty feels less about lack of energy and more to do with my brain just not working properly. Some days over the last few weeks when I’ve come home from work, it has taken me twenty minutes plus of very slowly doing one little thing at a time before I could move from the bedroom to the living room or kitchen. Okay, I’m home. What first? Turn off alarm. Take off my shoes, replace with slippers. Next, put shoes away. Now take off and put away coat. Now put on dressing gown, because it’s bloody freezing. Now put lip balm (one of my current tics is chewing my lips. Really not a good one to have in January) and phone in dressing gown pockets. Now open backpack. Are there any empty food or drink containers to be washed up? Take to kitchen. Are there any receipts? Put in recycling – no, wait, Audrey might need them, sort through them first. Oh god, I don’t know what to do with the receipts. Um. Sit on the bed and stare blankly for five minutes. Try again.

And so on. Trying to make a simple decision currently feels akin to attempting my physics homework when I was going down the drain at York. My brain just doesn’t want to know. A couple of friends have noticed that I’m much more quiet on Facebook – I often type and delete comments and statuses several times a day, but very rarely hit anything but the ‘like’ button, because social interaction seems so complicated. I am terrified of getting into a debate or discussion, because I don’t have the resilience to cope with them at the moment, and I’m scared of my potential reaction to being trolled. I’ve quietly left virtually all the groups I used to belong to. This post is only getting written because the need to distract myself from the horror of PEOPLE IN MY FLAT MAKING A MESS is great enough to focus the mind a bit.

I finally spoke to my GP about my mood and rampaging anxiety at the start of December, and I have an appointment with someone from the local CMHT in a couple of weeks. I don’t really know what they can do – I think we’ve pretty much proven that medication is a bad idea, and waiting lists for specialist therapy services are a bitch (I went through the primary care psychological therapy services a couple of years ago, it didn’t really get me anywhere). But I didn’t know what else to do, and you never know what a new (to me) team will come up with.

It is disappointing that things have gotten so bad, especially when last year my weight and eating was better than it ever had been. I know you can’t fix everything with weight gain, especially when my co-morbid issues so pre-dated my eating disorder, but it is still frustrating. When I am anxious or depressed and actively eating disordered there is a concrete reason for the distress, and a thing that can be fixed in a practical manner. As eating less became the answer to every problem when I was ill, eating more became the answer when I was in recovery. But having been physically healthy for years, doing everything ‘right’ behaviourally, and still becoming seriously depressed, is profoundly terrifying to me. There’s nothing to pin it on, nothing to blame. Or rather, there is this chaotic mess of stress and unresolved grief and regret and a cold, damp flat, and a job that isolates me and never makes enough money for us to live on, and a sense that everything I try fails, and that life will carry on slamming doors in my face, and that nothing will ever be okay, and I don’t even know where to start with that.

I will try to update a bit more often, and to at least put some photos of the wedding up. I say that every time though, and still the gaps between posts increase, and the longer I am away, the less this blog feels like a safe haven where I can be honest and find support. This mirrors one of the worst aspects of depression for me: that the more I need people to understand and help me, the less I feel able to find the words to ask.

Giantfossilizedarmadillo, BA (Hons)

I have long passed the stage of worrying about not updating this blog. It’s still here for me to mark big events and special occasions, both positive and negative. I wish I had more time/inclination to blog, but this year has been so busy and full. I haven’t worked at the evil call centre since March, but my little counselling business isn’t doing too badly at all. I had one client when I started in October, and now have eleven ongoing, alongside another ten who have left for various reasons – the resolution of the problem they came to see me for, the end of the university year (I see a lot of students!), or with some clients referred by occupational health departments, the end of the number of sessions their employer was willing to pay for. Although I see some weekly, many fortnightly, and so this only amounts to 5-9 hours of actual face-to-face work per week, I spend much more time travelling and doing paperwork. Some weeks I love being a counsellor, and other times – when I’m tired or stuck in a hot room during a heatwave or feel like the world’s shittiest counsellor for not having all the answers – I feel like a terrible imposter, a real-life lunatic running the asylum. But overall, it’s going pretty well. This week in particular, I feel like I have been on a roll. I am putting this down to the Very Good News I had last week, which really boosted my confidence.

Because, of course, the other reason I’ve been absent from the blogosphere is because I’ve been studying on the third year of my undergraduate degree. Last year I finished my foundation degree in counselling, qualifying me to practice as a member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. It’s a very common route to take into the profession in the UK – two years of either a foundation degree or higher diploma. However, as anyone who has known me for more than five minutes will know, I have always wanted to finish a full Bachelor of Arts/Sciences honours degree. I started my first – psychology at Cardiff – ten years ago this September. After dropping out of my education a grand total of six times due to various combinations of depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, PTSD and anorexia, I didn’t think I would ever finish anything in higher education. But I somehow got through my counselling qualifications – maybe because they build on each other, so by the time I started my foundation degree, I’d already finished a six month level 2 introduction to counselling and a nine month level 3 certificate in counselling skills, roughly equivalent to GCSE and A level standard. That gave me the confidence to take on the foundation degree, although I didn’t believe I would finish that either at various points – for example, as documented on this blog, everything went wrong in the first term, with my relationship, my job and my mental health all going to hell. Even when handing in my final assignment last summer I was convinced I would get hit by a car, lightning, a meteorite, a piano – anything to stop me actually completing the damn thing! But no, I did it, and I graduated from college last year.

The good thing about living in this area of the country is that several universities offer a ‘top-up’ course for counsellors who have completed their foundation degrees. If the foundation degree is equivalent to the first two years of university, the top-up is the third year. And that’s what I’ve been doing this year: ‘upgrading’ my foundation degree to a full BA. I was terrified of being back at an actual university rather than a small local college, and with my first assignment it seemed like all my nightmares were coming true – I was distracted by setting up my business while I wrote it, and it came back with a really poor mark. Cue all those thoughts about failure, not being any good at academia outside of a college where the standards were much lower, not being that clever anyway, it was all an illusion, what was I doing thinking I could do well at university anyway, blah blah whatever. After a good fortnight of alternately panicking and wallowing, I decided to really go for it with my next assignment, and after Christmas it came back marked at 72, a first. Comparable efforts with the other two shorter essays, plus the research project and my dissertation led to similar marks for all of them as well.

Writing my dissertation was an…interesting…experience. I did a literature review on counselling for survivors of female-perpetrated sexual abuse, which was inspired by my own experiences of disclosing to therapists that I’d been raped by a woman, and receiving shocked/disbelieving/horrified reactions in response. I focused on child sexual abuse to make it slightly different from what had happened to me, and to narrow it down a bit. The research and synthesis were absolutely fascinating, but I was suffering from burn out a bit by the end. My dissertation was the last piece of work to be marked and was due to be released with the course results, and as that was worth around 40% of the mark for the whole degree, I couldn’t predict what my final result would be.

I know UK degree results differ from many other countries, so a rough guide to our marks would be: an average mark of 70% and above is classified as first class honours, 60-69% is higher second class honours, or a 2:1, 50-59% is lower second class honours or a 2:2 (or a Desmond, in the lingo…Tutu? Heh), 40-49% is third class honours, and with most universities if you pass more than half but less than all of the final year modules, you can leave with a Bachelor of Arts/Science without the honours. My average mark before getting my dissertation back was 74, but as I said, it was all dependent on the dissertation. Even getting a fairly decent 2:1 on my dissertation would have lowered my whole degree classification to a 2:1 overall. And 2:1 is totally, perfectly respectable, you can get onto pretty much any postgraduate course you want to with a 2:1 – but after trying and failing to finish a degree for ten years, I really had my heart set on getting a first.

The course results were due out sometime during the morning of the 20th, so my other counselling friends and I were refreshing the appropriate section on the university website from 8am onwards. At 9am one of my friends phoned the department to ask when we could expect them to be up (impatient!), and obviously spoke to the office numpty, who told her they weren’t due to be released until the following Thursday. While my Facebook feed exploded in outrage, tears, and one girl threatening to vomit on her computer, I despondently refreshed the website again – and there they were…


Now, I know that at three months’ shy of my thirtieth birthday, if I’d not been ill I could have worked through a BA, a Masters and maybe a PhD by now, and be well into my career. But fuck me if I’m not over the moon at being the very grateful recipient of my Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours. I am still sleeping with the print out of my transcript under my pillow, just in case I worry that I read it incorrectly and have to check!

I always have a harder time over the summer, with nothing academic to distract my brain, and this summer is no different. But at least this year I have my little business, and my application for this really interesting Masters I found a couple of months ago to complete. Psychological therapies for complex mental health issues, including psychosis, personality disorders, and severe and enduring eating disorders. Now that would occupy my brain very nicely for the three years it’d take to study part time…

With my BA finally over, I am just about go on holiday to visit my family for a couple of weeks with Audrey. I am also still wedding planning in fits and starts – three and a half months to go! So there will be at least one more blog update this year, probably involving pretty dresses and drunken relatives. Whoo!

Although I didn’t update my blog then, it didn’t escape my notice that this February marked five years since I wrote my first post, and this March was the five year anniversary of the start of my recovery. I gave myself five years to make it worth something, with the proviso that I could give up if I didn’t get anywhere in that time. From twenty four with nothing in my life but anorexia to nearly thirty, engaged, running a counselling practice and about to graduate from my undergraduate degree AT LAST – I think I can safely say that it’s working out okay at the moment ūüėõ

The best person I never met

On January 13th 2011 I accepted a friend request on Facebook from Charlotte Bevan.

I had started speaking to Charlotte off and on during 2010, but had been aware of her presence online for longer. A vocal and enthusiastic member of FEAST and the¬†Around the Dinner Table¬†forum for parents and carers of children with eating disorders, Charlotte became involved in the online world of eating disorders while helping her daughter recover from anorexia nervosa. I lurked on ATDT often during 2009/10, trying to use their knowledge and experience to fuel my own recovery. By the time I started noticing how awesome Charlotte was her daughter was doing a lot better, and she had redirected a lot of her energy and caring onto other parents and carers who were struggling. Her posts were always supportive, informative and direct. She never hesitated to tell people what they needed to hear, although that was sometimes difficult to hear, sometimes ENTIRELY WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS EVEN THOUGH SHE WAS TRYING TO HELP PEOPLE CALM DOWN (receiving a message from Charlotte just saying BREATHE started inducing a Pavlovian-style relaxation response in me after a while), and always bravely and confidently stated. She didn’t seem to mind making waves as long as what she was saying was helpful and accurate.

I admired her and some of the other ATDT members from afar for a while, and once I was much better I started trying to get their attention, because they had helped me without knowing it, and I wanted to give something back. The perfect opportunity came when I noticed that something Charlotte had written on a Guardian article on eating disorders had been highlighted as Comment of the Day on their website. I plucked up the courage to introduce myself via Facebook message (along the lines of “hi, you don’t know me but I promise I’m not a creepy internet stalker even though I know a scary amount of stuff about you from ATDT) and to point out the accolade to her. After a few more months of feeling rather like I was auditioning by backing her up in other comment wars on eating disorder articles, Charlotte put me forward to the other members of the UK branch of FEAST, to be included in their email backchatter and general plotting for world domination.

It sometimes seemed that if she’d gone into politics, Charlotte might actually have stood a chance of achieving world domination. She was always doing a hundred different things at once. She supported parents and carers and the occasional person in recovery, more of us from the latter category seeming to be drawn to her the longer she was involved in the eating disorder community. She communicated and debated with world leading clinicians and researchers, always from a position of curiosity and a fierce desire to learn and to advocate for the perspective of parents, never appearing to be intimidated by anyone’s status, although I know she sometimes felt otherwise. She fought battles with primary care trusts and treatment providers who were not acting in the best interests of the families she was trying to help, spending hours pouring over medical records and the vagaries of the legal system. No problem was too big to scare her off or too small for her to dismiss as of no consequence. She had this incredible ability to make the person in front of her – or at the other end of the email in front of her, anyway – feel like the most and only important person in the world.

Charlotte was going to come to my wedding. She was one of only two people allowed to wear a hat to the occasion, the other being my friend Barbara. She was elevated to this status despite my bias against hats at weddings because while trying to rescue possibly hundreds of other people, she always had time for me. Back in 2011 when I had been in Newcastle for less than a year, was struggling to look after myself and my last relationship was falling apart, she sent me a one line email along the lines of “are you ok, I’m worried”, which after some conversation turned into an offer to hang out with me on Skype for meals and snacks until I got my shit together again. I managed to get myself back on track before that became necessary, but knowing that the offer, and Charlotte, were there, was invaluable. I am not good at asking for help – I am really terrible at asking for help, actually, because my pride gets in the way. Somehow Charlotte felt like a safe and comfortable person to talk to despite my natural defensiveness.

Later that year she came to my rescue again. She encouraged me to go to the FEAST conference in Alexandria, and initially even offered to share a hotel room with me to help with the cost. When it became apparent that everyone, including Charlotte’s own mother who obviously took precedence, wanted her in their room, she put me in touch with several other women looking for a room mate. That was the first time I nearly met Charlotte. Her breast cancer was diagnosed a few months before the conference, and when she should have been in Alexandria with us she was in the middle of her treatment instead. Once over the Atlantic I got myself into a bit of a jetlag-induced state because the hotel restaurant didn’t quite seem to grasp the whole dairy free thing, and I was so paranoid about making a fuss about the food in case someone thought it was an anorexic thing rather than an allergy thing. In a moment I am still not massively proud of, for some reason even though she was 3000 miles away, it was Charlotte I sent a panicked message to on Facebook. Charlotte somehow managed to calm me down, get another lady whose daughter had a dairy allergy to sort the hotel out, and reassure me that it was in fact perfectly fine to freak out on a woman who was receiving treatment for cancer on the other side of the world rather than speaking to one of the dozens of people I vaguely knew who were in the hotel with me, because she was Charlotte and that’s the sort of person she was.

I nearly met Charlotte again at the conference in Nottingham in November 2012. Charlotte somehow managed to wrangle a scholarship for me because she knew how completely broke I was after a year of unemployment. She made it possible for me to attend, but didn’t make it to the conference herself because by that point she was caring for her mother who was dying of, again, cancer. I really fucking hate cancer. She was with us on Skype as much as possible but there was an obvious Charlotte-shaped hole in the whole event.

While cancer seemed determined to foil some of Charlotte’s plans to be physically present at events, until she was very ill it barely put a dent in her online activities. In my folder for FEAST correspondence I currently have 2149 emails saved, and I’ve only ever been on the outskirts of the operation. Charlotte took part in all of the conversations those emails make up. Email and Facebook discussions include the state of treatment for eating disorders in Britain, the philosophical implications of monism vs dualism, concerns about specific people and how we could best support them, lots of humour, a fair amount of innuendo and an impressively weird chain of comments on size acceptance for carrots. I loved seeing her name appear in my inbox, because it was always attached to something I wanted to read and engage with. Charlotte’s emails often provoked long replies which very effectively distracted me from crappy moods, unwanted household chores, assignment deadlines and all sorts of other things which I have absolutely no regrets about neglecting in favour of our discussions.

In 2013 Charlotte’s cancer came back, and she had to announce that it was terminal. While all sorts of horrors had to be faced in her non-internet life, she found time last year to write a book, battle at least two primary care trusts who had been providing inadequate care for people she knew, and become the foundation for the UK arm of the international ANGI project, which is collecting DNA samples from people with a history of anorexia. The challenge is to get 25,000 samples from all over the world, and¬†Charlotte’s Helix aims to contribute between 1000-4000 samples from the UK. Without Charlotte, the UK would not be participating. I’ve signed up to send them a blood sample, and I would ask anyone else out there with a history of anorexia consider doing the same.

I backed off a little in the last six months. She seemed overwhelmed by the sheer amount of love and support directed at her by all of those hundreds of people whose lives she had changed – it was amazing to watch – and I didn’t want to upset her. I felt guilty for grieving while she was still alive, and I didn’t want to burden her with my sadness, it wasn’t my place.¬†She was involved in so many big and important things that she wanted to get going before she couldn’t work on them any more, and I didn’t want to get in the way. I missed her hugely a long time before she was gone. I half regret this, because I wanted so badly to make a fuss of her and tell her how much I adored her, and to speak to her whenever possible before it was too late, but I am also half glad I fought against that urge, because she hated to be fussed over. Charlotte tried to mother pretty much everyone I know – she called herself my internet mum – but there were far fewer people she would allow to take care of her.

On January 13th 2014 Charlotte died and¬†I’ve been trying to write this for four days and it’s still not right. She would, as my friend Fiona said, be furious at being spoken about like some kind of saint. But it’s hard not to get a little hyperbolic. I feel guilty for being so devastated because Charlotte was never mine to lose, but I thought the world of her, she was one of my very favourite people and I am quite heartbroken. If this is the impact she made on those who knew her online, I can’t imagine how her closer friends and family must feel.

Charlotte Bevan, activist and advocate extraordinaire, author, carer to all those slightly lost souls you cried with and comforted and supported, mother to your own beautiful children, international research star and dog person, I raise my cup of tea to you and feel glad that wherever you are, you are out of pain now.

The Zero Hour Contract lament

I remember, while studying sociology at A level more than a decade ago, learning about the concept of a meritocracy. At the time, naive as I was, I thought that must be the way my country worked. That people attained their positions in life based on their skills and achievements, whether innate, learnt or hard won. I believed that lower starting points may be a disadvantage, but not an insurmountable obstacle, because surely with determination and hard work social mobility would be open to anyone.

Ten years and much more experience later, I have never seen my country work in that way. And I worry about the fine line between being angry – the type of useful fury that drives people to do incredible things – and becoming bitter. I feel choked and trapped, and I try to fight against that because feeling trapped is such a trigger for my depressive tendencies. I can sense despair circling, trying to find a chink in my hastily built, unstable barricade. I can’t allow that to happen.

This is the problem: I want to be more than a struggle of hardship and determination against the odds. I have worked so hard to rebuild my life from scratch – to first regain some semblance of physical health, then to shore up my coping strategies and resilience, and finally to reintegrate myself within the community. It’s that last part that seems like a road to nowhere. My family have always been in debt, my parents have never been able to support me financially, although I was lucky enough to be able to live back at home when I was first in recovery. That meant I could use the small income I did have to pay for a private therapist. But since leaving home I’ve either been stuck on benefits, or in low paid part time jobs that see their staff as fair game for exploitation and abuse. I’ve applied for hundreds of other jobs, and become quite the expert at selling myself, but in our current economy experience is what matters. Whenever I’ve made it to interview, the job has gone to someone with twenty years of experience, who frankly shouldn’t be forced to apply for the still fairly low paid jobs I’m after if they are that highly skilled. I can’t begrudge someone with twenty years of relevant experience in their field who has to accept less than ¬£20,000 a year.

For the last ten months I’ve been employed by a very large international company, at one of their small regional call centres. I’ve worked hard under some difficult conditions, for example when they changed the technology we used to call people with, and we got nothing but abuse from those answering for nearly a month, because our fabulous technology was phoning them ten times a week and no one seemed to know how to stop it. That, of course, was because us lowly advisors were doing it wrong, although we were never actually told what ‘right’ would look like. The only training I got on this technology was three hours of sitting next to a colleague who had been using it for a week, who was trying not to cry because she was being shouted at by every other person who answered the phone. But I stuck it out, and I did my best in this job while also studying for my counselling qualification and seeing five or six clients a week at two different placements. I did my best while burning the candle at both ends, since Audrey gets up at 6am for her job and I always seemed to end up on the late shifts, getting home around 8.30 in the evening. A couple of years ago that would have been an intolerable amount of stress for me, but I did it and I was proud of myself. I’ve never had a bad report from my manager, or been summoned to one of the disciplinaries they give out for all sorts of tiny infractions.

Three weeks ago it was announced that our campaign was hiring new full time members of staff, and that the current part time members would have to pick up the few remaining shifts. We were projected to be down to around 12-16 hours a week each from the start of October. We were upset, but that’s the sort of thing you expect on a zero hour contract, so we just started looking for other jobs, other ways of paying the rent. Last week, on Wednesday, they put the rest of our September hours online. Without fanfare, without even a manager present to explain, we each had around four hours a week, starting from this week. I sat there close to tears for my whole shift – I was so angry and upset I wanted to walk out, but how could I when all of a sudden I was on my last proper week’s work for the foreseeable future?

I am a fully qualified counsellor now, but I’m going to become deskilled quickly when I can’t see clients because I can’t afford supervision, and I have no time for voluntary positions when my rent and ability to eat depend on me finding a new job as soon as possible. Setting up a private practice has been an idea in the back of my head for a while, but that involves money too – advertising, living off of very little while building a client base, supervision again, office rent, insurance. I would take any job I was given, providing I could continue attending university on Wednesdays, but with a three year gap in my CV there are very few employers who even give me the chance to interview.

When those who try to govern my country – from any party – insist that they want to reward hard working people, that flexible working conditions mean better businesses, that greater wealth at the top has a trickle down effect, I want to scream. These people know nothing of my life. They have been cosseted from birth at a private hospital to the Cabinet Office, from Eton to Oxbridge with four holidays a year and a house in the Cotswolds and another in Spain. I have worked incredibly fucking hard and I have never been rewarded. I am intelligent and creative and determined and none of it matters because at one point in my past I was too unwell to work, and while that was happening our economy died and my future seemed to die with it. I know the world doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall here.

Increasingly, when someone tells me to just hang on, that my chance will come, that good things happen to people who work hard, and that life is full of opportunities and you only have to look, I want to ask them how I am supposed to keep a ‘can do’ attitude when the world keeps shouting NO in my face and slamming the door. I want to work. I want to be stretched and challenged and encouraged to be the best I can be. Why won’t anyone let me?

Well hello there…


So, I haven’t updated since March. It is now nearly September. The only reasonable explanation for this is that from my perspective, my last update was about two days ago, and I must have been abducted by aliens in the middle. Where’s Scully with two identical stopwatches when I need her?

Actually, in the intervening five months, I’ve had a fair amount of spare time when I probably could have blogged. The problem with that spare time is that it has been bracketed by periods of RUNNING AROUND LIKE MY ASS IS ON FIRE, so during those precious hours when I have nothing of importance to do, I have mostly used it to stare blankly into space, refreshing Facebook or Twitter every few moments.

Causes of analogous ass-fire:

* Finishing – YES, FINISHING – my counselling qualification. I am now all qualified and stuff! I still can’t believe I actually started an educational thing and carried on doing it until it was finished! It only took me nine years! I graduated last months, as those of you who are friends with me on FB will have seen from the photographs of my parents beaming like I’d just won something in the Olympics. Or alternatively, like their first born child, who from age 11 to 24 attempted to kill herself in ever more creative ways, and in the process had to drop out of her education a grand total of five times, had finally got to graduation. Basically, FUCK YEAH.

* Burning the candle at both ends, Audrey getting up early to go to her job and me coming home late from mine. Even though I often don’t go to work until midday, I’m usually too sleep deprived to form sentences before then. Thank goodness I don’t have children yet!

* Prior to July, attempting to balance studying, two placements and aforementioned paid job. Gaaaaaah.

* ¬†Trying to find a new job, because my hours are atrocious. I am now an expert in writing corporate bottom-kissing, embarrassingly self-promotional personal statements. It’s a useful transferable skill.

* Having a really lovely couple of weeks away at the start of July, in Dorset with Audrey. It was wonderful to escape for a bit, and the weather actually behaved for us! One of the highlights was going to my mum’s dig to help out for the day. She graduated from her archaeology degree the day before I had my graduation, and she’s currently working on a new Roman villa with an intact mosaic. It’s proper cool. Well, actually it was proper hot: 30C + and in an exposed field all day. I may have taken a suncream bath beforehand.

With all of that busyness, you might expect that I’d really appreciate my little break during the summer holidays, right? Wrong. I am like a grumpy child, spending the first day of the holiday running around in glee at my new freedom, then the next six weeks moaning “muuuuum, I’m boooooooored”. I do have other things to occupy me – I’m still going to work, we went to a lovely wedding last weekend, I’m writing what feels like dozens of job applications a week, but probably amounts to two or three very methodical ones – but without studying, I’m completely lost. It’s a good job that although I’m qualified after the first two years of my course, I have a post-qualification year to start in two weeks! Do you think they’ll add “compulsive studenthood” to the next DSM?

Sooooo…yes. Have some cliffs, and some dogs, from my holiday ūüôā

See the cliff in the distance, with part of it standing out to sea by itself?


That would be this ^ cliff! We walked a lot. So much I felt like I needed a holiday to recover from my holiday! I did manage to avoid getting burned though, which was impressive for someone who has previously been sunburnt in England in February.

Also, dogs. Just as pretty as the scenery!


P.S.: To those of you who emailed/tweeted/Facebooked me to ask why I was selling Korean Cosmetics, I’m not. I’m still here, obviously – I just let the subscription to the .com domain lapse, because frankly I didn’t have the money to renew it at the time, and it’s not like I’m blogging every day. If the beautifully made up cybersquatters are waiting for me to get all distraught and demand the domain back, they’ll be in for a long wait…

March Update!

This will be old news to anyone who is friends with me on Facebook, but…


Me and Audrey got engaged last week! I asked her just before the Saturday night ceilidh at¬†IVFDF, the folk dance festival she introduced me to last year. I’d been carrying the rings around with me for about 36 hours before I came out with it, hiding them in my coat pocket, then a pocket in my bag, then my purse, which I accidentally opened in front of her when we were buying coffee on the Saturday morning – eek! Apparently the brain only sees what the brain expects to see though, because she was very surprised and squeaky when I put it on her finger while we were walking up to the evening dance ūüėÄ

We won’t be getting married for a couple of years because a) we can’t get married until the government passes the Equal Marriage Bill (and it’d be a hassle getting a civil partnership then changing it to a civil marriage just a year later) and b) it’ll take us that long to save up, but I’m still really excited and proud to be ¬†wearing my ring. Mine is the birds in the trees, Audrey has the dandelions. We are planning to have a joint engagement and house warming party soon though, as we moved house at the end of February, into a nice little flat without any other housemates. It’s had a few teething problems (broken toilet, broken boiler, leak under the sink, doors that wouldn’t shut…one day we will own a house, then all these problems will be our own fault/responsibility!), but it’s looking really nice now we’ve (mostly) unpacked. I’m feeling worrying grown up – cohabiting, engaged, working and being only four months shy of qualifying as a counsellor. Whatever next?!

I wish I had some photographs of IVFDF, but I was too busy having fun to remember to take any. One of the many reasons I’m a bit of a shite blogger these days!


Beginning with an end, 2013

Four years ago today I sat at my desk in my room at Goodricke College, University of York, and I created this blog. My first post, Beginning with an end, was a brief introduction and description of my life at that time. A typical day in the life in early 2009 went something like this:

5am – Wake up with stomach cramps, lie in bed willing them away
8am – Get up, eat breakfast
9am-12pm – Maths/physics lectures.
12pm – Lunch
1-3.30pm – More lectures
4pm – Dinner and random internet surfage
6-7.30pm – Walk to Morrisons, stare at food, read nutritional information
8pm – Get back to my room, sit on the floor of the shower for a while
9-11pm – More interwebz
11pm – Go to bed and stare at the ceiling
2am ish – Pass out for a few hours

Fun times.

Four years and a hundred miles from that room, the only thing similar to today is the stomach cramps, because the IBS doesn’t seem to give a crap (ha!) about how healthy or otherwise I am. Today I woke up in¬†my flat with my girlfriend, had breakfast and went to therapy before travelling ten miles towards the coast for college. I’m going to spend the afternoon listening to classmates’ presentations for our latest assignment, and then probably¬†we will¬†split into smaller supervision groups to talk about our clients. I see four, sometimes five clients every Tuesday now, including two with eating disorders and one who is suspected of self harming. Sitting in the room as the counsellor rather than the client no longer feels awkward and unnatural. Times have¬†changed.

This life would be so alien to the woman who started this blog. When I told myself I’d give recovery all I had for five years, I don’t think I ever quite understood how strangely that time would pass. It would feel far too slow, because when life is intolerable change is always too slow, and every time I slipped up I felt so hopeless about things ever really changing. It took me a year to get to my target weight, and since 2009 there have been innumerable set backs and lapses. Stomach viruses which resulted in weight loss and a brief return of the anorexic thoughts, bouts of depression and self harm, PTSD triggers which have had me climbing the walls for weeks, decisions which were downright reckless for my recovery, and a sense for¬†at¬†least the first three years that I was struggling just to avoid drowning in it all.¬†But in other ways the time would also¬†pass¬†too¬†quickly, because although the individual days sometimes dragged, over weeks and months there were huge, life changing shifts in my circumstances and personality which I felt I could barely keep up with.

This year will be no different. Audrey and I are moving house in a couple of weeks – we already live together but also with another flatmate, so this will be our first proper home together. It’s going to be incredibly tight financially for the first few months, but worth the stress. My current job is going well enough, but I’m going to need to work more hours than ideal¬†to keep myself afloat until the end of my degree. My foundation degree finishes in July, and while I intend to go on to the optional third year which will make it a full BA Hons,¬†from¬†July I will be a fully qualified counsellor. I’m currently seeing a psychologist for trauma-focussed CBT to sort out the remainder of my PTSD symptoms, which is¬†hard going but helpful so far.

It’s kind of apparently that I¬†don’t update this blog as often as I’d like. It’s not like the end of 2011/start of 2012 when I was so stressed and depressed I couldn’t string a sentence together, I have lots to talk about now. Nearly every week after placement I think it might be interesting to write about an issue that came up in relation to a client (not about the client of course, more about my reaction to something, or some sort of ethical dilemma). While I was watching the equal marriage debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday I was raring to post about it all! Sometimes after therapy I think¬†writing might help to process things better too, and so on. I just don’t seem to get round to it any more. I think it’s because I’m far busier now than I’m used to,¬†and while I¬†am coping surprisingly well¬†with this (surprising to me anyway – I half expected things to go horribly wrong again when I started work in November),¬†when I do have free time, it’s usually spent staring blankly at Facebook, trying to recharge! Not that I spend all my free time that way. On Monday I’m going to be in York with Audrey, for my annual talk at the University of York for eating disorders awareness week. Please come and be nosy if you’re in the area.

So this was almost an end, because I’ve seriously thought about giving up blogging completely recently. But I can’t bring myself to shut down my blog yet, not when I’m only four fifths of the way through those five years I gave myself, not when I have yet to finish that degree I’ve been after for ten years now – not when things feel so unfinished. I’m not going to put pressure on myself to update either. It might be every couple of weeks, it’s more likely to be every couple of months. It’s not like there are hoards of people out there hanging on my every word, but I do occasionally get emails asking where I’ve got to, so I thought it’d be nice to tell you all that things are going well, and not to worry about the radio silence.

Thank you¬†to everyone who has read, commented and supported me over the last four years. I know I’m quiet now, and I know I don’t really interact much with other blogs, but you can’t possibly know how much it has all been appreciated.

Happy newish year!

Hello there ūüôā

I think December might have been the first month since I started this blog nearly four years ago that I didn’t post anything. And no 2012 round up, no resolutions! Shock horror and stuff like that. I didn’t really feel much like blogging during any of 2012. 2011 was different – I wanted to blog, just like I wanted to talk to someone (anyone!) about what was going on, but every time I tried it seemed to huge and threatening and I didn’t know where to start. In 2012 I mostly just didn’t think much about blogging. It’s certainly not the case that I had nothing to talk about, because 2012 was just as full of challenges obstacles¬†experiences¬†huge bloody problems that made me want to rip my hair out in frustration as any other blogging year has been, but I suppose since I have been with Audrey I’ve mostly just talked to her about things. She’s really good at supporting me while not enabling me – like when my thunderstorm phobia got really out of hand in July, although she was there for me she certainly didn’t let up on pushing me to leave the house. Audrey was the best thing about 2012. Virtually everything I did that I enjoyed, I did with her. We went on a surprising number of trips for two people without much money, probably because we’re not really going out drinking/shopping people. We went to IVFDF, Perth and the Highlands, Glasgow (repeatedly – Audrey has family there), Dorset (twice), London, a little festival in county Durham and Kielder, all on the cheap. Yay for Megabus and friends’ sofa beds!

I also finished my first year at college and started seeing clients at my two placements last year. Assuming I get past February 7th, this will be the longest I’ve ever managed to stick with any university degree without becoming too unwell to continue and having to drop out. Fifth time lucky, obviously. I still wonder which utter maniac is responsible for me counselling other people sometimes, but having finished about a third of the hours necessary to pass my course I feel much more comfortable in that role now. It really messed with my head to begin with, having spent ten years on and off as a client.

The weirdest thing about 2012 was that aside from the thunderstorms, which don’t really count, there were no crises. My health is still, to steal a phrase from my gran, fair to middling; my financial situation is shite but not dire; I live in a slightly cramped and damp but otherwise comfortable house in a nice neighbourhood; I am fiiiiiiiiiiinally happy with my sexuality and being in a relationship that reflects that; and there were no big family problems this year. To be honest, I didn’t know what on earth to do with myself. I know it’s weird, having a crisis about there being no crises, but my life has been so bloody dramatic for the last ten years that I honestly didn’t know how to cope with stability. It gave me time to start thinking about and working on things that had always been stuck at the back of my mind: the intrusive thoughts associated with my PTSD, my irritating habit of becoming incredibly defensive if someone tries to give me advice, my terror of letting over people see any signs of weakness or inability to cope, my fears about never finishing a degree and feelings of being an undeserving imposter on my current course. My sense of self and identity once the denial and secrets over sexuality were out of the way. My ideas and values about healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how I can live up to them. Recovery from anorexia seemed so simple and clear cut when I started – I certainly don’t mean easy, because I had a pretty good idea what I was letting myself in for – but simple, yes. All I needed to do was eat, go to therapy, and I thought I should probably deal with the PTSD when I was healthier. Simple. I didn’t fully realise that four years later I’d still be dealing with the consequences of having my emotional and social development effectively frozen from the time I first became unwell at around 11. It’s been good though, having the time and energy to start catching up with my chronological age.

Since I seem to have¬†segued¬†into the¬†clich√©d¬†2012 recap, I had just as well say that my goals for 2013 include finishing my second year of college and starting the final year at university, keeping my still-relatively-new job (which is the main reason I didn’t post during December – I was acclimatising to working again!), continuing to keep my weight up/use sharp objects for their intended purposes and if I manage all of that, everything else should work out just fine.

Given my relative lack of blogging last year, I was really surprised to find out that The World of Mentalists gave me their Best Eating Disorder blog award for 2012. And when I say surprised, I don’t mean “oh please do tell me how much I deserve this while protecting my illusion of modesty!”, I mean I had no clue I was even nominated, and felt instantly guilty because I haven’t helped out with TWIM for months and didn’t nominate anyone for the other categories. I’m delighted to have won because I was a runner up in that category last year, and it’s lovely to know that people enjoy/appreciate the blog, but guilt was definitely the first reaction! So another goal for this year is not to get obsessive about updating constantly and commenting on every blog I can find, but to post a bit more regularly and contributing to other projects where I can.

There was something else I wanted to say…oh, yes. Ha. Well, it’s January 3rd, so I might be a little bit late here, but I still have four 2013 calendars made from my 2012 photographs – if anyone wants one, I would appreciate the postage and packaging costs (grand total of about ¬£3 I think!), but otherwise you can have them for free, because I like giving things away and I really slacked on making/giving my friends presents this year (again, the new job! I was in such a rush the few days before Christmas, trying to sort everything out in time…). You’re all my friends, right? ūüėõ Anyway, send me a message or leave a comment here if you want one, first come first serve.

This is the front page/January photo:

Repeat after me: I WILL do photograph of the week more often in 2013. I WILL do photograph of the week more often in 2013. I WILL…

Happy newish year ūüôā