Hair

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.

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“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.

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Non-sense

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…

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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 😛

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…

O HAI.

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 🙂

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

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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.

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Also, dogs. Just as pretty as the scenery!

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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…

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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 😀

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 🙂

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 clichéd 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? 😛 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:

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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 🙂

ECHO, FEAST and Maudsley Carer’s Conference, Nottingham (I’m going!)

Last November, I travelled to Alexandria to attend the first symposium held by FEAST (Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders). It was the first time I’d ever been outside of Europe, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. I met so many wonderful people, listened to and participated in some fascinating discussions about eating disorder aetiology and treatment, and had a very jet lagged and zombified tourist tour of Washington D.C. the morning after staying up into the wee hours watching Laura Collins dance on a table (some of those linked posts have photos of me in them, so I’ve password protected them. Feel free to email me if you don’t have the password already).

I justified the expense to myself saying that I could well be run over by a bus in December and never need that money, it was for a good cause and that I had saved my ass off to be able to go. However, no amount of saving my ass off was going to work this year, so I shelved the idea of returning for the second time months ago. In any case, this year the UK branch of FEAST are holding their first conference, and I want to support my local team! I’ve met several members of FEAST UK and think they are all brilliant – although they might think me slightly odd since I was again rather sleep deprived and overwhelmed when I ran into a few of them in London this spring at EDIC (which I totally just misspelled as EPIC. Ha). Is it even possible to not be sleep deprived and overwhelmed at a conference? All those people and places I’m not familiar with…

So, finally, the FEAST UK conference is next week – Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th November. Speakers include the genuinely epic Janet Treasure, who I once embarrassingly described as “like eating disorder royalty” to her face, Gill Todd, Susan Ringwood (CEO of b-eat, fun to get tipsy with), and various lovely FEAST members. They still have both day and weekend places open for registration, with discounts for students (nursing, counselling, psychology, etc). The conference programme is on Charlotte’s blog here, and the registration page here. As far as I know, I’m staying in the hotel on the Thursday and Friday nights, trying not to say anything stupid to anyone I admire.

I’ve been looking forward to this for months, for several reasons. I backed off from a lot of the ED stuff I do on and offline earlier this year, because I wanted to concentrate on college, but I still love listening to respected people in the field talk, and I have been dying to meet several of the FEAST members who didn’t make it to Alexandria or EDIC for a good couple of years now. The 23rd and 24th of November also marks ten years since I was raped. I get a little extra PTSD-y this time every year, but for some reason my nervous system has gone overboard this year, and I’ve had wall to wall nightmares since the end of October. I don’t know if it’s just the fact that ten years seems significant in some way, or if this is just the first year that I’ve not had any other crises going on (my job and the sexuality stuff this time last year, moving house the year before, weight restoration the year before that, starting York uni in 2008, hospital in 2007…the list goes on), so my head is actually trying to deal with it instead of shoving it into a corner, but I’m not best impressed. I know I’ll be okay over those two days, but this conference is the best possible distraction, so it’s pretty good timing on top of everything else!

Anyhoo. The discounted day registration is actually ridiculously cheap, so if anyone out there is interested, please register so I can add you to my list of awesome people to meet 🙂

“How not to do recovery” in ten easy steps

1. Ignore a small but significant stress-related weight loss. Five pounds is nothing compared to 2008/9. Nothing! I’ve been well for two years and fought off many potential relapses in that time. I know deliberately losing weight is a Very Bad Idea if you have a history of anorexia, but this was an accident. It’s not a big deal. The weight will go back on by itself.

2. Continue to convince self of the above for the next year. Three years in recovery, people! I’ve been above a BMI of X for three years! The fact that this is half a stone below my original target weight is immaterial!

3. Nurse partner through the world’s worst stomach bug. Pretty much stop eating for three days due to utter terror of catching same.

4. Find it ridiculously hard to get back on track due to emetophobia of doom. Waste several more days half heartedly eating not quite enough for maintenance, let alone gaining.

5. By the time emetophobia of doom is temporarily back in box, discover that weight is now almost a stone under original target weight.

6. Whinge about how unfair it all is, how it was so hard to put the weight on originally, that obsessing over food and policing intake is boring, it wasn’t even the anorexia this time, it’s all been a terrible mistake, etc. Flirt with suggesting to partner that current weight isn’t so actually bad – it’s still right on the border of the ‘healthy’ BMI range.

7. Scare myself a bit with how rational this all seems when 2009 Katie would be slapping me around the face with a kipper for even entertaining thoughts like those.

8. Grudgingly admit that this is a problem that requires a bit more effort than “oh, it’ll go back on by itself. I’ll just eat more cake”. Nurse wounded pride.

9. Discover that hunger cues have vanished, a constant feeling of having severe PMS has appeared out of nowhere, the distinction between feeling sick versus feeling hungry is blurred to hell, that shouting at everyone and hiding under the bed seem like appropriate life choices, and that it’s far harder to eat ~3000ish calories a day than memory would suggest. Hope body is not going to fight like this all the way, because that would suck.

10. Eat anyway and try to minimise bitching about  it. Decide partner needs a sainthood for putting up with all of this.

Thus ends my guide, which could be renamed “how to nearly fuck your entire life up for the hundredth time because you are too scared/embarrassed to let yourself step back for a minute and admit that you’re not actually invulnerable to shit like this”. But that was a bit of a clumsy working title, so I scrapped it.

Moral of the tale: don’t overestimate my own awesomeness in the face of accidental weight loss. The last couple of – hell, ALL of my previous relapses began the same damn way.

How to suck at camping but have fun anyway

I really suck at camping. Really, really, really suck. I get very cold, I’m squeamish about mud, I’m downright scared of worms, I panic if I have to get out of the tent in the night to pee in case there’s a slug on the door/ceiling and I brush against it, I worry about food poisoning from gas-stove cooked eggs, I still worry if the clouds start looking a bit thundery – it embarrasses me just how much of a delicate little flower I turn into when faced with a weekend in a tent. Audrey, however, has been involved with the Guides since she was tiny, and is therefore some kind of expert camping veteran. She can actually put up a tent blindfolded. I’m dating the female version of Bear Grylls when I’m more like one of those awful, precious, panic stricken celebrities who go to pieces in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!

We camped for two nights at a little festival in August, which wasn’t *too* bad, because the ground was dry, there was a camp fire at night, the weather was really well behaved, and so on. However, in a fit of the same sort of extreme optimism which led me to book flights, alone, to the conference in Alexandria last year, back in February I proposed to Audrey that we go to an autumn star camp in Kielder Forest. It was just after we visited Kielder Observatory for Audrey’s birthday, and didn’t see anything because it had been snowing and was very cloudy. The man who runs the observatory gave a very interesting presentation, but we were still a bit disappointed, particularly because I miss my nice dark skies in Dorset. The next day we were looking at other events on the Observatory website and discovered that twice a year, Kielder Observatory Astronomy Society holds a star camp, in which various hardy astronomers from all over the country trek up to the forest in the middle of March and/or October to set up camp with their telescopes for a few days and pray for a clear night. So naturally (?!) for someone so rubbish at camping under the best of circumstances, I wanted to go.

So we went.

As I said, Audrey is a tent-putting-up genius. I was just her lovely assistant: I held things up, stomped a few pegs into the ground, then squealed when I saw a worm in our porch.

Now here’s something I can do! My telescope is pretty bottom-of-the-range, but there were tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment in that field. Some people had bought huge scopes with beautiful mounts, or scopes with motorised tracking for astroimaging, but I can see some lovely things through my little Skywatcher so I was quite content. It *almost* didn’t make it out of the car though, as at the last minute I discovered I was missing the two screws which attach it to the tripod (ha! We all know I have a screw loose). Luckily a man with a toolbox noticed me grumbling and struggling to put the mount back in the car, and came to ask if there was anything he could do, so I availed myself of his screws. Blimey, that sounds wrong.

The air was so clear, lichen was growing like fur on the trees. My lungs were very happy. I could feel the difference – I never noticed the transition from living in the country to living in a city, but now I’m all like “Kielder air! Bottle it!”.

Sunset on the first night. Gorgeous 🙂

In fact, the whole of the first night – Friday – was beautiful. It was completely clear, so I got to see more stars just with my eyes than I’d ever seen before, including when I lived in Dorset, where light pollution isn’t so much of an issue in the rural areas. I wasn’t even showing Audrey anything particularly noteworthy through my telescope and binoculars, we were just looking at the sheer depth to the sky. I love just pointing my telescope at a random patch of Milky Way and seeing what’s there! Not really how you’re supposed to do it, but whatever.

On Saturday there were talks and displayers at Kielder Castle, which were interesting. Afterwards we had a quick wander around the play area attached to the castle.

Yes, this is a giant Xylophone in a field. Every play area should have one!

Saturday night was damp and cloudy, so we hid in the pub for a bit, where we chatted to two Daves who both reminded me a bit of the Dave (Lister) on Red Dwarf, partly because of their Liverpudlian accents. I swear I only managed to meet people because I was wearing a giraffe hat the majority of the time we were there, and it was a bit of a talking point. I’d teased Dave #1 on his far inferior hat the previous day. So there you go: when you suck at camping, be sure to wear a giraffe hat. It covers a multitude of sins. This is pretty much the only camping advice I am qualified to give.

On Sunday we had a more thorough walk around the trails near the castle, revisiting the red squirrel hide we’d briefly seen the day before.

We assumed we could be there for half an hour and see nothing, but the squirrels were everywhere! There were several points when two or three were fighting over the feeder, and every time one ran away to bury something another would be there in five minutes. They were so cute, I hope the red squirrels of Kielder survive. Down with greys, etc!

After our walk, we went back to the campsite, packed up the tent, had lunch and drove back, stopping a couple of times at different view points.

Thank you, convenient boat!

*deathbyscenery*

This is the same place I took the photo in my last post from. So pretty!

Picturesque rain cloud…erm…coming straight for us. Okay, back to the car!

After one more. Just one more? And another one? (Cue raindrops obscuring my camera lens so I actually had to stop!)

Not so bad being caught out in the rain, though.

And if anyone is curious about that giraffe hat…

O HAI. I’m a giraffe, taking your picture…

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a highly mature twenty eight year old trainee counsellor, wearing about seven layers of clothing, jeans tucked into her socks and a giraffe hat on her head. I thank you, and goodnight.

Where do I go from here?

This year has been a weird one so far. I’ve certainly been far more confused, more lost, more distressed in the past – but I’ve never been in possession of so few words. Every time I start trying to write a new post it feels like I’m dragging sentences out of treacle.

I’m at this strange stage in recovery where the labels describing what was wrong with me no longer apply, but equally, their positive counterparts don’t fit either. I’m not a victim, but to claim to be a survivor seems to be limiting myself, still tying myself to the events of ten years ago, and I resent that those ties should still be there. I’m not anorexic, and I have far too much to lose to relapse, but I am still vulnerable to weight loss when stressed and again, resent having to compensate for that, because every time I have to resort to weighing myself more frequently and eating until I’m uncomfortably full seems like a backwards step, and I just don’t have it in me to be so methodical and obsessive around food any more, regardless of whether this is in the pursuit of weight loss or gain. I’m not a self harmer, and I wish I wasn’t so scarred – but I still shiver when I walk past the craft knives in stationary shops, like they possess tiny tractor beams and will pull me in if I don’t move quickly enough. I can see that starting to talk about my mental health problems with family, friends and other people has only been a good thing for me in terms of destroying the secrecy that fed into my behaviours, helping me feel more accepted, helping other people understand what was going on back when I was unable or unwilling to discuss things – but I am starting to feel like I’m capitalising on my own past misery, like it was such a long time ago that I was very unwell that I am in danger of falling into reminiscing, sensationalising, or becoming relentlessly bitter.

I don’t want to be sick, and I don’t want to shock people, because it feels like cheapening myself. I don’t want to be recovered either, because to be recovered you still first had to be sick, and I’m sick of it all. But I don’t really know how to relate to people except through the twin lenses of illness and overcoming. I try to think of other things that make me who I am, but even then I seem to be trying to label and classify myself. For example, at the moment I’m doing a photography course at a local college, and when me and the other students are talking about non-photography related things I feel compelled to correct people who assign my partner the wrong gender. But then I feel like I’m shoving my sexuality down people’s throats in some attempt to be special or provocative, which is exactly the feeling I get when I discuss some personal aspect of mental health these days. Then there’s the photography itself, and other forms of art and music I love seeing, hearing and creating, and there’s astronomy and physics and counselling and my voluntary work, and there’s my love of geeky sci-fi and trashy crime novels, and my political views, and my dress sense, and so on and so forth. But when I think of those things in relation to my identity I want to exaggerate them and box myself in them, as if they will save me from all this confusion. I’ll just live the rest of my life as a gay liberal atheist photography geek. Rightio.

It doesn’t fit. I don’t feel like anything fits, because I’m trying to fit myself into things rather than finding the things which fit into me.

Just to confuse things even further, I’ve had three fairly worrying patches this year where my mental health went totally awry. Nothing terribly surprising, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to suggest that Katie as a whole is getting sicker rather than better when the relapses of previous years involved self harm and alcohol and all sorts of other self destructiveness, and now I am finding it much easier to feel like shit without acting on it. But at this point in recovery it is hugely frustrating, and that frustration is making bouncing back harder than it needs to be. I had a PTSD-style breakdown at the start of the year, a lapse into agoraphobia after being stuck out in two thunderstorms, and last week I virtually stopped eating for a few days after Audrey had the worst stomach bug I’ve ever witnessed (which is something coming from the eldest of five siblings; I’ve seen some fairly impressive digestive fuckupery), even though I somehow managed to avoid getting sick. I’m so bored of all of this.

Since the vast majority of my posts this year have been navel-gazing whinges, here’s a nice picture to cheer you up:

It’s my favourite from last weekend’s camping trip to Kielder, where me and Audrey were attending Kielder star camp. More pictures will follow at some point this week, since if I’m going to keep my blog I am damn well going to use it for something other than angsty posts about identity 😛

Dinosaur cake is a sign of maturity

I thought I would let you all know that I started my counselling placement this week so I’m going to take my blog offline in a couple of days, to remove identifying details, make posts with photographs of me private, etc. I’m not really updating very frequently anymore so I’m not sure how many people would notice if it did disappear for a couple of weeks, but it would seem kind of immature and attention seeking to put that to the test, and I am 28, not 12!

But before that, a bit of an update is due. I’ve had a good couple of weeks – for one thing my birthday was last Saturday and Audrey made me a cake with dinosaurs on it, because as I mentioned, I am highly mature and…stuff. The cake was marbled Battenberg (the pink and yellow mixed together rather than in blocks), covered with marzipan, decorated with those funny sugary silver balls because I happened to see them in the supermarket when we were doing our weekly shopping and say that I loved them when I was a kid 😛 behold!

Why yes, those are (well, were) dinosaur candles too. As I said on Facebook at the time, I am so going to marry this woman one day.

Continuing on our highly mature theme, we went to a local marine life centre for the day, where we squealed over the otters (they smell awful, but they’re so cute!) and were comprehensively soaked by playing seals jumping up to catch fish thrown by the staff. But despite the weather being appalling here the rest of the week – floods, gales, the works – it was beautiful on Saturday. There was a bank of cloud about half a mile in from the coast which stayed where it was all day, leaving the sky completely clear over our heads.

Just like that, in fact! I kept expecting the clouds to steal our sunshine but they seemed content to hover just out of the way.

Other than celebrating the fact that I’m still alive (whoo!) with wine and dinosaur Battenberg, I have been busy returning to college for my second year, starting a photography evening class, and, as I said at the beginning of this post, finally getting going at my placement. I saw my first two clients on Tuesday at placement number 2, a local high school. Placement number 1 is still lacking in clients, but now the university students are back in town they are confident of things picking up – they always do in the autumn. There’s a lot I could write about my placement, but as I am eminently googlable at the moment, I need to sort my blog out first. What I can say now is that my first sessions were both far easier and far harder than I expected. Easier in that although I was a quivering idiot as I walked up to the school, once I was there I felt a lot more relaxed, and everything I’ve read and practised and discussed in class just sort of fell into place. The main problem I ran into – the hard part – was that one of my clients reminded me an awful lot of myself when I was her age. It was like a crash course in counter-transference, to use the lingo, but having been prepared for that sort of thing I recognised it for what it was and kept it in check. I have supervision next week, so I’ll have lots to talk about there!

Anyway, I will leave this update here and say goodbye for now. When I’ve sorted out the privacy issues I’ll be back, and I might even post more often than I have been doing so far this year. I think being relatively happy, out of crisis and having Audrey to chat to on a daily basis has just sapped my need for online interaction – it’s not just my blog, I’m much less invested in every internet-related activity I was up to my ears in last year, and that’s a wonderful thing for someone whose entire social life was conducted online during her late teens and early twenties. But it would be useful to me to record my thoughts about my placement (in a data protection friendly way of course – I meant my reactions to and feelings about it rather than anything about my clients!) and other counselling-related stuff here, so I think the blog will continue for now. I would also like to get back into my photograph of the week posts now I’m actually studying photography, and I’m already planning this years’ calendar. So I’ll leave this post up until Saturday, when I should get a chance to start editing stuff.

See you later 🙂