Five months on…..

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I have avoided or lacked the motivation to write for a while because things started to go downhill for me halfway through treatment. And when I say downhill, I mean, like a downhill slalom skier on a day when the wind is behind him (or her) and his skis are as sharp as razor.

I was pretty honest with my family and very honest initially with the treatment team. An extremely wise family member advised me to stop writing and to start reading.

“You have written to help others but now you need to read to help yourself”, she said.

I did for a while. I read through old journals to try to inspire myself, I read through old posts to try to achieve the same end but it felt like it was all in vain. Like the rot had started to set in and as though decay was inevitable.

Are there moments in your life where you say to yourself “if only I had chosen to go left instead of right, things may have been different”? For me, that moment came exactly two months and one day into treatment and although what is done is done, it is true that it is in those moments of high anxiety, high sadness, high stress that we need to be most sure-footed. And yet, it is in those moments that chaos reigns in my head and reason gets thrown out of the window like the belongings of a recently discovered cheating spouse.

In my last two months of treatment, I felt to some extent like I had given up on me and consequently or perhaps inconsequentially, some in my treatment team too. Yet no matter what the role of others was, I know that I owed it to myself to continue fighting and I think I lacked this fight towards the end.

At the point of leaving treatment, I had become truly disillusioned with the whole process and it felt and still feels hard to say to those who know me, love me, have or are invested in my recovery that “Hey, I think I am in the midst of a collapse or a relapse” but I think that would be my honest assessment five months on from treatment. Putting on weight is the easiest part of it to some extent. The toughest part is achieving the mental work required to live a live free of food-based limitations.

Sometimes, I look at my time in treatment and wonder what it was all for but I know it was not wasted. Maybe every step I take, even the backward steps, bring me closer to home and closer to the person I was created to be.

There is some saving grace in my story thus far:

a) I now know that I have the best set of friends in the world.

b) I will always remember the kindness shown to me by individuals in the treatment team.

b) I have become so much closer to family members and am able to speak about some of the things which ail me and am more able to say “I have an eating disorder”.

c) I feel very supported in terms of the aftercare that I am currently receiving and for all the butting of heads that I did in treatment, I think having this support now was worth bad days in treatment.

d) I am achieving a greater level of independence and getting to know who I am.

e) I am learning to live with regret.

f) I am learning to live.

To all those who have helped me along the way and who continue to support me, THANK YOU.

I don’t know what the future holds for me and sometimes, that is a blessing and exciting and in low periods, that feels devastating and anxiety-provoking. I will continue to hope that even though I have lived with an eating disorder for many years, recovery may be possible. I know I need to do more than that. I know I need to believe but hey….

We are all ‘works in progress’ right?

Finally, I was recently inspired by Ernestine Shepherd to make a ‘Things which help me list’. This woman is an 80 year-old body builder who started late in life. She embodies “where there is life, there is hope……”. Caveat: I don’t advocate an obsessive regime in any aspect of life but it is more the fact that she knows the things which keep her well mentally and physically and that is what she focuses on.

A good day to you all.

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Death by Muffin: Ten lessons from an inpatient eating disorders unit

 

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Although this post is generally about being a patient in an eating disorders (ED) unit, the lessons can also be applied to different aspects of life:

Lesson 1 is about quality of life, lesson 2 and 3 are about patience and having realistic expectations of oneself and others, lesson 4 is about swapping one addiction for another, lesson 5, 6 and 7 are about choice and taking responsibility for your life, lesson 8 is about giving yourself permission to be human, lesson 9 is about knowing when to be selfish and lesson 10 is about learning when to confront difficulties and when to distract oneself from difficulties.

  1. Recovery is a race: Not to determine who recovers quickest but to see who recovers before death carries them away. Death by muffin, jacket potato or cornflakes is unlikely to be seen on an autopsy report. However, death by suicide, organ failure or a heart attack is quite common with eating disorders (EDs). The race to recover is a RACE FOR LIFE (to live and to have a life worth living).
  2. Being in an inpatient unit is unlikely to cure you of an ED:  If it took you 2, 5, 10 years to have a fully developed ED, a 3 or even 6 month stay is unlikely to cure you. An IPU is to an ED patient what a starting block is to an athlete. Even the great Usain Bolt needs a starting block to propel him forwards. He then gets the job done by driving his arms, legs and torso forwards until the end. There is much more work to be done upon leaving an IPU than there is to be done inside an IPU.
  3. Realistic goals and expectations will save you from an achy-breaky heart: I had  2 main goals when I arrived in IPU: desist from disordered behaviours and learn to eat regularly. I met these 2 goals quite quickly. However, the weight target I set myself once in IPU was unrealistic and I have now turned this into a long-term goal. My expectations of professionals were also too high. Human beings and professionals are fallible. I had to set realistic expectations to reduce my disappointment and frustrations.
  4. It is not uncommon to trade one issue in for another: I have always been a sports freak but have taken it to the extreme at times. After giving up running for a year, I have unfortunately found myself obeying the compulsion to run once more. I know this desire to run is born out of the frustrations of being in IPU and also the desire to counter the food regimen. However, I also know that this is something I will continue to address once I have left IPU.
  5. Your recovery, your responsibility: Yes, staff are there to support you to eat, to help you deal with your emotional issues, to encourage you when you are feeling down but ultimately, you are the one with the issue and you will need to be the one to decide mentally to say yes to food, yes to the support, yes to facing the challenges and no to the urge to resort to harmful coping mechanisms.
  6. Being in an inpatient unit will not stop you from engaging in negative behaviours: Restricting, purging, over-exercising, laxative abuse, chewing and spitting, hiding food or any of the other number of disordered behaviours can still continue in IPU. That is why recovery is a choice.
  7. Recovery is a choice: whether you chose IPU or it was forced upon you, there comes a point when you need to make a conscious decision to recover. Tis best to recover for yourself but if something else motivates you in the meantime (a friend or family member or pet) then so be it. Hopefully at some point, you will CHOOSE RECOVERY for you or as the ad says, “because you’re worth it”. 
  8. You are allowed to say “I enjoyed that”: food is something to be enjoyed but the guilt, greed and sadness that can be induced by eating can lead some to deny themselves the ability to enjoy food. Even when food is enjoyed, some prefer not to show this for fear of being viewed as greedy by others. You and I are allowed to enjoy food. No if’s and no butts (pls forgive the play on words).  
  9. Sometimes, it pays to be selfish: If you spend your time focusing more on others than yourself, you’ll likely lose out on the benefits of IPU. You’ll lose the ability to hear and feel what is going on within. Sometimes, it pays to let staff tend to other patients. Sometimes it pays to allow yourself to be the patient rather than the healer. Sometimes it pays to listen to what’s going on in your head than what’s going on in the head of others.
  10. Distraction can become a negative tool: there is a time and place for distraction. At the start of my stay in IPU, distractions were a God-send but at this present moment in my recovery, distraction is more of a hindrance. It stops me from connecting with my emotions and processing my thoughts. Given how long I have spent distracting myself from all sorts of feelings and emotions, I have begun practising the art of ‘feeling’. It’s painful but it’s working out well for me. It’s time for me to address the noise in my head rather than drown it out with more noise.