She knew. I didn’t want to eat anything every day. I never wanted to eat again. Did I eat every day? Of course I did, unless on the odd occasion I slipped under the radar. We negotiated. “Can you eat something please? Even if it is something small, how about just this? Can you eat just this much please? Or at least try? As long as you try.”
That is all she asked. Even if I just ate some chocolate, sweets or a salad – I’d had something. Some things weren’t allowed to count no matter how much I tried to persuade her, low calorie hot chocolate for example never made the grade, neither did cups of tea despite my argument that I had added sugar which counted towards calories.
Sometimes I really wanted to eat something but I struggled. Often my eating disorder got in the way of what I wanted, because having an eating disorder gets pretty tiring after a while after the control shift has taken place from being exceptionally in control to being controlled. I’d really want some cake that I used to love, or an ice cream instead of a low calorie ice lolly. Often she’d eat something with me, or share s even if I had just a bite – it was a bite towards not letting the eating disorder seize all control as I would have otherwise. We were negotiating with the enemy in order to later, BOOM! Bitch-slap that motherfucker out of here!
Following on from my previous post about honesty, the truth is that it is most definitely not peaches and roses living with an eating disorder sufferer; there were tantrums, floods of tears and moods leveling out at ‘a through the floor kind of down and out’. My partner didn’t always know the right things to say. Sometimes she didn’t even have to talk. We didn’t say anything. She would come up to me as I’m sat to the table sobbing my eyes out because “I just can’t” and just hold me before taking my hand, leading me to the other room and holding me some more.
At other times, in a rage of frustration at food, someone or myself she’d listen, let me vent then help comfort me. Hugs, watching TV, and going for a walk all helped to calm me down, soothe the situation and move on. It was an incident but it needn’t define the whole day. Sometimes, we wouldn’t even talk. I wouldn’t talk and she wouldn’t talk, but the acts of going for a walk in silence, the acts of wrapping her arms around me, and the acts of stroking my head whilst I sobbed helped and became invaluable support. Quite literally, she held my hand. She couldn’t recover for me, she couldn’t change anything for me, but she could be there, next to me, holding my hand – and that is exactly what she did.
After trying to hide my behaviours around food, after sneaking around pretending to eat, and “Oh the ice cream tub is empty? How strange. No I haven’t seen it. We have mice right?”; there came a point when I was confronted. For me, the second time around I knew I had an eating disorder due to my past. It wasn’t the first time for me, but even if it is: once it is acknowledged that there is a problem it is OK to be with it and live with it for a while. I say this because an eating disorder is caused by psychological factors, and no matter how much weight is gained, or how much you restrain someone from purging, if the underlying factors are not healed then the eating disorder is not truly healed.
We accepted this fact. We didn’t ignore what was happening. My partner read about eating disorders. She read leaflets and websites. She took it even further because she understood that only so much of what is going on can be explained in a bulleted leaflet written by doctors – so she hit online and read blogs written by people experiencing an eating disorder. This helped her understand the method to my madness and glimpse inside what was really happening, allowing me to explain better what I could, and for her to understand as best as she could. We were honest. I could say, “I’m struggling with this” and it was OK. I could even say, “that restaurant scares me” and we could work on negotiations. Even if I broke down because of the food on my plate in front of me, she made it so that I could say, “It’s the food.” It was accepted and I didn’t have to fabricate a lie that I’d broken my toe, that someone had been nasty or, ‘it’s just that time again…all the time…every day at dinner time…I get bad PMS”.
An eating disorder is a real challenge to overcome. The pathology that underlies the eating disorder runs so deep within the core, becomes so entrenched within the psyche and so consuming that no part of life remains untouched, unscathed, or unaffected. Distortions are skewed. Rationale and abilities to make sense of the world are shaken upside down and all around: it becomes one understanding for you and the rest of the world, and another for us. No, you are not fat at X lb, yet if the same stats are applied to me, they are unacceptable. X lb is a disgrace, for me but not you. I am disgusting, not only to myself but to the whole of humankind. I am shameful, greedy, horrific, but not you. You are fine, perfect, wonderful even. For the sufferer, this existence is accepted not as unhealthy, a lack of wellness, or a distorted pathology, no, this is the cold, hard, rational factualities of our existence and life: skin and bone alone would still be too much.
Therefore, understanding that they are unwell, that something is wrong with them, and it is not that they are a disgrace is a feat. Once this understanding has been gained and the sufferer is ready to start taking the initial steps towards recovery, it is difficult to overcome with support, and far harder alone.
In this series, ‘You Got My Back, Yeah?’, I will explore how, by working together, we orchestrated our joint battle against my eating disorder in a set of 10 key types of support that I found the most useful from those around me for overcoming my eating difficulties: from my partner, my friends and the healthcare professionals I worked with whilst battling my eating disorder. (Click Links)
We all have mental health. We don’t all have a mental illness. we have not all experienced a mental health crisis. Sometimes you hear people talking, especially online, about how they had a crisis and sometimes I wonder if the term “mental health crisis” has become somewhat watered down and overused, much like the term “trauma”. Many now refer to trauma for anything a bit significant and overwhelming. The problem with this is that the reality and severity of trauma and mental health crisis become diluted the more they are overused or, alternatively, used out of context. This is why, although difficult viewing, I was really relieved when I saw ‘Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency” listed on 4OD.
The show follows patients through a mental health trust in Nottinghamshire and shines a light on the extremes, the harsh, petrifying and heartbreaking reality of a mental health crisis. In episode 1 we met Laura and Briena. Laura was experiencing her first-ever episode of mental ill-health and was detained on Section 2 for post-partum psychosis – her illness nearly cost the lives of her entire family. Laura was super compliant with treatment in order to get better, however, experienced variations in her mood and energy states, which highlighted the subtlety that psychosis can have: the conviction in delusional thoughts, the not wanting to rest and agitation, the deadish eyes in a family photo that in hindsight give Laura a glimpse into how unwell she was, “I don’t particularly like this one behind me because I think you can see in my eyes that I’m still ill”.
Once she is well, she reflects on the experience and she really hit home. Having come out of a crisis and hospital admission, “we will never be the same people as we were before that day because of what I tried to do but it doesn’t make me feel any better by crying over it…I still regret it and I still live with the guilt” Reflecting she recalls how the realisation of how unwell you’ve been once you’ve recovered from an episode can be harder than being ill, “it’s mad how when you’re ill you don’t realise how serious it is, and then when you come out of it, it hits you even harder …it’s crazy how much… its just kind of come back”.
We are also introduced to Briena, an 11-year-old with deeply disturbing suicidal and intrusive thoughts. She sometimes struggles to articulate herself and has panic attacks so severe she looks to be in real agony. It’s heartbreaking and painful to watch. You can’t even imagine how her parents feel watching their daughter in so much pain and being essentially helpless.
The world of mental health has changed dramatically in the last decade, heck it has changed beyond recognition and even in the last 5 years everything just keeps changing. This can make navigating the system and services out there difficult. It can be more difficult when more people ask for help, because all of our campaigning has worked in de-stigmatising mental illness and mental health difficulties. Unfortunately, the system isn’t prepared for this influx of pleas for help, and so it is, in the words of my social worker yesterday, “they’re changing the system to be more streamlined, so people come in and go out very quickly in order to deal with the influx of need”. I’m sceptical; this sounds like a false economy, where people go in to the system at crisis point and come out just as quickly without the longer term input and support that helps people to get and stay well, “gone are the days when we could support someone for years, we just can’t now. We’re really looking at months”
With this new system I haven’t had a care coordinator allocated to me and I’m one of 70 in my team to have a named professional. This is apparently the worst it has ever been. I have now been told that I won’t be allocated someone new and will instead be discharged because I haven’t had a crisis for a while and although I still need medication adjustments and tweaks about twice a year, I am quite frankly not a priority. I understand this, and in hindsight despite being petrified for the future, I am so grateful I got unwell before Tory policies came into effect because a lot of the treatment and support I’ve had, the very treatment and support that has helped me to get to this point of relative stability and resilience is no longer available. So even though we have reduced the stigma of being open about mental health, and in asking for help we still have a lot more work to do in order to make sure the help and support is available to people who need it.
This is no longer a battle. This is a war. People have lost their lives, and more people will – and that’s just not acceptable. No one should be left alone to end it because the support isn’t there. I think the place to make the biggest impact is perhaps to contribute towards the charity sector who are plugging a lot of gaps as best they can – and maybe people of power with a real ability to influence legislation and funding, or perhaps help set up practical services beyond signposting to the Samaritans or an online chat forum would be good. There’s a lot of talking and celebrity endorsement going on, but for the people on the ground without privilege, where are they going to turn when they can’t get the help they need from the NHS? For as well intentioned as it has been , we have perhaps missed the mark in the context of this political fuckery we are currently in.
Losing It is a great documentary opening the doors to providing a platform for people in crisis talk about what they’re going through, but without real action and funding, it seems you have to nearly die or kill someone to get help – and if you ask me, that’s just too risky a system. I don’t have the answers, I’m just a bit petrified for my own situation and for those who have it much worse than me any time from 2017 and into the foreseeable future. We’re talking, but the conversation is bleak.
Why do we climb? Why is there a whole sport dedicated to scaling difficult to scale walls, only to be lowered down again as if you never got to the top at all? I think climbing is one of those sports that is pure in its challenge, in it’s trying to be better than you were yesterday and in feeling a pure sense of accomplishment over an outwardly and seemingly pointless activity. There is so much more to climbing than just scaling walls, there’s the self-mastery of your fear, the people you meet and enjoy the company of, there are the adventures and trips that make you feel so glad to be alive. What could be a better way to spend your time than connecting with others, connecting with yourself and connecting with nature: and here is perhaps a core feature that makes climbing such a gripping sport.
At the weekend I experienced outdoor lead climbing for the first time. This means clipping in your quickdraws as you go to bolts attached to the wall. Between carabiners, the last point of protection can sometimes be below you, which makes falling so SO much scarier. On top rope, falling is no bother. On lead, it really ought to be no bother but it’s pretty terrifying when you’re last anchored to the wall below yourself because you have twice as far to fall, even if you’re only 4 inches above the last quickdraw – it can take a lot of deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to let yourself fall. You know you will be caught. You know you won’t get hurt. You trust your belayer, otherwise you wouldn’t have started the climb, and still, you shit it.
This kind of climbing is known as sport climbing, and I think it’s probably the most popular type of outdoor climbing. There’s something very different about sport climbing outside compared to the climbing gym. As with all outdoor climbing, the route can be less obvious, the heights are a bit more, and the scenery is second to none. We went to Portland in Dorset, which is an area of some of the best coastal climbing in the UK. On one side you are faced with dramatic wall faces that command a beauty of their own, and on the other, the vastness of the sea: so vast and so beautiful yet in the same breath, so dangerous with no fucks given about swallowing you up in its gentle gargantuan currents, just like that. Mother nature never ceases to fascinate me. Below is a list of observations from popping my outdoor sport climbing virginity:
Limestone is sharp and hurts your fingertips.
Being above the last quickdraw makes me very nervy. I need to fall more and get OK with falling!
That falling on the rope is still fine, even though it’s scary – I did fall unexpectedly and funnily enough, the system worked. I live to tell the very uneventful tale.
Climbing on the sun-trap side of rockface is confusing for my sense of time; it really felt like a beautiful spring day!
Grades outside are much harder than their numerical counterparts in gyms – hello vanity grading! (I don’t even know if this is a thing, but I imagine so!)
Deep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is your friend when you’re internally screwing and freaking.
The frustration of not making a route you thought you’d flash is incredibly humbling as it is frustrating.
Good company is an essential component of a great trip – this is something that Black Lizard Climbing and Mountaineering Club nail! Link if you want to come and join or try us out.
I need to climb more – goals, goals, goals!
Climbing is an emotional sport, much more than I ever gave it credit for when I started. I remember saying to a climbing friend years ago, that climbing was great because there no emotion involved, it was just methodical and logical. She disagreed and thought it was an incredibly emotional sport. I’m more inclined to agree with her… 4 years later!
January is well and truly underway halfway point of peak wintriness (definitely!). With lengthier stints of creepy darkness consuming our hours, it’s a very natural feeling to want to hibernate a bit. I think the bears have the right idea with this one. Unfortunately, we are not bears and the world does not stop for 6 months a year for us to hibernate; the show must push on.
Winter would not be complete without a mention of our aptly named friend, SAD. SAD is actually an acronym for ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’, which is characterised by depression that occurs recurrently and seasonally, most often during winter months. A small number of people do experience symptoms during summer months, however. There are a few contributors to the development of SAD, including affected circadian rhythms (a pattern of rhythms and motions that control and affect our sleep/wake cycles), reduced sunlight exposure meaning a reduced exposure to Vitamin D, and therefore absorption. Vitamin D, particularly D3 is very important for mood maintenance and overall happiness. It is now recommended that everyone takes a supplement during the winter months because as the winter progresses in the northern hemisphere most people become deficient of this vital and unique micronutrient and hormone precursor.
Even for those of us who aren’t experiencing SAD right now, January is still a bit of a funny month. The festive shenanigans are over, which can be a relief. For others, this means there’s nothing to look forward to for a while (debatable). Perhaps something terrible happened at Christmas because usually in someone’s life something terrible happens at Christmas (not an official statistical fact). To top it off, January hosts Blue Monday – an idea that the third Monday in January is the bluest of them all, and although I very much disagree with the sentiment that you can feel depressed for a day or a week only, the fact that the idea of Blue Monday took off indicates that January is just a bit of a shit time of year – which is kind of funny considering we start it off with the biggest bang of all the months; while being the number one most hated month (a very quick and brief google search confirms this if that’s the level of evidence we’re accepting now).
With all of this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to think of some ways to cope this January if you are feeling a bit off keel. Maybe you’re skint and want a holiday – Oh HI THERE!?! Maybe you’re feeling a bit crappy because Christmas happened and that can be a bit shit for a lot of people. Maybe you’re feeling fat but that crazy restrictive diet you started and swore would change your life hasn’t lived up to your hopes, or you didn’t stick to it (I don’t blame ya!) and the thought that having a specific quantification of your gravitational force on Earth is maybe, just maybe, not the answer to all your problems (spoiler alert, this is almost guaranteed!!) And maybe you can’t put your finger on a reason, and that’s OK too! So without further ado, I present to you the catchiest list title ever…
Things Maybe, perhaps, Worth a try This January if and when You Feel a Bit Shit
(also recommended for when it’s not January and these are not January specific suggestions – you can do them any time of year, any place, where ever and whenever you want) Exercise
Even just getting out for a walk in the park, preferably during daylight hours if you can, will help; fresh air, trees, and a punch of nature. If you’re in the countryside, then go submerge yourself in real nature for a stroll instead of the man-made catastrophes we love in London so much. Eat your fruit and veg
This isn’t the same as dieting, but eating a varied and colourful diet can really make sure you’re getting all those vitamins and minerals that play a vital role in maintaining your well-being. Also, the fibre and whatnot will help your gut microbiome be healthy – which is super important for maintaining your mood and mental wellbeing. Speaking of gut health.
Take a probiotic if you can
Look for one that is general all-rounder, or perhaps more specific to what you might need. I’m currently taking one for my immune system because *cough cough splutter* need I say more?
Connect with people
See your friends. Have a real conversation and turn off the box a little bit. Netflix does not count as hanging out with a friend or partner. If real-life people contact is a bit difficult, go to the park and pet people’s dogs. Dogs love it, usually. You love it, don’t you?
Let yourself rest
I get it, January is prime life overhauling time. You want to train for a spring marathon, you want to lose weight, you want to work towards that promotion – and go for it if you really want to – but don’t forget to rest. There’s no use pushing for goals and burning yourself out in the process because you are more likely to either fail or achieve your goals injured, battered and unable to really enjoy the glory of your hard work and suffering. Chill with a cup of tea, have a bath, read a book, watch some TV.And remember, if you’re marathon training – you really really do need more sleep in order for your body to recover from training and lay down the training gains in muscle reparation. Thisall happens mostly when you’re asleep. Early bedtime calling your name? Yeah same, I love an early bedtime!
Be Balanced in your approach
Even if you are wanting to lose weight or change your diet completely, a piece of cake won’t ruin everything. Whatever your goals, we need to move away from the all-or-nothing mentality. Have a piece of cake if you really want it, a cake can be a perfectly fine and healthy complement to our lives. Believe it or not, there are situations where eating a piece of cake is a sign of healthier behaviour – moderation is your mentor!
If you’re feeling really radical, maybe try a new sport: Rugby England are currently doing their Inner Warrior Campaign for womens rugby, or maybe there’s a sport club near you offering try-out sessions to have a go and have some fun? Rugby is great fun (I may be slightly biased but, if you’re feeling brave enough give it a try! YOLO and faces can be restructured by plastic surgeons really well now so that’s not an excuse!)
I hope these are some helpful ideas. If you’re really struggling and think you might actually be depressed or suffering way more than what you think you should be, then book an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how you’re feeling. They can assess you a little bit and figure out what the right steps might be for you.