To The Bone Behind The Mask: Inside Anorexia

*Trigger Warning* – If you are experiencing or have experienced an eating disorder this post may be triggering for you.

The song of the morning birds has just begun, she can see through the crack in the curtain that the morning dawn is about to break. Her partner remains still as the night, unaware of the creeping day ahead. Pushing and kicking the duvet between her legs she rolls over to try and grasp at another few moments of peaceful slumber, “why is it that she can’t stay awake during the day and can’t sleep at night?” Tucking her extra pillow between her jarring knees for padding she twists her body so the least of her jutting angles are bruised from the mattress.

The tranquillity of peace is unbeknownst to her. Her only peace is found when calorie limits are adhered to, when pounds drop or measurements shrink; and despite the constant battle with herself and others, these moments are few. The human body can only lose at such a rate, she can only muster the strength to push herself to such a limit, and below nothing, there is no less to eat. Of course, she does eat, just not every day, but what more can she do to please this need?

The ruminations never desist, they merely quieten in a moment of victory, a moment when she has “done well”; she has adhered to the strict regime set by her demon of X calories, less calories, less calories. The congratulatory prize is small, a minor victory – and after a while does not extend to the praise of those around her as it had done when she began losing weight. No longer is she cooed with, “oh you look so beautiful”, “oh don’t you look marvelous, look at her cheek bones and toned stomach” or, “I’m so jealous, how do you do it?” There is a fundamental issue with society here; she was never overweight in the first place and she was never fat despite repetitious hollers. Her stomach isn’t toned, it’s bordering concave; her legs aren’t sculpted; they’re weak, aching and bruised; her arms possess no strength, they’re minute and painfully angular; her face isn’t chiselled like a catwalk model, but gaunt, lifeless and exhausted.

Her complexion pales whilst she walks through town smelling the foods she can’t have, staring in the windows of restaurant chains and eyeing up menus that she can’t even dream of ordering from. The thought fills her with a fantastical excitement at how good it must taste, but the engulfing fear and dread of actually eating it is too much. She had once felt empowered by her ability to say ‘no’, to deny herself and to not need but now she needed, and she wanted so desperately to say ‘yes’. She had become powerless to her disorder.

Wandering into the supermarket she’d stalk the aisles. Picking up foods she felt intrigued by and looking at it closely through the packaging. Turning it over and looking at the calories and fat grams, 90% of what she picked up had been a far cry from what she was now “allowed”, but with each package the fascination grew: if only she could taste, feel and enjoy food: longing to let herself need, to find true enjoyment and to just eat. Each packet was sat back on the shelf for someone else, someone less greedy, and someone who deserved to eat it. Aisle after aisle: dairy, confectionery, foreign food, it all amazed her. To just read the labels and ingredients engaged every morsel of her obsession until the anxiety and pressure to actually buy something began to creep in and ruin her fun. Leaving with nothing, she tried to sneak out without raising suspicion with security. She hadn’t stolen anything, but didn’t want to be pulled over because who spends two hours in a supermarket looking at food to walk out seemingly empty handed? She was painfully aware that her behaviour would be deemed as unusual.

When she got home, her cupboards were filled with foods she could eat. Feigning enjoyment of these choices to herself she was convinced that water on cereal was delicious and how could anyone not like a bowl of lettuce and mustard? Her demon had tricked her, fooled her into thinking in new ways and instilling relentless rules of survival: cutting up food into the smallest pieces possible, chewing x amount of times each time, no eating after 7pm but no eating before 5pm either, always eat alone, measure everything, weigh ten times daily. It went on. It went on and on. She was governed by barking orders from this voice within.

She had to keep it a secret. She had to lie. She had to remember everything she ate for the last fortnight. She had to count how many items she had consumed. She had to count calories or every bite, medications and vitamins included. She had to walk here, there and everywhere that she could. She had to exercise. She had to listen, she had to comply, because if she didn’t she would be berated to a withering heap. “You’re a fat bitch!”, “You greedy cow”, “You’re a failure and disappointment.”

Once immersed within the health services she has only more people to hide from, to lie to, to fight against. She is a slave to her own game. It’s not working out so well now; she has lost her autonomy, her independence, and her freedom. Caged in a cell of constant torture she is a shell of who she used to be: no longer laughing, no longer energetic, sociable, fun or fulfilling her potential.

What started as a diet to save her from “fat” hollers, what had started as a method of ‘self-improvement’ is gradually destroying everything she was. What started as a means to control her inner turmoil and world has grasped at her every molecule and refuses to let go. Entrenched, she is obsessed and caught up in the relentless need to abscond from greed, to not need and to be less. The “oh you look so beautiful”, has turned into, ‘Is she OK?”, “She looks so unwell.”, “I don’t know why anyone would want to be that thin. It looks disgusting” but the truth is, in her eyes for as long as she is alive, she will always be fat. She will never be thin and never has been thin and that really, ‘thin’ has become irrelevant. All she ever wanted was a bit of control, and to feel a bit better.

– If you want more information or are affected by this story, something-fishy.org and B-eat are good organisations for help, support and more information.

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Flushed: Inside Bulimia

 

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*Trigger Warning* – If you are experiencing or have experienced an eating disorder this post may be triggering for you.

To the buzz of 7am she hits ‘snooze’. 7.10am. Snooze. 7.20am. Snooze. Each day is dreaded and deferred for as long as can be; it is a school day. Another day of skulking along in the shadows of school walls, of silently answering the register and trying to climb the stairs to classes without collapsing into the dizzy embrace of starvation. Running her hands over her body she smoothes over her stomach, ‘how fat am I today?’ feeling the angular jut of her hip bones, ‘are they more than yesterday?’ Conveniently she doesn’t have time for anything more than her morning coffee, the warmth of which gives her a hazy buzz of faint energy to push her on the school bus where she sits by the window trapped behind her own panes of glass that suffocate her with self-hatred, anger and despair.

The noise of chaos has wound to at the full throttled pace at which it will be all day, “Fat bitch. Don’t eat. You don’t deserve to eat. You’re a fat pig. You’re a fucking ugly mess. Exercise. Burn the calories. You can survive off the fat you’re carrying you greedy bitch” and on it goes, tallying calories upon calories, adding, subtracting and goal setting.

If she could just avoid all food completely, if she could just get past those dinner time hours she would be fine, if she could just lose 40lb, she would be calmer, happier, and loved maybe? Instead of heaving into the porcelain whirlpool each and every night, homework would be done, extra study like she used to maybe. She could pull that grade up that’s been slipping so stealthily through her grasped hands. She’s not a D Grade student; predicted A’s the doubt is setting in with teachers. Her future is slipping into disappointed prospects and being flushed away just like every other part of herself, her life, her everything.

In class she answers ‘yes miss’, ‘yes sir’ so barely there, a shell of her former self. No longer is she told ‘quieten down please girls’, ‘stop the chatting’ or ‘I’m separating you three’– now, ‘I can’t hear you’, ‘can you speak up?’ ‘Oh there she is’ on resignation that speaking up is no longer an option.

Lunch is a compulsory routine in the gym alone whilst the echoes of everyone else having fun and hanging out bounce between the corridors and through open windows from the field. Being with people is exhausting. Cracks are showing. “I’m really tired too” – they retort to her passing sighs, “no, you don’t understand” fatigued, she’s unable to muster the strength to say anything; this is a whole new type of tiredness. Speaking, thinking, just existing is a task so soul destroying that she wishes for nothing more than to disappear. Unable to concentrate in class, her head meets the desk discretely and she drifts off unable to stay awake until finally that last bell of the day rings.

The kettle simmers and the taste of her hot chocolate is so soothing, the sugar rush so gratifying: shakes subside and weakness eases. Ready for bed she naps. She hears of her friends talking about hanging out after school, those days are gone. The thought of being around people for any longer than absolutely necessary rises an intolerable frustration. Loneliness is much easier; there’s no pretending to be OK, forcing smiles or hiding behind breaking defences.

Frantically grasping at and pulling boxes of cereal from the cupboard, pouring bowl after bowl she eats so fast she cannot even taste or chew before she even realises that she is in the kitchen. Frenzied with hunger and despair she has mastered the art of eating cereal and toasting slice after slice, smothering it a centimetre thick in butter and marmalade. In between toasting she lathers up pieces of bread and whilst raiding the outside freezer taking solace in knowing no one will notice. Grabbing frozen bread rolls that are too many to be counted, grabbing at frozen meals she piles a heap of chips in the oven whilst defrosting the bread in the microwave, stuffing it all in whether it is fully defrosted or not, whilst another defrosts into a soggy mass of starch in the microwave. Peeking into the food caddy, are there any leftovers from their dinner last night? How about the bin?

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She slows down, bent over nearly double, unable to stand fully for the pain of her distended stomach. Pounding the stairs fearing that she might explode in agony she heaves on 3 time after time, again and again. Saliva, snot and tears stream down her face and arm, her red raw knuckles and puddle of urine on the floor from heaving so hard are the mess she finds herself in every day. This is her secret life, this is what she is becoming, and this is her world of lies, shame and hidden torment. She hates it, but hates to be without it more. It is an addiction.

8f0e7d8485e36888d3d9faf48f0cd15eAlways home alone, there is comfort to be found here from the tip toeing around afraid of making a wrong move and listening to the screams, tears and punching of walls. Bingeing is a whirlwind of turmoil that she so desperately wants to stop but by comparison the retching is peaceful for her, a tranquil haven from reality. It is never enough until she hits exhaustion, until she is collapsing on the floor from violent heaving, and resting in the haze of the aftermath.

Climbing into bed entirely unaware if her parents even came home that night she writes a diet plan for the next month. Her goal weights are beyond emaciation yet she remains a ‘healthy weight’. Diet plans, diet pills and fad diets consume every other waking moment. Tomorrow she vows to not eat. Tomorrow is a new start. Tomorrow will be different, until it pans out exactly the same and with each grinding day, the obsessions entrench, the self-hatred deepens and the original conflict hides beneath another surface, another layer, another mask to wear.

– If you want more information or are affected by this story, something-fishy.org and B-eat are good organisations for help, support and more information.

The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane

In 2013 it was advised to me that doing some exercise could help me with my mental health, the associated weight gain with my medications, and in general. Never did I imagine on that first run in 2013 did I think that 5 years later I would be walking up the same streets to the start line of The London Marathon. South East London has been my patch for almost a decade and in my lack of preparation for the marathon I didn’t know the route. I only saw it fully on some handouts at the expo, and my response was to think “oh wow, hmmm…” and proceed to not look at it again. I felt that having naivety on my side in regards to how long 26.2 miles really was was helpful. Sometimes, not knowing w hat you’re about to get yourself into can help diminish the pre-race anxieties of “shit, what have I just dove headfirst into”. This won’t work for everyone, but in this instance it worked well for me.

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Fully clueless to what I was about to do. Naivety was my friend at this point!

 

It was when I got off the bus with my Dad to walk up as it turned left onto Lee Terrace that the trip down memory lane began. Running up from the bottom towards Blackheath for the open space to run in was the initial plan when I started running. I got half way up before finding myself sitting, a flurried hot mess on the pathway up to blackheath and fervently googled “Why can I taste blood from running?” and “Why do my lungs burn so much from starting running?”. I sat there for a good while longer than I had been moving for and decided that I needed to take another route to exercise. I walked up to the grass on blackheath and decided to just move for 20 minutes with my music on. Cue, waving arms, and some jumping around, some dancing and just getting some movement into me. It was on the 3rd session of this that near marker 1. on the picture below that I tripped over a branch and found myself hobbling to A&E with a gash in my knee and needing stitches. When I say I NEVER thought 5 years ago in my clumsy attempts to get some exercise into my life that I would be walking those same routes and roads to The London Marathon start line. The moral of this story is, just move. Just get going in any way that feels right to you at the time. By starting, you never know where the journey will take you. Maybe it’ll take you to A&E in a wonder woman top needing stitches, or maybe it will take you to start lines, views and adventures you’ll never have guessed you would. Maybe, as in my case, it will lead to both. Don’t give up.

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For the first 8 miles, the absolute privilege of running The London Marathon and it being on my patch really served as a distraction from the momentous task that was ahead of me. It was very cathartic to be running quite literally through memory lane, acknowledging the good and the bad memories.

I spent the majority of my head space during the first 8 miles reminiscing on my journey over the last 9 years in London. How this journey has shaped me, open my eyes, taught me brutal lessons, and saved my life. To the people of Lewisham, thank you. To the places that have brought me a lot of joy, purpose and good life lessons, like that people aren’t always mean or operating with ulterior motives, Thank You. Even the memory of my first mental health crisis that landed me in hospital, and the first time I got sectioned, without these experiences I would not be who I am today. From the bad good can come. This trip down memory lane felt like closure on some of those experiences and chapters in my life.

Mental illness can be brutal. Without these memories though, I wouldn’t be studying something I am so passionate about from these experiences. I wouldn’t be volunteering in community projects to help others on their journeys. I wouldn’t have had my eyes open to the importance of practicing non-judgmentalness. Some of these memories are difficult ones but sometimes it is exactly those difficult memories that are the most important for growing as a person.

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The heat was brutal at this point. My most tired photo from the race -a mile just past half way.

The result? The first 8 miles were the most important for me. I really think this 8 miles of reflection time gave me the drive to bloody well enjoy the journey I was on to the finish line, be grateful for everything I have endured and survived and really just enjoy the pure act of being very alive that running is.

The rest of the markers and their associated milestones and memories are listed below: Continue reading “The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane”

Life’s Funny Lessons Found In My Pre-Marathon Journey: You. Fucking. Got. This!

Sunday 22nd April 2018 – the day I ran my first marathon. Wow. It still sounds pretty surreal. I hadn’t trained for it properly and consequently, the goal was to cross the finish line in one piece, uninjured, and within the 8 hour cut off time. Regardless of training, I think these are pretty decent goals for a first marathon.

I’ve lived in London for nearly 9 years now. I first got the “It would be amazing to do that one day” was in 2010. I was in town for a photoshoot for a site I was writing for at the time and the marathon happened to be on. We caught a glimpse of it by chance at the north embankment, which is in the final stretches of the marathon route. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to do it within the decade; at the time, I didn’t run. I toyed with it but never kept it up. I didn’t do any formal exercise anymore and when I did it wasn’t for good reason. I wanted to lose weight; exercise was another form of self punishment.

I only really delved into the possibility that I could do it, actually for real, once I started running with Backpackers where I’d hear stories of other people running marathons, and see them with their medals. They survived and often had a smile on their face at their achievement and you know what? They were normal people. They had normal lives, weren’t necassarily highlighted as a running ‘talent’ from a young age but they ran marathons. Not only did they run marathons, they enjoyed them. It was at that point I thought that maybe one day I could possibly do that too.

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As an adult in my twenties I also thought that for a long time my mental health would prevent me from doing anything like this for a long time to come. Then Mind Over Marathon on the BBC happened. I heard of the project via Backpackers (original founder being Chevy Rough) and I heard him talk at the Backpackers launch. I watched the documentary and saw other people with mental health difficulties managing to take the challenge on, and amazingly, it helped them with their mental health. My focus shifted from I can’t do that until I have mastered my mental health issues sometime, in the distant future or maybe never.

I stopped viewing my mental health as an obstacle to what I wanted to achieve and do. I learned that actually running could become another tool in the big box of tricks for managing and living with, not fighting, my menta health difficulties. It was shown to be, very blatantly, that actually you can live alongside your mental health. You can work with it. Sometimes it may dominate your life, every waking moment for periods of time even but I had a new fire in my belly to make sure that I was going to learn to live with my issues and not in constant headlock with them. In the wake of 2017’s race I sined up to run for a chairty place. Shit. Wow.

In the wake of this enthused decision I was questioned. Are you still hypomanic? That’s crazy, that’s what people do after years of running consistently! Well wow, it’s good you’re doing things and aiming high but you don’t have to run a marathon, that’s…that’s…what? Crazy? Maybe it is but sometimes in life we gotta be a bit “crazy”. Life isn’t all that sane. Life isn’t calculated or linear or predictable. So I chose to embrace this and signed up. By winter I was doubting myself. I was depressed. I was barely coping. I wasn’t ready to train for a marathon like everyone else was. I wasn’t going to manage to raise the money. I couldn’t handle a big race because of my start line anxiety, as proven by my opting out of The Big Half for the virtual option.

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Then the hype for 2018 began. The countdown began. I stopped fighting myself and coming down on myself. I listened to the language of the universe and the ultimate summary was to go for it. I had come to the conclusion that I needed to listen to my body, listen to the universe, and ultimately trust in my body that it could manage to complete 26.2 miles. Together, my body and my mind crossed the finish line of The London Marathon 2018. I finished in 6:42:44 without a cut off time panic dash.

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The take home message? If you have a desire to do something and you believe that your life circumstances, or your mental health, or anxiety is a reason to not do it then stop that shit. right. now! I know it’s not easy and I wont say “if i can, anyone can” because we are all different. Our journeys are all different and maybe you have no desire to run a marathon. Maybe you want to paint, or go to art school, or play tennis. Whatever it is, as cheesy as this is about to get, if you don’t try you 100% won’t do it. Maybe it will take a long time to get there, but as long as you’re trying to live with your illness or whatever  it is you face in your life, and you know deep down that you really are trying then you won’t remain stagnated where you are for eternity. I promise you that.

Finally, if you on an impulse whim want to do something – stop doubting and just go. Just do it even if other people think you’re crazy or weird or being unstable. Sometimes, these decisions will retrieve terrible consequences, and other times they will be a major lesson that shows you just how much more you are capable of than you or anyone else ever previously thought. You’re in charge of you. You find you, and you do you – even if it is sometimes clinically diagnosable, trust me, the majority of people are in some way and you may find some doors you didn’t even know existed in life for you – you never know unless you try.

You fucking got this!