Reinterpreting weight

I am currently reading Rise Sister Rise by Rebecca Campbell.  Amongst a treasure trove of very quotable lines, she says, when talking about women and weight:

The extra weight I had been carrying was made from very real things.  Two years of celebrating being in love.  Birthing two books into the world.  And facing my lifelong fear of sharing my soul’s voice with the world through my creations.  Would I change any part of that?  No.

So tonight, when I started to have a little eating disorder wobble, I sat down to write about it instead of grabbing the scales.  I was trying to figure out what was causing the emotional wobble and hence the eating wobble.  As I was writing, I remembered these lines and wrote the following:

One book describes how the author had gained weight because she was in a happy relationship so actually her weight gain was a sign of love and happiness.  I tried to stop and think this through myself and all I got was my weight gain is a sign of laziness which is obviously anorexia speaking.

So let’s try again.  My weight gain is a sign that I’m not flat out exhausted, not running on empty constantly, I’m not as stressed, I have less fights to fight.  My weight gain is a sign that things are actually going ok right now.

My weight gain is a sign that things are going ok right now.  How awesome is that?  I’m still trying to feel it but the idea that my weight gain is tied up in my life improving makes it much harder to wish away the extra pounds.  Would I choose to let go of where I am now so that I could lose the weight?  No, I don’t think I would.


Rebecca also has an instant guidance section on her website which randomly chooses a message for you.

Mine, just now, was:

Shine so bright it burns the corneas of those who want you small.

The reason they want you small is because deep down they want to shine too.

And in watching you, chances are they will be inspired to do the same.

Which is so, so relevant to my eating disorder.  I was trying to make myself small, I was trying to make myself invisible, I was so scared to show myself to the world and risk being hurt because of it.

I didn’t plan to write this post but once I’d put it on twitter, I felt it might be a useful way of looking at things for others out there.  I hope it helps.

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Being honest with yourself about your eating disorder

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

~Louise L. Hay

These are all questions I’ve been asked during my recovery process, and found helpful at some point (you aren’t always ready for a question and that’s ok). I wanted to pull them together so other people can use them as journal prompts or whatever. They may or may not be helpful and certainly not helpful to everyone all of the time.

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Do you want to recover?

It’s ok if the answer is no, well, ok might not be the right word but unfortunately I really think you have to want to recover. Which is infuriating for the people around you who care and who hate seeing you in pain.

If your answer is no, I’d still urge you to keep reading or at least consider why not.

What purpose does your eating disorder serve?

I don’t think many eating disorders are really about eating or appearances when you get to the heart of them. Mine was about numbing my emotions big style, it was about control, it was about low self worth, it was about shame.

My eating disorder was a way of coping when I was suicidal. In a twisted way, anorexia saved my life. But it also tried to kill me.

Do you know what is you and what is your eating disorder?

Example, a 10k run went past my flat recently. Anorexia responded by saying oh, we could do that, let’s look up couch to 5k online and get out there. I genuinely got as far as opening Google before I kicked back in and reminded myself I can’t walk or use a manual wheelchair. Running is out the question. That’s how powerful an eating disorder can be. And if I hadn’t done a lot of work separating the eating disorder from me, I think it’d have taken longer for the rational part of me to kick back in.

Why does recovery scare you?

No, not because you might gain weight etc. Really, what’s the real reason?  The emotional reason.

Mine was a fear of feeling emotions. A fear of having to face the hellish depression which had preceded the eating disorder. It was also a fear of feeling out of control.

What does recovered look like for you?

I was asked this numerous times.  And the answer changed depending on where in my recovery I was/am.

For me, recovering meant not having to constantly think about food.

It meant reclaiming my brain and my identity.

It meant not being a hypocrite ; I strongly feel people shouldn’t diet and that looks don’t matter, I don’t care what other people look like.

Recovery meant not lying to my friends: are you OK? Yes. Are you hungry?  No. Have you lost weight? No.

And although I’m don’t feel I’m fully recovered, I now have space in my head for thoughts which aren’t about food and I’m being a million times more honest with my friends now than I’ve ever been.

If you want to recover, what are you doing which works against that?

I would think oh, I can recover whilst still doing x, or without doing y.  Somehow I was special, my body was different to everyone else who has an eating disorder.  So what everyone else has to eat regularly as part of recovery, I’m special, my body doesn’t like/need/want to do that… (I’m 99% sure that’ll be the eating disorder talking, trying to keep its claws in you cos recovery terrifies it, if you recover, it dies.)

What is your eating disorder robbing you of?

For me, it was the ability to think, relationships with friends, being able to go out for a drink, enjoyment of food, very nearly my job…

My health – you probably already know all the shit health impacts and are probably thinking somehow they won’t affect you, that’s what everyone thinks…

Who are you with the eating disorder? and Who are you without the eating disorder?

This can be tough to answer even if you’ve not had an eating disorder for very long. The nature of it means you lose touch with who you are and you can’t see who you could be or who you want to be. You forget what interests you.

All of your energy goes into the disorder, how else could you use this?

What did you used to enjoy, be interested in, do with your time?

What makes you come alive?

What might it feel like to love yourself?

I’m not asking you to love yourself, but what might it feel like it you did?

What stories do you tell of yourself? What language do you use to talk of yourself?

It’s so easy to believe our thoughts and take our feelings as fact.  They aren’t always, especially not if you have an eating disorder.  The words we use (internally and externally) to describe ourselves, our experiences etc, those words stick.

“Unloveable, fat, ugly, stupid, idiot, bitch” are words which run through my head.  They run through my head a lot less now because I’ve done some tough work challenging them.  But think about it, if you hear all day that you’re a stupid bitch, you start to believe it.

So, try and do yourself a favour, learn to notice and then learn to challenge your head messages and think about the words you choose when you’re speaking about yourself to others.

what else

I hope there’s something here which you’ve found useful.  I strongly encourage you to go away and journal about these questions or other similar prompts – writing can help you breakthrough things in a way that thinking often doesn’t.

Recovery is hard work, but it’s so much better that the eating disorder and I hope you choose to fight.

Reclaiming power from eating disorders

My eating disorder, like most, was caused by a lot of different factors; a history of depression, a lack of coping mechanisms, a fear of feeling emotions etc.  But it was also caused by not knowing what to do with power.

When my eating disorder started I was rising through the ranks at work, I was heavily involved in running a feminist network and reading group, I was living alone, I was financially independent, I was embracing my sexuality.

All should have been great. But I had no idea how to sit with that.  I was unable to embrace my personal power.  This could be for many reasons including poor self worth and the patriarchy.

I retreated from my power.  

I rejected my power.

I got myself into a situation where I no longer had any power.

My eating disorder took my power and at the time I was grateful.  I didn’t want it.  I didn’t know what to do with it.  The eating disorder then used the power it took from me against me.  It controlled me and imprisoned me. It used my power to hurt me, to try and kill me.

But now, I am opening my arms to my power.  

I am embracing it.  

I am seeking it out.

For me, this means being me.  

All of me.  

Unapologetically me.

This means embracing all the different parts of me; the maths graduate, the feminist, the writer, the tarot reader, the slightly spiritual woo woo me who’s been waiting a long time to get any space, the poet, the artist, the activist, the photographer, the disabled me, the fighter…

I am reclaiming my power.

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

TW: Eating disorders(!)

As well as being Hypermobility Awareness Week, it’s also Eating Disorder Awareness Week.  I hope you’ll all be feeling very aware by Friday!!

This year’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week is focused on eating disorders in the workplace and having had an unusually positive experience, I wanted to write about it.

Respondents to B-eat’s Eating Disorders at Work Survey 2015 reported:

  • More than 30% of people felt they were stigmatised or discriminated against because of their eating disorder at work
  • Nearly 2 in 5 people said their employers’ impact on their recovery was ‘unhelpful’
  • Two thirds of people were unable to access a formal or informal mechanism of support for their eating disorder at work
  • 38% told us they were forced to or felt they had to use their annual leave to attend medical appointments for their eating disorder
  • More than four out of five said they didn’t think or didn’t know whether their employers and colleagues were ‘informed’ about eating disorders.

My manager

I am very lucky to have an amazing, supportive manager who didn’t make me feel stigmatised, who did all he could to help me access treatment and who didn’t insist I use annual leave for appointments(1).

I am lucky in that I have been employed at the local authority in various jobs since 2010 with the same manager so he has seen me at my best and my worst. My anorexia has been on and off but the worst period was in the last three years. My friend and colleague helped me tell him shortly after I became ‘public’ about my depression and eating disorder. My manager was very supportive, he acknowledged that he wasn’t sure what the best thing to say or do was but that I should keep him informed and he’d do anything he could. Other than my manager and friend no one else at work has been aware of my illnesses.

After opening up to my manager, I had a long period where I was unable to access NHS help and my manager approached HR and Occupational Health to see what support could be provided through work. To start with I was told I was too complicated and to go to my GP. Again, my manager got involved and negotiated a 6 week plan of weekly sessions with a counsellor. Unfortunately this turned out to be mindfulness only, which at that stage in my illness wasn’t appropriate. Having run out of options, I was getting desperate and my manager actually wrote to my GP expressing his concerns. Shortly after that, I finally managed to get a GP to take me seriously (GPs and eating disorders is a topic for another day…).

When I finally started to get to the appropriate NHS support, my manager was clear that I could take all the time I needed for appointments including time after to ‘decompress’ before returning to work. He let me work at home when I needed to. We have an online messager system and he encouraged me to use it to let him know if I was having a bad day or needed anything (we are in an open plan office so telling him wasn’t easy and I find it harder to speak when I’m having trouble). He would always ask how I was doing and what support he could offer me and when I told him I found office diet talk overwhelming, he made an effort to redirect the conversations.

Knowing he was aware of the anorexia meant that he was able to give me more flexibility and more leeway than normal whilst still ensuring I was performing well enough (I was worried he’d not pick up anything that was wrong with my work for fear of upsetting me but he reassured me otherwise). He encouraged me to apply to access to work for support and when I hit walls with that process he helped as much as he could.

He has been incredibly supportive, encouraging and approachable throughout my illness. I am now applying for retirement through ill health (for physical health reasons) and he continues to offer support above and beyond what I would expect.

The rest of the organisation…

Generally, I’ve found that whilst my manager is amazing, the rest of the organisation have been less so. There seemed to be little in place to support staff with severe mental health issues, although there is support for mild depression, anxiety and stress. It was really important to me that I continued to work and I believe if I had had a different manager within the same organisation, I wouldn’t have been able to. I have spoken to other people with mild to moderate mental health issues in the organisation who’s managers have been far from supportive.

Other workplace issues have included the constant diet talk that comes with office working. On a number of occasions I’ve rushed from my desk to sit on the toilet floor crying. I find it so triggering to hear and especially things like the 5:2 diet where people were comparing starvation meals and I was there trying desperately to keep myself on track with recovery. There are also very few places where you can eat alone and I can’t leave the office because of a physical disability so generally end up eating at my desk. I’m ok with this most of the time but it can feel like what I eat is on show. I’ve missed Christmas meals, leaving meals and sat through incredibly anxious nights out with my anorexia as so often our work social activities include food and drinking, generally alcohol, all of which can be difficult for me.


  1. In terms of appointments, to start with I had fortnightly appointments which my CPN which required me to travel – by the time I’d got the bus there and back, I’d lost about 3 hours of my work day.  More recently I’ve been having weekly appointments with a psychologist which takes a morning out of my work day.  I don’t work full time but the only availability was on one of my work days.  It would have been well within his rights to insist I wait until I could go on my day off but he prioritised my recovery.

 

“But I’m not creative…”

Firstly, if I can do it, so can you.

Secondly, art journaling is amazing!

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Look at all those intriguing pages!

Art journaling really helps my mental health but I’ve had to really adapt my art journaling techniques and expectations as my hands are in a lot of pain and i struggle with fine motor skills. It’s been, and continues to be, a journey of trial and error, discovery and adaptations. Because of those limitations, my journaling has become more precious, more thoughtful and a slower process (in a good way). I have ended up adding a lot of depth to my pages because I can only do a little bit of a page at a time and this also provides space for reflection between layers. I definitely feel that some of my better pages have arisen because of my limitations.  In fact my latest journal charts my journey from “argh I can’t hold a pen” to “oh wait, if I do this very slowly, with lots of breaks, using layers and the right techniques I can still do this”. It’s been, and continues to be, a lot of trial and error. What I can do one day is not the same as another day.

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Pre 2015

I think learning to work with my limitations, not against them, has made art journaling a worthwhile experience for me in itself although it is so much more than that. I do feel if I can do it then so can almost everyone, no excuses!

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2015

Technique wise, I do a bit of collaging, use photos I’ve taken, splash paint around, use found objects, stencils, inks etc. I can’t hold most pens anymore so words come from print outs, magazines, stickers etc. Again, working within that limitation makes it easier in some ways – having the world as your oyster, or the alphabet as your seahorse (or whatever is appropriate there) can be overwhelming to the point of freezing you. I try to journal something that comes out of the day which means I’m more tuned in to what’s going on round me. For example when I am out I might be looking for found objects such as feathers or if a particular quote resonates, I’ll pay more attention and make a note of it. It’s paying attention in a deeper way – if I wasn’t journaling, I’d miss the feather, I’d hear the quote and think yeah that sounds great but then it’d slip away from me.

What I can do varies from day to day.  Some days I just place cues; feathers, petals, a word ripped of a leaflet. These hold the place for me so i can return at another time when I am able to take the cue and roll with it. It might be a few days, it might be a few weeks but those cues fester in the back of my mind until I have time, have spoons or have a feeling about what the first or next step is.  I say feeling, I don’t generally have an image of what I’m wanting, it is much more something I feel my way through. I will look through my stash and see what speaks to me. I will move things around on the page. Or just get stuck in adding colour and seeing what happens.

Tools I have found I can use
  • Ink and ink pads (but not stamps, I can’t seem to use them without lots of pain so I use ink pads with stencils instead)
  • Stencils
  • Acrylics
  • Chalk or soft pastels – these are so gentle and a great way of getting a bit of colour for not much effort
  • Chunky handled brushes
  • Glue tape – I find this easier than a glue stick because it requires less pressure and it sticks much better. I find it better than pva because that involves holding a paint brush.
  • Paper – a variety of colours, craft paper, wall paper, wrapping paper, junk mail, any kind of paper will do! If you like paper, check out flow magazine
  • Photos
  • Other bits and pieces – tiny bits of ribbon, buttons, fabric, words ripped out of things…

Anyway, I’ll stop there because I could talk, or write, for hours about it.  If anyone has any questions or comments, please add them.  I’d love to know what other people are up to, especially other people who have difficulties with their hands as well.

Release your magazines into the wild!

If you don’t follow me on twitter you probably don’t know that I’m using my fortnightly psych nurse appointments to replenish their magazines.  I was rather disappointed when I went for my assessment to find a pile of gossip magazines which bully celebrities, create unrealistic images and include unhealthy diet plans.

So after my initial moment of anger and what the fuck, I realised that I can do something about this.  So every session I have I’ve been taking a magazine that I’ve finished reading.  So far I’ve added Libertine, Oh Comely, New Internationalist, Diva and Wildlife.  In addition to the eating disorder clinic I’ve also been leaving magazines in my GP surgery.  It’s been really nice going back and finding the magazines I’ve left on the top of the pile!

I’ve also emailed the magazines to let them know and to get them to encourage readers to do the same.  One of them was Wildlife magazine and the editor got back to me within minutes to let me know how great he thought that was.  He also asked what I liked best about it and I mentioned the photos and how even if you’re not up to reading, it’s nice to look at and how I’d taken my sister a copy when she was in hospital so she could look at the pictures.  He emailed me back today to say he’d love to send her a copy of the next issue!  How lovely is that?!  I have to say, I was a bit overwhelmed!

I would love it if more people across the country started doing it – wouldn’t it be awesome to sit down in a waiting room and pick up a fab, inspiring magazine that you might never have looked at before?

Speak louder (or why I’m talking about my mental health)

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I’m talking a lot about my mental health at the moment (more so on twitter than here) and I feel a need to explain.  One of the reasons I think I have ended up where I am is because I didn’t talk.  Therefore talking is important to my recovery.  Also, having a way of externalising bad thoughts and feelings and acknowledging the good days and behaviours is a healthier way for me to validate my experience.  I have an overwhelming need for validation and I know this is something that drives my destructive behaviours and keeps me trapped in their vicious cycles.  Eating disorders and self harm can be incredibly secretive and talking about them is helping to free me from them.  Talking (or tweeting as is more often the case) helps to keep me accountable, even if it’s just being accountable to myself.

I also think that we should talk about mental health and one of the ways that some good can come out of where I am is by raising awareness of depression, self harm and eating disorders.  Even if it’s just normalising the fact that someone is talking about it.

So, if you happen to speak to me you may find I mention my psych nurse, my eating disorder appointments, my weigh ins or my dietitian in passing.  These are part of my life at the moment and the fact that they are means I am fighting, I am trying to recovery.  The fact they are part of my life is a positive thing.  If my talking about it makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why.  I am not ashamed.  Are you?