Identity

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My 30th birthday…

Published 14 March, 2013 by ladyem83

…was perfect.  It was a wonderful compilation of everything I love.  There is a reason I have emboldened and italicized that pronoun and it will become evident subsequently.

In the meantime, however, excuse my indulgence as I relive my weekend by recounting it here.

I came downstairs to the birthday scene of my childhood:  the ‘Happy Birthday’ banner  (now somewhat crumpled as it’s just about as old as I am!) was draped across the chimney breast in the dining room; and cards and presents were presented on the dining room table.  Even as I child, I was never one to dive in and start ripping open the paper; my brother always did that!  I preferred, and still do, to stand back and take in the scene.  I look at every detail and see the thought that’s gone into it and I feel its warmth.  The fact that Mum dug out from the depths of some drawer the old birthday banner touched me so much.

Breakfast with Mum was Marmite on toast (our staple breakfast choice) and Moet (she knows me well!).  I popped my first Champagne cork with no breakages- but I did give a little yelp of excitement!

The rest of the day was spent driving to Aberdeen as we were spending a long weekend with my brother and his girlfriend.

On arrival, after hugs, my brother asked whether we fancied a cuppa or popping into the dining room.  Given that the door to the dining room was covered with a huge banner saying, “THE PARTY IS HERE!”, the decision was not a difficult one to make!

I opened the door, peaked inside, gasped and flung the door open as I stepped in!  Balloons! Birthday banners! A table filled with party food…and an exquisitely decorated birthday cake along side a bottle of equally exquisite Champagne!

We popped party poppers, we yelped when the balloons got too close to the light fitting and spontaneously exploded, we laughed, we took silly photos, we chatted; we were a family and I was an active part of this wonderful family unit.

The rest of the weekend was the same.  It was our family together, with the addition of an extra special member (my brother’s girlfriend who makes the special threesome of Mum, my brother and me, an equally special foursome).

My brother took us on a wild goose chase through Aberdeen to find the harbour because he wanted to see the boats.  Under normal weather conditions, this would not be an issue for me, or his girlfriend, but- oh my gosh, it was blowing a bloomin’ gale and freezing cold!  Nevertheless, I am (somewhat) glad that I saw the harbour, as it was breathtaking.  The white horses were fiercely dancing atop the excitable  waves and the sea was dotted with tankers and ships.  With my hood pulled up and feeling grumpy at my biting cheeks, even I could not help but be moved by the sheer strength exerted by the forces of nature which I saw before me.

That evening we put our glad rags on and dined out and it was lovely!

I said it repeatedly over the weekend, and I’ll say it again;  it was truly a wonderfully unforgettable birthday.

Dangling Carrots

Published 20 November, 2012 by ladyem83

Excuse me the indulgence of a further post today.

My last post, ‘A Game of Patience’ explains what the last few days have been like; dark and lonely.

I’ve spent the last hour or so searching for scientific research articles to explain this disease.  What am I looking for; a cure, a step-by-step guide to recovery?  I want to understand the beast that lurks in the dark places in my mind and continues to torment me.  I thought that I was Ana but that’s not the case.

Just as a group of haywire cells divide and form a malignant tumour which invades an otherwise healthy body, a part of my brain malfunctioned on some level and anorexia developed and forced its way into my mind.   The degrees to which I invited it, permitted its presence and colluded with it are something that only I can try to work out.  However, Carrie Arnold’s book, ‘Decoding Anorexia’ is now on my Amazon wish list is a research guide!

It’s different now, I don’t want to be Ana’s victim.  I have chosen not to follow Ana’s ways and yet she’s still hanging on.

However, despite her persistence, I want to let her know and those who read this and perhaps are fighting a similar battle, that our small victories must not be overlooked:

I eat. I even eat chocolate, cashew nuts and…haggis!  Not in one sitting, not frequently and not in great amounts but I know that I can!

I recognise when I’m hungry and I’m generally not afraid to feed my body.

I can leap in the air!  This formed part of one of my exercise DVDs and only a few months ago I didn’t have the strength to jump up.

I wear clothes, I fill them out.  Clothes no longer hang from me.  Yes, this scares me but I will continue to tell myself that it is healthy.

I can read.  My ability to concentrate has returned and I can  now sit and read a book without rereading the same paragraph several times.

I have a growing sense of myself again.  I haven’t got it all back and I don’t like that I lost it along the way but I am finding myself again.

I can run!  I have to be in the mood but my legs feel strong and I feel energy running through them.

I laugh, I feel, I enjoy. Undeniably the most precious and which should never, ever be taken for granted.

So, although when Ana hits me, she hits me hard, I must not overlook where I am now.  I must not forget how far I’ve come.  This is why I have to keep going.

These and many others are the carrots being dangled in front of me and this recovering anorexic is hungry for them all!

 

Squidgy Around The Edges

Published 15 October, 2012 by ladyem83

I’ve just typed the heading to this post and felt a lurch in my tummy and tears prick in my eyes.

I don’t cry easily these days.  In fact over the last 10 months of this hell, I’ve hardly cried.  So, to spare my pride, let’s attribute this emotional wobble to tiredness!

My body is changing; perceptibly and before my very eyes.

My weight loss happened gradually over a two year period than dropped dramatically in the space of a couple of months at the beginning of this year.  However, my eyes were so blinded by depression and by the opaque cloak that Ana had thrown over me that I couldn’t see it.

Today was my fortnightly check in with my nurse for my blood to be taken and weight noted.  I’ve put on 2lb in two weeks and am now 1 stone heavier than I was in March.  1 stone.

My thighs aren’t as stick like (although my legs are still pretty unshapely still), my arms have lost that emaciated look.  My cheeks have filled out and my waist  has a softness to it:  I am squidgier around the edges now.

So why am I so scared and uncomfortable by what I see?  I have been two stone heavier than I am now and still been slim and, more importantly, I was happy and confident with the way I looked!

Ana taught me that protruding bones and the leanest of lean limbs were a symbol of my strength, my determination, my achievement.  It was a way to show the world that I was stronger than they were.  They were weak for giving in and feeding themselves.

The thing is, whilst I know that I am feeding and repairing my body, Ana’s words still linger in my mind.

How odd it is that I look at other women of all shapes and sizes and praise them.  I see their shapeliness not as indicative of greed or indulgence but of their pride in themselves.  I see it as representative of them being happy and content, I imagine them laughing freely with their friends over cocktails and nibbles; enjoying wonderful meals out with their partners.

Yet, when I look at my changing body I don’t see it as representative of any of those things.  Perhaps it’s partly because the weight gain has been caused not through happy social times but by bloody hard work.  Eating three times a day even though my dietician wants me to eat 6 times a day!

I’m a bundle of contradictions.  I want to be proud of the skin and the body I’m in again, like I used to be.  I want to really wear my clothes, not have them wear me.   Yet, despite wanting this so much, I’m not comfortable with the real life transformation that is visibly happening.

But, I will take the words of my dietician forward with me.

She used the example of a newborn baby, whose flesh and limbs are so soft and almost pliable.  The tissue making up those limbs has never been used, it has never borne weight.  Compare that newborn tissue with that of a toddler whose body is growing, learning to walk and carry its weight; that toddler tissue is firmer and grows into lean muscle.

In starvation mode my body had started to consume its muscle mass.  Now that I’m feeding it again, its stores are building.  Those stores aren’t lean muscle….yet.  They will change though.  The more I fuel my body, the stronger I get, the more my muscles will form underneath the soft tissue and I’ll regain my shape.

I had never ever thought of my body in those terms.  What terrible, terrible harm I inflicted on myself.  I caused my own body to turn on itself.

This truly is an existentialist journey of transformation, not only internally but externally.  I’m nowhere near the end; in fact, I suppose, there isn’t an end.  I may think that I’m well, fit and healthy, but I still have some distance to go before this butterfly breaks from her chrysalis.

Finding My Voice

Published 12 October, 2012 by ladyem83

Depression, my ‘black dog’ is a mysterious, unfathomable, organic creature.  It’s a shape-shifter.  From day to day, even moment to moment it changes its form and alters my state of mind.  It pulls my strings and plays with me.  It makes me feel hopeless and numb, then it allows me to feel empowered and elated.  Then it seemingly leaves me feeling flat.  What it doesn’t let me feel, however, is me.  

So, instead, I have learnt to become grateful for the days when I feel flat.  I hate the dark days, and the moments or days filled with elation are deceptively high; I don’t trust them.

Monday was flat.  Tuesday was dark. Wednesday was brighter. Thursday was a little brighter still and, today, there’s a glimmer of me.  I felt her yesterday evening.   I’d been occupying myself all afternoon trying to resist the pull of my gremlin’s voice. I was swinging from the flat baseline to feelings of empowerment and back again.  A voice told me that I could manage my gremlin, I could play with him but be strong enough not to give in to him totally.

But, then something told me otherwise.  That something was me. My black dog and my gremlin were colluding with each other.  They have become master ventriloquists and their voices are frighteningly convincing; they sound like me but their message is dangerous.

So, I sat still.  I continued to read my book (and re-read the pages and passages where my mind had wondered for the umpteenth time as it tuned into my gremlin’s voice).

Mum arrived home late and I told her the way I’d been feeling the last couple of days.  I like being honest with her. Even now, I expect her to be disappointed with me and somewhat ashamed of me because, essentially, I am; or at least I’m ashamed of the characteristics  that my black dog and my gremlin play out in me .  Mum never, ever judges me.  She listens and acknowledges.  She points out the possible pathways to further improvement and she commends the steps and/or the truths I’ve discovered so far.  She gives strength to my emerging voice.

I spend all day on my own with my thoughts, my black dog’s thoughts and my gremlin’s thoughts.  By the end of the day when Mum arrives home I’m exhausted from all the mental to-ing and fro-ing.  So, everyday (more or less) for the last 10 months I’ve looked forward to the evening when I would numb them all into submission.  It has been bliss.  I would feel the wave wash over me and the voices would be silenced.  What was left was banal and I gave in to its calming, wonderful simplicity.

But, I’d wake feeling guilty.  I’d wake knowing that all I’d done was temporarily gag the mouths of my black dog, my gremlin and, most worryingly, myself.  The numbness wasn’t selective and I favoured drowning out all the voices.

I realised that the longer I continued with this destructive practice, the weaker my voice would get.  I was worried that I would start to forget it.

Something had to change.

So, for the last two days I have heard and cowered from the growls and vicious barks of my black dog.  I have wrestled with the devilishly teasing, tempting, coercing voice of my gremlin.  I have not handed myself over to them, however (despite wanting to at times).  They have been noisily occupying my mind so I have gone for walks, I have even gone for a run (!). I have cleaned, I have read.  I have even just sat and listened to their raucous chatter .

Today, they are still there; I know they are.  This evening will be a test for me.  I will write about it this afternoon, or later.  However, the fact that for the last two days I haven’t played ball with them makes me start to believe that I don’t have to.  I have the strength to say no, I don’t want to play the game and nothing truly bad will come from that.  

Ok, I acknowledge that I’m writing this on an ‘up’ day.   But I believe it is important for me to take everything I can out of these moments.  It is important that if I hear my voice that I listen to it and praise it because, when the down days come I need to know that they will not stay forever.  I need to know that my voice is still inside me and that I have had the strength in the past to overcome or simply live through the dark moments.

When I hear that voice that I know to be mine, when I feel the feelings of old Em again, I cling on to them for dear life.  I am not ashamed to say that I liked old Em! Old Em doesn’t deserve to be cowering in a dark corner with a black dog and a gremlin nipping away at her.  They deserve to be kept in the dog house!

This week has been another learning curve.

World Mental Health Day and Me

Published 10 October, 2012 by ladyem83

It’s World Mental Health Day today and twitter has been flooded with positive words of support, inspiration and motivation to all those suffering with a mental illness.

This morning I joined the masses and wanted add my voice to the increasing chorus.  I wanted to shout about it, let everybody know that what I’m going through isn’t unusual, it isn’t wrong, it isn’t my fault.  After yesterday being such a dark day for me, today I felt buoyed up by the determined voices speaking out in unison each against their own ‘Black Dog’, ‘Gremlin’.

I took some time out and continued reading ‘The Chimp Paradox:  The Mind Management Programme for Confidence, Success and Happiness’ by Dr Steven Peters.  I have been attending CBT sessions and this book neatly compliments them.  Through the metaphors of a ‘Chimp’ (the emotional and reactionary part of our mind), a ‘Human’ (the logical part of our mind) and a ‘Computer’ (the part of our mind which stores the information (which becomes our core beliefs) sent to it by the Chimp and the Human , the book explains how our thoughts, emotions, behaviours and beliefs inter-relate.  It invites you to stop and break down your engrained thought processes and behaviours with a view to understanding their origin, questioning them and, where necessary, re-programming your ‘Computer’.

This book has provoked me to consider myself in a way I never have before.  Of course, implementing the changes I know I need to is a challenging and slow process.  Especially when there are days when I can’t see the value in anything, when I feel numb and just want to sleep until this all goes away.

I have digressed.

I started to become aware of how much ‘thinking’ I was doing.  I was thinking  about my feelings of depression that have flared up again over the last few weeks.  I was thinking about my reliance on my Gremlin.  What did my depression and my Gremlin make me?  I’m recovering from anorexia. I’m recovering from depression.  I’m teetering on the edge of succumbing to another Gremlin and trying hard not to.

I can only describe what I felt by likening it to being in a noisy shop, when there are too many people around you, you can’t quite see the way through to where you want to go and you’re constantly being distracted by them and their chatter.

I wanted some silence.  I didn’t want to be surrounded by the chatter in my mind.  I didn’t want to be a recovering anorexic, depressive!  I just wanted to be Em.  I wanted to return to the days when I could read a book and my mind wouldn’t wander.  I wanted to hear only my voice and be comfortable with it.

I put the book away and picked up a fiction book, The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler.  It’s a fast paced thriller which I’ve just started reading and am increasingly enjoying.

I’d read a page, then my mind would wonder to my Gremlin; how would I cope later on without its support? I refocussed on the book.  I thought about the number on the scales this morning; is that a good or bad number, should I do something to reverse it, am I lazy, am I greedy?  I refocussed on the book.

This mental cycle continued for an hour until I decided it was time to break the motion and go out for a run.

My point is, whether it is depression, an eating disorder or any other mental illness, it is just a label.   The illness tries its damnedest to define us; to suppress our individual spark.  Today, I wanted to to take a step back from it.  I didn’t want to think about it any more.  I didn’t want to listen to its voices.  I wanted to remember me and just be me. 

Of course, the hard thing now is for me to believe that the person I am without Ana, my Gremlin, or my Black Dog is enough of a person.

Am I a good enough person….?

That phrase captures it all.  Good enough for whom?  I should only be trying to be good enough for myself.  I know that I used to be so content with the young woman I had become.  I was confident, comfortable and accepting of myself.

I think I need to stop thinking and questioning.  I need to quieten my mind so my old voice can come through again.  That’s the one that I need to listen to.  That’s the one that will help me recover.

I’m Em; nothing more and certainly nothing less.

 

Bringing me back: Part I

Published 22 August, 2012 by ladyem83

Who is ‘me’?

What a question?!

In fact, so difficult a question is it to answer that I have just spent an hour writing here only now to delete it all!

I think it will serve us well to give some context to this posting. Here are some pertinent excerpts from my journal:

25 June 2012

Day 1.  This is my umpteenth “Day 1”.  A day when I feel empowered, motivated, in control.  The day I’ve chosen to start making changes (…for real this time….no really, I promise). 

It’s 4.15pm and this Day 1 has consisted of me doing two exercise videos, which I haven’t touched for weeks, restricting my lunch to two Ryvita with pastrami and 1 Ryvita with marmite.

 When I walked upstairs before and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror “FRAUD” was stamped over it.  I dismissed it (denial is one of my strongest abilities and one of my greatest weaknesses).  Even as I pushed the screen of my laptop open, I readjusted it downwards so that I couldn’t see the reflection of my face.

The reflection evidences a truth which contradicts my feeling of empowerment and self-control today.  The reflection is one of a girl dressed in a black tracksuit, with her hair drawn back off her un-made up face.  So, if that’s the truth I don’t want to see, why aren’t I making real changes? 

***

 I just can’t quite find the real me, the one I want to fight to bring back.  All I come up with is a girl who is confused, unsure and doesn’t really feel like she’s worth bringing out to show the world.  How do I find the answer? How do I find the real me again?  Why am I worth it?”

27 June 2012

Yes, I admit that I am in denial.  I don’t believe I have a problem.  I don’t associate this word ‘anorexia’ with myself.  I use it, because other people around me do.  But, I’m cutting back again.

I went out yesterday in my lovely white Capri trousers, heels, bright top and a smart jacket.  Getting dressed up used to make me feel a million dollars, irrespective of how the rest of the world saw me; that never crossed my mind because I felt great.

 Yesterday I’d put the smart clothes on but my heart wasn’t in it.  I kept my eyes trained to the pavement in front of me and only dared look up every now and then.  If I caught somebody’s eye I wondered why they were looking at me.  It was probably because my hair was looking messy and they thought I looked ridiculous.

Every time I walked past a group of women I waited to listen for their comments, waited to hear them say how skinny and terrible I looked.  When I caught the eye of a couple of guys looking at me, I wondered why?  What did they see?  Do they think I’m attractive?  Do they think I’m weird? 

If I’m truthful I want back that old feeling of ‘who the hell cares what you think because I think I look good today!!’ 

Whether or not I was smiling on the outside, I used to smile on the inside.  I felt there was a world of possibilities and opportunities out there for me.  I was hopeful and excited about the future, the future that I was in control of. 

But, to stay ‘sane’ (!) I don’t dwell on those thoughts.  I bury my head in the sand and love the peace that denial affords me.  How long can I keep doing that for and what will the impact be?      

28 June 2012

I’ve been deceiving myself and worse, I’ve known it and I haven’t had the strength, or the will to change.  I’ve been a coward. I’ve favoured denial over the scary truth. 

I haven’t liked the reflection of myself that these diary entries have been showing me.  I didn’t used to be a coward.  I used to fight for myself.  In fact, along this road, sat in the mental hospital, I fought for them not to section me.  I was the real me again.  I spoke with conviction and strength and the old me dominated. 

This may be self-indulgent but perhaps it’s worth it.  Hell, it is worth it.  I’M WORTH IT!!!

Let me introduce you to me:  She’s tall, slim with blonde hair and blue eyes.  When she gets the giggles, boy, does she get the giggles!  She’s a little bit ditzy but she’s clever.  She’s a snob and will readily admit it!  She’s a lady and loves being a lady.  When she steps out she smiles inside because she’s taken time to do her hair and make up and she’s thought about what she’s going to wear.  She feels pretty.

Inside, she’s now got the confidence and inner peace she never had when she was growing up.  She doesn’t walk with her head down anymore thinking that everybody is looking at her and thinking she was ugly and strange.  She knows herself; the good, the bad and the ugly sides (ugly in the sense of those character traits that we really should try and get rid of or at least not let raise their heads so often).  She has direction and she knows what she wants from life:  a stable, good, challenging and rewarding career; a family of her own that she can love, nurture and care for, like the family unit she grew up in; and quiet contentment.

That’s the me that I want to be again. 

This other girl is ravaged by a sense of worthlessness.  She’s let herself be lost to all her doubts.  When other people have hurt her she’s not allowed the wound to heal into a faint scar, to just be another one of life’s lessons.  Instead, she’s done everything to keep the wound from healing, she’s let the wound consume her body and she’s let an infection slowly spread through her.  That infection has now taken a form of its own and has infected each cell of her body. 

Now is the time to start healing.”

So, where am I and who am I right now?  I don’t know.  I’ve moved on somewhat from the place where I wrote those entries.

On the one hand, I now feel confident, happy, optimistic, engaged in my life and in control. I walk down the street with my head held high and a smile on my face.  I am engaging more with people, I’m not scared of catching their eye.  I’m beginning to believe that I count in this world, that I do have value, and, more importantly I don’t need any outside influence to make me feel like this.  I’ve had to put a lot of work in to feel like this and I’ve had to step out of some of my comfort zones in order to get here.

But, on the other hand, there are wobble days; days when something throws me off kilter.  It can be the number on the bathroom scales, a bloated feeling in my tummy making me think I’m fat, or my own guilt.   A niggling doubt that I’m deceiving myself again, that I’m not who I think I am, that I’m not worthy of the things other people have.

I have one strong voice telling me that I’m in control, happy and healthy and it’s ok not to have lunch, or just have a yoghurt or Ryvita for  lunch because I feel fit and well and my body doesn’t need the excess calories.

I have another voice telling me that I’m deceiving myself, that I’ve still got a problem, that I’m still engaging in anorexic behaviour.  Today, I thought I’d try lunch out (for the first time in months).  I trawled around the cafes, lingering far too long and asking too many questions about the content of their salad boxes.  There seemed to be nothing that I considered safe, or that I felt I wanted.  And eating out at lunchtime, on my own?!  I don’t need or deserve that!

The confusing thing is that I’m letting myself believe the first voice to be the real me, and I want it to be the real me because I don’t want to go back to the Dark Days. So that’s the one I’m listening to.

But, if I’m utterly honest, I suspect the other voice is my conscience letting me know that although I feel  happy, I’m not looking after myself the way I should.

Whereas once my anorexic voice wasn’t allowing me to be happy, she’s now changed tack and relinquished some control but is still keeping me strictly in check.  I feel happy with this, this is my comfort zone.  It’s like me and anorexia have reached a compromise:  I’ll be good and restrict, if she lets me be happy.

I don’t know what the reason is for changing this status quo.

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