Flexible Planning

T-minus 24 hours until my qualification leave begins! (Well 24 hours if I leave work at 5pm tomorrow but my supervisor knows it’s my last day so fingers crossed he’ll let me run away as soon as it is professionally acceptable to do so).

It still hasn’t fully hit me that I’m going to be away and out of the country for 6 weeks from Saturday morning but I’m so incredibly excited.

There’s one pesky issue though…my ED.

Although I consider myself in “recovery”, the Demon doesn’t want me to enjoy my holiday. It wants me to avoid putting on weight, to limit my carbs so I don’t look as chubby on the beach and to exercise more than I should on holiday….

I’m used to doing weekly food plans – something that has thoroughly helped my recovery – but the idea of having an unpredictable and unplannable 6 weeks of eating has shook me more than a little. However, my first 3 weeks in California will be very active. The days will be full of hiking, swimming, walking, kayaking etc so I know I need to ensure I fuel my body for those activities.

But I don’t know what I’ll be eating. I don’t know where the supermarkets are or the restaurants around me and nor do I want to obsessively research that in advance but I can’t fully let go of my food planning for 6 weeks and so I came up with a more flexible way of planning.

I’ve made an itinerary for California and on the days I’m going to be super active I’ve noted in nice green writing: “very active day: higher calorie intake needed”. I toyed with the idea of writing “lower calorie intake needed” on my purely travel days (and initially I did) but I realised that could be triggering if my ED brain considers that a “rule” and then panics if I eat a bit more than anticipated.

I’ve not gone into any more detail than that and I think that’s fine. It’s not a solid food plan by any means but it allows me to recognise when I need more fuel and days where I need to prepare food for a full day’s hike the day before.

I’m far more concerned about visiting Greece with my boyfriend as I’m worried we’ll eat out and drink more on a less active holiday but we came up with a plan for that too. We’re going to rotate each night with a visit to a restaurant on one night and a gyros/cafe on the other. Also, every second restaurant visit will be one I can “splurge” at a little – a cheat meal so to speak.

(It’s been hard to re-educate my brain that eating at a restaurant doesn’t automatically mean over eating or eating unhealthily)

I’m hopeful that, in that way, I can keep one restaurant meal healthy and allow myself to enjoy holiday food a bit more on the other with much smaller gyros type meals on the other days (which are incredibly filling and only €2!)

Greece is the tough one. I’m panicking a lot about that part of the holiday because I’ve also put pressure on myself to not have ED problems as I’m concerned about them “ruining” my boyfriend’s first holiday with be and let’s be honest, I’ve not had a symptom free holiday since my ED began so 8 years plus….

But I’ve also never had a holiday with my ED where I have created a flexible eating plan…so maybe this could be a good coping mechanism going forward.

I guess there’s only one way to find out…but to begin with, here’s to me finally about to qualify as a solicitor!

Avoiding Self-Sabotage

It’s a full on summer. That’s for sure.

I’m now seven months into what I feel is “recovery”. In that seven months I’ve been sick twice. Once at the start (i.e. when the seven months began) and once when I was incredibly drunk and fell into an old habit. I’ve still experienced panic attacks, I’ve still had the demon’s voice screaming in my head but I’ve managed to get through to the other end.

I’m sticking to my food plans whilst allowing flexibility and, as far as possible, I’m exercising for fun. I’ve started to accept the numbers on the clothes I wear. I’m more understanding of my large chest and the impact it might have on those clothes sizes and all in all, I’m starting to like myself a little bit more.

Although that voice to “be better” still echoes in the back of my mind, it just feels a little bit easier to ignore it.

So, so far so good, right?

This summer is supposed to be amazing. It’s my birthday, one of my best friends is getting married, I’m moving into my boyfriends’ flat…a trainee summer party and a department summer party…I’m going to qualify and as a result of qualification I not only have a qualification party but a 6-week “qualification leave” in which I refuse to spend more time in the UK than is necessary!

I’m spending three weeks in California, two weeks on my favourite Greek island with my boyfriend and my final week with my closest work friends in Italy. And I promise I am so damn excited but I’m also damn scared.

I’m nervous to not really be planning my meals. I’m nervous to be exercising less. I’m nervous to be in swimwear with my friends who I am bigger than. I’m nervous to be out of routine for 6 whole weeks.

California will probably be okay. I’m on my own for that bit and it’s going to be quite an active break. There will be plenty of hiking in the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, walking round Balboa and the Golden Gate Parks, kayaking and snorkelling on the beaches and generally just being constantly out and about. I know I can plan healthy meals and I know I need to eat to be able to take part in those activities. I also feel like I’ll have a bit more control because I’ll be on my own.

Ironically, I’m more nervous for being away with my boyfriend or friends. They are far more likely to  be beach/relaxing/celebration type holidays. That scares me. Being around skinny girls scare me. The idea of more food and alcohol scares me. The lack of exercise scares me. Ultimately, I am petrified of a potential weight gain.

I haven’t been on holiday without any ED symptoms since my ED began and this 6 weeks is looking like my biggest challenge yet.

The problem with being scared is that you run the risk of self-sabotaging. I do believe that the more I panic the more likely I am to relapse. But that’s what the Demon wants. It wants me to relapse so it can say “I told you so. I told you you weren’t strong enough to do it. I knew you were weak”. And that’s how easy it is for it to dig its claws in to my back and drag me back into that downward spiral.

So I guess I have to keep pushing on. I have to keep eating my three meals a day and exercising for fun. It is going to be so incredibly rare for me to get these 6 weeks off work ever again so I do have to keep pushing those ED boundaries and allow myself to enjoy this break.

To make happy memories rather than moping around with the dark ones. Because giggling on rooftop bars is way more fun anyway…

Instagram: @elenipapa92

A Reminder to Write

I need to write more. I tell myself this all the time and yet I’m always getting caught up in work, socialising or just other hobbies that I lately haven’t written for months. I reminded myself this weekend how much I enjoy writing on this blog, both therapeutically and generally and I want to commit to writing at least once a week (or fortnight if I have nothing to say!).

There’s a few reasons I want to keep writing. Predominantly though, it’s always been therapeutic for me not to just write but to read other people’s blogs. Following on from this point, I’m coming up to my final therapy session and I realised I do need to actively engage with this blog to continue my recovery going forward – if anything, it’s my way of journaling. There’s also been a lot of occasions I could have written, or wanted to write, but simply didn’t. So I guess I might backtrack to begin with.

Perhaps this is my written down promise to myself that I’m going to keep writing. A promise to myself to maximise my recovery by continuing to write.

 

The Almost-2-Months Stage

I haven’t been keeping track as much lately but I think that I’ve been sick 6 times in five months and I can say for certain I’m 7 weeks and 4 days since my last purge. You’ll all know that recovery isn’t about the sole symptom people think you’re recovering from. That it’s a mixture of emotions and tough decisions to battle each day but I’m proud to be approaching my first ever 2 month mark of being, at least, ‘purge-free’.

The panic attacks and battles are becoming less frequent but I feel that they are stronger when they are here. It’s almost as though the more I pull away from my eating disorder the more the Demon digs its claws in and tries to pull me back.

This truly is the first time I’ve ever felt that I am recovering. I’ve accepted that I don’t need to have no symptoms each and every day to be “in recovery” and that having a day where I suffer a symptom doesn’t mean “relapse” or that I’m no longer “recovering”. I think 2 months purge free and hardly any symptoms is a good run.

I’m having symptoms today though. I suppose that’s why I’m back here on this keyboard. I’ve had bad problems with my abdomen 4 times over the last 4 months and they think I’m having gallstones or perhaps other issues with my gallbladder.

So let’s recap. I suffer from the following: cerebral palsy, epilepsy, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis and a Volkmann’s ischemic contracture. I have had surgery to remove my appendicitis and kidney stones as well as surgery in relation to the previous disabilities I’ve listed. I have suffered 11 broken bones, several plates and pins remain in my body, I take medication that weakens my immune system and I sometimes have to use a walking stick to get around.

Don’t forget to add the bulimia and even if my gallbladder isn’t the issue, there’s certainly something going wrong with my stomach which may require even more surgery.

I don’t usually cope well when another new illness or diagnosis is given to me. It makes me feel broken – a feeling I’ve been overly exposed to since I was a child and not just because of medical issues. However, although I’m feeling sad today I seem to be coping with this half-diagnosis much better. It hasn’t sent me into an automatic downward spiral into relapse.

I do consider I’ve overeaten slightly today and I’ve had a panic attack as a result. Not one that made me want to purge but once that made me want to keep eating which would make me want to purge…so, yeah, perhaps one that ultimately had the goal of making me purge.

Although I’m coping better than I used to, I’m hurting a bit today which is making each hour tick by so slowly and every minute hurts much more than it should. I just want today to be over. And that’s okay. It’s okay to have tougher days where all you want to do is lie in bed and cry, it’s just that I can’t actually do that today. Today is a day where I’ve had to go back and forth from the doctors and work and I have plans with my best friends tonight so I can’t just hole up in bed and cry as much as I want to.

I know it’s okay to cancel plans if I need some time but, ultimately, my ED has taken so many social experiences away from me in the past and it still does. My recovery wants me to rest but it also wants me to stand up and genuinely enjoy hanging out with my friends this evening.

Today’s just one of those slightly tougher days due to factors I, simply put, cannot control.

So what can I control? I can control how I choose to act. I can choose to continue working this afternoon and I can choose to go bowling this evening with my best friends. I can choose to eat dinner with them or choose to eat dinner later at home. I can choose to be happy this evening and to cry later if I still need to!

I can choose to deal with my emotions in whatever healthy ways I can find this evening. And a healthy way is to make sure I still eat dinner, keep hydrated and, most importantly, relax and have fun.

I’m at my almost-two-month stage. A tough milestone to have gotten to so there’s no point stopping now.

 

Here’s a picture of me at HP world last week because days like today call for happy memories

A Running Buzz

I did something completely off the bat last week. Something I’m so surprised that I did but something that I’m so incredibly pleased with myself about.

I went for a run which ended up being my first ever 10k run.

What’s more, I enjoyed it.

I came back home with such a buzz. Had I really just gone on a 63 minute run without stopping and liked it? Me? The girl who told everyone (predominantly herself) that she couldn’t run?

Earlier in the week I’d gone on a shorter run with my housemate. I was so nervous because I have “exercise-anxiety”. I know I can swim well. I know I can lift heavy weights and so I don’t feel self-conscious in the pool or gym (at least, not self-conscious when it comes to my ability, body image feels different although it’s improving!) But running? I have this fear I would look awful, that I’d be too slow, that I’d not be able to make it without stopping. These fears that inevitably result in me (1) feeling self-conscious, (2) running slower and (3) stopping.

Even though I love swimming and going to the gym, I still really don’t like working out with people I know. So running with a friend was a huge challenge but…it wasn’t that bad. I came back having run about 7k, the furthest I’d ran at that point and I hadn’t “died”. I hadn’t been “too slow”. It was all fine and I felt good.

And so on Saturday morning I went and dug out my official running trainers from my triathlon days. (As a para-athlete from a swimming background, the triathlon coaches were conscious not to injure my knees through a change in training so we focused heavily on my swim and bike and less so on the run, I’d never run more than 5k in training). I had planned to do the same run as me and my housemate did but ended up feeling really good and just kept going. Once I got to 7k I knew I had more in me I thought to myself, “how great would it be to get to 10” and somehow I managed to loop back to my house and finished bang on 10k.

I had a therapy session that morning and I cried over how happy I was with myself. I still can’t believe I cried tears of happiness after running a 10k! My therapist said it was one of the first times I’ve said nice things to myself and thinks that’s why I was crying. Afterwards, I was raging with happiness the rest of the day.

I told people that it’s the first time I’ve had that “buzz” since I was an elite athlete 4 years ago but I quickly realised that wasn’t it.

It was the first time I’ve had that “buzz” since I was a healthy elite athlete 8 years ago. It was a feeling I’ve not felt since before my ED days and I think that’s why I cried so much.

It’s been a long 8 years since I could exercise without feeling like “I have to”. A long time since I was competing in sports that I loved simply because I loved them rather than hating every aspect of competitive sport because of the constant bullying and psychological mind games. 8 years since I came home really happy with my workout rather than depressed trying to work out “what else can I do?”

I didn’t even care about the calories on the run and I automatically ate as soon as I came home. I ate a good meal and kept drinking water all day. It’s been 8 years since I didn’t automatically associate every single food with guilt. People forget that bulimia isn’t always categorised with binging and although I have had binge episodes, half the time I wasn’t purging a binge but purging every single item I ate, even fruit and water. I used to hate drinking water because it made me feel full and I had been taught to associate full with fat which meant no Paralympic Games for me which meant failure, worthlessness and more.

I then got thinking that I could do more than 10k. If that was my first run in over 4 years and I’d never even ran that distance previously then surely I could do more? I began to think I could do a half marathon and lo and behold, later that day, I saw a charity I knew advertising their last remaining spaces for the London Landmarks Half Marathon on 24 March…I contacted them and there we go, I’m doing a half-marathon in 8 weeks!

The thing is I didn’t sign up to the event in the hopes it would force me to keep running. I signed up because (1) I want to keep running, (2) I want to see what I can do and (3) it is for charity that means something to me.

I’d only ever run a charity event for a charity that has some meaning to me like, Beat, Epilepsy Action or Psoriatic Arthritis UK. None of these charities were running at or had places at this half marathon and Scope is a less-well-known charity that fights for disability equality. They campaign for the government to have better legislation and they also offer practical and emotional support to disabled people, families, carers and professionals as well as having various other campaigns. None of my friends have ever heard of Scope but I have. To be blunt, being disabled does mean I know more disabled people than most able-bodied people do and I know Scope through these friends of mine. Therefore, I felt it was appropriate for me to raise money for them.

And I really want to see what happens going forward. I just want to keep running. I want to enter so many more races (which is my “athlete” coming back!). I suppose it’s a sport that I have no background with so I can’t judge myself on times or distances etc.

I appreciate I need to be careful and ensure this new found love for running doesn’t stop my recovery but I can’t just pre-empt that that’s going to happen. I’ve already noticed I’m taking so much more care to hydrate, fuel and recover properly around these runs I’m now doing and I’ve even reduced my exercise plan by letting myself sleep more and gym less. But you know what? I’m 26 and I was an athlete for two thirds of my life. Being in sport is part of me. It was part of me before the ED, during it, and there’s nothing to say it can’t be part of me after the ED. I don’t need to be an international athlete at a Paralympic Games to be “worthy of sport”. I am worthy of enjoying sport.

I’m “worthy” in general.

I’m just so damn surprised it was a one-off run that made me realise that.

 

 

 

The “Ten-Year-Challenge”

I assumed that the very first post I saw was someone posting a ten-year progress picture because they wanted to. I didn’t realise it was a viral “challenge” sweeping over all social media platforms.

I’ve never liked these “challenges” that encourage people to essentially post a nice picture of themselves. I don’t mean to judge but I do feel like it’s a cry for attention. It’s a post that demands others to tell you how cute you looked then and how even better you look now. It’s a “challenge” that seeks self-affirmation from others.

I don’t want to judge. Everyone should be able to post whatever they want.

Thing is, I don’t think that it is a challenge for the vast majority of people.

Hence why I’ve been using quotation marks until now because it is a challenge for some.

It’s a real challenge for me and my ED to post a comparison picture but I decided to compare two pictures of myself.

In the darkest days of my ED, I deleted every single picture I was embarrassed off and if it wasn’t my picture to delete you can be sure I removed every single tag. I hated those reminders of the weight I gained when I was injured. The further weight I gained because I was burying my emotions in food every single day.

I removed every single picture which made me feel “fat” or “ugly” and as a result I have lost some physical reminders of those years. It’s like I tried to erase a part of me. I couldn’t accept that I had made myself that way and so I deleted the memories.

I’m currently trying to find any pictures of myself that survived the “Facebook purge” or ones that existed before the days of camera phones and social media. I’m going through an exercise of trying to love that girl in those pictures so I can accept my past rather than trying to erase it. That in itself is a challenge.

Anyway…

Scouring through my old albums was a very real and painful challenge. It hurt to see who I was before and during my darkest days. It pained me to face the hurt behind the photographs.

I did find one picture on Facebook from my best friend’s birthday party when I was 17. I deliberately kept it because the uncropped version was really funny and I wanted reminders of my best friend’s birthday.

I downloaded it and combined it with the most recent picture I have of myself. It was from 7 days ago and I was very drunk. It was the first time I had really let myself drink since mid-November (due to the annual “December Fears”) and I had decided to stop being scared of alcohol and parties and to “rip the band aid off” to enjoy myself. You can tell from the picture that it worked!

I haven’t been able to post it on social media though and, to be honest, I don’t need to.

Half of me doesn’t want to post it because I’m scared. My stage of recovering isn’t strong enough to let me accept that girl on the left. I still blame her for the things people did and said to her. The things that ultimately resulted in and helped the ED continue, even though I know that it isn’t her fault.

The other half of me simply doesn’t want to post it. I know I spent years seeking affirmation from others and I’d like to stop that behaviour. I still post pictures of myself but I’m no longer trying to post the most perfect picture of myself to gain likes from people I don’t even talk to. I’m posting the pictures where I feel like I look incredibly happy. Something I’ve not seen in my pictures for a while.

I’m going to post it here though. This blog has always felt safer than social media even though I know my connections have access to it.

Every day is a challenge when you are recovering from an eating disorder. Every day is a challenge to look in the mirror, to eat, to rest. Every day is a battle with my body image ; both my body image today and my body image from the past.

Little Wins

I deliberately stayed away from writing during December even though I had plenty to write about. There was so much I wanted to say, so many emotions I wanted to get out onto paper but I always find I retreat in December. I shy away from so much because there’s so much going on.

December is already a difficult month and I found myself becoming anxious about it 2-3 weeks into November.

The battles were louder and lasted longer.

Every day I had to remind myself not to “earn” or “burn off” any celebration or socialisation that was in my diary.

I had to double check I was working out because I wanted to and not because “I had to”.

I then had to console myself for the days I couldn’t work out and the days my food plans became unpredictable.

I had to take my fitbit off and hand it over to my mum for the holiday period because I had a breakdown on a day where it wouldn’t sync to my phone and I couldn’t see what calories I had burned before a meal out with some old friends.

I had to remember to rest and relax.

But everywhere you look, every social media platform quickly becomes the “Competitive Christmas Competition” and we’re flooded with pictures of food and festivities. We’re reminded to “earn our Christmas dinner”, to “work off the Christmas parties” and to embrace a “New Year, New Body”.

Friends make harmless comments about “how much they ate over Christmas”. I had one friend tell me she ate so much that it made her throw up and all I could do was smile and nod. I didn’t know how to tell her that type of conversation makes me uncomfortable as I think of all the Christmases I have experienced relapses.

I relapsed this year and I blamed myself so hard because last year was the first year I was not sick on Christmas Day. I wanted this year to be the second year but whilst I ate breakfast and ate my Christmas Dinner, I purged when I had a snack at 8pm because it wasn’t on my food plan.

I wasn’t full at that point. I hadn’t overeaten. I had simply had an extra bite not on my plan and I went into auto-pilot. In hindsight, I put too much pressure on myself because of last year but I realised that this year was in fact better than last year.

Last year, I went home for the shortest time possible. I made sure I “worked for my Christmas Dinner” and I punished myself by over exercising and purging as soon as I got back to London on the 27th. I continued my restrict-purge cycle all the way through to February when I decided I needed help.

So I wasn’t okay last year. I was over-exercising, under-eating and purging whenever I could.

This year was different. This year, (minus my fitbit meltdown) I gave myself 2 weeks off exercising. This year, I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I still didn’t enjoy my Christmas parties to the maximum I could but I still went and faced them.

This year, I’ve come back to London and my first instinct has not been to eat and purge. I’m still experiencing panic attacks with food. I’m still nervous around my triggers and I’m still trying not to rely mentally on my fitbit but all in all, it’s a much better Christmas period than last year.

I’ve suffered 3 purges in 15 weeks. Definitely some skipped meals in those weeks but not too many. Throw in a few good panic attacks and well, the end of 2018 wasn’t too bad recovery-wise after all.

There are going to be no resolutions this year. No promises to do X, Y or Z. No pressure on any goals. Just continuing forward each day.