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!

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.

Bonfires and Brownies

Time flies and a lot changes as each second passes by.

12 months ago I had bought tickets to a Bonfire and Fireworks display at Battersea Park and, me being me, I was really excited. But me, also being me, I ended up in hospital with a kidney stone that left me bedridden and in unbelievable pain for a few weeks until they had to operate.

They kept telling me to drink. I told them I was bad at staying hydrated. I didn’t tell them that was because of my ED. I didn’t admit that I used to be so scared of drinking for fear of that ‘fullness’ feeling that I stopped drinking even water.

I didn’t admit any of that. Not even to myself.

That was the first time I thought I may have damaged my body.

6 months ago, I started getting stabbing chest pains, on the left hand side, when I was walking around. Exercise was worse. I was so scared it was my heart but I didn’t tell anyone that. I didn’t want to tell anyone I was still having issues. Ultimately, I simply didn’t want to admit it to myself.

That was the first time I thought I was heading for a heart attack.

I truly think I was heading that way.

It had been 8 years since that Demon arrived.

Time really does fly.

Now, it’s been a month.

I haven’t purged for a month.

I’ve noticed I’ve lost weight.

I almost wish I hadn’t noticed that.

I’m second-guessing if I’ve been restricting in absence of the purges.

If I think about it, I have been sticking to soup every single lunch, although I really do love that soup shop next to work. Breakfast is on and off, as always, but I have increased dinner. I’ve managed to have dinner from the work canteen and I’ve tried to make it as healthy as I can.

Does that mean I was restricting though?

Yes, I reduced my carbs and fear foods but I still had some small amounts because I knew I needed them.

Is eating in a way to reduce panic, fears and triggers, a bad thing?

Have I lost weight because I’ve restricted? Or is it because I’m finally not purging and my body isn’t in starvation mode?

I  got a fitbit. Yes, controversial for an ED sufferer, I know.

I looked at what I was burning on days with and without exercise. I then looked at my food diary for the previous month and I must have been having an incredibly substantial deficit. An unhealthy one.

Seeing that even on a non-exercise day I was burning much more than I thought I was has made me increase my intake. It’s made me realise, that on days I’m working until midnight I need X. Let alone those midnight days where I’ve managed to make it to the gym in the morning.

I don’t know why that weight has shifted. I do know my mindset has shifted a bit and I’m conscious I don’t want to restrict.

However, whether it’s because I’ve restricted inadvertently or because my body is healing…I haven’t had chest pains for a month. I haven’t felt what feels like a kidney stone for a month. I have been stronger at work and the gym for a month. I have eaten ‘fear foods’ without a second thought every now and then this past month.

It’s only my first month into what I would call ‘my recovery’ so, of course, there’s still a few bumps to smooth out. I’m still well on my way to developing a balanced life.

12 months ago I was stuck in a purge-restrict cycle and I ended up in hospital with kidney problems.

This year, I baked brownies with a glass of wine without even thinking about numbers and fears. I also went to Bonfire Night, just 1 year late.

Stuck in a rut

“But you’re fine” that’s what they say.

That’s what they always tell you.

But I don’t feel fine.

“So what if you’ve gained weight, you’re fine”

That’s how they continue.

But I don’t think “so what?”

I see more writing in my food diary, the increased number on the scale, an unhappy girl in the mirror looking at me.

I am that unhappy girl.

I’m trying to ignore the numbers and the thoughts but I’ve, simply put, struggled this week. I’m in a bit of a rut and I’m not sure how I can get out of it.

Just a touch of magic…

It is impossible to visit Disneyland and not feel happiness. I challenge you to find someone who has entered one of the parks and not enjoyed it one bit…but even if you do find someone,or you are in fact someone who doesn’t like Disneyland, then that’s perfectly acceptable.

Each to their own!

My boyfriend and I went to Paris for my birthday last weekend and before you jump to the same conclusion as all my friends of OMG that’s like soooo romantic…it genuinely wasn’t intended to be some overly-romantic-whisk-me-away-trip.

We’d actually planned it far in advance but that in itself didn’t take any of the magic away.

We decided to spend my actual birthday at Disneyland itself and I knew from the moment we settled on this that I was going to have a lot of fun. However, in hindsight, I totally underestimated just how much fun I would have.

I was in such an incredibly happy place both literally and metaphorically, that I had so much fun I actually forgot it was my birthday. In fact, I didn’t even get my presents until a whole two days later because we totally forgot. But that’s by the by because I simply had a great day.

There was one thing I noticed, however, which was that for the first birthday in what feels like forever, I don’t think I panicked.

I didn’t overthink each of my three meals, I didn’t panic because we hadn’t planned them either. I didn’t try to calculate my calories or what I therefore needed to burn off. I didn’t try to justify why I either did or did not want a certain piece of food.

Most importantly, I didn’t criticise myself once. I didn’t even whisper to myself that I was fat.

That really is such a nasty sounding word.

I was simply so happy and having such a wonderful time with my other half on our first trip away together that the dark parts of my mind were silent.

That’s the best way I can describe it – they were silent.

I’m not going to pretend they were silent on the other days of our trip, because they most definitely weren’t, but it’s relieving that they are becoming lighter and quieter in their nature.

I’ve decided I’m going back to therapy to address these final dark thoughts. To tackle the last little parts I’m struggling with the most because I still have some battles to go through. That in itself was an incredibly tough decision because I feel as though I am sort of fine.

But I don’t want to be sort of fine. I want to be healthy and perhaps that does require a little bit of professional guidance.

The fact my ED was silent on that one day means it can be silent on other days too. Whilst it’s not silent right now, I’ve decided to just enjoy the fact that, for that single day, it actually was.

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A better week

Well, if I’ve got all this time at the hospital to kill, I might as well spend some time writing.

I’m coping with this new course of treatment better now. I know I am because I’m not crying as much before, during or after each hospital visit. I still hate the way I look, the way they send me off to work, but I’m halfway through the course now so I’m sure it’ll all be over in no time.

One of the nurses thought I was crying over the treatment because I’m vain. Oh that set me off even more.

Crying over my looks is vain in a way, I get that. But beneath the red skin and greasy scalp from the treatment is…well…it’s a child, if I’m honest. It’s 6-year-old me being ridiculed by schoolchildren due to my claw hand, my wonky walk and my psoriasis-clad skin. It’s an 8-year-old me being carted to and from the hospital for various treatments – most of which either hurt or smelled bad but none of them worked.

It’s 9-year-old me after years of comfort eating or boredom eating (during appointments and the like) gaining loads of weight and simply giving the kids something else to make fun of me for. And then we reach 10-year-old me, being told by family that they wanted me to be skinny because no one would ever love a fat girl.

And I’m not going to even attempt to approach my teenage years.

Beneath this 25-year-old girl typing this post is simply a child who has spent 25 years of being diagnosed with disability after illness and disability. 25 years of non-stop hospital appointments and treatments.

And there are times I feel that child within me. I feel how much a simple hug would have made everything better. I feel the ache for a little more compassion back then.

A little extra love.

I am surrounded by love every single day. I know that now but throughout every diagnosis and every treatment it still surprises me that no one asks you how you feel. They ask what’s wrong (physically) and how the treatment might be going but no one asks you how you’re coping mentally.

Perhaps they’re too nervous too. Let’s be honest, mental health is a tricky subject to navigate at the best of times, especially by those who don’t understand it.

Another diagnosis. Another thing wrong with me. Another course of treatment.

But I’m feeling better than last week. I’m coping better than last week. And at the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for.

Support, love and a little bit of self-compassion – a recipe for a better week. Oh! And don’t forget pillow forts on balconies either…

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Back to Basics

 

Apologies as there may be some triggering thoughts here.

So, I thought I was doing okay and there were times I thought I was fine. Or at least the ‘Demon’ told me I was okay. Convinced me I didn’t need help. That there wasn’t an issue because what I was doing was keeping me ‘slim’.

Well you know what, what I was doing also made me sad. It also made me cry at my best friend’s birthday party because it made me so scared to be around food, drink and others. It made me angry at myself for not losing weight and it made me so incredibly insecure that my boyfriend would leave me if he found out.

I started to notice the ‘tricks’ coming back into play. Double/triple-checking that my housemates most definitely were not going to be home that evening. Going to toilets on floors at work that I knew nobody went to. That bag that sat in my wardrobe waiting for me to sneak it to the bins outside. Telling friends I had already eaten or would be eating later when I’d already planned to skip those meals.

And nobody really knew.

That in itself made it easier but deep down I almost ached for someone to ask. For that one person to see behind my smile and recognise that I was not okay. I was generally happy but I was in so much pain over what I was yet again doing to my body.

And then it happened. I hit rock bottom just as hard as previous relapses and I picked up the phone. I sat in the corner of my room, I suppose it felt safe, and I text my boyfriend and said point blank I needed him. That I needed to go round and I needed him to help me eat and to help me ‘keep it down’.

I was so scared he would leave or refuse just like others in the past. I was simultaneously scared that he would be upset with me or that I would hurt him by admitting what horrible cycle I’d fallen into once. I felt weak. Like a let-down. A failure.

Damaged.

That’s how I felt.

Damaged goods yet again at rock bottom.

My therapist leaving London last year hit me hard. I had seen him for four years and whilst I was in a really good place the thoughts of having to see someone else and start this process yet again scared the crap out of me and so when I needed help I didn’t feel like I could arrange to go see someone new. To open up about my not-so-great life once more.

But I told my boyfriend and my friends what I needed. For the first time in our relationship I didn’t wish he would offer what I needed…I simply asked. I asked to live with him for the next week or so because I felt I needed supervision. I asked him to sit down and help me plan my meals for the week and to ensure I stick to them regardless of if I tell him ‘I’m okay to change X and happy to eat Y instead.’ I asked him to help me send an email to my old therapist to ask for advice (which was the hardest step of all) and I asked him to come along to dinner with my parents in case I couldn’t handle it on my own. I asked him to help distract me when those thoughts about purging came running.

And he did.

I was upset that he cancelled seeing his friends because I felt that made me a burden but deep down it meant so much to me to know he cared that much.

And I literally told him everything.

I told him every thought that plagued my mind before and after each meal. I told him when I was scared to eat and when I wanted to be sick. I told him every perception I had of myself throughout the day. I told him every negative thought that crossed my mind and I told him of ‘tricks’ that I was ashamed of. I told him of some of my darkest periods of this illness and he just listened.

He didn’t judge, he didn’t comment, he just listened. And I told him that was exactly what I needed.

That’s all I ever need because, in a way, it simply helps me identify what is going wrong and decide what is going to help.

So we went and planned my meals and some gym sessions. He held my hand in the supermarket and he held my hand whilst I ate. We sent those emails and we spoke about the physical implications of this illness – what worries him the most…and whilst that wasn’t a fun conversation…it helped. Each time I ‘panic’ I try to think about the following:

  • I don’t want to have a heart attack due to the stress I’m placing on my body.
  • I don’t want to further damage my liver or kidneys.
  • I don’t want to become infertile.

Each time is ‘the last time’ and each time is one step closer to being that actual last time.

Sometimes the rigid planning makes me feel weak. I criticise myself for not being ‘normal’ and not being able to ‘do this on my own’. But I think I’ve finally after all this time admitted that the practical steps are things I am going to have to apply for the rest of my life. It’s not about needing them because I’m ill but rather that it’s a way of leading a healthy lifestyle.

So here I am, day five. Almost made it to a week since my last relapse.

 

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