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!

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.

 

 

 

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.

Hidden

You say you don’t like to tell me you love me too often, so that when you do, it means ‘more’.

Those hidden words would mean a lot to me, if I were to hear them a little more often.

You say I’m perfect the way I am but I feel as though you keep me hidden.

You’re not hidden in my life. You are happy to be a part of my world.

You’ll come to events that my friends or I host.

But I’m never invited to yours.

19 months and I haven’t met a single person.

No work colleagues.

No friends you take part in your hobbies with.

Only your housemate but, I’m sorry, that doesn’t count.

I’m in your profile picture but you never post any other pictures of the adventures we get up to.

Yet you do with everyone else.

Family, colleagues, friends.

Just not me.

You always look so happy too. You never look that happy in any pictures I take.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Maybe you’re making me feel ashamed of myself for no real reason. I know you would never mean to.

But I’ve been kept hidden before. I’ve been plenty of peoples ‘dirty little secret’. 

I’ve told you I feel hidden and yet nothing has changed.

God, how much just one introduction would mean to me.

But for now, I’m kept hidden.

 

 

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.

Instagram: @umbrella_adventures_

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…

Instagram: umbrella_adventures_

It’s Okay

Girls Night Out had been planned for at least 2 months and, now that I think about it, I was the one who had initiated the plans in the first place. We were to go out on the Friday but as soon as the preceding Monday arrived I was filled with guilt and nerves.

I was nervous I would be the biggest. I was nervous that none of my clothes would fit. I was nervous about what the numbers were saying to me, whether it was the calories, the scales, or the dress sizes.

I then blamed myself for the fact I didn’t want to go.

I felt guilty that the thought of a night out scared me. I felt guilty that I was too petrified to try on outfits. I felt guilty that I just knew I wouldn’t be having as much fun as my friends because my thoughts were focused elsewhere.

Add on the stress of a very demanding deal at work all week with close to midnight finishes on a daily basis…before I knew it, it was Friday and I felt physically ill.

Truth be told, I was tired. I was so incredibly exhausted from my mental battles, work. gym and I was desperate to sleep. Every morning I wake up and there’s new fights in my head. The voice asking when am I going to eat? What am I going to eat? Will I purge? Will I restrict? Will I fail and do both? What are others going to eat? Am I going to gain weight? Will I go to the gym to make up for it? When should I eat? Am I strong enough today? Should I eat that? Why did I eat that?

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Along came Friday and I was hurting, I was exhausted and I couldn’t do it.

I put a dress on and did my makeup but then told them I wasn’t going out and went and cried in my bedroom. I told myself I was weak. That I had failed because I hadn’t been strong enough to go out.

But then I tried to turn that thought around. I’ve been working my way through a Compassionate Mind Therapy workbook aimed at (as you can guess) developing my compassionate mind. Me and my old therapist used to focus on CMT and it’s actually been incredibly refreshing and enlightening to bring myself back to this form of therapy.

Long story short, we have 3 systems: threat, drive and soothing. They all interact with one another and if you imagine drawing how active they are in my life as circles on a piece of paper, my threat circle is HUGE, my drive circle quite large and my soothing circle? It’s basically non-existent.

Experiences and memories either help the circles grow or shrink and I need to focus on shrinking how big that threat voice is and allow the soothing voice to grow.

I have spoken about my past in many previous posts so there’s no need to go into too much detail but the book encouraged me to think about why my threat voice is so predominant in my everyday life.

I thought about my family  who criticised me for being overweight as a child. Instead of finding a healthy way for me to lose weight they told me that because of my weight and my disabilities that I was an embarrassment and no one would love me. I thought about the children who bullied me for being so fat and the boys who teased and taunted me. thought about the boys who had taken me for granted, used me, abused me.

I thought about the coaches who criticised every sporting achievement, telling me it was never good enough because I was fat. They put me under so much pressure to ‘make it’ and only ever talked about my weight, criticising it in front of others, embarrassing me in front of the team. They never noticed when I became a really dangerous weight, all they saw was the ‘fatter’ athlete I had been previously.

I thought about how much pain my dad’s long-term affair and money issues brought to my family. I thought about my cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Volkmann’s contracture, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, damaged kidneys, nerve damage, ruptured muscles, slipped discs, the time I had pre-cancerous cells and how every doctor’s appointment made me feel a little bit more broken than the last.

And then I thought about me.

I thought about how the child in me only ever wanted to be loved. I only ever wanted to mean something, to be valued. I thought about how I became such an over-achiever because I thought it would get me the attention I deserved, only to be crushed when I was told I was never good enough. I thought about how the adult me is always overly-eager to help others, to be there for everyone in the hope that they not just value my presence but will be there for me in return. I thought about how I hate to consider myself needy but I admittedly crave attention, I need affirmation that I am worth something.

That I’m not worthless and there is value to who I am.

It’s easy to see why I blamed everything on being ‘overweight’. Why I convinced myself that everything would be better if I lost weight and why it gave me control over my chaotic life that was spiraling every day.

It then became easier to blame myself even less for becoming bulimic after I wrote everything down. I blame myself even less now that I’m writing it down here.

I know I had gotten myself worked up all week but I was feeling incredibly rubbish, took some time to work through a chapter in this book and realised everything was okay. It was okay to miss a night out because I wasn’t up for it. It didn’t mean I was weak. It meant I was ill at that moment in time, too ill to go out. If I had the flu, I wouldn’t have gone, so there I was not weak when I took myself out of a triggering situation, to go do some self-therapy and work through it.

I don’t need to deny that I’m ill nor do I need to justify the way my illness makes me feel. It’s okay if you’re sad one day and smiling the next. Every now and then, it’s okay to not be okay.

Instagram: @umbrella_adventures_