Sunday, 29 November 2015

Brain/Brian Molko

I find one of the worst parts of my mental illness is a combined effect of three things that together are most likely to be the reason that I often have a sudden flash of genius... and then in the time it takes me to try and unlock my iPhone and decide whether to try and type it in whilst walking with my awful finger control, or do a voice recording that actually works, the inspiration has gone. It used to be the time it took to find paper and a pen, but I'd likely just put that down and forget about it just as quickly. I regularly find such bits of paper I've held on to for years, but the point I was trying to make has been lost in the passage of time. Just like with British weather, where unless you carry around an umbrella, waders and a sun visor in a rucksack that if you sat down when worn would prevent you from getting up without assistance whilst on your holiday to Devon 'just in case', you're unlikely to be prepared for it. 

20 years of medication is an achievement, isn't it? Shouldn't I be dead by now, or at least eating through a tube, surrounded by loved ones all preparing for the inevitable? Both the prescription kind and the kind that gives you 'wet brain' are usually only tested on rodents, who barely live long enough to fart, let alone long enough for the long-term effects of most of the drugs we now have to hand to be felt. The revolving door of uppers and downers. 

Drugs that make you calm, remove pain, stop your heart beating too fast, help you sleep. I drink a 500ml can of energy drink first thing every morning so I can wake up enough to function. I've given up alcohol because I kept waking up in my chair with the TV blaring at 2am with a crick in my neck. I only had 3 glasses of Prosecco in the whole day of my wedding - unprecedented for me - I've been a drinker since I was a teenager because it allowed me to actually feel something, which felt good even when it felt bad. All of these substances are making physical changes to the brain, in ways we don't yet understand, and there's just no way of knowing how these changes will end up, This is thing number one. 

Thing number two is simply the day to day of your brain having to fill in the gaps left by the bit that should regulate emotions using other, already over-taxed parts of the brain. This whole thing of operating 'normally', in a way others expect you to, gets harder and harder the older you get and I'm beginning to wonder if that's why people appear to get more eccentric over the years - they just find it less easy to reconfigure.

I'm famous for having the same conversation - and I mean word for word - twice in the same evening and even with the same person (my husband usually - I don't get out much these days), but having no recollection of the first time whatsoever. Because when your wiring's a bit off and you're also exhausted and not giving your brain enough calories to run, your short-term memory just grinds to a halt apparently, to run other more vital processes, like... oh, I don't know, breathing? I'm effectively a hard drive at capacity but without a time machine to roll back to the last working system so I keep metaphorically crashing. 

If I want to commit something to memory now, I have to walk around whispering it to myself at least 20 times so it knocks one of the older and largely useless bits of information learned in early life off the bottom into the recycling bin. Try explaining all of that to your boss when you've started making mistakes doing the simplest of tasks, things I had down as autopilot and this is the first time in my life that I feel I've hit the ceiling. If I'm going to progress any further in life, I'm going to need to do something dramatic. 

By the end of every day I have a thousand thoughts and new ideas buzzing about very loudly in my mind, and no time to think any of them through to conclusion. It can take me days to write one of these posts simply because I'll write something that starts me off imagining whatever it is I'm writing about, and then a whole story kicks off until I find myself imagining some situation of another where I need some bit of key information - so I dutifully go off opening new tabs to Google it, and begin this whole big loop that hopefully will lead back around to being reminded of the blog post again in about 15 minutes. 20 new tabs, a couple of Amazon purchases, 3 Wikipedia entries and a new Tumblr account later, I may have lost my train of thought somewhat. 

This is all ok, as long as you don't have a deadline the next day. And more importantly, as long as you NEVER TELL ANYONE. If you happen to mention let's say, to your boss, that you're as likely to stay on task as you are bareback on a horse, they perceive you to be incompetent. This was big news to me. I was genuinely surprised when I was told this because until now I'd ticked along quite happily both having these experiences and still getting everything done on time - although they always came out best when there was absolutely no planning involved and when executed in the absolute last possible second. This was how I passed my GCSEs with no revision. I could just pull it off somehow. I never thought there'd be a time when this no longer worked. I trusted my intellect to carry me through, but I was wrong. 

When I watch my 2.5 year old going about his day, it's a bit like watching my own thought processes happening as a live show - he doesn't need to keep them hidden because people expect children to be crazy. Anything that pops into his head comes straight out of his mouth, with accompanying actions and random dancing thrown in for effect. He'll suddenly grab my face and forcefully kiss me until it hurts, or throw whatever's in his hand across the room, or throw himself off the furniture whilst visibly gritting his teeth and growling. As I write I'm watching him eating cereal and doing what looks like lunges across the room. He's definitely my boy. 

Finally on to the third prong. BPD has been described to me as a condition with a genetic basis in the brain's make up, plus early experiences that combine so that whilst your IQ develops as normal (and sometimes more than normal, although I'm not claiming this applies to me even for a second), your emotional intelligence is stunted and you get sort of stuck around the time those experiences happen. I'd estimate that I'm between 9 and 12, and I spend a lot of time reminiscing about this time and trying to recreate things in my environment that remind me of then - which at the time I swore blind I'd never do. Even though it was an emotionally painful time, it feels increasingly more comfortable with age. 

Maybe the 90s is fashionable now, but it'll move on to another decade soon enough and I'll still be wearing Cobain cardigans and listening to Brian Molko's plaintiff serenades, re-feeling everything I felt about life and the world when I first heard it. I remember what pyjamas I got for Christmas in 1993 with the rabbits printed on them and pink (I hate pink) trim, and the CD walkman I got in 1998 with a Marilyn Manson's 'Mechanical Animals' CD. I spent the whole day blocking out my family with it, plugging the music directly into my brain and shutting out the background sounds. This is how I experience it - when I listen to something through headphones it sounds like it's coming from inside my head. Brian's words were my thoughts. The music becomes not music - instead it becomes silence. This one is probably especially hard to relate to; it sort of takes over the job of the aforementioned deactivated bit of brain that should be feeling so I no longer 'hear' the music, it's become a cognitive process. 

After I do this I can't stand having to come back into the world where there's just so much distraction and noise coming from everything. If anyone reading this has access to an MRI machine I will gladly offer myself up to know what is actually happening with my biology when this happens - it could be the key to so many unanswered questions.

I still use music to block out feelings that get out of control and often it really helps. I have to continually come up with ways to control my emotions because my brain doesn't have the wherewithal to do it for me, and these things can become obsessions themselves. Every time I get a new one I believe it's the answer I've been looking for, and then it stops working and I have to move on. Often they have rigid routines attached to them. Some of the ones I can think of right now are going to the gym (always the same calories burned on the same machines in the same order), making soup, dehydrating fruit, ASMR, buying stuff... and yes I know many people have similar coping mechanisms. The difference is that I cycle through them in a way I don't see others doing. And I can just change without warning - I'll suddenly feel like doing something else having been seemingly controlled by the previous activity to the point of shutting out anything else. For months I had a strict cooking routine which stopped me taking part in any kind of social activity in the evenings. Then one day I just didn't have any dinner.

There have been times when my emotions have become so huge and scary that I've shut down completely, but it's not a conscious choice. My brain simply can't carry on trying regulate something so all-consuming so it shuts down the parts responsible for feeling and I'm left not feeling anything. That includes joy, or pleasure of any kind. I can't even feel love when this happens. Anger is the only thing that gets through and nobody seems to know why that is. I react with anger every time I perceive an injustice, or something unfair, and it doesn't even need to be happening to me to trigger it. I can get angry on behalf of complete strangers. This state of emotional shutdown can last for years at a time. Sometimes therapy is required to relearn how to feel. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it. 

It's not easy to keep all of this in check; It actually hurts a bit sometimes - the kind of pain you get when you have restless legs and you're trying not to move them. I enjoy the anger because being numb is horrible. Funny, considering that being numb to pain is usually so desirable. Anaesthetic is nice and people seem to want it mostly. 

The result of this trident of a disorder? Feeling is painful. Not feeling is horrible. Not being able to remember what you were not feeling? Well that's worst of all.

Friday, 16 October 2015

What's eat(en) me?

I'm sorry I haven't written in a while love, you know how I am lately - all caught up in my days and strung out through my nights and whatnot. I barely function without caffeine and social services knocking on the door.

So listen - I was thinking - perhaps you'd like to know a bit about what being an 'old anorexic' is all, well... all about? You wouldn't? Oh. Uuuuuhhhhhhh.... Well, this is awkward. I was about to launch into a soliloquy - a sort of "balls-out apoplexy of pent up aggression, 5 stars!" (The Quitic's Choice), of the kind only the skeletal among us can really grasp. Another time then perhaps? 

It's a term coined by my current psychiatrist, who, for all intents and purposes is a rather bumbling but astute man (or so I thought) - just somewhat lacking in the area of tact considering his vocation. But I suppose he's not there to actually do the therapy. He said he has done in the past though, and one imagines he's been working long enough in a psychiatric setting to at least have had a conversation with someone who needs to be in a hospital, but isn't themselves convinced of this. 

I can only assume that when he told me he'd wait until my 'brain had gone' to section me under the mental health act, he was intending me to think 'Gosh, I don't fancy that much - get my own room in a ward full of much younger girls who you'll have to do group therapy with, and be supervised at mealtimes, or tube-fed if you refuse? No thank you!' and then start eating properly again. That would've definitely worked if I didn't happen to quite like the idea of being an inpatient. I know, right? - craaaazy. Who in their right mind would go into a place like that willingly? I think you've answered your own question there.

Maybe there's something else you might find more of an eye-opener - I'll try and cover a few areas, just for the sake of completeness. And because there's almost certainly not a plethora of videos about eating disorders on YouTube (note the sarcastic tone here, which I have to point out because I can hear my own voice reading this out and you can't). I'm thinking of making a video at some point too, but I'm still undecided because the layer of anonymity (not really) afforded to me by the interweb does actually make it seem a bit more of an outpouring than it might otherwise be.

There are some pretty humongous questions I just know people want to ask me but can't - I never shy away from the awkward, in fact I positively lean in (yeah, well maybe I started reading the book but got distracted and then forgot everything I'd read so I had to start again...).

I'll just start now, shall I?

I spent my wedding day thinking about food. I thought about having it - about eating it. I thought about not eating it - not not eating it, not not eating it. I saw some macarons. I ate all of them. I tried not to, but I couldn't not not not. I was afraid if I didn't they'd be gone. Everyone was looking at the speeches, so I shovelled all of those delicious vanilla and chocolate lovelies into my face as if my life depended upon it. I didn't even taste them. They were virtually inhaled. I felt it was ok because I was THE BRIDE. I was afraid my belly would bloat as it does every single day as soon as I eat a morsel of food. I have no idea why this happens and my GP refuses to treat it whilst doing a sort of 'Oooooh you're going to have to get a bigger boat...' kind of face. I'm obviously not deserving of relief because I bring it all on myself. 

Food has become more important to me than anything else, even though it's not. I love my evening ritual where I methodically chop up vegetables. I could quite happily just throw the lot in the bin, as long as I can execute the ritual of chopping it, separating it into bowls according to 'wetness', before dry frying it and watching it cook down into a sauce to be served with indigestible pasta. And when I say 'indigestible', I don't mean that it tastes bad - it tastes fine (to me) - but it's made from something the human body cannot digest, and as a result it has virtually no calories. I have a tendency to eat exactly the same thing at each mealtime for months on end. I actually look forward to eating it, it becomes the focal point of my day. I build up to it as if it were a fantastic dinner cooked by a Michelin starred chef. Then one day I just won't feel like eating it anymore and I'll transfer to some new foodstuff. I realise how ridiculous that sounds but it just is what it is I suppose. 

I started out with Ryvita Crackerbread - cheese flavour. They're 19 calories a pop. I ate boxes and boxes of the buggers. After my son was born, when during my pregnancy I'd had a sort of enforced weight gain/maintenance in order to maximise our chances of conceiving via IVF, I just carried on breaking my own rules and seriously bulked up as a consequence. I don't remember what 'being fat' (disclaimer: my words about myself and not a judgment on anyone else's weight) was like now. I didn't think I was very fat, but once I started feeling that all too familiar feeling I get when the numbers starting dropping on the scale, I was hooked all over again. It's much easier to lose weight the bigger you are. Now I'm lucky if I drop a pound a month, yet I still wake up every morning feeling hungry and desperate for a loss. 

I have bits of wrinkly skin that bear testament to my 6-stone-in-6-months weight loss. Small red blood spots are popping up on my skin at random, my hair is falling out in clumps and I have bruises where my fatter bits used to be. The inside of my knees is bruised from where the bones bump together when I walk (which I do - a lot). My fingertips are so dry they've formed a layer of impenetrable rough skin and it takes me 4 or 5 attempts to do the fingerprint recognition on my iphone. Breasts were never made to stretch and shrink this quickly, I'll leave the rest of that one to your imagination. I have always had hair on my face in places I didn't want it to be, it was one of the things my school bullies picked on) but now I have a sort of peach fuzz effect around my jaw and throat that gives me the appearance of an arctic lizard - now those are two words that really don't belong together. 

It just doesn't give up. I consider myself 'a lifer' with this crap - it will never leave me. I just have to learn how to ignore the little voice in my head and that's much easier to do with the benefit of hindsight. My brand new husband now knows that if he buys Oreos Double Stuf, they're not his. I will eat them all. I just have to, because I can't have them in the house. Often it takes me so long to piss about making any bloody dinner that I'll fall asleep in my chair before it's even cooled down.

Last time I saw my psychiatrist - again, it was voluntary - he tried the scare tactics but this time he really fucked it up. He wanted me to say that I was ready to gain weight - I know I could've lied to make my life easier of course, but I hate lies, just don't see the point. Now I'm angry - either treat me when I ask you to or don't. But don't try and scare me because you know what? I'll just run.

I'm sorry I haven't written in a while love, you know how I am lately - all caught up in my days and strung out through my nights and whatnot. I barely function without caffeine and social services knocking on the door.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

I saw it on TV, so it must be true

Who wants babies? I did. I definitely definitely did. But in my imaginings I'd sail through a perfect pregnancy having married in a haze of a full recovery, before passing on my DNA to a being who could feed and care for itself from the minute I couldn't handle it anymore. 

I blame the internet. I've never Googled so much in my life - and for so many seemingly disgusting search words. If you're of a nervous disposition, look away now; in fact, just stop thinking about babies or zygotes of any form altogether. But, I digress...

I was 31 when I found out in a very roundabout way that I had very little chance of ever conceiving naturally. Shit daytime TV is (was, now it's merely a shit memory) one of my (many) vices, and one that I'm vaguely glad I was indulging when one Zita West featured on 'This Morning'; for those of you reading from outside the UK, this is a magazine style show that was on every weekday morning for god knows how many years. They used to have a weather man who jumped around on a floating map of the UK, and who was relatively recently arrested and charged for sexual offences against minors... gawd love 'im. Ms West informed us viewers that we could do a simple blood test by post to find out roughly how large our egg reserves were, with a view to estimating how many years of fertility we could waste on mental illness before the situation became critical. 'Ooooh what a good idea for working women!' remarked the presenters before moving on to a phone app to cook an omelette, leaving those of us who'd just pinned all our hopes and dreams on a £95 phlebotomist's fee hanging.

Perfect! This was the tool every woman with a ticking clock, a non-career in the music business and a penchant for bad decision making needed. Oh yeah - I was ALL OVER IT. Now, I'm a sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal, and having only just settled in with a man after years of serial fucking up of relationships, I wasn't planning on making any babies imminently. This one was a keeper, and we all know what happens if you even so much as mention an egg before the end of year one right? Right. Now forget that last part. On a scale of good to bad, the test results I got back were the latter.

Whilst harbouring a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that perhaps it wouldn't be easy once I did decide the time was right, I also knew deep down that this was not a decision I'd be making after settling into a nice well-paid job, in the house with the picket fence, after the wedding of my dreams - circumstance would either force me into it, or it wouldn't be happening.

Fast forward a year; our house had burned down, we'd had a strangely accelerated courtship and spent time homeless, the usual stuff really. After a lot of deliberation, extreme sorrow-drowning, extreme hangovers and claiming of insurance that would invalidate our cover for life, we found ourselves variously staring down the barrel of a suitably lined petri dish. This blog post is my attempt at striking fear into the hearts of love's young dreamers everywhere, by sharing my ill-informed experience of what happened next. Don't ever say I didn't warn you.

IVF is a dish best served in a lab who don't have someone doing work experience with them on the  day you have your eggs wrestled reticent ovaries - and definitely not in a lab where someone who can't read the labels on the two bottles of pink solution is working on the day you go under the knife. This is the only excuse I can possibly fathom for what happened on the only day that really mattered for us; but strangely one that goes no way at all to making up for it. Let me give you a bit of background before I explain...

After a laborious few months of hormone injections, blood tests, and ultrasound scans of my aforementioned reticent ovaries, our first round hadn't produced any results at all. I was effectively barren, devoid of life, broken, paying the price for too much partying, etc, etc. Funnily enough, this is not a nice feeling, but funnier still, it wasn't an entirely unexpected position for me. I'd spent so many years trying not to get pregnant; stumbling around my twenties like a frightened rabbit (then a man-eating tigress), always leaping feet first into the next disaster. Child of a broken home, yadda yadda yadda, but I 'was young', apparently.

Now, fertility doctors are a quirky sort; ours gave us impassioned speeches about his own fertility woes, before simply typing our stats into an online calculator (available to the general public here) to find out if we'd ever reproduce. This same calculator was available freely on the clinic's website. Needless to say, I wasn't particularly impressed.

That whole story you tell children about the birds and the bees, the 'mummy and daddy have a special cuddle' thing? You don't get any of that. There's no romance. It's just SCIENCE. If you've ever watched 'The Big Bang Theory' you'll know that virtually no sex ever came from it. As if trying to conceive normally wasn't enough of a passion killer, this was the ultimate in libido murder.

Our first go didn't work. My dormant ovaries remained in hibernation and we were downgraded to IUI (where the sperm just gets squirted into the right place, in case an egg decides to turn up). The second go was where the trouble started. Using a different drug to stimulate my lazy ovaries had worked - a lowly 5 follicles that may or may not have contained eggs grew, and suddenly I was in a private hospital room we could barely afford, with a mini bar (because all surgery requires booze as a recovery aid, dahling!) and a room service menu, waiting to be plundered for gametes. Cue the work experience twat, who duly took my precious 5 eggs, went into the lab, probably just after lunch in the pub, and dolloped them into the wrong nurturing solution, because they couldn't tell the difference between the two bottles of pink stuff, even though they were labelled.

Ok, so I'm the first to admit that I've showed up to work hungover to hell, stinking as if the fermentation process were still happening in my organs; it probably was. BUT, I've never been responsible for people's actual babies. Their flesh and blood. Their hopes. Their dreams, their future generations... suffice to say, it's a big deal. Of the 5 good eggs, only 1 fertilised and the other 4 died. To say I was disappointed would be akin to saying Russell Brand is a bit of a flirt...

Two days later the call came to say we had an embryo, and that I had to drop everything and go (alone) to have it put back in. I was blissfully unaware of the previous night's events at this point, but from the urgency in the voice of the lab technician who called me, I figured out there was something afoot. Things were becoming a bit too real, science had done it's thing and I was about to stop trying not to get pregnant and willingly allow myself to get knocked up by a stranger in a room full of strangers with cameras, like some sort of MIT alumni gang-bang. Oh, the romance!

I arrived an hour later, and was called into a room with two uncomfortable looking medical professionals, one wearing a shower cap and a mask (perhaps to shield her from any possible onslaught of emotion, but a particularly bad choice of get up I thought) and the other grinning like some sort of wannabe game show host. It was then that it was finally explained to me, in terms that probably would've escaped me had I not had a more than full grasp of both the English language and the subtleties of body language, that some absolute twat who may or may not have ever worked in a lab before had in fact diminished my chances of conception by 60% overnight. Ever the pragmatist, I assuaged their guilt via the usual English politeness and apologetic pleasantries, and we ploughed on with the implantation.

I was shown my microscopic four-cell embryo on a screen - it looked, as expected, like frogspawn. I watched on as a tiny speck of light was injected into my uterus, feeling strangely numbed and unable to really enjoy what I had expected to be a moment of excitement and expectation. The deed was done, and this was definitely not some passionate exchange. Everyone in the room (yes, there were more than 2 people) was jollying me along, quipping about how 'it only takes one!' And seemingly attempting to distract from the presence of the enormous shitting elephant in the room. I left feeling I should be feeling, but not really feeling at all.

Two weeks later, I was a pregnant woman.

Thursday, 20 August 2015


As much as people who find a diet they can get away with like to evangelise, no one diet works the same way for everyone - except mine. If you don't eat, you die. As tested by millions of people unlucky enough not to be born in the Western world; this is the diet I'm currently trying out. I'm also keen to clarify here that I'm in no way trying to trivialise starvation, more to let you know that I know how ridiculous eating disorders may look from the outside - I get it. In many ways BPD and EDs are so similar they can't be prised apart. The black and white thinking - it's all or nothing - can make me either resist food altogether and get a tremendous sense of achievement, or eat all the food there is. That's why I don't keep junk food in the house anymore. Because I ate it all - as soon as I bought it.

There are those swimming about out there in the virtual dieting and 'lifestyle' world (certain bent-yellow-fruit-related ones and no, that's not a euphemism) who will swear that their way of eating is the only way. I would actually pray to a god I don't believe in for those people to only exist in the virtual world, but annoyingly they are real physical beings - although I suppose even if they were just virtual, isn't that where we all live our lives these days? As anyone with even a few synapses can deduce, they need to convince others not because they actually care about them, but because they need to keep convincing themselves. In the same way I continuously justify my endless food restrictions as 'healthy'. But no one can live healthily on just one type of food, unless they've been genetically coded to do so. We can live, sure, but then as my psychiatrist helpfully said: "The children starving in Africa are still alive". Well yes. Until they're not. 

My guess would be that in order to stay on the straight and narrow, people have to convince themselves beyond any doubt that what they're eating is right. Part of this is also attacking others who dare question the validity of their claims, and the more they need to cling to their diet life raft, the more viscious they are in attack mode. It's almost a sport just watching it all unfolding on YouTube, and reminding myself that had such a thing existed when I was 17 and joined a cult, I would've been doing the same thing myself. After all, there are some similarities between a deity and a banana when you think about it. I might even do it now, if only I could be bothered to spend all my free time making self-righteous videos to feed my ego (editor's note: not my body, ). You'd be surprised at the level of preparation that goes into making a meal of under 50 calories. There are a few people I've seen who personify the nature of eating disorders than those - right down to the dirty fingernails from all that digging.

Here's where things get complicated for the world of medicine - my psychiatrist thought I was a straightforward borderline personality disorder case. He had me all mapped out, so he thought. My eating habits were borne out of a desire to hurt myself, he said. I went along with this for a while, until it became pretty obvious that quitting my other target behaviours (the ones I genuinely wanted rid of) only led to the door being flung open for my 'ole buddy Ana to take hold: 

"Well, great going with all that DBT stuff lady - but now we've got that out of the way, time to really get somewhere!", she said, with a twinkle in her beady eye and a barbed spike in her manky little tail. Let's just say others' perceptions of me lacked the added dimension required to grasp how ridiculous it all really is. 

EDs are not taken very seriously in the over 20s - and there's precious little in the way of treatment, especially on the NHS. In essence, it's completely up to me to decide where I want to end up. My doctor expressed it so beautifully when he said: "You're choosing anorexia".

Disordered eating is more than likely to be for keeps for me, and I know that now. It doesn't matter how kamikaze it gets, because it's always there to hold on to. All I have to do is stay just above the 'critical' BMI, and I can do whatever I like. No doubt it'll hide behind other guises, she's a wizened old bitch is Ana. Us older ED's don't get the same fuss made over us - we know how to maintain it without raising suspicions, and boy if having an ED does anything it makes people watch you almost constantly. Analysing every pound. Part of the maintenance revolves around the perceptions of others, because people think that other people's weight is their business. Especially if you're low weight. In the same way we're all guilty of looking at an overweight friend and thinking "But I never see him eat?!", you might look at me and think "But I saw her eat at lunch!"

Saturday, 18 July 2015

I'm going down the garden to eat worms

There are few things I squirm about - yes, of course I'm very very anxious about many things, but squirming is just, well, different). One of these few things is arriving to visit family who I haven't seen for a few months. But normally such a joyous occasion, no? The perfect time to sit back and relax whilst your two year old toddler is engaged in grandparent-related activities, surely? Well, yes, probably - unless you're currently 0.2 of a BMI number above 'severe' anorexia, having been safely inside the (relatively) normal zone last time you saw them, that is.
Here I am, looking headless (but completely fine).

Oh, first world problems! Yes. Yes, I am aware that my perceived level of entitlement just hit the top of the scale. I would judge me too (whilst pretending not to, because y'know 'mental illness' and all that), but let me at least give you a little bit of an insight here. I've had issues with eating for over 20 years now, starting in school when bullying began and I wanted to disappear - quite literally. I began by throwing my lunch away at school when I was 13 - I would limit myself to just an apple during the school day. I didn't know anorexia was even a thing then, I just knew I wanted to make myself as small as possible and as a girl being brought up in a Western society I subconsciously always knew that being thin was better. The women in my life were always on diets, or talking about being on diets but I never heard any of the men even mention it. Of course I felt unsettled during my teens anyway, due to some major adjustments that included my mother marrying again and puberty of course, so of course the 'problem teenager' stars aligned and things began to go downhill fairly soon afterwards. I now wish I were closer to my step-siblings and I very much value my now good relationship with my step-father (minus the 'step' I suppose since my mother's death in 2004), who my son also loves and was always a stabilizing influence on both my mother and me. There were times when both she and I were in emotional overload, we even fought each other physically when the drama took hold and neither of us would budge.

I find it hard to even type this, but my latest round of anorexia began after my son was born and I was slightly overweight for the very first time in my life. During my IVF and pregnancy I had a reason - and one that involved the interests of someone outside (and for a while, inside) myself - to eat healthily and eat well. Let me also underline here that I know my child deserves a mother who is well, one who values her own health because of his, and one who would never endanger herself because she always kept this in mind. The reality for me though is that to get myself through the pitfalls of those early years, knowing that a small developing mind hungry for knowledge and dependent on his parents is looking to me to be the all-knowing guiding hand we all expect from our mothers. As I know I've probably discussed before (but obviously I'm not going to check because I can't be bothered), I have self-awareness, which I very much hope means he won't grow up with the same gremlins as I did. 

Here comes the line I hear time and time again - right now I'm terrified of weight gain and I get a sense of ultimate control and achievement from seeing that number on the scale drop. If that means I can be 'normal' at my job and have the mental energy to give my boy everything he needs from me - and I don't mean money, I mean nurture, love, a perfect role model, (someone who was born understanding all of these things...) oh, I forgot positive and validating emotional lessons! - then so be it. Because you can tell I'm the best and most emotional dependable role model any child could possibly have, right? I've always had to carefully tread a line with this and achieve a somewhat delicate balance somewhere equidistant between totally nuts and completely sane. 

When BPD is treated, the little nagging voice of anorexia can suddenly pipe up, and apparently those of us with this dual-diagnosis are few and far between, so often our doctors assume our history of EDs is just another part of the self-harming behaviours like cutting or sabotaging relationships. I actually feel incredibly mentally balanced at the moment, erring on the side of depressed/anxious, but emotionally not swinging between the extremes the way I do when BPD is kicking off. Mothers can't be that way and cope, it's just not a tenable situation at all. Unfortunately it's also really easy to get away with eating a lot less when you're working and child-rearing - you're just too busy frankly - and nobody really questions the weight loss after pregnancy because we're taught to expect women to fulfil the media's image of the new mum, springing back into shape.

Now, I'm sure some of you reading this will be thinking: "It's not fair to bring a child into a situation! The poor bastard will have both the genes and the batshit crazy influence to boot - just offering love isn't enough, he'll be bound to suffer!" and to you I'll say this: any one of us in this world could become mentally ill tomorrow. Really, it's true. But at least I know my batshit genes in advance, so I can build an environment where his emotions will be acknowledged and validated. I can guarantee you that I've spent way more time thinking about his emotions than most parents. I've worked my way up in a job that doesn't always reward me with satisfaction but does allow me to pay for a nice place to live, a nursery that works with parents and children to implement 'gentle parenting', which has taught me that time outs and punishments for children under three is pointless, because they, like me, are still immature in their emotional regulation - that bit of the brain isn't finished developing yet. I've had to learn how to regulate my emotions (it's still ongoing, as you might be able to tell), as if I were still a toddler. It's a bit like squeezing a balloon - when you poke your finger in one side, another bit pops out somewhere else. 

I have to choose anorexia over BPD, because I can't choose to be cured. I may have to live alongside both to one extent or another for the rest of my life. For now I'll just do what mothers the world over do, and just do whatever it is I need to do in order to be the best parent I can be. What I'm asking of everyone else is to accept that I accept that I may not ever reach that aspirational goal, and be ok with that. Because I am.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Please stop saying that

"Oh, she's got stress, she won't be back for a while". 

Ok, now wait a minute there - you're saying she's 'got' a very natural and necessary physiological reaction that we need in order to perform? Right. So we'll see her as usual tomorrow then?

"He's already had one nervous breakdown, now he's had another one!" Yeah, I heard he's in a padded cell licking the sweat off the walls in a straight jacket, kicking the potatoes from last night's dinner tray around like the National Lottery balls.

You have to love a good old colloquialism. Unfortunately, the fact that even many GPs don't use the right terminology doesn't do us any favours. 

I've been criticised for saying I don't think 'breakdown' is a useful term. It suggests that you're not in crisis (the more up to date version) unless you're totally lost the plot and are streaking through the town foaming at the mouth. Well, let's see here - my last big one was in 2007, when I was working in a substance misuse service, frontline, crack addicts coming in off the streets and faxes detailing the 30 year criminal history of some of the regulars forced to come in by probation. I'd begun keen and I loved the place, even though I wanted to work with the clients more. Everything was pretty ok, I had my own flat, a car, and a boyfriend. But I had one huge elephant in the room - I'd been addicted to prescription drugs for about 2 years by that point. Finally, after enduring a month of utter hell detoxing on my own with no benzos - bad, bad idea - I was clean. This was the perfect time then for my boyfriend to leave me. I totally lost myself. 

Without the usual crutch of codeine, and its soft cushion of warmth, I nose-dived into oblivion. 

What ingredients do you need to make a good old-fashioned breakdown?

1) Alcohol - check. Maybe 2-3 bottles of wine a night plus any spirit I could find.
2) Cocaine - check. 2 grams minimum.
3) Friends who you didn't really know, but you all did drugs and drank to excess - check
4) Plenty of male attention that tapped into your lack of self-worth and desperation to destroy yourself - check.
5) A stool with your name on it at the end of a bar where drugs were handed out like sherbet - check
6) A job where everyone else there had some level of mental illness - check.

I woke up in bed with strangers in places I didn't know. I gained consciousness whilst running through Whitechapel to escape a man who was chasing me. I cracked my head on the pavement falling down drunk in the road. I showed up at my ex's house, demanded alcohol and then sobbed until I was asked to leave. I was a total car crash. BUT - I still 'functioned'.

I sang in a choir, and during a concert in a cathedral I was in the toilet doing coke off a holy toilet seat. I showed up for work everyday, reeking of booze, still drunk and did drugs off a toilet seat reserved for the abstinent. I'd lost a lot of weight and at work I would only eat peas and gravy. I did another concert in St James's Palace and got so drunk I had to be taken home by a complete stranger, who stayed overnight but left before I woke up still in my clothes and late for work. I went for a night out with friends from work, fell over on the toilet floor and got covered in piss, then took another guy I barely knew home. In the morning I woke up with bruises and my full-length mirror lay smashed on the floor. I have no memory of anything, but that might be my brain's way of protecting me. 

That was definitely 'a breakdown', except it wasn't. I functioned, albeit with considerably less skill than normal. People at work probably thought I was just a bit late and weird about food, I told them I'd had flu when I was detoxing. I did my work, and got good reviews too. If any of them had seen me after 6pm though? They wouldn't have believed I could even show up.

My point is, saying to someone 'I had a nervous breakdown' isn't at all representative of what actually happened to me then. I didn't just stay in bed all day with the curtains closed. I still drove a car and typed emails that weren't just mental rants about pigeons, and the voices in my head. I used a debit card and wrote an entire album in my spare time even - that's more than I've done in the 2 years since giving birth. I was in crisis, of that there was no doubt. 

We all need stress - it makes us perform. But it's not a mental illness, yet doctors still put it on sick notes because it's more socially acceptable than depression or anxiety. The stress bell curve is usually somewhere in any mental health training for a reason, to show that it's a perfectly normal physiological response to certain factors, and because we need it to survive. But if it carries on for a long time and you fall off the end of that curve, that's when you're likely to experience some form of mental aberration. Worrying about whether you've met the criteria for a breakdown is the last thing you need by that point. 

"Oh, well that doesn't sound like a breakdown to me, my brother's girlfriend had one and it was totally different - she didn't leave the house for days! Has the doctor diagnosed stress?" 

Things are moving on, slowly but surely, and it's high time GPs stopped using these terms. Just like asylums, they should be consigned to the pages of history.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The truth is out there.

I didn't start writing this blog with any intention of holding back. As far as I was concerned, I needed to be completely transparent - people need to know the truth of mental illness and the pain it can put whole families through whilst being largely ignored by the powers that be. I've written things I could never admit in conversation, even with therapists and my best friends. Some of those things I had to write down to even admit to myself. And yet there are still things I hesitate to write down, because once I do, they're out there. They exist and I can't take them back. 

To write down some of what I'm about to, hurts. It hurts more than I can adequately express here, in any words. I'm ashamed of it, truly. It makes me want to hurt myself again, but it's also the very reason I won't. 

I chose motherhood, through a fog of uneasy decisions, IVF hormones and fighting my fears, and I carried my baby son for 9 months, knowing nothing except how much I wanted to meet him - but I had to not think about the reality of what was happening to me, because it was too terrifying. My body had changed from something I had complete control over, to something that was merely a vessel for another, far more worthy being than I. Even before I was pregnant I had deliberately gained weight to make conception more likely. I will never know if my disordered eating caused my infertility, but I stopped taking diet pills, I weaned myself off codeine and I knuckled down to be the best vessel I could possibly be. For a while this newfound 'freedom' around food felt good - I had a reason NOT to mentally tally up my calories for the day, and it felt almost bearable at least. 

I also had other even more engulfing feelings. These were the ones that I'd known were coming - I could see them forming into intangible shapes on the horizon years before - I knew this experience would illicit a thing so smothering even though I had no concept of what it would be. There are thousands of pieces of writing out there that discuss the nature and nurture of procreation, the twists and turns of a million pregnancies both typical and non, and the rocky road through the early years of accidental successes and unplanned malady of mind. Perhaps fewer choose to focus on the inner dialogue that both demands that you have a child because you'll leave nothing else behind in the world, yet tortures you with visions of another life like yours. The torture begins as soon as you understand that you're not like other people. When you become aware that the only common denominator in all these failed relationships (and those of the people around you), is you. How abusive would it be to knowingly pass on those bad genes to someone you will then love so much?

As soon as he was born, my mental health nosedived spectacularly. It marred those first few months that nobody is honest about anyway with black moods and dissociation. I contemplated suicide but I never told a soul because I was truly frightened that if anyone realised I wasn't meant to be a parent, they'd take my baby away. I've never found it very difficult to talk about my experiences, but when the second - and last - health visitor who came to the house asked me how my mood was, saying she'd 'seen my history' in my records, I just smiled and said: "Oh no - that was all years ago! I'm fine now". I even did it in a sing-songy voice, just to fully throw her off the scent.

Therapy just made it worse; we peeled the scab off and underneath, the tissue hadn't healed properly so it just ripped away the protective layer and reopened the wound. Then I had DBT, which I've talked about before, and it was like how it felt to be on ecstacy for the first time - a raw and emotional awakening - suddenly I had something to balance the melancholy.

My son is a lefty. He has the last remaining gene for limb preference passed from my mother into the grandson she never met, and as melodramatic as that is, it just matters to me. Of all the triggers of memories that will be enshrouded (in secret, because of course that was eleven years ago now and I shouldn't still hurt the way I do) in pain - and that prickly feeling you get in your face when you're flashing back through the memories of that day in a split second - this one is the most left of field. 

She wasn't your average lefty; she resisted the attempts of intolerant teachers to force her to use her non-dominant hand just because - well, conformity? - and she could even use 'normal' scissors, such was her determination to succeed. That particular genome gift is one that I got in spades, luckily. I live in my own special little (big) universe of course where difference is very, very cool. Here, you don't even get past the front door unless you're broken in some way. If nothing marks you out as unique, then I'm just not interested. Waifs and strays of the world, I feel you.

I know I felt many, many moments of joy during that time. But I didn't know what joy felt like so I didn't know how to feel it. 'Joy' comes out of parts of the brain that need to be regulated in order to work in the way they're supposed to, and for me that part is itself malfunctioning. It needs to be trained and medicated so that I can escape what had become a dragging undercurrent of anxiety. But so what if I need to take medication in order to enjoy these moments? I can now recognise joy, and better still feel joy, and I really like it.