Sunday, 24 January 2016

I must, I must, I must I must adjust

So much value is lost when irregular shaped people have to try and fit into regular shaped holes. 'Organisation' is meant to be something that aids us, not something we use as a stick to beat ourselves with, and yet we (or I at least) seem to have a natural talent for fashioning it into a metaphorical broom handle. I get very angry when I see situations where someone I know has brilliance in them, and yet they haven't found whatever success means to them and their skills are being wasted.

I meet a lot of different people. I've worked some bizarre jobs in my time, too. Ten years late to the party all the grown ups were having; I could hear the bassline of Lionel Ritchie's 'All Night Long' through the floor as they all shared fondue and breathed red wine over each other and when I tiptoed down the first few stairs in my nightie and peered through the bannisters I could hear the raucous laughter and bad chat up lines and I just knew I wasn't ready for their world. 

At college for my second time around, a mildly sleazy tutor told me I'd 'grow out of my rebellion' and dress like everyone else if I wanted a good job. I was 22 then and I already felt my age was all wrong. I had become that guy who shows up to do pottery A Level just as a bit of a hobby and tries to come and hang out with you and your mates over lunch. He's wearing a zip-up fleece and Merrell walking boots even though college is all concrete and linoleum floors. Sometimes he'll wear a funky shirt and maybe his glasses are slightly quirky. He never really graduates, he just moves on to the next art history or glass-blowing course they'll let you on when you have O Levels instead of GCSEs.

Of course I didn't grow out of dressing like a teenager because emotionally I will always be a teenager, and I told him I wouldn't at the time - he scoffed at me in the same way I often find myself doing internally now when talking to my younger friends. He was a twat really. On a base level I find it much easier to talk to people in their twenties because I just identify with how they feel about life - that anticipatory sort of haze that makes things look a little twinkly (a bit like when you take ecstasy for the first time) where you're still just waiting to find out what actually happens in your life. Plenty of research shows that animals will press levers in study situations just in anticipation of reward, and that's a pretty accurate reflection of me. I've pressed the goddamn lever a million times. 

Today a friend asked me a question: Of all of my symptoms, which would be the three I'd get rid of if I had a magic wand? For some reason, even though this isn't really a 'symptom' in the usual sense, I said I'd want to be able to feel like I'd arrived. Not like I was always waiting for real life to start. Stop fucking around already and live now. I know everyone says they feel like that, but sometimes when I'm saying this to another person I can see a slight flicker of sympathy flicker across their face. There's usually a bit of a loaded silence, before I realise I've lost them completely. This happens most when I'm pretending to be corporate, because I don't have a 'professional self' - I don't even really understand what that concept means either. To me it makes no sense if honesty and integrity are so important when it comes to business. I have no capacity left to role play after basic functioning, and aside from that I just don't subscribe to what I think is a very outdated way of conducting oneself. I sort of just expect honesty rather than viewing it as a newfangled way of working and conducting oneself, as ground-breaking as that seems to be. 

I'm irregular in that I really believe that the only reason I've never been suicidal for very long is not just that I want to know what's coming next, but I don't want not to know. Sometimes I force myself to watch TV programmes I'm not enjoying just in case they get better and I miss it. Of course that doesn't explain why I tend towards staying home during all my free time with my comfortable routines, safe foods and soft feeling clothing (my hands are so dry that anything feels soft in comparison), wearing noise-cancelling headphones to shut out the sound of anything around me (it's only taken me 2 weeks to finish this post) and only venturing out to walk 5k around the same park or go to work, but my life is cyclical so it's probably going to change pretty soon, as least I hope so. I'm an irregular person.

For a while when I went back to work from maternity leave I tried to become a yummy mummy and wear the 'professional' uniform chosen for some reason to become the outward signifier of talent and commitment in offices across the globe, but it was so obviously false when I wore it. I felt like I was wearing another flesh suit over my body - I was playing the part of me. I want to work. I don't know why I want to work really, because work is also my nemesis - it becomes obsessive to the point when I realise I've only spent 6 hours of a week with my child when he's actually awake, because I feel I have to be seen to be at my desk to make sure I don't get overlooked for that promotion that may never come. I hate getting up in the morning in a fog of chronic pain and caffeine hangover from the day before. I have a set routine I must execute otherwise my whole day will be a write-off.

Some of the worst times of my life, and of my illness, were when I was unable to work; when all I had in my day was a trip to the local psychiatric unit to have 'slow release' medication injected into my gluteus maximus, before driving home with a dead leg to climb the walls for a couple of days until the effects wore off and the valium kicked in. Mouldy plates piled up in the sink whilst I stared out of the dirty windows at my view of a grey car park, and occasionally summoned the police to either tend to the elderly and belligerent alcoholic who'd fallen into the road again, or deal with the crackhead smashing up his own furniture and hurling it down the stairwell before assaulting his heavily pregnant girlfriend, all to the soundtrack of happy hardcore playing at top volume. If I was brave and awake long enough to venture out to top up the electricity meter, I might have a brief exchange with my neighbour who explained to me that every time he took out the rubbish, it seemed to need taking out again only a few days later. That's some high quality conversation right there. I had no shape, I had no reason for anything. Time was just sloping along with no form.

Working is my version of the armed forces I suppose - it gives me much needed structure and a reason not to wallow in my own filth and self-pity. Back in the days when I worked 13 hour shifts in a supermarket at 16, I was a great employee. I didn't need telling to be polite to each and every customer and not look bored even though at times I prayed for death as I sat behind the checkout, desperate for the loo and in constant fear that someone from my school would want serving some alcohol and I'd have to call over the supervisor. Time goes much more slowly when you're young, and 60 minutes split across 3 breaks isn't much. I didn't even have a phone to check, I just sat in the locker room on my own staring into my cup-a-soup and thinking of the £3.50 reward for every hour of joylessness. It wasn't until my mid-twenties when I began to realise that the structures of the working world just didn't seem to work for me - or I didn't work for them.

Before you even get to work we have the much overlooked (when it comes to including people with mental illnesses) job advert. There's this word that comes up in every job advert you'll find anywhere: 'experience', and I think it's safe to assume that they don't mean experience of the kind I'd been having. Everything people describe in an ad is geared towards the neurotypical. Those of us who've had periods of being unwell are penalised because we have to disclose our disability even before we've had a chance to prove we can do the job when we're asked why there's a 2 year gap in our CVs that wasn't filled with volunteering in Africa, or starting our own business.

Then there's the capability tests you do before you ever even meet anyone from the company you're applying to join. Here I am, with my 12 year old brain, and I've got to try and function like everyone else does - even though I'm heading tentatively down the side of a cognitive cliff face just as a nice complement to my immature emotional mechanisms. Navigating through a bizarre set of multiple choice questions, where I'm expected to demonstrate that I'm 'normal' isn't going to go well. And also, maths. 'Nuff said.


At work, this is where the Equality Act comes in - according to that, a long-term condition that affects my ability to function on a daily basis = a disability. Lots of people with mental health conditions object to that word, and I'll explore that in future posts (about 3 of which I've already started writing and then got stuck in the loop as I described the my last post), but for now let's just say that I welcome anything that underlines just how debilitating this disorder can be, and aims to prevent me from being punished for having it. The law says that because of my disability, employers have to make adjustments to enable me to work just as anyone else would. Right. Easy as that.


I'm aware that this next bit might invite some understandable criticism, but please take my word as someone who has worked in the field of disability advocacy for ten years that I'm fully aware of the issues people still face when getting society to do even the smallest thing to even accept disabled people and not bully them out, let alone support them. This is not about comparison of disabilities - it's about bringing mental health and disability together as a superpower of influence and making people understand that it's us now, but it could be them tomorrow. I'd like people with mental health conditions to ask for help instead of denying their health status because it's so stigmatising, and I'd like mental health activism to be part of disability activism. Intangible adjustments that would enable people like me to thrive instead of just survive can be just as vital for other disabilities so it's in everyone's best interests to get our act together. Of course I don't know what it's like to be blind, but it's just a fact that it's more straightforward to make adjustments involving physical stuff than it is to figure out how to adjust for someone's inability to concentrate for longer than 30 seconds. With the best will in the world, even if my employer asks me what I need (which is touted as best practise for obvious reasons), I don't have a clue. I don't know what would make things level - unless I ask for things that go against the very fabric of 'work' as we know it. 


I'll give you an example: 


Employers are busy knocking down walls, bringing people out of private offices and encouraging 'collaborative working', so how can I ask for a quiet space to work? I'm not important enough frankly. This is probably the biggest issue I have at work. I have a TV visible from the corner of my eye, who knows what it's there for because the sound's off so we're reliant on the dodgy auto-generated subtitles to get the news. The most hilarious mistakes seem to happen on the most serious news items, and laughing out loud (LOL) is frowned upon when the news is about tragedy and awfulness.


If you've ever wondered why your favourite brands are the ones that only bring out new products once in a blue moon, then look no further - I'll just tell you, right now. It's because the people working there HAVE TIME TO THINK OF THEM. Seriously - no bullshit. 
None. The old faithfuls churn out the same old claptrap of glorified, fanfared, built-up bollocks dressed up as 'cutting edge', but really only as dressed up as a sad-eyed chihuahua in the Playboy Mansion. The whole of the 'little guy' population in mainstream industry is just frantically scratching around for seconds and minutes of thinking time surrounded by the crumbs of an old vending machine and doing a half-arsed job of it all because we seem to be of the belief that we can do it aaaaaaall!.... *cough*.... but, we can't. 

My 'to-do' list is never done, and now I feel obligated to allocate time to every Tom, Dick and Harry that rocks up to my desk at 8.45am on a Monday morning with "some great news!". Well to them, I say HIGNFY! (non-UK readers - Google it) - and the news is that I may look like I'm saying yes, but actually, I'm not. And if you've managed to concentrate long enough to get to the end of this post then bravo. To those who, like me, have had to allow for several attempts, thank you. 'Work' needs you.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

'Productivity'. The enemy of the mind.

About ten minutes ago, I had just finished listening to a Ted Talk about some guy who gave up the internet for a year. I didn't really pay attention for most of the talk, because I was a) balancing my laptop awkwardly over the arm of the chair because my Fitbit was charging in one of the usb holes and Apple obviously didn't think of the fact that many people's laps are actually crossed legs, and b) busy reading one rather graphic Facebook post about how someone's boyfriend didn't know his way around female anatomy. I did hear one word that resonated with me in the closing gambit of said Ted talk - and that word was 'productivity'. I paused for a second, and then I typed 'What's so great about being productive' into Google. 

This probably seems like a ridiculous question, but I hear the word everywhere I bloody go these days. 'Productivity tools' like the Eisenhower Box pepper my inbox from every direction, and this obsession with benchmarking and measuring and just fucking judging ourselves and everyone around us has built up as a knee jerk reaction to the 'jobs for the boys' club who never held anyone accountable or assigned worth based on output. But perhaps Thom Yorke was actually right all these years, and the 'fitter, happier, more productive' human was merely a construct sold to teenagers of the 90s to make us all work harder. It's all '6 effective ways to enhance workplace productivity', 'The 7 drivers of workplace productivity', '4 surprising truths about workplace productivity', and I'm expecting to come across '5 pointless mantras that merely serve as distraction from productivity', '3 little pigs and their house that productivity built' and '1 great idea - how's about we just get on with it?!' pretty soon.

We're so busy trying to not only BE productive, but to PROVE how productive we're being all the time, that we forget that there really is no substitute for doing something really good, really well, no matter how much you plan for it, how long it takes and how well you can describe what you did to make it. This is how art works, and why creative genii are so aloof, nay mysterious. Now, I'm in no way claiming any status akin to genius here, but if you asked me how I wrote any of my last three albums of music (I know, right? A whole three!) I would probably give you one of my stock made-up answers because as musicians one must have something to hand to trot out, otherwise our mystique ebbs away, a bit like that weirdo princess's world in Neverending Story (and yes I'm singing the theme tune right now). I found out during a job interview that if someone asks you how you did something fairly substantial and you say 'I don't know', it tends to count against you. But who cares how I did it? I was vibed out in my creative zone! I wasn't following a project plan and cutting myself off just before I finished a song because I'd overrun a deadline, or documenting each melody line before asking people what they thought before I carried on - I really couldn't give a fuck what anyone else thinks of the music I write, because I just write what comes out at the time - it's not something I have much control over. And that's exactly what productivity is all about: control. More specifically, it's control of the self, and if you've read many of my other posts you may have recognised a theme about self-control - I just don't have any.

Having no self-control doesn't have to be a bad thing though, and this is what I keep coming back to in the multitude of conversations I have with people I work with about this. When you're in that slightly meditative state that happens when you're writing your best stuff, you're completely focused in on what you're doing. You're not doing anything that distracts from that, so in that sense you're doing the opposite of multi-tasking, and recently people have begun to realise that doing loads of things at once, which was once hailed as the 'superfood' of human abilities, might in fact be a bit of a red herring (one that's been in the bin rotting and working up a stink for a while).

In the time it takes me to try and focus my mental chatter long enough to arrange my tasks into order of priority and then importance, I could've easily got some work done. In fact I do my best thinking when I'm just staring out of the window, musing on something at random and seeing where my mental drift takes me. I actually started another post that goes on to talk about this 'thinking time' as I call it so I won't go into great detail here, suffice it to say that hardly anyone is making time for this anymore and that's why we're a bit stifled and everyone wants to work somewhere like Google or Apple, where they've created an atmos of relaxation to promote alpha brain waves, and in turn induce creativity. I actually believe that one of the main reasons I inhabited my own imaginary world for so long into my teens was because ultimately I enjoyed the feeling of being in this state, but it also meant I could generate ideas from things that I orchestrated in my own mind. I'm pretty sure I also get what are known as 'intrusive alpha waves' - which happen during REM sleep - because I frequently have very long and very detailed dreams and sometimes even lucid dreams where I'm aware I'm in a dream but I'm in total control of myself for once.

In summary, self-control and productivity are both slightly bollocksy and should be applied with an awareness of this. 

I found this article, which totally sums up what I think about this - only in a much more succinct and shorter way (giving you that bit of time back to go and pretend to be... productive...?).

Saturday, 2 January 2016

My 'day in the life of a working mum'

I've read loads of them. 

I used to enjoy reading the ones in Stylist magazine of confident women who owned their own businesses and had hugely successful careers already glittering in the dust behind them, juggling multiple children with a Blackberry strapped into one perfectly-nailed hand and never so much as wearing a slightly grey and far less than crisp white shirt with a stain on the front to a meeting with an important client. I've never done any of that - I deliberately don't buy white clothes and I've never had my nails done - my nails are brittle as hell and slowly detaching themselves from the nail beds and I find long nails of any kind totally impractical and a bit creepy. I don't do ironing either, for me, or for anyone else in my family. I aspired to be like these women (in every way other than the nails, obviously) even before I had a child of my own. I just knew I never would be.


My day can begin at a range of times 


depending on several factors; if I'm working and going into the office, I set my phone alarm for 6am. My husband leaves the house to travel to Milton Keynes at 5am so he's not around for this bit of the day. Here's where people seem to score points for being martyrs about what time they get up - the earlier this is, the better parent you are. If I've remembered to put my alarm out of reach of the bed, I'll actually get up at 6am. If not, I'll probably accidentally turn it off and sleep in until my son Albie's shouting wakes me up sometime between 7 and 8.30am (day ruined, frankly). He's 2.7 and still sleeping in a travel cot so he can't escape and do himself any damage. He's very clever at everything apart from danger, and knowing about it, and it frightens me that he might just get up and break into the cleaning cupboard or join a gang or something, so he remains caged for now. If I do get up and he's already awake (I'll listen outside his door for snuffling sounds if he's not already yelling 'MUhmmmEE!') I'll stick him in front of the TV with his toys whilst I shower and get dressed, with a can of energy drink at my side (one of those ghastly huge ones that looks like a beer can when you're drinking out of it whilst pushing a buggy on a weekday morning) and a layer of guilt hanging over my head about a) him being occupied by the television, and b) the fact that I'm spending any of the time he's home with me on any semblance of a beauty regime for myself. 


In the shower, I'll also notice how disgusting that bit where the toiletry bottles sit has become and do some simultaneous cleaning (absolutely never with my husband's awful flannel which I hate), or think about how hard it'll be to sustain myself until 2pm without eating. 


I get dressed in clothes that are right on the cusp between being casual and 'smart casual'
which as far as I'm concerned, is not a thing and therefore I refuse to acknowledge it. I used to wear suits (I say suits, when what I really mean is a jacket, and a completely unrelated pair of trousers), but I realised I wasn't convincing anyone, so I had to stop. I bring my phone into the bathroom and watch BBC Breakfast whilst doing my hair and makeup. Despite how tired I usually feel, this is one of my most favourite parts of the day. That also makes me feel guilty (Guilty).

After this I'll tiptoe around tidying up Brio and dinosaur-shaped debris, put last night's plates and pots in the dishwasher and check Albie's nursery bag to make sure he has two spare sets of clothes and nappies because he's not quite ready to start potty training and I don't feel the urge to foist it upon him yet. We're trying to sell our flat, so I try to leave the place 'viewing-ready' as I call it and this is a total pain in the arse when you have a toddler. I deliberately turn the lights off in the living room before Albie wakes up to try and stop him seeing any of his toys if I need him to get up and get dressed and out the door straight away.


Putting on washing is not something that happens very often on a work day because inevitably I forget to take it out and then discover it again on the weekend, lying in a pool of stinky water. 


If my husband's off (he only works half the days in a year in a 5 on, 5 off, 4 on, 4 off format) he gets up and gets Albie ready for nursery so I don't then have to factor that extra time in. Somehow it still takes just as long either way. Note to self: must think more about this when I have time (i.e. never).

I aim to be leaving by 7am and this should be perfectly possible in theory, but it tends to be more like 7.30, latest 8 (disaster/Guilty). I walk at a fast pace and I track the journey with my Fitbit and try to beat my times each day because I've come to the conclusion that racewalking (this does exist, it has a hashtag and everything) is the only cardio exercise my body will tolerate without breaking for the 2km to nursery. I was once catapulted into the road over the top of the buggy (Guilty) when I was walking so fast the front wheel caught in a pothole as I pushed it off the kerb. White van men had to ask me if I was 'alright love?', and the woman who almost ran me over also stopped, thankfully. I wonder why I don't see more people experiencing this seeing considering every other child in the world has a Maclaren buggy with quite small wheels, as far as the giant unpruned forest of them at nursery would suggest.

I'll then walk the remaining 3km to work in Canary Wharf, via the foot tunnel, which really winds me up because people cycle at full pelt through there and I want to stick an umbrella in their spokes to teach them a lesson. I just tweet angrily about it instead and nobody cares. I listen to lectures from Stanford University for this leg of the journey because I hate 'dead time' when I could be learning something, but often I forget to pay attention and end up rewinding the same parts over and over again. This bit of the day is almost Guilt-free because I'm not only exercising, but also learning - or at least pretending to. Once I arrive at work - anywhere between 8.30 and 9.30am - I load up on more caffeine and try and capitalise on the post-exercise focus to get through emails. Once this is done, I try not to look at them again until the afternoon. Believe me, everyone would be hugely more productive if they did this. People often tell you to do this, but as soon as it's their own emails you're ignoring they almost always get shitty about it and feign ignorance.


I would say I'm lucky to have an employer who allows me the flexibility of turning up whenever I want, but frankly it shouldn't matter unless it would be detrimental to them in some way. 


I work harder because I have that autonomy and I'm thinking about work so much (Guilty) that I can go a bit bonkers, so I'm definitely not a slacker. The sooner we all get out of this mindset where value is determined by hours spent doing something, the better. More on that later.

I use noise-cancelling headphones (Parrot Zik 2.0 - highly recommended) to block out the open plan office irritants because I have several people with very annoying voices around me and I have a stand-up desk to stop my chronic pain building up. During the morning if I need a break from something I'm working on, I'll check my personal mails or facebook, load up Buffer with tweets for both of my accounts, or build some more of my new site for parents with eating disorders. If I didn't manage all of my work emails in the morning, I'll have another crack at about midday whilst munching on some roasted chickpeas and a Quest protein bar, which sees me through until 7pm ish. 

If my husband is finishing early or off work that day I'll probably stay at work until at least 6pm whilst he does nursery pick up, but if not I leave at 5pm and walk back across to collect Albie at 6pm. We might stop in at Waitrose on the way home to spend money on crappy Thomas magazines with the same shitty plastic trains on the front that we already have in droves at home buy anything we need, and then we normally get back at about 6.30pm. Bath time is only every other day, so the routine tends to be TV, whilst I battle him to get into pyjamas and clean his teeth (although I admit that I forget that bit quite a lot - I'm trying to do better) and snacks like live yoghurt and milled linseed (Lidl bought, so not at all posh), before bed at 7pm. We sing the CBeebies bedtime song even though he doesn't really like normal TV these days, and he gets a dummy (Guilty) and pretty much goes straight to sleep. I will say I'm lucky for that part, because it's true - and long may it continue, else my sanity will surely not. I normally miss bedtime if my husband's home which really upsets me. 


Such is the power of an eating disorder that I will deliberately avoid working from home because I'm afraid of the lack of structure - and more importantly the availability of 'unsafe' food in the house. 


Albie has all three meals at nursery so that really helps, although I do worry that we haven't established 'dinner time' as a family (or at all in my case), which means on weekends he just snacks all day. Anything food-related is problematic to me, but people don't like you talking about that because we're all meant to be sitting up to home-cooked meals at 5pm around a dinner table, even though no adult I know eats a meal at that time. 

On the weekends I sleep until I hear shouting and then my son comes into my bed and cuddles whilst watching something on the iPad (Guilty) and I half go back to sleep. Same for my husband if he's at home (he stays over at work quite often to avoid the 5am start and lack of trains at that time on weekends). I might shower if I can be bothered, or if not we go straight into the living room to watch more TV (Guilty) and I give my son weetabix and cheerios for breakfast. I'll sit down and try and work for a bit, or at least as long as I can before I completely lose concentration and Albie gets bored of playing with trains. We don't usually have set plans on the weekend, but we tend to go for a walk mid-morning in Greenwich Park for a couple of hours and if a nap doesn't happen we watch a film and generally mess about for the rest of the day, with the odd supermarket trip in the car thrown in. I could pretend we go swimming or to soft play but we don't (Guilty)- getting to the park is often about as much as we manage and just getting dressed in order to do that can take several hours. Albie's much more verbal than his peers so we avoid some of the drama caused when children can't say how they're feeling, but sometimes he'll just not want to get dressed to go out to the playground, and also not understand why showing up in just a nappy wouldn't be a good idea. After a few times round the argument, I'll just think 'fuck it' and settle in for the day. 

Albie and I enjoy fake-dancing and saying silly words, or out-shouting each other in silly voices, which is not an activity my husband particularly enjoys us doing. I've always done it, it's sort of a steam valve for when my brain goes offline for a bit. It's also a bit of bonding. Ideally I'd choose to do this bonding over playing the piano or something, but if I pick up any of my musical instruments or start singing I get told to 'shut up mummy'. 


I enjoy the unstructuredness of the weekends, but I can only do this for a couple of days before my head begins to melt. Luckily, that's all a weekend is.


I might eat microwave popcorn or some veggie concoction I have to make myself with weighed out veggies at about 9pm and watch something on the Amazon Fire TV box, maybe a US series or one of the original Amazon pilots, whilst working on my laptop. I don't know why I do this, because I know I cannot multi-task between writing and the TV. I'll go to bed at anywhere between 9.30 and 11pm. My husband usually goes to bed much earlier when he's working, so the whole day is sort of run on sometimes overlapping but largely unmatched schedules. The only time we watch something together is when he's off work on the weekend, when we can actually have our evenings running on the same timings. 

We don't have any family nearby so all of this stuff has to happen between just the two of us; there's nobody to pick up any slack. If one of us is ill, the other has to keep all the balls in the air solo. My friends would say I often bang on about this and they're right - it's really effing hard work to keep going and going without a break. 


I'm only ever off work when Albie's not at nursery, so I have to get all the projects I'm working on, or anything that's just for me outside of work sorted in the evenings, when I really just want to lie horizontal in a dark room (as my mum would say). 


I reach breaking point usually just before a scheduled period of time off, but before I know it I'm locked back into that battle with all of the food I hadn't planned would be there and keen to get back into some forced structure. If I know there's something lurking in the house that I don't allow myself to have, even if it belongs to someone else I have to eat it, just to make it not be there anymore. Otherwise I can't concentrate on anything else. I don't want to be chained to the food in my cupboards, so when I ask my husband not to bring home things like chocolate or sweets it's not me using reverse psychology at all - I really mean it. Christmas is hell for me for that reason, and I still can't actually get these words out to my extended family or friends because I'm embarrassed, and because I know they'll just laugh and think 'Oh, she means DO buy loads of sweet stuff and food she likes!'. 


If I said I had type 1 diabetes people would get it, but this is mental illness, so nobody believes it's a real request. Mental illness is still a joke. 


When we move all of this will go up in smoke I'm sure, and we'll do it all differently. Or maybe we won't - maybe we just like it this way. As I write, Albie's eating sugar-free muesli and dried fruit with fig and honey yoghurt and he just turned around to me and said 'Hmmm, sweet crumble'. Well yes my love, yes it is.

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

Co-co-co-co-co-morbid

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!"