Asked my psychiatrist what psychosis meant yesterday, as she wanted to start me on a very low dose anti-psychotic. I think my face did something like this 😳 (Probably doesn’t help that I just read American Psycho.) It’s none of those things. Nothing bad or dangerous necessarily. Just a detachment from reality. We all have that sometimes, that feeling of ‘this isn’t real’, perhaps after a family tragedy. Or you can believe you’re the Queen of England & the honey bees are out to kill you. Made me think about how my eating disorder’s voice changed my reality, before I was able to recognise & even fight it.
I had lost 2 stone, & was just slightly underweight for my height. But I couldn’t sit in a chair with arms. I wouldn’t fit. I remember wheeling the chair out of the office & working at the computer kneeling up on the floor. Getting into bed was tricky, as it might break from my weight if I put too much pressure on one area. I knew everyone around me ate 3 meals a day & needed at least 2000 calories, but I didn’t. That was far too much. I’d be horrified & worried if a friend told me they were self-harming but it made sense for me, because I deserved it, & it didn’t matter to harm this body of mine.
Everything was nice & black & white then. I was in my own reality. Where this 3-dimensional mass of flesh tried to rid itself of the world & make everything simple. I was the ‘me’ inside the flesh – I wanted just to be thoughts, lines instead of shapes, shadowless, soundless.
Now the colours return. And the noise & the body. I don’t want want this reality. But I can’t survive without it. I don’t know what’s real. And that’s more than a little freaky. At least things used to be simple, even if it wasn’t real.
A couple of years ago I thought I had this perfection thing nailed. I even wrote about it for my Masters. Drawing on my experiences of recovery from an eating disorder, I wrote about accepting & thriving on imperfections in my work; how learning to Let It Go opens up so much more…..
I was that child that got herself up at 6.45 to practice the clarinet, & put herself to bed after a full day of school & evening classes with a solid hour of reading, of the most dull-looking tiny-print book I could find.
When I developed my eating disorder, I found a new thing to be perfect at. I could balance all these pretty little numbers called calories & become pure skin & bones. Nothing else messy. When my dietitian said she’d never met anyone alive with a BMI as low as mine I felt a little thrill.
In recovery my attention turned to my work, & by God I was going to work harder & clock more hours than anyone else ever. I was never going to risk making a mistake.
As my career developed I realised that actually it’s fine to just be on time, instead of an hour early. It’s ok to say ‘I’m a bit tired & bored today’. There aren’t any medals for staying up all night doing paperwork. In fact it’s a bit annoying. & not really worth it.
So I wrote lavishly of accepting my flaws, of learning from mistakes, of the new golden age of imperfections. Who was I kidding? For some (probably very dull & predictable childhood related) reasons I crave control. & neat edges. & clarity.
So I stopped eating biscuits at tea breaks… & BAM! So easy, so comfortable. It all came rushing back like it’d never left. Soon I had my bones & my numbers & my single focus for each day. To be perfect at not eating.
I had a Good Day yesterday. I was brave & invited a friend over, & we watched RuPaul’s Drag Race & drank coconut water & played card games & laughed. I properly, openly laughed! The friend goes home & the thick, cold blackness rushes through my veins. It’s very quiet. Except for the static in my head. How dare I laugh? Opening my mouth & being noisy! Sitting on the floor so my legs squished out in front of another person! Enjoying myself when I should be in pain.
I think the AspireAssist is probably a terrible idea. I think this because my first reaction was that it was a brilliant idea, & my brilliant ideas are currently not to be trusted, apparently.
This genius contraption by Aspire Bariatrics is a small tube inserted into the stomach, accessed by a handy button on the front of your tummy. Shortly after eating, you attach a little pump & suck out the food & empty it into the toilet. According to their website “Your medical team will help you learn how to fit the AspireAssist into your daily life – so it becomes a part of your routine, just like brushing your teeth.” Just like brushing your teeth! & it’s so discreet you can even use it in public toilets! What a dream, to eat whatever you like & simply purge it away…
Isn’t this bulimia? Bulimia by tube? I know if I had such a device fitted I would be so tempted to binge & purge as it’s practically being medically sanctioned. & without the dangers of vomiting! Why learn to eat healthily & normally when you can just suck it out after! No harm done.
This is the bulimic mindset. After so long of starving myself my brain flipped & survival kicked in. I ate. & ate & ate & ate. Uh oh. Now what. Get rid of it of course! Vomit first the most you can, then once you can get up off the bathroom floor take some laxatives & diet pills, & go walk with a spinning head round the block for a couple of hours, get those calories burnt while you wait for your stomach to explode.
Definitely shouldn’t do that again. But if you can just get rid of it afterwards… If I can just not eat for a week afterwards… If I keep trying to vomit more by drinking more fluids maybe I can just get a bit more out.. (handy hint there Aspire Bariatrics, we’re well ahead of you though)
The crashing disappointment of this grand scheme is that it doesn’t work. Tests have shown only around 30% of calories are removed through purging (whether via fingers down the throat or handy tube, either/or). 70% of a lot is still a lot. & breaking the cycle of bingeing & purging is a pretty epic battle. I’ve never weighed more than when I’ve been in a bulimic phase. It’s not the answer.
Of course the makers of the AspireAssist aren’t suggesting to their patients that they can stuff themselves silly without repercussions. But I really feel it sells the ‘you can have your cake & eat it’ mentality, & attempts to normalise purging as a method of weight control. FDA approved purging! What a brilliant idea.
Watched a YouTube video of Dr Anita Johnston using metaphor to describe recovery. Imagine you’re in a fast – flowing river, you’ve fallen in & you’re drowning. You see a log floating by so you grab it & hold on. It saves you. But you need to get to the river bank & get out. You try to let go of the log & swim but you sink. You grab back on. Every time you let go you get a little stronger, but you keep going back to the log for safety. One time you let go for good. And you make it across to the bank, & out of the river.
This analogy really stuck with me. I have a few good days, normally after I’ve seen my nurse, then I sink. In the last week I started to get out of the house, made a few steps forward with my meal plan, then didn’t eat for 3 days in a row. I was back clinging on to the log for dear life. I find it reassuring. I have to know that I still can, if I want to. The Voice is checking in, making sure I don’t make too much progress. I feel afraid of getting well. I don’t know what it means. I know the theory of life out of the river, it just seems so far away. Something that other people do. And then I feel guilty for not throwing myself towards the river bank shouting for help. For just sitting here, safe. I don’t know what to do.
Sat in the interview room of the psych ward, squirming in my seat & crying, I was first asked the question ‘do you suffer from anxiety?’. I hadn’t thought that’s what it was. But since then my seat-squirming instantly brings out the ‘a’ word. As I type, this is how it feels:
Right in the centre of my chest, at the bit in the middle where hard sternum meets fleshy bulgy bit below, is the burning, squirming centre of it all. If I press down with my knuckles I can almost feel the hot force of it surging out. My heart sits & flutters, rather than beats, & breaths are shallow so I don’t feel like I have enough oxygen in me. My feet want to flex & point & circle, anything but stillness. My hands want to clench into tight fists, my arms close to my chest, hiding my mouth & body, squeezing it all back inside. I try to keep all my body parts tight in together, taking up as little space as possible. Every part tense desperate for my liquid thighs & upper arms not to flood out. I dig my nails into my skin, wanting to rip it all off. Please just let me out of this body!
The Voice* would ideally like me to be in a small dark sensory deprivation chamber. No food, no friends, no feelings. I’ve occasionally rather successfully created the best I can at home – devices on airplane mode, curtains drawn, door locked, windows shut. When I do leave the house The Voice is really quite insistent that I’d be much better off turning around & heading back to the duvet fort. I’ve been in my fort for nearly 5 months now, & it occurred to me yesterday that it doesn’t actually help. Going out is scary, but curling up in a ball with The Voice shouting at me is scary too. Everything is scary.
*(not an actual voice, as I keep telling people. One of the questions asked when I got admitted to the psych ward was ‘do you hear or see things that aren’t there?’ A tricky one, as it requires you not only to be hallucinating but also to be aware that you’re hallucinating. My pink elephants are real, thank you very much.)