The little things

I weighed myself this morning. I probably shouldn’t have done. I’ve been able to avoid weighing for some time now, and actually felt ok with myself. But today I weighed. 

I have gained. By quite a lot. From my lowest weight I am almost 1.5 stone up. More significantly (to me, anyway) I am just entering into the next stone. It’s just a number, I know, but it’s a number I’ve not seen in a long, long time. Over 2 years, in fact. 

It hit me. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Usually I’d keep it to myself and silently plan how I was going to lose it all again. 

Not this time.

I went downstairs. Voice shaking, and close to tears, I called out to my husband; ‘babe, I’ve gained. I’ve gained a lot. I don’t know how I feel about it’

He approached me, smiling. He said and did exactly what I needed in that moment; ‘that’s amazing, I’m so, so proud of you’, and as he hugged me, whispered into my ear ‘you are so beautiful’.

It’s the little things that make a big difference. Cliche, but so true. 

I’ve not always felt completely supported by my husband, but the past couple of months he’s been amazing. This is a crucial time in my recovery journey. A time of big, life changes, in and away from the eating disorder. As I’ve been discharged from the eating disorders team services, I am effectively alone in this now, it’s all on me. 

Only, I’m not alone. My husband showed me that this morning. I have support. I have my family. 

I have gained weight. Quite a bit. But do you know what? I think I’m ok with it… 

Breastfeeding through anorexia

In a matter of days I will no longer be breastfeeding a two year old, because she’ll be three.

Did I ever intend to be breastfeeding at three years of age? Honestly, no. But I wouldn’t change it for the world and I’m proud that my daughter will have the opportunity to wean when she’s ready, that I am still able to nurture her in this way, against all odds. 

I am proud of my body. The body I’ve abused for over a decade. The body I’ve fought so hard against. The body I’ve wanted to destroy. It’s not given up. It’s given me the most amazing gifts – my lovely girls.

It’s carried two perfect little girls to term, birthed at healthy weights. It’s produced milk, milk designed just for them, milk that’s nurtured them, helped them to grow, provided them comfort, allowed us that precious bonding time.

I suffered with PND following the birth of my youngest. It got bad quickly. There were moments I didn’t want to even be around my children. I needed space, wanted to disappear, or failing that, stay in bed and never have to face the world again. 

On one particularly bad turn I handed my baby to my husband and said ‘please take her, just take her.’ He took her downstairs, gave me a break, but before too long was at the door again….

‘I said take her, I need to be left alone’

‘But babe, she needs feeding, she’s hungry’

‘I can’t’

‘You have to’

‘No. I don’t. You feed her’

There was a pause while we both took this in. He knows how important breastfeeding was to me. He also knew how she thrived on it.

‘You really want me to feed her? Ok, so I’ll need to go and get formula. But do you really want her to have formula now?’

I didn’t. We both knew this. I suspect he also knew that breastfeeding was actually keeping me from breaking down entirely. This was the one thing I could do for my daughter that no one else could. 

‘Give her here. I’ll feed her.’

And that feed saved me. As she nursed, I gained perspective. I needed help. I saw the doctor the very next day.

It’s a common misconception that in order to breastfeed you must have a good diet. Actually, only a tiny percentage of what you eat reaches the milk produced. Your body puts milk production first and your needs second. I was never encouraged to stop breastfeeding, but was encouraged to increase my intake for my benefit, and put on various supplements to limit the damage I was doing to myself. 

I carry a huge weight of guilt for how my eating disorder has affected me as a mother. My children are loved, so loved, and they know this. They have a nice house, they are nourished, nurtured, they are happy, but for a lot of their childhood I’ve been there but not present. Weighed down by the eating disorder, anxiety and depression. We’ve had many, many days at home when we should have been out, because I couldn’t face leaving the house. Letting them breastfeed until they decided they were ready to wean is something I could give them. 

So as I breastfeed my three year old, I treasure the moment as I know that, someday soon, we won’t have this anymore. She’ll have moved on, at her own pace. I’ll be left with memories of how I was able to nourish my little girls when I couldn’t nourish myself. I feel proud, I feel love, I feel grateful. 

Grateful to the body that’s given me and my children so much, against all odds. 

Out with the old

I knew it would happen, but it doesn’t make it easier…

Despite an undisputedly healthier outlook on weight restoration, having gained close to a stone over the last few months my clothes are getting tighter, my jeans uncomfortably so. It’s an unavoidable, in your face, reminder that I am heavier, wider, physically bigger than I was.

My ‘healthy’ mind reminds me that this is a good thing. I know I look better for it. I don’t look ill anymore, and with the new job about to start, new colleagues who won’t know about my past and just know me for ‘me’, this is a great thing that, I’m hoping, will make it easier to break from the eating disorder.

But tight clothes are, and always have been, a big trigger for me. Regardless of how positive I’m feeling, the band of my jeans cutting into my stomach makes me feel big, ‘fat’, despite how small those jeans are in the first place. I am an adult woman, a mother, I should not be wearing clothes made for children. It’s time to move on.

So… In a big step in the right direction, I’m buying bigger clothes. Clothes in a ‘healthy’ size. Wearing clothes that are a little on the baggy side (and over the next few months should hopefully fit quite nicely) will have a positive psychological impact. (Plus it means new clothes, I’ve always loved new clothes!)

It’s a symbolical way of pushing the eating disorder further from my life. Packing up the old clothes, throwing them away, getting rid of what they mean and the impact they had.

Let’s do this.

‘get that girl a burger!’

This absolutely infuriates me, so prepare for a bit of a rant….

On this occasion those words were not aimed at me, but I’ve heard it all before – out in bars, walking down the street, even in front of my children.

So, up pops a picture on my Facebook newsfeed – a photo of a high street clothes model. She’s thin, yes, most models are. In my opinion she doesn’t look ill, just thin. But anyway, the friend sharing had captioned ‘quick, someone get this girl a burger!’ Followed by comments including ‘she looks awful’.

Now, imagine I posted a photo of someone overweight and said ‘quick, get that girl a salad!’ Followed by derogatory remarks about her appearance. No. Just no. I wouldn’t do that in a million years. And if I did? I’d expect, and deserve, a huge amount of retaliation.

So why is it ok to publicly bash the underweight? When challenged, this friend justified her comments by saying she’d be seriously concerned if any of her children were that thin.

Ok, concern now. But do you know what? If she deems that girl to be so underweight that she’s ill (in other words, suffering with an eating disorder) the last thing she needs is a burger shoved down her throat.

Because my eating disorder is rarely restrictive, eating a burger is something I might actually do. However, the moment it touches my lips all that is on my mind is what it’s going to do to me. How it’s going to infiltrate my body, fill my stomach, thighs, hips with fat. How that one burger is going to expand me, widen me, make me look as disgusting as I feel. I can feel the fat from that burger seeping through the walls of my stomach, like this alien inside me determined to destroy the body I already despise so much. I’ll get to the toilet as quickly as I possibly can and purge until I’m sure it’s all gone.

If that girl is suffering from an eating disorder, she doesn’t need a burger. She needs love. She needs support. She needs help. She needs someone to hold her hand and reassure her that she is a beautiful person who CAN do this. She needs to slowly and gently begin to reintroduce food in a healthy way. She will feel overwhelmed. She will feel scared. She will feel alone. She doesn’t need to hear people say she looks awful, it’s quite likely she thinks that about herself anyway. She doesn’t need to be publicly humiliated. She doesn’t need to hear that she should just snap out of it.

She doesn’t need a burger.

Parenting with an Eating Disorder

When I became pregnant, unexpected but very much wanted, I’d been living with my eating disorder for over 6 years.

I knew that I didn’t want to carry on living that way, with an eating disorder. I wanted more than ever before to be ‘well’, I wanted to the best for my baby and, especially while I was carrying her, that meant my health needed to be the best it could be.

The biggest obstacle standing in my way was fear. Fear of what would happen if I admitted the unthinkable – that I had an eating disorder. I was terrified that admitting this would be like admitting I was unfit to be a mother. There was never a doubt in my mind that I could be a capable parent, and that I’d love this little baby with every ounce of my being, but I was so convinced that no one else would see it that way – they’d see me, they’d see my mental illness, and they’d take my baby from me. I didn’t want to continue to live with my eating disorder, but it was far preferable to the risk of losing my baby. I’d perfected the art of hiding my illness, so it seemed like my best option was to do the best I could without additional help.

The shame of what I was doing intensified. I despised myself. This shame seemed to reinforce the eating disorder further, fueled the urges. But, my baby was born, a beautiful little girl, and suddenly I was a mother, and the option of admitting my illness decreased further still.

Having a baby, being a mother, but also being a mother to a little girl carried with it a whole new level of responsibility. I know that research shows that children with a parent who suffers from an eating disorder are more likely to develop one themselves. This scares the life out of me.

She was a big baby, a healthy 8lbs born and piled on the weight very quickly. Everyone commented on it, often thoughtless comments like ‘she’s huge!’, ‘she’s so much bigger than her age suggests!’, ‘what are you feeding her!’

What was I feeding her? My breastmilk. I’d done my research, knew from the moment I discovered I was pregnant that I’d breastfeed for as long as I could. I also knew that even with my eating disorder breast milk was the ‘preferable’ source of nutrition to any artificial formula. It’s worth noting here that I am not against formula feeding, I am very much for what works best for the individual mother and baby, but breastfeeding was what I was going to do, and we managed a very wonderful breastfeeding relationship for the first 14 months of her life.

Back to the comments on her size. They bothered me. My baby was perfect. The image of health, thriving, happy, and yet at only a couple of months old she was getting comments about her size. Now I KNOW that my illness means I’ll be more sensitive to this sort of thing but really, what does it say about the society we live in when a healthy baby girl is getting negative comments about her size before she’s even on solid food?! So yes, they bothered me, made me think I was doing something wrong, making my baby ‘fat’. (By 1 year old she’d started evening out, slowing down and had dropped naturally from the 98th centile to around about the 50th where she’s stayed ever since – so yes, not overfed (you cannot overfeed a breastfed baby), just right for her.)

Weaning was the next big minefield. How was I supposed to know what and how much to feed her when  I couldn’t even do this for myself?! In the lead up to her turning 6 months I once again did a lot of research and discovered something called ‘Baby led weaning’ – essentially you skip the puree stage and feed them finger foods from the start, baby chooses what and how much they eat and essentially self regulates their intake. This sounded perfect, and actually a lot of fun (the baby led weaning mantra states ‘food is for fun before they are one’).  As a result of the baby led weaning, the move from breast milk only to solid food WAS a lot of fun, for both of us. I was so intent on providing her with the best start that research (as well as trial and error) taught me a lot about nutrition and portion sizes, and watching her get so much enjoyment from meal times, discovering new foods and tastes, simply enjoying food for what it is rather than ‘what it might do’ allowed me an insight into what life could be like without my eating disorder. I’m trying to stay mindful of these lessons now. It really helped for a while.

By the time we started trying for our second child, I was doing ‘ok’. I wasn’t well by any stretch of the imagination, but I was in a better place than I had been in a while. I was maintaining a healthy BMI. Then I miscarried. Twice. And the downward spiral began all over again.

My weight began to fall significantly following the birth of our second daughter, and my mental health deteriorated. This time there was no hiding it. Although still too ashamed to admit my eating disorder, I accepted that I needed help of some sort and, encouraged by my husband, booked a doctor’s appointment, who diagnosed me with Post Natal Depression. This was a relief in a way, I knew plenty of mother’s who’d suffered with PND and not one of them had lost their children as a result. It gave me the courage to speak, very quietly at first, and then with the backing of a health professional, a bit louder, about my eating disorder. Several weigh-ins and blood tests later and I was fast tracked through to a specialist eating disorder team, due to my poor physical health.

Since the day I ‘came clean’ – admitted my illness and began my subsequent treatment, not once has my capability as a mother or the welfare of my children come into question. The only concerns have been about me. For years I carried the incredible weight of the burden of being a parent with mental illness, preventing me from treatment and sabotaging my chances of recovery, when the best thing I could have done was to admit I was struggling.

Parenting comes burdened with guilt as it is. These little people, who you love with all of your heart, who rely on you for everything – you want the very best for them, and it’s a constant evaluation of whether or not you are doing the ‘right’ thing. Throw a mental illness into the mix and the guilt multiplies. My biggest fear is that my unhealthy and dangerous relationship with food rubs off on them. It is in their genetics as it is, and there’s no changing that. Research suggests that children are even more likely to develop an eating disorder if a parent is still suffering. I would never forgive myself. Up until recently I was terrified that they may also realise that my relationship with food is not ‘normal’. With deeper thought, though, I’ve come to realise that scarier still is that they might grow up thinking it is. . . . .

My biggest regret is that I didn’t seek help earlier. I have been living with an eating disorder for more than 12 years now, and while I am making some progress, it has been slow. I owe it to my babies to do now what I didn’t do back then – fight for better mental health. It is never too late to make changes. It is never too late to ask for help.

Saying goodbye

I’ve never found saying goodbye easy. As much as I struggle to display my emotions saying goodbye is the one thing I really struggle to pull a mask over.

Over the past 18 months you’ve helped me focus and work on my eating disorder, but you’ve also helped me, bit by bit, discover a little more about who I am, why I am important, why I’m worth something, why my past does not need to define who I am now.

And more importantly, you’ve helped me start believing it.

I’ve been able to open up and admit things I thought I’d never say aloud, and not once felt judged for it. I’ve felt understood, like someone’s finally ‘got’ me. Someone is on my side and believes that I can do this, I can beat this, I’ve just got to believe in it myself, and most importantly not be afraid to be ‘me’.

I’ve gone from spending 12 years vomiting every single thing I ate – every meal, every snack, every binge – to eating meals, keeping them down, and even eating in front of people. You’ve helped me to control the anxieties, push through them and come out the other side, feeling stronger and with the faith that it is possible to do it all again.

Most of all, the support and understanding you’ve offered has made me feel less alone in all of this, and that in turn has helped to boost the confidence I have in myself.

I am scared about what lies ahead, but I also have more hope than I’ve ever had before that I might just be able to do this. The challenges that you’ve helped me to face and overcome, the self belief you’ve helped me build, the increasing faith in who I am is going to be invaluable in moving forward.

Thank you, for everything. I’m not great at putting things into words but I will never forget the extent to which you’ve aided my recovery so far.

Living in harmony?

It’s been suggested recently that I’m not ready to recover, and the result of that being I should ‘take a break’ from therapy. If I don’t make changes in the next few weeks the consequence will be that I’ll be discharged. Discharge from therapy means discharge from SEDCAS and I’ll be on my own all over again.

Only, I won’t be alone. I’ll have my eating disorder for company.

Mixed feelings is an understatement. Do I feel ready? I can’t answer that. I’m probably not wholly ready to leave it all behind. I want to get well. I really, really want to leave it behind and start living. But I do not want to gain weight. I want to stop binging, but I don’t want to start eating. It’s a constant battle. But I also know that I’m not ready to just give up, and leaving treatment would feel that I am.

It was suggested that I could just continue to live with my eating disorder. Keep my BMI above 15 and continue to ‘function’. This made me feel like screaming. I don’t want to just function. I feel like I’ve been ‘functioning’ all my life. I want to stop functioning and start actually living.

I feel like everyone’s giving up on me. I can understand this, it’s been 18 months and I’ve made next to no progress, but it’s an awful feeling. I feel like a failure every single day and this feels like a confirmation. When I think back to the battle I had when I first sought help for my eating disorder, it was pure luck that I met someone who empathised with my condition and really fought my corner for me to get me into ‘the system’. And even then it was so, so difficult to feel listened to. I know that leaving therapy now would mean I’d never go back, and I’m very scared that ‘living in harmony’ with my eating disorder would kill me.

I might not be totally ready, but I’m also not not ready. I have to do this now. There is no other option.

Dear Eating Disorder – My enemy

I am drained by your unrelenting, destructive presence.

You have robbed me of such a huge part of my life. Milestones and achievements I should have enjoyed have been destroyed by you.

You have been there, all day, every day since I was 16. Making me believe I’m worthless, shameful, disgusting unless I’m thin. But it’s never enough. It’s never good enough. Pounds became stones but I’m still not thin enough, not good enough, and I realise now that I never will be.

You set me up to fail at everything. I can’t win. I fail at recovery, I also fail at anorexia – every single time I eat, every time it turns into a binge, every time the scales creep up – I’m failing, every second of every day. It is exhausting beyond comprehension.

You’ve robbed me of my last years of school, university, graduation, relationships, holidays, my wedding, but worst of all you’ve destroyed my pregnancies and early years of motherhood. Enough now. My babies deserve better than this. I should have embraced pregnancy, cherished how the body that you’ve been so intent on destroying managed, against all odds, to create and nourish my two healthy children. Instead you forced my focus onto staying thin, maintaining my weight, losing weight, fighting against the inevitable gain as my babies developed and my body grew.

I tried so hard to shut you out. Knew that you would put my babies at risk. You forced your way in. Made me lie to everyone. I have never been so ashamed of myself as I was during my pregnancies.

When I lost two babies, you convinced me that it was my fault – I was to blame. My selfishness, my desire to be as thin as possible killed the babies I so desperately longed for. And when I finally did manage to conceive and carry my second daughter, you didn’t let me relax for a single second. I was so damaged by your voice, your presence. I was convinced I’d lose her too. And despite this, how much I hated myself for the potential damage I could do to my precious baby, you had me vomiting in the bathroom of the delivery room with my tiny newborn, the baby I’d come close to losing just hours before, asleep next door.

I’ve missed so much of their childhood. These two perfect, loving little girls. I’ve been there, but never without you, and the way in which you infiltrate my whole life, every thought I have, has caused me to miss out on enjoying my babies, watching them grow.

I’m tired. I’ve had enough. Every time my heart starts to palpitate, every time I feel weak, shakey, faint, I wonder if you’ve pushed me too far, If I’ll go to bed and not wake up.

There are times when you’ve made me resent my choice to become a mother, resent the two little people I love the most in this world, who give me those moments where I actually feel happy, who make my heart swell with pride, because if they weren’t around I wouldn’t have to keep fighting, I could give in and let you win. I hate you for that.

I’m exhausted. You’ve won. You’ve drained me of everything. I feel like I have no fight left in me, and yet I have to keep going because there is no other option.

The worst thing is, I can blame you as much as I like, but your force has become so powerful and so all-consuming that the blame doesn’t lie with you, not really. It’s me, it’s all me, you’ve become who I am. I hate myself. I’ve destroyed everything.

Dear Eating Disorder – my friend

I remember when you first entered my life. You’d been trying to creep your way in for years, but when you finally did it, you arrived with a bang.

I remember the adrenaline rush the first time I ‘succeeded’ in making myself sick. I felt euphoric – like nothing could touch me and nothing could bring me down. I started losing weight very quickly, people started paying me compliments. My parents were proud of me – I’d actually done something right.

For the first few months you gave me hope, let me feel good about myself, allowed me to believe that I was good at something, that I could be beautiful. . . . if only I lost a bit more weight. . . and then a bit more, and a bit more after that. . .

12 years down the line, and I’m still not there yet, but you are. You’re still there, you haven’t given up on me. Every time I slip, you come back stronger than before. You used to nudge me gently, now it’s more like a shove, but you don’t ever give up. You make me believe that as long as you’re in my life I have the strength I didn’t know was there.

At my very lowest moments, you’ve been there to boost me, to give me that surge over and over again, make me feel worth something, if only for a moment. It’s those moments I cling to, keep going back for, the fleeting moments where I believe for just a second that I can do this.

But you have to keep moving the goalposts. It’s exhausting. Every time I think I’m nearly there, I’ve nearly made it, you push that goal a little bit further. I know I’ll never be good enough for you, not really, but you keep encouraging me anyway.

You’re a hypocrite, really, contradicting yourself over and over again. You make me feel worthless, but also like I could be worth something.  You push, push, push until I feel so low I don’t want to go on living, and then when I’m down there, right at the bottom, you pick me up. When the whole world is against me, you’re the only one on my side. The only one who understands the fear of gaining weight, the absolute certainty that recovery is just not possible. You get that. You’re right there with me.

You’ve made me feel safe, protected in this little bubble – us against the world. But that’s part of the problem. You’ve isolated me from everyone. I don’t know who I am without you anymore.

A new low

I hit a real low on Thursday.

I’d been having a lot of heart palpitations all week. Much more than usual and enough to really scare me. I should have got my potassium levels checked over the weekend but my husband was working, I had the girls, I convinced myself that I was ok and upped the amount of Sando-K I was taking to about 10 a day.

Thursday I had a blood test in the morning. I was feeling terrible, really tired, ‘spaced out’, I couldn’t really focus on anything at all. The heart palpitations started at 11am and just didn’t stop. I wondered if I’d pushed things too far. I didn’t eat, knowing I’d be sick and that would make things worse. I took 6 Sando-K, hoping that would level things out and stop the palpitations. It didn’t. They got worse. I started having chest pains and felt like I couldn’t breathe. That’s when I text my husband – ‘really don’t feel well. Heart palpitations been constant for 2 hours. I’m scared’. To his credit, he came out of a meeting he was in to come straight home.

When I’ve gone to hospital before I’ve driven myself in. This time I knew I couldn’t. By the time we got to hospital I didn’t even know if I couldn’t walk from the car. They took me into triage, in the past they’ve done this and sat me out in the waiting area again. This time, they took my blood pressure & pulse and I set the alarms off by how fast it was going – straight onto a ward & ecg. My husband sat there looking worried, I was lying on the bed feeling like I was about to pass out. He said ‘I need to help you more’. I said ‘I am trying. I know it seems like I’m not but I really am’, and then broke down. I never cry. I’m not sure why I was but I felt like I’d hit rock bottom and just couldn’t stop.

My bloods showed my potassium was at 2.3, lower than I think it’s ever been. I knew I’d be put on a drip and all I could think about was how much weight I’d gain. Every time I’ve been on the drip I’ve gained weight. I needed it, I knew that, but I did not want the weight gain.

I didn’t like my doctor. As soon as she learnt I had an eating disorder her tone changed completely and I had the standard ‘you are making yourself very ill, you are damaging your heart, you need to stop this’ – I know this. I know it all. I don’t expect her to understand or sympathise or anything of the sort but it felt like she was telling off a child who had misbehaved and I hated that.

Once my heart rate had stabilised (it took about 2 hours of being up in the 160’s for it to finally slow down to about 90bpm) and the drip was in I was moved onto a ward. Told that after the drip had gone through bloods would be retaken and if my potassium was up I could go home.

Bloods finally came back at about 11pm. I’d already decided I was going home. Was dressed, husband was back, I was ready to leave. The nurse came back with another drip saying that potassium was only 3.2 and I’d need another 4 hours on the IV. All I could see in that IV was another 2-3lbs of weight. I argued that it was in the 3’s, which was not that low, that I had Sando-K at home I could take, that my heart rate had been stable for hours and I wanted to sleep in my own bed. They agreed to let me go. The first thing I did at home was to weigh myself. 2.5lbs on. 7 stone exactly. I cried again. For how I’d felt like I was dying, for letting things get so bad, for being such a crap mum all week because of it, for letting my fear of putting on weight prevent further treatment and for gaining 2.5lbs in just a few hours.

I wish I could say this was the shock I needed. I think I was hoping it was. I wish I could say I’ve not been sick since leaving hospital. That I could accept the weight gain. I can’t. I can see it in my thighs and stomach. I can feel it. I hate myself.