Today I’m very sad. I guess it was inevitable. After 25 years of marriage I don’t normally blink an eye when spending time apart from my significant other – but this is different. We’ve been apart a month and will now be apart another 2-4 weeks. Which in the big scheme of things will become a blip on the radar, but today we’re surfing the blip. We met with the family therapist today and it was incredibly emotional – not at all what I’d expected. It ended up as a bit of a marriage counselling session, but with a really outstanding therapist (we’ve had less than positive experiences in the past). There are a lot of things for both of us to think about and it was particularly hard to say goodbye immediately after such an emotionally grueling session. I certainly feel incredibly guilty for having added the burden of all my emotional issues and eating disorder behaviours to a marriage that was already struggling with good communication. I feel today’s session brought up some really important things and we will both have an opportunity to follow up with more later. It was still a very teary farewell and I’m still feeling wracked with guilt.
I saw my psychiatrist this morning and asked my two pressing questions – can I go to see the bariatric surgeon and will I be home before 14 March. I’ve made an appointment with the surgeon for Wednesday morning and my psychiatrist is confident I’ll be out of here well and truly before 14 March. So that is good news. I know when I leave here I’ll be given lots of information on maintaining recovery and menu plans to follow etc, and I have an excellent team of professionals at home I will touch base with as soon as I can for post discharge follow up. I have been to a lovely dietitian at home so I’m sure she’ll help me work on the menu plan and gradually normalising my eating. My psychologist and GP are awesome and I’ve seen them for ages. I used to see a psychiatrist I really like, even though he knows nothing about eating disorders. But I can touch base with him to discuss medications, and I might ask the psychiatrist here to write a letter outlining what I’ve been up to. So once I leave here I feel I’ll be well supported. Part of me is desperate to leave now – I miss family and friends and purpose and I’ve always felt that “I’m not sick enough” feeling, which still comes and goes. And part of me never wants to leave because it’s safe here. I follow the rules and the structure and life is simple. Meaningless, lonely and repetitive. But simple. That’s institutionalization for you.
It was repeated today that patients are never to hug or console each other. I find this so difficult – it seems unkind, lacking empathy and makes it feel like a place devoid of positive emotions. I was also told today I’m not allowed to carry my anxiety bunny around – it’s not appropriate. I guess it does seem odd for a 52 year old woman to wander around with a stuffed toy – but it stops me scratching my hands. I’m guessing they want me to find alternative – healthy – coping mechanisms for the anxiety. I’ll add it to my list.
All afternoon I’ve been wanting to go into self destruct mode, but fortuitously our psychology session this morning was about dealing with urges so I managed to stay on top of things and as it so happened, the old “surf the urge” and “this too shall pass” anthems turned out to be true. This evening I feel flat after such an emotional day, and I’ve also decided I’m tired of feeling drugged so I’m only taking my regular medications now – not the clonazepam during the day and the sleeping pill at night. I want to start preparing myself to re-enter the real world, and I refuse to exchange an eating disorder for drug addiction…
I missed a day’s journaling. I always feel very guilty when I do that – not sure why. It’s an arbitrary task I had set for myself.
Yesterday was a shit day. It started with a headache and finished with a migraine. My anxiety levels were sky high. Not sure if it was because I was feeling poorly and exhausted (no sleep previous night due to sitting in the lounge for 90 minutes with 50 other patients at midnight, while listening to the dulcet tones of a fire alarm… apparently a “small paper fire in unit two”). Or if my anxiety was a result of the overwhelming emotions that came with our family therapy session on Monday. Or a combination of the two. Or neither. But regardless, anxiety was sky high and my psychiatrist picked up on this (as would Blind Freddie) and I’m starting to realise that high anxiety is something I’m going to have to learn how to manage effectively in the long term. And not with clonazepam (which I’ve mostly stopped taking). And not with eating disorder behaviours or self harm or level 3000 on Candy Crush (I’m still kinda proud of that at times). But healthy ways of managing it. I think I’ll see my psychiatrist at home to talk about pharmaceutical options as well – but not those in the benzodiazapine family. They scare me…
Anyway, so the last two days really sucked but today didn’t at all. I woke with no migraine so that was a good start. Then I had special leave for the whole morning to see the bariatric specialist – who reassured me the band is fine and it will take time for everything to loosen and relax and become less restrictive. He then composed a letter – at my behest – to show to the nursing staff here explaining that even with an empty lap band I can still experience obstruction. OBSTRUCTION! ie. I’m not feeling uncomfortably full, there is something blocking the food from even entering my stomach. And eating more food at that point just makes things worse. Which is something some (but most certainly not all) of the staff have not understood. When I’m obstructed it’s not an “eating disorder thought”. I can’t just “take a deep breath and relax”. And I certainly can’t “take something for the nausea”. So I’ll hand the letter over at my ward round tomorrow and request they put it in my file. I’d also like to recommend any future patients with lap bands have them emptied before doing the program… But at the end of the day that won’t be any of my business. Or my problem.
After my appointment I had two hours left before I was required back at the clinic, so I did a little shopping, then sat in a cafe and FaceTimed a lovely friend for nearly an hour. I made it back in time for lunch, had one group session, then spent nearly three hours with two really close friends – one visiting from home and one from here. All in all a very pleasant, stressless day. Except for one thing…
While we are actively discouraged from forming any friendships in here (for reasons that do make sense) naturally when you live in such close quarters 24/7 with a small group of people, you tend to befriend some. Today one of my favourite ED buddies left at very short notice and under mysterious circumstances. Naturally no information regarding her departure will be forthcoming and there was no option for anyone to say goodbye to her. This morning I had briefly gone to the shop where I previously bought Hope, my anxiety bunny, thinking I’d like to buy her one, but thought I’d wait until I was leaving. I deeply regret not buying that bunny and giving it to her after lunch when she was still here. Now I’ll never see her again, have no means of contacting her or finding out how she’s doing, and I hoped she could benefit from an anxiety bunny. I will miss my friend. And now I’ll be doubly cautious not to create any close bonds with any other patients. The rules are there for a reason – to protect everyone.
Tomorrow is ward round again and I’m really hoping I’m given some concrete indication of when they think I’ll be discharged. I know it will be less than four weeks, but once I have a date, I can start putting in place appointments with my support team at home.
The next few days another lovely friend from Hobart will be visiting and I’ll have two or three opportunities to catch up with her, so I’m looking forward to that. She also sent me a really inspiring video about “redefining yourself”. The messages I took away from my childhood were:
- I am fat
- I am ugly
- I am not good enough
- I am going to fail
I cannot count the millions of times I have said those things to myself. The rather simplistic take home message from the video was redefine the “I am” ending. And at first I thought, “what to?” Then one of my gorgeous friends who visited today gave me a beautiful notepad that on the front says:
kind courageous witty determined strong
I can take that. Not entirely convinced about the witty part, but otherwise:
- I am kind
- I am courageous
- I am determined
- I am strong
And I am certainly grateful for my circle of friends.
Woke with another headache – took the migraine tablet at the start of the day rather than soldier on until the end. Am still going to need another one before bed.
Had ward round today – I’m moved up to phase three – yay! Now I get to go out three times per week instead of two. Also discussed my continuing issues with anxiety. I’ve been moved to a low dose of diazepam three times per day as part of my normal meds. ie not optional. I’ve also been asked to write a list of all the things I worry about. When I said “everything” he said “put that at the top of the list”. I’ve filled seven pages so far. No sign of a discharge date yet as he’s looking for me to feel confident about managing my eating – without regressing to the old binge-purge-restrict cycle – before setting a date. It’s good to know what he’s looking for as now I know I can lie if needs be. But I don’t want to. I’ve come this far and I want the confidence to know I can continue the work when I get home.
Another friend from home waltzed in this afternoon, her usual vibrant ball of energiser bunny, filled with too many thoughts to get them all out at once. It was so gorgeous to see her – I’ve missed her! I normally see her four times a week at gym. Hoping I get to see her again – she’s having car troubles and we just have to wait and see if they get solved before she flies home on Sunday. I even have special leave to go out for six hours with her on Sunday – to go to church, which will be an interesting experience. I’ve only ever attended church for weddings and funerals – either as an attendee or a performer.
I did take away one brief comment from her today, and that is my inclination to focus on the negative. I’m not sure when this happened in my life – for the vast majority of it I was the eternal optimist. But somewhere along the way that has been beaten out of me. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, as I’ve read studies that say optimists are frequently far more disappointed than pessimists. But I’m not a researcher so I can’t decide if it’s good or bad. But I know some time over the last decade I became very protective of myself – always anticipating the worst but hoping for the best. As when the worst does happen, it somehow seems easier to deal with. But then I’m also not entirely sure that’s true either. One of the lovely Doctor Who’s did once say (and I paraphrase), What’s the point of worrying? You just experience the problem twice.
I know I’m definitely someone who wants and needs to plan ahead, so I think the eternal worrying comes from me wanting to map out a solution for an as yet, non-existent problem. But none-the-less, her comment has left me wondering how and when I changed. And should I change back. And if so, how?
Day four of my migraine/cluster headache. Ugh. But at least today I’ve seen the GP who has increased my migraine tablet from once per day, to four times (as required) and added aspirin and nausea meds as well. To be honest it’s not too bad tonight, but I can feel it coming back. This morning I felt really unwell – pain not too bad but really nauseous and light sensitive etc. Unfortunately when you’re staying in an eating disorder program, you have to eat food no matter how sick you feel. Very unfun. But at least by lunchtime I had new medications and it eased off. I’m going to take as many things as I’m allowed later tonight and hope a combination of drugs and sleep force it away.
I showed my seven pages of “things Simone worries about” to the psychiatrist this morning. He asked me to read out the whole list, clarified things he wanted more info on, and then validated that they are all reasonable worries and I have a lot on my plate. The trick is to learn to manage the worry. He wants me to download my mindfulness app again and give that a try. I used to do it quite regularly (after my previous clinic stay) but I lost the habit. I’ll try and remember to download it soon. I really suck at mindfulness. I did at least try “mindfulness of the breath” quite a few times today – when I was trying to nap and rest my headache.
This evening I got to go out for dinner – DINNER! – with my visiting friend and her husband. I even got to sit in a car for ten minutes which I haven’t done since I arrived 33 days ago. It was so NORMAL! Traffic and parking and ordering food and eating it and having a glass of wine (on top of all my meds) and having conversation and just being normal. It eased some of my fears about going home.
In our support therapy group today I talked about how I’m both really keen to go home, and really scared to go home. Keen because this isn’t life – I have no control or purpose or strong, meaningful connections, or freedom here. I can’t sleep in, charge my devices by myself, snuggle my cat, go for coffee, see my friends, drive my car, watch Netflix, drink from a glass, or go bush walking. But I’m also scared because I’ve come so far I don’t want to slip back. I’m eating food (constantly!) and maintaining a stable weight and I have support 24/7 and I’m surrounded by people who understand and I have no responsibilities. So it’s safe here – protecting me from the eating disorder – but it’s also cutting me off from having a meaningful life. There was discussion – and consensus – in group today, on the fact that there will come a time when I will just know that I’ve learned all I can here and I’ll be ready to go out into the big scary real world and practice trusting myself. The only way to know how I’ll go at home, is to go home. I know my psychiatrist is looking for confirmation from me that I’m feeling confident I can be trusted on my own. I think I’m nearly there. Not 100 per cent – but nearly. When I go out on leave I’m still pulled to doing the “wrong” thing, but I keep reminding myself that was the old me. The new me is practicing new ways.
Not a lot to talk about today. It’s Saturday – so no groups etc at the clinic.
Went out after lunch with my cousin and caught up on all her family news. An important reminder to myself that I’m not the only person with problems and struggles. Mental health issues tend to be extremely isolating, so it’s always somewhat comforting to ‘normalise’ my abnormal. If that makes sense.
I spent time in the sunshine today – that was beautiful. I’m missing normality more and more. I spent two hours with my cousin then two hours browsing shops on my own. It’s always curious how my thought processes go when I’m alone:
I could skip afternoon tea and nobody will know (except me). I could eat shit loads of cakes and chocolates and chips and ice cream and nobody would know (except me). I could buy razor blades or vast quantities of over the counter meds and nobody would know (except me).
I guess because I am seriously headstrong and stubborn, and my mother was always determined to control me, that when I’m on my own I’ve taught myself I can do whatever I want and nobody can stop me. I am the boss of me. Except somewhere along the way my eating disorder self overpowered my logical self and so really I’m not in control of me anyway. So the good news is that while all those thoughts did briefly cross my mind, they weren’t overpowering and I didn’t feel an urgent, compulsive need to act on them. I knew that if I did any of those things I would tell my treatment team on Monday anyway, so I wouldn’t be the only that knew. I haven’t flown all this way and done all this work to lie and cheat my way out. If I want to leave I can just fill in the discharge papers and walk out the door. I don’t know if these automatic thoughts of binging and restricting, self harm and suicide, will ever completely go away, but day by day I am starting to feel a bit more confident that I won’t have to act on them.
The only other interesting (to me) thing today, is that I’ve found a patient who knows my former eating disorder program buddy (the one that left abruptly) outside the clinic. So I can buy her a bunny and it can be delivered – with a lovely little note thanking her for her friendship and wishing her the best. I went to buy a bunny but they sold out this morning… I said I’m here two more weeks (at least) and the shop owner has my number so hopefully a bunny will arrive in time. It will mean a lot to me to send the gift to her, so fingers crossed they can source one.
All in all today has been pretty positive – full of good signs. Headache still lurking in the shadows, but otherwise I am grateful for the progress I feel and the sunshine on my bare arms today.
’Twas church day today. My friend has been keen to get me to visit a church service with her, and a post conference service is apparently extra exciting, with faith and love and energy palpable in the air. So I was granted special leave to be out over not just one, but two meals (ended up as three) and off I went to church.
I confess I was somewhat nervous about going – in particular her expectations from me and her hope that I will find healing (for my eating disorder) through God and Jesus. Due to the level of my anxiety prior to leaving I decided on having clonazepam alongside my morning diazepam. So I was fairly relaxed by the time I got there.
I’ve been to plenty of church services before, but 99% of them were weddings and funerals. And of that 99%, the vast majority I was a paid musician at the time. I’ve definitely never been to a Hillsong type service, as they don’t ever need to hire in a classical flautist.
So today’s service began with a few songs – all upbeat and inspirational and modern, with several soloists and a funky choir. The music critic in me couldn’t help but notice they’re not the world’s number one performers, but they did a pretty good job and were certainly very high energy and devoted to their faith. The crowd were all very inspired and loving it. I’m not sure how I felt to be honest – I was perfectly happy to listen and clap along and the music is easy to listen to and the performers engaging. But I also felt like an intruder. It’s not a message that resonates with me so I didn’t want to fake abundant joy, but also didn’t want to look like I was having a bad time – because I wasn’t.
Once the first set of songs were over, the current pastors of the church came onto stage and chatted about this and that – asking everyone to pray for someone in need of a prayer (I think music played during this time?) and the pastor was sending out prayers for those who needed it. I found that very moving and touching. I do like the idea of holding someone in your thoughts and wishing that pain away – asking God for guidance and assistance. I think there have been studies done that show people who are prayed for more frequently, do experience more peace in their lives. If my laptop wasn’t dead as a dodo, I’d try to find the research. But that part of the service was very moving.
Then they did the thing about the importance of giving financially to the church, as what you give will come back to you through God – with interest. I know this is standard practice in the vast majority of mainstream churches, but I hope not to upset anyone when I say the idea doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I know churches need money for buildings and staff and good deeds etc. – but it is still something I don’t like. It feels like begging – and it’s often the poorest who give the most. But I have no desire to offend my churchgoing friends and I know it’s standard practice so I’ll leave it at that.
Once the buckets were passed around, the guest speaker John was introduced and brought onto stage. If there’s one thing I can say about John, it is that he’s very charismatic and an excellent speaker. He certainly knows how to work a crowd. Some of his message went slightly over my head, as I have negligible religious knowledge. Some of his message made me very uncomfortable, as it sits with views that are diametrically opposed to my own. And some of his message was very interesting. He certainly comes across as a man that is devoted to his beliefs, showed great compassion to the newcomers in the room (I did not choose to go up to the stage to be prayed over), and appears (at least to me) to be extremely knowledgeable about his topic.
By the end of the service my views on religion and church were no different than when I arrived. I was not “touched” by God, or miraculously healed in anyway. I suspect for that to happen you have to – in some way – be open to it. I’m not saying I was closed to it – hey, I’ll take whatever I can and do whatever it takes to overcome my mental health struggles. But I remain as skeptical now as before I went.
I’m glad I went. I got to see my friend in a space that means the world to her. Faith is a huge part of her life and not something I’m part of. So to enter into her world for a short period of time is a privilege and an honor.
Religion still leaves me a little mystified at times, but that’s okay. The world is full of mysteries and it’s good to know we don’t understand everything. I did not leave church today converted in anyway. I’m not saying it isn’t possible – but I would suggest it highly improbable.
I always try to understand and respect views that are different to my own, so it was lovely to experience the service first hand and to feel the energy in the air.
She is a really good friend and I know her desire for me to go to church and be touched by God comes from a good place. She’s not trying to convert me for her own benefit or because she judges me. She simply wants the best for me and believes wholeheartedly that her God is a loving, gracious spirit and his presence in my life would change me for the better. I am always heartened and thankful for her belief in me, acceptance of our differences, and for her wonderful generous spirit.
Maybe I’ll go to church again one day and God will touch my spirit. Maybe not. I refuse to be completely black and white on this issue. But for today, I am the same girl I was when I left the clinic this morning. I do have a bit of light reading to go on with though – “Good or God?” by John Belvedere…