Gosh I miss writing…

I identify really strongly as “the girl with the eating disorder”. I need a better identity in order to move past this one… I get asked from time to time what to “do” to help or support me. I’m usually flummoxed by this question. I have no idea how to help myself – how can I provide information I don’t know?!

But upon further reflection, there are warning signs I recognise as the beginning of a slippery descent, and there are things I do in a healthy head space, that are beneficial if my head goes haywire.

Warning Signs

These vary hugely for everyone – and if you’re trying to figure out your own warning signs, keep investigating. It’s so important to understand. Personally, this is what starts piling up:

  • Lack of self care: forgetting medications, doing everything for everybody, letting the house go, not writing, diminishing personal care (not brushing teeth or removing makeup before bed)
  • Isolating: spending too much time away from other people, choosing any activity that keeps me alone, not checking in on friends
  • Cancelling: I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility – cancelling appointments or plans is a bad sign (unless I have a dreadful physical malady – then it’s probably justified…)
  • Ignoring pain: “forgetting” to stretch when I’m stiff and sore, or just letting the pain in my back and legs deteriorate without intervention
  • Staying in my pyjamas: most comfortable thing in the world – not good for mental health
  • Staying in bed all day: ditto… so comfortable and so mentally unhealthy
  • Overmedicating: taking things I don’t need just to disappear into unconsciousness for a while
  • Shopping: while some shopping is necessary (groceries), impulse buys are not a good sign. Parcels turning up at my doorstep I have no recollection ordering? Even worse sign.
  • Not eating properly: no breakfast, eating only when people see me, binging in the middle of the night, only eating cereal, not drinking water, complete restriction, food refusal (I’m in a bad head space by then – but it starts with a single step, skip breakfast)
  • Fatigue: might be caused by sleep deprivation, lack of food, or being mentally unwell – but sleep won’t make it go away, it just offers a few hours reprieve.
  • Sleep: I fucking hate insomnia – critically exhausted while simultaneously wide awake. Sleep deprivation turns into a catch 22 situation – can’t sleep, do stupid things, feel guilty and ashamed, go crazy in the head, crazy head keeps me awake. If I sleep all day and all night, I’m very unwell – whether that’s physically or mentally depends on circumstance.
  • Self harm: scratching or tearing at my hands and feet, using implements (only happens when things have gone totally pear shaped these days)
  • Suicidal ideation: this is tricky – because not a day goes past without suicidal thoughts. But stockpiling, planning, focusing on the ideation, ticking things off my to-do list, accepting the inevitability of suicide – these are all particularly bad signs.
  • Constipation and/or diarrhoea: delightful… but when things go to shit, my shit doesn’t work

Now what?!

That’s a list of unhelpful things. Like politicians, it’s easier to talk about problems than do anything about it. But there are things I’ve learned and know how to put into practice:

Coping Strategies

  • Let go and let God: this is number one – particularly when highly distressed. Simple mantras (this too shall pass, I’m stuck not broken etc), chanted over and over until intense emotions pass. Let go and let God is my favourite – long before I had a belief in God. Something about saying “let go” really helps (“let go and let my higher power” just doesn’t have a good ring to it…) And mantras need to be blessedly short. Anyone who’s ever had a panic attack will understand that repeating a big long spiel ain’t gonna happen. Five word limit!
  • Routine: have a routine! Flexibility is good, but the basics need to be there. Get up and go to bed at vaguely similar times. Mealtimes. Appointments. Schedule time for work, self care, socialising, housework. Routine is so important when life feels out of control.
  • Daily meditation: turning on a meditation app (my favourites are Calm and Soultime at the moment) and listening to the damn thing. All the way through. Repeat.
  • Eat: three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not just cereal – proteins and vegetables and healthy stuff that makes my previously mentioned shit work. Follow the 3/5 rule my dietitian set me (every meal needs at least three of the five food groups)
  • Exercise: every single day. Not just going to the gym five days a week for an hour, but getting out and about moving, walking in nature, doing housework. Anything other than sit on my butt.
  • Grounding: this is for coping with distress (extreme anxiety, upset, grief etc). Basically use the five senses to ground in the here and now – push feet into floor, feel everything touching the body (clothes, bed, chair etc), what can I see, hear, touch and smell. Keep focusing on each one. And breathe. Slowly.
  • Sleep: go to bed at night, get up during the day. Create a routine. Stick to it. Use good sleep hygiene. Medicate only as necessary.
  • Socialise: the older I get, the harder it is. I used to be a people person, now they exhaust me. But getting out and spending time with people (the ones I like…) creates positivity
  • Having fun: doing enjoyable things even when I don’t have time, I’m too tired, don’t deserve it, should be doing something else etc. In DBT we discussed the importance of building a bank of positivity by doing things – large and small – that bring pleasure, and being mindful of the pleasurable aspects at the time. Simple things like snuggling my cat, or big things like camping at the beach for five days. Something everyday – build the bank.
  • Spirituality: spending time handing over, looking outside myself to the greater mysteries of life, conversing with God (and ensuring it’s a two-way conversation). Faith in God is not a pre-requisite for spirituality – I’ve come to believe those of us struggling with recovery from [name your issue…] will remain stuck until spiritual practice and acceptance is found. I’ve met highly spiritual atheists and spiritless Christians, so where you find the willingness to look outside yourself and handover is personal. For me – the search ended with a faith in God. Not religion…
  • Writing: the thing I need and love the most – often the first thing sacrificed (as evidenced by my lack of posts here in recent months)
  • Talking: I suck at talking – about me. Happy to talk about you – not happy to talk about me. You’ll have to drag it out of me (ingrained childhood habit – don’t talk about me). I find it difficult to understand the ins and outs of myself when talking (this is why I write), but without talking things over (with trusted people…) the ruminations overwhelm
  • Being productive & purposeful: tricky… because this can morph into “everything for everyone else”, so like most things it’s a balance. There’s something about working on a task and getting it done that gives a sense of satisfaction – whether it’s scrubbing my fridge, or completing a major assignment, it leads to a sense of purpose, and purpose leads to my final point…
  • Picturing a future: so difficult in recent years, but the more I do it the better I get. Needs to be realistic… Imagining a future as a professional ballet dancer is unhelpful. Imagining a future where my book is finished and published, I have a job, I travel and spend time with friends and family – that’s helpful.

If you only know me through my blog, it may be hard to picture that I was once a different person altogether. It’s only when I cracked apart in 2015 all these “problems” started. Prior to that I was just a normal person – blissfully unaware of issues simmering away that I had numbed into non-existence in a most spectacular manner. Sometimes I yearn for that ignorant girl.

My identity…

All the problematic behaviours I indulge in, cover up the real problems – hidden depression and anxiety. I’ve inadvertently built myself a new identity, and part of my recovery is redefining the “new me”.

Once I was a musician, student, chorister, administrator, mother, teacher, wife, daughter, friend. Now I “have” mental health problems.

Now I’m the girl with the eating disorder.