It’s all about hope.
I’m out of hospital. I have a lot going on in my life right now, so I haven’t been writing. I may start again when I have things to say, and the space to do it. There is a lot of psychology/mental health in my life as it is – with university, work and volunteering – and I need to spend my spare time focusing on other things for now.
I have not been writing, I apologise. I’m currently in hospital. There is a lot to say, but I’m not able just yet. I’m increasing my medication, starting yesterday. Migraines, naseau, dizziness, blurred vision, tremors, muscle spasms, hot and cold sweats, (more) sleep disturbances. I’m exhausted already, and this is just the beginning.
I will write more when I can.
I’ve been neglecting this space somewhat. I’m drowning in university work which I don’t seem to be able to do. I have all my references, I’ve written out structured plans for my reports and essays, but somehow there is a block when I actually attempt to do this work. I lay out my books, articles, pencilcase and laptop, open a word document… and then nothing. I’ve spent hours sitting staring at the blank screen, knowing exactly what I need to do but not being able to string the words together to form a logical argument.
It makes me feel so lazy. It’s so hard to explain the complete absence of motivation that comes with depression. That I love what I study – I love learning, I love doing well academically, I love piecing research together and weaving ideas into a coherent response. But recently my mind is blank. I close my eyes to try to focus and there is nothing there – a faint buzzing and grey static, punctuated only by intense ideation, primal screaming and violent imagery.
I’m going to need to apply for extensions for these assignments which makes me feel so pathetic. I got through last year without using any extensions, and that made me feel good about myself. I don’t like having to ask for special consideration. I don’t want to be that person. It embarrasses me, and it makes me disappointed in myself. Surely if I’ve managed before I can manage again? I need to keep reminding myself that there is a reason this is happening. I need to get back on my medication. I need some more support so that every inch of energy is not expended on keeping myself safe.
I’m going away for work tomorrow, I’ll be without internet until Friday. I’m not sure how I will cope with my headspace – but I keep reminding myself that I have been away working in far worse states than this, and I got through that. This – medical complications, ideation and strange sensory side effects – this is small game. I can do this. Thankfully I have an amazing job – on an isolated island surrounded by bush. When I’ve been unwell while working in the past, I spend the nights wandering the beach and navigating the island by moonlight. It’s a beautiful place.
The week that I return I have two exams, and when they are done I will be going into hospital. It’s a complicated situation that I don’t have the energy or cognitive function to explain right now – but I’ve been teetering on the edge for a long time, ignoring the signs. I’ve been lucky to have managed to stay out (not including schedules and emergency presentations) this long since returning home, and it’s time I swallowed my pride and accepted more help. Noone is going to change this for me. I have to make these decisions myself, and accept that things aren’t okay. When I can think more clearly I will explain further. For now, look after yourselves, and look after each other.
An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life…
He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil—he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.
The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.
This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”
They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win, Grandfather?”
The Elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”
The last week, there has been a lot of talk surrounding eating disorders and treatment in the blogs that I follow. Last week, when I took my letter to register with disability services at university for the year, my advisor read through the listed diagnoses. “Depression, insomnia, OCD, PTSD, EDNOS – how long have you had an eating disorder for?”. It’s a difficult question. Immediately I spit out “oh, I don’t have an eating disorder anymore. It must just still be listed on my file”. I don’t think of myself as having an eating disorder – god no. But taking a step back – thinking about my behaviours in terms of symptoms on a diagnostic check list… I suppose I do fill the criterion. It’s just so much easier to not think about.
Eating disorders are insidious. Despite having been weight restored for almost four years, I still sometimes feel the tantalising pull of my eating disorder. It’s not something that I feel is important – at least not at this point in time – there are bigger struggles to be fought.
It does scare me, however, how ingrained into my life this has become. There’s nothing strange or shocking to me about self induced vomiting, ingesting poisons to aid purging, going days without eating. My electrolytes are regularly tested as abnormal, my heart skips and starts and I shrug it off as nothing. Over the years I’ve watched perhaps fifteen – twenty friends that I’ve made, in and out of hospital, die to these diseases. The first few were devastating – and the lives lost are still tragic, of course, but it doesn’t terrify me to hear that another one of us has fallen, like it once did (like it should).
One in five is a huge mortality rate for any illness – and is shocking for a preventable, mental illness. The Butterfly Foundation also reports that those with anorexia nervosa are 32x more likely to suicide than their healthy counterparts. It’s a terrifying thought. With such devastating morbidity (almost one in four young women) and mortality rates, one would think that there would be effective national and international preventative campaigns, early intervention treatment, and widespread intensive specialised treatment for severe eating disorders.
But there’s not. I’m lucky enough to have private health insurance and access to eating disorder units in private hospitals – but not everyone is. I know without a doubt that without the hospitalisations and interventions I was exposed to from ages 13-19, I would be dead. Many times I showed up at the door of the emergency department of my local hospital, chest pains, aching head and shaking like a leaf – and they would give me a few hours on fluids and potassium, then discharge me. Without ongoing care in the private sector – I don’t doubt for a second that I would have been one of those girls who dies suddenly – her heart stopping in her sleep.
Recently, one of my friends was admitted to a public hospital over a weekend and discharged on Monday on the grounds of not being sick enough – despite plummeting blood sugar and fainting on her way out of the unit. You can read more about her story here – but what I really want to share with you is the petition that she has created regarding eating disorder services in our state. Despite the growing prevalence of eating disorders, we have two acute inpatient beds dedicated to eating disorders, statewide. It’s simply not good enough. To get one of these beds – which are usually reserved for severe anorexia (despite it not being the only eating disorder – which is a thought for a whole other post) – being on your death bed is practically a requirement. Lives are being lost because there isn’t enough available treatment, and they don’t need to be. Please sign, and share, and talk about this.
I remember being told in one of my first hospitalisations for anorexia nervosa that out of each five people with the illness – one would die, one would recover, and three would live with an eating disorder – in whatever shape or form, for the rest of their lives. To be entirely honest I don’t see the eating disorder voice ever leaving my head – it planted itself early and it has dictated so much of my self development. I have learnt to live with it, though – I can eat relatively well and maintain my weight , coax food into my mouth despite my head’s protests against me. Yes, I know people who have fully recovered. But they are definitely the minority. But it’s a terrifying thought that I know of more people who have died as a result of their eating disorder than I do people who have fully recovered, and maintained that recovery.
It scares me that even this level of ‘recovery’ is not available to everyone. It’s taken years of intensive therapy and many hospitalisations to get me to this level of medical and psychological stability. It shouldn’t be a challenge to reach a vague semblance of recovery. Eating disorders are incredibly difficult and exhausting to fight – and those suffering shouldn’t have to fight not only for their body and their lives, but their treatment as well. An eating disorder is already living a war inside one’s head. It’s not fair, and it’s not okay. While I am absolutely aware of how lucky I am to live the life that I do in the world that I do, it scares me to think that in terms of treatment – despite how inconsistent, often useless and varied mine has been – I am one of the lucky ones.
The last couple of years I have come to realise how important it is for me to keep my life in balance. ‘Balance’ is such a subjective term. For me, it’s feeling like I’m in the right place. Like I’m headed in the right direction. It’s an imperfect mix of values, which even out to where I feel satisfied and at peace.
I find that when I’m feeling like things are off – when my mood is worse, my anxiety is skyrocketing, my eating begins to slip and I regress to not sleeping for days at a time – often it’s because somewhere, I’ve let things fall out of balance. Whether that’s by something as practical as not taking my medication or something less obvious, like not taking time out to sit and drink tea on my own, or going a few days without checking in with friends.
A few weeks ago I co-facilitated an online session for young people about living in line with your values. It should have been obvious at the time (hell, it should have been obvious four months ago when I started struggling more again) – But I think things are out of balance. So here we go – time to reassess my values, where I’m at, where I want to be, and how to get there.
First up, here are some general areas that I care about: health (physical and mental); relationships (friends and family); education; employment; community; and leisure and relaxation. There’s more to it than identifying these areas though – within these categories, what is important? What is meaningful?
Health (physical): fitness, nutritional balance, looking after my iron and b12 deficiencies, getting enough sleep.
Health (mental): regular mood, controlling anxiety, developing and utilising coping strategies, practicing mindfulness,
Relationships: connecting regularly with others, maintaining positive relationships, showing people how much I appreciate and care for them, feeling valued and loved.
Education: performing well at university, attending classes, potentially furthering my studies beyond this degree, training in areas that I am interested in continuing in.
Employment: working in a job I enjoy, doing my best, providing a service to people, connecting with individuals, earning money, being independent.
Community: giving back to my world, doing what I can in areas that I am passionate about, making a difference.
Leisure & relaxation: keeping myself calm, doing things that I enjoy, taking time out for myself, being creative.
Now – is my life at the moment actually reflecting any of these things? I guess it’s painfully obvious to everyone around me, but it’s taken me a while to catch on. It’s not. I’m nowhere near where I want to be. It’s hard to face up to… And it’s not something that I can look at, and look away. Something (many things) need to change.
* I’ll continue this post later tonight or tomorrow – thinking further into where I am versus where I want to be, what my ideals look like and starting to develop some steps and goals to get me there.