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.
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.
I hate writing this. I’m not good at all at facing up to myself when I’m not okay. My psychologist’s secretary called me three times yesterday, trying to reschedule appointments around so that I could see her – all of which I declined. “I’ll be at university all day tomorrow, sorry”. I have no classes on Thursdays. The day was spent lying in bed, trying to will myself to get up and brush my teeth. It hasn’t yet happened.
Death is everywhere, my head keeps spinning. My eyes stare through whatever I should be focusing on. I’m losing time again in ways I thought I’d surpassed. I should go to my lectures. I should find a doctor. I should make an appointment, and attend. All these things feel more than impossible. I should get back on medication – but even if I do, the next (at least) three months won’t show any effect. Three months is a long time when I’m feeling like this. Completely empty, punctuated by desperate moments of the sensation that I need to rip myself out of my body.
The fog has settled. I try to be all about empowerment and hopefulness, but the words are blurring on my laptop screen. Piece by piece the world, my body and mind move further out of my grasp. Right now, I just want to disappear.
I feel as though I am in a very strange place. In five days I will be leaving to travel for three months. Nine months ago, I booked these plane tickets with the intention of disappearing into some unknown hostel somewhere in Europe and killing myself. But so much has happened since then. I’m no longer planning on following through with that – which I’m infinitely grateful for.
This year has been strange – there has been so much death, pain, relapse and darkness. Yet at the same time I feel as though I have grown so much. For the first time to this date, the darkness and light have begun to even one another out – and it’s with this strange realisation that I’ve come to recognise that it’s not just me: the whole world exists in dichotomy. No dark without light. Two opposites, constantly vying with each other to take hold.
Tomorrow marks one year since I was last discharged from hospital (other than emergency, which I’m not counting) – the longest break between admissions since I was fourteen. ‘Between admissions’ isn’t entirely adequate there, because I have no intention of ever being shut in one of those rooms again in my lifetime. A year out of hospital isn’t much of an achievement in the eyes of many people, but for me it’s pretty huge. It’s about independence, manageability and freedom. But somehow I still feel stuck.
I’m hoping that as I travel, somehow layers will strip away. That the scales which are tentatively see-sawing back and forth will find their balance. I’m not sure that I’m ready to get to the depths of what is within me – but I want enough simplicity that I feel more in touch with my values, needs and capacities. The last month has been riddled with re-emerging anxieties: around people, places, food, sleep. Afraid to sleep, but afraid to leave my bedroom. Can’t eat, showering upwards of fifteen times a day, bleeding hands from being washed too often. It feels something like being sixteen again. Nightmares – sleeping and waking, overwhelming everything I attempt to do. Lists upon lists: I get nervous, so I write a list of things that make me happy, a list of things that make me sad, a list of things I want to do, a list of music that calms me, a list of places to go, a list of people I love – and still I feel nervous.
I realise there are textbook reasons for this happening now. I’m about to take a huge step in travelling the world solo. I’m constantly worrying about what I want to do with my life and what I need to do to get there – and freaking out that I can’t just make everything okay, right now. I’m stressed about friends and their circumstances, and that while travelling I won’t be a text or a short walk away. And the single most terrifying thing I’m thinking about at the moment is that I’ve tentatively decided that when I return from overseas I will begin trauma processing. I’m not entirely sure what that process will involve, but I’m certain that it will stretch me to my absolute limits. I haven’t spoken the ‘r’ word aloud for over two years. I can’t write about it without losing time, and I continue to sleep in half hour intervals to avoid dreaming. It will be difficult, that’s for sure.
I feel in between so many extremes, unsure of which way the balance will (should?) tip. Maybe it’s incredibly naive of me, but I’m hoping that I can leave all this. That the moment I step onto that first plane, all of this ‘stuff’ will remain behind. That I can balance holding on, and letting go.