Friday, 3 October 2014

Let your faith be bigger than your fear

These are the words that help me through some of my darkest, toughest moments. 

I have been down the same spiral many times. It's a helter-skelter slide that starts off with thinking too much and ends up with questioning the point of existence. Many different things have set it off in the past, ranging from a piece of school work to choosing a university course to just having too much time on my hands. It always leads me into a deep pit of hopeless despair where I struggle to see why I wake up each day. 

The real problem is this: I am not God. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love facts. Facts and information are what I thrive on and I am constantly thirsting for extra knowledge so that I can fully understand something. This has served me pretty well in educational terms but unfortunately means that I struggle when the facts aren't in reach. 

I am not God. I do not know the point of life. I do not know what happens when we die. I do not know why some people suffer more than others. I do not know the workings of the universe. This has caused me problems in the past because, in my mind, if I couldn't understand the point of life then there wasn't one. And that didn't sit too well with me.

If life had no purpose, then why was I struggling every day to survive? If none of it lead anywhere, why go through the difficulties, the discomfort, the fear, the pain? What was the point of even attempting to recover?

Throughout my illness and recovery, my relationship with God has blossomed. At a time when very few people were able to comfort and reassure me, believing that God was carrying me in the palm of his hand and guiding me down his path for me was the sense of safety that I clung too. I went through periods of doubting, through anger with God for letting me suffer, through bargaining and pleading but gradually over time I learnt to trust. 

Now every day I put my trust in God. I still can't see his plan, I don't know what the purpose of life is or what happens afterwards but each day I actively put my trust in God. I trust that he has a plan for me even though I can't yet see it. I trust that he is looking after me and guiding me. I trust that he is tugging at the strings of the universe, keeping it in check. He is doing the worrying so that I
don't have to. I am not God but I trust God.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Taking a Gamble

I'm going out on a bit of a limb here and doing something that makes me a bit uneasy because we only live once and we should challenge ourselves. Basically, I love writing poetry. It's something that seems to flow from me and helps me untangle thoughts. At other times, it's nothing to do with my own feelings and it's just some fun creativity. I'm not claiming to be any good at writing (I only studied English up to GCSE) but I thought why not share a few of my poems and let people have a glimpse of something I enjoy doing.

So here's the first one.

Each day it changes,
Each day a new story
Of horror and anguish,
Of human inhumanity.
They say it's important
To know of it all,
To understand and form opinion,
To learn and relearn.

She walks out of the room
When the news comes on.
They say she doesn't care enough
About current affairs.
But really, who can blame
A girl who does care
For not wanting to see
Faces crying in despair?

She can do nothing,
Can change not a thing,
It's agony to see
What anger can bring.
When peace comes to one place
War starts in another.
Man fighting man,
Brother fighting brother.

She decides if she could lessen
The pain of just one,
A difference would be made,
A service done.
So she chooses not to watch,
She lessens her own pain.
"Can you really blame her?"
I ask you again.

Do let me know whether you'd like to see a few more of my poems appear on here or if you fell asleep attempting to read this!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Rollercoaster of emotions

One of the things that has been most important for me to work on throughout my therapy is my Extreme Emotion Intensity. It's hard for me to know when this problem developed because young children tend to experience very intense emotions but certainly it has been a problem throughout my teenage years. In simple terms it means all of my emotions are experienced at a high intensity. Emotions that should feel like a gentle wave, hit me like a Tsunami. It goes for the "good" emotions as well as the "bad" ones (I use the inverted commas because any of the therapists I've had would murder me for saying any emotion is bad as we have no control over them, they all need to be felt etc etc. I am merely trying to distinguish between the joyous and not-so-joyous ends of the emotional spectrum).
Perhaps its easy to understand with something like anxiety. If we took me and a person whose emotions were properly regulated and put us both in the same anxiety-provoking situation, there would be very different reactions. Let's say we're equally scared of snakes and we see a piece of string on the ground and for a second think it's a snake. We'll use a scale of 0-10 for anxiety. For the other person, their anxiety may hit an 8/9 for a few seconds before they realise that it's not a snake and then their anxiety will quickly drop back to a 2/3 for a while before settling out at basically 0 within a very short space of time. They'll be left with no physical symptoms and will probably laugh at their experience within minutes. For me my anxiety would hit a 10 and stay at that 10 for a good half an hour. It may then drop to an 8/9 which could last for hours, leaving me with a racing pulse and breathing, complete lack of concentration, paranoia and fear and a disabling panic that renders me unable to focus on or complete daily tasks. I'll feel on edge and jumpy for the rest of the day, irritable, unreasonable, out-of-balance and fearful and thoughts will be rushing around my mind at 100mph. I probably wouldn't be able to tell you why I was feeling that way because rationally I know that the piece of rope wasn't a snake but the emotions will be intense and long-lasting regardless of all logic.
We've all at some point experienced some kind of crippling fear so perhaps the anxiety is easier to understand than the problems of intense joy or excitement. What could be wrong with feeling super happy or excited? What does super excited even look like? There is plenty wrong with feeling super excited. Take a moment to think back to the last time you were really excited. There was probably a quickened heart rate, inability to think about much else, a feeling of time going incredibly slowly, an explosive exuberance that refuses to remain hidden. Now imagine that and multiply it's strength by 100. Oh and experience it for hours on end. The problem is the adrenaline that rushes round your body in these situations. Technically it is the "fight, flight or freeze" hormone that is an immediate attempt by your body to preserve your life. The effects (increased heart rate, diversion of blood from digestive systems to the peripheral muscle that will help your flight and causes butterflies in the tummy, complete focus on the situation and nothing else, primitive thinking, extra energy being released from stores etc) are designed to help you deal with a life threatening situation ie being chased by a  lion. They are not effects that are meant to be felt for a long period of time or all that often. However, when you have EEI, adrenaline is released far more often and over longer periods of time. This can be pretty debilitating. Imagine the effects above but in response to thinking about going on holiday and lasting for hours. Not exactly appropriate or particularly easy to cope with.
In the case of joy, my problems can range from feeling so elated that I feel invincible and therefore become extremely reckless to being unable to contemplate or consider others feelings through my own elation and therefore being highly insensitive which can lead to lots of problems in relationships. I also have a tendency to become very "hyper" and once again, can't focus on daily tasks due to the emotion being everything. Picture a 2 year olds reaction to a happy situation and you might be getting close. I can also swing from feeling very elated into depression when I come off of the emotional high which is very difficult to handle.
EEI is exhausting. I found a passage in one of my books recently that I wanted to share.
"I react to things so extremely. No matter what it is, or what emotion it induces, I seem to feel it so much more than I should.
I feel too much.
There is too much of me.
I once heard it being described as the emotional equivalent of someone with third degree burns all over their skin. And that's how I've always been. The slightest things seem to sear through me and wrench my heart out. When I am happy, I am elated. When sad, I am suicidal. Everything is so extreme and it's overbearing and suffocating and infuriating for anyone who comes into contact with me, but no more so than it is for me in my own head.
I'm scared of feeling. Scared of anything that will pierce through normality and balance and take me to the next feeling that is too overwhelming for me to even begin to react to rationally."
It sums it up so well.
One of the reasons that it had been such an important thing to tackle is because it goes hand in hand with the disease that could kill me. In its twisted way, anorexia or bulimia or any eating disorder serves it's sufferer a purpose. Why else would sufferers keep doing something so painful, soul destroying and life threatening if it brought nothing in return. For me one of the main purposes that my eating disorder has served me is numbing my emotions. When you are malnourished your brain cannot deal with emotions in the same ways it normally would and it shuts down pathways to preserve energy. Add to that the obsession with food, calories, weights, numbers, sizes, exercise, counting, charting and calculating and you have almost zero capacity to experience emotions. For me, that is such a relief. To be able to shut off and view life instead of experiencing it was the only way I had to cope with my lack of emotional regulation. However, on several occasions it almost killed me and it certainly ruined my life and severly damaged my health and relationships. I've also used self harming as an outlet for extreme emotions when it's too uncomfortable to keep them inside. An important part of preventing a relapse in my eating disorder has therefore been finding new ways to deal with my EEI. 
This has come mainly in the form of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, which combines tools such as distraction, mindfulness, radical acceptance and thought diffusion to help ride through extreme emotions and manage them healthily. It can be a challenge because the tools I'm learning can seem strange from the outside (if you see me clutching an ice cube, scribbling, ripping up tissues, mouthing poems or lyrics to myself, covering my ears and humming or closing my eyes and doing breathing exercises don't be alarmed!) and it takes quite a lot of effort to remember to use them but as I practice it is becoming more natural and I look forward to the day when I can keep my emotions at a manageable level without too much effort. For now though, you gotta do what you gotta do!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

A heck of a lot of time in a very short space

I should have realised by now that the longer I leave my blog, the more difficult I find it when I decide I want to start posting again. In some ways it has been unavoidable though.

At the end of October last year I went into primary inpatient treatment for my eating disorder. At the time I was living a "pseudo-recovery". I kidded myself that I was recovering and technically I was eating enough nutrients to keep my body going but I was still denying myself a huge amount of things, being very rigid in my eating and very dictated by my eating disorder. I was counting calories, weighing myself several times a day, eating very low-fat, health-conscious foods, not allowing myself any treats or anything that might possibly be classified as remotely unhealthy. I may have been gaining weight and eating but my eating disorder was still ruling my mind. I was under my NHS team but as they are so overcome with patients they could only give me half an hour with a nurse each week along with a weigh-in, checking my vitals and taking my bloods. I was alive physically, but emotionally I was still dying. This rigidity and emotional deprivation started leading to me bingeing on food and hating myself more than I could have ever imagined. My mood was slipping lower and lower. I was becoming more and more anxious and was unwilling to leave the house and everyone around me was powerless to help. I told my parents that I wanted to get some inpatient help and it started from there.

I was in my first inpatient centre, Life Works, for 6 weeks and there my eating was stabilised and my diet became far more varied meaning my body and mind weren't deprived. I also attended different therapy groups every day, saw a counsellor and was introduced to the 12-Step method of recovery (originally used in Alcoholics Annonymous). My mood also stabilised and I started thinking more clearly and understanding my reactions and problems more. Before I left I had to think about what I was going to do when I was discharged. My team thought that, although I had made great progress, I would really benefit from doing secondary treatment. I had to think about it for a long time as it meant going out to Montrose Manor in Cape Town for 3 months. Eventually I realised that 3 months is very little to give if it means I have the chance of enjoying the rest of my life. I had an assessment and was scheduled to be admitted on January 7th.

I was discharged as an inpatient from Life Works just before Christmas and between then and flying out to South Africa, I did 3 days a week at Life Works which was brilliant as it kept me on track when I found things hard and helped me to stay focused on recovery.

I flew out to South Africa by myself and arrived early in the morning on the 7th. I was terrified. I don't think I've ever been that scared in my life. I'm not sure where to start with talking about Montrose Manor except to say that they have given me a second chance at life. It was not easy by any means. I had to question every part of my character and change so many things. I learnt things I didn't like and didn't want to hear but it was something I needed to do if I was to have a hope of beating this illness. The counsellors and nurses were brilliant, tough when they needed to be but unconditionally supportive and caring. I began to grow into a young adult, taking responsibility for my actions and my well being. I made friends I will never forget. They supported me through some of my most difficult battles, made me see sense when I couldn't and laughed at me whilst I was kidnapped by a pirate (that's a story for another day!) A strong community is so important for recovery because you are surrounded by people who know the war that is going on inside your head and know what might help set you free from that. Whether it was playing bananagrams, talking it through, singing loudly to a song or whacking out some swingball and ping pong, together we rode out all the problems. We also just had a lot of light-hearted the pool, on the beach, in town, at the V&A Waterfront. Everyone there was unique but I loved each and every one for their individuality. They are really what got me through treatment and what spurred me on and drove me forwards when I really just wanted to curl up and be invisible.

I got home in April and since then have been busy, busy, busy. It's been harder than I expected to put the things I learnt into practice but slowly and surely I am. I am seeing a new therapist and dietitian here now and so far things have been going great with them. A couple of things had slipped but we have started jumping right back on them and also addressing issues which are coming up now. One of the most important things that I learnt in treatment was that if I hold onto any part of my eating disorder, it will grow and grow. The illness is like a tumour, if I want to beat it fully I need to get rid of every single part of it. You may say, "why on earth wouldn't you want to get rid of every part of an illness that has taken away so much of your life?" Well truth be told, there are some parts that are very difficult to battle. My eating disorder has served me a purpose in some way or another. It has provided me with safety (in my own disordered mind) and it is terrifying to let go of that. However, the thought of being stuck in this cycle for the rest of my life is far, far worse. So each day I am fighting. Fighting by eating, fighting by looking after myself, fighting by telling myself that I'm ok and I'm good enough, fighting by doing things I don't feel like but know I need to, fighting by showing my struggles instead of hiding them, fighting by facing fears, fighting by getting back up when I've been knocked down. When people ask me what I've been up to I'm not too sure what to say. My days feel crammed and busy, but the actual activities people would want to hear about are fairly few. In reality, a large amount of my time is taken up with therapy appointments, dietitian appointments, 12-step meetings, going up to London to take part in a jewellery-making enterprise for women in recovery, relaxing (it's important for me), meditating, praying and sticking to my meal plan. For most people, feeding themselves is a simple task that doesn't require much thought. For me, if at the end of the day I've stuck to my meal plan, then, no matter what else happened, that day was a success. Anything else I do is a bonus.

Gradually those bonuses are increasing. I've started dancing again- I love to dance but stopped doing it for several reasons including body image, depriving myself of things I enjoy and general low mood and lack of energy- and singing in the rock choir at my old school. I've started doing yoga classes, helping at Brownies, singing. I got my guitar out for the first time in a year-again, I deprived myself of things I enjoyed- and I am rediscovering the things that I love.

Each day has its challenges for me but as I continue to face them and act in an attitude of recovery, I am starting to enjoy life again.