Rules To Live By In Numbers 

I am on holiday. Some people they may ask, ‘from what?’; I don’t work but I do study, part-time. I have been off from university for 2 months now, surely that counts as a holiday? I’m going to say no, not really. Firstly, I spent  ~a month of that time being unwell with the dysphoric hurricane of hypomania. I went in hospital and had my meds increased. I have since spent time trying to find my feet.

Although I’m not having a holiday from working, I am having a holiday, but what from?  I am having a holiday from being surrounded by mental illness. I live in a specialist supported accommodation which means there is no escaping mental illness at home because someone is always unwell, everyone is on meds and we talk about it amongst ourselves. There are no awkward questions about mental health because we all live there for a similar category of reasons. Also you’re constantly having to answer questions and attend assessments for how well, or not you are doing. Whilst here I have to keep taking my meds twice a day, and I need to use DBT skills to keep my emotional expressions proportional, and I have to take care in the heat because of my meds – there is no holiday from yourself after all – I am kind of taking a holiday from mental illness.

I am taking a holiday from appointments, seeing my social worker, psychiatrist and support workers. Whilst they provide me with a lot of support and access to specialist mental health care, it’s nice to not be talking about symptoms, side effects and how am I really so much of the time. I am taking a holiday away from the bubble I live my life in at home. I am exposing myself to new and unfamiliar territory. At the same time I’m staring anxiety in the face as I gain confidence with new experiences.


I’m taking a holiday from living well within the borderlands of self-imposed restrictions. I am taking a holiday from documenting habit trackers and mood charts. I could stop forever at any time but they are an important tool for my overall well-being, awareness and insight. Taking a week out to just be, live and experience is quite the luxury and a welcome break. This can only be done when I am relatively well and stable: which I am at the moment. This is as much of a break from myself I think it is possible to fathom.

Finally, I am taking a holiday from numbers. Numbers have played a significant role in my life for over a decade: calories in and out, body weight, body fat %, muscle mass, weighing food portions and the numerical data from my FitBit that I try to make perfect: steps, calories burned, hours slept, minutes of restlessness and wakefulness during sleep, heart rate, minutes of activity and exercise. My FitBit data doesn’t just quantify my existence, it quantifies the goals of my existence: calorie goals, BMI goals, body fat % goals, sleep hygiene goals, number of days active goals, heart rate goals, step goals – literally any way of quantifying my life via a watch that you could possibly want for under £200, it does. If I had blood sugar and blood pressure monitors, I would record that too. I shit not, I have previously looked into buying them – all in an effort to feel in control and achieve a way to be perfect.

 

I realise now that I treat myself more like a machine, rejecting how anything feels in order to try to obtain numerical perfection. It’s a great watch and that is what I bought it for but it can be tiring and distracting from the bigger picture. It seems this focus on numbers has become a replacement for my eating disorder behaviour. It is healthier and less destructive but that doesn’t mean it is healthy and not destructive. More numbers can be obtained to quantify my existence further with a premium subscription to FitBit. I have so far managed to resist.

When I left for the airport I saw my analogue watch, ticking away in it’s box from having been rooting for something else in the same drawer. I spontaneously, (get me being spontaneous) decided to switch it up. My analogue watch, get this, doesn’t even have any numbers on it. Not a single one. I need to have access to the time, I don’t like not knowing and can become disoriented with myself without a watch. I don’t think this is mental health related, I’ve been like this since I first got a watch and learned the time as a nipper. With this analogue watch I don’t know the time to the exact minute – which is why I haven’t worn it for the last 3 years it’s been sat in it’s box for. How could I possibly tell the time without knowing the exact minute of the hour? In answer, based on this week, just fine. Vaguely knowing the time of day and hour it turns out is enough.

My holiday from numbers includes not stressing about getting enough steps, enough sleep and enough activity to hit goals that equate to perfection. I have been able to let go a little this week. In my world, this small freedom equivelates letting my hair down, wild child I know.  On the way back from the hiking day to the Gorropu Canyon I wondered how many steps I had done that day, as if I needed to know the number as it would validate my experience and tiredness. Then I answered myself in my mind, it doesn’t matter; that day wasn’t about steps or minutes of activity. The day was about the experience, the memories and the nature I saw in numerous various forms. The number of steps wasn’t important to the experience in any way – and I recited this in a forced way in my mind, as if repeating fake it til you make it to myself.  The amount of calories burned was not important. The amount of time spent at fat burn, resting and cardio heart rates was not important. What was important was that my heart is strong enough to adapt to demand and by doing so allowing me to have days such as that one hiking through the mountains.

I feel quite liberated since cutting back on the permanent numbers game I’ve ben playing. I do find numbers calming, it is a form of coping mechanism for me which crops up more, naturally, during times of stress. Having said that, I feel like I do not need so many numbers in my life. They have evolved from a calming coping mechanism that allures a sense of control, to a controlling cage that traps me in trying to achieve the perfect set of figures across all platforms of my life: diet, weight, sleeping habits, heart rate, blood pressure…the lists goes on. Sounds familiar huh?

It is in this way that I have been giving numbers too much power over my life, letting them govern how I feel I ought to live my life and what I think is the right amount of everything. It initially manifested in an eating disorder, morphed into another eating disorder and now this. I’m a walking project of equations and sums. My experience is invalid without numbers in my opinion. I also know this to not be true.

 

I have had a desire to be clockwork and machine like for a long time, again, this was initially achieved by having an eating disorder. More recently it has been achieved by wearing my FitBit. The purpose is to not feel and to function impeccably. I want to do and power through life and for the whole while that my digits remain imperfect i have work to do. It hasn’t always been a helpful approach and has held me back in many ways in addition to always having work to do because I am human. I am an animal not a computer. Ironically, for want of a lack of feeling and human nature, this makes me upset sometimes. Most of us are familiar with not being what we want to be: a marathon runner, a CEO, rich, living in paradise but I have turned one impossible goal for another: being weightless for being numerically perfect in other ways. By doing so I have been choosing numbers over intuition and listening to my body or mind for what it really is.

Using numbers to control and restrict my life is not healthy. I don’t feel like I can preach balance when I am living my life so purposefully out of balance. Balance is not achieving perfection in any way be it weight, hours slept or heart rate. Perfection is not possible and life needn’t be constantly quantified in order to be living well – I am human. I am not a machine of equally spaced cogs designed to work like clockwork. Balance is less balance in the numbers of life and more adapting to the essence of change found in living. Evidently I have some way to go.

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A Crisis, A Sandwich and The Small Wins

I just ate a sandwich and I am drinking a cup of tea. I am in a public place and although I’m not talking to anyone around me, I just ate a sandwich. I don’t have an eating disorder anymore. I don’t have a digestive disorder. There is nothing physically stopping me from eating, but that sandwich I just ate? That feels like a small win in the realm of my mental health battles lately.
I’m not so sure on calling my difficulties mental health battles, but I’m also unsure about how I feel comfortable labelling these difficulties for myself, about myself or to myself. Mental well being wars? I’m not sure on that either. Either way, the point is my mental health difficulties lately have been on somewhat of a flare up. I don’t like to say I’m in a war with myself, however, when fighting against your mind every day you essentially are at war with a part of you every moment of every day of every waking moment. I repeat every in that sentence on purpose, just to hit home at how “every” my illnesses are in my daily life.

For a short while at the end of December to early January everything was great. My days were not very short of what I would call perfect. I was cooking most meals from scratch. I was running again regularly. I was chasing social engagement. I was acing life how I think life ought to be aced and it was pretty fantastic – not so fucking fantastic that I was skipping on sunshine, but pretty fantastic all the same. Then a freight train came choo chooing through my life at 100mph, knocked me sideways, spun my world upside down and paralysed me for a short while.

To escape, I engaged in maladaptive coping behaviour which resulted in not being very aware of anything for a few days and a night in general hospital. Physically, I have recovered. Mentally, it’s an ongoing journey on what currently feels like an uphill trail run.


For me, I am lucky and I realise that now in that I have people to support me professionally and personally. I am lucky to be loved and cared about – and maybe I need to write this in big bold capitals somewhere I see it every day to keep this reality conscious in the forefront of my mind.

As for right now? I am dressed, I am out of my home borough comfort zone, and I just ate a sandwich on my own, without being told to, without being encouraged and without recoiling into the comfort of not eating and letting the anxiety nausea get the better of me. Today, I am winning a slight win. I had help and that is ok because I am winning at today.

Overwhelmed By Very Little 

   
I have started a course. The course, from the first session, gives me hope that it will be a good focus for me for the next 8 weeks and beyond. It is in Reading to Lead, in which case you run groups of reading for well being and exploring themes and emotions brought up by the pieces in question that session. It sounds fantastic and it is, except for yesterday when I came home I crashed in my well being. 

It wasn’t the group that triggered me. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the group nor were the people difficult in any sense of the imagination. It was me. I had overwhelmed myself and it is possible my current timetable, to which I will be adding no more groups or events, has been pushing me to my limits to cope with people, being outside and keeping a wrap on my own difficulties I face.

I know the sound of my voices. I know their tone, pitch and sound. I know when I hear them, and in social settings I try very very difficult to ignore them and pretended like they are no talking to me. Even annabelle has to be quiet for the duration of social events because I don’t want people to think I’m not ready for the course. That however, led to a mini sort of break down once I came home in which I took more PRN than I should in one go, it meant I didn’t go climbing – although I had other reasons for it being wise to not go last night anyway and it meant that the whole evening was spent comforting myself and pacing the streets because my flat is too small to pace adequately, until it was time to pass out. 

Perhaps I am overwhelming myself with my expectations. I expect that an activity a day should be fine. I expect that an activity a day ought to be manageable, especially when I am surrounded by supportive and understanding people in safe environments. You would think the travel would be ok, but apparently no. It is not ok. For some reason I am massively overwhelmed by my current situations and plans. 

In one essence I know they are not too much for me to do. I used to be able to do a million things in a day and function. However, in the other sense, I am feeling the wrath of my difficulties. Normally, when I write in Dear Darling Sanity I have answers and suggestions, but it turns out this time I myself need the answers and suggestions. 

My suggestions to myself are currently to not add anything else to my schedule except for seeing my close friends as that occurs infrequently. My other suggestion is to practice mindfulness afterwards and do the 4,3,2,1 technique in order to calm down, which totally escaped my mind yesterday. I am keeping to my timetable as best as I can and hope that with time it will become easier, of which I shall keep you updated and posted about. 

However, if anyone else has any suggestions for not feeling overwhelmed by a relatively small amount of tasks and commitments then please, send them my way I’d be more than grateful to listen to them. 

My Lost Ally

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For some of us, it can be a scary fact to accept that sometimes you have no idea what is really going on with your mental health. For me, right now this is the situation I find myself in. I am sectioned, and a bit confused as to why, and as to what is going on with my health. Mood wise, I had a long dip but I seemed to have levelled out and no longer understand what the nurses are telling me. I have chosen to not appeal seeing as half of my sentence has been served.

There is something quite different about living your life in a mental health hospital. For one, there is no privacy. For seconds, time varies between passing you by at a reasonable pace and dragging so painfully that a week feels like a month. Thirdly, you are locked within a facility with people who you do not choose to live with, or share your days with but ultimately, you begin to form bonds with. Not too dissimilar to the friendship choices made at school, however there are fewer rankings, as we’re all outcasts from society in some way. None of us can deny our struggles or overt abnormality because let’s face it, we’re all in a mental health hospital. This aspect of being on the inside can be almost refreshing. No longer do I have to deny my bipolar or my past, and it is a place where the brutal honesty of what daily life can entail living with mental health problems is actively spoken about quite comfortably – because to an extent, each of us have been or is there in some way right now.

I have been removed from my normal social surroundings, my friends and my family. My usual coping mechanisms and social excursions remain out of reach so to pass the time I am once again puffing away like an irregular steam engine, and guzzling cups of tea like I’m trying to drown my internal organs in Tetley’s English Breakfast. Inevitably, whilst doing such thrilling activities with my day, and watching the light of the sky pass me by, conversations begin to happen and bonds begin to form.

A quite liking for one patient leads to them becoming my ally in this battle against the system: a laugh and a bitch and a moan. An angry cigarette and a joint pining to be with our loved ones. A “good morning” and a “good night” and eventually, “you alright?” becomes a bit deeper than phatic talk as the barriers whither away with a quickly found trust based on the fact that both of us sat here, puffing away and drowning ourselves in Tetley are certified crazy in some way or another. There is no shame. That is perhaps the only beauty to be found in these places – there is no shame because we have all committed the shameful act of having mental health problems – then the words come, “I’m going home this week”

“oh wow fantastic, that’s exciting news”
“yeah, I can’t wait to see my kids” Of course she can’t. She can’t wait to go to the pub. She can’t wait to see her kids. She can’t wait to regain her freedom, and ultimately I’m happy for her. A little envious perhaps, but overall happy that finally the day she has been waiting for since her arrival is on the horizon – and she’s so ecstatic and excited. Inside though, I am sad. No longer will I have the comfort of having found an ally I am comfortable with, and no longer will that person I connected with for a week be around – and once again, the hospital becomes a very lonely place until someone else is admitted who I can see myself connecting with in some way, who in the outside world I would probably not even glance at twice.

Since she left the ward I think about all the plans she had and I smile for her – but for my own immediate resolve the feelings of sadness and loneliness at being in hospital intensify – and the loneliness my former patient friend helped me to avoid come flooding back as I spend time talking to people I’d rather not but who are better to speak to than the people I’m nose diving past in the hope they don’t catch me or see me. All of a sudden I’m in a building full of people, accompanied on 1:1 by nurses who are supposed to support me and I feel the most isolated and lonely that I have for years despite having the NHS pay for my own personal stalker to follow me from room to room writing notes upon which room to room they happen to be following me to and fro between. The journey continues. Maybe someone else will come along, maybe they won’t. Maybe soon I will be the patient bearing good news of a release date, maybe I won’t. The uncertainty here is uncomfortable, but to my former patient friend: I hope she’s doing well.

Anorexia – Relapse and Prevention: Small Clothes and Tears

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Relapse Symptom: Becoming upset about not fitting into my small clothes. An unavoidable aspect recovery from anorexia is weight gain. Weight gain doesn’t just mean a number on the scale, as it feels like when you’re losing weight, but it also corresponds to an actual increase in mass and size. When losing weight during anorexia, it seems to be a part of the illness to become blind to the weight loss and loose fitting of all your clothing. However, when weight restoration starts to happen, it can feel like you can feel, and see every single pound that you gain: and it is more strikingly obvious when you try on old clothes that you used to like to find that they don’t fit anymore. In fact, you can’t even pull your old jeans over your thighs and it is at this point that you have a choice from the following options:

a) crying over how fat you have become
b) swearing you will lose the weight to wear them again soon and folding them away for when said weight is lost
c) do a clear out of clothes that really oughtn’t fit you…ever….in a million years
d) embrace the reason to go shopping for new clothes

The last option obviously seems like the most logical and enjoyable option, however in the wrath of anorexic thinking, logic and enjoyment go out the window. Anorexia will berate you for gaining the weight, becoming larger and “look, you fat bitch, you can’t even pull your jeans up. They used to be big on you, and you were still fat so just think how disgustingly fat you are now. You should lose that weight again, you looked so much better”

This is a very difficult voice to confront and battle. Anorexia is so convincing and so easily believed that not saving the jeans for later “when I’ve lost a few pounds” is a very difficult urge to resist.

How I stay well: Only in my later years of recovery have I been able to accept my expanding body. I have now settled at a healthy weight and a healthy size – but it is a size and weight I have never been before. I am at my highest weight. Since realising how small my old clothes were, and learning to accept that really I should never be that size again if I want to remain healthy, I had to take the bold step of throwing out my skinny clothes. This is a mile stone in recovery for many people, and it is a difficult one to overcome. “what if I lose weight again?”,”what if I get sick again?”,”but i really liked those clothes, they made me feel nice”. So in one afternoon I went through my wardrobe and I put it all in a charity shop bag. However, after my wardrobe depleting significantly, I have used this as an excuse to shop gradually over the months and years for a new wardrobe for my new healthy size and shape that I seemed to have settled at. Finally, in new clothes that fit I am less likely to put on an outfit and think or feel that I am far too fat. My clothes fit nicely, I look good and I’m healthy all at once.

For when my thinking slips though, I have to remind myself that at my height I should never be a size 6 again. I shouldn’t really be a size 8 either and that a 10-12 is perfectly fine, healthy and apparently sexy too. Who doesn’t want to be all of those things?

Other Signs and Symptoms:
1. Introduction: Anorexia – Relapse and Prevention and Counting Calories
2. Weighing
3. Drinking cups of tea, in succession, on after another, after another, after another.
4. Skipping Meals
5. Feeling anxious and out of control
6. Feeling uneasy about “bad foods”
7. Making diet plans
8. Burning calories
9. Denying Hunger
10. Thinking about food
11. The Thin Ideal

Anorexia – Relapse and Prevention: The Thin Ideal and Self Hate

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Relapse Symptom: Seeing very thin people and feeling jealous of their figure, hating on my own and wishing I had never gained weight so I could remain a skinny minnie all my life, and thus be apparently beautiful for all eternity. Seeing old photographs of myself at lower weights, or of other people at unhealthy low weights and feeling jealousy over their size, bones and fragile appearance is for me, a sign that I am focusing on an unhealthy objective to avoid dealing with something else playing on my mind. It could be a reduced self-esteem, a sense of failure looming over my head or simply feeling uncontented and wanting something to focus on, something to control in my life, and something that makes me feel special. When I was at my worst with anorexia, I felt special. Not many people could successfully get as thin as me. In my mind, people stared at me because everyone wanted my self control, my innate ability to say no, and my beautiful bones. In recovery, I have learnt to see anorexia for what it is.

Anorexia is not a beautiful goddess envied by the masses. Anorexia is not an achievement and emaciation isn’t beautiful. Nor was I at my most beautiful whilst emaciated, despite what some people said. Their own obsession with thinness and the emaciated ideal is heir own personal problem, and perhaps an issue within society: and I do not want to be a part of that ideal anymore. During recovery I made an active choice to move away from engaging with unhealthy ideals. Controlling my life through food is not a healthy means of feeling in control, and ultimately when it goes too far, ironically you are not in control at all, anorexia is, and she’s a relentless bitch. When I relapse, I forget this and the comfort of nostalgia glosses over the grim reality of existing in anorexia’s presence making the whole ordeal seem like a beautiful dream, when in reality it is a bed of roses. Beyond the rose petals are thorns and they will dig deep in every crevice and destroy you bit by bit. Under the whimsical spell of the disease though, this can easily be forgotten.

How I stay well: Now I am mentally aware enough to spot the early signs within my thoughts. If I see imagery of thin or skeletal people and start thinking about how much I want to be so small again I can stop myself in my tracks. I think back to how weak I was, and how scared I was when I started losing my mind even more so due to starvation. Did I enjoy hallucinating and questioning every aspect of my reality? Did I enjoy staring at people eating whilst secretly feeling sad that I was missing out on one of life’s main joys? How much fun was it to not be able to climb a flight of stairs without nearly collapsing? I’ll tell you, it was no fun at all. Honestly, without the rose tinted spectacles of eating disorder nostalgia, it was shit. I hated myself. I was miserable, vulnerable and really what was I really gaining from a life of starvation that contributes to real happiness and fulfilment: nothing.

So I re-evaluate my response to imagery of such tiny people. I take a step back from my initial response of seeing someone so frightfully underweight and I think about the reality of what it is I am witnessing, not the glossed over fantasy, and ultimately I feel sadness. I ache knowing the constant torment that living with anorexia entails. I want to hug them or tell them it can get better because inside I know they are living in a torturous hell.

Unless I think they are naturally slender and it’s possible there is no eating disorder involved at all, then I acknowledge that we all have different body shapes and types. Their body shape just happens to be different to mine, then I remind myself of what it is I want from my body.

I want health, vitality and strength. I want to be able to battle illness and push to new limits of fitness and achievements. For me, pushing my body in fitness and exercise is an alternative to starving myself. Instead of trying to push myself to my limits with life and death, I am pushing myself for positive achievements that can be celebrated and are fulfilling. From this I have gained a new appreciation, enjoyment and ultimately acceptance of my body. and so can you if you let yourself.

Other signs and symptoms:
1. Introduction: Anorexia – Relapse and Prevention and Counting Calories
2. Weighing
3. Drinking cups of tea, in succession, on after another, after another, after another.
4. Skipping Meals
5. Feeling anxious and out of control
6. Feeling uneasy about “bad foods”
7. Making diet plans
8. Burning calories
9. Denying Hunger
10. Thinking about food