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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The Puzzle of Movement: Becoming the Kinetic Energetic

In the final stage of starting to get active the focus is on actually starting to move. Feel free to move in any way which suits you and here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way when turning getting active into part of my permanent lifestyle.

This stage is called, Becoming the Kinetic Energetic.

Balance Ambition and Attainability

With running, it is tempting to go for straight for the big distances. A training plan says you can run a half marathon in 8 weeks, so why shouldn’t you? If you train hard you’ll get results quickly right?

Unfortunately, fitness isn’t always a direct correlative relationship of input vs results. We are human beings not machines: we can’t force out bodies to stick to a constant progressive plan as figured by an algorithm. Injuries happen. Overuse injuries and obtaining injuries from increasing your exercise load too quickly are very real – and are not something be ploughed on through in the name of ‘mind over matter’.

Our bodies do things that may not fall in line with our plans and ambitions. Being realistic with self expectations and self compassionate throughout your journey will harbour much greater results than literally beating your body up physically in order to run too far a distance in too short a time, or dead lift too many Kgs too quickly – and that’s OK.

I can however, make slow progress in line with how my body adapts. I can gain more than climbing higher grades and running faster miles from my journey. This way I maintain a level of ambition and sense of progress that becomes very enticing from exercising, whilst also respecting my body and capabilities. You can too.

Engage with Online Communities for your Activity

I don’t mean follow a bunch of Insta models with chiseled muscle definition and a body shape that requires an unhealthy level of obsession to achieve. What I mean is, if you don’t know anyone who wants to get into your activity with you, go find your people.

One way of doing this is the web – Meet Up, and local clubs and Facebook groups are a great place to start. Engaging in an ongoing conversation with others like you about your journeys, encouraging one another is a great source or virtual community. Some members may be inspiring to you, and you never know, you may yourself inspire others.  You may meet up at an event and do it together – there are hundreds of people just like you who have done just that, and for as scary as that may initially seem – you’ll meet some bloody brilliant people.

Together we’re stronger.

Make it social

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Working out alone can be a good time to clear your mind, focus on yourself and take time out from your day. For years, I ran solo, I went to the gym on my own, and I only climbed in a group because you kind of need someone to belay you – until I discovered bouldering could become a solitary activity also. I enjoy being alone, and know that not everyone likes being alone as much as I do.

For years I totally underestimated the value of working out with others, undervaluing the greater benefit of running with friends, and enjoying the company of other people in a positive space. Since this bomb has dropped, I regularly go to running crew each week.

It has become a place to forge friendships who share my passions. It has become a place to shake out the cobwebs of stagnation from a low mood in the company of others, a place to celebrate achievements of one another and a safe place of acceptance.

The benefit of human contact on a regular basis is something I never valued, until now. And as an awkward introvert who is usually immersed in swathes of social awkwardness I have found the fitness people, and the running crew to be a very non-judgmental and friendly bunch. It may not feel right with the first group you run, yogi or climb with, but keep trying – eventually a you’ll find yourself a you-shaped space to be the missing piece to a jigsaw of a crew you never even knew about before.

Embrace the Power of Post Exercise Mindfulness 

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After a work out take time to sit, breathe and be mindful about how your body and mind are feeling. Just taking a moment to do so gives you time to reflect on where you’re at, how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Is something bothering you? Is there something you want to work on? Is there a niggle in your knee that needs attention? Or are you just feeling totally zen and absorbing as much of that as possible for a moment? Stop to smell the flowers.

Don’t Focus on Weight or Size

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Weight loss is a viable goal for many but I would definitely never advocate obtaining a certain clothes size or goal weight to be the main or only reason for incorporating physical activity into your life. It is claimed that weighing yourself regularly can help with weight loss in numerous research papers.

However, focusing on weight alone can become very disheartening and a very damaging relationship with yourself. There is no self compassion or love in weighing yourself every day. This gives the scales too much power.

Use the scales if you need to but don’t enslave yourself to them. They’re a tool and deserve no power in your life beyond that. Be real with the scales and let them be real with you – and leave it at that.

Pushing your physical boundaries can be an emotional journey. Let it.

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Pushing yourself, breaking yourself down in order to build yourself up is so much more than a physical journey. ‘Your body is capable, it’s your mind you have to convince’ and this can be a very complicated and windy path of self realisation and discovery.

Sometimes it will be a struggle, other times you’ll smash your own expectations and it’ll feel emotional. You may want to shout or cheer, or even cry – this is entirely OK. Emotions are OK, and pushing yourself in order to break self-inflicted boundaries and  achieving your fitness goals can be an emotional journey. Let yourself own it.

Stop believing in tomorrow. Start today

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Tomorrow I’ll start running. Ok, It’s Wednesday and I didn’t go – I’ll start over on Monday. Next week is definitely the day I’m going to start going to the gym. I’ve signed up now, there’s no excuse, other than the excuse you’ll give to yourself when Monday comes.

Sound familiar?

Stop giving tomorrow so much power. The day is today. What can you do today to prepare yourself and take a step in the right direction? It might not be lacing up right now, but maybe it’s thinking of how you could start. Something may be in the way at the moment: work, study or commitments, so tomorrow may be necessary sometimes but put a deadline on it.

After a month of tomorrow’s start switching to today thinking. Tomorrow will be better from the actions you make today. Get yourself out there. Show yourself what you’re made of – and have a bloody good time doing it!

Food Rule #9: Health is a State of Being, Not a Number 

In order to be healthy and by healthy I mean truly healthy: good vital signs, good level of fitness and a healthy mind, you don’t need to have a 6-pack. There is no definitive quantitative score that defines health despite the amount and in-depth analysis of numerical recordings we can gather to indicate health or a lack of. Overall, I think when you are healthy you feel it within yourself. Just like when something just doesn’t seem right, we feel it within ourselves. A niggle, a fatigue or a pain and we notice. What we frequently don’t notice however, is the signs of good health that our body sends to us. Perhaps because they are less attention demanding than aches and pains – designed to grab our attention. If we focus deep within ourselves and pay attention we can see and feel signs of good health for us.

Maybe it is clear skin, a glowing complexion, or a general sustained energy level throughout the majority of your days. Perhaps it could be a regularity in bodily functions, such as sleeping and waking, or going to the toilet. I think also though, how we genuinely feel within ourselves is a good indicator: are we satisfied, fulfilled, content?

There is no dress size or waist measurement that fits everyone who is healthy. There is no sport that defines one person as more healthy than another, no calorie limit or excess to fit everyone exactly. Sometimes we are healthier than other times but the point is, to aim to be the healthiest and best version of yourself is a personal journey – that includes a bit of indulgence here and there.

My healthy is going to be very different from your healthy because our bodies are individual. There is general advice recommended for example, by public health bodies, but getting hooked up on a body fat percentage, or a 10k time or a “goal weight” or clothes size isn’t the way to go.

I don’t think there is a particular end goal to be attained in order to be healthy. It is a state of being, and you can be healthier or unhealthier than others or your previous self but there remains no destination at which you reach and stop. There is no finish line with healthy living, even if you reach your own peak health and performance, if you don’t maintain activity and healthy practices then you will lose strength, cardio ability and general fitness levels – which you will feel within yourself.

So forget measuring how healthy you are by a dress size or a “goal weight”. Forget comparisons to other people’s’ performances as a yard stick for health – some people who appear very toned and muscular may not be as healthy as you perceive them to be. Similarly, just because someone is considered ‘skinny’ or ‘slim’ by societal standards does not equate them to greater holistic health.

Health is about enabling you to live your life fully, not about fitting into a numerical category of health of scales and measurements. So I urge you to try to release yourself from being hooked on quantifying your health, and to focus on the natural method of how you feel. I don’t always manage this myself – I am a sucker for statistics for every aspect of my life, perhaps to the point of bordering obsession and need to feel in control by numbers in all areas of my life. I am trying to release myself though by weighing less frequently, removing my FitBit from time to time, and stopped insisting on seeing my vital sign results in the doctor’s office because health is a state of being, not a number.

You. Are. Enough.

Sometimes we need to remember to be rational and emotional, calculated and in touch with the incalculable. In a world full of messages bombarding us that we need to be this, that and XYZ by 25 – I’m saying, heck, life isn’t like that and that’s OK. My life didn’t turn out how I had imagined, and I’m OK for that. Let life happen. You are enough. Value is found in the incalculable, ironically.

Let’s be immeasurable.

The Diet Update

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My weight loss journey so far has been steady and slow. I’ve lost a few pounds, which I’m happy about despite totally falling off the banwagon with calorie counting this week – which proved a better diea when I was calorie counting because without counting calories old ED thoughts crop up of, “isn’t that a bit too much?” and “Right, I won’t eat for the rest of the day now” and “Do you deserve that, you should be hungry”

For some in my position calorie counting may seem counterproductive but I have a fitbit which tells me how many extra calories I’ve earned in a day, therefore telling me how much extra I can eat. Which I find helpful in maintaining my goals and limits, and in not getting ED thoughts. Therefore, as of tomorrow I’m going to calorie count again, which means eating a lot of packaged foods, and not really cooking but it’s ok because I choose the healthy options meals which satisfy me and are healthy enough until I feel ready within myself since my breakdown to start cooking again. I’ve barely been cooking you see, because it feels like too much of a task for me. It overwhelms me. I don’t know how people do it, shower, wash, eat, clean AND work. I barely manage to do the precursors to my AND, and I’m unemployed with a minimal amount of activities happening for me each week.

I am pleased with my progress though, especially as I’ve had quite a nasty cold which has prevented me from exercising. I am going to start exercising either tonight or tomorrow though, as I have a climbing workshop for 4 hours, and I’m thinking of going for a swim tonight. I found it very peaceful and relaxing last time. I’ll see how I’m feeling as I’m feeling quite run down again, or rather still, but think I will be better by tomorrow. Mind you I’ve been saying that all week and it keeps coming on back but we’ll see. I’m going to have to take it one step at a time until I’m ready to start exercising again, but as for my weight loss, I’m happy with my progress although it is nothing to shout home about just yet. I’m excited to finally reach my goal weight so I can fit back into my clothes and feel nice about myself again.

Songs of My Journey: 2011, Struggling On

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I finished my second year in 2011. I remember spending evening after evening in the library trying to finish and move on with my studies. It was difficult for me, and I had mastered not eating for days on end resulting in a steep decline in my weight. I would listen to songs on repeat that resonated with my struggles at the time. I was no longer in denial with myself: I knew I was ill and had realised that I was starting to lose control. I had accepted a referral to the Maudsley for relapse prevention, but my relapse had become suffocating – and I no longer wanted ripping from my comfortable starvation, despite being scared at how low my weight had dropped in the Dr’s office.

Shut Your Mouth: 1. A Scared Sickness

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|Parental Response|

The silence, so distant and removed: the house sat in eerie stillness bar the muffled ruffling from the kitchen. Shaken hands clutching at cereal boxes, buttering bread and shoving down the inner packet to appear untouched since the morning whilst feeding in frenzy, a clatter of the spoon rapidly clanging within the bowl between each mouthful engulfed in urgent secrecy. A whistle of the wind chimed through the trees of the distant garden, shit! Freeze. Pause. Listen, creeping up the hallway to peer from behind the staircase out of the window towards the driveway. Is someone home? No, it was nothing? Ok, and with the safety of a clear coast being confirmed a quick hop, skip and jump into the kitchen so as to be a silent gazelle before the brain clatter ensues, a white noise engulfing all the senses as everything once again becomes a numbed engorgement of detached panic stuffing the stomach until eventually the pain receptors can ignore it no more, all immediate surroundings are once again another world, behind a bubble, far, far away. Choking on barely chewed food, spreading the butter back to how it looked from this morning again, re-arranging the empty packets to look like they’re untouched again with cheeks stuffed wide, unable to contain the overflowing contents. Shit, it doesn’t look right. A wave of fearful urgency and adrenaline starts surging, fuck, it’s been too long: purge first, tidy later.

Jumping three steps at a time in silent agility perfected by compulsive routine. Stop, listen, clear and the deed commences. Towards the last heaves the passage of time slows, as if catching up from the sped time prior, then ultimately returning to the normality of 1-elephant length seconds. As reality begins to sink back in, staring at the blotchy, swollen, puffy, saliva ridden, vomit stricken reflection that must be me, despite not feeling like it is me. She has my eyes, streaming and red, but mine all the least. My skin, my nose, my piercing, my hair: I know it is I who stares back before me, but feel it? There is no connection. I blow the nose of that person staring back, wash their hands, clear the vomit streaks pouring from the corners of drenched yet parched lips. Dab away those tears before encroaching upon the scene of what happened in order to get here, the mess I don’t fully remember making. Placing the packets back in a line to make them appear untouched, lining up the boxes in the cupboard again, spreading the butter to look like Mum’s breakfast scrapings, clearing away the crumbs and crumpling the inner packets of the cereal to look like Mum or Dad did it this morning before finally, making a cup of tea. Yes, that’s right. I’ve been drinking so much tea and milkshake, that is where the milk has gone. That is my story to avoid the verbal lashing of how greedy I am, how selfish I am, how I shouldn’t be eating so much – as if I don’t feel ashamed enough of being a healthy weight as it is.

The fearful anxiety that twists and tangles throughout my body is difficult to distract from. I know that I will be in trouble for eating that food, but it will be worse when they realise just how much. In the meantime though, there is no use catastrophising the inevitable so I go upstairs to my bedroom, slow, slouched and weighted heavy with burden for my committed crime. I shut the door to the rest of the house, to the rest of my existence, and the rest of the world. It is here that I can distract myself, detach myself and forget until I am reminded of what just occurred.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? ARE YOU JUST DRINKING MILK ALL THE TIME INSTEAD OF EATING NOW? IS THIS YOUR NEW FAD? WELL I’M NOT GOING TO JUST KEEP BUYING MILK FOR YOU TO DRINK IT ALL, ALL THE TIME. I CAN GO WITHOUT, I DON’T MIND. I CAN JUST EAT AND DRINK AT WORK.”

I freeze. Stutter. Withdraw. I should not have touched the milk. I should not have eaten something they would notice. I must stop eating. They shout when I binge. They shout when I eat for goodness sake. If I don’t eat though, they don’t shout, they don’t swear and they don’t scare me. It would help if he stopped buying in milk, or food – he thinks I care, sure. He’d be doing me a favour because then I won’t eat this, and I won’t eat that: I won’t eat anything. Then I’ll lose all this disgusting weight. Then I’ll be small and the temptation to binge will be taken away from me. He’d be doing me a favour.

Days pass: the dizziness, the weakness, and breathlessness sets in more as I cross each day off of my chart. ‘Don’t go in the kitchen; you’re banned from the kitchen you greedy bitch. Don’t eat, you don’t deserve to eat you fat greedy bitch. The only safe zones in the house are your room and the bathroom if you need the toilet. You can only use the kettle, you greedy bitch. Don’t touch their food. Don’t be greedy. Just don’t eat: you will lose weight and feel better anyway.’ The narrative instruction in my head is clear, concise, and correct: I mustn’t deviate. It is Day 4. No solids. Just the usual suspects of safe “foods”, well drinks to provide enough sugar to avoid collapsing up the stairs between lessons. A solid routine of: hiding in my room, going to school, coming home, and hiding in my room shapes my routine.

Another day. More doors slammed. What have I done now? I haven’t even been eating. I haven’t even left my room except to use the bathroom and go to school. I don’t make a noise. I sit in my room. I draw. I write. I study. Most of all, I sleep. What on earth have I done wrong?

“WHERE THE FUCK IS THE WEETABIX? THAT WAS A NEW BOX THIS MORNING AND YOU’VE EATEN IT ALL; YOU’VE FUCKING EATEN IT ALL. I’M SICK OF THIS. WHY SHOULD I BE SACRIFICING AND GOING WITHOUT BECAUSE OF HOW YOU CHOOSE TO LIVE YOUR LIFE?”

I haven’t eaten for 5 days. I was going to go to town to binge tomorrow should I feel it necessary. I don’t understand. I haven’t eaten the Weetabix. I haven’t touched it. I cry: frustrated, angry, scared, frozen with tears from the uncontrollable sobs I want to release roll to the floor. I stare at the wall, waiting. He will go away eventually, like when prey plays dead. Like the prey, I am petrified and too timid to even move in the slightest, too timid to let the tears fall until he has left, too timid to even move; I’d stop breathing if I could.

It turned out that Mum had been eating the Weetabix because she was hungry after work; there are never any snacks in.