Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Peace at last

The 26th February to 3rd March marked the annual National Eating Disorder Awareness week. I'm three days late posting this.

I can recall the day very clearly. I woke up at 5am, for the seventh day in a row, with my heart beating so fast I could feel it in my cheeks. Wracked with anxiety and nervousness, my cramping stomach ached so much I was running back and forth from the toilet, gripped with nausea. It took me hours to fall back to sleep and even then it was restless, fitful and unsatisfying. I had been exhausted for a week, my appetite had entirely diminished and my mind – that I appeared to be ever-so-slowly losing - were utterly consumed with the people and memories that I had lost.

Suddenly, my social life is lacking in exciting things to do, I have nothing to look forward to and the lonliness I’m feeling is taking over my life. That morning, I found a carton of milk in one of my kitchen cupboards where I keep my mugs, warm from where I had distractedly misplaced it hours earlier. An all-too-familiar feeling began to overwhelm me. My brain feels likes it been poisoned. And I realise that, once again, depression has taken over me.

This was in 2009. A series of very unfortunate events occurred in my life. I got pregnant and had a termination. A good friend comitted suicide. A very loved pet vanished. And then to finish it all off nicely, my boyfriend cheated on me and ultimately left me for someone else. This all happened in the space of nine months and every time something else bad happened, I physically braced myself as if standing in an ocean waiting for a massive cold wave to hit. For some time, I managed to keep my head above water, my muscles tensed, doing my very best to ignore the pain.

After all, I still had a hell of a lot in my life to be thankful for, this was surely just a very unlucky blip. Some months later, I received that 1am phone call, the kind of phone call you never forget, the one that when you answer it you had wished you hadn’t, the “I can’t do this anymore, it’s not working” phone call. And I felt myself give up. My body went limp in the water as my head drifts under the surface. I’m pretty sure I’m drowning.

Unfortunately at this point I wasn't a stranger to depression. Jump back 3 years  to when I was 19 and I can remember sitting in a large comfortable room opposite a very rotund intelligent looking man who wore glasses whilst he attempted to assess what exactly was wrong with me. I sure have no idea. I sleep for 17 hours a day yet I’m constantly exhausted. I get out of bed and have to sit back down immediatly as the entire process of pushing back the quilt and swinging my legs over the edge of the bed feels like the most effort I’ve ever exerted. I drink. Often, far too often, and far too much. I wake up in bed with what I assume is a hangover but I’m finding it more and more difficult to distinguish the difference between feeling hungover and feeling normal. I wake up still wearing all of last nights clothes – down to my coat and my boots. I never have any recollection of how I got home but my car is on the driveway so I’m assuming I drove drunk. It would not be the first time. “Those tissues are for you, you know,” the psychiatrist says, pointing to the box on the table in front of me. “It seems like you are suffering from very severe depression.” I exhale after holding my breath for what feels like a year and relief washes over me. I’m not going mad – I’m just depressed. We can fix this, easy! I was right. It didn't take too long, several months later, sessions of therapy and a long, strong course of some anti-depressants and I start to resemble my former self.

Round two wasn't so easy. After the awful year I had, instead of alcohol abuse accompanying my depression, I chose to deal with it, was with an eating disorder. In September 2009, wracked with grief and anxiety, my body shed 18 pounds in less than 6 weeks. My waist measured a mere 23 inches. And oh, how wonderful it was. The pain I was feeling was made far more bearable by the fact that I was receiving compliments wherever I went. That I was zipping up size 6 shorts. People I didn't know very well were messaging me on Facebook asking how I had done it. It wasn't rocket science - my appetite vanished. But driven by the compliments and the distraction from my overwhelming depression, my mind waged a war on my body and I made it my mission to stay that thin.

I remember the day I stood on the scales and realised, to my delight, that I was exactly two stone lighter than I was 2 years before that when I first joined University and I plumped up on takeaways. I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't love every second of it because I did. I became a self-indulgent, smug little bitch and all I wanted to talk and think about were my ever-shrinking thighs. But after a while, subsisting on 800 calories a day and running 5 miles a day, your body will snap. It will go into survival mode and it will override your will power and it will force you to eat. Mine snapped. And it snapped with fury. Suddenly I was eating everything in sight. Terrified by the inevitable weight gain, I gobbled 9 extra strength laxatives. The pain was indescribable.The following morning I woke up on the toilet floor having fainted from the mind-numbing stomach cramps. But rather than being put off, I grinned like the cheshire cat when I realised how easy it was - I could still eat. But I could get rid of it all. My life suddenly became a cycle of starving myself, giving up and binging, throwing up, taking laxatives and running as far as my legs would carry me. I guess in some way I hoped that flushing everything out of my body might take the pain with it. It didn't, it continued and it made things more difficult.

Living a life with bulimia is chaos. It is utter chaos. I was permanently, relentlessly stressed, angry and panicked. I'd fly off the handle at the smallest things. If I so much as ate a mouthful of chocolate I'd have to throw up. I threw up expensive meals in restaurants, I threw up meals that had been lovingly cooked for me by my family and every time I did I was wracked with more and more guilt.

I looked in the mirror and realised I had no idea who I was anymore. All that was staring back at me was an empty space where I used to be. I was an eating disorder and depression and alcohol abuse. And nothing else.

At this time, I was pretty certain I was losing my mind. I was barely functioning. I was 3 months shy of graduating from University. Unfortunately, in order for me to leave and graduate, there was a 10,000 word dissertation that had to be done which I was in no state to write. I was quite ready to drop out and not finish my degree, I was quite ready to get into bed and never get out again. I was exhausted. My sister forced me to see my GP in order to get an extension and whilst I was there telling her my depression had not lifted despite the anti-depressants she had prescribed me 6 months earlier, I blurted out loud for the first time that I had been throwing up and I felt my body relax for the first time in a long time. I had told someone, this shameful secret was no longer just mine. I applied for an extension on my dissertation and in doing so had to write a detailed letter to the head of my faculty stating that my depression had returned and exhibitted itself in a nasty case of bulimia. I accidentally left the letter out and my Dad saw it. He came home from work and I collapsed in his arms and cried for three hours. It was finally out in the open.

Writing the dissertation gave me a decent enough distraction from my depression. Really, that essay - and my sister who helped me write it - saved my life. After I graduated from Uni - just - I took a few months off to be miserable. I didn't work, I just tried to focus on getting better. I could not understand it, I was doing everything I could to make this go away. I was taking medication, seeing a therapist, seeing a nutrionist, eating as well as I could (tiny amounts in order to avoid feeling full and subsequently the urge to throw up), reading books about my illness... But it wasn't going anywhere. I so desperately craved the feeling of my depression lifting - just a little bit - but it didn't. And unfortunately, things got far worse before they got better. Some time in August 2010 I sat on the couch of my families beautiful flat in London and found myself reading online about the most effective way to kill yourself, just mulling it over. I lie awake at 4am thinking that I didn't know how I was going to hang on a day longer.

Suddenly something snapped. And I was irrationally angry. And for the first time I didn't want to take this anger out on myself. This disease, this horrible frightening depression had defined me for the last four years and it wasn't going to anymore. I was not going to become another statistic. I was not going to let myself down and give in.

The first step was upping my anti-depressants dosage. Medication is incredible. Alone, it will just cover up the problem but combined with a pro-active attitude to getting better and some sort of counselling or therapy, it will be your best friend. It numbed me. I felt nothing. But nothing was so much better than my intense sadness and the higher dosage suddenly gave me a little bit of strength to stop wallowing in my own misery.

The next step was to find something to look forward to. I joined a college in London and completed (and did very well in) a full time make up course. Just having something to get up in the morning and look forward to helped me create some normalcy. I was still coming home from college and throwing up but I was doing it less often. Things were ever-so-slowly improving.

I forced myself to do things I really didn't want to do. It started with trying some temp work. Every time I left the house I had panic attacks and had to turn around and go back in. But I kept trying and eventually, I started to get the hang of it. My advice if you're going through something similar? Get outside and do something. Don't wallow. If you're depression is as bad as mine was and you haven't been working, try getting a part time job or a hobbie or a pet, anything. Anything to get you out of the house a couple of hours a week. It will give your life a bit more purpose. Sometimes even getting out of bed at the same time every day can give your sadness a little seed of normalcy.

A couple of months later I got a great internship at a magazine which reawakened my ambition. All I'd been good at for the last year was throwing up and being miserable that I'd forgotten along the way that I could write. Find something you're good at and keep doing it. Finishing a project will be good. The positive reenforcement from it will remind you that you can be defined by something other than depression.

The next stage is to talk. I cannot stress this enough - if you're unhappy, you must talk about it. Talk about it till your blue in the face. Go to your GP, get referred to a counsellor or pay to see a psychitrist and let a professional help you. If you had a serious physical illness you would immediatly have a doctor assist you in getting better. Depression and eating disorders are exactly the same. If you're unwell, you need help in getting better. Find a therapist and talk.

Buy self help books. Try and understand your illness in every way possible. I found ready the symptoms I had comforting. It helps to know you're not alone.

Every single day of a recovery from such a brutal case of depression is a struggle. It won't ever be easy. It'll be relentless, exhausting, confusing and painful. But when things start to become funny again, when you start gaining perspective on every day hurdles that used to throw you, when you can start leaving the house without having a panic attack...the battle becomes worth it. Recovering from an eating disorder rarely has an end point. You have to be vigilant every day. It has to be treated like an addiction and you have to remind yourself every day not to use your eating disorder to deal with every day stresses.

For anyone who has suffered from depression or an eating disorder or both or for anyone reading this that known anyone with it, don't try and ignore it. Don't do what I did and try and carry on when you're struggling. My problems ultimately came about because I continued to ignore some very difficult things that were happening in my life. Learn to grieve properly. Then learn to move on. Cry, feel the pain and let it out. Depression and eating disorders are a harrowing disease that can turn the kindest people into monsters and the most ambitious into lethargic lifeless creatures. It can destroy families, homes, relationships, lives.

I'm a normal weight now but I still weigh myself 3 times a day. When I feel low I'm terrified my depression is returning. I hate myself a little bit for things I did to myself, for the damage I caused my body and for the worry I made my family and friends feel. But I'm OK. I have a home and a full-time job and I managed to pull my head out of the toilet long enough to realise that there is a lot worth living for.

Thankfully, it's been a long time since I felt as bad as I did back then but the scars are there. I’ll never forget it. It’s the sort of thing that changes you. But believe me when I say, you don't have to let it beat you.

1 comment:

  1. I literally am in tears reading your post because it has hit home for me, i'm in recovery from an eating disorder, depression and borderline personality disorder. You are so brave for sharing this on your blog, keep fighting one day it will become easier than it is now. You are so right recovery does not take a day off, it's a constant daily battle. wishing you the best of luck, i'm always here if you need a chat