I knew this was coming. As the Easter therapy break approached I could feel some of the feelings that I associate with my eating disorder when it’s active stirring again. What I mean by that is I sensed the beginnings of a shift from having the voice that tells me not to eat in check moving towards only being able to hear that convincing critical voice. I don’t really know if that makes sense. I’m a mess right now and I can’t think amazingly coherently so writing is certainly going to be a challenge.
I’ve been battling with my body in one way or another since I was 15. I have had years and years of not eating properly, exercising too much, hating myself for eating…
I thought I was over it… clearly not.
Sometimes I am ‘almost ok’, as in I am not actively trying to lose weight or be super mindful of everything that I put in my mouth; but even when I take my eye off the ball I have never yet achieved a healthy BMI other than when I was pregnant with my babies. My BMI has always sat somewhere between 16-17 even when things are ‘good’, times when people would have no idea there is an underlying issue.
I’ve been in therapy with my therapist for three years in total- 16 months the first time round on the NHS and almost 2 years this time privately, and in that time I have only ever alluded to ‘not eating or doing whatever’ (basically anorexia and self-harm. I’m so eloquent!). I’ve never been able to blow the lid off the case that contains this massive secret with her.
We both know my eating is/has been an issue, but I have felt so ashamed about what I do to myself that I have rarely been able to bring it into the room. Occasionally I might mention how bad things were when I was in my teens from a detached adult place and only at times when I am not actually actively struggling with my eating. When I have had spells of over-exercising or starving myself during the course of my therapy I haven’t been able to tell her. Part of me knows she wouldn’t judge me but part of me is so embarrassed by my behaviour that I just can’t let her in.
I think it’s really common for people to shut down and become secretive when they are in the throes of an eating disorder. I keep quiet because I am ashamed but also I don’t want anyone to try and talk me out of what I am doing to myself. When I am in ‘the zone’, I might be destroying my physical self but I am slightly more removed from my emotional self…and we all know that’s where the problems lie. Not eating and over-exercising provides a kind of relief from my emotional pain – albeit temporary.
It’s not rocket science to see what happened over Easter and how I have ended up here with my body now. I wish I was in the dark about the reason I have started systematically destroying myself but I’m not. I am massively embarrassed about the reasons for how I find myself in this mess. I feel like I am some kind of attention-seeking loser who needs to grow up…
The critical voice is loud right now.
I was absolutely dreading the protracted time away from my therapist at Easter. I really need regular contact and the security that our sessions give me just to function. I wish that wasn’t the case but it is how it is. I knew that being on my own for almost a month was a recipe for disaster. All therapy breaks pose a challenge (I struggle just getting through the normal week between sessions!) but the Christmas break was something else this year and I knew that there was very real possibility of repeating the pattern over this break.
Over Christmas I got so worked up and anxious as the break went on that I became really self-destructive. I couldn’t eat (not through deliberate food restriction but through high anxiety). I seriously considered self-harming. And by the end, after the rupture caused by reaching out to my therapist and it going badly, felt suicidal. I really wish that that sounded less dramatic. Part of me is completely mortified that I am like this at 35 years old.
Shoot me now!
I really really didn’t want a repeat of the last break this time round. I knew the feelings about abandonment and rejection would loom large – they never go away. I knew that a month-long holiday would bring up all the worry I have about my therapist going away and dying on me, just like my dad did on his month-long holiday. I knew that the child parts would freak out and at some point I’d feel the need to reach out to my therapist to seek confirmation that she was still there…which would cause all the usual frigging problems about crap responses or no reply at all. I couldn’t go there. Not this time.
I told my therapist about my sense that the eating disorder stuff was coming online again a couple of sessions before the break and we talked a bit about it. I didn’t tell her that it was all linked to fears I had about my ability to survive the break and her going away. It was, however, the first time I had really brought the eating stuff into the room properly. I felt exposed and that was excruciating but I knew that it needed to happen.
I think I said in my last post that I tried to stop the anorexic behaviour from taking hold by deliberately eating and being nice to myself every time I felt like restricting food or attacking myself. Basically, I ate a lot of chocolate eggs, ice-cream, and biscuits for the first part of the break! That strategy worked to a point….until I put on my jeans and they felt a bit tighter than usual. Then it all came crashing down.
A 2kg weight gain was enough to send me over the edge and allow that critical voice to take hold. I’d done my best to keep it at bay but now it was fully empowered. I gave in. It’s hard to explain to people that eating well, or relatively normally, is a daily battle and that not eating has become my default setting over the years. It is less effort to me not to eat than it is to eat. Anorexia, for me, isn’t like a diet where I feel like I am perpetually punishing myself and wanting to eat. I couldn’t care less about putting food in my body. I want to not have to eat all. It makes me feel ill.
I lost 2kg in a week through running every day on the treadmill and eating less but it wasn’t desperately bad at that point because I had gained the weight over Easter. I was just back to baseline. I returned to therapy and told my therapist all about what was going on.
We had the Skype session last Thursday and our face-to-face on Monday and I swear to god I have no idea what has happened to me but I have just talked and talked and talked about what this fucking bastard eating disorder is like. When she’s asked me questions I have answered them rather than evading them. I have told her I want to physically cut bits of my body off. I have told her exactly what I am doing to myself. It’s like some kind of out of body experience. Who is this person? Where is the secretive, shut down, person that denies there is a problem and plays down the reality?
Well she’s still there to a point. Each time my therapist has asked me if some of what I am feeling might be down to the break we’ve just had (in addition to other things) I say nothing. I can’t tell her… yet. I will tell her though. I think. And soon!
Monday’s session was ok in that I spoke at length about the anorexia. It was connecting in a way…but the session also fell short because those little parts that had longed to see my therapist, that had been hanging on through the therapy break and counting down the days to see her in person, didn’t get any of what they needed. They were stuck inside me watching the session play out. My therapist was a million miles away on her chair and they were locked inside unable to reach for her. Why it is so hard to simply say ‘I really missed you and the break was hard’? I have no idea.
I felt so sad when I left the session. In some ways it was a huge relief to have talked about the eating disorder, but as always when you have lots of parts with lots of needs kicking around inside, more often than not someone doesn’t get a look in or their needs met. It’s tricky and it can feel really destabilising.
This week has been a fucking disaster as a result. I have opened up the can of worms that is my empty stomach leaving me feeling all kinds of conflicting emotions: the critic is raging that I have told my therapist the secret, and the little ones have felt devastated that they have waited so long to see my therapist and yet still they haven’t been seen by her. Ugh. I feel uncontained and all over the shop meanwhile feeling less and less able to put up any kind of fight against the critic.
I’ve also been busy this week, too. I have taken on more tutoring work – some home schooling 1:1 three days a week (soon to be four) – which is great but means I am basically running around like a headless chicken from Monday morning until 7:45pm on a Thursday evening now. On Monday I had therapy and then had to rush to my teaching session, teach, and then pick up the kids, rush to martial arts lessons, and be mum again. Tuesday I dropped the kids at school and preschool, went to teach, picked up my son, did a staff appraisal for a member of staff at the preschool, went home, and then an hour later had to pick up my daughter, fed the kids, then went off to swim lessons…… blah blah. Same deal on Wednesday only also squeezed in a run on the treadmill and swapped swimming lessons for tutoring a GCSE student on the other side of the city in the evening.
By Wednesday evening I was exhausted and overwrought. Adult me has done really well and I am proud of everything I have achieved this week- especially as I have done it on essentially 400 calories a day. Needless to say, though, it’s all taken its toll. Physically: I have a headache, I feel weak, and I’m tired. My body weight is decreasing. I have lost a further 2kg since last Thursday so now 4kg in two weeks. I can feel my body starting to shut down. I have stars in my peripheral vision, and if I stand up too quickly everything goes black. I get dizzy. I am a mess. Emotionally: I feel very small and scared and uncontained. I feel bullied. I feel both in control and completely out of control. It’s pretty horrible, actually.
I decided to text my therapist on Wednesday evening before I went to tutor (sharp intake of breath!) to ask if she could see me on Friday or, if not, if there was any chance we could have a quick check in over the phone. We’ve never had a phone check in before, I’ve always had extra sessions if there has been a need, but I was feeling like the wheels were falling off in a big way and I needed to talk.
Actually, what I really needed to was to accelerate reconnecting with my therapist and to alleviate the mid-week sense that she doesn’t care and I am a nuisance. Of course these doubting feelings feel all the more potent right now because the critic is running the majority of the show. I needed urgently to feel better about the relationship in order to try and ground myself a bit.
My therapist responded and said that she wasn’t able to offer me a session on Friday. Ugh. As I read the first line of the text I could feel myself shut down. I had already berated myself for being too needy and for reaching out. I had been worried that she may respond with something like ‘I don’t do check ins and I’ll see you on Monday’ which would have sent me over the edge. There was more to the text, however, thank god! – my therapist offered me two possible times to talk to her on the phone or by Skype outside of her usual working hours. I would have settled for a five minute check in on the phone to touch base and settle down the child parts but there she was offering me a full half an hour to talk.
It might seem like a ‘nothing thing’ but actually it felt huge that she was willing to try and meet my need despite her having no time in her working day and actually having to find time in her own time. Not sure if that makes sense. To me it felt like she cared enough about me to try and help me. I guess I should know this would be the case after seeing her on and off over the last six years but clearly her care hasn’t fully worn a pathway in my brain. Part of me still feels like she tolerates me because she has to not because she actually likes me or has any caring feelings towards me- or that she cares in the session but not outside it. She has told me in words enough times that she cares but when I can’t see her that positive sense of her being there erodes.
Yesterday evening I was tutoring til 7:45pm and I had arranged to call my therapist at 8pm to check in. Rather than call from the house, where I feared I may be overheard and therefore feel less able to speak freely, I went out in my car and drove to a layby not far my house that has wonderful views over rolling hills. I parked up, turned the engine off, and wrapped myself up in a fleece blanket that I had taken with me. I dialled in, and we talked.
I can’t tell you how soothing it was to speak to my therapist and hear her voice after the week I’d had. We really talked and I really opened up about the struggles I am having. She was so warm and caring and she used ‘the voice’. You know the one- the one that makes you feel like you are being held tightly. I got off the phone feeling really contained and less alone.
It feels a long way off until Monday but the phone session has certainly helped settle some stuff down. The eating disordered behaviour is still here. I haven’t eaten yet today and won’t until dinner time. I know I will be battling with myself not to throw up after I have eaten.
Things are bad.
They’ve been bad before.
I will come out the other side of this…at some point. Only this time I am not on my own with it. I have someone else on the journey with me and I really hope that even though I have fallen into this space, in part, as a result of feeling abandoned by my therapist, that maybe this time it will be the therapeutic relationship that helps me get over this, and not just for now, in this crisis, but maybe we will be able to do some solid work that might mean recovery is lasting rather than temporary.
Here’s to that!