Old Patterns: Part 2

Here’s the next instalment of ‘writing from the breakdown 2009’ you can read the earlier post here . This jumps all over the place, but reflects how hard everything was back then. Reading this back I feel so desperately sad for myself. I was in such an almighty mess and yet desperately clinging on to the belief that if I appeared ‘normal’ enough I would be ok and not end up being sectioned. My fear of mental health services prevented me getting the help that I so desperately needed. I wish I could go back in time and advocate for myself properly rather than being dictated by the fear of losing all control:

Here I am again, another appointment, sitting across from my doctor inwardly crying out for help but outwardly showing that I am totally pissed off at another intrusion into my life. I am reacting badly to having been referred unexpectedly and without consultation to the Crisis Team or as I fondly renamed them ‘The Nut Squad’.

The Nut Squad is quite a step up the crazy tree in mental health terms where I live. This time I had bypassed the ‘Access and Wellbeing Team’ which is where you go when you are maybe only partly crackers: I’d been there before, but this time, whatever I had said to my doctor, or maybe not said,  had been a real cause for concern and I had ended up with a psychiatrist and mental health nurse sitting in my living room asking me a series questions. Things have been really bad, but knowing how stretched mental health services are to have  the NHS send people to see me in my own home feels unnecessary.

Questions I can cope with, though. In recent months I’ve answered the same set of questions on multiple occasions and my answers never deviate:

“On a scale of one to ten, one being the least and ten being the most, tell me where you feel in terms of happiness at the moment” (or something along those lines).

“Three” I respond mechanically.

“Still three?” they exchange concerned looks. I had just reported feeling ‘better’ whilst talking in a measured fashion so as not to look manic. How could it possibly be three? My definition of ‘better’ was that I had started to notice the spring buds and had read a book, which were markers in my mind that things were improving for me. It had been months since I had been able to direct my attention towards anything or look outside myself. I thought this would be ample deflection for the fact that I’d been out and blown almost £45,000 in two weeks and pretty much decimated my entire inheritance in less than a year since my dad died.

I think it was probably this insane spending that had led my GP to refer me to the Crisis Team. It had all followed an appointment where I had splurged at the GP that what I was doing wasn’t normal. I left feeling like I had been honest for the first time, and then shat myself with ‘what ifs?’ and devised my plan of action. How I thought I was helping myself, I have no idea. I think in hindsight it was something about being absolutely terrified of being carted off in a straight jacket and being sectioned so I told them what I think they needed to hear and it seemed to work.

To an outsider that would seem like an incredible leap of the imagination that feeling wobbly could result in incarceration. A person exhibits slightly unusual behaviour and so steps are taken to help them, right? Doesn’t mean they’ll end up locked up on a psych ward. I’m sure this is the case, but I have a fear of mental health services. They terrify me. Why? Let’s just put it this way, growing up with a close family member being perpetually in and out of mental health institutions doesn’t do wonders for your confidence in the system.

I would sooner die than end up in a mental hospital. Although looking back on this, perhaps it’s where I belong? I’m sure if I had have been completely honest with all the professionals from the start I would be in much better place now – but it’s hard going from being someone who on the outside appears successful, confident, and independent, to admitting to someone that all of a sudden you feel a failure, have no self belief and feel unable to participate in life. That is the truth of my situation. When I got ill at Christmas the wheels fell off in a big way. I could not cope and yet, instinctively I felt like I had to, to pretend that I was at least managing on some level.

I know, now, that I came across as resistant and inconsistent bouncing from uncommunicative, to dismissive, to out of control, to needy and back again – often all in one appointment. Hats off to my doctor, if the roles had have been reversed I would have given up long ago.

So, back to the psychiatrist and nurse house visit. They looked around the room and commented on how immaculately tidy it was, asked me about all the books on my shelves and noted that they were all placed in alphabetical order (surely this is normal for most English graduates?!) Of course the out of control spending came up in the conversation and I tried to justify the totally abnormal behaviour as if it was normal – cue ‘telling a lie like it’s the truth’ again. Bingo. It seemed to be working:

“If you had the money wouldn’t you go and buy things you’ve always wanted?” I asked, looking at them both imploringly. It’s sort of like the question which you mull over time and again. ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ The thing is, I haven’t won the lottery and this money I have doesn’t make me happy. Money can’t make you happy and it can’t fill the void left by a human being. No amount of spending eased the depression or the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness but god, I was willing to try anything to take me out of that dark dark place.

The camper van I had just purchased I did want, but the £8000 diamond ring, first class airline tickets to New York, mountain bikes and snowboards for me and my partner, new windows and guttering, laptop, multiple pairs of shoes, a surfboard, and enough clothes to open my own shop were more what you might call ‘impulse buys’ – funnily enough I didn’t think now was a good time to mention any of that.

I thought I had managed the Crisis Team fairly well.  As my consultation came to a close there was a shock. I was told that I couldn’t drive. Not that I can’t drive, I am a competent driver; no, I had been advised not to drive. In that moment I stared at the psychiatrist in disbelief now stripped of my independence and my wheels. The Nut Squad had clearly taken one look at the Jaguar supercar (another part of my inheritance) outside and thought ‘no way– this one is a liability’.

As the psychiatrist left my house she told me to keep my life “boring”. “Not a problem” I replied with a wry smile. In recent months my life had become mundane and really fucking boring. At least this was one promise I could keep.

It was eventually agreed with my GP that neither of the antidepressants that I had tried had worked for me, if anything they had been to my detriment, the first killed my appetite and my will to live, the second sent me on a hyperdrive where I was like a bee in a jar buzzing around out of control and spending like I had a shopping addiction. It was decided that I should not take these pills and I was given a prescription for a different type of drug, from a different family of medications.

I was to be given a mood stabiliser or anti-psychotic. Yes, when I heard the phrase ‘anti-psychotic’ I did panic a little, which I am sure anyone would. It sounded way more intense than ‘anti-depressant’. I dutifully took the pills and slept soundly for the first time in months. As well as this, there was a further but less desirable side effect: the munchies.

It is a well documented side effect of this particular drug that you feel like you are starving all of the time. It’s like stoned munchies without the relaxation of a joint. For two weeks I swear I did nothing but eat. It was totally uncontrollable which did not make my anorexic self feel at all happy and so, I took to cutting myself to regain some of my control and exorcise my self-loathing. In that two week period I gained a stone and hated myself for it.

My body image is completely screwed anyway and this rapid weight gain really sent me into free-fall emotionally. That is the only sensible way of describing it. I have never in my life been overweight, but the moment I hit the region of 7 stone I start to feel bloated and fat. I am having a battle with my 15 year old self right now. I am determined to hold onto my body mass. I am determined to prove my GP wrong and keep myself away from the anorexic label.

Part of my new ritual is each day looking in the mirror at my naked self and telling my reflection that I am not fat. I then go to the fridge and eat my way through something highly calorific to spite my teenage self and then continue with my day. It may seem like a totally insane approach to healthy living, but right now I have exhausted ‘sane’ and this, although not healthy in the long run it works for me and it has stopped the doctors asking me about my eating! Thank god!

Awareness of physical self is something I have always tried to avoid because the moment I become aware of my body I fixate on all that is wrong with it. I know that anyone reading this will still see that I am in denial. Just because the weight is back on does not change the ideas that swirl inside my mind. I have an eating disorder, only right now it is in the stage where I have it hidden again and that is a relief. I am not a skeleton anymore but I hate myself now more than ever.

Some time elapsed after the Crisis Team’s intervention and I eventually received an appointment with another psychiatrist in the mental health hospital. The building which houses mental health services is a gothic style grey stone Victorian affair with a central staircase leading up to the entrance. It has a certain grandeur which is imposing and more than a little intimidating. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, the sort of place that a developer would have a field day with and could turn into some great apartments. But today, for me, it is still a mental health hospital and walking up the steps and into the jaws of the building saw another panic set in.

The interior of the building was dark and depressing and was exactly as I had imagined – ‘Girl Interrupted’ has a lot to answer for! It was as if something had sucked the life and light out of the place. It was eerily quiet and seemingly unoccupied except for the few staff that walked with purpose along the echoing corridors. There was a clinical, hospital smell, cold metal on metal, disinfectant, and I hated it. I have always hated hospitals. The moment I walk inside one I always feel sick to my stomach and as though I could pass out at any second, this is not because I am actually ill, I just cannot stand them and what they signify to me: illness and death.

I was directed by the receptionist on the desk to take a seat in the waiting room a little further down the corridor. It was a tiny, claustrophobic room with four chairs on each side of the door. I took in the sunny, yellow wood-chipped walls and fading green carpet and felt the tendrils of anxiety creeping over me; like a smog it saturated my being and I felt suffocated.

Someone had clearly thought that a bright colour would make depressed people feel optimistic and ‘light’ inside. The colour made me feel chaotic and overstimulated and I wanted to get out of the room as soon as was humanly possible.

As I sat there, watching the clock ticking down to my appointment I wondered what I should do?: Tell the truth about how I felt: flat, sad, depressed, anxious, sometimes suicidal or to rationalise my feelings and make light of the situation. Perhaps I should  tell them that I’m sad but I am managing it and I don’t need pills to grieve.

I was eventually called into the psychiatrist’s office and the nice male doctor sitting opposite me began asking me questions. It was those same questions that I had become so used to over the last few months. A few days before this meeting I had had a particularly dark day which saw me sitting in my doctor’s surgery bereft with depression and as close to suicide I have ever felt. For the first time I felt as though we had made progress, I showed her the depth of my pain and she seemed to get it. She insisted I kept my appointment with at the hospital and made a further time to see her to discuss the outcome. She commented on what she perceived as my lack of self esteem and I thought ‘finally, she sees me for me, minus my front’ .

I alluded to this dark day and my lack of confidence with my consultant when he asked me if I felt gifted. ‘Gifted?! Me?! Are you serious?’ I shouted inside my brain. I told him of my feeling like a fraud, like someone who by fluke had got where I had got to, and someone who was on the verge of being found out all the time. My truth.

He then proceeded to read through the notes of the psychiatrist who had visited my home and who suggested I was, in her opinion, very confident and had good self-esteem. In that moment I felt abject disappointment. I guess I should have felt pleased that my acting skills are so good that I can even fool a mental health professional into believing I am in control and happy with myself; but that wasn’t the case at all. I felt like at a time when I needed someone to see through my defences, all that they had seen was the persona.

I have become so skilled at presenting a confident, together version of myself that no one can see through it. I know it’s my own fault.

The next shocker came a little while after this bombshell I was still reeling from the notion that I was a confident person when the doctor suggested that because I was ‘a lesbian and wouldn’t be having children’ that he recommended putting me on lithium. Suddenly alarm bells started ringing in my head. I recognised this drug – my aunt having been on it for years and years. I also was shocked that a doctor would make a judgement that I would not have children because of my sexuality. Most of all though, I was staggered that I had clearly had a breakdown and rather than refer me to psychotherapy it seemed more appropriate to offer me a cocktail of pills. How can that ever be right?

I left the appointment feeling stunned and proceeded to write a letter to my GP. I outlined exactly what had happened when my dad died because no one had ever asked. I explained all the complications: dying abroad, the body being in heat of 40 degrees for a week on a remote island because there was no hospital or morgue, battling with insurance company to move him to the mainland and start a process of repatriation, the unexpected post-mortem, finding out that it could take up to six months to get cremation rights in the UK even if we flew the body home, opting for a cremation abroad and the time being moved, the ashes being flown home and then left outside on a driveway for me to collect along with my dad’s backpack, my family refusing to attend the celebration of life….and so the story poured out of me including the stuff about not eating and self-harm…in the end there 14 pages of it!

I received a letter in the post shortly after this from the GP inviting my in for an extended appointment before the surgery opened. As I sat down, she thanked me for my letter, and said how sorry she was to hear what I had had to go through and that actually she now believed that I was experiencing PTSD. She said, “Let’s remove the psychiatric label shall we?” and then  “You are just really unhappy – aren’t you – and I am not surprised. I think we should refer you into psychotherapy because it sounds like you need to talk and there’s a lot to process. You can stop taking the medication because it hasn’t helped and I agree, lithium is not the way forward especially as you want babies.”

So, that’s what’s happened. I’ve had 7 months of bouncing around and now they think I need time to heal and someone to talk to. And this is all I ever wanted, really. I just wish I could have expressed this sooner rather than behaving like a deer in the headlights. I know waiting lists are long for psychotherapy and I plan to find a therapist in the meantime and see what I can do.

x

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To Anyone That Is Struggling.

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It probably won’t come as a big surprise to anyone that my social media basically is one big Mental Health zone. My WordPress, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest follows are basically all related to mental health – and I post and save a lot on my Facebook (which is personal and not related to ‘Rubber Bands And Chewing Gum’ too. Because of this, I have a steady stream of Mental Health content: new research in the world of psychology; book recommendations; new blog posts; affirming messages/memes; invitations to do a bit better with my self care whether it be diet/exercise/meditation; organisations posting strategies to feel a little bit less alone in the world- and it’s great…most of the time…

Sometimes, though, the picture I have just posted will feel a bit, I dunno, saccharine?? Of course, those times tend to be the times when I am armoured up and impenetrable or when I am doing fine (Tbh there aren’t all that many times like that in the month!) or when the Inner Critic is in situ and making me feel unworthy of care. Most of the time, these kind of messages are EXACTLY what I need to be seeing when I am indulging in some screen time. They make me feel connected and less – – fucking useless and failing at life!

It’s so refreshing to have something uplifting, motivational or meaningful on my feeds when frankly, so much of my screen seems to be filled with either what a knobhead Trump is or what a complete balls-up Brexit is! Twitter is particularly bad for this right?! I mean you can’t ignore what a shambles everything is but when you spend as much time scrolling as I do (my phone told me I was down by 21% on my screen time last week…but still averaging 3h 19 mins a day!!!!!)  it’s hard not to become overwhelmed by the state of things.

Anyway, this last week or so I have massively needed these little ‘you’re not a completely useless sack of shite’ pick me ups. I am so glad that I have structured my social media in such a way that it is constantly giving me both helpful reminders that things are going to be ok and also, importantly, that I am not alone in feeling wobbly some (a lot) of the time.

I got sucked into the sink hole of attachment misery this last week. I’ve been ill but not so ill that I should’ve fallen so spectacularly headfirst into the ‘My Mummy Doesn’t Love Me AND I Want My Therapist (Who Also Doesn’t Love Me)’ pit. I mean, it was an epic week so far as my starting point and end point went: polar opposites.

As you may have noticed, I’ve had a pretty amazing month so far as being adult and coping and being fine goes. Christmas break was — nothing —- just completely ok – enjoyable even – last week things still felt manageable. The BANG, the hint of a sniffle and a temperature and off I went careering into the abyss. The ground opened up beneath me and I was nose deep in trauma and attachment shit. I had to close my mouth because the shit line was so high.

Nightmare.

I basically went from: my life is busy but I am coping and I feel safely attached and contained in therapy TO Waaaaahhhhh my life is falling apart! Em has left me! I hate myself! I can’t do this! I need to hide…. My session on Friday was hard work we faced down that motherwound again and crikey is bloody painful.

Once I was drowning in my own special pit of emotional shit I found that I was plagued with really vivid dreams…most of which involve Em (what a shocker!) Oh how I love a #therapydream! 

Unfortunately, by Sunday (yesterday), I felt so utterly depleted and exhausted that I didn’t even have the energy to write about how shit it was feeling and ended up re-blogging a post from 2017. That was crap! But what was also crap was rereading it and seeing that despite being aware that I am a useless, needy baby when I get ill, there doesn’t seem much I can do about it even 15 months down the line.

Ah well. I guess it’s lucky I haven’t been ill for a while. I spent most of Autumn/Winter 2017 sick and so, looking back it’s little wonder I was such a mess with the attachment stuff.

So where does that leave things now? Well, it’s Monday morning now. I still feel yucky and attachmenty and frankly piss poor but I have written down my horrible dreams and alongside them the feelings I felt when I woke up. I am taking that all in with me to session as well as my blanket and hopefully I can just be how it is, explain how badly the wheels have fallen off, and try and get myself back on track.

I have way too much on this week to be stuck in with the upset primary school inside….this is also very true because if things follow the usual trend then it’s not going to be long until the secondary school bunch drop in….and I don’t want their self-loathing and anger to take root.

So, to anyone that is struggling….just to say – you are not alone…AT ALL.

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And for anyone that wants a laugh, my best friend sent me this last time I was having a similar meltdown….which actually I find equally as uplifting as the motivational things on my social media. Humour and sarcasm are my favourites!! ha x

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I Thought I Was Coping…

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Most of the time I think I manage ‘life’ pretty well; I somehow function in the outside world and do a reasonably good job at appearing like a competent parent and professional adult (although I get a big whack of that imposter syndrome in doing so – surely someone will notice that I am winging it soon and everything will come crashing down!).

Anyone who reads this blog will know that things aren’t perfect…not by a long shot…but generally the issues that I face (thinking about both physical and mental health here – i.e HEALTH) don’t completely incapacitate me on a day-to-day basis…they just tie both my legs together and blindfold me 😉

I have to pinch myself when I remember that I have come out the other side of a gruelling cancer treatment more-or-less in one piece. The heavy emotional weight I seem to carry or, as my therapist put it on Monday, am ‘tortured by’ (jeezzz tell it like it is why don’t you?!) is managed just about well enough these days, in a large part thanks to the therapy.

I know it doesn’t always look like it but know that I would be way worse of a mess if it weren’t for the therapy. I don’t really talk here about the massive mental breakdown I had in 2009 which saw me in a right state, off work for 17 months and dangerously underweight, but I know having been to in that place where things can spiral down if left unchecked. If I take my eye off the ball for too long so far as self-care goes things start to slip really quickly (and I am utterly shite at self-care!)

I’d like to say that I am past that really harrowing knock-out stuff, that I’ve moved beyond it, that I have learnt enough strategies to live well, and that the breakdown was just an unfortunate incident triggered by a terrible bereavement; but the reality is actually doing life (living) thoroughly exhausts me. It always has. I do my best but sometimes I just can’t manage as well as I might like.

For as long as I can remember I have felt like it takes a lot of effort to maintain the persona of whoever it is I am meant to be – who I am…who am I?! To a greater or lesser extent I struggle with these things:

  • I feel on guard all the time;
  • I feel like things are going to go wrong at any minute;
  • I spend time overthinking/brooding on things;
  • I worry that I am going to fall apart;
  • I find it hard to let stuff go;
  • I worry about people’s perceptions of me;
  • I have unrealistic expectations of myself;
  • I don’t like to let people down and so often take on more than I can manage. (I wouldn’t say I am especially a ‘people pleaser’ but I certainly am not very good at putting my needs before anyone else’s – or even alongside them for that matter.)
  • List goes on and on…

Annoyingly, when I am stuck in mental/emotional hell I still don’t really talk about it despite all the therapy. I think this is quite common for those of us who have had difficult childhoods, actually; we’ve learnt that our needs invariably don’t get me and so we almost learn not to have them or talk about them.

Of course, I am getting better at talking and opening up (to some people) but it’s incredibly hard to build trust and so those ‘lucky’ (ha!) few that get to see my struggles and vulnerable side can be counted one hand. My wife said last night that she feels like I keep the vulnerable parts secret and she feels pushed away. I told her I was only trying to protect her from me and that the reality of what goes on in my head is not something anyone else would want a part of.

She said all the right things but I still feel like if I really and truly showed just how broken I am she would head for the hills. After 13 years together I should know that she stays….but it’s going to take some time to be brave. When she asks how my day has been how do I reply ‘it was fine, uneventful, but part of me is struggling really hard and wants to cut myself’? I mean who needs to walk into that?

It’s just like how it is in therapy. What happens if I truly let it all out, become so vulnerable and open, and then it goes wrong? The fear of rejection and abandonment is horrendous – I think it’d annihilate me.

As a result of all this perpetual ‘keeping up appearances’ and ‘biting off more than I can chew’ (ha, that’s so funny given my anorexic history!), I quite literally feel tired all the time (physically and emotionally)… but, as I say, this is not a new thing. I wake up tired; stumble through the day (well that’s how it feels but no one would know); burn the candle at both ends but never benefit from the light – just burnout; then crash into a pit of exhaustion at night.

Every now and then, when things feel bad (like they do today), I sit and wonder if what I am experiencing at the moment is just a bout of depression that’s crept up on me and taken root without me noticing. It is Autumn after all. Maybe I am pushing myself too hard. I don’t always find it easy to say no or put my needs first. No matter what I do there never seems to be quite enough hours in the day to get done what needs to be done and still leave time for whatever it is that I need and naturally this is going to take its toll isn’t it?

Today I have a list longer than both my arms put together of things that I need to achieve. I have completed some tasks, been reasonably productive in fact, but am nowhere near where I need to be and time is ticking away. I just looked at the clock and realised I have less than an hour before I need to collect the children from school and then it’s all go until 8pm when I get home from tutoring.

What have I done for myself today?

Nothing.

Not even had breakfast, lunch, a drink….and that’s not me bigging myself up on some eating disordered headspace thing. Really don’t need to be heading into that area again.

I just haven’t stopped again.

Time goes so quickly.

You might be wondering, then, what on earth I am doing here?! Well, knowing there is absolutely no chance of finishing what I need to do I have stopped and downed tools, briefly. I’ve made a coffee and wanted to write something. I keep telling myself I need to make time for this. Writing has always proved a really useful outlet and so writing here, as I have said before, is a bit of a lifeline at times. Putting the scary stuff out into the world knowing that there are merry bunch of mental health bloggers out there cheerleading me on is really really helpful to me…. ESPECIALLY when I am on a therapy break!

Ugh!

Yes…that horror has begun now! How long til 29thOctober????????????????????????????

There is so much bubbling inside that I want to say, that I need to process, that I want to document and if I don’t make time for it and let it out then it’ll just keep causing me trouble. I have run out of time for today and have not mentioned anything about what has actually been going on either inside or outside therapy! Awesome post!

I just needed to get it out there:

I am stuggling… and the coping is not going especially well.

It’s taking a great deal of effort to hold all my pieces together right now so any contributions of rubber bands and chewing gum will be gladly received!

A Return To Therapy: A Tale Of Two Sessions

So, somehow or other I got through five weeks of no face-to-face therapy (man I still hate summer therapy break with a passion!) and last Monday saw the long-awaited return to the room and, more importantly, my therapist…not that I had missed her or anything!

As the day approached I started feeling conflicted about going to my session (no change there, then!) What is that about?- The absolutely overwhelming desire to see someone gets replaced with an ‘I don’t want to go’ a couple of days before and ramps up steadily until on the day, on my way to the session, I text my friend saying that I wanted to turn around and go home because I felt sick amongst other things.

I recognise, these days, that this resistance that happens when I’m within touching distance of my therapist is the time where some of the parts start speaking up. The young parts finally settle when therapy is in sight and that allows the teen part some additional space to express how she’s feeling. (She’s pissed off!) She can’t bear the thought of therapy being awful, feeling disconnected, and the young parts getting irate again when they’ve only just stopped screaming. The teen harbours a fair amount of anger about being left (rejected/abandoned) in the first place, and then to be ignored on top (texts) doesn’t make the reunion any easier.

Despite all the misgivings I have never yet not turned up to a session. Sometimes I feel like I am dragging myself there but the need of the youngest parts always gets me into the room … even if all I do is sit there and say nothing!

I felt nervous as I rang the doorbell to my therapist’s house but as she came to the door adult went online (thank god!) and walked in, sat down, and just started talking…about life stuff. The small talk was comfortable; catching up on day-to-day stuff that’s been going was fine. I don’t remember trying to gauge where my therapist was at or whether she was safe. I think I had maybe subconsciously decided to keep the session adult. I don’t know. I can’t remember now what we talked about but basically for twenty minutes it was absolutely ok and then bam – I was gone- instant dissociation the moment she asked if I wanted to talk about the picture I’d sent her via text during the break.

You’d think that opening up that discussion might’ve been a good thing (and ironically most of the time it would be – I want her to help open up difficult conversations) but on Monday, even after twenty settled minutes, it spooked me. ‘Agh I’m exposed. This is scary!’ and off I went deep into myself.

My therapist noticed that I was barely breathing and suggested that I was doing everything I could to hide. Yep! My body was killing me. My legs were heavy/achy. I was able to tell her how I felt in my body. And the moment I told her all that physical pain in my legs evaporated and I thought I was going to throw up. The nausea was incredible. I could hardly speak for fear of vomiting. It was horrendous.

She valiantly attempted to bring me back to her but all I could do was listen to what she was saying. I couldn’t even look at her, let alone make eye contact. Does that happen to anyone else? You want to connect but can’t- the fear is too great- and so instead just listen very very carefully to what they say trying to see if they ‘get it’ and whether or not you might be able to connect eventually?

This is a bit of a strange analogy but sometimes it feels to me when I dissociate badly that I have an internal power cut – mains power is lost. I lose my ability to be present. It’s far from ideal. My therapist has to scrabble around to try find an alternative power source. Most of the time she finds some rechargeable batteries but, unfortunately, they’re dead. She doesn’t give up though. She slowly starts charging the batteries up with her insights, validation, and care. If we are lucky she might do enough to give me enough power to work again before the end of the session. Sometimes the charge happens really quickly and other times it take nearly all session.

That’s what happened on Monday. She was really insightful and understanding and validating. She spoke about the really strong emotions that I was feeling: the anger that she felt in the text that I had sent her ‘file under unread’; the horrible feelings of rejection and abandonment I experience when she doesn’t reply to me; the belief that she doesn’t care about me. She talked to me about it all but I could only nod here and there. The batteries we soooooooooooo dead after the break that it took a long time to power them up.

With about five minutes to go I could feel myself starting to connect to her. The vulnerable parts wanted to talk to her and the teen had felt like she got it and cared. She asked me how I felt and I said ‘sad’. She asked if it was because we were coming to the end of the session and there were things I needed to say that I hadn’t been able to. I nodded. She told me we still had a bit of time left and maybe I could make a start now and we could pick it up on our first Friday session. So, once again I took a running jump and said perhaps the most expensive sentence I have said in a while:

‘I really missed you; five weeks is really a long time.’

It mightn’t seem like much but it really was after such a difficult session. Saying something that feels so exposing after a break feels really hard. I always struggle to tell my therapist how I feel about her. I feel like she’ll think I am weird. I don’t want to embarrass her. Of course, any time I let her know how I feel she is really kind and non-shaming. It’s just so hard to reverse the automatic pilot that tells me feelings are bad and dangerous, that showing someone that you care for them and need them will result in something negative.

I guess I just need to keep saying how I feel, keep getting met well, and maybe eventually I might feel differently.

Anyway, that was Monday! I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to anyone that I was left with an almighty therapy hangover! I’ve come to expect it now after a long break. I’m starting to recognise it as part of the process and just see it for what it is rather than feeling bad about how things are. I think all the stuff I had kept at bay over the break came flooding out and had me flailing about on my arse for most of the week. It was initially quite hard to work out whether I was heading into a depressive state or whether it was what was left from the break and the session. I tend to fear the worst when I am stuck on the couch for hours at a time unable to complete the tiniest of tasks.

I felt totally incapacitated. I felt ugh. I wanted Friday to get here so I could have another stab at connecting and feeling better. The great thing about this week was that I knew Friday (yay for two sessions a week) was coming and so even though the young parts were feeling separation anxiety and attachment pain it was nowhere near as bad as it has been previously. Wednesdays have been notoriously bad when I have had one session a week. I have felt stranded and uncontained. It’s been god awful! So, even though things were pretty bad they were WAY better than I am used to.

My Friday session isn’t a face-to-face session at the moment. The session time is too early for me to be able to make it in person and be able to get my kids to school and so we are Skyping. I’d had mixed feelings about this. The irony is not lost on me that only a few months ago I would have been ripping my therapist’s arm off for any extra contact – even a midweek text and now I am whinging about an extra session via Skype. *eye roll* I guess there’s just a part that wants to be with her in person. I’ve asked that when a later session becomes available that she lets me know so I can swap into it, but it’s likely to be several months.

When it came to it it was actually nice to do the session at home. I was snuggled up on my sofa with a coffee and it was nice and quiet. There’d been no rushing in the car to get to my session and I felt pretty relaxed. I think this feeling relaxed made a difference to how I was. Usually I only Skype when I can’t get to session because I have my kids at home (holidays or sick) and it certainly changes how I am. I am on ‘mum duty’ and don’t open up in the same way. Anyway, this session felt really nice. I remembered how much I like seeing my therapist’s face close up. Ha! And even better I DID NOT DISSOCIATE AT ALL!

Bonus!

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t dive headlong into how the break felt or how difficult I have found being in therapy the last few months but we did lots of connecting work that I feel is paving the way for me to be able to have those conversations. I was able to tell my T how bad I had felt during the week and how just the day before I had burst into convulsive tears whilst running on my treadmill.

I don’t really ever cry and I certainly don’t cry in front of people. My therapist mentioned that I don’t cry when I am with her but that she feels I am fighting back tears sometimes and that occasionally a single tear will escape. She said that the idea of someone seeing me crying is hard for me. She talked about the huge expectations my parents placed on me to be a certain way as a child and that I had had to grow up too quickly and be what they wanted rather than who I am. It’s true. I never expressed how upset I was when my mum wasn’t there when I was a kid. It was just how it was and something I had to get used to.

I am realising now just how sad that little girl was to not have mum there from Sunday to Friday- from the age of 5 even if mum wasn’t perfect or especially nurturing. I look at my daughter who is now six and my son who is four and know how they hate it if I am not there for bedtime. I have to leave home at 6pm a couple of nights per week if I am going out to tutor and they moan (fair enough! I am glad they can!). I always give them a kiss and cuddle before I leave and come and kiss them goodnight (even if they are asleep) when I am back –they have never had to not have their mum/mums there for protracted periods. I am there for breakfast; I am there to take them to school and pick them up; I am there for dinner; I am there for parents’ evenings; I go to sports day; I drop everything when they are sick; I ask them how they are EVERYDAY. I hold them and tell them I love them EVERYDAY.

I had none of that.

I was a good girl who got on with it quietly. Accepted that I didn’t have a say in how things were.

That little girl doesn’t want to be quiet and accept it anymore.

She wants to cry about it.

And maybe she might start crying about it in therapy.

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Limbo

I’m feeling a bit bleurgh at the moment (a technical term I’ll have you know!). It’s not a full-on depressive episode yet (I don’t think) but it’s feeling like a huge struggle just to remain in a relative coping place…but then when is mental health ever a walk in the park, really? It pretty much always feels like I am struggling in one way or other.

For now, at least, I feel like I have done with sliding down the hill towards rock bottom, which was what happened at the start of the therapy break, and have finally got a fingertip hold on something semi-solid that has allowed me to stop and take stock. I daren’t move though, rock bottom is still a long way off, thank god, but I feel like adjusting my position may result in me losing my precarious grip and careering at speed downwards again. I can’t risk that so I am staying here stuck in a kind of uncomfortable limbo.

Put it this way, I am not where I would like to be at this point in the holidays!

I don’t feel especially solid.

I’m certainly not grounded.

I can feel anxiety creeping around the edges.

I’ve woken up feeling queasy for the last four days.

The attachment pain is really there just before bed and any time I let my mind drift towards therapy.

It’s all a bit shit really.

Moan. Moan. Moan!

I daren’t look too far ahead because 3rd September feels like a very long time in the future and it makes me even more aware that I’m not even half way through the break yet – it’s still three weeks until I see my therapist in person – nooooooooooo! Having said that, I am meant to have a Skype on the 20th so I shouldn’t complain. I am just massively aware that it could go belly up next week.

I am experiencing the usual conflicting feelings:

I love you/I hate you

Please come back/Fuck off I never want to see you again

and what I really don’t want to happen is to have a Skype session that semi opens up stuff, doesn’t really do the job, isn’t especially connecting, and then be left for a further two weeks for phase two of the therapy break.

I think I just about have a handle on things right now but I’m not stupid, I’ve been here enough times to know that there is a real possibility of me trying to sabotage my therapy before September is here. The teen part of me that wants to give up is never far from the surface and on breaks, especially long ones, she gets quite vocal. She’s still angry about the last session before the break. Seriously, ‘imagine something you like doing’….FFS!

Feeling stuck in this limbo state/place is pants. My last session seems a long time ago (eve though it was actually only two weeks ago) and all the good things I feel about my therapy/therapist seem to have evaporated now…. and yet the crap parts haven’t, they remain there! It’s not ideal. I’m beginning to put my therapist in the bracket of people that reject and abandon me rather than who do their best to help me. (I do know how crazy it is – but it is how it is!).

You can probably tell from this post that my mind is all over the shop. In addition to this, I seem to have no energy at all. My motivation has gone on holiday (along with my therapist – grr!), and all I really want to do is lie in bed and sleep for hours on end or, failing that, sprawl out on the sofa and eat biscuits and chocolate. Essentially once the kids get to bed at 6pm that is exactly what I have been doing- filling my face with sugary things in some mindless stupor state in front of the TV and then crawling into bed and sleeping for as long as I can reasonably get away with (which, to be fair, with two young kids never extends much beyond 6:45am).

Put it this way, I’m not scoring big on the mindfulness and self-care scales right now! Although I am not over-exercising or under-eating (clearly!) so I suppose generally vegetating and resting shouldn’t be seen as a criminal activity. The critical voice in my head is starting to give me a hard time, though:

Lazy.

Fat.

Sloth-like creature.

I am just not particularly good at stopping and doing nothing. I always feel like I ought to be doing something, keeping busy, achieving things. I’m not working again for a couple more weeks as it’s the school holidays. I need to keep reminding myself that it’s A HOLIDAY – not just other people’s (my T, the kids I teach, my own children) mine too and that means a break from the usual drudgery of school runs, work, having to be in a specific place at a particular time etc.

As much as I moan about it when I am in it, I think routine does me good to an extent. I’m not great at this long drawn out time off. I do wonder, though, how much of this is because in the back of my mind (ok quite close to the front!) is the fact that I am on a therapy break and frankly I am not someone who does especially well without regular therapy. Ha! I mean I am not exactly willing the clock forward to September to re-enter the world of ‘Please put your shoes on! I’ve asked you four times already. We are going to be late.’

Having said that, I think with young kids, time off is rarely ‘time off’. Since my son’s birthday last Monday we’ve been busyish: swimming lessons, cinema, ice cream parlour, farm park, a couple of playdates, baking, making pizzas from scratch, a visit to a soft play centre as well as a fair bit of playing in the garden, oh, and we/the dog delivered a litter of puppies yesterday. It’s not exactly been a dull existence!

I don’t know what’s wrong with me really. I just feel a bit stuck. Whilst, clearly, elements of my life are carrying on as normal and I would say I’m doing a good enough job at parenting at the minute- the kids are happy- underneath the exterior of ‘with it and together mum’ the other stuff is bubbling away. I guess that’s the problem. Usually I have somewhere to let ‘the other stuff’ out and right now I don’t. I’m very much aware of operating of multiple levels. I find it tiring at the best of times and perhaps without my release valve I’m finding it all a bit more exhausting?

Who knows?

Maybe I am just getting depressed. Or maybe I am about to get sick. Or perhaps it’s just that my period is on its way… whatever it is I want to feel a bit more energised and less like I am going through the motions. I want to feel present in my life rather than as though I am spectating from the sidelines. The only saving grace is that no one would know I feel this way. It is not evident that I am struggling. I would hate for my kids to feel like ‘mummy is checked out’….and I guess they don’t know because it’s only parts of me that are. I guess maybe it’s part of the beauty of being fragmented – the bits that can’t cope aren’t really seen and the ‘carrying on with everyday life self’ is a damn good autopilot.

Errr what else? I’m scraping the barrel a bit with this post – no therapy to talk about!! haha.

I’ve been without internet for the last few days due to a cock up with changing provider. Seamless transition it was not! And so the one positive was that I haven’t been in this ‘bleurgh’ state and additionally whiling away the hours mindlessly on my phone flicking between WhatsApp, Facebook, WordPress, Instagram. Even NetFlix hasn’t been a possibility!

A social media blackout is not necessarily a bad thing every now and again. I do it at Christmas and always feel quite good having gone screen-free for a bit. You might be thinking, why not use your phone for the internet…well, I live in a signal/data blackspot and so have to go in the garden and stand in a specific place to get anything at all and it’s so intermittent that it’s not even worth it. It’s so circa 1995!

Everything went live again yesterday evening and actually it felt like a bit of an attack to the system. I have been off radar with a few friends this last week due to feeling so crappy and so I’ve been trying to be a bit present again. I just find it really hard.

I really have nothing at all to say today!… but having already gone more than a week between posts I wanted to write something. This, post, shall hereby be filed under ‘bleurgh’ and sink to the depths of unread trash!

Actually. I posted this on my Twitter feed the other day…and it says it all x

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Recovery from self-injurious behaviours (self-harm and anorexia): Can it ever really happen?

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I apologise if this is difficult to read or triggering for anyone. Just to be clear, I am going to be talking about eating disorders and physical self-harm here. If you think that this might upset you or compromise your recovery, please don’t read it.

From personal experience, I know that if I am feeling on shaky ground with regard to looking after myself often reading someone else’s story can get right inside my head. Rather than encouraging me to keep eating or avoid harming because I see the damage it causes for others it somehow does the exact opposite. When I am in a good place, however, I am not impacted in that way. I’m trusting that you’ll make the right decision for you. (Hmmm, looks like my teacher persona wrote that last bit doesn’t it?!)

I have been wondering about something a lot this week in amongst all the other crap that takes up space in my brain and that is: is it possible to make a full recovery from an eating disorder and to stop wanting to use physical self-harm to cope long-term? Do the attacking thoughts and drives to harm oneself ever truly disappear or is the best you can hope for the strength to be able to ignore the voice that tries to persuade you to starve yourself or harm yourself? Can you really silence the Inner Critic for good?

I haven’t really got my thoughts together on it so this is really just thinking out loud.

To be honest, I am not in a great place emotionally/mentally at the moment and so I guess this is why this question has been circling in my head this week especially. The last few months have been hard for me. I have been opening up more and more in my therapy sessions and getting closer and closer to the core wound. Sometimes I have been staring it right in the face and it is total agony. At the same time, it has felt, week on week, as though I have been gradually edging my way closer and closer to a precipice.

This week I feel like I’ve finally reached the drop off and am peering down into the deep, dark, watery abyss where my old companions anorexia and physical self-harm reside. I’ve banished the pair of them to this place many times over the years at those times when I’ve managed to free myself from their shackle-like grips. There have been so many occasions over the years when I have found the inner strength to run screaming as far away from that place as my legs and mind will carry me. I’ve sought solace in activity, distraction, and the thought of ‘please let me make a proper recovery this time. I am going to change’ and managed a period of time where I function almost normally… BUT there is always something that draws me back to them and to this place. No matter how resolved I am to move away from this hellish spot I always seem to find my way here, as though on autopilot.

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As I said, this week it’s felt as though I’ve been metaphorically standing on the edge of the precipice and have seriously been contemplating diving down into the darkness again to join my terrible friends because frankly, what I am running from in my head feels too painful, too hard, too devastating. I need to escape from it all. I can’t cope with how bad things feel. I can’t just ‘sit with it’ and wait for these feelings to pass because it is all-consuming and it’s been going on for months and months now. My sense of inner strength and desire to keep fighting has been totally eroded. I just can’t do it anymore.

I am stuck, frozen, between two terrible choices – which damaging, crap friends do I hang out with now? Ahead lie Anorexia and Self-Harm. They’re more than ready to welcome me into their shitty mind games. Behind me lies Attachment Trauma. The question now, is which option hurts less? Attachment trauma is steadily destroying me. Right now I feel like I have been left. I feel so sad and little and lost. I am screaming out for holding and containment and yet no matter how loudly I yell or how many different ways I say it there is no one coming. No one cares about that little girl. There is no one who cares enough to scoop her up and tell her that it’s all going to be ok, that she is safe and loved and that it’s all over now, that she doesn’t have to hurt herself anymore.

I have tried to do that for myself time and time again over the years, but my adult is so overwhelmed by the intensity of these feelings that are coming up again that l am scared stiff and not sure I can keep going down this path, facing that demon, and essentially feeling increasingly anxious and traumatised. I just cannot continue feeling like this and so what lives in the depths of that black void is familiar and, in some sick way, comforting. Given the choice right now, I’d rather spend time sitting with anorexia or self-harm than be caught in the grips of abandonment trauma.

I developed an eating disorder when I was 16 and began physically self-harming (cutting and burning myself) at 17 and so, tragically, it appears that I have spent more than half my life (on and off) attacking my body in one way or another. I’ve never got my BMI up over 17 apart from when I was pregnant and feel very uncomfortable weighing any more than 46kg. In my head the magic sustainable in control place is 45kg and a BMI of 16.1. Yep. Fucking insane. But it’s the borderline weight where I feel ok and yet still able to conceal how unwell I really am. I don’t draw too much unwanted attention or concern as I can hide at this weight – or at least that’s what I have convinced myself. I’m not sure it’s really the case.

The one thing I know and hate about eating disorders is how skewed your mind gets. I hate the secretive, weird place I inhabit when I start focusing on my body in an extreme way. Everyone who ever tries to demonstrate care or concern becomes the enemy and I resent them commenting on my body or what I am or am not eating. I think it’s probably because so few people truly understand that it’s not really about food – eating cake won’t fix things. The eating disorder is a really shit coping strategy. For me it always starts off as trying to control something at a time where I feel like I have no control/am out of control.

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And yes, in some ways for me it is about my body image too. I am critical of my body and when I am really unwell I just cannot see how skeletal I get – how grey, tired, and just poorly I really am. The thing is, when I am caught up in full-blown starvation mode it’s a focus, a distraction from other terrible painful issues.

I know that starving myself or cutting/burning my skin doesn’t take away what is tormenting me and that’s why I know that jumping off the edge and into anorexia or self-harm isn’t a good option (really, I do know that!) because whatever I choose to do attachment trauma will only jump in after me.

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This, then, is not a good proposition because then the three of them will gang up on me and I will end up drowning again. I know I am literally only a few steps away from a complete breakdown and I need to try hard to back away from all this. I need to find a better way to cope. I just don’t know what that is. Therapy doesn’t seem to be helping much right now, in fact it’s just created the melting pot for all this stuff to truly emerge.

Recently, I threw out the scales in a bid to stop that part of me that gets obsessed with numbers. It was just starting to get bonkers inside my head. So, I have no idea what I weigh right now but I think it must be about 47kg because I feel fat and people tell me I ‘look healthy’ … yeah, that one! It’s insane that being told you look well is a frigging trigger isn’t it? Ugh.IMG_1474

I should be pleased with myself really as I have actually been working hard to pull myself back into a better place lately – this is largely through eating large tubs of Hagen Dazs each night and sharing bags of Galaxy Counters. Which, I suppose isn’t especially normal! But it has resulted in a stable body weight for a good few months. It’s not binge eating. It is systematic feeding of high calorie foods whilst being distracted by TV. I hate it.

My brain has the most brilliant inbuilt mental calorie counter. Several of my newish friends (those that have no idea of my history) are doing weight loss programmes at the moment and when they talk about it to me and I am able to launch into some detailed conversation about the nutritional value of something or the calorific content I think they must think I am strange. I often get the ‘you’re so lucky to have that kind of body that doesn’t put on weight. I only have to look at a cake and put on a stone. You eat whatever you like and you’re so slim’. Little do they know that I am fighting my own body battle, telling myself ‘I must eat the cake, the ice-cream, the fattening stuff so that I don’t fall into the place where I eat pretty much nothing and spiral downwards’.

Another reason that I have had to try and maintain a reasonably sensible weight is because (and here’s where I should be writing that I value my health, care about myself enough to look after myself, and that I am not plagued by negative voices) part of my follow up cancer care is that I see the consultant every three months and part of that check is getting weighed (rapid weight loss is a marker of active Lymphoma).

Last October I went in for my check and there was a flurry of concerned questions from the nurses as I stood on the scales because I had lost 6kg in the three months between appointments. I knew that the weight loss wasn’t down cancer but I also couldn’t tell them what mess I had got myself into with not eating and over-exercising. So since then I have tried to get myself off their radar and creep back to a more acceptable, if still too low, weight.

Over the years I have crawled back up out of the abyss more times than I can remember. I’ve sort of joined the rest of the world masquerading as someone who is ‘fine’ and has it all together. But I won’t lie, even when I am ‘well’ or as well as I ever get, the voice inside my head that tells me I am not good enough, that my body is disgusting, and that the only way to feel better about myself is to not eat and self-harm myself is always there. The only thing that changes is my response to that voice. Sometimes I have the strength of mind to say, ‘fuck you! Leave me alone. I am not listening to your shit anymore’ but then other times it just doesn’t happen and that’s where I am at today.

I have to be especially careful with exercise when I am in this head space. For me exercise is a double-edged sword. I have always been fit and active, sporty, and competitive. I really like to get out and run or cycle. It gives me an escape from being my head. I zone out. It feels good. When I am ‘well’ exercise is fine but it can quickly turn into something negative and self-destructive, like it did in the summer: I got back into my running in the Spring having not really done any since finishing my cancer treatment. I was determined that I was going to get my fitness back (despite the consultant telling me that I would struggle because of the radiation to my chest and weakness in my lungs).

My exercise plan started off as a healthy twice weekly thing: a quick 5km run. But it wasn’t long before I threw in a 40km bike ride, then upped my running distance to 15km each time. By the middle of the summer I was up to running 15km on alternate days of the week, cycling 40km on the other days, and walking my dogs 8km most days. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the 30 day arms, abs, and plank challenge app that I would do in the evening. It’s literally all or nothing with me.

I liked getting out. I liked feeling super fit again. I enjoyed knowing that my speed and stamina were improving and that my friends, who have always been healthy and active, were posting significantly slower times than me. It’s so addictive watching your times on the Strava app…but then it soon became something to beat myself with, always needing to go faster. The only positive at this point, was that despite the ridiculous amount of exertion I was sensible enough to keep eating properly. I was attacking myself with exercise but I wasn’t attacking my body by not eating which is what I would have done in the past.

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Then one day it changed, just as it always does. Big sigh. I had started skipping meals again. I rarely have breakfast anyway, but on this day I hadn’t eaten at all. I decided to go on my 15km hill run. It was a hot, humid evening – 23 degrees according to the car thermometer – and I pushed myself hard. It had been a stressful day and I need to run away. I posted my quickest time by miles. I felt pleased with myself. The voice inside my head that berates me incessantly was silenced briefly. But by the time I got home and walked in the door I was dizzy and sick. I blacked out in the hallway. I had a bath and the room began spinning in the way it used to after drinking too much alcohol at Uni. I was so unwell that I had to ask my wife to help me up the stairs and put me to bed. I felt awful.

I really scared myself and since that day in May I have only done one short 8km run. Part of me wants to go out and run hard and fast and push myself but there is another protective part that is telling me ‘NOOOOOOOOOO’. I feel stir crazy and lethargic not moving and I have too much time to think but it’s the only way I can think of to keep myself relatively safe and right now that’s the best I can do.

So that’s the anorexia covered, what about self-harm, then? At Easter things were feeling particularly precarious with regard to wanting to self-harm again. I had self-harmed straight after the Christmas therapy break having not done so in several months. The break had stirred up a lot stuff: it’s when I started to become more aware of the different parts of me and how much the little ones were impacted by the separation from my therapist. I didn’t feel able to tell her about any of it at that point and so took to hurting myself instead.

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As the Easter break approached I could feel myself getting stressed and anxious about not seeing my therapist and I that’s when I decided that I would make a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t cut or burn myself again no matter how bad things felt. Tall order, I know! I decided to book in for some tattoos on my wrist, forearm, and ribs – the places I would generally hurt myself. I was going to get something symbolic in place of scars. There was three month wait for the artist I wanted and so in this time I knew I couldn’t damage my skin because it would affect the tattoo and tbh I didn’t want the artist seeing new cuts or scars either.

So for three months I didn’t hurt myself at all (even though I wanted to at times) and since having the tattoos I haven’t cut or burned myself either. Instead I have meaningful reminders that I can survive and that this is not the end: Lotus flowers, unalome, semi colon, root chakra etc. So, these tattoos have worked as a symbolic protector. I haven’t self-harmed but it hasn’t meant I haven’t wanted to. And that’s what I am pondering in the title of this post; will that desire, need, whatever it is, to harm ever disappear fully? Will there be a time where I feel anxious or depressed and my brain won’t take me to this place? It won’t cross my mind to cope in a negative way? I don’t know. I hope so.

So for now, today, at least, I am digging my heels in as much as I can and leaning away from the edge.

At the start of this I wondered if it was possible to ever really recover from an eating disorder and the desire to self-harm?

Perhaps the real question is: will I ever feel good enough? – because I guess underneath it all, that’s what it’s all about.

I guess maybe it’s time to bring this to therapy…again.

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Alanis Morrisette’s, ‘That I would be good’ has been stuck on an almost constant loop in my head since Wednesday. It’s another of those songs that I haven’t heard in years but I guess is a reminder of having been in this place before, in my teens, and so it’s come up again now.