7 Days, 10 hours and 17 minutes since discharge.
Days of fully completely Meal Plan since discharge: 0
Days spent feeling guilty, depressed and disillusioned since failure to adhere to Meal Plan: 7
Breakfasts eaten: 5
Lunches eaten: 5
Dinners eaten: 3
All three snacks eaten: 0
Times I cooked for myself: 0
Two months as an eating disorder unit inpatient sounds like a magical cure, the panacea for all food-related problems. You hear all the time about emaciated, dysfunctional, coked-up celebrities emerging from 8 weeks in rehab, their PR team spinning a fairy-tale of their miraculous recovery and subsequent, hefty donation to a clinic devoted to helping underage addicts, and they emerge like glittering butterflies from their cocoons of residential treatment. Reformed, newly-groomed, new image, stylist, hair and makeup team in tow, they sparkle their way down red carpets and through press releases. They are free of their previous vices; they can’t believe this new life that has been laid out in front of them, they don’t know how things got so bad but they are so very grateful for this new start.
If I had an expensive PR team behind me, the press release would talk about my commitment to recovery throughout the programme and my resolute dedication to the meal plan and my recovery moving forward. It would say that of course, I had my times of weakness, but the skills I learned taught me to ignore the eating disordered thoughts. I knew that recovery was more important than anything else and I was dedicating everything I had to honouring the commitment I made to myself when I said I would never be controlled by Anorexia again. I was continuing to make steady weight gain and was enjoying my newly-realised freedom outside of hospital, catching up with friends, getting back to looking at my business plan- not before I am completely recovered, of course- , painting and drawing and going for leisurely walks in nature, where I was really finding myself.
Excuse my French.
I failed spectacularly at my first week out on my own. Now stop, yes you- I can hear you; “no, you’re doing great, stay going, yay…”
I did poorly. Maybe 5/10. What’s that, like a D+ or something? Regardless, today is the first day that I can say I made a proper effort, took the bull by the horns, and, realising that no one was going to just hand me my meals and remind me it’s snack time in the real world, made it my business to do those things myself. I had to actually go out and buy a sharp knife- I didn’t own one because I didn’t chop anything. Consequently, though irrelevant, I ended up buying some sort of meat cleaver. My courgettes and peppers won’t know what hit them.
The thing is, you expect to leave hospital as a sparkly new version of yourself and you expect the life you return to to be similarly sparkly; but, you’re returning to the same shit that messed your head up enough to somehow end up starving yourself in the first place. You’ve been nourished and mollycoddled for two months, but the stark reality of going home to an empty flat, with an empty fridge, a press with seven different types of tea and some Cup O’Soups and a healthy layer of dust over everything is something you aren’t prepared for. They talk a lot about your ‘supports’ in treatment, i.e. how it’s crucial to have people around you that will help you stick to your meal plan, eat with you to help to normalise your eating pattern or food shop with you if that is something that can overwhelm you. In theory, this sounds like a great plan, however, I live alone. I also didn't qualify for any follow-up treatment with my insurance plan, so while most people would attend a day-programme for a month or so post-discharge and would have that continued hands-on treatment as one of their supports, I don't have that either. The last 7 days for me have been like being chucked in a pool of freezing water and told I had to swim- I knew I had to swim, but sometimes it was easier to take a little rest and just bob there in the cold for a while.
An eating disorder is very similar to addiction in lots of ways, something I'm sure I've mentioned before, and will do again. As with addiction, a key factor in recovery is accountability. I found myself alone for large periods of time, totally unaccountable (except for in my own warped mind) for my actions.
Brain: "It's dinner time."
Eating Disorder: "Ah... Is it though?"
Brain: "Yep, pretty sure it is."
Stomach: "Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle..."
Eating Disorder: "You are those 6 almonds at half past three. Thats pure protein right there."
Brain: "You make a fair point, alright... that was five hours ago though. We're supposed to eat now, no? The meal plan says-"
Eating Disorder: "You're not in hospital anymore, why are you worrying about a meal plan? Is that how you're going to live for the rest of your life?"
Brain: "Another valid point... I mean, I don't feel hungry-"
Stomach: "GURGLE, GURGLE, GURGLE..."
Eating Disorder: "Exactly, so why do something your body isn't telling you to do? You're not hungry. And besides, no one will know."
Brain: "Yeah, exactly, no one will know. And it's just this once."
Eating Disorder: "Yeah, just this once..."
It becomes very easy for you to justify your behaviour, and that, after all, is what addicts are best at. You become so good at it, you convince yourself of your own bullshit. We talked about supports while in hospital, familial, medical, friends-wise; but we never really talked about environment. It just wasn't something that came up, and when I returned to my flat, a place that had been a place of private isolation for my eating disorder, I slipped seamlessly back into my old ways and destructive habits, almost without realising it. My association with this place and negative thoughts and behaviour surrounding food was so strong, it took me the best part of this week to work out why I was 'failing' at recovery. I feel like I nearly had to decide all over again that I was choosing recovery, and that is something I will probably have to do on a regular basis. In the end, day-programme or no, once I went home at night no one was going to be monitoring me. I would have to consciously choose to do the thing that feels wrong, and trust in the logic and knowledge that it is in fact right; that on this occasion I cannot trust my gut (#doublepunscore) as I do in all other aspects of my life, I had to put my faith in science, doctors, nutritionists and the all-hallowed meal plan to get me back to fighting-weight again. I'm not saying I don't believe in science, but one of the magical powers all those who suffer with an eating disorder possess is that we genuinely believe we are different to everyone else. Not in a superior way, but in some way we are just not like other people. Other people need to eat 1800 or 2000 calories a day to stay healthy. If they didn't they would get sick and run-down, their hair and finger nails would become brittle, they wouldn't be getting enough nutrients to keep their brain working at full capacity and they would certainly become very ill. We just don't need that much though, other people need that but we, I, can survive just fine on 1200 calories a day. Actually, I bet 800 was achievable. 600. Suddenly, you are consuming 400 calories a day, scientifically ridiculous, but remember, you are still different.
Of course, the difference is that you are blind. You are sick and run-down, your hair begins to fall out and your nails become brittle, your joints hurt and your bones hurt when they come into contact with hard surfaces, you are so unbelievably tired you do not know how you will survive tomorrow; but, you're not sick. You're functioning just fine, to the outward world you look fine and your inner world is numb, empty to everything bar the next task and when it's only one more hurdle you can always make it. Except for the fact that you don't look fine; your face looks drawn and grey, your eyes are sunken in your head, your hair hangs limp, you have downy hairs growing on your body, a last-ditch attempt from your body to keep you warm in the absence of any body fat, your clothes look like you're swaddled in them rather than wearing them and your bowed legs look like they might break with the next step. You look sad. You attract piteous looks from strangers. I was once offered a seat on a busy Luas. But still, you are blind and you are deaf to all but that little voice in your head telling you that everything will be OK so long as you don't eat. When we are empty we are pure and light, when we are full we are lumbering and cumbersome and quite simply, take up too much space.
So, it's decision time.
Do I have the courage to own the space I possess or will I forever have thoughts of hiding in a corner, shrinking myself, willing myself smaller so that I might disappear? Being an inpatient achieved one major goal for me; I put on weight and I did it without having the time to think about it. I decided before I went in that I was going to do whatever they told me to do and eat whatever they told me to eat, and I did a great job of that. However, it did not prepare me for how dangerously imminent a relapse might be so soon after discharge. It didn't help to prepare me for these old feelings still dwelling in my flat, just waiting for me to return and snuggle into bed with them again, and initially, that's exactly what I did.
Today is the first day I feel truly positive about the actions I took towards building a better future for myself. Today I really tried. I missed one snack, the afternoon one, but I had had a late lunch as I was teaching a lunchtime class. Next week, I won't miss that snack, no excuses. This is not going to be easy. This is going to be so much harder than I thought. Yes, this was a relapse, yes, I recovered before, but that time I was living at home where my Mam and Dad were with me every step of the way, through every meal and reminding me of every snack. It was annoying as all hell, but it worked. Now, I'm older and wiser and have no choice but to stand on my own two feet and to hold myself accountable.
Week 1 in Recovery was a very steep learning curve; I mean cliff-face steep. I definitely had more bad days than good days, but, there is also good to be taken out of the bad. I've run this part of the gauntlet now, I've learned and lived to tell the tale. It's one more thing to go on my list of Things That Didn't Break Me.
As always, I love hearing from you guys so please, drop me an e-mail, ask me anything you want to ask, if I can help you I will do so 100%. If you have a similar experience you would like to share, please post it in the comments section. A fresh perspective and a new story is never a bad thing. We are breaking down the stigma associated with eating disorders one blog post, one comment, one share at a time.
So much love,