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All in Your Head: When Physical and Metal Illness Collide

Today I am participating in Mental Health Monday hosted by the lovely Julia over at Drops of Jules – check it out!

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Eating disorder recovery is hard. In fact, it is among the most difficult things I have ever done (and continue to do). It is made more  difficult for those in recovery by one of the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders, particularly anorexia; that they are physical illnesses. Even for individuals who have eating disorders, perhaps more so, it can be incredibly difficult to escape the view of anorexia and other eating disorders as diseases of the body rather than of the mind. Let me be entirely clear here they are mental illnesses, not physical illnesses. However, they do have physical symptoms. The mistake here is the conflation of symptoms of illness and illness. This is a phenomenon that occurs with many illnesses. For example, when cold season comes around people might say they have a cough or a sore throat to explain what is wrong when what they are actually describing (and know full well that they are doing so) is the symptom of a viral infection. This is a perfectly valid and socially normal shorthand. However, when we’re talking eating disorders, the confusion between symptom and illness becomes potentially devastating.

Many people with eating disorders, myself included, are pushed into recovery with the highly disordered notion that they are “not sick enough” or “not skinny enough” to have and eating disorder or to recover. This comes straight from the belief that the physical and visible symptoms of an eating disorder are the eating disorder. This belief system is so dangerous because it is precisely what fuels the fire. The perception that a person must look emaciated or be underweight in order to have an eating disorder obviously leads to more restriction and potentially more weight loss, binging, purging, over-exercising and other highly damaging behaviours. Anyone who has ever experience this will know, however, that there is never going to be a point at which you will be “sick enough” or “skinny enough” in your own mind to seek help and get better. Might I point out that healthy people do not want to be sick. That is not okay or normal in any way and it should be setting off alarm bells immediately regardless of a person’s weight.

This is only worsened by a society that makes the assumption that one must be displaying physical symptoms to have an eating disorder. Even medical professionals are not immune to this problematic view. What is a person to do if they themselves do not feel they have an eating disorder and those around them cannot ‘see’ it? In many cases, as in the story linked above, people have to reach a very low weight and be physically ill for anyone to intervene. Trust me when I say that the lasting damage of an eating disorder can and often does occur long before a person displays physical symptoms. Most sufferers display little to no physical symptoms at all even when they are mentally very, very sick. Imagine having a broken arm and being told you must not be that injured because your bone isn’t sticking out. For the eating disordered mind, this is the worst possible response because, as with self-denial, it provides permission to continue with dangerous behaviours and denies the damage a person is doing to themselves.

Another major issue with the conflation of symptom and illness occurs when a person becomes physically well after experiencing anorexia. The other side of the assumption that a person must be underweight in order to be suffering from an eating disorder is the belief that weight restoration is recovery. By the logic that an eating disorder is a physical problem, the problem is solved when the physical symptom is no longer present. Guess what? It’s not. Recovery of physical damage is absolutely necessary and should be the first step in eating disorder recovery, but it is only the beginning of the process. It is more or less categorically accepted by those who work in eating disorder treatment that a patient must achieve physical health before it is possible for a full recovery to take place. However, the return of physical health is often viewed by those who have not experienced eating disorders or recovery (and sometimes even those who have) as signifying a recovery. Don’t get me wrong, it is a HUGE step in the right direction but it is usually just the start of returning to a normal life. After weight restoration, many of the disordered thought patterns will still be very dominant and a person’s life may still be deeply affected by their eating disorder. I would guess that this is the main reason for such high rates of relapse in eating disorder patients. As soon as the weight goes up, the guard goes down and even in the most recovered individual behaviours can then start to seep in. Before you know it you’re eating disorder is gaining control again. Quasi-recovery can also occur because of this. A person reaches a ‘healthy weight’ and begins restricting to maintain a weight at the very low end of the healthy range (let’s assume we’re working on BMI here). Whether or not that is healthy for the individual is another story altogether. A person can live like that for a lifetime in a society where thinness is desirable.

In recovery from an eating disorder, the paramount thing to remember is that a person does not have a physical disease. In order for them to get better, it is the cause that must be treated. Don’t let a flawed and reductionist view of eating disorders make you believe otherwise. Don’t let an eating disorder make you believe otherwise. Figure out what purpose the eating disorder serves and you will find what you need to really get better.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Food and Moralizing Adjectives

I work in a restaurant. This means that I spend more time than most as a witness to others eating, selecting food, talking about food and asking me specific questions about food. I am there to do my job and so most of the chatter floats into the background. However, there are certain things that make themselves heard over the noise. As I am serving or passing a table I will occasionally hear someone (usually a woman) say something to the tune of “I won’t have a side, I’m trying to be good today” or an excuse such as “we’re being naughty! We haven’t eaten all day” when someone orders a dessert. Given the frequency with which I hear such remarks among a small selection of customers, they must be very common. These flippant remarks can be heard at nearly any supermarket, restaurant or cafe in the thin-worshiping world and they are not okay.

It is incredible how easily and flippantly such remarks roll off the tongue for so many people.  Even words like ‘healthy’ can fall into this danger zone when they are placed in the context of misconception, and they all too often are. What really is healthy? I know that it’s probably not the same for me as it is for you or any other person I might chance upon. Healthy, good, guilt-free, virtuous, fat-free, non-GMO, gluten free etc. Who wrote the rule book that said a brownie was fundamentally ‘bad’ and that kale is fundamentally ‘good’ and why is it that the low calorie, free from everything item is the ‘good’ choice? I would venture that we are in a culture so drenched in food-related health crazes and weight-loss propaganda that most people aren’t even aware they are doing it or that it is harmful. In our non-incessant quest to have a ‘better body’ and fit the ideals we are all supposed to be striving for food has become a moral issue.

Of course, there is the religious side of this to be considered. Yes, I will submit that eating too much or eating rich foods is considered a sin in many religions because we have not always been lucky enough to have ample food. Gluttony is a sin because to take more than you ‘need’ when others are in need that food is considered wrong. I would wholeheartedly agree with this. However, it’s not really that simple anymore. I can afford to eat enough and to be ‘gluttonous’ whilst also helping those around me who need food. I am not a religious person but there is certainly sound reason for this belief system; it’s human nature to not want others to go hungry. Some of the moralizing adjectives people use might stem from this belief-system but I’d hedge my bets that very few of those people making moral judgments about what they eat are devoutly religious.

It would also be amiss of me to say that food and food choice does not have moral implications. As a non-meat eater and someone who takes issue with modern dairy and egg farming, I am aware of the impact of what’s on my plate. Animal welfare, environmental impact, and workers rights are certainly issues that we should be aware of as consumers of food and other products. By all means, make your food choices more ethical where you can but this is not the real issue with the moralizing adjectives that are used to describe food. This is a little bit of a grey area, though. Many products are sold as ‘organic’ simply because it’s perceived that organic is ‘better’ or ‘healthier’. The problem with this being that most people do not devote their precious time to doing research about food and marketing gurus know this. It is pretty much undisputed that slapping a few ‘good’ buzz words and a green label on a product will make it sell to the ever-increasing swaths of people in search of ‘healthy’. I am not suggesting that organic food does not have a positive environmental impact, I simply don’t believe that to be its primary appeal.

So, we come back to the question of what exactly all of these people choosing ‘good’, ‘healthy’, ‘virtuous’ foods are really choosing, or not choosing for that matter. My personal belief, they are buying the wholesale lies that healthy looks a certain way. They are sold on a fat-phobic society by fat-phobic marketing that says it’s unhealthy to look a certain way and that to avoid that and achieve the ideal we must lose weight and fat. By the looks of things, we have also lost our minds in the process. It isn’t really the food that has been turned into a moral issue at all, it’s the size of our waistbands. Notice that the foods our society considers to be ‘good’ are those that are low in calories, fat, and sugar, all essential parts of our diet that are associated with weight gain. Those that are ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’, on the other hand, tend to be high in sugar, salt, fat, and calories. This is where these moralizing adjectives stem from then. Our misinformed fear of getting ‘fat’ or not trying to fit the mould our brains have been trained into.

No one is exempt from this. Even as someone who has had an eating disorder and subsequently taken to educate myself about the truth I am still vulnerable to this phenomenon. I still have to check myself and ask why I’m having one thing over another and intercept the feeling that I’m doing something wrong by wanting/eating a slice of cake. I still have to consciously neutralise food in my own mind and remind myself that a food cannot be fundamentally good or bad because nothing is ever fundamentally good or bad. Those words are simply linguistic symbols which denote abstract concepts that apply to things, people and events around us within our societal, historical and temporal contexts. That means the meaning words themselves are entirely relative.

Challenge others who apply moralizing adjectives to foods. More importantly, challenge that notion in your own mind. Don’t allow yourself to be carried away by scare-mongering or fall into the trap of making food anything but food. You need food because you need energy, and provided you get enough your body is pretty indiscriminate about where it comes from. So eat plentifully, enjoy food, experience food, share food and eat food. Don’t eat someone else’s moral gripe, it doesn’t taste very good.

 

 

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Now Is All There Is

I attended a show by a well-known British performer on Monday night and it brought home a message that I frequently need to be reminded of. It’s something a lot of us need to believe more than we do.

As cliched as it sounds it is poignantly true and it’s a belief that is easy to dismiss:

All we have is now.

All any of us have is the moment in which we find ourselves. The past and the future are just stories that we construct about ourselves. We believe A because B happened to us. We will be happier when we achieve C by doing D and E. In 10 years, we will be F. Most people will know that, in practice, this is rarely true. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) life simply does not work like that. There is no linear progression to dictate that one thing should lead to another; no guarantee that what you think will happen will. To use a relevant example, an eating disordered individual may believe: “When I reach X weight, I will be happy”.

All of that is an illusion, it can be helpful to us, however, it’s important to remain aware that it is nothing more than an illusion. We like to feel in control of our own lives. This trait is particularly heightened in those prone to eating disorders and other obsessive behaviours. The truth is, however, that we are not as in control of anything as we like to believe. If there is one thing that I learned in recovery it is that you cannot control everything in your life. There will be things about which you can do next to nothing and there will be things that you just have to accept. Of course we have a certain degree of ability to create change; I’m not suggesting we all become completely passive about our lives but I am suggesting that we can help ourselves by accepting that which we cannot change and allowing ourselves to enjoy the journey.

We are so constantly surrounded by the stress of being better and moving forward that we can easily forget the great big now that is right in front of us. It’s all well and good setting goals and looking back to gain perspective but neither of those things are really tangible and can cause us to completely forget to actually live our lives and – more importantly – enjoy them.

Particularly when you’re a perfectionist like I am, it is hard to let yourself just be because you feel like that’s not good enough but I’m here, right now, giving you permission to stop. You are allowed to sit and watch crap TV, you’re allowed to go to the park simply sit in the warmth of the sun, you are allowed to go for a walk just because and you are allowed to laugh with your loved ones and not think about tomorrow. All of that is 100% okay. In fact, maybe you should do it more often because those things, being present in those moments, is just as important as whatever it is that’s on your to do list.

All of this sounds incredibly cliched but it is also something so many of us don’t put into practice in our own lives. Take a few minutes periodically throughout your day to pull yourself out of whatever it is that you are doing and just be, forget what happened this morning, stop planning what you’re need to do later and allow yourself to breath. Allow yourself to simply exist and truly appreciate where you are right now. because really, now is all there is.

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Au Revoire EU

This is not something I normally write about on Clusterforked. I do not consider myself a political person by any means. However, yesterday my country made a decision. The people of Britain collectively made the biggest decision we will face as a nation.

The British people chose to leave the European Union.

I am not one of those people, but all the same, there is nothing I can do to change this. It is disastrous, but it is not the end of the world. A lot of people, myself included, watched the news this morning with anger, shame an sadness. We watched our Prime Minister announce his resignation in three months. We watched our currency and out stock market plummet further than it has in the past 30 years in the space of an hour. We watched our country at the precipice of the biggest change it has faced and most likely will face in my lifetime. We then proceeded to post about it on Facebook.

Despite the turmoil many of us are feeling on this morning though, we have to remain rational. It will be three months before anything formal even begins to take place regarding our leaving of the EU. We must also remember that the process (especially with such a close split) will be a fraught with difficulties and  will not be fully enacted for years. Even if the plummet in the FTSE does hurt us financially, and it will; I know logically that markets simply don’t fall that quickly without bouncing back. The issues are real and they’re serious, but we must now deal with the situation at hand in some way other than fleeing the country. No really, that was my fist thought this morning upon hearing the news and I have a seat on a friends boat to the mainland as and when. That would  be jumping the gun and frankly rash and unreasoned. Those of us who did not want to leave cannot be led by fear however frightening the situation may be.

What we need to do right now is focus on what we CAN do rather than that which we cannot change. The first, is to remain politically aware and understand what the leaders of our country are doing. The second is to make sure that our primary concern is the people and that as a country we remain democratic. It is a time of great change and none of us truly know what is going to happen in the coming months and year. Although I’d make a fair guess that is won’t be good, we can make the best of a bad situation campaign for the right course of action from our leaders.

Today is a sad day for Britain but we can work hard to turn that into a better future.

 

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Anorexia Goes On Holiday

Like the new working title of the sitcom I’m working on? I think it’s pretty catchy.

Okay, so I’m not a screenwriter and I’m not working on a sitcom. However, I am off to Switzerland in a few days to spend a long weekend in Bern with the other half and a handful of friends. I am really looking forward to getting away even though it is only a short trip. I’m mostly looking forward to the opportunity to spend that time with my friends; you really get to know a person when you travel with them and I’m intrigued to find out about any quirks and habits I don’t know about in people the people I see most often.

Whilst browsing the web for things to do and see in Bern I got thinking about how different a trip like this would have looked three years ago. Would I even have agreed to go abroad with other people? Would I have gone at all? We are lucky enough to be living at a time when leisure travel is the norm and my location within the EU paired with my dual nationality means I can get on a plane anywhere in the world – half of it without concern for any documentation but a passport and a ticket. Lucky or not though, traveling when you or a companion has an eating disorder is very difficult and usually upsetting for all parties involved. Having experienced travel during an eating disorder and in recovery, I’d like to share with you some of the difficulties that can arise when traveling with an eating disorder AND how those problems can be combated.

Now, many people live with eating disorders for their entire lives and manage to live around them including travel. I’d also like to point out that many people travel before they are actually conscious of their eating problems. While this is obviously not optimal, it is possible to some extent to live with an eating disorder for very prolonged periods of time. While this post may be helpful to those in said situations, it is directed more to individuals in active recovery at whatever stage that might be and towards those who  are conscious of having an eating disorder and of that not being a good thing.

The biggest and most obvious problem when it comes to traveling with an eating disorder is the food. Of course is is, it’s always the food. Whether you are going to be going a city in western Europe, Disneyland in Florida or a beach resort in Spain there is going to be food. More often then not you will be surrounded by it. For non-eating disordered individuals, the food is a part of going on holiday that people look forwards to participating in. Trying new and different foods and enjoying not having to cook should be enjoyable. Food is also a huge part of most cultures and is woven into the traditions and histories of the place you are visiting. I would argue that you cannot experience a culture without experiencing it’s food. For the eating disordered individual though, this can be petrifying. Not only is there food, there is new and strange food.To the person dealing with an eating disorder, food is perceived as a threat and most ED individuals will have a lot of foods that are off limits to them. These foods are usually, though not exclusively, those considered ‘bad’ by various diets and health authorities which over the years and through the fads is quite the list. Many specialties and foods encountered in leisure travel are going to contain the sugar and fat that is often blacklisted for those with eating disorders.

This can be disastrous, however, with the right support it can also be an immensely useful opportunity. While it can be very anxiety provoking at first, it can be useful to plan challenges into your holiday. Presumably you know where you’re going to go and from there the internet allows you to anticipate what will be available in terms of food. If you’re going a way for a week for example you could plan three specific points during that time at which to challenge a particular fear. Think along the lines of having a local specialty in a restaurant, having an ice cream at the beach or going to a locally famed bakery in the area. If you can do this more spontaneously that is wonderful and you should most definitely use a holiday as an opportunity to practice being more spontaneous around food and choices. However, if you’re earlier on in recovery it is ideal if you can go with someone you trust who knows about your eating disorder and have them join you in your challenges whilst providing support. You can even plan the time and day if you need to. It might even turn out to be fun!

Another aspect of going away that can be difficult for ED sufferers is the notion of eating out. Not only is the food new and strange, it is also being prepared in unknown methods by unknown people. Eating out is often a huge fear for a number of reasons. Even staying in hotels with extensive food choices can lead to anxiety about the ways the food has been prepared. One way this can be subverted somewhat is by trying to introduce more restaurant foods/fast foods in the months and weeks coming up to the holiday. It is not ideal to take a person with an eating disorder if they have not previously had opportunities to challenge a fear of eating out, it will most likely end badly. A last resort is to try self-catering so that the individual can have familiar ‘safe’ food. Remember that travel is only temporary and that staying on the safer side in the unfamiliar environment can often be more helpful in the long run even though it may seem overly compliant with the eating disorder at the time. It’s great to challenge things, but you don’t learn to swim by being left in a pool, same goes for eating disorders.

The main thing to remember when traveling with someone who has an eating disorder, or traveling with one yourself is that they will be in an unfamiliar environment, unfamiliar situations and be surrounded by possible triggers. While molly coddling is a bad idea, it’s important to evaluate whether or not it’s the right time to take anorexia on holiday. Be honest with yourself and (for traveling companions) talk to the person with the ED and work out where they are in recovery. If you’ve made little or no progress or still cling to a lot of behaviours and thoughts, it’s probably not time to go away.However, as with any illness, if the individual is making a good strong recovery then it might even be good for them/you.

Although it’s impossible for me to discuss every facet of an eating disorder on holiday in one post, I’d like to offer some helpful tips for those traveling with and eating disorder.

For those in the early stages of recovery, still receiving treatment, still using behaviours and having prominent thoughts:

  • Consider pushing the holiday back and going when you are more stable.
  • Find accommodation with a kitchen where you will be able to cook meals.
  • Take plenty of snacks.
  • Continue with the meal plan you are currently on complying with the set number of snacks and meals whilst remembering that it is okay to have more.
  • Plan challenges.
  • Go with people you trust and who know you and your eating disorder.
  • Give yourself time to breath.
  • Find moments in which you can enjoy something without your disorder: a walk on the beach, beautiful architecture. Remember that there is beauty everywhere.

For those later in recovery who are more comfortable with challenges, those who are free of behaviours and whose thoughts are not as dominant as they once where:

  • Before you go, find things you want to do that you would have enjoyed pre-ed. You may rediscover a passion or interest.
  • Scope out local restaurants and possible challenges for yourself.
  • Try some spontaneous challenges or ‘extras’ if you are still following a meal plan.
  • Prepare yourself for the possibility of a lapse, any new situation can trigger things even in someone who is in remission. Accept any slip-ups that do occur an move on.
  • Challenge yourself to eat more freely, try to avoid any form of counting if you still do this.
  • Plan some non-food related challenges if you can such as wearing shorts or a bikini.
  • Enjoy your holiday, let yourself walk out the door and leave anorexia at home.

 

Thank you for reading!

  • Do you have any tips for those traveling in recovery?
  • What are your experiences of travel with an eating disorder?
  • What aspect of life did your eating disorder/that of a loved one affect most?
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What Have You Gained?

In the depths of an eating disorder, loss is almost always the focus. Loss of weight, loss of size, a lower number. A person loses so much more than that though. In most cases, social lives, work lives, academic lives, and in fact, most facets of any personal life are greatly affected by an eating disorder. All kinds of unintended losses occur.

When someone enters recovery, the initial focus is often on weight restoration and thus, inevitable weight gain. This is often the most daunting aspect of recovery because of the loss of control it signifies. The recovering individual is more afraid to see the number on the scale rise as they gain that necessary weight. Frankly, you can’t recover from anorexia without physical weight gain, there is no way around it. However, the focus of the individual who has chosen recovery is skewed, it is misplaced because of a disorder that they never asked for. Something that can help to combat this fear is shifting the focus away from the physical weight gains and changes and to the other things one gains in recovery.

As I have mentioned, a lot of unexpected aspects of an individuals life are lot to an eating disorder. Recovery, then, can be viewed in terms of all it’s other gains; the more important ones than that of a number. I always found that I thrived most in recovery when I held focus on what I was gaining other than weight. This is a tactic used with many patients by the nurse specialist I saw in the earlier stages of my own recovery and it actually does have quite a profound effect for something seemingly so simple.

So, what have you gained? What do you have to gain?

Well…

…A social life. In the depths of my disorder I still saw people, I still did things with people and I still technically socialised. However, like most people who experience an eating disorder, it ploughed right through most of my social life. I lost all of my old friends (not strictly because of my ED but it certainly led to my pushing them away) and even new friends made didn’t really register because I was too consumed by the darkness in my mind and by fear. For most of my eating disorder and in the early stages of treatment I had maybe one good friend and even then it felt as though I couldn’t connect with anyone – even my partner.

Eating disorders are very good at making life revolve around them. They make going out to eat impossible, going out for drinks is on the blacklist too unless it’s diet pepsi. Maybe you could just hang out at a friends house, or not because you have plans to go to the gym. Bad body image can make it literally impossible to get out the door without crying as can just about any minor event or hiccup. Most of the time one is so consumed by their disorder that it makes social interaction painful; it makes a person not want to socialise at all even if the set of circumstances are ‘just right’ because eating disorders are lonely diseases. It seems as though nothing is worth while because you feel you are not worth while.

As one progresses through their recovery, it can still feel very lonely. It takes a long time to truly want to be with people again and to let yourself have friends and enjoy time with them. Fear will still be there for a while, but eventually you will find yourself going out to eat with a group of friends and not realising until afterwards that you were the first to pick something off the menu and didn’t give what you ordered a second thought. You’ll will wake up grateful for a headache and cotton-mouth because you didn’t care about that one last glass of wine. You’ll give yourself permission to go out on that bike ride without a care in the world for how many calories you’re burning because you’re with your people and the wind in your hair proves your really there. You will gain love and friendship.

… A Personality. You sort of need one of these to have that social life. Something else eating disorders are very good at is erasing the elements that make you you and replacing them with shadows. Eating disorders take away every essence of individuality because they rot from the inside out.

I’ve heard a lot of people suggest that they don’t know who they are without their eating disorder. Hell, I was one of those people. The truth is though, you don’t really have to because as you get better day by day, you’ll start wanting to do things again independently of your disorder. You’ll  start finding joy in little things you used to take for granted. Those things? Those things are who you are without the eating disorder. No one is saying you’ll be the same as you were before (if there ever really is a before), you don’t have to be. You are allowed to change. It takes times, but as you start to see yourself emerging you will find that going back is not an option. With this comes confidence, joy, happiness and energy.

… Your mind. Eating disorders literally dismantle and rewire your neural pathways. Calorie restriction been found to cause memory gaps and reduce the efficacy of ones ability to retain information. Despite findings that more intellectually intelligent individuals are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders, those who live with them often feel they are ‘dumber’ than they were. Between the self-loathing that eating disorders breed, the reduction in ability to retain information and obsessive focus on food and weight I would definitely argue that eating disorders make a person feel less intelligent. The lack of ability to focus because, well, you’re starving, probably does mean that things you use to be able to discuss intelligently have been put on the back burner while you’re body desperately tries to cling to what nutrition it can. The thing is, you NEED energy to think. You need fat to think. You’re body in starvation mode or even “minor” restriction is too damn busy trying to make you find food to give a damn about anything as trivial as a sales forecast or the events that started the French revolution; it just needs energy.

Cue recovery. You are weight restored and able to eat relatively normally. You’re no longer obsessing over food because you’re getting enough of it and your fat stores have mostly returned to normal along with your ability to retain information. You’re actually finding yourself interested in something other than calories, weight and exercise. You’re going to start finding you can think again, you can learn new things and have intelligent conversations. You’re brain is ready to get going again and you should run at that with all you’ve got. Having energy to think and learn is one of the most precious things many of us take for granted and it feels wonderful.

… Love. Whether you were in a relationship or not before an eating disorder took over, it will soon destroy any semblance of a love life. Even if you are lucky enough to have a partner who weathers your eating disorder and supports you through it, it can feel as though they aren’t a partner at all. You’re eating disorder becomes the only thing you care about and leaves you with no desire to have a romantic relationship. Sometimes, even the idea of being touched by another person can fill you with dread. Say goodbye to a sex-drive too. Anorexia doesn’t give a damn about love.

Recovery will eventually restore you interest in whoever or whatever you are attracted to. Recovery will allow you to receive a hug, go on a diner date, enjoy a movie night at home without feeling guilty. It will be so worth it.

… Strength. Restrictive eating disorders – starvation of any extreme – makes your body eat itself. I would hope it’s obvious that that is what losing weight and restriction does. You’re body on deprivation takes energy from it’s energy from fat and muscle. That means you’re body is going to be nowhere near as strong as it once was. You will find yourself getting tired doing even the smallest of tasks because you are physically depleted. You’re muscles have no energy to use so they are going to fail you. When you use up all of your glucose (energy essentially) you’re body starts breaking down amino acids (protein, muscle tissue) which makes you weaker in the long run. While many anorexics exhibit a  superhuman ability to exercise far beyond that which a non-eating disordered individual, this is sheer compulsion.

Although I don’t advocate jumping straight into exercise again after recovery, you will find that you have the ability to once again go for a long walk or run without feeling exhausted. You will find you can do a physically stressful job or even just run around after your kids (or cat-children). You don’t need to strength train or drink protein shakes to feel noticeably stronger in recovery simply because you have enough energy. You will feel weaker at first, fatigue is a normal part of the early stages of recovery but it will not last if you just stick with it. You will find yourself able to do things that would have once fatigued you without a second though.

… Health. In recovery from an eating disorder, on gains both physical and mental health. Everything I have mentioned thus far is reliant on a physical and mental recovery. Although eating disorders often instill a desire to remain ill, you, the real you, wants and needs to be well. Healthy people do not want to be sick. Somewhat ironically, in the case of eating disorders, you have to have become healthy in order to want to be healthy. Your physical health may show in drastic changes or it may be more subtle but the mental gains will most definitely be apparent to you and those around you.

 

In short, you will gain life back. You will gain happiness, fun and love. You will gain everything you’re eating disorder took from and realise that all of the promises you it made were false and damaging.

You have nothing to lose.

 

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Clusterforked is Changing

Hi everyone, I hope you have all had a wonderful weekend.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the blog recently and have come to a very important conclusion, Clusterforked is going to be changing in a big way. When I first began writing for this blog, not all that long ago really, I knew what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be a platform on which I could use my experiences of anorexia recovery and the things that I learned during that process to help others find their own path through that dark place ands hopefully a way out. My primary goal was to prove that one can absolutely get better, not just mostly better, but actually well and truly have a normal life without their eating disorder. I also wanted to illustrate that actually, the process of getting better can make you a far healthier and mentally stronger individual than you were before an eating disorder began to take hold. I do this now, that’s true.

However, Clusterforked has gotten waaaaay more personal than I had ever intended. You see, it was never about my story, not really. It was about using parts of my story that I knew would resonate with others and help them to seek recovery. What happened instead was I got wrapped up in using the blog as a reflective tool somewhere between journal and social media account. While I enjoyed that for a while, I have been feeling off for a week or so and have simply not had any desire to post details of my life that are pointless and uninteresting for the vast majority of the world. Yes, they prove that recovery  is possible and exemplify what recovery CAN look like, but how much is that actually helpful? If it served me, that would be fine, this was never a commercial endeavour, but the truth is I feel off about it because it’s not serving me to reflect so much. If I am totally honest, I think I feel an obligation to be posting often and this has led to a bit of a reflective overload and i have realised that this kind of blogging is just not for me. I’ve written a few posts regarding recovery and social media, in particular one about social media causing those recovering to stay in a quasi-recovery by getting caught up in the ‘recovering’ label. I don’t feel that is where I am personally but I also know that in blogging the way I am right now I am failing to actually live my life to the full. For many people blogging is a wonderful and very helpful tool, it really is. For me though, I have found that I feel a little detached from my real life which I fear could become detrimental.

Clusterforked is not disappearing into a cloud of smoke, it is simply going to be changing. I’ve made to decision to stop posting about my personal life unless it is in the form of examples or things I feel are important and recovery related. I will also be posting significantly less. I have a lot of commitments in my life and a lot of other things that I want to be doing to further my education, my social life, my fitness and my career options, not to mention more spontaneity and fun plus some actual down time! I will no longer be posting 4+ times per week because frankly, I just don’t have it in me. When I say less, I am talking potentially as little as once a fortnight, maybe less frequently. I love writing for the blog but I really want it to have more direction so the things I do post are going to be recovery related and much more detached from my own life. I will be posting things that are useful to those in recovery, that prove there is a life after letting go of an eating disorder and that attempt to challenge our current knowledge regarding health and nutrition.

I am so, so excited for these changes. Although I won’t be around as much, I’m hoping that what I do post will be more well-structured, more targeted, more objective and hopefully more interesting.

I have found an amazing community of people in the very short time I have been active as a blogger and I sincerely hope to continue to be a part of this community. I also want to say a huge thank you to all of those individuals who have taken the time to read my blog over the past few months and I hope that you will continue to drop in from time to time.

Please bear with me over the following weeks while I make the necessary changes to the site like building new pages and restructuring existing ones, changing the site’s appearance and moving some posts around. A part of me is going to miss the regular posts, link ups and personal side of the blog but it’s a change I know I need to make.

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Exactly the Person That I Want to Be

Later this evening I will be performing at the Jolly Brewer, my much beloved local (the pub I frequent for you non-brits) for the opening of the beer festival taking place over the bank holiday weekend. I will be singing and playing the guitar solo and singing as part of a performance with H and a friend. One of the songs I’m performing solo is ‘In my Mind’ by Amanda Palmer, a song which has meant a lot to me since I first heard it about five years ago.

Recently though, it has held a very important meaning for me. I go through times in my life when I feel that I need “more”. I mysterious something that I don’t possess at the current moment but feel I should pursue. Recently, it has been a feeling that I should have more friends or make the effort to do more with my time. This can be a really great thought process to get you out of a rut your in or help you live a happier life by adding things that truly fulfill you. However, it can also be something that I find has a negative impact on happiness and has often been something that has inhibited me.

In the song, the person speaking says “In my mind, in the future five years from now I’m 120 pound and I never get hungover because I will be the picture of discipline” and outlines all of the things she imagines for herself. However, as the song progresses, she tells the listener “I don’t want to be the person that I want to be” and “maybe it’s funniest of all to think I’ll die before I actually see, I am exactly the person that I want to be”. This is an underrated song that holds such an important message for all of us: the realisation that maybe we don’t always need to be striving for more or striving to become ‘something’ because maybe we already have everything we need to be happy.

Granted, there will be times in your life when you genuinely hunger for more or for change. However, I think this is something we can become far too conscious of and begin to overthink until it gets out of hand. It is great to want more and it is great to want to achieve more and be a better person but most of the time those shifts aren’t as conscious as the thoughts we have that say “I should make more friends”, “I should start investing”, “I should do these things to have this life and that will make me happy”. No, I think it happens much more organically than that. Regardless of our good intentions and desires to make changes to our live and be a more productive or better or happier person, life happens. You can do things to make your life more fulfilling but I doubt most of those things involve a thought process as distinct as those mentioned or even with the intention of living a certain way. Those changes happen as a result of so many factors we can’t even comprehend them.

What’s problematic with these desires for change and the mysterious “more”, albeit filled with good intentions, is that it assumes your life is not good enough already. If you are unhappy in your situation you should certainly make active choices to change that but what if you already are? The desire to be something different is always going to be rooted in the idea that there is something missing or even something wrong with your life now. What happens though, when you’re already happy? The age old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” applies here. Why try to make yourself change? It can certainly be a good thing but for me I have found that in wanting ever more leads me to ignore that which I already have. Right now I only want to add things to my life because I perceive that they will make me into someone I ‘should’ be. But you know what? I don’t need to make new friends right now, I’m not a social butterfly and I don’t want a tonne of friends. Instead, I’ll make more of an effort to connect more with the friends I already have and love. I don’t need to push myself to play the guitar more often because that isn’t me anymore. I don’t need to constantly create new blog content because that defeats the purpose of my blog. I am happy, I love my life right now and what I really need to do is enjoy that life as it is, I can build on what is there already without starting ANOTHER new thing just to do it. I am exactly the person that I want to be.

Maybe you don’t need to change at all. Take time this week to really think about where you are and enjoy the parts of your life you love but take for granted. Be who you are now without trying to change yourself. Cherish the time you have and give yourself permission to stop seeking more. Give yourself permission to be still and live the life you have already.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic today!

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WIAW – It’s the Small Things

Yesterday was a day of small things. It was one of those days when I was able to step back and really appreciate the little details in my life which made me feel incredibly grateful for all that I have.

It was unexpected and it truly felt wonderful so today I have decided to punctuate What I Ate Wednesday with all of the little moments that made me stop and think, hey, my life is pretty great. One thing I noticed was that there are SO many of those little moments every single day.

Jenn’s What I Ate Wednesday link up, as has become customary, is hosted by the ever-brilliant Laura and Arman week in week out. Thank you all!

On this particular day I was a free agent with no place to be AT ALL and it was totally glorious. It was one of those days that I had no big plans for and I wanted to revel in that. I can get so caught up in doing the next thing that I just lose sight of what I’m doing and why.

Continue reading WIAW – It’s the Small Things

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Mental Health Monday: Social Media and Self-Victimisation

The internet is a part of all of our lives. Welcome or not, it is an undeniable presence in our every day and a lot of people have online lives as busy and diverse as their offline lives. The online live we have intersect with our real lives so much that is can often be difficult to distinguish between the two: we can ‘check-in’ on Facebook to let all of our Facebook friends know we are with real friends doing something fun or talk about something happening outside the screen. However, online, we can be pretty much whoever we want to be. Most people only make minor omissions and fabricate little things to make themselves a little more interesting. Some people take this a lot further and create outright alter-egos for themselves. Today I want to explore how mental illness and mental illness recovery fits into this world, more specifically, how it allows individuals suffering from mental ill-health to find and create identities on social media.

When I was in the throes of my eating disorder I had a Tumblr account dedicated to seeking out ‘thinspiration’. I would spend hours searching the blogging platform for pictures of girls with jutting hip bones and xylophone ribs, usually with some depressing quote laid over the image. When I started to recover however, I started a recovery account to chart my ‘progress’ which meant little more than remaining in the same restrictive cycle I had been in previously only this time under the guise of ‘getting better’. The things is, as I actually got better, I no longer had a need to do this. In fact, I had better things to do. Why? Because everything I did and said on these little ‘blogs’ validated my illness. These sites are very good at creating a place for individuals already suffering from mental illnesses to victimise themselves and perpetuate their own health problems.I wasn’t ‘Tumblr famous’ by any means but I did have enough ‘followers’ that I had a captive audience. I served the same purpose for a lot of other bloggers on the platform I’m sure. Instagram does the same thing.

I am not suggesting for a minute that most people don’t genuinely believe they are part of a community promoting a positive recovery. I am not even suggesting that in many ways, the sense of community created on these platforms can be very positive influences in achieving better mental health. However, there are a LOT of problems that can and often do arise.

One of my biggest gripes with these platforms is that they facilitate very unhealthy forms of comparison. Although unintentional some of this comparison can have dangerous consequences. I cannot reiterate enough that this is usually not intentional but these sites really highlight the sick competitiveness of a lot of mental illnesses. Whether it’s listing everything you ate (or didn’t eat) that day; talking about a bad day or posting a picture of physical harm you have caused to yourself there is a bizarre sense that it is a competition of who can be the sickest. This is not always the case. However, when it does happen, it easily goes unnoticed and has a tendency to suck in the people in it’s path. needless to say, this is a horrible side of these social media platforms that does nothing good for those suffering.

Something that feeds into this is a sense of perceived anonymity. Trust me, you won’t catch these people posting about any of this to people who know them in real life. Yes, individuals with recovery accounts share real details about themselves and often use their first names but the internet is a huge place that makes it very easy to hide any semblance of a real person. It’s a cut and past life that allows you to show people exactly what you want them to see and not much else. This makes the element of comparison even more dangerous. Mental illnesses often cloud a person’s judgement so how, when it is difficult for anyone to avoid comparing their lives to those of others, is a person who is mentally ill supposed to navigate this minefield of fabricated lives? Most of these people are both young and vulnerable and they feed on the sickness of others because it validates theirs.

The biggest problem with all of this is that is leads to self-victimisation. It allows people to feel like they are getting better as they run in ever-decreasing circles. It allows people to create a space in which it’s okay for them to live with mental illness without getting an kind of professional help. It is mentally ill people validating other mentally ill people. The sense of community can quickly turn into an insideous place where people are molly-coddling each other and letting their illnesses run amok without even the inkling that someone should be encouraged to seek real-world help because- you know – their slowly killing themselves. Even more insideous is the people who are suffering from a mental illness but not in the way they think. There are plenty of individuals in the annals of Tumblr who are seeking out mental illness; people who truly believe they want to become sick. Seriously, “how to become anorexic” is no unpopular search term. It’s almost ‘cool’, for lack of a better word, to traipse the internet being ‘triggered’ by every damn thing. This is a very frightening predicament and is dangerous for everyone involved. It is sick because the people swallowed up by this online culture are quite literally sick.

This is not always the case, I can not stress that enough. I would hope that it isn’t usually the case either. However, it certainly exists and it is certainly a very dangerous part of the recovery community which in some cases seems to outright promote mental ill health and self-victimisation. If you recognise this, if you’re a part of it, get yourself out, seek help and find a community that actively seeks to get better.

This post is part of Julia‘s new link up: Mental Health Monday. Go check it out at Drops of Jules.

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