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My bed feels larger than when I was small

 

I’m tired of struggling through every day. Of pushing and pulling and forcing myself to at least seem okay. I’m tired of speaking and having the words come out jumbled before they can even leave my mouth. Of sleeping only when beyond exhaustion. Of making excuses. Of seeing the sunrise every single morning, having been awake all night. Of not being able to find a single bit of beauty in it.

Today, I broke all my personal promises and posted my feelings on Facebook. Oh, not the big stuff – that’s for here only – but I went into far more detail than I’ve ever felt comfortable with, and I’m still not comfortable with it now. I only did it because I can’t take unrealistic expectations anymore; I have never, ever been able to cope with being expected to act a certain way and, truthfully, I’m sick of pretending.

I was pulling myself out of it, with the help of antidepressants which have been proven to work for me. I was trying really goddamn hard, and I was almost there. I’d started eating normally again, and having showers. Things seemed to be on the up emotionally, even if they weren’t so great physically.

Then… just one little thing. That’s all it takes.

I don’t even know what that little thing was. All I know is I’m sitting on the sofa after leaving S in bed. I cried all day. I realised I just can’t take this. Everything. The pain. The sickness. The tiredness. Any of it.

 

world

I’ve been vomiting again, and the conclusion my mother and I came to is that it’s stress. Truthfully, I accepted this explanation because the idea of facing just one more doctor is too much to bear. I’ve thought about it throughout the day though, and I realise it’s probably true; even on days when I don’t feel like a total emotional wreck, I’m still terrified of what will become of me, and it’s like a ball of pure acid in my stomach to even consider the future.

Can I even see a future for myself?

Not really.

I’m relying on those closest to me – my mother, S, and a couple of people I’ve come to call friends – to keep me afloat, because if left to my own devices I begin to sink almost instantly. I can no longer talk to Z about any of this; it became apparent a while ago that we’re probably never going to be on the same page when it comes to life.

Just like last time, the vomiting has kicked off feelings I’d rather not have; feelings of calorie counting and tape measures. Truthfully I hardly need to worry about such things since eating has become incredibly difficult with the constant nausea and risk of sudden projectile sickness, but something inside decided to worry about it anyway. I’ve lost a lot of weight without even trying over the past few months, and you’d think I’d be ecstatic but instead I almost feel cheated because I didn’t do it myself. So, yet again, I grab for control.

I don’t even believe my own lies about having control anymore. I know nothing I do gives me the slightest safety.

 

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Every day life

 

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Support

I wasn’t sure what I expected from blogging about my life.  When I began copying entries from my old diary online, I didn’t really know what I was hoping to achieve; in my introduction I wrote how this blog is personal therapy, but back when I started over a year ago… I wasn’t even sure if I’d delete the few posts and forget about the whole thing. I’ve never spoken about my other blog; one I started writing a few years ago. It’s just a collection of my poetry, and I never plan to pass the link on to anybody.

The thing I really didn’t expect was to develop a support network. I’ve always wondered exactly what “support network” means; I read about it in books about getting over depression and eating disorder recovery, but the idea seemed pretty unrealistic to me. Never having had many friends, I’ve always relied on the mental health system and my family to support me. The system let me down, and my family did their best but didn’t understand what I needed. The only support group I ever went to was a total disaster; I disliked everyone there. They were loud and unstable and I had nothing in common with anybody.

However, one thing which has emerged from my writing is a support network of sorts. Reading through the comments on my last post, I realise that I finally have something I’ve needed for a long time; people willing to back me up, trying to advise me on which way to turn, or just saying they’re there for me. Just being involved in some way, with no reason to be other than they want to.

Some may say that relationships online can never be as meaningful as relationships in real life. In many ways I’d agree with that; all my life I’ve needed to be able to see a person to know what they’re thinking, and because trust is such a huge issue I find communicating without seeing the other person quite nerve-wracking; I can never quite trust somebody without looking them in the eye.

After reading those comments, I know I’ve done the right thing by writing about my life. Thank you.

 

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2012 in Every day life

 

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Drugs and alcohol

When it comes to alcoholism and drugs, it should be a different issue. They’re self-inflicted and shouldn’t be an issue. They’re not real disabilities“.

I was talking to my mother about the government debate on mental health earlier. She seemed pretty uninterested, which disappointed me; it’s a subject painfully close to my heart, and it’s the government who decide my fate, after all. My mother is always panicking over my DLA, convinced that when I get called into the inevitable assessment my benefits will be either dramatically cut, or removed entirely. Personally, I try not to think about it. I am scared, but worrying about something which might not happen doesn’t seem the best way to deal with that fear.

While I was trying to speak to her and attempting to explain how I’m dubious about any changes being made. I said, “I’ll believe it when they stop taking innocent people off benefits”, and she replied with the quote above.

Considering my own problems with addiction, I took the comment quite personally. It took me a long time to understand why my mother was so biased against those who rely on substances; now I know the extent of my father’s alcoholism and my auntie’s spiral into days spent in bed with a bottle while my cousins raised themselves, and I get it somewhat. However, I can’t entirely comprehend her prejudice. My mother doesn’t know much about my past – I’ve purposely kept it that way to protect her because I don’t think she could cope with it – and certainly doesn’t know I still take drugs. She doesn’t know I’ve ever touched them, as far as I’m aware.

My father hit her. He pushed her down the stairs and tried to throw my sister E out of the bedroom window whilst high on something. He still drinks, and shouts abuse at her when he visits. I totally understand why she’d have such a bias against alcoholics; my dad is an idiot. My aunt is a sanctimonious woman who judged my mother for leaving my father and raising myself and my three siblings on her own, yet she drank and didn’t look after her children until they were older, and she had been in a violent relationship herself. Neither of those relations were great adverts for those struggling with addiction. They don’t exactly make themselves likeable.

However, I just wish she’d understand. I wish she’d see what’s right under her own nose; her own daughter is struggling with painkiller addiction. The girl she gave birth to has used alcohol to block out feelings.

Alcoholism runs in my family. I’m unsure if there’s a genetic link, or whether we’re just copying the behaviour of relatives. My father left before I was born so I don’t know how much of his violence and drinking I got to see. Sometimes I’d stay over at his tiny, cramped bedsit in Liverpool and he’d drink constantly from a plastic water bottle. Once, I tasted it; it was disgusting, like it had gone off. With hindsight I recognise the taste of cheap wine.

I loved staying with him. The house his bedsit was in felt huge, like a massive labyrith. My father lived right at the top, in a bedsit not much bigger than my mother’s living room, with a wonky ceiling and old sash windows, a mahogany wardrobe, sofa and table in front of an old two-bar gas fire, a tiny black-and-white tv and a double bed tucked in a corner. At night, I’d lie in that bed under a floral duvet and listen to the police sirens in the night.

We’d sit and watch Casualty in monochrome and eat spring rolls with soy sauce. Sometimes, he cooked chicken legs and wrapped them in foil with garlic and we’d have a picnic in the nearby park. I’d sit with my feet in the lake, watching men throwing fishing poles into the water and groups of teenagers smoking on the benches, and I’d think how much cooler my father was than my mother.

Dad let me swear. Only words like “arse” and “bloody” but, to my pre-teen self, it felt like a delicious freedom. He let me stay up late, and often took me on midnight walks around the area he lived in. We’d amble past graffiti’d walls and late-night takeaways, alleyways filled with rubbish and an abandoned nightclub. I loved that club; the walls were smooth with fake-marble tiles which were always cold to the touch and shone under the dim light from the old concrete lamp posts. Or we’d walk through the park, avoiding the teens smoking dope, drug-dealings, couples looking for somewhere private and lone men, just standing around, and we’d go to the lake. Together, we’d sit on a bench and talk about the strangest things. Time-travel. Cannabilism. Space-travel. Ghost stories. Indian food.

Once we were talking by the lake at 2am on a Saturday night and my father told me that if we were ever stranded at sea, I could eat him to survive.

I think it was the nicest thing he’s ever said to me.

Sometimes, I want to confess everything to my mother. How I once vomited from snorting too much coke. How I kept a bottle of gin under my bed when I was fourteen, and used to take a Pepsi bottle full of vodka with me to college when I was seventeen. I want to tell her about the day I realised I was addicted to morphine, and how I only stopped taking it because J prevented me from getting any. I want to explain why I once took twenty co-codamol pills in a day; not because I wanted to die, but because I was so reliant on them that it took huge amounts to get any feeling from it.

I can’t tell her any of these things. Because she just wouldn’t understand.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2012 in Every day life

 

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In which I step outside my comfort zone, and enjoy it

Our kitchen is what you’d call a ‘galley’; if a galley could ever be so small that one person barely fits in it. On one wall is cabinets and a tall fridge and on the other are appliances, squashed together and sometimes inaccessible behind organic cleaning products and spare shopping bags. There’s little wallpaper – it was stripped off years ago and somehow never got finished – so the walls are mostly bare and nicotine-stained. The ceiling is yellow and the lino on the floor is slowly peeling up.

Because it’s so small, my family tend to take it in turns to use it; even making a simple cup of tea is a military operation if more than one person is standing near the kettle. Cups tend to build up in the drainer and teaspoons clutter up the sink.

Earlier, I was making a brew for my mother and I. She’s ill at the moment – I suspect a chest infection/bronchitis – so I’m trying to help a little around the house today. I feel guilty for not being able to help more, but I had a busy weekend (more about that later) and fibromyalgia has sapped all my energy. I’m not in pain, just exhausted. Like my body wants to fall on the floor and stay there.

My dad walked in as I was pouring the tea and trying to juggle making a sandwich while my brain feels like it’s stuffed with bubble wrap. As I said, the kitchen is small and as he squeezed past me, I couldn’t help but feel irritated; it’s a one-person kitchen, we’ve all agreed on that. I stood patiently while he fiddled with the back door a little before wandering back into the living room. Almost immediately I felt guilty; my dad’s well into his sixties, he’s not in great health because of his drinking, and we suspect he’s possibly suffering from some sort of dementia, probably brought on from years of downing spirits and cheap wine every night.

But then I thought, why should I feel guilty for getting irritated by him? After all, I’m the one who made the decision to distance myself from my father; I can’t go getting emotionally involved if I’m trying my best to ignore the man who made my mother’s life hell until she got up the guts to leave him after one too many drunken punches were thrown. He may have been fantastic in my childhood – my hero in fact – but I refuse to smile at a wife-beater. I just can’t allow myself to do it. I can’t be a hypocrite and loathe violence but chat to the man who pushed my mother down the stairs. The more I thought about it, the more irritated I got. My father never once visited me in hospital when I was seriously ill with acute cholecystitis and pancreatitis. He never spoke to me about my mental health; not when he was sober, anyway. He doesn’t even say hello when he comes to my mother’s house. He’ll grunt, or say thank you if I make him a cup of tea, but he doesn’t say hello.

I made him a cup of tea. Told him it was in the kitchen, and came upstairs.

After my GP appointment on Friday, I sat around for a while, smoking and watching E.R (obsession of the moment; I always have an obsession. Last time it was House. When I was younger, I played Age Of Empires for two years straight) and waiting for the next medical adventure; an appointment with the podiatrist who’s been checking up on the tendonitis for the past few months. It went as well as it could; I have more flexibility than last time, but it’s still swollen so I’m being referred to rheumetology again. Different doctor this time, but the same department. Sometimes I think my life runs in circles and I’ll never break free.

I don’t quite understand why they’ve passed me on to rheumetology; the podiatrist didn’t explain, or if he did I was too anxious of being in hospital to take any of his advice and feedback in. I can only assume he thinks there’s something wrong with the joints in my foot. Same old, same old.

My best friend, Z, was 24 years old on Sunday, and she invited S and I to a barbecue at her house on Saturday night. My initial reaction was the usual; I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to speak to people I didn’t know – her friends, her family – and I was worried I’d get too stressed out and retreat to a quiet corner and become my usual reclusive self, ending up going home and failing at yet another social situation. However, this weekend I felt the fear and did it anyway – with S’s help – and not only went to the barbecue, but had a fantastic time. S and I even stayed over in the spare room, snuggled together under a bright yellow duvet and shielding our silent midnight sex with a spare curtain draped quickly over the bare rail.

.Z’s two-bedroom house is rented out by her boyfriend’s parents. When she told me she was moving in with Steve, I was jealous; the most I could hope for was a small flat or paying well over the odds for a tiny house in a dodgy area. They have a huge garden and enough room for their animals; a cat, a corn snake, two degu’s and whichever cat from next door wanders in. However, it soon became obvious that she and Steve were struggling to cope with running a household. The first time I visited, the living room was filled with boxes and half-empty cups and the carpet hadn’t been hoovered since they moved in weeks earlier. The kitchen was a death-trap, and the bathroom had no door. Steve and Z have a strange relationship. I’m sure they love each other, but they’re so different to S and I, and sometimes I can’t understand how they stay together. Z is incredibly clingy and possessive, and always demanding reassurance. She doesn’t always take her medication for bipolar and I’ve stood awkwardly on many an occasion while Z overreacts to something Steve says and starts asking if he wants to break up with her. It’s uncomfortable, and reminds me a little too much of myself.

I confess, I wasn’t at all prepared for Z’s birthday. I’ve been losing track of dates recently – I have no idea what today is – and I have a really difficult time remembering birthdays anyway. I try, but it just doesn’t happen. I still can’t remember my brother’s birthday after knowing him for 27 years. Numbers just stress me out too much. Typically I hadn’t remembered  to buy Z a present, so I had to do a mad dash around Tesco’s on Friday evening while S and I were shopping for pizza and Fosters, grabbing a baked eyeshadow set and a box of Thornton’s chocolates; hardly innovative, and entirely crap for a best-friend gift.

My friend G (we actually call him G as well, it’s not just a nickname) was invited too, and walked up to S’s house with his staffordshire bull terrier so we could get a taxi together. G never spends money unless forced and the only reason he gets away with it is because he’s so charming. I call him a friend, but I’m still not entirely sure what that words means; we speak, chat on Facebook, and he used to live with me when I was in a relationship with J, does that mean he’s my friend?

Sometimes I think I’ll never understand social interaction. It just doesn’t come naturally to me.

Z was quiet when we got to her house – I was worried she hadn’t taken her meds again – and she barely acknowledged our presents. I instantly started panicking; I know I’ve been an awful friend and isolated myself, but she can’t leave me. She can’t abandon me; losing people has happened too many times now for me to cope with. Z leaned into me and whispered, “I was going to call the whole thing off” then pulled me into the kitchen. As partygoers pushed past us, she told me somebody had hung themselves. She said who but I was too Lyrica-muddled and panicked to take it in. Somewhere in my head I was still stressing over her lack of reaction to my admittedly shitty present.

A couple of years ago, Z’s cousin hung himself. She took it very badly, and still gets tearful if his name is mentioned. She told me that knowing somebody else who’d commited suicide in that way brought it all back for her. Everything brings it back for her. I tried to hug Z, but she wouldn’t let me.

S was chatting with Steve and G, poking around the barbecue and trying to be all manly, so I went to talk to Z’s next door neighbour. Ann is in her fiftes and lives with five cats in a house filled with nick-nacks and photographs. She has severe osteoarthritis and can barely walk, and she’s awesome. We sat in her house and rolled a joint each, chatting about the painkilling benefits of weed and my mother. Nicely chilled and calmed, I went back to the party, bumping into my friend (again, friend…) Debbie. I’ve only met her once before – when I was ill in hospital – and although we’ve chatted a lot on Facebook, I’ve always made excuses not to meet up. I’m too nervous. Being thrown into the situation suited me much better; she hugged me and we chatted while I broke the Lyrica rule and drank cider and Fosters. I figured if I was going to be ill, I may as well go out in style.

A couple more joints later, I was feeling okay. Z had brightened up (although she was still somewhat aloof; understandable),  and watching S holding the corn snake and marvelling over the muscle structure cheered me up in a way only geeky boyfriends can. I started chatting to other guests – there were about ten in total – and actually mingled. I never mingle. I’m very anti-mingle.

The night was a success, and I’m glad I made the effort to socialise for once. We ate birthday cake and played with G’s staffie, throwing balls across the garden for him to catch. Cooked burgers and watched S pour a whole can of Fosters down himself; nobody’s let him live it down. As it went dark we set up a plastic table and some chairs around the back of Ann’s house and smoked blueberry and weed shisha, accompanied by hash brownies and Jägermeister shots. Played music on our phones and talked about everything and anything.

On Sunday, Z and I left the men to do some work in the garage and went to a local food festival. It was shutting down a little as we got there but we still had a good time; loads of free samples and I tried anything which had chilli involved. Afterwards Z bought me some chips and we walked back to her house. I confessed that I’d been feeling guilty over not seeing her often, and she said, “yeah, but it’s your mum, she’s too controlling“. True, and I decided not to mention the other reasons; fear, anxiety, paranoia. Thought I’d just pretend it was all my mother.

I’ve promised myself I’ll make more of an effort to socialise; I’ve realised that when I do, I enjoy myself. As long as I have a safety net of dope and somebody I know to look after me, I’m okay.

I’m not going to die.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Every day life

 

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An update on the privacy issue, and why I hate the internet

Not long ago I posted about the link to my blog being given out by somebody I’d trusted with that information. A few nights ago I decided to confront this person in a private message on the forum we’re both members of, and to my surprise she denied ever sharing the link, and forwarded a private message from another member, in which they said “this is what you’re after” and gave her the link.

I’ve given up any hope of ever feeling comfortable blogging about certain subjects now; these are people who know what I look like and where I live. People who know small aspects of my life but who would never be invited to read what is, in essence, my diary.

I don’t even understand why they’d want to read it. They have no connection to mental illness, as far as I know.

I chose to be anonymous because these are things I don’t tell anybody; not even my closest friends and family. I’ve purposely kept certain facts about myself a secret. I felt safe with my anonymity. I may have hundreds of views a day, but I was comfortable knowing those readers only know me as a faceless stranger on the internet. I don’t think I’m the only one out there who finds it easier to be honest when I can’t be identified.

After a bit of umming and aahing, I decided to push any BPD-related fears to the side and sent a PM to the person who passed the link on. I wasn’t hoping for much sympathy, but I can’t help but think the replies I received are typical of those who just don’t give the slightest damn about mental illness and the damage such small things can cause.

I sent:

***** may well believe otherwise; it was her choice to send me the PM.

It’s known that I write a blog. However, I’ve always stated that it’s NOT for anyone to see unless I give explicit permission; two people on ****** were trusted with the link. You weren’t one of them, so who gave it to you?

You may have been trying to be helpful, but I’m sure you can see why knowing the link has been given out would concern me a lot.

Their reply:

I responded with “What did I let slip? That I have a blog?

Why on earth would you be searching for something like that? I can’t help but find it beyond creepy that you’d actually Google something like that; something downright personal and which I’d said on **** that IS PRIVATE.

Have you given the link to anybody else?

I don’t think you quite understand how much trouble this could cause. “

Their response?

How hard is it for somebody to understand that passing on the link to something which is clearly very personal isn’t the right thing to do? Especially on a forum which has nothing to do with mental illness?

I don’t mind people finding this blog. I can’t stop anybody doing so. I’d like to think that basic human decency would overcome and they would realise that I probably wouldn’t want to have news of bulimia, breakdowns and my relationships shared on a site my friends read. Which my family read.

Obviously,  I have too much faith in others.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Every day life

 

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Don’t blame your daughter, that’s just sentimental

I was angry earlier – I suppose it showed – and I’m starting to feel a little guilty for lashing out verbally on such a time-worn subject. It’s a story which has been done to death over the years, and I’ve cried more tears over my mother’s control than anything else in my life. Although I didn’t cry this time, I wanted to; the only thing holding me back was a sense of pride in believing I was right, and not wanting to show weakness to her while she had the emotional upper hand.

Understand this; I love my mother. I worry about her constantly – her physical health, her moods, her depressions, the way she rarely eats – and I’d fall apart if anything happened to her. Although I hated her at times throughout my teens, I gradually learned that not everything she did was to spite me; over the years, my mother has opened up about her abusive relationship with my father, her brother dying when he was eight years old, her father dying of cancer when she was fifteen. She’s had a turbulent life – like mother like daughter, I suppose – and the more I get to know her, the easier it is to see that I’ve learned a lot of my behaviour from her, such as my ridiculous attitude to food. She’s obviously struggled with a lot of stress and drama, and sometimes I see flashes of myself in the way she rants and raves; flashes of BPD.

I suppose we’re too alike in many ways. Both prone to sulking and unjustified anger. Both trying to control situations; she tries to control me, I try to control myself. Both living with chronic pain. Both dealing with the stress of illness. Both knowing that men are sometimes unspeakably cruel.

I’ve spent so much of my life feeling inferior to her, feeling pushed out of the family and wrapped in cotton wool. Been the baby of the family for too long. I’ve watched my brother go off to be a train driver. Seen my sisters become managers and childcarers. Felt left behind as they buy houses and settle into their lives. My sister (E) ran away from home in her teens and stayed in a B&B, because she couldn’t cope with the controlling atmosphere in the house… leaving me to receive it all.

In a way, I wish I could hate her. It would be much easier to think she’s just a cruel woman; but she isn’t. She’s ill, she’s ill in the ways I am, but she will never admit to it. I’ve tried; she admits to having depression and I know she’s been on antidepressants in the past, but I know she struggles more than she ever shows.

I don’t know how I feel about moving into a flat with S – possibly next month – because I know she relies on me. As a child, I thought her demands for cups of tea were akin to slave labour; now I know it was because she couldn’t handle the kettle with arthritic fingers in the morning. I thought her hatred of my boyfriends was some sort of jealousy, when she turned out to be right about them every time.

She hurts me, though. Her little comments about my weight – hinting I shouldn’t be eating so much – and piercings/tattoos get me down. Her need to know every single thing about my life is tiring, especially when there’s so much I could never tell her. Her control over my finances… it’s destroyed my trust in her, because I know she doesn’t trust me. I’ve tried my best to be the daughter she wants me to be, but I know deep down I’ll never achieve that because it just isn’t me. I have piercings which she hates. I have ink she loathes. I hang around with people she can’t stand. I wear clothes she may not always approve of. I take risks and make decisions without her input… and that won’t change, because it’s taken most of my life for me to begin to realise who I am. I’ll never be what she wants.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Every day life

 

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Dear Diary – 14th/15th/16th January 2006

< 9th/10th January

< 11th/12th/13th January

Saturday 14th January 2006

When I’m alone a million fears creep in. I get insecure, anxious, panicky; but the second I’m with O, I find those fears evaporating. I almost wish they didn’t, because then I find it impossibIe to talk about my thoughts and I really need to. He goes to Hull for training on Monday and I’m worried how I’ll cope with not being able to just call him or go for a coffee together.

Every week I get nervous about going in to college on Tuesday, but the thought of going back next week makes me feel sick. I really don’t know what I’m going to do about the course; it’s looking more likely that my health – long and short term – is going to make it difficult. I’m desperate to get the anaemia sorted before it kills me; who would have thought that something so common coud feel so horrendous. I’ve lived with it for six months now and I just want to stop feeling so tired and drained. I’m 21, yet I feel like an old woman.

I think I need to write a letter to O and give it to him in person. I know that if I try to speak, it will all come out wrong. I don’t want him thinking I want us to split up or anything; that’s the last thing I want. The thing I’m trying to prevent. Perhaps I’m blowing things out of proportion anyway; it wouldn’t be the first time.

Sunday 15th January

Found it hard to get to sleep last night. The room was too hot and my legs were restless, my mind clunking along. Lay in the dark with my leg touching O’s and thought too much. As usual.

I feel guilty for staying at his every weekend; I worry I’m imposing on his family and putting them out. O says it’s fine but I’m not sure it is. I wish we had enough money to get somewhere to live, but that seems impossible. It’s embarassing, wondering if his family can hear us having sex, having to go through the living room to get to the loo, being seen with no make-up on. I suppose I don’t think enough of myself to believe I could be welcome.

Monday 16th January

Woke up thinking about college tomorrow; I’m dreading it. I’m so convinced I’ve made a mistake with my career choice*. I feel like I should go back to something academic, my brain feels useless. I’m not used to more manual thinking and it’s just not me. I worry I’ll turn out losing the things I know; I’m already having trouble remembering stuff and backing down far too easily in debates. I was devastated when my memory didn’t return after the overdose, so what if this is the same thing, happening again for a different reason?

O got to Hull okay. He had to go on his bike, which I admit I was a bit worried about but I don’t want him to lose his job. As much as I hate him working at the bike dealership (where everybody hates me) he needs to do it. Like college; I hate it but I have to do it for money in the future. It all seems to come down to money at the moment.

*hairdressing

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in 2006 Diary

 

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Crazy English Summer, Part Two

Looking back through my blog, I realised that I never continued my post about my time in a mental health unit. I suppose it slipped my mind. It was difficult to write that first post, because it meant I was opening up about experiences I don’t talk about much, and I suspect I’ll find the rest of it just as hard. Although I’ve left a lot of that time behind – and memories are often hazy at best – it’s still something which happened to me, which I experienced, and which I still get angry about sometimes.

My first impression of PL (the unit) is that it looked nothing like a crazy home. I was disappointed; I’d been imagining something out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, with long rooms filled with bed and nurses in starched gowns. In reality, it wasn’t unlike a large house, with a dark wooden staircase in the hallway and a lawn outside with a tree plonked in the middle. When I stepped out of my brother’s car with my suitcase, I noticed that there were forget-me-nots growing underneath the tree.

I remember a meeting; a sort of induction, then being shown to my room. I was to share with two other girls, which I felt uncomfortable with. What if they took my stuff? What if they were bitches? I was given the bed furthest to the right and told to put my clothes in a small wardrobe. I didn’t like to tell them that I’d need more space; I’d packed everything I owned, just in case I needed it when I was away. Separation anxiety was a problem back then.

I don’t remember saying goodbye to my mother and brother, although I must have done. I do remember sitting down to eat though; one charred chicken burger (without the bun, or salad or… anything) and a cheap ice cream pot. I sat at the big rectangular table, weighing up the other patients.

There was a thin blonde-haired girl with a Sylvia Plath poem blu-tacked to the wall next to her bed. She was bulimic. Another thin girl with dark, greasy hair in plaits and a scowl sat opposite me. Bulimic too. A bigger girl with a brown bob and a relaxed look was next to me, She told me her name was Carla, and later she told me that, like the other girls, she was bulimic, and had been abused by her father since birth. Her arms were covered in cuts and scars, but she had a naturally happy face. I warmed to her.

The boys were less memorable, bar one. I can’t even remember his name now, but there was one seventeen year-old guy with dark hair and darker eyes, who I fell a little bit in love with. I was going out with my first boyfriend at the time, and I was ashamed of myself for mooning over a boy with a guitar. We’d sit together in the day room (a ratty old sofa and a couple of chairs, along with a television and CD player) and listen to The Holy Bible, or go for walks on the local recreation ground (in a group, of course, with a couple of staff to keep an eye on us) and talk about music and how bloody horrible it was being a teenager.

It’s hard to explain all this, because memories run together, and I was locked in PL twice – for two weeks at first, then six – so some things might get mixed up. The general idea is there though.

For the first two weeks before I managed to get out, I cried constantly. Over everything. I cried if someone else did, or if a member of staff looked at me funny. I missed my house and my room, and being able to touch my things and feel secure. A few days after I was brought in, another girl joined us. She didn’t come downstairs for a long time though because she was on suicide watch. Occasionally I’d try to peek around the door, attempting to get a glimpse of her, but a member of staff would always shoo me away. Theories soon started; that she had been found trying to hang herself, that she was brought in covered in blood. We never did find out what happened, but after being on her own for two days she started sitting in the day room with the rest of us. A few days later, she left.

I spent all my money calling my mother and boyfriend from the payphone at the top of the stairs, begging them to bring me home. I’d promised I’d be good and behave, if they just got me away from PL. I hated it; I can’t explain how much I hated being watched constantly, having my every move checked. I hated being told when to go to bed, and I despised having to explain, over and over, why I wasn’t in school anymore. They held daily lessons in a big room covered in paintings. I think they thought it looked nice, but walls papered in the drawings of disturbed teenagers aren’t really the sort of thing you show prospective buyers, you know?

Try as I may, the ‘teacher’ (an older woman with grey hair and a twinset) couldn’t accept that at the age of thirteen I’d walked out of school and removed myself from mainstream education. Nor could she accept that I wasn’t being home-educated. Every day I had to tell her that the reason I had no work to do was because I wasn’t going to school. Every day she’d insist that was impossible.

After two weeks, my mother relented to my endless nagging and took me away from PL. Because I’d gone in voluntarily, they couldn’t stop her. I think I cried all the way home.

I don’t remember how I ended up in PL a second time, or how much time elapsed between stays. I know that during that time, my boyfriend and I broke up and I ran away, losing it entirely for a little while. I can only assume that having to get the police helicopter out to find me at 3am was the last straw for my mother, and so when my psychiatrist suggested that, unless I agreed to go back to PL, I would be sectioned. I must have had some sense, because I agreed again. In some part of my mind, I was aware that I didn’t ever want a sectioning on any sort of record. Life was turning out to be difficult enough already, without adding more fuel to the fire that was my ever-diminishing chance of a glowing future.

I packed more carefully the second time. Although my boyfriend and I had broken up, I still took the little pink stuffed rabbit he’d won me at the fair (Little-G, we called him). Admittedly, the rabbit had no head because I’d cut it off in a fit of rage, but it was a small comfort. I brought some make-up and books with me, preparing for the long days of nothing which stretched ahead and the inevitable jealousy of how beautiful the anorexic girls seemed. My father travelled with me on the train and we mostly sat in silence, looking out of the windows at the fields rushing by, at my home leaving me far behind. At one point, he turned to me and said, “I think you’re being very brave with all this”.

I realised then that I’d never given a single thought to how everything was affecting my dad. I knew my mother told him about my psychiatrist appointments and medications, but I’d never really factored him in to the whole situation. I was angry with my mother for agreeing to send me back, but my father didn’t play any part in it.I sat back and thought about my family, and how I could always rely on my dad, regardless of what my mother thought of him.

I settled in. Carla was still there, but everyone else had left to go home or to other units. The blonde bulimic had a flat. She wrote Carla a letter one day, telling her that while she’d been in PL, one of the staff members had been abusing her. We knew who she meant straight away; yet we never said anything. We were too beaten-down and in awe of supposed authority. Plus, we were crazy; who would believe us? We played rounders on the rec ground with the member of staff, and I seriously weighed up the possibility of me getting away with smacking him on the head with the bat. Repeatedly.

The day after I arrived back at PL, Rachel was brought in. She was in a state – ripped, bloodied jeans, a huge gash down her arm, and screaming like a banshee. She’d been brought straight from hospital after ripping a massive hole in her forearm with a hook. I was impressed; I’d been self-harming for years, and never had the guts to do that much damage to myself. Her freckles stood out on her pale face as she said, “hiya” and trooped upstairs. I got the feeling she’d been here before.

Next to arrive was Victoria. A tiny, elfin girl with oversized eyes and a nervous twitch. The first thing I learned about her was that she weighed exactly five stones. The second thing was that she had been raped years ago. Like many anorexics I had met, she had a tiny, mouse-like voice and apologised constantly. PL was her last stop before hospital, she said, and she had to put on weight or they’d put a feeding tube down her.

Carla and Victoria became my best friends in PL. We shared CDs and, when we went our separate ways, wrote to each other for a while before losing touch. Carla taught me bulimia tricks and how to fool scales, and Victoria squealed with delight when I did her make-up for her. We’d walk into the city centre when we were all allowed outside for a short while, and steal lipsticks from Boots and drink diet coke. Carla would smoke and I’d occasionally take cigarettes off her. At night, we’d lie in the dark and wait until after obs, so we could talk about why we were in PL. Carla said that her father kept sending her presents and begging letters, but she was ignoring them. One night, she turned to me and said, “I lost my virginity at six months old, who’s going to want me?”. Victoria would lie quietly, listening, occasionally chipping in with advice and input. She told us about her fear of men, and after that, Carla and I would form a barricade around her every time a man came nearby, daring anybody to touch our tiny, fragile friend.

I still went home at the weekends, and one day my mother brought me (in my brother’s car, I presume) back to attend a meeting. It must have been early on, because the staff were asking about my mental health history and medications. They also asked about my family, and whether there was any history of mental illness. What my mother said changed me forever.

“Her father is an alcoholic, he was violent. It’s why we separated”.

I sat in the office, chewing over what I’d just heard. I had no idea; not the slightest clue. Not that my father had been drinking (looking back, there were hundreds of signs, I’d just been too young to understand them) and certainly not that he’d ever hit my mother. Suddenly, a lot of things made sense. Why my sister, W, refused to speak to him. Why my mother was such an alcohol-nazi. Why she abhored violence so much, even in films. Why my father left us before I was born.

Up until that point, I’d been a daddy’s girl. I worshipped him. Afterwards, I went cold. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to him, or even look him in the eye. I still struggle.

I was given medication in PL this time, although I can’t remember what, or if they even told me. I think I may still have been on meloril. Before breakfast and bedtime, the patients would line up in the upstairs hallway and wait for their names to be called. Then they were given a tiny, white plastic cup of pills and a flimsy cup of warm water. It wasn’t like in the films; nobody sold their tablets or shared them out, we just took them and basked in the warm glow of whatever brand of drug we’d been prescribed for our teenage angsts.

Part One

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in The Past

 

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Oh, how do I feel about my shoes? They make me awkward and plain.

Every day you must say
So, how do I feel about my life ?
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself ?
I am sick and I am dull
And I am plain
How dearly I’d love to get carried away
Oh, but dreams have a knack of just not coming true
And time is against me now…oh
Oh, who and what to blame ?
Oh, anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself, for heaven’s sake ?
- Accept Yourself, The Smiths

 

The plan certainly wasn’t for the whole day to become an unholy disaster, but it seems I simply just don’t have a choice in these things. My mother shouted at me until I agreed to get out of bed, demanding that I sort myself out and take control of my life. This set the precedent for the rest of the day; her angry over very little, me building up into a barely-controlled ball of anxiety and fear every time she opened her mouth or even looked at me. I’m trying to keep calm for the neurologist appointment, but she won’t stop taking about it. I know I sound like a spoiled child when I say this, but it’s not her appointment; it’s mine. Just like so many other things, she has taken it upon herself to arrange transport, demanded I write down a list of symptoms, made me type out a list of the medications I take (why won’t handwritten do?), keeps bringing up the subject of scans and tests. I’m regretting asking her to go with me (although I know she’d have naturally assumed she’s be going with me) because she’s turned it into a huge drama, when I was trying to let it slightly slip my mind so I don’t become scared of the appointment.

Well, I’m scared now. Too scared to sleep, and wondering what the hell to do. If I try to sleep now, what if I just lie awake worrrying? If I stay up, what if I can’t cope with the weekend after being awake for so long?

03.15am

Unsurprisingly, I’ve given up on the idea of sleep. I did feign one attempt – even going so far as switching the lamp off and avoiding caffeine all evening – but, as usual, the brain won’t shut up. I’m thinking about tomorrow; about how tired and grumpy I’ll be in the taxi. How the smell and lights in hospitals make me feel skin-crawlingly uncomfortable. The neurological centre is attached to the hospital my stepfather was admitted to when he sustained the brain injury, and although I can’t remember what it looks like now (too much dope, too many sleepless nights), I suspect it’ll bring back feelings I’m not really in the mood to recall.

I’ve calmed down since this afternoon, after having three or four joints and listening to Erasure for a while. Earlier, I was livid; on the edge of screaming and stomping like a toddler and running away somewhere safe. The catalyst for my anxiety was this small snippet of conversation:

Mother: “Until you’ve sorted yourself out, there’ll be no more weekends with S“.

Something inside me flipped, as it has so many times before. Just those few words turned on the waterworks (which I think I kept hidden) and created a bubble of panic. I sat on the sofa, trying not to cry, torn between staying downstairs and getting into yet another argument, or running to my room, grabbing a razor and dealing with the building panic attack before it got unbearable. I think I would have harmed myself if we hadn’t been about to set off to go shopping. I suppose I just didn’t want to be walking around with the familar burn under my sleeves. I don’t want to be that way anymore and, fingers crossed, I haven’t given in to hurting myself for a long time now. Months. It’d be a shame to have to start again, all because of a throwaway comment.

You see, I’m becoming fearful that S will grow tired of my mother’s strange rules and ways of thinking, and leave me. Logic says that he’s not like that and that he understands the situation,  but since when did logic get in the way of a good freak-out? Also, I’m sick of being told what I will or won’t do. I’m utterly exhausted by it. I crave freedom and control, but I know I can never have either of those things while I’m under my mother’s roof.

The second thoughtless comment was regarding my eating habits.

Mother: “I’m going to have to start putting locks on the cupboards. I know it’s not nice to hear but you’re eating a lot and you’ll only complain to me when none of your clothes fit again“.
Way to go, Ma! Not only am I very much aware that the binging is out of control – thank you very much – but I also happen to be very stressed over it, and don’t need reminding how much of a problem it’s become again. I am aware of my weight at every second of the waking day right now; telling me I’m eating too much isn’t going to make me stop, or magically fix every problem I’ve ever had relating to food. Oh, I know it’s not entirely her fault – it’s easy to say something without thinking – but sometimes I get a little suspicious and wonder if she’s doing it on purpose. I don’t know why she would… to test me, maybe? To see if I’m truly over the eating disorders (she knows I’m not, surely?) by pushing the issue of food just when I seem at my most highly-strung?

I think I’m being paranoid.

Shopping was a rushed trip around the main street in the rain and gales we’re experiencing at the moment (which means it was Windsday), punctuated by my mother’s exasperation at my “behaviour” and my panicked outbursts. When I’m feeling as anxious as I did today, I get angry and frustrated. For years I thought that irrational rage was down to low blood sugar, but I’ve come to realise that it’s a side-effect of building up panic and worries inside my head until I explode.

One of my least favourite side-effects of panic attacks is how I turn everything in on myself. I’m naturally an introvert, but I can become incredibly cruel to myself when I’m filled with anxiety. The first thing I picked on today was the way I was dressed. It’s hard to explain how it works… it’s like voices, but I don’t hear them. They’re my thoughts, but as though they’re coming from a different brain.  I know nobody’s actually talking to me, but it can be deafening sometimes when I’m throwing insults at myself. Today’s voices went like this:

“Who the hell wears a knee length pink coat at your age? You look like an old woman”

“You can only wear old women clothes because you’re too fat to fit into anything nice”

“Everything looks awful on you, life was much better when you were a size 10″

“Look, everybody’s staring at you because you look ridiculous in that hat. A skinny girl would suit it, but not you”

Then:

“You’ll never escape. You’ll always live in this house, and you’ll die alone, without friends”

“People just pretend to like you”

“You’re worth nothing. You spend all day playing computer games and smoking dope. You don’t even have a job”

“Those boots never did suit you”

“You’ll lose all your benefits, and you won’t get a job because you’re no good at anything, and you’ll never achieve a single dream”.

… and so on, until my head was so crowded that I wanted to run. At one point, I did leave the supermarket, and went and sat outside in the rain on the cold metal bench while my mother bought cigarettes. I was panicking at the till – not helped by the slowest checkout assistant ever – and was getting all messed up in my head over which bags the freezer stuff went in and my mother’s insistance that I’d filled the trolley full of rubbish. She tried to stop me buying Diet Pepsi, saying I’m not allowed. I bought it anyway, if only out of spite. We’ve always battled over food and drink; she believes that the only way to survive in the modern world is to only eat organic food, only drink out of glass bottles, never drink out of cans because it can “give you cancer”. My beliefs are a little more relaxed, to say the least. Sometimes I wonder if she realises that she should just be happy I’m not anorexic anymore and doing my best to fight the after-effects of bulimia. She should be happy that I eat, and sometimes don’t read the nutrition labels or worry about how much salt is in a ready meal, rather than spending every waking moment terrified by calories.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in Every day life

 

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30 days of truth – day 10 – letting go of myself.

A letter to my twelve-year-old-self.

As you sit in your incense-scented bedroom, leaning against strategically-placed cushions on your bed and picking at the moon and stars duvet cover you begged for, consider this. Consider that one day, you will be twenty-six. You will be in that same room, typing these words on your laptop, surrounded by the things you collected during life; Guinness bottles, eye creams, cheap jewellery, a pink and white Laura Ashley bedspread marked by gel pens and cigarette burns. Empty pill packets and lighters. Crystals you once believed had healing power. You no longer believe, but will never throw them away.

You will type these words, thinking back to the Hanson posters you no longer own, the Sony Walkman which broke years ago, the candlesticks which never looked right on your window ledge. You will remember.

It all sounds so far away to you. Life for you is a slow-moving mash-up of books, poetry, the X-Files and listening to The Middle Of Nowhere over and over, until the tape starts to break. Fears you feel are school-related. The challenges you face are all-consuming, and you suspect you will never be this confused; that puberty will somehow save you from the feelings you keep inside. The diaries you write now… you will throw them away. They don’t have meaning to you, after all; so much of what you write is lies, made up to convince yourself that your life is more interesting than it is. So much of what you say is lies, woven from a need to fit in, to impress, to be somebody else. You will convince yourself, eventually, that these lies are nothing but the absolute truth, and that’s okay; years later, you will find out why you did this. It was never your fault.

A lot of things will turn out to be not your fault. However much you blame yourself, I wish you’d know this, so you wouldn’t punish yourself. It may seem strange writing like this; after all, I’m writing to myself, and until they invent time-travel, this is purely for the grown-up me. You and I are different people. We have the same genes, the same blood group, the same eyes. We are the same, but so different. As you grow older, you will learn so many lessons; most harsh and uncaring, but all useful. You need to bear these lessons to become who I am now. You need to remember that you change drastically, and that your life will be a series of learning curves. Change doesn’t come easily; you have to fight for it. As much as you don’t see it, you can, do, and will fight. You’re more able and stronger than you give yourself credit for.

The nightmares will always be there, but you will learn to bear them. You will even discover, one day, why you have them. It won’t be an easy discovery, and you’ll break before you mend, but you need to discover those things.

For you, now, school is the be-all and end-all. I remember all too well how it feels to even hear that word. ‘School’ – such an innocent word, yet I know how sick you feel when you hear or read it. I remember those stomach cramps and tears. I remember the utter terror. I want to be honest with you, so I’m afraid it doesn’t get easier. If I could go back and be you again, I would find my voice; because you do have one. I would stand up for myself, because the ability is there. You can’t see it now, and it saddens me that you can’t find a way out. If I could tell you one thing, it would be this; it was never as bad as you imagined it. You naturally punish yourself and assume you’re guilty. Years later, you will find out why, you will discover that it’s a fault in your brain, something you can’t help. When someone raises their voice, I know you believe it’s you they’re angry with. When something goes wrong, I know you automatically blame yourself. What happened at school will stay with you for a long time, well into your early twenties, but one day, the fear lessens. One day, the tangles and confusions begin to make sense. One day, you stop blaming everyone else, and, most importantly, you stop blaming yourself. You will see school for what it actually was; a place where you simply never fit in. Not through lack of trying, but because you tried too much. You were simply never going to be one of the popular kids, but remember this; popularity at your age may seem like everything, but really, it’s nothing. Most of the popular kids were just as insecure as you. They had troubles at home too. They struggled with work, even though you felt like the only one.

 

 

At the age of thirteen, in November, you will refuse to go to school. You will leave. The year before that will be a painful one; a long, hard road of misery and upset. You entered puberty much earlier than your peers, and so much of this is down to hormones, even though you won’t realise it at the time. Hormones and mental illness. In that year, you will leave childhood behind. You will become even more introverted, shying away from physical contact. You will push away your friends. I can’t tell you not to do this; without it, you wouldn’t be where I am now. I just wish you could understand how damaging it will be to you, and how easy it would have been to just reach out. One day, you will find yourself sitting in the headmaster’s office, having to explain the scars and cuts on your arms. You will make a vital mistake at this point; you will choose to confide in your two best friends. They won’t understand, and it will scare them. Eventually, you will lose these friends, but I can tell you now that it was the best thing in the situation. They weren’t emotionally mature enough to deal with their friend self-harming. The next mistake you will make it forgetting to hide the bloodstains on your shirt sleeves. The girls who sit opposite you in science will see it, and will pretend to scratch themselves with compasses in front of you. When you start the unexplained crying bouts in lessons, you will lie, you will make up a story to explain away the tears. I wish you hadn’t done this; everyone knew you were lying. In fact, everyone knew that most of what you said was a lie, all along. This is why they never believed you. When one of the popular girls asks you if you’re alright in the PE changing room, she wasn’t trying to be cruel, to taunt you. I wish you could see that, because I know that, at the time, you believed it was just another way of getting to you, rather than the rare kind gesture it actually was.

You always suspected you were different, didn’t you? Well, you are. Not a freak; not in the popular sense of the word. The truth is, you’re ill. The illness is in your head, and, contrary to what you may suspect, you’re not making it up to gain attention and status. You’re not inventing problems for yourself, regardless of what that voice in your head may tell you. Yes, you do make it worse for yourself at times, you do over-analyse situations and get yourself into emotional states you can’t control, but that doesn’t make you any less of a person.

Now, look at this photo.

I know that by posting this, I’m giving a lot away about myself; where I come from, where I went to school. I wanted to remain entirely anonymous on this blog, but perhaps honesty is more important sometimes. I know that, if you saw this photo, you would begin to sweat and shake. You would probably cry. Your heart would race, and you would have the urge to harm yourself in some way. I remember how it felt every time you heard the lyric “go to school” in that Sheryl Crow song, how you had to fast-forward past that bit. I promise that one day, it won’t hurt. I promise that one day you will be walking past the school, and feel nothing.

 

When you look in the mirror, you see somebody who will never be loved. You will never quite understand what exactly makes this fact; whether it’s the mass of curly, unruly, tangled ginger hair, or the rolls of fat which make sitting down so uncomfortable, or simply your face, which you never felt comfortable with. You were never one of the pretty girls. Your body shape meant you would never have delicate shoulders or slim hips. You know you will never be a tall, skinny blonde.

I chose to write to you when you were twelve years old because I know that’s when everything started. Not the bullying; that came earlier. The reactions and the overreactions though; that starts now, doesn’t it? It’s the age you realise just how little you have in common with your peers, the age when you start kicking back against the world in the only way you know how; by harming yourself, and, to an extent, harming those around you so nobody can get close enough to cause pain. The age where you become aware of yourself and your impact on the world. You’ve already been suffering from depression for a few years now; they call it juvenile depression, at least that’s what you were told. It sounded so trivial, didn’t it? ‘Juvenile’, as though it was childish. For a long time you didn’t believe that diagnosis. To you, it was all fantasy, all attention-seeking, it was all your fault.

My clearest memory of you is when you used to sneak out of the house in the early hours of the morning, just after dawn, to sit on the embankment near the water treatment plant down by the marshes. A short walk; but at the time, it felt like miles. Even in the middle of winter you would wear just a t-shirt and jeans, because the cold didn’t affect you the way it seemed to affect others. I suppose it was the extra weight you were carrying around; cold simply couldn’t penetrate your body. I remember you running down the slopes of the embankment, feeling the wind in your hair and on your face, running from everything and nothing, with nobody around to see you. It was the only time you felt free. Then, you would creep back into the house, flushed from the exercise and nervous about being caught. You left the door on the latch, so you could get back in; anybody could’ve walked into the house and it would’ve been all your fault. At the time, you simply didn’t care. You needed space, fresh air, solitude in the outdoors. You never did like being indoors for too long, and that hasn’t changed. You’re still prone to cabin fever.

Do you remember when the binge-eating started? I don’t; as much as I try, I can’t remember. I can only assume that because you started puberty early, it must have been around that time, as that’s when you started becoming aware of your body and, for the first time, was unhappy with what you saw. I can still remember the first time you realised you had body hair; the disgust you felt at discovering the soft, downy hair under your arms. Then came breasts, and the inevitable teasing because nobody else in school had them. After that came the first pale red spots in your underwear, followed by sudden cramps and what felt, at the time, like haemorrhaging. You didn’t tell anybody for a long time, you were too ashamed. Things are different now; the health problems you encountered over the years ensured that pretty much everybody ended up knowing every detail about your period. You even got to see your ovaries on a camera, which appealed to your sense of the grotesque (which we still share). But more about that later.

I remember your frustration when, at the age of five, you couldn’t eat what your friends ate. Being born with a severe lactose allergy felt like a curse. In primary school, you ate chocolate substitutes and endured gentle teasing for being different. It didn’t bother you much, but I think, deep down, it began rooting issues for you; food became a chore, rather than a pleasure. So when you were finally declared ‘cured’ at the age of seven, you indulged. I think any child would, but I know now that you have an incredibly addictive nature, and that food, for you, is the ultimate pleasure-giver. I know what it looks like down the side and underneath your bed; empty chocolate and sweet wrappers, whole multipacks of crisps secreted away, old yoghurt pots, bottles of Pepsi and milkshake. I know you feel ashamed by it, and that’s why you hide it, that’s why you can’t simply take those wrappers downstairs and put them in the bin, instead creating a mountain of past binges. I remember it all too well.

 

You haven’t yet been told by the blonde PE teacher that you’re fat. She hasn’t yet held up your skirt for the whole class to see, mocking your weight. It will happen soon, and when it does, I wish you would simply take it on the (double) chin and pass it off as a thoughtless comment, rather than let it torment you for years. I know I can’t change what happens to you, or your reactions to events, but if I could travel back and change one thing for you, it would be this. I wish I could tell you to laugh in her face or shout at her; anything but your real reaction of staring at your shoes on the hard gym floor, swallowing what little pride you had left and casting it down in the hope that the earth will open and let you fall; fall away from the comments and taunting, fall away from the word ‘fat’, so you never have to hear it. This, more than anything, broke you. I wish I could stop it, because I know just how much pain and misery it caused for years to come.

I also wish I could tell you not to listen when your sister (E) stands up from the dinner table at Christmas and announces she’s going to make herself sick because she’s eaten too much. I want to be able to crawl back through those years, hold you tight and block your ears against what she said. You took it to heart; you saw it as a cure for the fat which seems to destroy every part of your life. She didn’t mean it, and even if she did… it’s not the answer. Regardless of what you think, you won’t be one of the lucky ones who loses weight and stops.  You won’t be the one who gets away with no damage to your health. I know you feel invincible right now, but you’re not. Leaning over the toilet, running the taps on the sink to hide the noise of retching… it didn’t solve anything. It didn’t stop the bad feelings; it just magnified them. If you’d have known that, years later, you’d still be fighting the urge to vomit, would you still do it? If you knew how disgusted you’d end up feeling with yourself, yet unable to stop because it had become an addiction, the only crutch you could reliably lean on… would you find a better way of coping?

You wouldn’t, would you? Because you’re headstrong, stubborn, and desperate. In that sense, we’re still exactly the same.

You may be asking yourself why I’m writing this letter from the same bedroom you sit in right now. You may wonder if your worst fears have come true, and you’ve never managed to move on from your insulated, bubble-wrap life. I feel I should apologise at this point, because I let you down. I should have been a stronger adult, I should have gained control over my life instead of spending my late teens and twenties punishing myself and hiding from the world. I should have stayed awake instead of falling so easily into sleep as a method of coping, I should have lived my life for you.

When I began writing this, it was the result of a half-asleep talk I had with myself. Yes, I still do that. I’ve been cruel to myself lately; allowing myself to wallow in self-created misery and sinking back into the old ways of coping. Right now, I have an infected burn, just above my navel. I tried not to; I know it’s the wrong way of doing things and solves nothing, but sometimes the temptation is too difficult to avoid. I used a lighter to heat up a pair of nail scissors, and chose to scar myself there because, apart from S (my boyfriend), nobody will see it. Again, I let you down. I know that you don’t currently see any reason to stop harming yourself, but that feeling doesn’t last forever. Eventually, you will want to get better, you will want to kick that demon aside and find healthier ways of coping, but it’s so, so difficult. I can’t help but think that I’m too old for this behaviour now, but if it were easy to stop, I would’ve long ago.
That talk I had with myself… I started speaking to you. Just in my head; I’m not entirely crazy, at least I don’t think so. Perhaps I am; perhaps I’m so off my box that I don’t make any sense, perhaps I’m writing this from a padded cell somewhere and I’m just convincing myself I’m living this half-life I’m stuck in

.

When I spoke to you (obviously, you didn’t answer back, that would just be silly), I realised just how different we are, and I began to wonder how I would’ve felt if my twenty-something self could go back and tell you these things. It was supposed to be a short letter, but the more I thought and wrote, the more I realised that I owe you everything. I could turn this into a novel, and I suspect we still wouldn’t cover all the ground between us, but I want to try.

Why?

For my own peace of mind. For therapy. For all the ways I failed you.

 

You dream of romance; of being loved and loving somebody back. Only, you don’t speak of this desire because it seems ridiculous. Who would ever love you? A recluse with bad skin and bad social skills; how could anybody give up their time to be with you? How could anybody bear to touch you, when all you see in the mirror is an overweight, pale, galumphing teacher’s pet with frizzy ginger hair and bad teeth? Of course nobody could love you, you reason with yourself. And so, you swear – almost unconsciously – to never let anybody close enough.

If you protect yourself, you won’t get hurt. If you make sure nobody ever gets close to you, you will never have to feel that rejection, you’ll never have to relive the humiliation of the day a boy from school asked you out and stood you up. You’ll never have to face the laughter from others when they ask, incredulously, why you ever thought it was anything other than a joke on your behalf.

Yet, for all your attempts, boys and, later, men… they did love you. Or something like love.

It’s hard to imagine now, but you’ll lose your virginity much younger than some of your peers. You will find yourself in a council house at the age of fifteen, watching an older man move on top of you, and you will feel nothing. You will note the absence of pain. Afterwards, you will stand in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to look for a sign of maturity on your face, but all you will see is smudged eyeliner and a scared look staring back at you. You felt the condom break, you heard his muffled swearing as he threw it aside and carried on regardless. It doesn’t bother you as much as you thought it might; you don’t feel real.

As you travel to the women’s hospital at 11pm (way past your curfew, and in a city more than twenty miles away from home), you try to feel like an adult. You attempt to convince yourself that this is it; your childhood is over, and you’re a grown-up now. Yet, you still feel like a girl. A scared, unimpressed girl, more worried about the argument you’ll undoubtedly face when you finally get home than any chance of pregnancy, infection or what you’ve just allowed a prematurely balding twenty-three year old to do to you.

In the hospital, you sit in the toilet as your boyfriend asks for the morning after pill. Again, you look in the mirror, and still nothing has changed. The Tia Maria you drank earlier is making you nostalgic, and you look down at your legs, at the ripped stockings (seriously, who were you trying to impress?) and black painted toenails, and all you want is to curl up and go to sleep. It’s not that you didn’t want it to happen, because you did. You’re just disappointed that it wasn’t like it is in the movies. The earth didn’t move. You loved him (or so you thought) but nothing seemed to change once you were no longer a virgin. It simply wasn’t the big deal it’s always been made out to be.

 

 

I know this will come as a disappointment to you. You’re just discovering sex, really. You haven’t kissed anybody yet, let alone let them touch you. You haven’t had a boyfriend unless you count the boy in primary school who gave you a jelly sweet ring, asked to marry you and who you dumped a few weeks later because he wiped his nose on his sleeve in front of you. Sex and the opposite sex are a mystery to you, and you know what? I wish you could’ve held onto that innocence a little longer. Once you discover the reality, that storybook romance you dream about seems childish and overly hopeful. It simply doesn’t work that way. Not for a long time, anyway.

But let’s go back to the beginning, when you decided that nobody would be able to touch you.

It started as a diet. Just a normal, everyday low-calorie diet. After all, you could stand to lose some weight, even I can acknowledge that. I can’t remember what prompted it; whether you made the choice to lose weight or if a comment pushed you over the edge. I do remember how pleased you were when you stepped on the scales and found you had lost a couple of pounds. It seemed easy, easier than you imagined. Everybody seemed to be doing it; weight loss was the in-thing. You’d left school by this point, and so sat at home flicking through your mother’s magazines, picking up diet tips and learning the best way to get a flat stomach. After a few more months, people were starting to comment on how much better you looked, and it fuelled a compulsion to gain approval. You soon learned that losing weight gained you respect, gave you something to talk about, and, in your mind, gave you a reason to exist. Self-harming wasn’t gaining you any fans; you needed a new way of showing the world you were worth something.

And so weight loss became your obsession.

It probably sounds funny now. That the world’s best binge-eater would become a master dieter. Only, it stopped being funny after a while. It stopped being a diet.

I’ll never be able to tell you when the diet became anorexia.

In fact it’s difficult for me to piece events together during this time because you experienced memory loss from the age of thirteen to fifteen. You didn’t lose everything, and there was never any real explanation for it other than some form of post-traumatic stress, but you lost a few key details, and a lot of minor memories. I still struggle to picture those years with any real clarity, although things are starting to slowly come back as I get older.

All I know is that anorexia came first, then, when you weren’t losing enough weight, bulimia tagged along. Bulimia was never as attractive to you; it didn’t have the same sense of control as starving did, it was messy and difficult to hide. Curiously, it seemed to almost cure your phobia of vomiting though; forced purges felt far less terrifying than being so totally out of control, and you quickly discovered that, if you felt nauseous, sticking two fingers down your throat solved the worry of whether you’d actually be sick or not.

As eerily sensible as you could seem, some attitudes you displayed were so far beyond your personality, it was as though you became a totally different person through eating disorders. You began to prize the appearance of hip bones and admired the protruding collar bones of other women. You learned how to angle your shoulders to best display the bone structure you created, you learned how to use makeup to angle your cheekbones further, creating a hollow-faced look you were so, so proud of. As the weight continued to drop, you learned tricks to stop the feeling of hunger; cotton wool balls soaked in water, when swallowed, would make you feel full. You chewed gum constantly to fool your body into thinking you were eating. Fizzy water was more filling than still water, but the bloating it created made you uncomfortable. Without access to the internet, you had to pick these tricks up from overheard conversations, television programmes (you learned the cotton wool trick from Eastenders), and pure guesswork. Twice-weekly trips to the electronic scales in Boots showed that you were losing on average 5 to 7lbs a week at the height of anorexia, yet you still felt it wasn’t enough, and you always felt like a faker. You suspected you were just pretending; trying to be anorexic. You were still a fat girl; you couldn’t see the extremes you were taking yourself to, was entirely deaf to the worries of others and endless speeches on sensible eating. The threats of being sent to hospital went entirely over your head because, to you, it wasn’t a real problem. If anything, it was a solution.

You went from being a shy, probably quite sweet child to an angry, sniping teenager without a good word to say about anybody or anything. Hunger made you irritable and tired, and the slightest thing would set you off into an uncontrollable rage. Once, you screamed at your mother in Marks and Spencer because she caught you checking the calories in a ready-meal. She was only trying to curb your behaviour, make you see sense, but you shouted, screamed, kicked and, eventually, ran.

You did a lot of running away.

You’re still running away.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Every day life

 

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