The fight never seems to end

Life is good. It is also equally bad. It’s strange to feel this way; things have always tended towards the negative, and so far my life has mostly been 95% bad, 5% good… and it hasn’t been rare to be trapped in a cycle of 0% good, unable to see anything positive either in the present or the future. Heck, there’s been a ridiculous number of times when I couldn’t even see a future.

The fibro flare is lifting, and I’ve been able to function pretty well today. Getting up at two pm wasn’t exactly the plan – I wanted to get up with S when he goes to work at eight am – but otherwise I achieved a few minor things. Washed up. Tidied a little. Swept the kitchen floor and emptied the bathroom bin. Had a shower, washed and dried my hair. I’m trying; as much as I find it difficult to see any real hope for the future at the moment, I am making a small effort to do the normal everyday things and occasionally interact with people other than S and my mother. Socialising has… become an issue. I’ve been wobbling with trust issues for months now, and I’m finding it incredibly difficult to allow myself to even speak to other people face-to-face. Every time I open my mouth, or type something online… I’m questioning whether I’ve said too much, given somebody ammunition. Logically, I know that mistrust is pretty unfounded, but since when did logic feature in my mind?

paranoid

www.techwench.com

It’s strange. I know my fears are unfounded, yet I can’t help feeling persecuted in some way. My awareness of what’s BPD and what’s me is becoming more clear, and I can see the profound differences between my normal personality and the borderline part of who I am. Although I know these feelings are entirely caused by BPD, there’s still part of my mind which refuses to let me look at the situation rationally and comfort myself. I no longer fly into uncontrollable panics over absolutely nothing, but I know those freak-outs are just sitting under the surface, and sometimes they feel so horribly close that I can’t bear it. I’ve let them creep in lately; convincing myself that S will leave, that I’ll do or say something stupid, that I’m not pretty enough or thin enough to have such a wonderful boyfriend. That people are whispering behind my back. Hating me for reasons I can’t quite pinpoint.

I’m taking my medication, but I’m not convinced it’s working that well; although Cipralex had problems towards the end, Duloxetine just doesn’t seem to have that ability to take away all the nasty things I can’t cope with.

pills pills-3734b1
simplysara.me

I suppose I just feel frustrated now. I’ve come so far, and there are still hurdles. I was once naive enough to think that life would get easier one day but now I wonder if that’s just a myth; if the whole thing isn’t a lie.

I mean, I’m happy. I am. For the first time in my entire life I can say I’m genuinely happy. I just don’t like knowing the fight never seems to end.

______

I confess

The drugs just aren’t doing it for me,
chemical sleep has lost its appeal
and I confess, I considered tonight
that it might be easier just not to feel.

To slip away, to take a bow,
Admit defeat and fall from my grace
and would you miss me, would you notice;
how long would it take to forget my face?

You forgot me once, you can do it again,
after all, this is only a release
breaking free from the prison we built together
in the hope, of maybe, one night of peace.

I confess, this is serious,
and if I had the strength I would leave tonight
I wish I was brave, that I wouldn’t miss you
that this time I could really give up the fight.

An empty bottle in front of me,
and pills I know I’ll never take
just further proof of my personal failings
evidence of the depression I could never shake.

Another scar to my collection,
a canvas I paint to remind me of you
to prove this reality was never a nightmare
but a waking hell, which I’m still going through.

I confess, it would be so easy,
Just a slip of the hand, just one step too far
but I’m not brave, I feel too afraid
to let myself go, to reopen these scars.

Yet I fantasise of how easy it would be,
for you to live your life without me there
I confess I think of setting you free
sometimes it’s the only way that ever seems fair.

If I left today, would you notice?
Would you realise, I did this for you?
If I slipped away past an exit sign,
would you see it as failure, or something I needed to do?

I try to remember every word you ever said,
the times you loved me, the times you were sweet
I confess, I want to forget
to make this easier for me to leave.

But how can I go when you hold me like that;
when you whisper so quietly only I can hear?
I confess, you keep me from dying,
from collapsing under the weight of my fears.

(c)

“Suicide” is a word I don’t like typing. It’s such a final solution, and the word itself makes me feel uncomfortable about the actions I’ve taken in the past. I may occasionally mention my flirts with causing my own death, but I try not to go into much detail because, in truth, I’m ashamed.

I’m ashamed to know I even tried, mostly over such trivial things. New colleges and threats of break-ups. Arguments with my mother. They seem such petty reasons but back then I couldn’t judge whether an incident was serious or minor, and everything felt like a horrific attack on everything I am. The panic and psychosis (for there was psychosis; hallucinations and imagined conversations) drove me into a ball of fear and confusion and, somehow, I decided that suicide was the only logical answer to a world of horror. 

Last week, a man lay down on the train tracks between my house and Z’s, and killed himself. I heard the sirens and saw sketchy details appear on Facebook, but I still can’t let myself accept that somebody was in so much torment that they felt the only way to solve it was to climb over the barriers as traffic waited at the crossing, and wait for the train to hit; somebody just a couple of roads away from where I was sitting was going through something most people never – thankfully – have to experience.

I find myself wondering what he was like; why he felt he had to take that step, and do something so damn final. I wish I’d had the chance to know him, somehow.

This is yesterday

I’ve been trying to write a post for the past week or so, with no success. Many have been written in my head – as I’m tossing and turning in bed next to S, trying to sleep through another fibro flare – but when it comes to making myself sit down at the little Ikea table in the kitchen and get those thought out onto the screen, I just can’t do it. So much has changed recently, and my mind is in a constant state of bemused flux; after years – decades- of absolutely everything being out of my control it’s near-on impossible to get my head around it all. I expected it to be difficult, but I don’t think this level of confusion was anything predictable. The excitement of finally standing up on my own feet masked it all for a little while, but now that things are settling a little and a routine of sorts is being established, those little niggles and worries are seeping back. Minor issues. Small things. Nothing important, and nothing which can stop the happiness I still feel at finally being free, but enough to remind me that I can make as many changes as I want and fight as hard as I can but it’ll never be easy.

Which is why I’m taking yet another big step and – against every fiber of my being – have made an appointment to see a new psychiatrist, almost two years after my last very brief foray back into the mental health system.
Like everything, I did mean to write something about that decision last week, and it was briefly mentioned in reply to a couple of comments on my last post, but – again, like everything else – I’ve been putting it off. I’ve always been open of my mistrust surrounding the UK mental health system; past experience has taught me nothing to convince me it’s worth feeling otherwise. While going back on the staunchest of decisions and beliefs is a classic symptom of BPD, I’m pretty convinced that isn’t the case this time. I sat on the decision for months, considering the options available and finally coming to the conclusion that if I want this to last – this normality I’ve found – I can’t go it alone, and although S is beyond wonderful and living together has boosted my self-esteem a lot, there’s still only so much I can speak to him about. I trust him implicitly  but I’ve spent enough of my life being a burden on others and I’m constantly aware that I can’t spend our relationship putting pressure on S to care for me.

The appointment isn’t just about that, though. It’s about everything. Every last little thing since that day in early puberty when something snapped inside my mind.

Over the years, all the things I’ve experienced have fragmented into a thousand threads of craziness. All match yet… don’t quite fit together. The ends are frayed and loose, tangled around each other in a huge knot of confusion. For a long time it was easy to accept that would never change and I would spend my whole life walking around with voices in my head and the inability to stick with anything worthwhile without sabotaging it. Comfort – even terrifying comfort – can be hard to leave behind. I’ve made so many mistakes; walked away from hundreds of chances to better my life, slept around in the vain hope of finding somebody who took all the pain away, thrown pills down my throat just so I wouldn’t have to feel, denied myself even life’s very simplest pleasures for no discernible reason at all. I’ve walked away from treatment. Fought against everybody who tried to help, convinced they were all part of the problem and could never be the solution.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make; not in the least. I’ve been in and out of the mental health system – more in than out, especially in my teens – more times than I care to count, and so far there’s been very little positive gleaned from the experience. My mother, she calls it damage. She says she sees the damage years of questions and let-downs and tablets and therapy has caused; can see it in my face. In my eyes. In the way I react whenever the system is mentioned.

In truth, it scares me. The thought of sitting on yet another cheap NHS-issue chair opposite a psychiatrist who knows nothing of the more subtle details… it’s terrifying. I’ve come so far, and I’m painfully aware that the slightest thing can bring my world crashing down like it always has before. Despite appearances I’ve never been strong – not in the least – and yet another failure is something I simply can’t afford anymore. Life now… I know I keep saying it, but it’s changed and I confess to being tired of change. As wonderful as everything is living with S, I want to stay here for a while. In this place. Where everything makes sense for once. I don’t want to make big plans, or look too far into the future. I just want this. Now. Here. Safety.

Yet, change has to happen.

I’m stubborn; and I’m still not quite ready to give into the crazy.

Alcohol and Tramadol

Washing ashes down the sink,
as though it would always be so easy
to wash away memories of you
and everything you meant to me.
Finding all the lovesick notes,
crumpled and faded under your bed
- at least, I imagine all the words I wrote
now mean as much to you as the words I said.

Words like “I love you”, I know mean little to you now
soulmates no longer, or that’s how it seems
all the carefully constructed speeches and promises
now lie strewn around us, torn apart at the seams,
and the one thing you never considered
was that I could be hurting as much as you
that I could be regretting every last moment
I could be hating myself for everything I put you through.

Hurting myself to forget the pain,
and pills to help me sleep at night
how could you believe that I knew it would happen;
and that this was something I thought was right?
Alcohol and Tramadol,
quick fixes which never seem to last
uneasy sleep and confused dreams,
and morning always comes too fast.

I slide further downwards and I don’t want to stop,
this is all I believe I ever deserved,
bittersweet lullabies and a twist in the tale
how can you say that I never cared?
Three weeks by the window,
three weeks on the floor,
21 days in the corner,
1260 minutes by the door.

Waiting impatiently for your call,
knowing I could mean so little to you
compared to my feelings, which never changed
despite everything we put each other through.
Despite it all, I still reach out,
I still never felt safer than I do by your side
I still think of you last thing at night
I still want you, and only you, to be mine.

Washing my hands but I’ll never come clean,
I’ll always be stained by all that I did
it was never as easy as you’d like to think
I always told you the truth, more than I hid.
Lovesick letters, secreted in books,
where you’ll never see my weakness for you
I kept the letters, the pictures, all the photographs
despite everything we put each other though.

(c) 2008

2008 was the year of poetry. Clichéd late-night ramblings fueled by painkillers and cheap bottles of red wine. Cigarette burns on the PVC bedroom window frame and knocking myself out with tranquilisers to hide from the inevitable breakdown. Things with O were coming to an end and his habit of breaking up with me then coaxing me back into bed – speaking of how he couldn’t live without me – confused everything to the point where I fell apart entirely. Poetry was the only way I could stay in reality. 

I cheated on him; slept with a 45 year old man. He cheated on me; throwing himself at a nineteen year old. Everything was messed up. We never recovered. 

I’m glad. 

I have S now.

In which my faith in the NHS is restored

I’ve just returned from an appointment with my GP. I’ve been putting it off for a month, knowing I need to speak to him about the referral and diagnosis from Dr. B and the pain of the tendonitis (it’s much, much worse; physio have given me shoe supports and it looks like it may never heal properly because it’s been inflamed and damaged for so long), along with the continued eczema saga. I just hate going to my GP. He’s lovely – a really good, kind doctor – but I feel awful for frequenting his office so often. I sometimes worry I’m making a career out of hassling the NHS for help.

In the waiting room, I forgot entirely what I wanted to say. I sat with my mother, wishing I’d done what she always advises and written everything down. My memory is terrible at the moment, what with the combination of broken sleep, pain, strong dope and general apathy. I supppose I just react badly to advice; I have no idea why. Is that a BPD thing?

The good thing about my GP is that he makes me feel at ease; a rarity when it comes to doctors. I’m naturally wary of anybody in authority (having been let down so many times) that I usually panic and keep my mouth shut throughout the appointment, agreeing with everything the doctors say. I managed to explain that the tendonitis and eczema have been keeping me awake and affecting everyday life – I have to walk with a stick pretty much all the time now – and he nodded as though he actually understood what I was saying. Do you have any idea how rare that is for me? Usually doctors just sigh and tell me that pain can be managed.

He let me read the letter Dr. B sent after my appointment. Again, I was taken seriously; I don’t know why the tables have turned, but I’m not going to question it. After years of being passed up, it finally feels like my voice is being heard. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Dr. B recommended I be put on Lyrica for the nerve pain from both fibro and arthritis. I knew there was a chance I’d get it, but it’s so rarely given in the UK for pain so I knew it’d be a 50/50 chance. It’s also expensive, and we all know how wary doctors are of giving expensive drugs out to patients. I’ve been given so many cheap, generic drugs; and I don’t care what anybody says, they are different.

I’m starting out on 200mg a day. I’ve also been given Celebrex again and a different steroid for the eczema. I saw a dermatologist on Tuesday, and they’ve put me on a high dose of antibiotics to try and control the constant infections from the broken skin. In all, I’m taking eleven pills a day now.

In all, I’m happy with this. Nobody likes swallowing handfuls of pills, but I have hopes for Lyrica, and as long as the Celebrex doesn’t give me a stomach ulcer again, I’m quite willing to stay on it, if it helps the pain. There’s only so much pain one person can take.

So, perhaps things are looking up.

Hormones and depression

“You think that the only truth that matters is that truth can be measured. Good intentions don’t count. What’s in your heart doesn’t count. Caring doesn’t count. But a man’s life can be measured by how many tears are shed when he dies. Just because you can’t measure them, just because you don’t wanna measure them, doesn’t mean it’s not real. And even if I’m wrong, you’re still miserable. Did you really think that your life’s purpose was to sacrifice yourself and get nothing in return? No…you believe that there is no purpose, to anything, even the lives you save you dismiss. You turn the one decent thing in your life and you taint it, strip it of all meaning. You’re miserable for nothing…I don’t know why you’d wanna live.”

- House, M.D

Sometimes, life throws me a curveball. A ball which curves so much that I miss it entirely and let it sail past my head without realising how much I really need to grab onto it, for my own sanity.

Today’s curveball was as simple as getting my period. Something I can’t control other than the usual pack of pills to stop me getting pregnant and give me a false bleed once a month.

I temporarily sunk. Only for a short time, but a short time feels like a lifetime when you’re feeling despair for no good reason. All because of some hormones flinging themselves around my body, just like they do for every other woman.

It’s frustrating to know that even if I kick depression’s arse, hormones will take control once a month. I’ve spent the day alternating between screaming at my mother over nothing and wanting to drink myself into oblivion, is that normal? I spent time staring at my walking stick, wondering if I’ll ever be brave enough to use it, and if I’ll ever need to use it every day. It was difficult getting out of bed today, it was even more difficult to reply to comments and I really, really don’t want to be writing this. I want to sleep and forget. However, I promised myself that I would write my moods down.

I should be happy, and that’s why I’m angry enough to punch a small kitten. Before depression comes anger, and I don’t want to slip into that darkness again. S stayed over at my house at the weekend. My mother was visiting my sister in Yorkshire, and her paranoia about having the house broken in to means I had to look after the place while she was away. From Friday to Sunday night, S and I spent our time wrapped up in each other – physically and emotionally – and it was amazing. We squeezed into my little single bed and slept with our legs and arms tangled together, occasionally waking and smiling at each other.

I should be happy. Instead, I want to hide away.

Stupid hormones. It’s not fair.

 

Crazy English Summer, Part Three

 

crazyenglishsummerPart One / Part Two

I don’t know how long I stayed in the unit the second time. Days turned into weeks, and my brain slowly became mush from the boring daily routines and therapy. Twice a week, we would all be taken into a big hall and be made to do trust exercises – catching each other, that sort of thing – and I hated every moment. I was crazy, not five years old. I didn’t see how running under a big plastic sheet would magically cure my bulimia and general madness. One time, I found myself talking to an empty chair, like the plastic ones we used in school; the patients were encouraged to sit opposite a chair and pretend somebody who’d hurt us was sitting in it. We were supposed to tell them why they’d caused us pain, but all I achieved from the exercise was feeling like an utter twat. I chose to ‘speak’ to a girl who’d been one of my best friends all through primary school and into secondary, who’d done a runner as soon as I started losing my marbles. I told her that she shouldn’t have given up on me, and that I needed friends. The member of staff overseeing it all said I’d done a good job. Again, I didn’t see how it could possibly help. It didn’t. My heart wasn’t in it.

In fact, I had absolutely no desire to get better; I didn’t think there was much wrong with me or my behaviour. The horse had been led to water, but there was no way I was going to drink; I felt a great injustice at being locked away in some sort of crazy place when all I was doing was struggling a bit with teenage angst.

Evenings were the worst times. The staff gave all the patients a rota for making tea, toast and cereal. I felt enormously guilty when it was my turn; Victoria would chew silently on a piece of buttered toast, tears running down her face, threatened with hospital if she didn’t eat it. Sometimes it took her two hours. We were also expected to do our own laundry, which soon became my nemesis. I avoided it, terrified of breaking the machine or somehow doing it wrong. I wasn’t domestic in the least, and had never used the machine at home. The staff assumed I’d know how to work a washing machine. I never asked; I was too shy.

Oe night, after midnight observation, we heard shouting and door slamming. We peeked our heads out of the door to see Rachel being dragged out. The staff told us to go back to bed, and that she had ‘hurt herself’; we knew what they meant, and so when she came back the next day with a massive bandage on her arm, we weren’t surprised. Again, she’d used a hook to gouge at herself.

It was easy to self-harm, binge and vomit in PL. Although there were regular observations and checks, there were plenty of hiding places. I kept a package of broken razors in the cheap MDF drawers next to my cheap, MDF bed. Carla broke a mirror to cut herself with. We took it in turns to throw up, one listening out for staff while the other tried to get it over with as quickly as possible. We’d troop to the Safeway down the road once a week and stock up on binge-foods, Although it was supposed to be a closed unit (apart from short trips in groups once we were considered ‘safe’ enough. It only took me a couple of weeks to be allowed outside) the door was often left unlocked and staff rarely checked the signing in/out board in the cramped hallway.

One night, one of the patients (Richard; ADHD) went missing. He was soon brought back, and spent the night in an isolation room.

I was never isolated; I was nearly always on my best behaviour. I was still in thrall of authority and was afraid to truly freak out in front of the staff, which proves I wasn’t sick enough to be there. To me, at least. Having my freedom removed was killing me; I’d dream of being at home and cry at night when Carla and Victoria were asleep. I hated showing any form of weakness – the other patients called me mum – and I felt I needed to be strong for everybody else. They seem to be suffering far more than I was.

The psychiatric staff were struggling with my diagnosis. When I was admitted, it was with the belief that I had schizophrenia. I had been hearing voices and had become increasingly paranoid, suspicious of everyone and convinced that they could hear all my thoughts. I’d turn photographs around because I believed they could see me, and dressed under the covers in case there were hidden cameras in my bedroom. At the time, those thoughts seemed perfectly rational, and I’ve never spoken of those delusions before. I’ve been ashamed of them; they’re embarassing.

However, I was believed to be “too rational” to have schizophrenia, and too able to control my temper when I was in company. In fact, by the time I left PL I had been given an entirely clean bill of mental health; I was sane. Nothing wrong with me but the fact that I was fourteen and shy.

Most days were pretty quiet in PL; nothing like mental health units in films. There was the occasional outburst or brief spell of violence, but most of us were too drugged to kick up a fuss. There was only one violent patient – Chris – a tall, wide-shouldered, acne-ridden nose-picking guy with a tendancy to stare at my tits and shout “FUCK!” whenever he thought he could get away with it. He smoked in the courtyard when staff allowed him to, and once I passed him in the hallway. He grabbed my chest and laughed. I never said anything, but refused to sit near him in therapy. Chris would wander into the girl’s rooms, but staff soon shooed him out. I don’t think he’d have done anything; despite his obvious problems he didn’t seem like a rapist. Heck, maybe I should have mentioned it. I just didn’t think anyone would care. One thing I learned in life is that nobody believes crazy teenage girls.

Despite feeling more comfortable being in PL than I did the first time around, I still contested my need to stay there. Needing control has always been my biggest coping mechanism, and you have no control in a mental illness unit. You’re watched; eating, showering, when you’re sitting in front of the TV. You’re forced to play childish games to ‘build trust’ and swallow the pills they give you. If a member of staff says jump, you ask “how high?”, because these people, these so-called professionals, have complete control over your life. We had to sit through a talk on safe sex and, god forbid, how babies were made. Carla managed a sardonic laugh at this. Having been abused by her father since she was six months old, she didn’t feel she needed the biological side of sex explaining to her. I was still a virgin (that would change the next year) but I knew how babies were made, and I didn’t need to be sitting in a cold room, under stark flourescent lights, putting a condom on a banana. I wasn’t a child. If fourteen year olds know anything, they know how babies are made. It’s all they think about, after all.

Then again, Chris sometimes masturbated in the day room, so perhaps it was required listening for some of us.

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

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.