Sobriety is both painfully lonely, and a beautiful gift. Most days I don’t know what I miss more; the being able to drink at parties or events where there’s alcohol and feeling the life bursting out of me for a few hours; the ridiculousness of my humour and endless laughing when I would feel myself letting my defence layers down, or the bliss of being someone else for a while. But I’ll tell you what I don’t miss. I don’t miss the week of shakes and nausea I had after a solid week of binge drinking each night. I don’t miss being so reckless with certain people that I’d wake up with a stomach flip of embarrassment. I don’t miss the wave of sadness when I start to sober up and the alcohol begins to depress my mood, and the awful feeling of unravelling internally. And I don’t miss the bittersweet feeling of knowing how good drinking felt and that it was the only thing I looked forward to, and how the glasses of wine were filling the bits of me that were broken and hurt, not really soothing them, but adding fuel to the fire inside. Sobriety is lonely too. Knowing the drunk phonecalls and the chats I used to have are not the same. It’s embarrassing. Knowing that everyone knows why you don’t drink anymore, and having to tell people ‘oh no I don’t drink… personal choice’ rather than ‘yeah I abuse alcohol and substances and I’m a binge drinker’. Knowing I can never go back. A drink in my hand is a red flag to all my friends and a dirty secret on my own if I ever give in. But as I said. It is also a gift. One that few people ever get the chance to have. Having substance abuse issues is an experience that ties people together with understand. And shows the strength of not listening to that fucking parasite in your mind every time it sees a bottle. I’ve fucked up with drinking numerous times since I stopped drinking earlier this year, and a few of them have been within the past month. It’s okay. Each drink I have out of pain is a chance to show that I can rise again.
You need to stay alive. (tw this is going to be a deep, but positive one about being suicidal). You are loved even if you don’t feel like it. There are people you haven’t even met yet that will love you and be loved by you. It is not a lie when we say ending your life is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And by that I mean, no matter how bad you feel now, or how hard your life feels- it will change. Life is dynamic. It is not fixed and there is so much joy ahead of you. A nurse told me the other day about a person she’d known in her personal life who had done something to take their own life. It was not instant, it was a slow process. In that time they watched their family breakdown and they realised how much of a mistake they had made. They saw everything they had to live for in such clarity all of a sudden. Filled with regret over a situation that was unchangeable now. When I’m feeling like I want to be astral projected into the sun in my worst moments, I have to remind myself of all the times I have talked to my friends who were suicidal, to people I don’t even know on the internet who have been in so much pain. I picture the words I’ve said to them, and I hear them all being spoken to me. Suicide is not a backup plan for when things get hard, and for me it has been just that, like a glowing exit sign in my head. The situation you find yourself in can, no, WILL change. Life is so precious in the best moments, and so vivid in its worst. But as I said, it’s dynamic. With every night there is day. Don’t forget that ☀️.
Okay, so, I have absolutely no idea where to begin.
Hi, my name is Emma, and for the past 6 years I have been recovering from chronic anorexia nervosa. I say recovering, what I mean is I’ve recovered and then relapsed, and then recovered and then relapsed, and yep then I relapsed again (hopefully for the final time) and that leads me to where I am today; I am in Strong Recovery.
I make a whole song and dance about classing myself as being in ‘Strong Recovery’ but it’s actually really important to me. For a long time, I was terrified of being recovered from anorexia. It was the main part of me for my teenage years, actually, instead of me being a normal teenager growing and learning, I felt trapped in time. I was very poorly, malnourished and weak for much of these years and I always felt like the embodiment of anorexia, one that went by the name Emma. But for so long I never wanted to let go of anorexia. I never knew how to survive without it, as much as being ‘in’ it was torture, it felt better than being in a world that I could barely stand, a world that I felt utterly powerless in. Now, I am the most ‘recovered’ I’ve ever been. But I will probably never call myself ‘fully recovered’. Not because I still have anorexia within me like some kind of foreign organ or a parasite. But because anorexia has greatly changed me, and to call myself recovered would be to say I am the same person I was before I got sick. I am not. Through all the pain this illness has dragged me through, I am now colourful, articulate, passionate, deeply caring and empathetic, and wise. Anorexia has changed me, but now that I’ve freed myself from its grip, I can firmly say it’s for the better.
But there are a whole 6 years before that. Before I get into the events that began this descent into anorexia, I would like you to note that I will not be sharing numbers (weight, BMI etc.) and I will not be sharing any details of hospital admissions during the past six years. Why? Well, I know these numbers are completely insignificant to the severity and recovery of an individual with an eating disorder. By disclosing these facts, I would be fuelling the fire of eating disorders that compete and become bullies to the sufferer. The same goes for hospital admissions. I don’t want to support the competitive culture we live in where people will only listen and hear the suffering of the most ‘severe’ cases of an eating disorder. Who are we to say that one case of an eating disorder is more severe than another? And why do these numbers that we obsess over dictate the perception of how ‘severe’ or valid an eating disorder is? Someone who suffers with an ED and has never been medically underweight or in hospital for it is just as valid as someone who has.
One thing that stands out to me about my journey and recovery from anorexia, is the way I never, as much as you may assume or professionals may try to make me say, thought I was fat or overweight. Like some, I never began losing weight or restricting my eating because I thought I needed to. In fact, I think it may have been because I knew I didn’t need to that made it so appealing to me. Self destruction was something I would become obsessed with to make myself feel good and manage my emotions. And even though I wasn’t purely starving myself for 6 years, it dominated my life, self destruction would also come in many other forms, such as self harming, poisoning, isolation and later on, alcohol abuse and reckless sex. But I won’t blanket over my developing of anorexia as just being a way of self destruction. I was obsessed with losing weight and becoming deathly thin, it was a way to allow me to fixate on something, and losing weight became some kind of sick way to see how far I could push my body. As I said earlier, I did feel very powerless and scared in the world, especially in my childhood and up to the age of 13. As saddening as this is for me to admit to, I wanted to be in control of the pain that I felt as a young person, and this meant losing weight to numb and manage my intense emotions. All of these reasons made me very vulnerable to the force of anorexia.
I will never 100% agree with the idea that anorexia is caused by pressure from social media and popular culture to be thin and to conform to the body standards our society seems to bow down to. I think it can add to the pressure of many young minds to fit in and feel adequate. But do not be mistaken, all eating disorders are very complex and I personally feel it would be doing an injustice to ignore the deep emotional turmoil and difficult life circumstances that can lead to an eating disorder. I believe both genetics and environmental circumstances can lead to anorexia developing, and in my case, I know that from a very young age I was painfully shy and worrisome, and sometimes unhappy.
From around the age of 12 I had a shift in my mindset, I knew that I wanted to start losing weight, but I cannot pinpoint the exact trigger that caused this. Although, I remember around my first month into these behaviours, reading Cathy Cassidy’s book Summer’s Dream in which the main character develops an ED, and this first introduced me to eating disorders. I realised, these thoughts that had plagued my mind actually had a name. From then on till spring/summer of 2014 (when I was 13) I had these thoughts in my head and it was only then when I started to feel very depressed, have panic attacks and started self harming that I went to the school nurse. I was referred to CAMHS at the end of June, but by this point I was barely eating, stuck in a relentless routine of hiding food which I was expected to eat on my own and I had become physically very unwell. At this time, one night stands out to me, when my dad found a bag of uneaten food I had been keeping under my bed from each time I pretended to eat my dinner, the same night I would see my dad cry for the first time. I think he could see he was losing me. I don’t remember much about my referral and CAMHS experience when I was 13/14, all I know is I was diagnosed with anorexia amongst other things and I gained some weight very slowly. A lot of the focus at this time was on the way my family problems affected me. An unstable home life with a lot of tension and unhappiness, strengthened my reliance on the illness, and I felt I needed it for stability.
In November 2014, after some therapy and support, I seemed to want rid of all professional help and be allowed to have some time away from services. At the time I did feel more positive, but looking back it was a bit *too* happy and an early example of these riptides of moods that would be sprinkled like seasons in my life. So, I decided I didn’t want any support (yep, pretty sure that was self-destructive Emma talking) and continued with school. My GCSE studies followed and my eating disorder was still very much thinking for me, and I just could not shift the thoughts about food and weight. Around May-July of year 11 things started to go wrong. I was self harming almost every day, home life was tumultuous and I was sad, and then all of a sudden very very happy again (later identified as mania/hypomania). As well as these worrying swings, I was starting to become reckless and I had my first relationship with someone. I loved and hated life at this time, I felt brilliant but my brain wouldn’t always cooperate. In my relationship I became very insecure with crippling fear of abandonment and I gave this person everything I had because of how much I loved them (but really I needed them to be okay with life). The relationship was so intense and unstable in the end that it lasted just over 1 month. This cluster of symptoms regarding my bumpy relationships with other people and myself would later be known as Borderline Personality Disorder.
But on the outside I looked okay, I was clearly an emotional teenager but I managed to do very well in my GCSEs getting 7 A*s and 3 As. All of these symptoms emerging, rocky relationships at home and an extremely traumatic event that happened when I was 16 led to a huge relapse at the start of Year 12. I lost a lot of weight very rapidly, and again I became very poorly, perhaps even more so, since I still had never been at a medically healthy weight all my life. I was sucked into the vile world of pro-ana content online which fed on my vulnerability and became delusional with ideas of needing to be pure and serene, something I was told could only be achieved by starvation. And so, I began to fade away once again. On Halloween night of 2016 I told my mum I was relapsing (yep, sadly the prefect horror night for her) and I was again referred to CAMHS. This time there was much more weight to gain. I slowly did it thanks to a good therapist and an antipsychotic to help me cope and antidepressants to lift my mood. But I did it. Sometime in 2017, my weight finally became stable (*pause for applause*).
But my memory of being really unwell is important to note as well. I don’t want anyone to ever think of an eating disorder as anything other than pure hell. (I’m not even going to address the ignorant lot who believe it’s a glamorous illness that pretty girls have). It is pure hell. I was sleeping at 8pm till around 5am when my body would wake me up (something that happens to your body in starvation mode in order to try and get you to find food) and then I would begin exercising until ‘breakfast’. I would sit like a broken lamp in all of my lessons, thinking, dreaming about food and making plans for my weight loss. I would have a sore back and hips from where my bones would sit on chairs with no muscle or flesh to protect them. I looked like a malnourished child and I felt like one. I could barely talk to my friends and my family (except arguments with my mum about meals). I remember walking to lessons and not being able to keep up with my friends because I was so weak and exhausted, and I found it so hard to laugh. I didn’t want to live like this, and as much as anorexia taunted me, who could blame me? There is no end goal for this disease, it wants you dead. So I chose recovery.
I got better slowly, and my eating disorder became smaller and smaller and Emma became more lively and whole. From there until now, today, I have dealt with all of my other mental health problems, including PTSD and now BPD. I am still in recovery from those and being supported, but my anorexia is now powerless. It takes one heck of a strong person to beat an eating disorder and, ladies and gentlemen, I am one of them. Anorexia stopped being the sole topic on my mind and I began healing with everyday that I was eating and living. Another note, you must eat to recover, there is no other way and if not now, when? I began to become Emma again and found my love of poetry, cats (all hail queen Suki, my cat), my wonderful friends, reading, photographing the sky and flowers. I gained ambition and purpose beyond anorexia. I sat my a-levels (which were eventful to say the least) and applied to university to study English Literature. I was no longer that embodiment of anorexia that filled my unstable identity and sense of self. I was so much more than that.
I wasted far too much time on the wrong train going the wrong direction with anorexia. I’ve spent a long time walking back from it. I fell miles and miles down into anorexia within weeks, and it’s a place I never want to go back to, and recovery was the long journey climbing all the way back up. There is a person behind every anorexia diagnosis and there is a life beyond its grips. One day I will have my mental illnesses under control. I’ve beaten the deadliest psychiatric illness out there, who’s going to stop me from flourishing? I am the best version of me I’ve ever been and I have spring back in my step.
The future is bright.
-Emma Catherine (thelilaclysander.wordpress.com)
I feel like, since I was young, self destruction has flowed in my blood. Then it’s divided and multiplied like a pathogen or parasite inside me and it’s lived there, among my organs, ever since. I don’t know why I’m so attracted to the prospect of destruction and excited by recklessness. Why do I prefer to live my life in chaos rather than serenity? To thrive in chaos is an omen. This is something I learned only recently, after 5 or so years of starving myself into non-existence. I’ve known a big part of me is an addictive side to my personality, the part that can’t ignore impulses and doesn’t want to acknowledge consequences for my behaviour. It was first the anorexia, then the self harming, then sex and then alcohol- almost like my mind can’t help but find new things to get stuck on. A big part of me is fearful, but somewhat darkly excited by the question: what will it be next?
I think in some ways, addiction is addictive because we know it’s toxic. It’s that kind of mentality that it’s so wrong but it feels so right that the part of my brain that just can’t get enough, bows down to. But no matter how much our brains romanticise the things that are going to kill us there is one thing we have to remember, as much as it feels like a lie, it is an illusion. As much as we repeat the same old thing in our heads, like a mantra ‘to convert a dystopia to a utopia, it must be destroyed’, it is and will always be a lie. There’s that parasite that lives inside us that we mistake for ourselves. It blooms like algae when we feel the most hopeless and the more dependent we become on it, the more is grows and grows into the body of us. And what started out as a problem, finally goes by our name. A shape-shifter of sorts. But the secret that keeps growing inside us can’t stay hidden. It shows itself on the outside, empty bottles of vodka, clothes that keep getting looser and looser around out waist, scars or long sleeves and a sadness on our expression. You see, what started out as something to help tame our unruly feelings, or keep us safe or give us an escape, didn’t just destroy the things we wanted to rid ourselves of, it destroyed us and everything else around us as well.
The long process of recovery and rebuilding begins when we, our family or our body can’t keep it up anymore. Someone or something says ‘that’s enough’ and we come back down to earth much faster than we ever went up. It is excruciating. Learning to restrain the parasite that’s made a home within us. You fight yourself whilst also trying to save yourself, because as much as the addiction saved us from what we wanted to forget about our lives, it will never make it go away. It will never be enough. With help, that impossible process can be made possible. A life that seems too painful to bear becomes kinder, and somewhere we want to be. And with every step towards peace and serenity we take, the air we breathe says ‘welcome home’.
It’s kind of strange to describe dissociation to people because although its something I experience frequently, I’m often too dissociated to even know how to describe it when I’m in the grips of an episode. I feel the strong pull of depersonalisation and derealization as part of this jumbled up brain I’ve got between my ears. What I do know, is what it feels like when you start entering one of these episodes (which, for me, last a few hours to a full day, but some people experience it for much less time and some, much longer).
Multiple times I’ve turned up to an appointment and I’ve been going through a tough time and as soon as we start talking about any of it I will rapidly start to space out. It feels like slowly losing a hold of reality and drifting away from the present. My thinking is slowed down and my brain just kind of sits there until the perceived danger it thinks I’m in has passed. Another way I’ve described it is like watching the world around you through water or dense fog. It’s like my eyes can see all around me, but I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing and I can’t fully *observe* (oh wow, I think that may have been a Sherlock reference). It’s like being in your bedroom and looking around it, but my brain isn’t able to go ‘oh that’s my bed’ or ‘that is my wardrobe’. I’m in the room, but I’m not really there. My senses are dulled sometimes things go slightly quieter, also, I notice I can’t smell very well and I often find anything I can smell unpleasant.
Dissociation is technically a symptom of an illness, but I do have first hand experience with derealisation/depersonalisation. When derealization takes hold I feel like the world is flat and almost 2 Dimensional, it’s duller and it feels almost cardboard and like I’m not fully present in it. Quite literally, the world just doesn’t feel real. Derealization can be quite alarming and so can depersonalisation. Depersonalisation is also something that differs from person to person but I notice that when I shut my eyes I can see images of my limbs and face getting really really small and then really really big again. I don’t quite feel things properly like my legs are numb (but not really physically, just perceived that way) and it becomes hard to recognise my own reflection in the mirror. Imagine watching your own body as if it’s from above- it’s kind of like that.
A part of learning to manage dissociation (which is really bloody hard) is knowing it’s our body trying to shield us from something painful/ distressing, something that our brains can learn when we’ve been through trauma. As in my case, it can happen after a particular traumatic event that happened when I was 16 and prolonged distress when I was young. (People tend to throw around the word dissociation sometimes but it’s actually a response to real or perceived trauma, as your body detaches you from that distressing situation it’s in- it’s a confusing and frustrating experience, but it’s actually our brain trying to keep us safe). But it’s important to remember that dissociation is a spectrum, which ranges from what people without a mental illness may experience as ‘feeling spacey’ or ‘spaced-out’ to an amplified version where you dissociate, or when you feel you ‘blacked-out’ or have missing parts in your memory. And as always, every person dealing with dissociation deserves healing and help <3.
I only really get it in episodes but some people can have it as a permanent presence in their lives which must make it so hard to get stuff done when you feel like you’re not real. Reaching out for professional support can help with the actual route of the dissociation (but you probably already know that). But some things that I’ve noticed can keep me more present are:
- Grounding techniques- I find these really hard to do but they work with practice. This can be doing things like listing 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch and so on. Or it can be going from head to toe and noticing all the sensations every part of your body feels.
- Sensory- spraying a little perfume and really focusing on the scent can help you tune in and remind you of where you are (especially if there are good memories associated with the smells. (If you’re out and about spraying a sleeve of your top that you can smell could help). Also clapping your hands to feel the slight sting in your palms and the noise it makes to keep you present. Keeping something small like a shell or a pebble or a stone that you can feel in your hands.
- Preventing stress- If you can feel yourself getting more stressed than usual or you begin to get distressed try and self-soothe or talk and resolve things with people.
- Sleep- I’ve found dissociation whilst being tired can be 10 times worse, so sleeping in when you can and making yourself comfortable before bed so you sleep well (hot water bottle when it’s cold, or with a light sheet when it’s warm). Having said this, once you’re already spaced out, I’ve found napping doesn’t work for me, I wake up feeling much more confused and weird.
- Using alcohol a lot and drinking when you’re already spaced out is not a good idea (it has led me to get way more distressed and way more spaced out) and sedative meds may be making things a little more sleepy during the day if you’re finding things are getting worse (but always take your meds as you’ve been told and talk to your doctor if you have questions).
Hope this helps you understand dissociation or can help you cope with it 🙂
Who am I? Every morning I wake up and I feel like I have to build myself into someone. I construct a style, a temperament, an interest. But even so I never really know who I am *underneath* it all. For so long, I’ve had to get a grip on my gender, my sexuality (which sometimes still gets me in a muddle) and who I am without all of that and my mental health. I know identity disturbance is common when you’re struggling with complex stuff in your head. And anyway teenagers are meant to be going out into the world and ‘finding themselves’ blah blah. But it’s more than that. It’s getting confused, and switching from person to person every few days, it’s evolving your handwriting to be like the person you admire, or picking up your friends’ phrases. I find so much comfort in my friends sending me things because they remind them of me, or noticing things about my character or my attitude. It is in those moments that I find out things about myself that I find so confusing sometimes. Knowing that you have Borderline Personality Disorder, makes me confront that a huge part of me, my personality, my body and my soul is dysfunctional, erratic and volatile at times, but it makes me realise just how passionate, energetic and expressive, unique and interesting I am. But also, there’s a lot of Emma that I’m discovering too. I like as much colour as possible. I like cats, bees, bats and elephants. I’m an absolute weirdo with my friends like wow. I find so much beauty in the sky and flowers are just so fabulous (when I’m less impulsive I want to get some tattooed on me). I’m affectionate. I love books and I’m doing English at uni. I feel good with my make-up on and with dyed hair (for the future I’m going by: the brighter the better). I want to work in publishing or therapy. But this is me right now, I know I’ll evolve from the second I post this. Let’s see who I become.
I think of ‘trauma’ as a massive umbrella term used to describe an event or events that have occurred in your life, and what you experienced was unpleasant and/or distressing and has been hard to cope with and had an impact on your life in some way. But this term is very flexible and means different things to different people. There are no set limits on what can be classed as a trauma. Personally, I’ve been treated mostly with respect when talking about my trauma, but for many people opening up about it can leave them feel not only vulnerable and upset, but sometimes very invalid. It is not okay to invalidate someone’s trauma, don’t let anyone tell you that it wasn’t severe or ‘bad enough’ to be serious (every trauma is serious). The same can also be said for forms of addiction, no matter how long your addition lasted for, or how serious the physical impacts were- you are still valid, in the same way weight, inpatient stays and how you look do not impact how valid or serious an eating disorder is. Often playing in to these natural and common insecurities about how severe and valid a mental illness, addiction or trauma is, can encourage an unhealthy, toxic and often deadly sense of competitiveness in mental health communities. The trauma is valid no matter if you did or didn’t develop a mental health problem like PTSD or anxiety because of it. How long it lasted, the age you were when it happened and who it involved do not have any impact on the perceived ‘severity’ of the trauma. And of course it is absolutely never your fault. I think the way to think about it is that trauma is not about *what* happened, but about the way it affects/affected you and the impacts of what you experienced. Everyone is allowed to work through, move on and heal from what happened- you are worthy of that. Always.