The Empty Spaces

The Empty Spaces

There are empty spaces inside of me
ones I’ve fruitlessly tried to fill for the past two years
these holes show themselves
in my wardrobe or my car boot
both of which have become hiding places
for empty bottles and receipts
a game of hide and seek for me
against the rest of the world.
I’ve tried to shrink these empty spaces
so many times
that I have created thousands more
drinking wine even though it repulses me
what else can I drink?
I’ve drunk the rest.
I have become accustomed to tastes and glasses
that grow in the corners of my room
where friends would once sit and laugh
beside me.
My only memory of parties
being videos of me
the life of the party, the hysteria, the spiralling.
They hear the joy in me exploding
like gasoline fires
I hear the alcohol thick like an accent
the drink that got my tongue and spoke for me.
Telling myself ‘it’s just my medicine when I get sad’
‘its okay if I’m still standing’
‘its normal to like a glass of wine in the evenings’
for once not something someone famous said
just the lies we tell ourselves
like prayers
to ease the appetite
and fill all those empty spaces
or kill everything rotten inside me.
when will I shut up that fantastic liar
realise that I can’t ignore this broken heart
the painful childhood
my voices
and everything else I drink to forget
and the messiest part of this whole poem,
as I’m writing this with rum on my tongue
and while I’m asking myself if this is a cry for help,
is that
I don’t know whether I’m writing about myself
or
my mother.

by Emma Catherine

wordpress- thelilaclysander.wordpress.com

Instagram- @rain.on.rosy.cheeks

Painting A Portrait: Me and BPD

Painting A Portrait: Me and BPD

I’ve known there was something chaotic about me for a long time. Something deep inside me that I knew just didn’t make sense. There’s no such thing as normal, I know that, but there is such a things as mental illness, and that, I knew deep down, was where the answers lay. It wasn’t until I heard about Borderline Personality Disorder when I was a teenager, that I finally knew what my metaphorical psychological reflection was. With BPD, it was like looking in a mirror, or shining a torch into my head. So now I’m writing about it, spilling the entire jungle that has grown inside my head, but I know that I’m only at the beginning of my journey with this, and there is a long way to go.

The way I perceive, feel and act are much more than something described in the DSM V. Knowing about it had allowed me to understand the things I experience and also helped those close to me understand me too. It’s also given me hope. There are treatments for this. And as someone said to me recently, I have all the things I need to be myself again inside me, its just sorting through some of the chaos and finding the gems I need. But, again, a label is helpful but it is not the limit, my mental health is like a pond. You can name all the species of plant in there and all the fish that swim close to the air and pond skaters, but there is so much more beneath the surface that makes up my life. Things that aren’t due to illness but are just me. The little molecules and genes that can’t really be explained. We’ll never know what causes what and what is more of an instinct than an ailment, but it is what I know, and I will never stop giving myself a voice.

I’ve always been reckless with money. Spending like a I’m millionaire, which sounds problematic but gets even worse when you were a 14 year old with no job and not a proper penny to my name. I lived for buying new things, they were stability and a beam of enjoyment in a world of arguments at home and deep rooted fear. I had the temper of a honey badger too, angry and defensive and fierce. I went from feisty to clingy, loving to hating, and cheerful to hopeless in a heartbeat . A mind that worked like a constant firework display, with sparks flying against my ears and out my mouth.

The positive message that gets pinned the inside of our heads when you’re a mentally ill child is always, ‘you are not your illness’. And, although a wonderful prospect, one that may be true to many people, for me this didn’t feel true. Every thought, interest, identity (or lack of), action, feeling was an expression of this knot inside me. I could see it there, but I couldn’t untie it. With every attempt to untangle myself the knot would tighten. And it kind of is all-consuming, it was my personality, this was like a mist spreading over me so I could barely see myself anymore. I used to think that recovery from BPD would be a re-wiring of my brain, or a complete brain transplant altogether. Now, in a clearer mind, I can see the countless ways that I can learn to manage my feelings and thoughts without needing to open up my skull. There is no guarantee with any treatment (medication or therapy) that it will take away with fire inside. But all the little bits of help and steps in the right direction are buckets of water to dim the flames when they get too fierce.

I’ve also had a deeply unstable identity since I started making friends, switching from persona in my head like different outfits because I had no idea who I was. I would copy peoples mannerisms (and sometimes still do), their colloquial phrases and even their handwriting. Not because I was a copycat, or that I wanted to be them, but because I liked them and admired them deeply. But I also think I adopted these things from people because I didn’t know how to be myself. All these little pieces from the people I loved built me into a collage that I could understand. There are about 13 versions of me (being serious, I have noted and counted them) they morph out when I’m with certain people, and shrink back when I’m with others. I’ve heard them described to me like modes I step into when I feel certain emotions or distress. I guess they are a response to my feeling of not knowing who I am, and this uncertain feeling of not knowing what you’d find if you peeled back my skin. And the exhausting feeling each morning as I wake, of having to construct a person out of my existence. Maybe it’s because my emotions are so huge when they come around and my thoughts so relentless that there isn’t much space for me to start building myself. Maybe I am a shape-shifter or an Animagus (unlikely, unfortunately). Or maybe, I was never taught how to mould myself into the person I wanted to be. Who knows?

I also have people who speak to me inside my head. I say speak, sometimes they shout or mumble. The punitive, the destructive, the impulsive and the weird ones. But they are a whole other blog post. But I think something that we can all relate to is insecurity. I am insecure mixed with paranoia and fear. I am afraid of rejection. The people I have found throughout life I have loved deeply. I appreciate them like oxygen because they give me a love I struggle to give myself. And the prospect of abandoning me shakes me. I am loyal to those who take time to love me, especially since I am not the easiest to love sometimes.

More superficially, when I meet someone I usually know within the first five seconds of talking to them whether they are someone I like (or even love if my heart is feeling particularly dramatic) or loathe. And sometimes I will love them, but being sensitive means that when I get hurt by them I can turn to hate to protect myself. I know this makes me sound volatile, but one thing you must accept is that mental illness is volatile. BPD especially, but it doesn’t (and never will) make me a bad person.

I am saddened to hear from people in my own life with BPD that people have been told (most of the time by medical professionals or parents) they are ‘too difficult’ or ‘impossible’ to treat, attention seeking, a waste of NHS funding and that they have ‘brought it on themselves’. Even, most fantastically, those who believe the illness, quite simply, doesn’t exist. And if that doesn’t further exacerbate the crippling self-hatred and self-destruction of us people with BPD, I don’t know what does. But let me clear things up for the record. It is possible to recover from and learn to manage these symptoms and to lead a healthy, settled life. With the right type of therapy and good support, we can get our lives more stable. Don’t let the few who refuse to help when it is most needed, convince you otherwise.

All of that being said, all of these snippets of my life I’ve shared there is one message more important than them all. I am still a human being. My illness affects me but it still makes up a version of myself I can learn to love. I am bold. Emotional, so much that I can write poetry furiously for hours sometimes. I love so deeply. I feel for other people and I understand others more than most. I am a passionate soul. Sometimes I’d say I’m funny too. My brain doesn’t work the way it should at the moment, but it has made me into a spectrum of colours. I burst with them sometimes. Passionate reds, sad blues, joyful yellows, understanding greens, soothing pinks, orange anxiety, and beautiful purple softness. Some people see my colours as graffiti more than a work of art. Some choose to see the rainbows that I can be. But I’m only just mixing my own watercolours together myself. It will take a lot of canvases. A lot of brushes and practice and patience. But one day, I’ll make the most beautiful painting of all.

 

By Emma Catherine.

thelilaclysander.wordpress.com

Instagram: rain.on.rosy.cheeks

 

The Big Red Button

The Big Red Button

~Content Warning- suicide~

I often feel like a coin. A body split into two halves. Even two minds. One of them very sick, and the other simply Emma. The sick part overwhelms the Me part when I’m in distress. In the peak of despair that part of me spreads like a thick, grey mist over me. It covers my eyes, turns off my ears and I crumble. That side of me is toxic (but built through emotional damage). It jumps to suicide and self destruction like a moth to a flame. In this case, I am the moth. And I am drawn, dangerously to the fire I rush towards to save me. Although it feels ‘right’ and the only way, I always, undoubtedly, get burned.

It is because of my coin-like-brain that I see suicide like a Big Red Button. It is the thing I am drawn to push when I am afraid or hurt. It is the devil on my shoulder. The glowing exit sign in my mind.

A fundamental part of my brain stopped functioning correctly in distress. In a time of distress my body no longer thinks of protecting itself and softening the blow, or reaching out for comfort or peace. Instead, the pain is too much to bear and it leads the sick part of me to slam my hand down onto that Big Red Button so I don’t have to bear it anymore. To the sick part of the coin, this makes perfect sense. But to the Me part of the coin this is absolutely ludicrous. The rational Emma knows that jumping to self-destruction in times of fear and extreme emotion is not okay. It’s like a tsunami in some ways. The giant wave barreling towards me strikes a fear so great into my core that, instead of running as fast as I can away from the wave, I jump headfirst into it.

Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder are often described as having a defense mechanism called ‘Splitting’. It means that everything is sorted into Bad or Good. And everything good must be embraced and adored, and everything bad must be rejected and hated. And in this way my brain feels like an iron filing to a magnet. At everything Bad, it jumps to the Big Red Button.

As a person dealing with BPD, my actual mind feels Split in two, just like a coin. But the sick, impulsive part of me is huge- it overwhelms the rational Emma. But I still have a Me inside of me. The Me is formed on how I used to deal with hurdles before my illness gripped me, and it is formed on how my friends, family, professionals deal with trouble. And I am embracing this me.

Thank GOD, there is no Big Red Button because I am worth saving,

Yours sincerely,
The Emma side of the coin.

The gift and pain of sobriety

The gift and pain of sobriety

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.

Why you need to stay alive

Why you need to stay alive

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 ☀️.

 

The Beach

The Beach

You’ve been down to this beach before,

I know the ocean looks beautiful from here,

It’s so silky and blue and

You feel like you could dive right in,

But don’t forget how cold it is

how lonely it is the further you float towards the setting sun,

Remember how blissful it feels to dip your toes in

and then how strong the tide is that pulls you away from what you know,

Before you know it you can’t feel your feet on the seabed anymore,

I’m telling you

There are things in those waters you can’t see from the shore

The bite off you’re flesh, nibble at your bones

Remember the heartbreak when your legs can’t kick against the tides

and all you can see is your home fading further and further away from your eyes

the ocean currents unforgiving

even more than the first time,

So please

don’t dissolve in those salty seas again,

wrap yourself up in a towel and sit with the warm sand between your toes.

watch the tides draw out and pool into the ocean

knowing you are dry and safe and warm on the beach

and may the sound of the waves breaking in front of you

be a reminder of the life you saved for yourself tonight.

 

My Anorexia Story

My Anorexia Story

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)

Instagram: @rain.on.rosy.cheeks