Friday, October 05, 2012

Jesus Christ: Superstar?

It has become family legend that, back in 1997 when I first encountered Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, I left the Lyceum theatre sobbing. My dad and brother managed to decipher the words "you didn't tell me that there wasn't a resurrection" from my distress-wracked attempt to speak.

In other words, Jesus Christ Superstar moved me. It showed me, in a way that had been absent from my knowledge of the New Testament and experience of church services every Easter, that the central story of Christianity involves a sacrifice that is profoundly and paradoxically human: a man, frail and human, yet convinced of - if not confident in - his own divinity, chooses painful and lonely death for reasons that are beyond the understanding of his friends.

I have discussed that production and Steve Balsamo's peerless personification of Jesus many times in the intervening 15 years. It was a key reason in my decision to study the medieval mystery plays and their own version of this affective piety - bringing each audience member to an emotional understanding and belief of something that they have previously known only intellectually. Last weekend, when performing in an amateur production of JCS, I could hear and see audience members' distress at the Crucifixion. Jesus Christ Superstar works as theatre because we care, whether we believe he is the Christ or whether we simply relate to him as an exceptional human being, when he dies.

This long introduction is necessary to explain my reaction to ALW's new arena production of JCS. At the NIA last night (4th September 2012), I did not see a single person cry. I would be surprised if any of the several thousand people in the audience gained a new understanding of the sacrifice at the heart of the Christian story.

The main failing here is in the portrayal of Jesus. I didn't watch the TV show Superstar but photos in the production brochure show Ben Forster looking like a normal grown man. So it is completely baffling to me that a decision has been made to grow his hair (or use a wig) to give him a fringe that makes him looks like Harry Enfield's Kevin.

The Kevin and Perry parallel would have amused me momentarily but not caused fatal alienation from the story if Forster had more emotional range in his performance. During the first act, there was no charisma from him that would have explained why he had attracted so many followers. After the interval, he had transitioned from bland to grumpy teenager. He sang Gethsemane as Kevin, with a single emotion: "I'm pissed off with my dad for making me do stuff I don't want to do". Watch a recording on YouTube of Steve Balsamo singing the song (if you weren't lucky enough to hear Ian Page's version at Solihull last weekend!) : he shows an enormous range of emotions. There are 7 minutes for Jesus to go through his fear, pain, (yes) anger, confusion, determination, resignation.

Ian Page (Jesus) on stage in Solihull SMASH's production of JCS, 29th September 2012.

7 minutes of anger may be impressive (and the audience whooped and cheered at the end of the song) but they do not add to a nuanced understanding of Jesus' soteriological sacrifice.

Forster's portrayal was hindered further by the odd staging of the Crucifixion. After Judas had descended onto the stage on a lit piece of rigging, Jesus (now in the Guantanamo orange jumpsuit that was a slightly desperate attempt for yet more contemporary resonance) was attached to the bar and lifted. So a half orange figure was hanging off a glitzy bit of rigging. A vertical bar came down, but unless you were sitting directly in front of the stage (and the nature of an arena means that most of the audience were not), the horizontal and vertical did not meet to make a cross. And what does a glitzy lit cross say about painful human death anyway?

Added to this oddness was more evidence of Forster's limitations as an actor. All of his lines on the cross came out as a tantrum. I just wanted him to shut up. Possibly not the desired reaction when the saviour of mankind is sacrificing himself to grant me eternal life.

The major flaws in the production were partly to do with the arena setting. The balance between volume of the band, soloists and chorus was wrong. I had to block one ear with my finger to make the noise bearable for band and soloists but it was very hard to hear anything from the chorus. This significantly lessens the impact of the enthusiasm of the crowd as Jesus enters Jerusalem and then their bloodthirst as enthusiasm turns to desire for his death.

Further, the director had a massive space to use. Rather than containing the action on a tiny stage far away from most of the thousands of audience members, why not use a thrust stage? My own preference would have been for a production in the round. Clearly it would have been a challenge for the director. But if you are charging £70 per ticket, I feel that you should work hard for it.

The lighting was mostly unremarkable, except when it went wrong, as in Could We Start Again Please? Mel C., as Mary Magdalene, was spotlit but when Peter came in, I had no idea whereabouts on the stage he was (the director had set Mary and Peter sitting among other disillusioned followers). The whole song felt flat and unmoving, probably because so much mental energy was taken up with trying to spot Peter on the stage.

I had imagined that Mel C. would have been well able to cope with the demands of singing in an arena. But, as some friends suggested at the interval, she could have done with several extra bars of instrumental before each of her songs because, without fail, she came in in the wrong key. Plus even once she had reunited her melody with the band, she was flat at the top of her register. Further confusion ensued during I Don't Know How to Love Him. During the instrumental break, she started to wipe off all her make up. It was unclear whether this was a symbolic rejection of her previous life as a prostitute or, as was indicated a little later when she took her jacket off, she was just getting ready to go to bed.

Mel C. was most convincing when she was part of the mob of followers, participating enthusiastically in the choreography. The question of whether to dance is difficult for directors of JCS. Sometimes, the desire for naturalism restricts use of choreography to stylised numbers such as Herod's Song. Here, clever choreography managed to create a visual spectacle during the numbers where Christ's followers surround him, such as Simon Zealotes' call to action.

I had mixed reactions to the use of media on screens. I cringed (and wanted to throw things) when made up "txt spk" twitter, FB, etc. messages flashed across the screen during What's the Buzz? The contemporary parallel felt forced and ridiculous. However, when the high priests met to discuss the threat, showing the crowds (who have several lines that punctuate the priests' discussion) on CCTV for the priests to see them contributed to our understanding of why Caiaphas and Annas felt threatened by Jesus' followers.

In fact, the priests, along with Pilate, turned out to be the stars of the show. All of these men seem to be seasoned musical theatre performers, able to act and sing simultaneously (which is hardly revolutionary in musical theatre but - believe me - it was last night). Pete Gallagher and Gerard Bentall had the perfect registers to provide the memorable contrast between Caiaphas and Annas. Alex Hanson was an interesting and interested Pilate, from his recounting of his dream to an assistant helping him robe for a day in court with a dismissive laugh at the end through to his final attempts to get something, anything, from Jesus that would allow him to be set free. Cleverly, the first "trial by Pilate" was set with Pilate returning from a session with his personal trainer. More concerned with his workout than with this odd proposition before him, Pilate continued with his push-ups while singing, making sense of the strangely-broken rhythm in the score at this point. My only quibble with Hanson came from the brochure, where his self-penned biography contained two unnecessary apostrophes. Luckily I had a pencil in my bad for emergency apostrophe triage.

Thom Stafford as Judas (meeting the high priests) in Solihull SMASH's production of Jesus Christ Superstar, 29 Sept 2012

Much has been made of the casting of Tim Minchin as Judas. Personally, I'd have found it more interesting to see him (as an avowed atheist) play Jesus. His stage presence was diminished by the scarf and coat he wore during Heaven on his Mind, which made him hunched and small. Frequently, in his dialogue with Jesus, he struggled to act when not singing. This would have been less noticeable if the screens hadn't projected images of him standing awkwardly waiting for his next line. The confidence to make each song his own, complete with melodic alterations from his own composer's brain, was refreshing but his diction is weird (and no, this isn't to do with him being Australian. I can understand every word that, for example, Philip Quast sings). If I didn't know every word of JCS off by heart, I don't think I'd have had a clue what he was singing. While JCS is a "wordy" piece of theatre and Judas has a lot to tell the audience, last weekend, in Solihull, Thom Stafford simultaneously conveyed Judas' intense emotional disarray with pitch perfect singing and clear articulation of Tim Rice's lyrics.

However, my reservations about his portrayal of Judas dissipated in Act 2. The moment of betrayal was directed beautifully. As Judas approached Jesus, we could see his conflicted sadness that none of the other apostles were awake to save Jesus from the soldiers. The kiss was like a reflex - a goodbye to a friend, truly loved. This physical connection allowed Jesus to grab his arm: "Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?" And then the two men hugged. A warm, desperate hug of friends who have each involved the other in his own downfall. They are the only two who understand each other at this point and they do not want to let go. This moment of painful friendship had to be split up by the soldiers, with Judas having to be restrained from helping his friend, even while in the action of betraying him.

This was the first moment that demanded an emotional response from me. The second was almost unbearable. I have lost a friend to suicide recently, so Judas' suicide is obviously difficult to watch for me. In fact, I think I'd have preferred if the production had been as weirdly disconnected here as elsewhere but, instead, Tim Minchin physically and vocally articulated the intense distress of desolation: that moment, known to those of us who have experienced our minds being overtaken with thoughts we don't want and can't bear, when you can't speak, can't move, can't be... He fell forward with an elemental, untranscribable, vocalisation of despair that somehow marked the moment at which he, and we, knew the only way out for him. The tree, the muttered, half-swallowed "you have murdered me". Death.

That scene showed me that the talent in this production could have given us something amazing. Instead, the biggest audiences ever to see the show are being palmed off with a Jesus Christ Superstar that manages to provide spectacle but no way to relate to the incomprehensible human sacrifice of Jesus.

[Apologies for using photos of our production to illustrate a review of this production; I wanted to put some images in but only "own" the photos I took last weekend and don't want to risk the wrath of the Really Useful Group over their production photos].

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gosh darn it

I've not been on here yet in July. A lot has been happening in Real Life and I haven't been in a blogging frame of mind.

However, I have been in a darning frame of mind after getting some new pointe shoes at a bargain price on eBay. As a teenager, I was a Gamba, then a Freed girl for pointe shoes. Returning to pointe this year, I considered using my most recent, albeit a bit old, pair of Freeds. They are darned to within an inch of their life and "pancaked" with calamine lotion!




Despite the fact that they are still "blocked" enough, rediscovering my love of ballet meant that I also rediscovered my love of ballet shopping! And unlike when I was a teenager, I can now spend hours looking at Ballet Stuff online. I found some brand new Capezio Glisses on eBay at a lower price than I used to pay for Freed 15 years ago. They were very bright and shiny when they arrived. Another innovation is the change in ribbons: it's now standard to use elastic on pointe shoes and even to have special elasto-rib ribbons to protect the Achilles tendon. The elastic is brilliant for me because I have a high arch so my foot contracts when pointed and I used to frequently have the back of my shoe slip off in class.



This is what they look like post-darning and having been worn for weekly pointe class since the end of April.


As you can see, the Capezio has a very square toe, similar to the style of my old Freed shoes. These really suit my feet but... having read a lot online about Grishkos, I was curious about them, so when I saw a pair on eBay for just £9.99 I couldn't resist. I also tried something new with the darning. I usually just use chain stitch all over the toe and down towards the sole. Here, I used blanket stitch around the toe and then filled it with chain stitch.





This month, I decided that I wanted to return to wearing soft blocks for class because flats don't really make the feet work very hard. There was quite a limited selection online. I used to wear Freed soft blocks but couldn't see them on sale anywhere so instead went for Blochs, since I have been wearing their flats for many years. Stupidly, I bought a UK 4 rather than the UK 3.5 that I wear in the flat, so they are a bit loose. But I've been darning them too! Even the minimal blocking done to a soft block causes the satin to fray very quickly. Darning will hopefully elongate the life of these shoes... 


The soft blocks bizarrely cost a lot more than either pair of new pointe shoes, possibly because exam boards like RAD no longer insist on students wearing them for higher grade exams. To compensate, I frugally harvested some ribbons off an old and battered pair!

And just in case I haven't included enough photos of pointe shoes, here are the old and new ones that are to hand after my current sewing spree:


and the pile of old ballet shoes (and one pair of character shoes) that I found when I went looking through my stuff earlier this year.



Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June challenge 26: purpose


Purpose (or lack of it) is crucial for the function of the ED. After I handed in my PhD thesis (exactly 2 years ago, give or take 4 days - 30th June 2010), instead of the joy and celebration that I'd been expecting, I was hit by a strong feeling of pointlessness and worthlessness. The thing for which I'd been working over the past 3 and a half year was over; I'd not been successful in any job applications so I had nothing pencilled in for the future. My life seemed totally empty and had no purpose. The corollary to this was believing that I had no purpose. There was no point in being me, no reason for me to live.

It's easy to see how this absence of purpose allows anorexia to strengthen. If you wake up in the morning unable to face all of the hours in the day, subconsciously, ED thinking enables you to get through those hours. It sets its own challenges and its own rules. Living up to those lessens the feelings of desolation.

In 2010, I wasn't well enough to sustain myself through the desolation. Six months after handing in my PhD, I was in hospital again. Funnily enough, my discharge date was 29th June 2011 almost exactly a year after handing in my PhD. Since then, I've been having to work on believing that there is a reason for me, that I'm not pointless, even without those external things by which other people measure success or value.

It's incredibly hard. Especially because the current government's desire to carry out welfare reforms involves a lot of spin about how people on disability benefits are often scroungers. The more you hear it in the media, the more you believe it about yourself. I've set myself up as a freelance proofreader for my  "permitted work" that is part of ESA (up to 16 hours per week or up to £97). My aim is to make the transition to supporting myself without ESA. However, I'm following the medics' advice and taking things one step at a time.

Of course, the most important thing is to believe that there is value just in being me. I would tell a friend that they have a purpose simply in being alive, whether they are currently unable to work, or a stay-at-home mum, or a top academic, or a teacher, or a dinner lady: whatever. We all need to believe that about ourselves: because that belief would make it much harder for the anorexia or ED to set itself up as our purpose.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June challenge 23: soul


The word 'soul' makes me think of spirituality. In hospital last year, some of us asked whether it would be possible for the hospital chaplain to run a group on EDs, recovery and our spiritual life. In the UK, it's not possible for nurses and doctors to discuss matters of faith; there are examples of people being struck off or reprimanded for offering to pray with a patient, for example. However, if religion has been an important part of someone's life with their ED, it's vital that issues of spirituality are addressed on the road to recovery. I have made friends of various religious backgrounds through ED treatment: Judaism; Islam; Hinduism; Christianity; atheism; agnosticism.

My own experience is Christian so my writing today will focus on that. For me, there are aspects of Christianity that underline ED thinking, from lines in the Communion service ("We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs from under the table"), the notion of social justice (it's not right for me to participate in a society of vile consumerism while there are people in the world who are suffering), guilt (when we confess to God "the sins we have done and the good we have not done"), etc. Most interestingly for me, as a medievalist, is the history of Christian ascetics, especially women, whose spiritual "excellence" is predicated on their ability to fast. I remember reading the Life of Christina of Markyate for my MPhil. Even though she lived in the first part of the 12th century, I found the account of her life to be triggering: it described in great detail the extent of her restriction and the physical effects on her body. Indeed, there has been research over the past few decades on the notion of "holy anorexia".

For me, my background means that I feel more kinship with the 12th century 'holy anorexics' than with the notion that the fashion industry may be a contributing factor in EDs. I've always had a shaky sense of self worth and I have realised that I internalised a lot of the self-denial and guilt aspects of Christianity as a child. We even sang a song in our children's choir whose chorus went 'Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus' (a quotation from Matthew's gospel). Therefore, self denial in all its forms (restriction of food intake, not allowing myself to sit on comfy seats or watch tv, etc) became a way to replace my absent self esteem.

I think that those involved with treatment and recovery, even if they themselves have no experience of religion, need to be conscious that various religious traditions can impact on the way that someone experiences their ED. Without addressing those internalised beliefs, it is hard to make recovery lasting and meaningful.

Friday, June 22, 2012

June challenge 22: home

I started writing something here. Then felt unsure of posting my initial thoughts (home made me think of moving house and the impact that various moves in my childhood had on my sense of self); I didn't feel able to bring up all those emotions tonight.

So I closed my blogger.com page and went to Google Reader instead. The first thing to appear was this post by Tracey at Just as I am.

Her words give us all something to strive for: if moving house shatters a fragile sense of self, we need to realise that the only home that matters is inside us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21: fight

Today I've been part of a fight. It has nothing to do with EDs but is connected with one of my most important hobbies: knitting (and most of the earlier entries on the blog are knitting related).
Last night, it emerged that the US Olympic Committee wrote a 'cease and desist' letter to Casey, the founder of Ravelry, about our wonderful event 'The Ravelympics'. Gawker picked up the story and so did Hot Air (and their coverage of the story enables us to forgive them for characterising all knitters as 'old ladies'). #ravelympics was trending on Twitter. The USOC Facebook page was inundated with comments; their email address was removed from their website after the volume of messages caused their system to crash.
Earlier on, an apology was issued. It was then updated to reflect further outrage that the USOC seemed to think that their 'show of support' for Ravelry would be to ask us to send them knitted items. Raveler "Jinniver" wrote a great post about it on her blog. The latest apology is more acceptable. But no one knows whether Casey and the Ravelry team are going to continue to face further action over the Ravelympics name.

None of this is ED-related. BUT it does show that fighting brings progress - whether we are fighting against the petty brand enforcement of an organisation that's terrified of losing support of its corporate sponsors, or whether our fight is the day-to-day internal struggle to allow ourselves to eat, to rest, to be well.

June challenge 20: compliment

More Big Bang Theory (I was so chuffed to get comments on my last post from other June challenge bloggers who also love BBT!):

Penny: Your hair looks very nice.
Amy: Are you a homosexual?
Penny: No. No. I was just giving you a compliment.
Amy: Oh. I would have been more flattered if you were a homosexual.

Compliments are tricky because the sentiment of giving one does not guarantee the sentiment in which it will be received. The most frequent misinterpreted compliment in EDs - and most particularly in recovery - is when someone says 'You look well.' This seems to translate directly into 'You look fat' in the head of someone with an ED, especially if we know that we've been working hard on recovery and have put on weight. It was something discussed often in my ED unit, especially in Monday morning support group when everyone was talking through their weekend leave. Nurses would point out that, to friends and family, looking 'well' could mean anything: being less pale, having better hair condition and brighter skin, not about to die, etc., etc. .... and, yes, looking as though one has put on weight. But, if you've become ill enough with anorexia to be hospitalised, you probably need to put on weight and even though it feels impossibly difficult, as recovery happens, this is something that people will say. Even if every single time it happens we have to go through all the reasons why it's ok to hear this, we must do it. Otherwise 'you're looking well' can be fuel to the fire of the illness.

Monday, June 18, 2012

June challenge 18: Laughter

I've recently started watching The Big Bang Theory. I love it! And when I read today's prompt, I decided that a video was the way to go. I can't watch this without laughing, even if the laugh is a quiet smile in a day of feeling low or tired. I hope that it brings smiles to your faces too :-D


I'd like Sheldon to speak for himself.

But to stay on track with the challenge I will just say that laughter has been an important part of my own recovery path, whether communal infectious giggles with friends in the hospital over stupid things nurses or doctors have said or even laughing with hindsight about some of the ridiculous things that the ED has made me do in the past such as my firm belief that hot water would make me fat because of the kinetic energy (*headdesk*), or feeding my rabbit soda bread in the early hours of the morning because I couldn't stop baking and I had no idea what to do with all the food...

Those things were horrible to live through. I suppose I can laugh now because recovery *does* help us get our humour back. It's something that professionals at hospital have said to me: when I am first admitted, I am a shell of a person, frightened to be, scared to take up space. In a few months, more *me* appears... I can allow myself to share my humour with other people. I want to hold onto *me* and not to return to that shell.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June challenge 17: End

Endings are hard. I associate the word with pain. We moved house first when i was two and I could only cope by sitting on the floor with photo albums as the removal men packed up the house around us.
Since then, there have been many more endings: leaving Harpenden when I was 9 and the anguish at being separated from my friends; leaving Solihull at 16 then a month later leaving home to go to boarding school... two years after that, the pain at leaving that school and my very close friends was just as bad. I could go on.
However, in typing this, it is clear that each painful ending has been followed by another one precisely because that ending has been a new beginning. If I'd remained deeply unhappy at leaving Harpenden and had not been able to move on and make new friends and find a new life in Solihull, my pain when leaving there at 16 would not have existed.

This kind of reminds me of the metaphor of anorexia as a life raft in a shipwreck. It manages to keep you afloat in a time of deep turmoil but you have to let go of it in order to swim to the ship that has come to rescue you. But letting go is terrifying: how do you know that you will reach the ship? isn't it more likely that you'll drown in the space between the two. Yet the ship represents safety: a new beginning.

The ending point of an ED, the start of the recovery process... these things are terrifying. They will cause all sorts of pain and anguish. But we have to trust that time will allow us to find safety in something better: in life; in living; in finding and being ourselves.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In the news/ June challenge 16: beginning

I wanted to get back on track with the June challenge but I've been very affected by a story in the news today. The BBC has summarised it thus: "A woman with "severe" anorexia who wanted to be allowed to die is to be force fed in her "best interests" by order of a High Court judge.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson declared that the 32-year-old from Wales, who cannot be identified, did not have the capacity to make decisions for herself."
This has raised all sorts of questions in my head. Clearly, the resonances with my own life are huge. I was 32 when I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act so that the hospital had the power to make me stay and to give me nutrition via an NG tube. It was not my first hospital admission; however, even though assessment under the Mental Health Act had been mentioned in previous admissions, on those times, I'd somehow been able to make the decision to stay and to assent to NG feeding if I was not able to feed myself.
I'm not certain why this particular case has reached the High Court. The Mental Health Act is usually enough to resolve things. One psychiatrist interviewed on Radio 4 news earlier said that the Mental Capacity Act is also available in such situations. The article suggests that the lady (known as E to protect her identity) and her treatment team had been following a palliative care plan. I think it implies that her family had reservations and this is why the case has reached the court system.
I'm incredibly torn about this. I've heard friends screaming as they are force-fed with an NG tube. It's distressing even if you aren't physically fighting against it. The judge has said "I have been struck by the fact that the people who know E best do not favour further treatment. They think that she has had enough and believe that her wishes should be respected.
"They believe she should be allowed a dignified death." He also points out that forcefeeding "does not merely entail bodily intrusion of the most intimate kind, but the overbearing of E's will in a way that she experiences as abusive".
But this judge also notes that while E is gravely ill, he does not believe she is incurable. And this is so, so crucial to this case: while E may not currently have any hope for her life, I know from experience that, after the horror of starting treatment without any sense that one's life has a point or is worth saving, life begins to open up possibilities. I'm still scared of the future; I'm scared that I will never get any better and will never have a family of my own or be well enough to work in a fulfilling career that can sustain my independence. And sometimes my low mood makes it hard to get through all of the hours in the day. However, I can't express how glad I am that the doctors and nurses thought it was worth taking over for me when I was unable to help myself get better. A year on and I have new friends, two dogs snuggled up on my lap as I type and I've met three new babies (belonging to friends) whose lives I would have missed if I'd not made it through the end of 2010.
So finally I've realised that this does relate to today's word: beginning. The High Court ruling is a new beginning for E. I don't know E but I hope and pray that this moment marks the start of hope for her. Even though she can't hope for herself right now, Mr Justice Jackson has hope for E. I have hope for E. I hope that the horror of facing the first weeks of refeeding passes without too much pain and trauma. I hope that gradually she begins to have moments of joy, whether it's from the sun shining on a summer flower or a smile from a friend's baby or a shared laugh with a friend in hospital. And I hope that she begins to believe that recovery is possible.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June challenge 13: Perfect.


My perfectionism is infamous. I've been seeing the same psychologist (off and on) since 1999 and he's told me that he uses me as an example of perfectionism when he's teaching. One of the stories is when I did my final exams at Cambridge for my undergrad degree. Overall, I got a first, which meant that I achieved a double first as the grade for my degree, which is the highest possible grade. However, all I could focus on was the one exam where I had not achieved a first. The mark for that paper was the lowest in all of the exams I did as an undergrad; obviously, it didn't affect my result. However, even now (7 years later), I feel bad even writing about the results of the exam. Logically I know that it's nothing to be ashamed of... it was a mark within the 2.i boundary...blah blah. However, my perfectionism stops me from being happy about my degree result because of the one paper in which I failed to meet my expectations.

This psychologist is pretty perfectionist himself (he admits to once asking his 9 year old son 'What did you get wrong?' when he got 19/20 on a test.... then remembered that, psychologically speaking, it would have been more preferable to first of all say 'Well done'...); in and of itself, it doesn't have to negatively impact on someone's life. I think my perfectionism is one of the reasons why I've been able to achieve academically and it's currently enabling me to work, part-time, as a proofreader.

But the perfectionism intertwines itself with the anorexia. If I am at a point in life where I feel unsure or insecure of my self (I don't know who I am or consider myself to be pointless or worthless) the temptation is to set myself standards in terms of food, weight or shape and then pressurise myself to meet those standards. Of course, the nature of anorexia is to keep shifting where the standards lie and once the standards become too extreme, the spiral can only be downwards.

Since it's clear that sometimes it's ok to demand high standards of myself, in terms of work or even in hobbies like my knitting, I've been working on identifying where it doesn't have to be perfect. That might just be using a different spoon to eat cereal or choosing another mug to have my coffee in. It's easier to make those choices myself because otherwise life becomes a big mass of anxiety about when things aren't right or I can't control them.

Instead of spending a lot of time worrying about the perfect way to end this post and the perfect segue from the previous paragraph, I'll simply finish with the advice my maths teacher gave me before the GCSE maths exam: "Linda, you mustn't come out of the exam and get depressed if you realise you've done something wrong. The examiners only have 2 digit boxes to write the mark in, so even if a student got 100%, it would only be recorded as 99. The examiners aren't expecting perfection so you mustn't expect it of yourself".

Monday, June 11, 2012

June challenge 11: force

I am trying to be organic with this challenge and write about the first thing that pops into my mind when I read the day's word. Today, I saw 'force' and it immediately conjured up memories of time in hospital. The nature of anorexia and the infamous ambivalence towards treatment means that anyone who's been in hospital will have known people who've undergone compulsory treatment, even if they have not, themselves, experienced it.

Compulsion can be merely the threat of use of the Mental Health Act to force someone to comply with the ward's routines and regulations. Rarely, force is used physically. If a patient is being held according to a section of the Mental Health Act, nurses are able to restrain them in order to ensure that they comply with treatment. In the sphere of EDs, this is most often manifested as staff holding down a patient in order to site an NG tube and provide nutrition through the tube. (sometimes NG feeding is done on voluntary patients or on involuntary patients without restraint, because as an involuntary patient, you know that if you refuse the NG feed, restraint will be used).

I have never had to be restrained myself but know from experience that the atmosphere on the ward becomes very strained when someone is "refusing", and therefore (possibly) being restrained and tube fed after each of the 3 meals and 4 snacks in the day. The alarms will go off at several times through the day and staff from other wards respond to the alarm to assist with the restraint.

All the patients feel wretched for their friend/peer who is experiencing such a difficult time and also feel bad for the way that it affects them: feeling guilty for not refusing; feeling abandoned by the staff; just wanting not to be there.

In a way, these situations throw the whole experience of treatment into sharp relief and force us to examine our motivations for being there and whether we are complying with the demands of the staff simply because we are people-pleasers or avoiding conflict or to keep our families happy... Treatment is successful at keeping people with anorexia alive but often has little to do with the active process of recovery.

Recovery can't be forced on anyone. It's a gradual process that needs to come from within.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June challenge 10: emotional

I find emotions hard to deal with. And therefore the experience of emotions can impact negatively on recovery. The past few months have been particularly tough in terms of life throwing up emotions : I've suffered a bereavement; the birth of a family baby has forced me to confront my own childlessness and its inextricability from my ED.
In fact, the main emotion that I find myself experiencing is sadness.

But I can recognise happiness too: when I held that baby, even in my sadness, I enjoyed being close to her tiny life and seeing her calm down when I sang to her.

And one of the worst feelings is the flatness. Flatness from low mood. Flatness from the medications.
Maybe even the difficulty of intense emotions is preferable to not being able to experience any emotion at all.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Catching up

I'm behind schedule with the June challenge. But for good reasons. Yesterday I was down at my brother's celebrating his birthday a day early. We played Top Golf and I baked him a cake. It was decorated like a camp fire (he's a cub scout leader and, if you like shouty silly slightly rude songs, he's quite a legendary campfire leader).


It was a milk and white choc chip madeira cake, iced with choc fudge (Betty Crocker) frosting, decorated with Cafe Curls and homemade honeycomb/cinder toffee. It seemed to go down well :-)


Today I have been at Edgbaston watching the test match with my father. Despite the rain washing out Thursday and Friday, we had a full day's play today and it was a nice atmosphere. 

I will try to write about some of the missed prompts over the next few days. I'm enjoying being part of the June challenge and seeing different viewpoints on recovery from people at different stages of recovery.

Friday, June 08, 2012

June challenge 7: honesty

Is it the best policy?
Sometimes. During the May HfC challenge, I challenged myself to share one post with my FB friends. This, to me, was scarier than sharing it within the HfC community. My FB friends know that I have anorexia but I have never before been able to be honest about the reality of my life, my darker thoughts, the way that the illness has impacted my experience of every day over the past few decades. My insides still flip over at the thought that I actually allowed people to read it.

On the other hand, the responses I got from people, whether in comments to my post or in private messages, was overwhelming. A few people wrote words of support that brought me to tears. By sharing, by being honest, I seemed to enable friends to be honest with me. Through this, I learned that various people truly value my friendship and even (perhaps) value me ... just for being me.

This is something to hold onto: being honest about my darkest times (when I don't like me, and don't want to be me) enabled people to say that they do value me.  And that's one step in learning to value myself.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

June challenge 6: warrior

I'm in the hate camp with this word. It's problematic in terms of many illnesses (I've read quite a few discussions of the word 'fight' in relation to cancer - and the way that it can unintentionally imply that people who don't survive simply didn't "fight" as hard as other people which is, of course, ridiculous).

With EDs, there is definitely an element of fighting. But I never feel like a warrior. To be honest, warrior brings to mind images of Beowulf and dramatic battles... and of victory.

Whereas my fight with anorexia is a tedious, on-going, unromantic struggle. There are no dramatic victories. The day-to-day battle with negative thoughts sometimes leads to a step forward. Sometimes it feels like I'm either going backwards or stuck in a painful stasis ... like the feeling of treading water to keep afloat and getting a stitch, being in pain, finding it hard to breathe. You know that you could just let go and let the water absorb you and at least the pain would be over. But the way that I am a warrior is, I suppose, in carrying on. And on. And on. And believing that one day, I'm not going to be treading water but will be moving, dancing and somersaulting, full of energy, reaching towards the shore.

Monday, June 04, 2012

June challenge 4: crazy

When I was a postgrad, some friends and I used to have a conference game: who could find the weirdest new literary theory. Many branches of theory seem to be concerned with taking the voice of a previously marginalised group and tracing it in works of literature. While feminism and post-colonialism have fairly neutral names, other groups have purposely reclaimed previously derogatory terms to identify themselves. So you have 'queer theory' and 'cripple theory'... and, memorably in one session at Leeds, 'queer cripple theory'. Apparently one scholar posed this question: "Are we queering cripple theory or crippling queer theory?" Even as literary students ourselves, we found this level of navel gazing to be rather amusing.

By now, I am pretty sure that there is a distinct genre of mental health literary theory. I'm not talking about old-fashioned psychoanalytic criticism, but rather about the idea of examining literature through the lens of marginalised characters with mental illness. If such a theory were to be added to existing branches of theory, 'crazy theory' would be as good a name as any. (My own contribution to this genre would be my analysis of Margery Kempe's crying as an articulation of self.)

I've never been 100% sure about the merits of "reclaiming" pejorative words. I'd be happier if words like 'cripple' were banished from our vocabulary; the negative associations are so great and the danger of childhood (and adult) bullying too real for such words ever to be used neutrally. And there's also a danger of hypocrisy: 'it's ok for me to call myself "crazy" but it's offensive for you to call me that'.

I read Arielle's post on this topic today and really like the way that, instead of "reclaiming" the word, she draws our attention to its other, more positive, meanings. Take a look.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

June challenge 3: power

(this is going to be a short post: I want to catch up before the end of the day)

Power. It's a jumble in EDs.

The anorexia has unspeakable power over you when it's at its strongest. And even when someone is fighting hard for recovery because those powerful anorexic thoughts don't want to let go.

Whether or not we want it, when we are in anorexic crisis periods, we have awful power over our families. Their lives are turned upside down and I can't even imagine the emotional impact on parents.

Paradoxically, when in treatment, the power that the anorexia holds over of us is replaced by the power of the nurses and doctors. That shift in the power balance is often the only way of forcing the anorexia to loosen its grip. But it can lead us to resent the very people who are trying to help us and to question the rules, sometimes even rebelling against them.

What we need, of course, is to find a way of reclaiming power for ourselves. In recovery, we won't need to be subjected to the power of the illness or the power of the nurses and our illnesses won't disempower our families and friends.

I want to be able to say "I take responsibility for my choices and for my life". When that happens, the power to live my own life will be mine.

June challenge 2: invisible


My dog Benji likes to hide, especially in the mornings when he would rather be asleep than awake. (Just for light relief, here's a video of me trying to get him out from hiding one morning!

)


These photos made me think about the desire not to be seen: to be invisible.

In the first picture below, it does take a minute to find him. 

But the final photo shows the same situation from a different angle:


With his bum sticking out, it's clear that Benji isn't nearly as invisible as he hopes. I think that this situation can be a metaphor for invisibility and anorexia. 
Over a decade ago, I was talking to a dietitian about my clothes. I was wearing 'a size nought' in GAP trousers (this was before the phrase 'size zero' had entered the vernacular). She pointed out that, in wanting to stay as size nought, I was essentially saying that I wanted to be nothing : I wanted not to exist. There's a certain truth to her logic: the act of starving oneself and of trying to decrease one's size is a rejection of corporeal being. 
However, as life has shown me several times, anorexia fails to make one invisible. You end up as the noticeable figure that people whisper about or even point at; I can remember going to a coffee shop with a friend who was also unwell and when we sat down, the people on the next table looked at us, picked up their things and moved elsewhere. We were the opposite of invisible. Our visibility and strangeness made it impossible for other people to ignore us.
And maybe that's the other strand to the dietitian's truth: we are rejecting corporeal being and trying to become nothing. But we are doing so in a way that articulates distress all over our bodies: an invisibility that attracts attention, attracts notice and cries out for the pain to end.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

June challenge 1: change

To follow on from May's Hungry for Change challenge, Arielle Blair has started a June challenge in partnership with HfC. Anyone who looks back on my blog archive will realise that I've never been the most regular blogger in the world. So I think participating in these challenges is good for me: it gives a focus for thoughts and helps prompt me to write.

The June challenge is a word a day. I couldn't blog yesterday because of a (lovely) obligation to babysit for my baby godson ... but (better late than never) here is my response to the first prompt:

Change
We joke in my family that "I don't do change". It's been a scary thing always, from the first time we moved house when I was just 2 years old. I wouldn't let my parents pack the photo albums and sat in one room surrounded by photos while the removal men loaded up our furniture into the van. My family had to move several times during my childhood, as part of my father's job; I've come to realise that moving into new towns and having to start all over again with attempting to make new friends and to establish myself in a new group of people is one of the factors that made it hard for me to have a stable and consistent sense of self. The particular house move that impacted me most happened when I was 9, nearly 10. I don't know now whether it was my reluctance to make the change and leave my friends in the other town that made it so hard to be happy in the new place, whether the children in the new school were simply unwilling to accept a new person in their class, or (most likely) a combination of all the factors. Whatever the reason, just after a year after that house move, I was admitted to hospital with a variety of physical and psychological problems .... including not eating.

Lots of changes have happened in the years since that first hospital admission. I've grown older, though not necessarily much wiser; I've gone through school, university and post grad; I've been in hospital more times than I should have done. My parents have moved house many more times and I've had to go into new situations and new places .... I don't think I've got much better at "being myself" with new people. I still retreat and withdraw, ending up in the vicious cycle of becoming more isolated because of being too shy/socially anxious to talk to anyone.

The danger is, of course, that this fear of change in my world means that I become more reliant on the one thing that seems to be within my control, the one thing that has been a constant for 20 years: anorexia. What needs to happen is for change to stop being the thing to fear and, instead, for it to become the thing I desire. With change, life will have the potential to stop being limited by illness, fear, anxiety.

Maybe one way of reclaiming change and making it positive is to list some good changes that have happened in the past 12 months:

  • Getting Midge: I'd known for a while that I would one day get another dog but (as with Benji) the arrival of Midge in my life at the end of July last year was unexpected. A friend sent me a webpage so that I could advise her on a dog she was thinking of adopting. She didn't end up getting that dog. But I did end up looking at all the other adoptable dogs on that webpage, noticed little Midge, applied to adopt her and 10 days later had my little girl. She's a very different dog from Benji and her difficult background has led to many challenges, especially at the beginning. She had to learn to trust humans, as well as learning some basic skills, such as walking on a lead and house training. As I write this, she is curled up snoozing by me on the sofa. She now trusts me completely and trots round with me as I go about my daily routine. She adores Benji and follows his lead. The fact that she needs me so much, as her stable person, her rescuer whom she can trust, has given me extra reason to live and carry on fighting.
  • New friends: I met some wonderful people in hospital last year. We connected and have formed a support network. Some other friends (who I previously didn't know) have also become part of this network and I now have people to see every day, who understand the challenges of living with an ED and of fighting every day to get well and stay well. It's actually quite hard to articulate the extent to which these friends have made it possible for me to see hope, even in some very difficult times. They know who they are and the only way I can repay them is to try to give back the same support to them. 
Good change in action: Midge on her first day, too scared to come out from under the Papasan chair


Last week, making herself comfortable on my knitting!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

HfC 31 Reflection

The prompt is: "Reflections
Think back/look back over the previous thirty days. How did you find this challenge? Did
you find anything difficult? Were you pleasantly surprised in some way? Did you learn
anything from your writing? Did you read other people’s blogs? Did you learn anything
from others? If you could write one sentence to express what you want people to know
most of all about eating disorders and recovery from this blog challenge what would it be?
And why?"

This challenge literally was a challenge for me: it forced me to try to articulate my current state both with recovery and with the anorexia, which, in turn, helped me to think about why certain aspects of recovery are hard for me; it asked for a regular commitment to blogging which I've never previously achieved; it helped me overcome my reluctance to write about ED stuff in a public forum and (unbelievably for me) it prompted me to share one blog post with my facebook friends. The incredible response from friends is something that I will always treasure: both through personal messages and through comments on the link that I posted.

Reading blogs from a selected few other participants has been particularly valuable in re-igniting my hope that full recovery is possible. Some bloggers are inspiring in sharing their recovery and that is helpful to *all* of us with EDs, given the likelihood that the people we meet again and again in treatment are not the individuals who have achieved successful recovery - and therefore it often seems as though there are no recovered anorexics.

The one thing I'd like people to take away from the challenge is that all of the bloggers are very different, just as it's impossible to stereotype or pigeonhole people with EDs: we're all individuals. We experience illness in different ways and recover in different ways. The most important thing is to start to redefine experiences that seem like set-backs as just another step on the long journey. Eventually we will get there. We must hold on to hope.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

HfC 30 Someday

Someday:

I'll pick up some food in the supermarket without turning it over to read all the numbers. I might even put it in my basket.
I'll be able to plan holidays without even thinking about the food there, let alone feeling crippling anxiety about it.
I'll look at the yummy pastries, cupcakes and muffins in Starbucks or Costa and be able to choose one. I might be able to order it. I might be able to take a bite. Someday I might be able to eat the whole thing.
Someone might fall in love with me and I'll know what it is to be in love.
My dreams of being a mummy might come true; I'd be able to knit for my own baby instead of lots of things for other people's babies (because when I knit those things, happiness for my friends is intermingled with my own sadness about not being a mummy myself).

Someday I will no longer simply be existing: I will be living life abundantly and enjoying this amazing world.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

HfC day 29- My song



Mary, Mary: Can't Give Up Now

This doesn't need any explanation. I heard it a few years ago when a close friend sent me the link and it speaks to me every time I hear it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

HfC day 28 Reality Check

I have lots of stories that fit into this category because anorexia does things to your body that are deeply unglamorous. For example, losing control of my bowels in the street because of muscle wastage. Diarrhoea in hospital at the start of refeeding - when on bed rest and not allowed to shower - then collapsing when I stood up and having to go to A&E aware that I probably stank of Veg Tikka (that day's lunch on the ward) and poo. Undignifiedly being wheeled into A&E by a health care assistant because of being on bed rest and therefore not allowed to walk. Her taking me into the loo with her because of being on obs ... so I had to watch her wee (and of course, when on obs, someone is always with you when you go to the loo, or wash or shower or sleep or dress or everything). Then seeing a gorgeous junior doctor and wishing I could impress him or at least feel equal to him but knowing that, to him, I was just a mental health patient in a tracksuit, smelling of tikka and diarrhoea with a painful hip that needed x ray to check it wasn't fractured. With hindsight, another factor that I didn't understand at the time was that I was emaciated. And emaciation is ugly. Hairy faces but hair loss on the head. Bed sores if not sleeping on an air mattress.

Other ED behaviours are similarly unglamorous: peeing oneself during self-induced vomiting; being sick in a dirty public lavatory because of the desperation to be clean inside; panic mounting in supermarkets while staring at the calorie counts and fat grams, knowing people are staring... I could go on.

But I won't. And none of this should ever be used by people with EDs as evidence that they need to work harder at being "ED" : these horrible situations (bedrest, collapsing, emaciation) are *not* success at being thin. They are truly distressing experiences and something that no one should have to live through.

Furthermore, I know that the severity of emotional distress in EDs can be as appalling for people of any BMI, whether it's 11 or 32; whether they have AN, EDNOS, BN, BED.

A positive picture to lighten the mood. The kind of fun that I couldn't have when all those awful things were happening :-)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

HfC day 27 I can't believe...

I can't believe that I:

* have the two most amazing dogs in the world who love me
* have some wonderful friends
* have people who love me, despite all my flaws
* came through some difficult times and that those setbacks didn't set me back from carrying on with uni and going on to postgraduate study
* got my PhD

Thursday, May 24, 2012

HfC day 24 - off topic

I didn't fancy writing about today's prompt but instead thought it might be worth sharing something that I heard yesterday on Radio 4's excellent programme All in the Mind. They reported on a study that has used those 3D body scanners (more commonly seen in airport security) as a tool for overcoming body image distortion in patients with EDs. It sounded like a potentially fruitful area for further research and a big advance in previous ideas for challenging distorted body image. For a while, video diaries were used in the unit where I was a patient but I found those to be distressing (standing in your underwear looking at a life size version of yourself projected in front of you). Some friends did gain some enlightenment from it, becoming aware that their bodies looked underweight. However, I think I was in a position where I hated seeing myself and hated standing in a room in my underwear with 2 or 3 fully dressed therapists so much that the size perception thing completely passed me by. I imagine that with the body scanners, patients can be fully clothed and then see the scan image as a 3D picture that shows size alone. So I'd definitely be open to participating in something like that.

Anyway, if you fancy a listen, have a look at the All in the Mind website

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

HfC day 23 Quotation, quotation, quotation

I have a few quotations stored on Facebook that mean something to me about EDs/recovery. The first mostly expresses how I feel about accepting who I am and what it means to be me, therefore not judging or berating myself for things that have happened in my life: One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. - Nietzsche

The second is from a childhood icon and just makes me smile: 'Never eat more than you can lift.' (Miss Piggy)

I came across the third when research Middle English texts for my degree. It's from a book of advice for religious people and speaks against excessive fasting, using the metaphor of a lamp without oil to describe fasting that is not accompanied by acts of charity:
'þat fastingge withoten elmesse is of mith
As is þe lampe withoten olie and lith.' (MS Advocates 18.7.21 after Isidore)


My final quotation comes from the wonderful 'Number One Ladies Detective Agency' series of books by Alexander McCall Smith. The main character, Mma Ramotswe, is Botswanan by birth and is proud to live there. She is also proud of her "traditionally built" figure: 'Mma Ramotswe had never been able to understand that, and considered it one of the worst features of modern society that people should be ashamed to be of traditional build, cultivating instead a look that was bony and positively uncomfortable. Everybody knows, she thought, that we have a skeleton underneath our skin; there's no reason to show it.' (Alexander McCall Smith, Miracle at Speedy Motors)








Tuesday, May 22, 2012

HfC day 22: keeping me

In previous blog entries for the challenge, I've mentioned the difficulty that arises from feeling that anorexia is inextricable from my identity. I don't want to write a long post for this one, partly because it is something that's particularly pertinent to my experience of the ED and therefore something that I feel uneasy about sharing too widely. So instead, here are a few random thoughts:


  • When I was in therapy for the first time, pretty solidly from April 1999 to Sept 2001, one of the really important issues that we dealt with was the fixed idea I had that people only recognised me because I had very long hair, I was skinny and I always came top in exams at school and won the form prize. I didn't really have any concept of a sense of self beyond that. The amount of identity that I gained from exams is very clear from the fact that the descent into crisis (described in the previous blog entry) happened in the year after I left school. Without school and exams to define me, who am I? The answer seemed to lie in the skinny bit: I'd been restricting my eating for the past 8 years or so in order to maintain that shape (which stood for lots of things: childhood, vulnerability, control, disgust at my own body). Once the school bit of identity had ended, there was more room for the anorexic bit to take over. My therapist was really proud of me when I had my hair cut at the beginning of 2000, because it was a sign that I realised I was an entity separate from the parts that had been so important. 
  • It's not a coincidence that lots of people with EDs have low self esteem. Problems with self esteem are indicative of a lack of self identity and the ED can provide that. I've heard a psychologist refer to an evidence base suggesting that this is more acute with anorexia because, bizarrely, it is "desirable", whereas it's more common for people with BN or BED to hate the diagnosis and not want it to be part of them.
  • In hospital last year, some friends made me a poster with a drawing of me and lots of words to describe me. The caption was Linda ≠ anorexia. I stuck it up on my bedroom wall.
  • Finally, last year when I refused to participate in body image group, I set myself a project. I made a sketch book in which I used old photographs to draw images of myself from babyhood to the present. The process of drawing helped me to see aspects of my quiddity - my me-ness - that are noticeable at all ages and, crucially, at all body sizes. Indeed, it also pointed to something that a wise dietitian once told me: she said that when she first saw me in the summer of 2003 when I'd been admitted to hospital and was very poorly, I was a shadow, who sat curled up hiding in the hood of my sweater. She couldn't detect a personality at all. But then, as refeeding happened, she said it was like a butterfly coming from the cocoon, and she grew to understand why lots of the nurses and medical staff remembered me from previous admissions and had said nice things about me. 


The inextricability of where ED stops and where I begin is still a big problem for me. But writing this blog entry has reminded me that, for others at least, being Linda is not synonymous with being anorexic.

HfC day 21 (a day late) Healers with Heart


I didn't get round to blogging yesterday; however, I did pluck up courage to share this month's challenge with my FB friends... and got an amazing response. In addition to more visitors to the blog than had ever been on one day before (by about a factor of 10), friends wrote some really touching comments on my FB post and a few even sent messages, which were incredibly powerful and made me feel very loved. Given that the idea of sharing on FB was terrifying to me - because writing about my feelings and then allowing people I know the chance to read about them feels a lot like running naked through a big party of all my family and friends - I was overwhelmed by the encouragement.

However, I don't want to miss yesterday's prompt because, having previously included a letter to Cambridge and Peterborough Foundation Trust, who completely failed to act as "healers" to me, let alone "healers with heart", I want to balance the scales by mentioning the professionals that have helped me.

I was first referred to the ED team at what is now Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust way back in 1998. My first meeting was with an inexperienced young doctor and I'll admit to finding it traumatic. It was the first time I'd had a psychiatric assessment (I don't remember being assessed like that by the psychiatrist I was under when I was 11). I didn't want anything to do with the service and was cross because she advised against me going off to uni. She was, of course, right that it was not a good idea for me to go at that time, as I realised when I visited a friend in London a few weeks later and couldn't walk unaided down the street. 6 or 8 weeks after that first meeting, things had reached a crisis point. I received a letter one morning saying that the next appt with the ED team had had to be postponed. This threw me into sheer panic: the thought that someone might be able to help me had been my focus and I couldn't cope with another few weeks of how my life was at that stage. My dad took me to the GP surgery. The very young female GP who saw me (a definite healer with heart) cancelled all her other appts for that morning and rang through to Dr Robertson, the lead consultant in the ED team. I think it was a Friday and he said he would see me on the Monday. He advised her on how to keep me safe over the weekend... basically, she kept popping round to the house with Diazepam.

That Monday, I went back to QEPH outpatient dept with both parents. I remember very clearly when Dr Robertson came out into the waiting area, he came straight over to me and said 'you must be Linda'. I had no idea how he knew who I was, but looking back, I suppose I probably looked like someone who was very poorly with anorexia. He spoke to me for a while. I don't remember any of that conversation. Then my parents came in too. He told us that he felt I should go into hospital asap. Unfortunately, he had no free beds on the Reed unit so said he would arrange an NHS-funded bed at the local Priory clinic. We went home with a prescription for temazepam (because I was refusing to let myself sleep - thinking that sleep was lazy) to wait for a phone call with more instructions.

On the Weds, a girl on the Reed unit discharged herself so I was offered her bed rather than the Priory one. Funnily enough, back then the unit was very fixed on its admission days so I had to wait till Monday to go in; nowadays Dr R brings people in as soon as there's a bed and they agree because of the tendency for people to try to lose a bit more while waiting. For me, going in straight away would have saved me a scar on my forehead: I wouldn't let myself sleep even with temazepam and I cut my head open falling down the stairs in the early hours of the morning, attempting to go downstairs and keep busy. Over the phone, A&E advised my mother not to bring me in because they'd have to admit me to a general psych ward and the on-call psychiatrist thought it would be better for me if I could stay at home until going into the Reed. My poor mum (another healer with heart) had to sleep across the doorway to my room for the next few nights to stop me trying to wander again.

I was really poorly when I was admitted to the hospital. I couldn't see it at the time and thought I was too big to be there. I told the person admitting me that it was 'just like when I was the biggest baby in the special care baby unit'. Some of the people from that admission are still there, even though the service is now housed in a new hospital building and the unit has a different name. Dr R, my psychologist, some of the nursing assistants. The NAs that I'm thinking of seem to have infinite capacity to care. They know us at our worst and yet continue to believe in us and continue to encourage everyone to keep going.

It's probably a bit trite to say that I believe BSMHFT saved my life but I think they probably have. On at least 3 occasions. Amongst ourselves, my friends and I can often moan about individual aspects of the service: what is the point of morning support group? why do they keep employing Dr Thingummybob? agency staff should not be allowed to do dining room support... especially if they are going to answer their phone while in there, or stare, or make strange comments.

But beyond the complaints, there is a service that continues to help people and, unlike CPFT, it does not give up on anyone. Within the service there are individuals that to whom I wish I could articulate how strongly I appreciate the things that they have done for me. Some things are big; others might just be a squeeze of my shoulder as I walked out of the dining room after a really hard meal. Through that, they show that they aren't just showing up to pick up a wage but that their hearts are present with them, and with us as we attempt to get better.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sound of Silence - part 2

I wrote my response to today's prompt after midnight last night. So it was essentially written in a liminal space between yesterday and today...
But reading the prompt's title, The Sound of Silence, so late at night has meant that the song inside my head today has been Simon and Garfunkel's Sound of Silence. This reminded me of another Simon and Garfunkel song that has always resonated with me because it partly manages to articulate something about the way that my anorexia has functioned for me. The anorexia creates the 'walls, a fortress deep and mighty'. Walls that protect. Walls that isolate. Walls that provide me with safety from the pain of emotions and of experiencing the real world.

I've built walls, 
A fortress deep and mighty, 
That none may penetrate. 
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. 
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/simon+and+garfunkel/i+am+a+rock_20124809.html ] 
Don't talk of love, 
But I've heard the words before; 
It's sleeping in my memory. 
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died. 
If I never loved I never would have cried. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 

At the worst times, the thought of someone penetrating the walls, of trespassing on my island, is terrifying.  But so is the thought of being trapped in the loneliness of illness forever.
One particular line that speaks to my situation is that 'I have my books/ And my poetry to protect me'. There have been many times when I've used my love of books to authenticate some of my need to restrict myself from other enjoyment. I went for about 6 years without watching television and a similar amount of time unable to allow myself to sit with my family in the sitting room. I suppose it was about isolation. And about the control of not permitting myself certain simple pleasures.

I have my books 
And my poetry to protect me; 
I am shielded in my armor, 
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. 
I touch no one and no one touches me. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 

The song's final couplet is paradoxically truth and a lie... Anorexia does numb the pain for a while but as long as pain exists, we know we have to face it sometime. And maybe we do need to cry.

And a rock feels no pain; 
And an island never cries.


I've felt myself retreating a bit this week. I've been choosing alone. As I write this, I guess I know that I have to fight the urge to build walls, to become an island. Anorexia's armour may feel safe but it endangers us: our health, our relationships, our lives.

(all lyrics cited are copyright Paul Simon. And if you don't own a Simon and Garfunkel album, you should really buy one. They are amazing)

HfC day 20: the sound of silence

This prompt is weirdly apt for me because I wanted to write something about the silence here for the past few days. I've missed out on several days of the challenge consecutively. And it's hard to explain why, because admitting publicly to low moods and feeling emotionally fragile is terrifying. (I do see that I have actually admitted it in that last sentence). How many times when asked 'how are you?' do I/ we say 'fine, thanks' even when fine is far from the truth? I even did it at my last GP appointment; my GP seemed so thrilled that I was fine that I was then unable to tell him how I had been struggling with feeling very low and worthless.
Maybe the difficulties that have prevented me from writing, alongside the realisation that it feels impossible to admit how things really are, point to something about the functionality of EDs: if societal pressures make it difficult to talk about sadness, mental pain, emotional distress, the "obvious" option is to turn that pain inwards even more and to make it tangible in ED symptoms. For one thing that an emaciated body achieves is to communicate distress. When spoken communication has failed, our bodies can graphically illustrate the extremity of our sadness.
Indeed, one of the conversations that I've had with others who've been through treatment with me is that when refeeding has made our bodies look "normal", people assume that everything is ok. For some recovering/ed anorexics, I hope that is true. But for many of us, treating the body is one part of a picture that rarely happens exactly simultaneously with sorting out all the thoughts and crap inside our heads. Someone with a BMI over 20 can be hurting inside as much as someone whose BMI causes doctors to write bed rest plans.

When it's properly 20th May (as opposed to nearly 1am on the 20th before I've actually finished with the 19th), I will try to write the post that I'd planned in my head - I've been wondering why I have not shared my participation in this challenge with all my Facebook friends. Most of them are aware about my ED because I have never tried to hide my experiences. But I think I'm scared of letting them read the very personal thoughts and details of things that have happened...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

HfC day 16 Fat is not a feeling...

This prompt made me laugh because, about a year ago, there was a big to do in the ED unit where I was receiving treatment. Two nurses had started a body image group (compulsory part of the group programme). The trouble was that neither of them had experience of running this group ... and it's the group that tends to cause the most anxiety and distress among patients. I stated outright that I would not attend, having previously had very bad experience of such groups but after the first session, all my friends came out fuming.

The session was based on the very same statement as this prompt. But when the girls (and all the patients on the unit at that time were female) offered their thoughts on alternative feelings in a brainstorm, the nurses claimed that things like 'guilt', 'fear', 'disgust', etc, were not feelings. Apparently they'd read a book that stated that there are only 4 human feelings. Therefore, they wanted everyone to fit their emotional experience onto one of the 4 feelings that are "correct". I think we can all agree that fat isn't a feeling, even though feelings of fat are incredibly real when one is experiencing them. But to tell people that they aren't experiencing guilt or fear or self-disgust because those aren't "correct" feelings is bizarre, to say the least.

I spoke to a psychologist about it to try to get to the bottom of this '4 feelings' theory. He said that perhaps it was a correlation of a few different bits of psychological research. Generally, he said, there are something like 6 or 7 accepted "feelings" and it's usually possible to plot all the variations and distinctions of individual emotion onto one of those 6 or 7 basic notions. And there's also something complicated going on with how we distinguish between a 'feeling' and an 'emotion'.

I'm not sure where this post is going, except to say that the following week, that incarnation of the body image group ended in acrimony with a rather large argument between the facilitators and the patients. And that, obviously, it is a crucial step in the long recovery process when you realise that very real feelings about your body are, in fact, the way that your brain is coping with very real feelings and emotions about other things, especially when those things are simply too painful to cope with.

My difficulty has always been that I can grasp the intellectual concepts behind theories of illness. I understand it all perfectly on an intellectual level. The problem is in the disparity between intellectual knowledge and emotional belief. One of my uni supervisors (who is a very wise man) talked about this in relation to affective piety in the medieval period, i.e. that sitting through a dramatic version of the Crucifixion can shift someone from understanding the Christian story in theory, as an interesting story in a book, to a place where they believe emotionally in the pain of the sacrifice.

We all have to keep trying to move towards truly believing that fat feelings aren't true, simultaneously attempting to find other ways to cope with the real emotions that we experience.