I haven’t really written much for a while – if you don’t count a number of posts that are now sitting in my huge drafts folder and probably will remain there. It’s been one of those times where I am coping, because I’m here and writing these words to you now – but I feel overwhelmed and like I simply cannot cope any more and I just want to shut it all down. Cancel everything and never emerge from my safe little hermit hole again.
But we can’t do that. If we shut things down when we feel like shutting the world out, it gets harder to go out there in the world and participate. Anxiety grows stronger. You don’t challenge your fears without going out there and proving them unfounded. Your world shrinks and anything outside your little bubble becomes even more overwhelming to even consider being part of.
And you miss out on the precious things. Smiles from strangers, laughing with a good friend. Patting someone’s puppy. Walking in the park under the trees and imagining what they might be saying to you
“Good morning Fiona, we see you have come to visit us again”
“Yes, I have. When I walk under your branches I feel I can breathe, like I haven’t breathed for ages. You calm me down.”
“That’s because the world you live in is crazy. You zip around in your little metal cages called cars, you accumulate things and bits of paper and metal that you give huge value to, you dress yourselves with pretty rags and bobbles… so complicated. What’s that all about? Why not come and stand here with us and just.. breathe?”
Oh Hah! I wish I could
And I’m aware that this little exchange with the trees is rather nutty-sounding. But this is truly me. I’m like that. I wander in parks and forests and talk to the trees. Because I’ve always felt they are alive in there. Far more alive than we are, to be honest.
I spent a lot of my childhood up trees or as close to them as I could get. And as an adult, I still want to run away and climb a tree. Always climb a tree. I imagine a tree taller than a skyscraper, with views for miles around, with a little cubby up there among the branches where I can both hide from the world and observe it from far above. And I would be close to the sky, and that’s another thing I have a ‘love affair’ with. Clouds, stars, sunshine… and dreams of flying. Oh how I wish I could fly, and if I ever get to meet God, I’m going to tell Him what a mistake He made when He made us without wings or some magic ability to fly – and I don’t mean by creating aircraft, either. Although that’s pretty awesome.
Things are pretty uncertain here at the moment. In 2011, Queensland had catastrophic floods. I wasn’t really affected as I lived in the city then, but we were evacuated for over a week because we lost essential services. For me with my eating disorder, this was really, really difficult, but I survived. For Shalimar it was an adventure.
Unfortunately, Queensland is flooding again. We still don’t know what the full extent will be yet, the Brisbane river isn’t going to peak until midday tomorrow. I happen to live in the middle of an overflow area now. So far we are safe, but we are surrounded by flooded areas.
The difference between this year’s flooding and the 2011 floods is that the creeks are rising too, this time, instead of just the river. Flooding has also happened by water coming back through drains and sewers. I have two major creeks on either side of me – really should be called rivers more than creeks – and both of them broke their banks early last night. They have been evacuating a few streets away, and quite a few people had to be rescued from rising waters there today.
So my problems this time will more likely be that I can’t get out of where I am for a while. It also means that the workers who help me cope with life, won’t be able to get in. It means I don’t have access to a supermarket to get food, and I don’t have access to a chemist to get medications. I’m very fortunate that I still have electricity, and I have the computer, the TV, my phone – so I’m able to talk to people, keep up with what is happening etc.
In 2011, even after I’d returned home, there were problems to navigate. The floods followed a major cyclone up north – and food supplies were heavily affected. There was very little fresh produce – farmers had to dump thousands of kilos of ruined crops. Then there were the problems of getting what food survived through to people. In Brisbane where I am, even though it’s a major city (the capital of Queensland) we had supply problems. There was NO bread. For weeks the shelves were bare. For weeks the shelves were bare of fresh produce too, and shelf stable stuff ran out too – much of it was bought up in a panicked buying frenzy before the floods. Shops had to throw out all of their stock because even if it hadn’t been damaged beyond use – for example was in impervious packaging – the water was contaminated with sewerage and God knows what else and it couldn’t be used.
This is what I’m most afraid of again. For everyone, it’s a huge headache, lives are stuffed around – and for many they have lost everything. I am so thankful that I haven’t been in that situation and feel bad for complaining over my tiny little problems. But for someone with an eating disorder, being unable to purchase or even find any food remotely like that you are able to eat (at the moment probably not even having any food shops that I am not cut off from) and being unable to connect with support people – it can be a personal disaster or at the very least, a very difficult time.
It’s hard to prepare for a disaster when you have an eating disorder. Keeping a stock of food that could last you weeks or even months is completely out of the question when you have any form of binge disorder. Even with restricting disorders – much of the time keeping food stores is verboten by your disorder and your sense of safety. And then, even if you were able to have a stock of food for those times, what if you were unable to eat it? What if you were unable to keep the precious rations down? What if the only food you could keep as an emergency store wasn’t food you were safe to eat? What if you were evacuated and the centre where you stayed, or the people you stayed with, didn’t have food you could eat?
I faced a situation like this in the 2011 floods – my friends didn’t eat food anything like I ate – and they ate a lot of take-out style food. I was hugely thankful and forced myself to eat a small portion of everything they gave me, but if that had happened a year earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to eat their food at all, or I would have thrown it all up, and I would have been in a huge mess. Not to mention that I would have worried them awfully – in the same way as I still can’t forgive myself for worrying my Dad and his family when I used to stay with them – because I would try SO hard to pretend that I was okay just at least for the time I was with them, but you can’t pretend you are not sick, and I was just too sick to fool anyone.
The self-condemnation during situations like this can be overwhelming for someone with an ED. How could we be so ungrateful when people have been going out of their way for us? How could we complain over such a tiny problem when there are people out there who have lost everything, even lost their lives? Why can’t we just BE OKAY for even the short while we have no other choice but to be in this situation? Eat the food there is to eat, keep it down, hide the physical problems you live with etc. If only it was simple!
This is all reminiscent of the oft used admonishment to “Think of the starving people” that parents used to chide a fussy eater with at meal times, but is often thrown at someone with an eating disorder, as if being grateful for the fact that we have this food when there are people who have nothing would be all we needed to change. All this does is heap more guilt and shame and self-hatred on top of that we already are drowning under. Not only that, but having ready access to food and being fortunate have nothing to do with whether you might get an eating disorder or not. There are actually people with eating disorders in third world countries, famine areas, war areas – in pretty similar ratios per population as there are in America and Australia and Europe. The reason that it seems that there aren’t people with eating disorders in these situations has a lot to do with there not being the services to identify them in the first place.
Eating disorders also don’t materialise exactly the same way everywhere – the myth that they are about body image and the media’s pressure on women to be thin and beautiful has long being perpetuated in Western countries, even by many eating disorder organisations themselves – because body image and media are such strong influences on our cultures. Nobody can escape it here, and even those with healthy self image and eating will struggle with it. In a place where there is not the importance placed on looks, weight, or image by that culture, eating disorders still happen. But since their cultures don’t value body image and the media, they have different ways of expressing the same illness. The way I see it, we use body image distress and the dieting culture as a language to express our discomfort not just with our size or appearance, but with a whole range of often unrelated problems. Other cultures might not strive to appear a certain way or be a certain size, but the weight fluctuations and behaviours from the disorder still express the deeper problems they experience. Check out the fascinating book and it’s site - Crazy Like Us – or the summary of Part 1 – Anorexia in Hong Kong – here.
If only beating an eating disorder were mind over matter – it’s not. It is a serious mental and physical illness that research has been proving more and more is inheritable, is quite probably due to differing levels of chemicals in our bodies – for example, serotonin, leptin, grehlin – and even a survival trait from millions of years ago. See Carrie Arnold‘s latest book, “Decoding Anorexia – How Breakthroughs in Science Offer Hope For Eating Disorders“. Click to see inside the book, and you will be able to read some of the most interesting snippets I have read in a long time. It’s worth scrolling right to the end of the available material. Even more, it’s worth buying the book so you can read it all! You can also check out her blog, ED Bites.
Back to my topic – coping with an eating disorder during a disaster – I am lucky, and I am going to be okay. I’m still unsure what the full situation is, having been to scared to actually venture out and look and relying on news and internet reports – but here is safe and that’s what matters. I’m so thankful for that.
I also don’t know what to expect in terms of will my support workers be working tomorrow, will my appointments go ahead? I have no idea. I am planning to take each problem as it comes. There is no point worrying too much about what might happen – because I don’t know what might happen and endlessly worrying is already a trait I do too much!
Shalimar is doing fine. She loved me taking her into the shower with me in the heat wave just last week, and she’s loving the watery conditions here at the moment. I’m glad she’s safe, and I hope and pray she never comes face to face with true danger.
What has been the most challenging situation you have had to navigate with an eating disorder or other challenging problem?