I find it incredibly difficult to be completely honest about how I’m really going. Especially on such a public forum as this blog.
There are perhaps a couple of people I’m always totally honest with – and that is because they are part of my treatment team. Being honest with them is obvious to me. They can’t help me unless they know what’s happening! Scarily enough there are many people with eating disorders who cannot be honest with their treatment team – in fact, it seems to be very common in the earlier stages of being so unwell, or when the person is lacking in insight. Insight makes a huge difference in this fight – being able to understand that you are unwell, and why, and that the people around you are trying to help you, not persecute you.
It’s quite obvious in the blog world, actually, to come across people who blog about their supposedly ‘healthy lives’, but don’t have the insight to acknowledge the elephant in the room, their eating disorder – and the fact that they are becoming more and more unwell and more people every day are speaking out in concern for them. I can never understand some of these people when they so blatantly ignore the concern and pretend they are fine, or worse, they are well - and it’s often hard to find respect for them. There are so many people, especially younger and more vulnerable people – who read these sites and take on board the messages these sick bloggers are putting out there. If there is one thing I would absolutely loathe myself for, it would be inadvertently causing or triggering someone else’s eating disorder.
But despite it being so easy for me to stand in judgement – we often forget that eating disorders are by nature, an illness in where the person suffering from it often lacks that insight or is in heavy denial. That they often act in ways that infuriate, irritate, frustrate, people around them. That deceit is a classic behavior born of shame and fear and the need to hang on to their disorder. Being sick doesn’t make someone bad. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been thought of and told that I was a bad person, because I was too unwell to just eat and keep it down and behave. And I would have done anything at those times to ‘behave’ so that I could stop hurting, worrying or frustrating people – I tried with all my heart to do that. It wasn’t something I was capable of doing at that stage.
One of the main reasons I find it so difficult to be honest with people about how I’m really going, is deep shame. Long before I had the foggiest notion that I actually had an eating disorder, I saw people with anorexia on current affairs shows on TV and just was heartbroken for them, and frightened for them that they were so fragile and that they would die – and I couldn’t understand at all why they were doing that to themselves. It shocked me to think they had actually chosen to do that to themselves and then to continue to do so in the face of imminent death and the pleas of their loved ones. I just could not get my head around it. I thought they were also incredibly vain, to be killing themselves to just be skinny – I didn’t even see the appeal of being skinny. All my life, I had found skinny quite ugly. Instead, I strived to be strong, and to be able to dance. I was extremely proud of being able to dance at the level that I had gotten to, and at what my body could do. Even as a young child, It had been obvious to me that the worst dancers in my class were the skinny girls, who just couldn’t get anything right and always looked gangly and out of place. Conversely, the biggest girl was also the best dancer and always front and centre. She was bouncy and full of energy and personality.
And I have to admit – I thought they were brats. Sick, scared, lost, hurting brats, but brats nonetheless. I thought they were selfish. I thought they were manipulating everyone who cared for them in order to get attention and mollycoddling. I truly did.
So when I finally had to admit just after my first hospital admission for anorexia (spent protesting that I had needed to lose the weight and that I wasn’t at all like the ‘real anorexics’) that I had anorexia too, it brought incredible shame and disbelief down on me. I couldn’t believe I had an eating disorder. I who had been overcome with fury when other class mates had whispered “That’s what Fiona has” during a biology class discussion about anorexia, who had disgustedly retorted “that’s what spoilt vain brats do, and I would never do something that stupid” had indeed, done exactly that. Talk about irony!
Now I know better. I know that’s not true at all. I’ve never wanted the attention having an eating disorder has brought me. And I didn’t have anyone to mollycoddle me – my family has never cared. My dad, when he tracked me down a few years into my hospital admissions, tried his best, even offered initially for me to move in with them in the Far North – but I was too scared to, at that stage he was a complete stranger to me. And I didn’t want to impose on him and his family. I didn’t want to bring my problems into their world, they didn’t deserve that. He persevered with me – and I stayed with him a week or two here and there over the eight years I knew him – it was such a blessing and a privilege to be given a second chance at having a real family. I loved my stays with them – I was made welcome, treated with kindness and respect, and my little sister was always all over me which warmed my heart – I loved her dearly. (Still do.)
Unfortunately, despite wanting more than anything else to be able to just ‘stop’ being unwell when I was with them, I couldn’t. I tried so hard! I usually lasted at best a few days. In those years, I wasn’t even really able to eat ‘normal’ food, so great was my fear, so I usually had my own food and created meals to eat with them, mostly dinner meals. I tried to make these meals look large and as close to ‘normal’ as I could – hoping that my family would just think I had other preferences and was feeding myself satisfactorily and not worry or be sad that I couldn’t enjoy some of their delicious meals. I wanted them to believe I was happy. I didn’t want them to worry at all. I failed.
A huge pile of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and a million carrots (nibbled mostly during the evenings when I just badly wanted to EAT everything in sight) does not look like a good nutritious meal to anyone. Neither does a pile of brown, terribly overcooked cabbage. I only fooled myself. It was plainly apparent to anyone that I was sick, and even when I wasn’t staying with them, my dad worried. He would phone me (in the days I was still trying to communicate via phone) and ask me how I was doing, and I’d tell him I was going okay, hanging in there. Unfortunately he could tell just by my voice that I wasn’t well at all, he later told me, and instead reached out to someone he thought was a friend of mine – who had given him her details at a time he’d visited me in hospital and she had been there. She wasn’t a friend – I thought she was too for a while, she turned out to be an enemy – she fed my dad the nastiest of lies – told him my eating disorder was to hurt him, to ‘get back at him’ for not being around when I was younger. That it was for attention. That I was dying, when I was very sick but definitely not on my death bed (she also tried to force me to make a will once visiting me – and got promptly kicked out, who does that?!) She also contacted my sister, who was in her very early teens at the time, perhaps even a tween still at that stage – this forty-something year old (really)parent’s basement-dwelling woman, friended a kid. And fed her lies about me too. Told her that if I loved her, really loved her, I wouldn’t be doing this to myself, and that my dad died of cancer – melanoma – because of the stress I had caused him.
I have deeply regretted that I wasn’t honest with my dad about how I was really going, no matter how unwell I was. If I was honest, he wouldn’t have felt the need to ask someone else how I really was, and he might never have been fed such a pack of lies that probably coloured his views of his own daughter, nor would my little sister have been fed the lies that led to her gradually hating me more and more until the last straw was me actually doing something deplorable – shoplifting binge food and getting caught on the morning of dad’s funeral – for which she cannot forgive me. She hates my guts now. What’s more, I just reinforced the lies by what I did. Shoplifting is the thing I hate perhaps most about me. I haven’t done it for a while now – but I haven’t let my guard down and I never will. There have been so many times in my life that I have stopped, for years sometimes – and then fallen down that hole again. The urge to grab food is always, always so strong, even more so when I’m upset, stressed, unwell and definitely, hungry. And the bingeing and purging is the most horrible thing ever, I wish with all my heart I’d never started down that road, a road I feel unable to break free from now. I would never have struggled as much as I have, and I would never have shoplifted food – something so, so wrong to me.
I fear judgement so much. All my life, I have been harshly judged, by my own family, and by society. My own family (apart from dad) never made any attempts to understand me. When I got out of there they didn’t know me. They had had nearly 17 years living with me from my birth to get to know me – and they didn’t have a clue. This was because they simply did not care.
Everything in my life was something I was judged for. My mother spent my life berating me for all the good things she did do for me – telling me endlessly that if only she didn’t ‘have’ to take me to ballet, the car wouldn’t be wearing out, she’d have more money for other things, she would have more time to spend with my brother and sister. She would have been able to finish her studies and be working now. She would have been a successful artist. She would have fixed our filthy, unfinished house up. It didn’t matter that she took me to ballet perhaps 3 times a week, which took about 2 – 3 hours at a time tops. That is not the lions’ share of the week. She had all day that we were at school to be an artist, to do her schoolwork, to clean up or fix things and so on – and she instead would sit around watching soapies on TV or working on the growing pile of receipts she kept to create another bill to send our dad of money she wanted to demand from him. She spent all day with my older sister who was home all day too, they were like best girlfriends rather than mother and daughter. She had time to take my brother to soccer and martial arts and basketball. They weren’t starving for attention or time with her.
The last couple of years I lived there she didn’t even have to take me to ballet or pay a cent for me aside from absolute basics – food and clothing. My ballet was paid for by scholarships and sponsorships I’d won, and I got myself there using public transport. My days were long – a school day for me was up at 5am, chores, breakfast, cold bath, try to iron dry damp clothes I had to wear. Catch bus at 5.55am. Transfer to train, for nearly an hour. Transfer to another bus to school. We started dancing at 8am with Limber, followed by usually ballet class, then jazz or tap or repertoire or pointe or contemporary or something else afterwards. I danced during the class breaks, and danced afterwards til everyone had showered so that I was in there mostly alone to avoid the bullying that was happening all those years. Showered and caught our bus to school to begin academic work at about 2pm, going through til 4.30pm. Then reversing the transport home, at 6.30pm where there were more chores, homework, and endless family battles to navigate. I would practice most nights and end up either lying in bed all night exercising or falling asleep at about 3am at my desk, to repeat the next day. This was six days a week, there was no time for me to get a job and between the ages of 14 to 16, I was still extremely immature and probably wouldn’t have been able to find anyone to employ me anyway. (I did try – volunteering during my holidays and canvassing local businesses for work with my resume.) My mother, who was paid a single parent pension, an allowance for me for my disabilities, and maintenance from dad – refused to supply most basics for me aside from food – and very cheap food at that, usually buying food for the family and cheaper food just for me. She even refused to buy me a school uniform, and the school supplied me with one out of their spares cupboard, kept for accidents, four sizes too big and stained. One of my school teachers helped me tape the fronts of my shoes together and paint over the tape so they stayed on my feet. I also tried to keep my shoes together by nailing nails into the sole from the inside – and ended up walking painfully on them all day as they worked themselves upwards. (And I was grateful – it was a uniform, just like everyone else had.)
My point is, my mother was not only needlessly cruel, she seemed to blame everything on me. I was just a kid, and one who had been tightly controlled too, so that I was very emotionally immature, and she was my mother. My PARENT, who was meant to feed me, clothe me, look after me. Instead, she taught me that I was some horrible, unworthy and inherently wrong creature not worthy of what other people took for granted, and the bullying I suffered due partly to my constant scruffiness (especially during ballet school where most of the others were from affluent backgrounds) and partly due to my ineptness socially, just reinforced this. I grew up deeply ashamed of myself as a person in every way.
My own family never cared enough to really find out who Fiona was, and they made it clear I wasn’t even worthy of being understood or accepted, and so they certainly didn’t even try to learn about or understand eating disorders. They believed every stereotype there was – to them, my eating disorder was a sign of me being the spoilt naughty selfish girl they’d always told me I was. In later years they accused me of using a ‘made up illness’ to basically be a lazy bludger, never working, never achieving anything but sponging off the taxpayer, and this stung deeply. They of all people, knew how hard a worker I was, and how I surpassed all expectations, winning a local Australia day award among other acknowledgements for my striving and perseverance. They used their words and their cruelty to basically ally themselves with the eating disorder and strip me of the last vestiges of self – invalidating my past, and stripping me of even being able to hang on to knowing I was a hard worker and an achieve who was capable of better things than this, or that it wasn’t laziness that had stopped me in my tracks. That my whole life hadn’t all been a complete failure.
It makes sense to me that if your own family judges you so harshly, what can you expect from people who don’t know you? I went straight from leaving home into the arms of the man who raped and stalked me for years. It was a very familiar situation for me – and it felt like all I deserved. I’ve met quite a number of people who were more than happy to feed my insecurities like the so-called ‘friend’ who lied to my dad and little sister, and a certain number of ignorant people who don’t seem to realize that not everyone is born with the privileges they take for granted, that some of us have to really fight to even survive let alone enjoy the milestones that they are assured of achieving. In my own heart, I feel like the biggest failure ever, I reflect on my life and see missed opportunities, on so much hard work thrown away, and so much support and belief from people I failed in some way – let down, failed to meet their expectations, or cut off. I feel as though at 35, I haven’t even achieved as much as most teenagers have, and that there is no way I will ever be able to catch up to them, let alone those of my own age group.
I’m just so deeply ashamed.
I’m reminded constantly by those who have taken the time to get to know me, and who genuinely care, that I have come a long way, that I can’t afford to compare myself with anyone else, because nobody else has had to fight the same things I have in my life – same as there are so many people out there who have faced circumstances I have no idea of and for me to judge them on their face value at any point of time that I come in contact with them would be so wrong, and totally belittling how much they HAVE achieved – just in a life completely different and therefore with different milestones and measures of progress to mine. And yet, I am so scared of others judging me harshly and finding me a failure, a loser, that I judge myself the most harshly of all.
And here is where honesty comes into the equation – I’m already ashamed of the fact that I have an eating disorder. My shame when I am struggling more than usual or I relapse is many times greater than that. Throw in the harsh judgement towards people with eating disorders that I often come across online, particularly if they blog about it, and the shame of having fallen from my position of being able to say “Here I am, I am proof that a chronic severe eating disorder doesn’t have to kill you or mean you can’t turn things around.” and most importantly of all – “There is hope” – and it’s extremely hard to face up to people and be honest with you all about the fact that I’m not doing all that well any more.
I don’t consider myself to be fully in relapse – but I’m borderline. I’ve slowed down, perhaps stopped the weight loss, but I can’t seem to get it to go back up again – and what’s more, am sitting just above what used to be my discharge weight from hospital back when times were bad. And as always, ED brain has taken over – I struggle to keep hydrated, struggle to eat, struggle with bingeing and purging. Physically I have lost a lot of strength and the chronic pain I worked so hard to rid myself of is plaguing me again. And I’m so angry at myself – I know how hard I worked to get where I was – and now, I’m no better than I was on leaving hospital during those bad years again. I am so disappointed in myself, and so scared not only for myself, but more so, for Shalimar. What if I get so sick again, what will become of her? I don’t want to send her back to the pet motel all the time – she’s getting old now. She deserves so much better than this. And I don’t want to miss out on sharing a single moment of her life with her. I missed too much of her life when I was in hospital. I’ve let her down, most of all. She depended on me and I am not living up to those responsibilities.
And I’ve let you down, the people who read my blog. It was supposed to be a journey of hope, reclaiming a LIFE, of proving that just because everyone has expected you to die, doesn’t mean you have to.
Here is where I am going to take on board my own message. I am going to believe in hope, and I am going to remind myself that it is always within our power to change our behaviors and our thoughts, if we desire to enough. The more I walk on my chosen trail in a forest, the more worn and visible that trail becomes, and the less visible the trail I’m no longer walking on becomes as nature reclaims it and grows over where it used to be. Same with my mind – the more I practice new ways to think and new behaviors, the more natural they become to me, and the less natural the old ones will be, too. It’s called creating new neural pathways. It’s also called not giving up, being stubborn, and fighting to live – all things true of me.
I have so much to live for – even more now. I have less than two months to go until I am officially a uni student again. And I’m finally realizing that my hopes and dreams and goals these days might be vastly different, but they are still things I’m able to be passionate about, and my life still can be for good, rather than have been pointless.
I’m not going to live up to the expectations of the people who taught me I would never be anything more than a loser.
I’m going to fulfil my own expectations – and those of the people who truly care and want the best for me. I’m going to fight and make this life truly count.
Thank you for reading, I hope to be able to bring a more positive post next time.