“I feel fat” is something that runs through my mind and leaves my mouth thousands of times a day but what does it mean? Fat is not a feeling and factually I am underweight. I’m trying to explore what is really going on when I feel fat. I mean I can ‘feel’ it, I get the physical sensation of fat growing on me, I can feel my skin tingling, itching and bubbling. I can pinch my fat but I’m told it’s just skin and I can see I’m fat in the mirror and in photographs but emotionally it is not possible to feel fat. Maybe I feel sad, anxious, afraid or even angry but my brain smothers the emotion and turns it into the feeling of fat. The world of eating disorders is a very confusing place. I don’t know what’s real and what’s not or who or what to believe. I can look in the mirror and see my sickness on rare occasions but just hours later I can see the flabby me reflected in the mirror again. It’s like living in a funhouse where all the mirrors are stretched and exaggerated. I don’t know the truth of what I look like and that can be very scary.
I have no idea what I look like. People tell me that what I see isn’t what everyone else sees but it’s so hard to believe that when I can see with my own eyes and physically feel the fat on me.
I hide under my blankets and dressing gown so that people can’t see how fat I am. I feel as though everyone is judging me and that they must be thinking she’s too fat to have a feeding tube. She doesn’t have anorexia. Everytime my feed is due I get in a state of panic and anger…why are people feeding me when I’m this big, the nurse giving the feed must think I’m a joke. I’m not thin enough to struggle this much with food.
When I look in the mirror I find my reflection disgusting. I don’t see a clinically obese person staring back at me but I see thick thighs, a double chin and sticking out belly. Physically I can feel the fat on me, I get physical feelings like a warm, tingly feeling in my fat places.
I’m told that I feel fat instead of feeling an emotion but I find this rather difficult to believe. The feeling is just so real to me. How can you disagree with something you see and feel?
My only respite at the moment is sleep. For those few precious hours each night I don’t have to be intensely uncomfortable in my own skin. I can be in my dream away from the itching, bubbling sensations I get in my body. I’m really struggling with body image at the moment to the point where I constantly envision myself tearing my skin off my body. Peeling off my thick thighs and flabby belly. I’m at war with myself.
Getting dressed each day is horrible, trying to find clothes that don’t cling to my skin. I pull clothes that have no shape on to hide my body but nothing quite hides me enough to give me any ounce of confidence to face the day. Worse than getting dressed is showering or bathing…having to completely take my clothes off is nauseating, not to mention the mirror opposite the shower. I have my shower scolding hot so that I can get the relief of a steamed up mirror and then on my way out I can do my best to pretend my body doesn’t exist.
When I sit down my thighs distract me, every reflective surface, every mirror, every shop window stops me in my tracks and brings in thoughts of disgust and utter hatred for the vessel my soul resides in. I want to hide under a blanket constantly, that way I can cover up my repulsive self. I fell out of love with me a long time ago.
I want to go back to ballet but I’m afraid there will be an actual elephant in the room and that elephant will be me. I’m not sure I could handle seeing myself in a leotard and pretty pink tights, I feel far too ugly for that. I want to see family and friends. I miss them an awful lot but I don’t want them to see me. I’m terrified they’ll see what I see, I don’t want anyone to see that. What if they comment on my appearance? I’m not sure I could cope with that. I wish I had an invisibility cloak, then I could go out and about without any worries.
I feel trapped… Trapped in my skin, trapped inside buildings, trapped inside myself and trapped in a body I absolutely despise and then comes the urges to attack myself. I declare war on myself. I self-harm and create scars as ugly as I feel, I go to sleep wishing I don’t wake up so that I never have to see my reflection again or feel how my body makes me feel.
This week has been eating disorders awareness week and today is Sock It To Eating Disorders Day. I’ve been unable to blog during my 5 month (and continuing) stay on the psychiatric ward but I just wanted to bring your attention to this week with some blasts from the past.
My Fixers film ‘Sectioned’ focused on my experience of being sectioned for my eating disorder. I wanted to tell people about the reality of these illnesses and the difficulties that come along with recovery.
I think it’s important that people are careful when posting about eating disorder awareness on social media as sometimes people post their low weight pictures which leads to competition, triggering others but also reinforcing stereotypes. I wrote an article on this for The Huffington Post. You can read this HERE
You can also check out 101 things that no one tells you about anorexia HERE
Get your silly socks out, have fun raising awareness and if you can, donate to b-eat the eating disorder charity HERE
I’m sitting on the end of my bed in hospital. Numb but in pain. I don’t understand anymore. Utter confusion. Dreaming of a future like a child, imagining I’ll be a vet or a teacher but seeing reality like an adult…I am just a psychiatric ward patient….I probably don’t even deserve the word ‘just’ in front of that. I’m a nothing, a no one. Three months locked away has completely detached me from the world around me. I belong nowhere and with no one. The world outside the window doesn’t feel like mine. It’s like I don’t remember what the rolling hills look like, nor the supermarket aisles or petrol stations. My ballet shoes disintegrated when my life turned into compost. Maybe new flowers will grow out of the soil but I doubt it. It feels like I’ll never feel the sun on my skin again and that my heart will never vibrate with the bass of loud music. Will I always be gone? Will I ever find me again?
This is genuinely one of the most difficult things I have ever written about because it’s the one label that I rip from my skin and pretend it isn’t there. I really struggle to accept it as my diagnosis because of the stigma and shame surrounding it. I have Personality Disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) and it is incredibly difficult to live with.
I’ve not accepted the diagnosis before and always told myself that my diagnosis was wrong but reading through my Section papers made me realise that actually it is a problem and that realisation is heart-breaking. I guess I’m scared of who I am. I’ve never really talked about it before but some of the symptoms that come along with my personality disorder include:
- Avoidance of everything that is uncomfortable. I avoid the scales at my eating disorder appointments, I avoid awkward or difficult conversations, confrontations, subjects I don’t want to talk about, social situations and so on.
- Believing I am inadequate and worthless.
- Low self-esteem.
- Relationship difficulties. I have an intense fear of abandonment from those who are around me and I have intense positive emotions about them but this often leaves the other person feeling under pressure and strain and then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as real abandonment often happens.
- Confusion over what happened, what was said and who was at fault.
- Finding it difficult to trust others. I am always suspicious that people are trying to hurt me.
- I feel that as relationships cause problems, I am better off alone.
- Acting impulsively, for example spending lots of money that I don’t have.
- I have a lot of issues around anger.
- Auditory hallucinations. I hear voices from time to time.
- Self-harm and suicidal tendencies.
- I feel dependent on other’s approvals and struggle if I do not get this.
- I’m easily influenced by other people.
- I’m very sensitive to any type of criticism.
- A need for order and control.
- Catastrophising hugely when small things go wrong.
I think my difficulty with accepting the diagnosis is that I feel I cannot control the personality disorder and I often feel like a bad person for the way I handle difficult situations. I fear that people will see me as a bad person if they know my diagnosis. I hate the term ‘Personality Disorder’ too, it’s like with an Eating Disorder the flaw is with eating, with a Mood Disorder the flaw is with the mood but with a Personality Disorder it is a flaw in personality, of who I am and who I was made to be. I want to be a good person but stigma and shame makes me feel as though this diagnosis makes me a bad person. I mean who would want to hang around with someone sensitive and dependent on others, someone with trust issues and relationship difficulties? It makes me fear that I will be alone forever or that I’ll hurt those I love by accident. Having a personality disorder makes me want to run away from myself but that’s not possible. I fear enduring another 50, 60 or even 70 years like this. That seems unbearable. I’m scared of who I am and what is wrong with me and I’m terrified that I may never be alright.
I recently wrote a piece about eating disorders for Health Check Wales. Here is the article:
My battle with mental illness began at such a young age that I don’t really know what it’s like not to have one. But I can understand how it must be difficult for someone to understand it if their lives have not yet been touched by it. I’ve seen the stares, heard the comments and read the hate I’ve been sent over the internet. Being unwell is hard enough on its own without the added ignorance and stigma. I became fearful and anxious around food when I was five years old. After seeing a family member become unwell I thought that I would become poorly if I ate food too. As I grew older food became more of an issue. First it was about fear, then it was about perfectionism and control. I was seven years old and banging my head against the school toilet walls for getting a question wrong. By the end of primary school not eating had become my identity. Other children in my class were good at PE or art or maths. I was known for eating “like a bird” and I finally felt like I had a something that I could do. Secondary school complicated life even more. I was bullied, I didn’t feel welcome in any of the friendship groups that I tried to hang around with. I felt geeky, ugly and hated myself. I saw the bigger girls wearing gym knickers in PE and I was scared that I’d get big and be laughed at in my gym knickers too. I began to walk for hours before school, I’d barely eat anything and anything that was eaten would be thrown up. I was self-harming several times a day and overdosing at the back of class – and yet my school didn’t get me help. At this point I didn’t even know that I had a mental illness. Once I left school life became more difficult because with each sad event that happened in my life anorexia and depression seemed to grip their hands tighter and tighter around my neck. I became withdrawn and isolated myself from everyone. It’s scary how mental illness can blend seven whole years into one big blur of hospital admissions, detentions under the Mental Health Act, numbers, scales and suicide attempts. Growing up I wanted to be a nurse or a dancer, battling severe mental illness was not a part of the plan. Often eating disorders are on a spectrum and it is recognised that symptoms change. Someone who meets the criteria for anorexia may months or years down the line meet the criteria for bulimia, or binge-eating disorder. I have certainly experienced many different symptoms with my eating disorder. My primary diagnosis is anorexia. Many months of my life have been spent surviving – or dying – on very little food. I would eat so little food that my body couldn’t keep itself warm. I’d spend my day in the bath or leaning against a radiator. The cold that an eating disorder brings is different from the cold of a winter’s day. It is unbearable, painful and numbing. I’d see the number on the scale drop and the outfit options in the wardrobe became minimal as nothing would stay on my tiny frame, and yet the reflection in the mirror never changed. The girl I saw in front of me didn’t seem to be shrinking, and therefore any weight I lost did not feel like enough. I’m not sure it would ever have been enough. I was slipping towards death, not happiness, perfection or body satisfaction. Then comes the bingeing and purging. The uncontrollable binges that extreme hunger brings. I’d sit on the kitchen floor and eat and eat and eat. I’d work my way around the room, from the fridge to the cupboards, and sometimes, once the food had all gone, I’d eat icing and drink vinegar. I’d try to make myself sick but nothing took away the feelings of guilt and self-disgust, anger and fear that would be left behind for the coming weeks. I hate bingeing and purging and I hate the way I feel I have no control over it. I’ve tried to stop it by attempting to end my life in the past – that’s how desperate and horrific it has made me feel. I also struggled with abusing laxatives and diet pills. I would take far more than the recommended amount but the more I took, the more I felt I needed. I knew exactly the time to take my laxatives so that it would have an effect at night when my family were asleep. Every night spent in agony in the bathroom, sweating and biting onto a towel with pain. It was horrible. One night I took 20 times the recommended dose and I genuinely thought I was going to die. I was in so much pain that it made me sick. My body was weak and I was lying on the bathroom floor, convinced it was the end. I was admitted to hospital the next day and laxatives have not been a part of my life since. I’m still in treatment now and I still really struggle with my mental health. I’m on medication for depression and the other symptoms that affect me and I’m in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for my eating disorder, which has helped me cope with the distress that an eating disorder can bring, as well as recognising when decisions are fuelled by emotions. Eating is still a challenge. Regular eating is not something I’ve ever really done and I struggle to eat regularly every day but I’m better than I was. Depression and mental illness still take over my life and there are days when the suicidal thoughts are a whisper in my head, but there are still days where the suicidal thoughts are loud and repetitive and I struggle to find a reason to carry on with my life. My hospital admissions are getting shorter and the length between them is getting longer and I see that as a positive sign. I recognise I’ve got a long way to come but I am already on the journey and I never thought that I would be where I am now. While I would never wish mental illness on myself or anyone else I am grateful for the lessons it has taught me. I’ve learnt that everything happens for a reason and the best days of my life have happened as a direct result of the worst days of my life. I spent a night in a police cell when there were no hospital beds available. I was law-abiding, not violent and very shy. That night was terrifying and traumatising and made me feel a lot of shame, but without that night I would never have appeared on national radio and news, live TV and newspapers like I have. I would never have started my blog or found my love for writing again. Without anorexia I would never have met my best friend in treatment, my recovery buddy, who I have shared many happy memories with at the beach, or at a restaurant winning against our eating disorders. I would never have been to London to speak at conferences and meetings. The help and treatment I receive from South East Wales Eating Disorder Service has been life-changing, and without their help I wouldn’t have achieved these things either.
I haven’t been well lately, my mood has crashed completely, the flashbacks are overwhelming and anorexia has been screaming at me. The past five weeks have been a downhill spiral of self harm, suicidal thoughts and no energy to do anything. Unfortunately it is also summer meaning that my psychologist, dietitian and psychiatrist have taken big chunks of leave.
Last Monday I can barely remember, according to my friend I was extremely withdrawn and not well and she took me to hospital to be assessed. We phoned the psychiatric ward at 6:15 pm and I was not assessed until 4.30 am. Waiting so long in an acute mental health crisis was really not helpful. Hospital was meant to help but the entire stay was horrific and stressful. Some of the staff were incredibly rude to everyone. My friend was crying and they opened the door and said, “Off you go!” and left her crying on the curb outside.
I ended up with the wrong medication most of the time and when I went to correct them it didn’t sort anything out. I actually had to explain to a qualified nurse the difference between tramadol and trazodone. I was given one out of my seven tablets at nighttime and when I explained the nurse didn’t return with the right dose and so that was a pretty sleepless night.
I was put in a two bedded room and I accepted that was the only bed even though I struggle hugely with sharing. The staff assured me that as soon as a single room became available it would be mine. The next morning I was put in the four bedded room when single bedrooms were available. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were deliberately trying to wind me up but I just left it because the staff had caused so much stress by that point that I simply gave up.
One patient threatened to kill me with their bare hands and strangle me. It was extremely distressing for me but the staff didn’t seem to care. I came into hospital to get better and feel safe and I felt anything but.
The last straw was when I tried to use the skills we are taught in DBT to distract myself from hurting myself. I asked the occupational therapist if I could do something and her response was, “Usually people with low mood don’t want to do anything.” Her comment put me in a place of guilt, shame and wanting to give up on DBT.
I decided the ward was too stressful and was making me worse and so I asked for leave until ward round and they allowed it. I got home and sat in a chair and cried for hours. Home wasn’t the right place. If I broke my leg then my mum and dad couldn’t x-ray it, diagnose it and put it in a cast. Neither can they fix my broken mind. I silently struggled until ward round and then explained the situation to which they had no solutions and I decided discharge was the only option.
I am now at home with no energy or motivation to do anything, very poorly with depression, battling with self harm and suicidal thoughts, hating myself and struggling with my eating disorder. Home is not the right place for me at the moment but hospital is too stressful which leaves me with nowhere to go…how can that be right?
Getting the right care at the right time makes a huge difference. It’s like when someone has a stroke, the quicker the emergency services reach them and treat them then the more likely they are to recover and the less damage is done. It’s the same with mental illness, if someone is given help when they need it then the prognosis is often much brighter. I didn’t get the help I needed when I needed it and I wonder if I did would I have less scars on my body and stronger bones without the damage of anorexia and maybe I wouldn’t have had to go through the trauma of spending a night in a police cell and months sectioned in hospital. Not getting the right services and support cost me time. Years and years of my life that just blurred into one mess of mental illness, hopelessness and despair. I remember being sent a letter from my mental health team discharging me and explaining that my prognosis was poor. I thought that if no one could help me then there was no hope left and I made a very serious attempt on my life. I am incredibly lucky to be alive today. My best friend was not so lucky. Laying flowers at the multi-storey car park wasn’t meant to be the way our story ended. If people with mental health problems were able to get help when they needed it then it wouldn’t just be life changing, it would be lifesaving because not getting the right support when it’s needed costs lives. We are not a poor country, we shouldn’t be leaving people alone to suffer so badly that the only option they can see for themselves is death. Everyone has mental health and everyone should be able to access the service they need if they become unwell.
Last August I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and spend two months in hospital. When I was discharged I decided that I wanted to do something with my life and turn a negative into a positive and so I began working with Fixers. Around the same time I noticed a lot of pro-ana and pro-mental illness posts appearing all over social networking and one comment that really stuck out to me was someone saying that they wanted to be sectioned so that they could have a hug whenever their sad. I was also shocked by the amount of comments about mental illness being fashionable and people likening the psychiatric ward to a big sleepover but that is not the reality.
I wrote a spoken word piece and used my photography along with Fixer’s filming and editing to create a piece to explain what being sectioned is like from a patient’s perspective whilst also targeting the groups in social media that aspire to be unwell. Being sectioned often feels like something I should keep secret and be ashamed of so that’s exactly why I decided to shout about it publicly. There should be no stigma.
Feel free to share this video and spread it’s message.