Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

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Thursday, May 25th, 2017

I have been meaning to shut Finding Melissa down for a while now. It costs a bit to keep going and sometimes I feel like my life is scattered, carelessly, across the internet in half started blogs and forgotten web pages. Plus, I haven’t updated it for a long time and the world, and I, have changed so much since my last update. Each time I consider it though, I think that I will just leave it a little longer. That there still seems to be a fair amount of traffic so maybe it’s useful. That my recovery is still, even all these years later, one of the things that I am most proud of in my life – and Finding Melissa is so bound up with that.

However.

Before I do pull the plug, I guess I want to leave one final message.

A couple of years ago I wrote a book version of my blog. It was much sharper, grittier, a bit more linear. During this period, I read a couple of autobiographies, some of which resonated strongly, others of which left a note of ambiguity around the potential of recovery. Or to me anyway.

Last year was pretty stressful for me – but it was also the first time that I really noticed that food no longer really entered the equation for me. And, as the stress alleviated, I realised, also, that the last lingering remnants of my eating disorder had dissipated without me really noticing. I eat cake on my birthday. When I am feeling lazy, I have supernoodles, a food I’d once spent years eating just to throw straight back up again. I pick up the biscuits that go round in the office meetings. I don’t mind being teased by my colleagues about my love of Percy Pigs.

Someone recently said to me that an eating disorder never fully goes away, that it is managed but still a shadow. For me, that has not been the case. I know that nothing is forever and I know that my life is far from perfect and I still have a healthy handful of things I find difficult – but I also believe that recovery is fully and really possible. And I guess that this is the last thing that I really want to share.

Finding Melissa. Yet again.

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

Now that I can honestly say the eating disorder is behind me and I can happily guzzle a box of chocolate seahorses without being paralysed by guilt or getting sucked into hours of calorific arithmetics, I am finding that all the crap which was starved or smothered out of my system had been waiting for me all this time. This is life I guess. Things that are unresolved or misunderstood trip you up at some point.

Five years on and after I have fought so hard to create some semblance of a normal life, it is frustrating to find myself battling the things that I could have battled twenty years ago. I can grieve for the lost time, for the missed parties and weddings and friendships – they are gone and can’t be undone. The other stuff haunts me.

It is with both frustration and relief that I have realised this. On the one hand, I feel cheated of the happily-ever-after life that I was sure was at the end of a very black period. On the other, I know that, after surfacing from said very black period, I can surface from anything.

I hope.

I also know that this is the normal shit. The stuff that knocks you over when you’re figuring out how life works and the stuff that you can only understand once you’ve walked in those shoes.

I have long given up on wondering why we don’t just learn from those that have been before us.

And so, again, and probably not for the last time, I am on the search for Melissa. I am trying to learn to recognize the times when I’m being tugged backwards because something I didn’t work out then is still lurking somewhere now. To draw a line in the sand while still recognising that everything is so complicatedly linked up and sometimes you have to realize that the beginning was a long time ago. Sometimes you can go back and unravel it all. And sometimes you can’t.

Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, work out what you’ve learnt and start again.

The Causeway

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Some posts come already written. This one has felt like pulling teeth. It has been drafted – and then redrafted; started and abandoned a dozen times. Some versions have been too painful; some detached; a few political; none quite right.

As I have only a few days left, I’m just going to spit it out –

The last treatment unit that I was in is under consultation. It might be a victim, like so many crucial healthcare provisions, of the current cuts. I do not want to get too much into the politics but it also feels deeply wrong to just stand back.

Once upon a time there was a girl who had stopped believing in life. And this girl had been ill for as long as she had been well and so she had forgotten how to hope, and she had forgotten how to live.

I arrived at the Causeway in 2003. It was a year after I had finished my degree, and followed four years where I had been in and out of hospital care and, in the process, had lost contact with the real world. It was the last stop.

For over two years, I worked with the team there to turn my life around. It meant going backwards to go forwards, peeling back the layers and building them up again. It was slow and painful and uncomfortable and lonely –

And yet, it is also the foundations on which I now live.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had forgotten how to hope. And, because this girl had forgotten this thing on which we build our lives, she needed someone to hold it for her for a little while. To reach out a hand and believe what she couldn’t see for herself –

I did not recover fully at the Causeway but I developed the foundations that have allowed me to move on. These were not about weight or food or body image – they went far deeper to self belief, and hope, and self esteem. They were built up slowly and over a long period of time, grown through a mixture of intensive support and trying life out.

- and gradually, this girl was able to take back a little bit of this hope and take on a little bit of this belief. And slowly, the skills that she was learning began to filter through her behaviour and reach the emotions on which her illness had been made.

I have been a whirlwind of activity this month. It is part of the reason this post has been so difficult to write. I have been working and playing hard. There has been music and friends and learning and connections; lazy days in the park, nights in bars, pitches and training, dancing, trips to the theatre, a weekend away –

Each and every day I am using the skills that the Causeway gave me, and I have finally reached that once impossible goal of a fulfilling life. It is easy, now that I am getting comfortable, to forget that –

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had totally lost touch with the world and for whom recovery was something in which she no longer believed. And this girl was fortunate enough to work with people who were convinced that she had a future, and gave her the help she needed to re-build her life.

Finding Melissa. Again.

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

It has been 15 days since I last threw up.

I think I have broken the cycle.

This is the longest I’ve managed since my relapse started, and I have no intention of going back.

I didn’t know if I’d be able to write this post. When the switch would occur, if at all. The thought of leaving the blog that I started in hope with an unhappy ending hung heavily for a while –

And yet, I have now been through the first few sticky days, where the discomfort of change was preoccupying and the belief that I could turn promises into action, at its lowest ebb. I have felt the panic of saying goodbye, even though goodbye is indeed welcome; and resisted the dangerous seduction of “one last time”. There have been sleepless nights, and stomach cramps, and a slight friction as my body veers back towards health –

But now, the glands which were swelling are beginning to shrink and the blood in the basin, when I brush my teeth, decrease. My hands and my attention are no longer shaking; and I have felt my shoulders lighten and my head lift. I have noticed that I am back in the conversations, rather than floating around the edge. Am smiling and laughing and living far more than I have for a while –

And so, I wanted to share this here, even though it has been hard to pinpoint the turning point or uncover the exact combination of fear – and hope – and motivation – and support – that has stopped me from losing myself.

I am under no illusion that there will be ups and downs in the future; but for the moment, I am winning and, actually, it doesn’t even feel like a fight.

Unbinding

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

I need to check in over here. I wondered whether this belonged on Finding Melissa or my new blog. If I was splintering off from myself again by reverting back. I don’t think I am. This post is very much part of my eating disorder journey, though the learning of course extends through my life.

I have been struggling to get back to where I need to be with food. The struggle has taken the form of bulimia (and naming it still remains hard). It had been scarily easy to revert to old forms of behaviour (2 years of recovery have very little on 17 years of illness) and scarily easy for the damage to re-emerge. A bloody mouth and shaking hands are worrying but not quite enough.

For the first few months, I tried to return to the strategies that helped me recover the first time round. Planning, preparation, distraction, pick a date, share your intention, put things in place. The strategies didn’t seem to work this time; and, more worryingly, I seemed to kick back against my attempts to enforce a structure. It has taken me a while to realise what this backlash was about.

The first phase of my recovery bound me in structure and routine; and, whilst this swaddling kept me alive, it did not let me fully live.

So this is the tension and the question. How to find recovery in the real world. How to regain control of the food without relinquishing the delight I have experienced in going with the flow. In loosening the rules and routines. In moving away from breakfast at 6:45, lunch at 1:15; bed at 10:37; and next days’ clothes laid out before dinner. Don’t rock the boat with anything too emotional; pick to pieces every decision; kid glove treatment; no rather than yes – and sometimes the other way around.

My life is heading in the right direction; it is only the eating disorder that is trying to yank it back.

And so I think that this is the next phase of recovery, although it is painful and not wholly certain, yet, which way I will tip. It has been suggested that I’m nearly ready to let go and jump in the world – and that it is the snagging of the last remaining traces of eating disorder that are holding me back. I think that this is accurate, given that the immersion does not feel as deep nor as depressing as it has in the past…but as behaviours can quickly suck you downwards, I still need to watch out.

And so I am writing this post as an acknowledgement of where I am, and because I wondered whether this was a common experience for anyone else. Whether after the first part of recovery when you’ve got back to health, there is a wobble as the scaffolding comes down; and, if this is the case, what’s the best thing to do next? I am working along the lines of balance (hooks to hold onto rather than ropes to bind me down) and also refusing to go back (because if I have fought tooth and nail for the life I have built), but this is all new territory and I’d love a little extra support.

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2011

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I started writing a post about Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

I stopped because I am not sure, yet, what I’d like to say.

That, of all psychiatric disorders, Anorexia Nervosa has the highest premature mortality rate. That the mortality rates for Bulimia and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) are equally terrifying.

That part of the complexity of eating disorders lies in the fact that no experience is exactly the same. That there are resonances and similarities, but each person’s experience is unique.

That I am deeply worried by the closures of units that I keep hearing about, especially those that I have known. That I am also scared by the growing number of sufferers and, particularly, of younger – and older – and male sufferers.

That it is as important to focus on awareness of recovery as it is to focus on awareness of being ill.

I don’t know.

All of these – and nothing. A large part of my life has been stolen by an eating disorder and I do not want to give it anymore time –

No. This is not quite true. Part of the taking back is choosing to give it time. It’s just that the time is spent in a different way.

I have had a rough few months. I try and skim over it because it is easier that way. Because there is less room, now, between me and my blog, and it is therefore much harder to hide. Because the time has been golden, too, and it’s hard to reconcile the magic and the struggle. Because even with 18 years of experience and a good whack of intensive treatment, an eating disorder can still ambush, ensnare and baffle. Can re-emerge, when you think you’re on the straight and narrow; or slip in when the routines that you’ve built to keep it out get perturbed –

And so this is my message.

Not that an eating disorder haunts forever – but that it is a difficult battle to win.

That it needs to be talked about for these reasons. Because it is a difficult battle to win and a difficult experience to talk about; and because the complexity of eating disorders means that they are difficult to understand. Because we’re not winning yet and we need to work together. Because recovery is very possible, and it’s important to tell that story as well.

There’s lots of stuff going on this week. beat have released a much needed report on the use of images in the reporting of eating disorders; there’s a busy schedule of online and offline events; Men Get Eating Disorders Too have launched a new membership scheme; we’ve got a cool Facebook page focusing on the positives of recovery –

And I’m using the time to touch base with myself and think a little bit about how I’m going to move things forward in the coming months. How I can make sure that I win my battle, and continue enjoying the amazing things that recovery can bring.

Checking In

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

I am just checking in.

It feels important to do this, although it has been less than a week.

I am aware that I have a tendency for flitting between things. For jumping so quickly that I cut myself off from where I have come from and end up, ultimately, feeling a bit lost.

I don’t want this to happen. I want the journey to be exciting and unpredictable – but not fractured or divorced.

And so, this is a little update. A kind of check in with myself to see how the past week has been and whether I’m as okay as I seem. That amongst the excitement of my new blog and some fun nights out, I haven’t skimmed over the other stuff or buried my head in the sand about what else might be going on –

And I don’t think I have. I think I’m coming out of the other side, and that having something new and exciting to focus on has really helped.

So, in comparison to last month, things are much improved. The gaps between binges and purges are getting longer, and most days the thought doesn’t even cross my head. It certainly lacks the intensity of a few weeks ago where I wasn’t sure how I would turn it around. My mouth is slowly healing. Not quite back to normal but feeling a little less painful every day –

And I can’t work out how the transition happened. I can’t quite describe the steps that moved me from there to here. Keeping busy helped; other people helped; talking helped; going back to three structured meals and a few snacks a day helped; work helped –

And feeling the grip loosen is giving me the courage and hope to keep moving on.

So this is the plan….

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Last year, a friend said that I would have to step away from Finding Melissa at some point. I knew that she was right because it pushed the ‘this is true but I don’t want to hear it’ button. Her argument? I would need to separate my identity from the eating disorder and create a new space where I could start to explore the other parts of my self.

It has been on my mind for a while now. I have got myself in knots around my Twitter profile (something I’ll come back to in a minute); and been increasingly aware of the sense that this might be the right time –

Finding Melissa means the world to me. The thought of not writing on it is terrifying – but the only way to override a fear is to go through it, and discover what happens on the other side.

I have been wondering about how, exactly, I should do this. Whether the lines have to be as absolute as I presume them to be and it must be one – or the other. What the fears are really about. Whether there is a right or wrong way for doing this sort of thing…

I don’t have any answers. But I do have a kinda plan.

Finding Melissa

There are a few things that I still want to write about in relation to my eating disorder, particularly in light of the past few months. I don’t want to end on a low point, nor be closed off should any ED related topics arise.

So, for the moment, I’ll post any eating disorder specific stuff over here; but I will be writing about the next stage of my journey on a shiny new blog. I don’t want to get into dividing myself into sections because the context informs the adventure – but it is the most logical transition that I can see.

I’ll still be doing the related ED activism stuff (because it’s where I come from, and I am desperate to help); and I’ll also be leaving Finding Melissa online, in case any of the more general earlier writing is of use.

@findingmelissa

I love my Twitter community. I’m not sure of the exact overlap of readers between here and there, but I have made some great connections and some really special friends.

I am not good with change at the best of times. I’ve been tying myself in knots around this one.

I considered a simple re-naming… but would always feel that that was dishonest to those who were following me in relation to Finding Melissa -

And, so, I’ve decided to set another profile up.

The tweets will inevitably be the same (I am after all, still me), but using my name feels important now, and a way to start exploring other ways of defining me.

@findingmelissa will continue (for the moment), in relation to blog updates and ED news, but I will also be tweeting the same plus more at @issawolfe. I’d really love to connect with anyone who’s on Twitter there.

A few question marks

I don’t know whether the order or the strategy is right.

I have ummed and ahhed over whether or not to write about what I am doing. Have questioned whether I have made it all too complicated – or whether anyone will actually care. Have been trying to find the right time, in the right way –

I don’t know what that is. So I’m jumping into the unknown –

And hoping that I land.

If it doesn’t work, try something else, and other lessons…

Friday, January 14th, 2011

I have been quiet over here recently.

It’s partly because I haven’t been able to find the words to say what I am feeling; and partly because I’ve had to change my get-back-on-track strategy. I am trying to squeeze the eating disorder out with activity, this time; and have learnt that, without flexibility, I just keep going round and round –

It has been a case of the doing the same thing and expecting different results phenomenon.

What helped me the first time I stopped the bulimia doesn’t quite fit with where I now am. The feelings and challenges are similar – but the context is totally different; and so, as a very wise friend pointed out, the solution I had proposed no longer matches up.

It has taken a while for the penny to drop.

I have moved through frustration (“why can’t I do what I need to do?”) to fear (“I don’t know how to change things”) to acknowledgement (“I am still not moving in the right direction”) –

I can hold onto the fact that I’ve done it before – I just might need to do it differently this time round.

This is a both liberating and terrifying realisation. It has also taught me a few things about the recovery process that I did not fully appreciate before….

Adaptability is fundamental. If the first approach isn’t working, then it’s not a matter of failing – it’s about trying other things until you find a way that works.

The slip-ups are not, as I had positioned them, gaps that will become openings for the eating disorder. They are, instead, opportunities to spot the weak points and make sure they don’t trip me up again.

I have known that recovery is a dynamic process, but never seen it so clearly, nor managed to step away from the disappointment when it does not go to plan. This is the other lesson in there.

Recover a bit – more forward – slip a little – learn something new and recover a bit more – move forward –

I am growing stronger, I think, although it has felt like I have been getting lost.

Ignorance and irresponsibility

Monday, January 10th, 2011

This month’s Grazia suggests that the ‘on/off’ diet, otherwise known as ‘Alternate Day Fasting’, is the perfect solution for those who find staying on a diet a mission, and following a “month of mince pies”.

It proposes 400 calories on ‘on’ days, and a modest amount on those in between.

It was my understanding that the brain needs about 500 calories a day to function.

This leaves us 100 calories short.

The article left me cold.

It left me cold because it normalises and endorses eating patterns that verge on starvation; and, in the act of doing so, infers that our appearance is more important than our selves -

Just like the guy on Twitter.

Over the past few days, an irresponsible and deeply unpleasant tweeter has been posting updates about managed anorexia and size zero. It’s created a frenzy of anger and, slightly more positively, a flurry of body positive counter-tweets – but neither have really taken the edge off how disturbing this is.

There is no such thing as managed anorexia. Eating disorders spiral and constrict and smother and, ultimately, kill.

It has been a while since I have written about eating disorders in a more general sense, or in response to news articles. I have, perhaps, been overly aware that I might not be the most objective commentator and a little less courageous about sharing my opinions than I might like. I have also been conscious that controversy attracts attention, and there is a fine line between entering a discussion with a purpose – and playing straight into someone’s game. I hope that this post does not fall into the latter – only the depth of my unease in relation to the article, and the tweet stream, has left me feeling like I don’t have a voice. The conversation is almost not worth engaging in – and yet, the message is so dangerous that the other side must be heard –

Because advocating a 400 calorie diet is utterly irresponsible, and any promotion of anorexia demonstrates an ignorance that negates the experiences of those suffering, whilst causing untold harm to those who are vulnerable enough to take on board the rubbish that is being said.

I am not sure what the solution is. I am almost more scared by the fact that a mainstream magazine shows such little accountability than that one disturbed individual is causing outrage on Twitter. At least in this forum, there are people who are standing up against him –

There is no one challenging Grazia’s message or how it is being interpreted in people’s heads.

Adventure, authenticity and 2011.

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Last night I went to a 1930s ball. I wore a long black dress, red lipstick and a furry shrug. There was laughter and music and dancing and human slinkies and it was exactly what I want 2011 to be like. Unexpected. Alive. Fun. Vibrant. Full of people.
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The shiny thing on the sidebar

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

I have this cool new shiny thing on my sidebar.

It comes courtesy of a blog that I have the utmost respect for. A blog that manages to be sharp, and real, and funny, and engaging, and thought provoking (amongst other things). That never ceases to amaze me with the quality of the writing; and has introduced me to some truly inspirational and talented people.

I’m therefore totally chuffed by this.

Thanks guys.

Day One

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

A friend mentioned that the eating disorder is back in my eyes. She didn’t need to tell me. I can feel the glazing over, even if I can’t see it.

I am stopping today.

I decided, a few weeks ago, that I needed a date because that was how I did it last time. I know that it doesn’t work like that for everyone; but for me, bulimia has always been all or nothing. I need clear rules and high boundaries or I spiral quickly out of control.

And so, I am writing this to mark the moment and capture the learning. There has been some, even though the lesson was hard.

I have learnt that…
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One door closes – and another one opens

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

I have nearly finished packing up my flat now.

There’s maybe a few more boxes and then it’s good to go.

I was asked, on one of my posts, if I knew the reasons for my current relapse. This separation is one of them. I am bad at goodbyes at the best of time but this farewell feels particularly challenging. It is entangled with my eating disorder and my recovery; and, even though the move is something I desperately wanted, I am still experiencing the wrench.
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In the absence of addresses…

Friday, December 24th, 2010

This is a virtual Christmas card. You have to imagine some glitter and a festive picture, because my flu addled brain is too fuzzy to create them.

I realised, when I was writing my real cards, that some of the people who have meant the most to me this year were being missed out.

You.

Whilst I’ve been fortunate enough to have met some of my fellow bloggers and tweeters this year, there are still a lot of people out there that I now feel very connected to, and who have helped me indescribably in the past year….

And so, in the absence of postal addresses, I’d like to a wish you a very very happy Christmas here.

I know that, for some people, Christmas can be tricky. I remember, only too well, the loneliness and anxiety and disconnection that has characterised my Christmases for many many years – but this year, despite the past few months, has been infinitely better; and it has a huge amount to do with the support and learning that has gone on over here.

It has sent ripples through my world, and given me the courage to do things I could never have dreamed of.

I’m taking that courage into the New Year with me.

Thank you and all the very best for 2011.

xx

A reality check

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I am devastated by what has happened over the past few months.

The dam broke, earlier this evening, and the magnitude of my devastation has finally come out.
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The actions that go with the words

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Tonight, I am painting my nails red and wrapping myself in blankets. I wrote a post, this morning, and disregarded it immediately because I did not work out what giving myself a chance actually meant.
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Giving myself a chance

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

There are two sides to this post.

I considered splitting it down the middle – a post for each – because the one seemed so disparate from the other – but they seem to go hand in hand.

It has been that kind of month. Half shot through with a dizzying energy and an indescribable sense of awe; half like a nightmare that I didn’t ever expect to find myself in.

I have struggled to reconcile the differences. To have these sudden moments when I step out of myself and realise that, shit, I actually feel hug-the-world happy; and then a few days later, wake up with aching post binge limbs and the sense that I’m sinking.

Opposites?

Or not.

There is a tug of war in the middle. A part of me that doesn’t trust I deserve this kind of happiness and therefore pushes me towards self destruct. That expects rejection and acts out the expectation until it eventually takes place…

Still.

This is the relationship between the two sides. How they co-exist despite the seeming contradiction. I have been playing out old patterns, without even realising it, and in the process, got myself stuck.

And so, I can keep the circle going, which is what the eating disorder is trying it’s damndest to achieve; or, I can step out of the loop and ask myself whether I really want to keep going round and round and round –

Or if I’m prepared to give myself a chance

Food and what I forgot

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

I re-discovered a half finished post in my drafts box. I wrote it, a month or so ago, in response to an email asking how I dealt with the sense of deprivation from giving up bingeing. I decided to reply with a post because it was a fear that I remembered particularly well.

* * *

This is a secret. It is a secret that I also keep from myself. I like food. I particularly like food that I don’t feel comfortable eating. One of the reasons why I found it so hard to challenge my bulimia was that it seemed the only way I could imagine allowing myself to eat. I thought I’d miss the pleasure that I got (albeit on a decreasing basis) from the bingeing, and that, after gorging myself so regularly, it would be impossible for ‘normal’ to feel like enough.

The body is a miraculous thing. I found that, as my body got used to eating regularly and as I slowly gained the weight back, the cravings started to lessen and I was able to feel satisfied eating the things that would have been a starter for my binge.

It is impossible to realise this when your body is starving – sated – starving – sated and your mind is craving food, and emotion, and relief. It is impossible to disprove the fear when you give up bulimia without making sure that you are eating enough. It is impossible to maintain the stability if you don’t deal with whatever’s going on underneath.

* * *

Shortly after writing this, I slipped, and I am now experiencing the same fear that I was trying to placate. I am back in “just one more time” territory, and had forgotten how difficult it is to face this challenge when the trust has gone and food has become divided into safe – and unsafe – again. It is hard to disentangle yourself when the physical effects of bingeing, the chemical highs and lows, really take hold –

Because there is nothing to hang onto. Nothing to suggest that the experience of food might be anything else.

A few weeks ago, I read an article that relates to this chicken and egg situation. The interplay between the physical and the emotional that I sometimes lose when I am busy being analytical or trying to think myself out of the situation.

The article was about the need to gain weight in order to recover fully from anorexia, and it reminds me of the leap of faith that you have to take around stopping bingeing. The knowledge that it is impossible to see the wood from the trees when you are submerged and trapped in the behaviour, and your mind is so consumed by the physical effects of the food.

This passage, particularly, struck me –

“for the anorexic, gaining weight is the prerequisite for mental recovery, rather than vice versa. Put another way: you can’t make an anorexic want to put on weight until he or she has begun to do so. Put yet another way: the mind may make the body sick, but only the body can help the mind be well again”.

- and, whilst there are differences in the processes of weight restoration and stopping bingeing, the initial step into the dark is not dissimilar.

And so, I am reminding myself now of the words that I was writing to someone else. That even though I can not imagine it being okay, it’s hard for me to see clearly at the moment. And even though I am hoping for the lightbulb moment, it is unlikely to come.

But if I give myself a chance, it will.

A reminder

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Every hour that I spend, crouched over bowls of food, is an hour away from the people that I care about and the things I love. 

I know the exchange is not that simple; but I have become acutely aware that

Every minute spent dashing between shops and every moment spent slumped over a toilet bowl is time, stolen, from the life that I am building for myself. 

It is tempting, at this point, to let the guilt and the taunts of “wrong choice” imprison me, but - 

Every wall that is created when I creep around or attempt to disguise what is going on; and every inch of self respect that is snatched when I find myself wearily cleaning up the aftermath is a direct result of the thing that is trying to convince me that I would like it back in my life again. 

No. 

I understand that it is not a simple this or that decision; but sometimes the complexity blurs the fact that I am clinging onto something that is responsible for every crumbled tooth and swelling gland and aching rib. That will steal, without a backwards glance, time and money and thoughts; consuming energy and confidence and the headspace that I’d much rather devote to far more important things - 

And this is a reminder, not a self attack. 

This is my ammunition, not its. 

That every hour it claims belongs, in fact, to me. Every minute it negates has a value that I don’t want to give up. And every promise it makes is exposed when I consider the reality of its price. 

The next adventure

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Last week I read an article on the top 10 most common dreams and their meanings. It reminded me of a recurring dream that I used to have, particularly as I was starting my recovery. It went something like this –

I am in my flat. I find a door that I haven’t noticed before and discover three or four unexplored new rooms. At first, the rooms are dated and unwelcoming, and two of them are kitchens, often filthy and filled with food. The dreams are deeply unsettling and I wake up feeling displaced and like something has tarnished my home. Eventually (over a few years) the rooms change and become full of amazing things– like a piano or a spectacular view or a fireplace – and I wake up a bit disappointed that they don’t really exist.

I was telling a friend about this dream when it was visiting me, nightly, and she interpreted it as symbolic of self discovery. As mirroring the process that I was going through of uncovering new parts of my self –

They are there, waiting: it’s just a question of seeing what’s behind the doors.

I have been struck, recently, by this notion of the self. That we might only know the areas that we have already opened, and there are therefore parts of ourselves waiting to be unlocked. It suggests that there is a step beyond self awareness or consciousness which, when I have let go of the knee-jerk fear, is kind of exciting…

I have had three half written posts on my desktop for a while now. This was one of them. The second was a link. I think they are connected. The link goes to this quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us”. (Marianne Williamson).

The quote holds me hostage. It is so exactly how I feel – and have felt – that I was too overwhelmed to mention it, at the time. It captures the moment just before I went into self sabotage; and, possibly, is uncomfortably close to what I am feeling now…
The third post was about last weekend. I went dancing, last weekend, on the spur of the moment. It was a sparkling night when I was unusually spontaneous and, for a short time, deliciously carefree. It struck me, as I woke up the next morning, that all the rules and limitations that I have been living by are self imposed. That it might be okay, just for a little while, to wander with no direction and learn what it feels like to relax and have fun….

I think I am on the edge of letting go.

Not there yet, but nearly.

I think I have been trying to stamp out any potential or, at least, iron cage it – and I am curious, now, about what would happen if I stepped out of the constraints. The possibility makes me slightly shaky and might explain why the struggle has stepped up a notch over the past few months…

I can stamp it out, again, as I did however many years ago. Or I can take a deep breath and adventure on.

Looking the other way

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

There is a girl that I walk past on the way to work who doesn’t look very well. 

She has the haunted eyes that I have come to recognise, and there is something familiar in the determined stride and layers of clothing. They do not hide the fact that she looks barely strong enough to stand. 

I walk on by. 

I feel my stomach clenching as I near the crossroads where we overlap but I walk on by. 

This morning she skidded on the ice near my bus stop. I saw her arms shoot out to right herself…

And this is the question: to reach out or not. To stop one day and say, hey, I understand where you are. I get how it feels, even if I can’t really help. Or to walk on by because I might have got it wrong. And who am I to say anything. And, in the few occasions where strangers took the risk with me in the past, I didn’t really take their advice on board…

I don’t know. 

I do not want to step, uninvited, into her life; and yet I am deeply ashamed that each morning, at the moment, I walk on by.  

Maybe

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Maybe there is a guy out there, with crinkly smiling eyes and a hand that fits my hand, who is waiting, around the corner, to whisk me away.

I have been scared, I am beginning to see, of even playing around the edges of dreaming –

And maybe, somewhere, in chapters that have not yet been written, is a place where we’ll spend evenings locked in conversations, and nights tangled in sheets.

- because there is an ache, I think, in the act of imagining, which comes from seeing – and then losing – what you really really want.

Maybe we will cross paths on the way to the bus stop tomorrow morning; or maybe I will get distracted by an amazing new project and end up flying around the world, and we won’t meet for a few years, if at all –

And so I have played it safe, for as long as I can remember; but the pain reduction has come at such an incredibly high price. Without dreams, we lack a certain direction; and without imagination, we tend to stay with what is already known, when

Maybe I could write a book, or paint a picture, or discover that, actually, I can do something meaningful that changes a life and makes people smile –

What is already known is only the starting point –

Or maybe I could pack up my bags and go on a big adventure, just to discover what it all looks like and see what I can find–

And what is possible lies in what we dream –

Doing it until it feels like normal …

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Is an old cliché, but one that I have re-discovered in the past few days.

This week has felt better. Not perfect, but a marked improvement – and it’s because I’ve focused on doing it through the discomfort, rather than waiting for the feelings to go away.
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Thanks Giving

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Sometimes, when I’m least expecting it, someone will send me a text or a message, and I’ll feel a million time better and far less alone. This is one of the things I’m grateful for, even though I’m not American and I’m hijacking their Thanksgiving day. It is important to feel connected; and it is surprising how much difference the little things make.
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Echoes

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

This is not then, although it feels like it.

It is like putting on an old jumper and suddenly being flung back –

At first, it feels a little peculiar; and then, gradually, the familiarity diffuses through the peculiarity and you can’t quite work out where you are.

Here, then, now.
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Over Analysis

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

I was sitting in the pub the other night complaining that I didn’t understand how people “did” relationships and met their other halves and found that one connection when there are so many people in the world and also no fish left in the sea – when my friend stopped me, and said that the problem wasn’t me, it was practice.

Practice.
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Letting it be

Friday, November 19th, 2010

The past few days have been much better.

Not perfect, but there have been some gaps in the clouds; and I am learning to let these, and the clouds themselves, be.

This has been the important bit that I had nearly forgotten how to do.

Sit with the discomfort for a little bit in order to acknowledge whatever’s going on and then learn that it passes.

Wedge a few crucial seconds in between thought and action so that I can think about whether I really want to do what I’m about to do.

Give the moments where I sit though the former and walk away from the latter room to breathe so that I don’t crush the good bits before they’ve had time to grow -

Let it be. 

So simple, and yet so hard when impulsivity and fear have been leading the way. 

A note on my terrible comments policy -

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Because I have one of the worst replying-to-comment policies on the internet, I just wanted to write a quick post on comments. And on the fact that they mean a huge amount to me, contrary to what my haphazard responses would suggest.

A few months ago, one of my favourite bloggers wrote a post that really made me think. Actually, it jarred a little uncomfortably – and then it made me think. About conversation, and comments, and what the interaction between writer and readers means.

When I started Finding Melissa, it was just me and my illness. I was so cut off and introspective that I couldn’t see beyond the narrow parameters of my existence, or imagine that some of my experiences might be shared. The comments here, and the wider community of Twitter, have transformed my outlook on the world. They have bridged the gap and added a context that has broken through the isolation. They have been the unexpected answer when I was used to talking to myself.

And so, sometimes, I don’t know what to say. And sometimes I forget just how much hinges on dialogue. And sometimes I’m just inexcusably disorganised –

But when I don’t say anything, it infers that I don’t appreciate the courage that comes from sharing an opinion, and it conceals the gratitude I feel for people bothering to stop by and think about my blog.

So, I leave it for a few days; and then, like in real life, I worry that I’ve missed the opportunity and it would be a little funny to say something, now… Which means that things are unsaid.

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule for comments replies on blogs – but I think it’s important to say thank you and to acknowledge the other side of the conversation, and I haven’t done this very well.

So, a huge thank you for sharing your experiences and letting me know that you’re out there. Thank you for reading – and then thinking about – what I write. Thanks you for coming back even though it might feel like you’re writing into a vacuum. Thank you for giving me ideas, and support, and encouragement, and making me smile -

I guess the subject’s been weighing on my mind as I don’t want to be someone who forgets the conversation, particularly when it has spread into and enriched my whole life. 

Thank you. xx

Walking Unafraid

Monday, November 15th, 2010

There is an R.E.M song that I have wanted to write about for ages. I have waited, because I’m not sure what it means; but it is singing in my head tonight.

It is about walking unafraid.

It is about stumbling, and picking yourself up, and being proud of your clumsiness.

It kind of captures how I felt earlier this evening when I was walking home after work.

Overwhelmingly glad. Overwhelmingly glad and suddenly brave.

Somewhere between the bus stop and my new flat, I stopped and realised that this was where I wanted to be, a few months ago. Right here. Even on cold days, and when the bus is late, and when I am so tired that I have to keep poking myself to stay away in the evening. Even when the City feels a little lonely, and totally unknown, and like it might swallow me up –

I wanted to be right here.

I wanted to live the London life for just a little while –

And so yes, I have been making a bit of a hash out of it; and things haven’t really gone to plan. And, okay, I’ve taken a few steps backwards and haven’t really found my balance…but that’s okay. I can deal with that. I can trip, fall, pick myself up and repeat the whole cycle again –

Because at least it’s real.

And at least I’m doing it, even though I’m afraid.

The practical bit

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

I nearly left it with the feelings. Job done. But then I remembered that there’s another bit that has to come hand in hand. I think eating disorders exist on multiple levels, and each one needs a plan.
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Scratching the surface

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

I cried today. Finally. It has broken through the numbness I’ve been walking around in.

I went to the dentist. She hugged me, after she’d prescribed something to take the sting out of my red raw acid-stripped gums, and it somehow made the difference.

I have wondered, over the last year, why I didn’t start my blog until I was well into my purge-free recovery, and the past month has shown me exactly why. I have not really been here. Life has been squashed to one side while I go round and round in constricting circles and can’t look beyond me. I have become evasive, and curt, and stopped doing the things that I have come to love –
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Choices

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Today, I feel a little bit more like me.

I have been picking up the pieces, slowly, because the past few weeks have rocked the foundations that I built my recovery on. If you’d asked me, in October, how I’d cope with a relapse, I’d have flippantly replied that I didn’t ever think about it because it would never happen to me – after all, why would I want to go back when I had made so much progress and started to build myself a life?

I am still stuck in the dichotomy, though I think the balance is beginning to tip. It would tip a lot faster if I could shake this “because I can” thinking, which is the other thing that’s got me gripped. I might as well go back to it all “because I can” and a few months ago I was convinced that I couldn’t. It is as simple – and as complicated – as that.

This is the struggle at the moment. The bit where the carpet has been whipped from under my feet. I have always believed, I think, that my recovery was driven by necessity, rather than by me. That the bulimia stopped because it had to stop for my dental operations. That I needed to reach a healthy weight in order to move forward with my life. That there were no choices.

Now the urgency has passed, I am finding that there’s room for doubt. That I have undermined the beliefs and opened the floodgates and it has felt like anything goes –

I should “because I can”.

No.

A very wise friend reminded me that the opportunity was always there.

Until I sat down to write this post, I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant. I kind of understand it now. Nothing has changed apart from the belief – and yet it is this subtle re-positioning that is catching me out now in the same way that it caught me out then. I find that my default setting is a little off kilter and I am negotiating for permission not to act upon the eating disorder – when actually there’s no negotiation needed because there is a choice.

There is a choice -

And I’ve been making it all along.

Skidding on Leaves

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

It has been a damp week and I keep skidding on leaves.

Three times, in the past few days, I have had my life flash before my eyes; and, for just that moment, I have realised how fragile the whole thing is….

How fragile we are.

And then I have righted myself again; and promised to be more careful in future; and promptly forgotten the moment because I am worried about missing my bus, or getting to wherever I am going, or changing the playlist on my iPod –

In quiet moments, this vulnerability comes back to me. I can only think about it for short bursts of time because the implications are too overwhelming to consider, and there is an inherent tension in caring so much about something that could change – or dissolve – or disappear –

like that.

And yet we must.

We must care without any guarantees and without knowing what could come next –

The same uncertainty that I find almost paralysing is what coats every moment in gold dust.

Finding Melissa. Again.

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

If I could go back two weeks and re-write the script, I would. I feel like I have been hijacked. Like I was going merrily along and then, suddenly, wham –

Where have I gone?

I have not wanted to write about it because I am boring myself but I miss my blog. I miss writing things into meaning. I miss getting the thoughts out of head and I don’t like the muffling silence. The longer I stay in it, the harder it becomes to find the words.
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Fighting Back

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

I was listening to Nirvana in the shower and I finally accessed the little spark of anger that has been deadened by the shock of the past week–

I refuse to let this thing beat me.

I am not going down without a fight.

Yesterday, I cut a friend short because I was too pre-occupied with food. This is not me anymore. I went out, and yet kept most of myself back. I saw, and ignored, the golden red autumnal leaves that would have taken my breath away had it not already been stolen –

And I refuse to undo all the work I have done over the past few years.

I refuse to go back into a world that is distorted and dulled by food, and shame, and guilt; heavy with things that cannot be said and bled dry by the energy consumed with should I shouldn’t I thinking.

No.

There is no way I am going to be sucked back into this.

And so, I am going to follow my brother’s advice and draw a line under the past week; because a line lets me reflect on what happened – but it also gives me the space I need to move on.

And I am going to keep reaching out, even though there’s a huge temptation to hide; because an eating disorder is a mighty contender, and I will fight it with all the tools and support that I can find.

I am going to accept the help that has been generously offered; and resurrect a few of the boundaries that the eating disorder has trampled over; and shore up the foundations that it has been giving a brutal shake –

Because I have far too much to live for –

And I am not going down without a fight.

Caught off guard

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I threw up this evening. I wasn’t going to write about it because I didn’t want to be all dramatic and this blog has come, for me, to be about hope –

But in the slither of silence, the potential to do it again is hanging and the betrayal that comes from secrecy is already starting to sting.
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Sofia’s Fund

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

I have written a lot about the challenges in recovery. About how hard it can be to face the fears that fuel an eating disorder; and the enormity of the change required when an illness infiltrates so many aspects of a life. About the ambiguity that can arise around letting go of an eating disorder; and the tension which moving from one way of being to another can create.

I have written, too, about some of the treatment I received over the years. About how hard it felt to challenge the eating disorder so intensely and openly; and how tiring it can be, in this situation, to keep battling on. About how there is seldom a clearly prescribed route to wellness; and how, sometimes, you have to do a few things a few times before the penny finally drops.
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The elusive “last time”…

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

A few days ago, LH left this question on my blog:

“I was wondering if you could share any tips on how you just quit bulimia cold turkey? Everytime I tell myself that this b/p is going to be the LAST, but it never is. “

I was going to link her back to a post that I actually entitled ‘Cold Turkey’, and then I realised that, actually, it didn’t happen like that.

Yes, once I’d made the ‘real real’ decision to stop, I did, and I haven’t been back since then….but the ‘real real’ decision was preceded by lots of real decisions, and decisions, and new starts, and special dates when I was adamant that I wouldn’t purge or binge –

And each of those failed attempts filled me with terror – and helped me to succeed in the end. It is a paradox but one that I’ll try and explain…
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Thoughts from the NEDA conference …

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I wanted to write an eloquent and insightful post about the NEDA conference that I went to in New York, but I fear that I will be waiting a long time. Words are not stringing themselves together in the way that I’d like them to at the moment (which is a whole ‘nother post) and I am beginning to suspect that I may be over-complicating some of the relatively clear messages that I took from the conference. I have a habit of doing this.

Before I rip them – and myself – to shreds, I’m going to write down a few of the things that particularly stood out for me in two days that were full of information, and sharing, and caring, and all the things that I isolated myself from, both during my illness and, during my equally stubborn and internalised recovery –

1. You don’t have to do it alone

I had my first treatment for anorexia in 1993. Things were very different then. With limited understanding and some practices that wouldn’t stand up now, the ‘me Vs them’ model that eating disorders (EDs) are great at creating was given a good dose of unnecessary ammunition that took a long time to shift…

The NEDA conference, like the Beat ceremony the week before, was full of professionals, and carers, and those directly and indirectly affected by EDs, all coming together to help raise awareness and support people in their fight to get well. It was a joint event, on an equal footing, characterised by empathy and compassion rather than anger or blame.

I know that things are complicated. That there are financial considerations, and some outdated assumptions, and a huge deficit in support for men – but I got a real sense of collaboration that has to come to a more positive end.

2. Patience

A lot of this joint effort seemed to hinge on the recognition that recovering from an eating disorder is a slow process. That it doesn’t happen overnight, nor come immediately when the symptoms change or weight is restored. It requires, instead, a level of patience, a word that doesn’t roll particularly easily off my tongue -

Patience in waiting for the discomfort of change to gradually lessen.

Patience in learning that you can overcome challenges which seem insurmountable and innumerable.

Patience in catching up with experience and emotions and relationships and all the corners of a life that an eating disorder manages to get stuck in.

Patience in starting to trust others again –

Patience in them trusting you –

3. The other people

NEDA was honest and open, and it really made me consider how difficult it is for all those who are impacted by EDs; the family, friends and even professionals who also come to live under the shadow of an ED.

When you’re immersed, it’s impossible to realise the impact you are having on those around you or it was for me, anyway. Yes, I knew that I was causing worry; I felt terrible about pulling other people into the ED’s games and, yes, it certainly impacted on my home life and environment…but, I wasn’t quite able to translate this awareness into action, and I prized the eating disorder above everything else.

During the conference, I heard parents speak about their children; siblings, about the pain of not being able to save a sister or brother; and partners talk about how devastating the eating disorder was to watch -

It is hard seeing it from the other perspectives and difficult to resist the temptation to slide into guilt….but this is why the joint effort is so incredibly important; and why it makes knowing what we’re dealing with so key.

4. The science

I am not scientifically minded. I kind of see how it all fits together, but I have to concentrate very very hard. There’s lots of research coming out at the moment which even non-scientifically minded people like me can’t miss. It’s about understanding some of the neurological research and patterns; and also exploring how people are affected by eating disorder behaviours in cognition and things other than weight.

It sounds like we’re getting nearer to gaining a more comprehensive (body, brain, mind, context) take on what goes on.

I don’t think there was one cause for my eating disorder, nor that it will be possible to understand fully why I became so ill – but each little piece helps to make a bit more sense of the experience and the understanding helps me to move on.

5. Moving on

The ‘in recovery’ or ‘recovered’ question also came up a lot for me at the conference. I don’t know whether there’s an answer for this one: whether being ‘in recovery’ drags it out and keeps it present; or if it’s a realistic description given how quickly an ED can reassert itself, and how hard it is to transform some of the traits that can impact on its development.

For me, the conference was about recognising how far I have come – but also noticing the areas where my sensitivity is still high and acknowledging that I haven’t quite reached a resolution on some of the themes that were raised –

Like body image and self acceptance (because it’s not all about that, but the culture we live in makes the context hard) -

And relationships and emotional maturity (because I’m still catching up there).

It was also about acknowledging that I have moved on in relation to my own self perception. That, increasingly, I am able to separate myself out from the ED that I once saw as my character and identity; that I was attending the conference, not just as a recovering sufferer, but as a person.

This might not make sense, but it’s a mammoth move for me.

It’s a mammoth move for me, and one that wouldn’t have happened without all the treatment and support I received. This was my other message: the work that still needs to go on.

6. The reality

The NEDA conference was the second time in the space of a month that I have realised how lucky I was to survive and how fatal eating disorders are. I don’t know the exact figures, but every time I hear them, they seem to get worse; and every wasted life winds me.

I think things are moving in the right direction, but I hope they’re moving fast enough.

I also hope that some of the barriers that still exist (healthcare costs or insufficient treatment provision; a lack of awareness around different types of eating disorders), and the things that make it harder (the complexity of the body image / media / ED / self esteem relationships; the female focused language) start to shift – because fighting an eating disorder is not an easy battle for anyone to win.

Snapped. Happy.

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

I have taken – and been taken in – a lot of photos this holiday.

This is new for me.

I don’t have many images to remind me of the past 20 years, either because they were barren of experience, or because the thought of being photographed was obscene.
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Home Sweet Home

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

I am home.

I held my breath, up until the last minute, because I still find it hard to believe that things can work out well. I will write about that when the jet-lag has passed and I can digest the past few days, because this theme (‘when feeling good feels bad’) came up during the conference over the weekend. For the moment, I want to capture the things that were flying through my mind as we soared out of and then over New York city….
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New York, New York

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

I arrived in New York on Thursday. Despite my throbbing tooth, and the anxieties that reared their head in some sleepless nights the week before, and the ridiculous questions I asked at the airport because it was so new, I ticked off another big challenge and touched down in Newark remembering, again, that it is possible to do things that you can’t imagine ever being able to do.
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Teeth. Again.

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

My tooth is throbbing.

It is the lower one on the right hand side.

There is a fracture that runs from the top to the bottom of it.

Apparently, it will break at some point: it is only a matter of time. I forget about it, for a little bit – and then I have nightmares and spend days pulling my lip back to check that it is okay.
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Coming to America

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

I wrote this post in April. It was about my two day weekend in Vienna and how I was finally overcoming some health-related and anxiety-ridden barriers, and looking forward to exploring the world.

Unfortunately, on the day that I was due to fly, Eyjafjallajokull blew.

Vienna was meant to be a trial run.

In four days time, I’m leaving Europe and heading to the Big Apple.

This time I’m going it alone – and it is excitement that I am feeling, rather than fear.
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And So This Is Me

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Once upon a time, there was a girl who spent every minute of her life thinking about food –

I am not sure where I am anymore.

From the moment she woke up, to the moment she went to sleep, it either dominated her thoughts or tugged at the edge of them so that, in returning to the thought, she realised she’d been thinking about it all along.

It has only been two years since I actively moved towards recovery, and the length of time before this is obscene.
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The importance of hope….

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Today I attended the Beat dedication service at Southwark Cathedral.

It remembered those whose lives had been taken by an eating disorder, and reached out to those who were left behind.

It acknowledged the wide circle of friends, families, carers, professionals, colleagues, lovers, mothers, fathers and siblings that the shadow of eating disorders extends over.

It remembered those who are still fighting.

And those who are now well.
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Waiting for a gap in the rain…

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

I have spent another weekend carting around suitcases. I am packed. Again. And now I’m waiting for a gap in the rain. The waiting is making my eyes heavy, though this may be because I’ve spent most of the weekend asleep. Sleeping. Sorting. Packing. Unpacking. Sleeping again. It has been a waste. I have not spoken to the people I wanted to speak to, nor done the things I wanted to do. Instead, I have been going round in circles. About my trip to America. About my move. About food. About food. This is a sore point. When life stuff kicks in, I behave like an Ostrich and bury my head in food.
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Back on the Books

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

I didn’t sleep much over the summer. As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I spent lots of the night tweeting, and ended up getting in a state every time I tried to go to bed. I also stopped reading. For the first time, ever, I didn’t have a couple of books on the go and an imaginary cast hanging around in my head.

I need books like I need air. Like I need water, and food, and human contact.
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Wallowing. And flat hunting.

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I have been flat hunting this weekend.

It has sapped my energy leaving me deflated and overwhelmed.

It’s not the 100 people that are vying for each room that’s got me worried; it’s the revival of a few deep seated insecurities and the sense that I am floundering out of my depth. Yet again. I have caught up, in some respects, but scratch the surface and there is a great big hole –
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