This picture was taken whilst I was resident at my first inpatient admission at a unit in Norwich. It was part of a therapy task to depict how we were feeling about our illness at the time. I’d just purchased my camera so I was trying out different techniques and captured this. It summed up how I was feeling then and have felt since. The hair band that I’d borrowed from one of the other patients I used to hold my thumb and little finger in place, restricting the movement of my whole hand, not allowing it to be free to do as I would naturally want it to. That’s symbolic of anorexia. Food, in reality, still holds all the appeal that it always did before the illness took hold (if you allow logic to flow) and when you’re weak, struggling to function both mentally and physically in every conceivable way, you know it’s the only medicine you need. Yet anorexia stops you. It’s your Berlin wall, it has a gun to your head, it’s the ultimate fear inside. It makes you believe that food is the ultimate poison and that you must NOT eat, that it will be your undoing and that no good can come from it. It’s all lies of course, logic allows me to be certain of that, but remember this is a mental illness. A broken leg can be legitimized by the fact it can be seen on an x-ray. Just because anorexia is mental doesn’t make it any less real or controllable and no amount of logic can stop it.
That’s what makes all this so hard, that’s what makes certain attitudes so upsetting, scarring or just downright aggravating. Sorry to go back to her, (I won’t do it again), but that’s what upset me so much about Katie Hopkins at the time. It wasn’t just the lack of empathy she showed, nor the fact that she was protecting “brand Hopkins”, it was the fact that actually her public attitude towards mental health must have been her real one. The “get a grip” attitude. Would you tell someone with that broken leg to take their cast off, chuck the crutches away and go for a run? Nah, neither would I. Anyway, KH embargo from here on in.
After receiving the diagnosis things both became very real and very serious very quickly. I was immediately signed off from work both at the insistence of my care team and my employers. My boss, to be fair to him, had been very concerned for some time and was constantly nagging me over my ‘behaviours’ for quite a while. I kept laughing his concerns off but he wasn’t stupid and he wasn’t surprised when the truth came out. I was referred onto a day treatment programme at the eating disorders unit in the town I was living in at the time and it was there that I really began to understand just how unwell I was. Again, without saying things that might be triggering, I didn’t deal the programme at all, such was the intensity of the compulsions within me, such was the grip that anorexia had over me already. I was due to be engaged there for a period of 8 weeks but I failed to stick to the guidelines (which were in place both to help begin a pathway to recovery and to protect the recovery of other patients on the programme) and was discharged after a week. It felt like I was in crisis at that point. If I couldn’t follow the treatment offered there what would happen next? I knew I couldn’t do it on my own and with nobody at home to help keep me safe I began to fear everything and anything.
My care team called me back to the unit to tell me that they were now searching for an inpatient unit urgently and, two weeks later I was admitted to that unit I mentioned in Norwich. It was here that I TRULY experienced what anorexia is capable of. From day one you are confronted with your greatest fear and not given options. That word, “medicine”, is quoted time and time again. You are reminded why you are there over and over but with compassion and understanding. Care workers sit with you, holding your hand whilst you do what to anyone else is the most natural and rudimentary thing in the world: eat a meal. You cry, you scream, you’re sad, you’re angry. You throw things, you hit out. At times you become like a crazy person. You are anything but you. Imagine this: take your greatest fear. It might be spiders, it might be clowns, it might be heights, it might be staring down the barrel of a gun even (yes, I’m not exaggerating). Now, imagine having to confront it SIX times a day ,without choice, because the only way to deal with it is to do just that, confront it. And all the time you are confronting it the same level of fear that you always feel in that situation is there. Now magnify that fear by 100. No, you’re still not close. Now imagine you would do anything you could to get away from that situation yet you know the only way to get over it is to stay, however there’s a voice in your head telling you to get away. Now take that thought and multiply it by 100 again. Still not close. I’m trying to describe it yet somehow it’s still understated. It’s hell.
I spent 17 weeks in Norwich before I was discharged. It was useful in that I gained a greater understanding about the illness and how/why I became ill. I also became a lot more aware of how hard it was to overcome and, unfortunately, I left no better than when I went in. Physically yes, I was much improved, albeit actually lighter, but my vitals were improved and my cognitive functions were a lot better. Anorexia, however, was still ruling my life and it wasn’t long before all the behaviours that I was displaying before I went there were part and parcel of life – only this time they were worse. It’s almost like I was being punished for attempting to fight back, yet another symptom of this vile condition. Within a few short weeks the care team back in my home town had decided that I needed to be back in inpatient care as both the physical and mental effects took a firm grip on me and a bed was sought.
It took 4 months to find a bed. During that time I really did get very, very ill. The physical effects of a mental illness like this can’t be underestimated. Anorexia is a killer, the biggest killer of any mental health illness there is. I know, logically, that it has the potential to kill me at any point, despite the fact that it tries to convince me otherwise. Again, you might be reading this thinking “he’s writing this and he knows it, why can’t he just stop?!” Keyword: illness. Why did it take so long? Many units just don’t have beds for men. Of the units that do they usually only have one and if that bed is empty and they’re at capacity and a female needs admitting she will be given it. I have no issue with that, I would NEVER begrudge anyone a place, especially as I know what it’s like to be waiting and, obviously, to suffer this bastard of an illness. Clearly, however, provision for male eating disorders patients is inadequate in this country, especially in view of the fact that the prevalence amongst men is on this increase. I’ve been quite vocal about this and have appeared in both the national and local press and TV.
My second inpatient admission lasted only 6 weeks and was very much designed as an intervention to my symptoms. It would have been 8 weeks but, sadly, my much loved grandfather died whilst I was there and I didn’t feel able to stay. The interruption to the symptoms lasted as long as my stay, however the behaviours started again once discharged, tempered somewhat by my understandable grief for a man who meant the absolute world to me.
So where am I at now? I think the best way to describe it is that I am living in the world with anorexia leading me by the hand. What a horrible thing to type, but that’s how it is. After being unable to work for so long my contract was finally terminated last November. Every day now is purely functional. I try and do what I need to do to survive and that’s as much as I can do. I have little energy and anorexia has me at its mercy. Do I want this? Not one bit. Do I want to fight? I fight daily just to live, but I want SO much more. In my previous blogs I talked about some of the things that I loved in my life. None of those things are there anymore; I want them back. But for now I don’t have the resources within nor the answers to find my way to control this. Things are in transition. I’ve just moved to be nearer to my mum as I’ve previously said, so my mental health care team is changing. My eating disorders care team are waiting for that to happen so that everyone can get together and work out where we go from here. I feel like I am in limbo and whilst I am the monster, anorexia, is happily doing its thing. It’s easier to let it for now, it’s almost like allowing it for the quiet life. Wow, how rubbish is that? But it won’t always be this way. Let’s see what future blogs bring.
Blogs to come will be updates about how I am, but also be about things I might read and want to talk about and to do with other mental health issues. Asperger’s and borderline personality disorder are two considerations in my make up and I’m being screened for both. As those are explored I’ll talk more about it.
Finally, thank you to everyone who has been so kind about the blog launch so far. I was nervous about doing this; you guys have made me feel a whole lot better about what I’m doing x