This post very much follows on from my last blog entry but amends the idea for now. This follows feedback from a book publisher and subsequent thoughts about how best to tackle things. This is especially as, on one hand I’m making tiny little baby steps and, on the other, I’m getting battered by anorexia for even giving it a go. The site is aptly called The Battling Baker and can be found at www.thebattlingbaker.com
The publisher feedback was a reality check, a positive one but one I had not considered. In principle they would have been interested IF I had already been ‘recovered’ or, at least, sufficiently in control of my condition. However, they felt it wouldn’t have been in my best interests to go forward with it until such a time as I was confident that this was the case in order to deal with the pressures that might come with the book being published. An older version of me might have taken this quite badly, but I actually took this with dignity and totally agree. If I can get to a better place this could still happen – and that would be a celebration on so many levels. Also, it reminds me not to rush. True recovery needs time, and as I am learning already, this really will be a long, hard road. I’m not calling myself the battling baker for nothing.
However, I really wanted to share a part of what I am doing. I wanted to share my recipes and a little of the journey I am taking. I don’t want to say too much about the battle itself, that wouldn’t be good for those that are struggling themselves and I realise sometimes I say too much anyway. However, I want people to try my recipes! So, in a condensed form of what exactly I’m doing I decided to launch The Battling Baker. Now I can share my recipes, people will know that I’m fighting because I’m only going to post what I’ve created and tried, and people might just try the recipes out themselves. THAT will give me a massive boost! I know for a fact that bakers/cooks/chefs love nothing more than to hear from people who have tried out their recipes and loved them. So if you try mine – tell me (unless you hate them, then just file it under ‘bin’ and try a different one. They won’t all be bad. Promise).
So that’s it – The Battling Baker. Pop & have a look. Get your apron on. Get a bowl. A wooden spoon. A tin. And…..ready, set, BAKE!! (apologies to The Great British Bake Off).
Finally, it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week this coming week. I hope that people will really engage with all the media activity that is bound to come and share things on social media. It’s important that we keep pushing for the important matters; things like early intervention in the treatment of ED’s and the right level of funding from central government. I might be doing this alone now (no comment) but I still recognise that the NHS works well for a great many people, it’s only right that they are given the funding they need to do it effectively for all. It’s also important that the public realise just how serious eating disorders are for those of us that suffer. Power, love & strength to all of you that struggle – I’m by your side even in my own darkness. x
On a scale of one to “I’m in the bowels of hell” this really has been one of the worst weeks in a long time. I can tell you, the bowels of hell aren’t too pleasant. It’s been a mix of a continuation of assessment work at the autism centre, a lot of physical tests at the GP, meetings & reviews with my CPN and, finally, a showdown with the team at Gloucestershire Eating Disorders Service. The outcome of that meeting was, in short, not good. That’s an understatement to be honest. I am divorcing them, but only because they have engineered it in the most despicable way imaginable. They would say they are “getting tough with anorexia.” I would retort that within this is still a person, still Simon Rickards, still dignity. Why am I divorcing them? And in reality, am I ACTUALLY doing so or are they actually giving me no options at all? In reality, are Gloucestershire Eating Disorders Service washing their hands of me, giving me an option that they know I am in no place to be able to engage with and therefore fully aware that I am going to be off their hands anyway. And if they know this how can they happily allow it? Here’s the thing; I actually asked that question. The answer is horrifying.
As my physical health has been deteriorating lately with anorexia’s stranglehold taking an even stronger hold, I had begged for further treatment and, with advocacy from my CPN, the ED services had re-engaged with me. I begged them for further inpatient treatment, afraid of my own vulnerability at the mercy of the eating disorder’s will and not trusting of my own strength to be able to engage with their day treatment programme, the very one that I had failed at right at the start of my descent into all this when I wasn’t as bad as I am this day. There was resistance to my pleas but I felt like maybe I was getting somewhere, particularly given that the physical issues were becoming ever more serious. Yesterday’s meeting was with not only my care co-rdinator, but with the decision maker, the man who decides what options to give a patient in the services’ care. After keeping me waiting almost an hour past my appointment time and barely apologising for it they began a line of questioning that almost made me feel like they were calling into question my whole diagnosis. I stopped them and asked them if they thought I was making it all up, becoming emotional. They assured me this wasn’t the case. They checked my weight. Still very low. They checked my pulse. Still very low. They acknowledged my low body temperature and so on. They could clearly see just what state I was in. But they were being very abrupt, almost to the point of how a boss speaks to an employee that hasn’t been doing their job properly. Now, I know that people with eating disorders have to take some responsibility for their recovery, I get that, but at the same time when you are very ill, and have had zero help, support or therapy for over 12 months it’s bloody hard! Their approach took none of this into consideration and I felt like my dignity as a human being was being compromised. At this point we hadn’t even got to the hammer blow.
They have decided that under no circumstances will they offer inpatient treatment. They also regret ever giving me inpatient treatment in the past, suggesting it did me no good (well, it didn’t, but only because it was handled badly) and that it doesn’t matter how I am now or will be in the future it won’t be happening again. There are a variety of treatment options accessible through them, however I can only access them through one route; by doing their day treatment programme. Now, if you have an eating disorder what I am about to say may be triggering so read on with that warning in mind or close the browser now. Otherwise those without or accepting the warning; I haven’t eaten a proper meal since I left the last eating disorders unit in Bristol this time last year. Anything that I’ve eaten out of the boundary of what my eating disorder dictates…well, I’ll just say I deal with it, again as my eating disorder dictates. Rules of day treatment; eat ALL food within 20 minutes. There is NO flexibility. Outside of the programme, at home, you are to follow the agreed meal plan and not engage in any eating disorder behaviours. Ok, all fair enough – people go on that programme to get better and sign up for that. Understand this: I WANT TO GET BETTER. I want to get control. I may never get rid of this completely, but I want control. So take that as read before we go on. Back to my point. I have not eaten properly in over a year. There is no chance in hell that I am going to be able to go from where I am at this moment to eating a full meal (with pudding) in 20 minutes. There is no way that I am going to be able to spend 18 hours a day in my own company outside of day treatment, and weekends, and be able to not engage in behaviours that have dominated my life for approaching two and a half years. It doesn’t matter how much I want to be better than I am, I am mentally ill and at this stage, right now, as things stand, day treatment will not be an option I can realistically succeed in. They know this, I know this and I am sure that anyone reading this will understand and will come to know this too.
So I asked them this question: “If I come on day treatment and fail one meal, what will happen?” Their answer: “We will discharge you from the programme and from the service.” So I asked them; “What if I don’t do the day treatment programme?” Their answer; “We will discharge you from the service.” My final question: “So you would knowingly, wilfully and happily discharge someone and give no help to someone with anorexia, who is as ill as I am?” A one word, cold, emotionless response: “Yes.” It was at this point where they claimed they were being tough with my eating disorder and not me and didn’t offer any support when I was clearly distressed. They told me to think it over and tell them next week. In my emotional state I told them I would if “I was still here.” They knew what I meant, read between the lines and you will too. I didn’t mean it but I felt it in the heat of that moment. Their response was to quickly usher me out of the room and escort me out of the building as quickly as they could.
I have given them many reasons why I believe things could be different with treatment at this point in my illness. Sure, I am much worse than I have ever been, but I believe that if I can get on the recovery path there are things that I can focus on now as a way forward. I’ve not had that before. My passion for baking, healing broken relationships, real concrete and good things that weren’t a part of life when I tried to engage in treatment in the past. Before I came out of treatment to….nothing. Now it would be different. This situation I’m in now is frightening, because I am going to have to rely solely on myself. I now have nobody to turn to in a professional capacity to help me fight and get control of this illness that has controlled me all this time. I know now that I am stuck with this for life, and I need to find a way to survive it for as long as I can, so that I can live.
I‘m not going to do that day treatment programme. I don’t want to suffer the indignity of being thrown out of a building in front of 9 other people who are all struggling, I’ve already had that happen and it’s a horrible and embarrassing feeling. Dare I say, it’s even more triggering than some of the more obvious things people expect. Also, because of how I’ve actually been treated on a human level I wouldn’t want to be treated by the individuals who operate within that service. They place no value on me as a person, don’t allow me any dignity, respect and have never listened to any of my views about my treatment. This ISN’T just about them not giving inpatient treatment when I’ve asked, there have been many MANY other times when I have been ignored, belittled, talked down and insulted (once they actually had to formally apologise to me) and I actually think they have done and would continue to do more harm than good.
So that’s it, this fight will have to start again, only I can only rely on one person. Me. I have absolutely no idea where to begin, how I will make even a baby step forward let alone a normal sized one. At the moment all is as was yesterday, last week, a month ago. At some point I need to find a starting point. One things for sure, it won’t begin with that team, ever again.
First of all, Happy New Year. It’s only right I say that as I am forever humbled by the fact that anyone comes here to read my blog, and I know they do from the stat reports I get. So thank you, and I hope that you had a good festive period. Mine was challenging in the ways you would expect it to be, although having faced a couple of Christmases already with an eating disorder I was mentally prepared and just accepted that, for me, it was easier just to treat the key days from the food perspective as any other. Self preservation works and allowed me not to get bogged down in the fact that I didn’t feel able to eat & drink as others do. I did enjoy my time with mum on Christmas day however, and visiting my dad on Christmas Eve. Presents? A plethora of recipe books by the likes of Nigella, Paul Hollywood, Nadiya and Mary Berry. Perfect – the baking bug is biting as hard as ever and my creative juices are flowing freely. Oh yes, that strange paradox is in full effect. I don’t question it, I embrace it and let it roll. No, I still can’t engage in benefitting from the end result but I don’t care; those that do are giving me the feedback I need to improve, that’s what matters. Judging by said feedback I’m doing just fine. As to other matters I’m afraid it’s a case of the same old situation.
I continue to be at a very low weight, in fact small amounts continue to drop. I still can’t eat any more than previously mentioned and other habits remain, although walking is a lot less purely down to my weakened state. The eating disorders services are now engaged again but it’s not clear yet what help they are prepared to give. I’m due to meet them soon to discuss the possibility of inpatient treatment. I personally feel this is the best way and will keep me safest, out of harms way, and will enable me to stand a chance at recovery this time. I feel ready, more than I ever have before. There are reasons now, I have plans & goals beyond. The baking, that passion for it, there are things I would like to do with it, but I need to be on that recovery road first and there is no way I can be on it as things are right now. Community care won’t be enough as I am so I hope they will hear me when I meet with them.
Next week I start seeing someone in relation to my Aspergers. I’m not sure what to expect exactly but it will be good to make sense of it all and understand the condition better. It’ll also be good to learn better ways of handling situations that I currently find difficult; things like social interaction, confidence, etc. I’ll ALWAYS find those things hard, autism doesn’t go away, but it’s finding ways to cope & deal with things more effectively. I’d love to find ways to deal with some of my sensory issues too – especially dogs barking!! They drive me mad – a cross I’ve carried all my life and never spoke of. I have to bite me arm to cope with the swell of frustration that builds inside me when dogs bark. Babies crying too. OMG. Understand, I know these are things that are natural but my brain can’t cope with the sensory reaction it produces. I either have to get away from the source or literally grit my teeth or self sooth/harm. It’s an odd thing. Anyway, the sessions start next week. Assessments first.
I did have some stuff before Christmas I got very upset/angry about. The DWP cut my PIP from enhanced to standard on the one area that causes most issue, that around food related problems. They cut 2 points from preparing meals section. Ridiculous. I’ve read a lot about how they are penalising MH applicants and have targets on appeals. Well, I’ve appealed. Needless to say even cutting points in that area has a direct impact on the illness itself. “Ha, they think you aren’t ill enough. Well…let me show you…” Fucking illness. Bloody DWP. If only they could stay here for a week and see what it’s like to be me, to be anyone with anorexia. Look, none of us WANT to have to claim, but when you are too unwell to work you have to rely on the state. I’ve paid in all my life until all this started, so I’m entitled to the help. I shouldn’t have to fight, and I shouldn’t have to prove just how ill I am.
Onto happier things. Wolves are riding high in first place at that top of the Championship by 12 points. Giddy isn’t the word!! Ok I haven’t been able to go much. One of the unfortunate things about my season ticket is that the seat is in the disabled area where the roof doesn’t come over and if it rains you get wet. My body won’t fight any infection so being cold is one thing, being cold and wet quite another. I’ve been avoiding going to rainy games of which there have been a number lately. I did ask if they would move me but that would have involved a cost – but they have agreed to switch the seat on a match by match basis if the forecast is bad now, so I should be going again soon. Love you Wolves!! It’s so good to be supporting them right now, not that I ever wouldn’t, but boy we’ve had some frustrating years!!
Hopefully next time I blog it’ll be news of an inpatient admission. I need to get some control. I fear I’ll be stuck in this perpetual hamster wheel otherwise.
Up the Wolves!
I appreciate I haven’t said an awful lot lately. Those that follow me on Twitter may think that I’ve been ok as I’ve deliberately not been putting much about how things are. I try not to be that person who is a) triggering or b) constantly going on about their illness. I’ve been guilty of that in the past and found myself reading some of it back and being angry at myself. I don’t want to be a “victim” nor appear to be, or give people fuel to think I’m vying for attention – that’s something I was once accused of and it cut me to the bone. Indeed my Twitter posts have been mainly about how brilliant Wolves have been doing (I’m SO proud to be a Wolves fan right now) and all the different things I’ve been baking. What a contradiction for someone with an eating disorder right? But it’s a passion. I might not be able to partake, but I still love that creativity and the joy it brings people.
But here’s the truth. I’m gravely ill. I’m at my lowest weight since this eating disorder took hold and things have come to a head. My CPN intervened and now the eating disorders team are back involved. A section order was on the table, and still is. Yesterday I met with the ED team who are very worried about how things are and have sent me for an urgent medical assessment this morning (22nd November). The professionals involved in my care, the ED team, my CPN, my psychologist, psychiatrist and GP, are all meeting on Monday and will make a decision on how to act. This may be a section, it might be a straight referral admission onto an ED unit or they may try and do a community based programme that is far more intense than anything they’ve done in the past. This will all depend on the medical assessment and other factors. I think an admission is the preferred option, hopefully under referral.
I’m not scared, I’m relieved. Quietly I’ve been getting to a place where I knew I was in danger but felt unable to do anything about it nor ask for help. I’m glad my CPN noticed and stepped in. I don’t want to go on about it on Twitter so if I seem “normal” on there just know that I’m shielding the world from the hell I’m dealing with, they don’t need to see it. And hey, I like chatting about how awesome Wolves are. Speaking of which, I’m determined to go one last time on the weekend before I can’t anymore. It’s going to annoy me not being able to go for a while, especially when we’re doing so bloody well. Typical!! Although, if they do go with the community based approach I will still be able to go…long shot but fingers are crossed. AND I’ll be able to go to see Shed Seven (thanks Rick Witter). Anxiety permitting.
Thank you to those who have been so supportive – you know who you are – you have been incredible x
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Whether or not Louis Theroux has great power is maybe up for debate, but he is certainly an influential and respected figure. You only need read the reactions on social media to any announcement of, or feedback to any of his documentaries to know that he is both highly respected and revered by millions across the world. I include myself amongst his admirers. Indeed, I’ve spent many hours watching his in-depth look both into the lives of the rich & famous and tackling the dark worlds of subjects such as alcoholism and America’s gun culture. His unique method of engaging with the contributors, of gently exploring underneath the shell of the issue to pull out often difficult stories of why they lead the lives they do, is both skilful and, in some ways, really quite endearing. From a viewers perspective you can’t help but feel like you’d want him as a friend, a confidant, someone with whom you would run to if you were ever in need of a shoulder to cry on, not because he would necessarily have the answers but because you know he’d ask the right questions and would listen.
So, you can understand why when, in March this year, I was contacted and asked if I would be interested in taking part in a documentary in which Louis would explore the mysteries surrounding anorexia, I readily agreed. It would be an opportunity for me to fulfil two things. First, as someone who is passionate about showing that anorexia can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, background, sexual orientation, and equally as passionate about ensuring that nobody ever gets to where I am now and seeks help at the earliest possible opportunity, I knew that I would get a chance to lend my voice and tell my story to an audience potentially far greater than most other documentaries that had been made to date. Secondly, it would be a chance to meet Louis Theroux. If you’re an admirer of his and the opportunity comes to take part in his work and you’re willing you’re going to want to do it, right? Let me make this abundantly clear however, the first part is the most important. It was never about getting my face on the TV, there are much nicer ways of doing that and anorexia is not something I want to be known for (quite frankly it can get stuffed). However, I would do anything I can to stop someone who is heading this way in their tracks and to seek help, and that was my sole intent in agreeing to do it. Meeting Louis was the “nice bonus.”
Between March and July I met and had discussions with the producers who explored more about how anorexia had & is affecting me and what would happen when Louis came and filmed. When that day eventually came it was what you would expect from a viewers perspective, however being the subject was very hard. Nothing quite prepares you for the reality of how Louis does things. There’s no secret way he does it, it’s all as you see it on TV, but it really can break you down in the moment. My interview largely centred around me engaging in something I do a lot – baking. I made Louis & the crew flapjack whilst he interviewed me, asking me about how the illness affects me day to day, how it gradually became a feature of my life, what influences allowed it to take hold of me, what I felt I had lost materially and otherwise. My mum was also included and he asked her about the changes in me and how the impact of anorexia had affected relationships within the family. There were some tough scenes including one when the illness itself stepped in and made me “jittery,” reminding me that I should be taking laxatives and an emotional discussion took place with Louis almost trying to talk me out of it, me breaking down in tears and, in the end, me taking them anyway. Maybe it’s a good thing that wasn’t shown in the end (I’m coming to that), although maybe it should have been – seeing the power of anorexia in its most raw form. There were some lighter moments too. As Louis tucked into a large piece of the finished flapjack he said that I should go on “Bake Off” (I really want to do this people, I’ve just applied!) and we had a good giggle about that. It wasn’t all dark.
As those of you that watched the documentary tonight will know (Louis Theroux: Talking To Anorexia) this was cut from it. I had already been told that this would be the case. They like to do follow up interviews and check on progress and logistically it wasn’t feasible for them. In fact, the documentary featured 4 women staying in 2 eating disorders units in London, entirely not representative of the fact that anorexia (or ANY eating disorder) can affect ANYONE regardless of all the things I mentioned above. I also knew that this would be the case and had already been quite upset. I was upset at being left out without there being any men included and I was upset that I’d laid myself bare to Louis & the production team on camera and didn’t get the chance to do what I set out to, to hopefully make a difference to at least one person’s life, to stop someone ever getting to the point where their entire existence is determined by what goes on in their head at the hands of this illness. It was so important to me that everyone that COULD be affected by this monstrous illness was represented and I really felt, having been part of it, that they would be. That was as important to me as helping to stop anyone getting to where I am. I’m so disappointed that arguably one of the most influential documentary makers in the world has omitted the voices of a true representation of the indiscriminate power that anorexia has, especially as I vocalised how important I felt that was. For me he’s dropped the ball for once, and it’s a great shame.
On the plus side I do believe that they’ve captured some of the true hell that this illness dishes out. The inner conflict, the power it has, how it refuses to let go of its victims and, ultimately, all it wants to do is kill you. If we’re all honest with ourselves, or allow logic in, we know this. But it silences logic all the time – we must do what it tells us, it thrives on our fears. That very fear of letting go of it, of recovery, is what keeps us enslaved. For many recovery comes, for too many it doesn’t. Louis has done well to show why we are as we are and for that I respect what he’s shown. But I can’t get away from the fact that there still should have been a wider representation of the type of people it can affect, i.e. anyone. We spent the time, we had the material, it should have been used.
Don’t get me wrong, one mistake doesn’t change my view. I still think Louis Theroux is a great man, a great documentary maker and I still admire him immensely. The producers have promised to send me a DVD of our interview which is good, I hope that one day I’ll be able to watch it from a place where I have control over my illness as a reminder of where never to go back to. I say control because, as I’ve said in the past, I know that I will never be fully rid of this. But I have hope that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get help one day (if the eating disorders team ever change their mind and actually help me) and find a way to control things.
Sadly, I’ve taken a hit over all this. Anorexia, by it’s nature, will always seize an opportunity.
“They didn’t think you looked ill enough. You weren’t in hospital so they didn’t take you seriously enough. You’re too heavy. Do something about it.”
That’s what anorexia tells me since I took the call just over a week ago. Not anyone’s fault, that’s the nature of this beast, this illness.
I’ve lost just over half a stone since taking that call.
Anorexia. That’s the true voice, right there.
It’s World Mental Health Day. I’ve put a picture of a goat lying down and you’re probably wondering what the hell that’s got to do with anything. You’d be justified in wondering, I would too. I took this picture whilst on holiday last week in Zakynthos. This was the first proper holiday I have ever been on, the fact I was there was a minor miracle in itself, but as I meandered through the lonely hills of the island, away from the hustle & bustle of the tourist town of Alikanas where I was staying, I came across this goat. He was lying in a barren bit of land, attached to a pretty run down small holding, looking pretty glum in his own world. He wasn’t aware of the hardships of the island, the fact that everyone on it works 7 days a week just to make ends meet, that the Greek economy is such that the potential of this island can’t truly be met. The financial infrastructure isn’t there to back it up. The potential is there to see (there are some absolute beauty spots), but the people are letting it go to rack & ruin and seem to be just ticking over, leaving vast areas spoilt by unsightly rubbish and abandoned building projects. The goat reminded me of my own state of mind. He was locked in his own misery, just there with no apparent purpose (although probably used for milk), whilst the world around him carried on doing what it did, whether that be to tick over or, as we are more fortunate than the Greeks, to progress. I’m digressing at the moment – Asperger’s – I’ll get where I’m going shortly.
An update on my health. I’m still where I was, although an admission. I’ve developed bulimia. I use it to keep myself in check when anorexia isn’t enough, when I’m not strong enough to restrict. Wow, I can’t believe I’ve just typed such a weak minded thing, but that in itself is an indicator of just how bad I am. So, anorexia, bulimia, borderline personality disorder and Asperger’s – it’s little wonder that my latest letter from my psychiatrist again uses the word “complex” to describe my case. My weight is low, my strength is rubbish and my mind weak. My mood is stable but best described as “numb” and I’ve got little appetite for life at the moment. I have no goals to speak of and there are no treatment aims being talked about. The eating disorders team have made no contact since putting me on this “break” and I can’t see that changing. Heaven knows what will happen. Maybe the posts will stop one day – and that will be a sign that the whole thing ended badly. So yeah, that’s that. Oh – Wolves are doing well though. There has to be ONE positive, and that’s one that will always make me smile!!
So, World Mental Health Day. Why do we have to have one day when attention is brought to this issue? Should awareness not be something that should be accepted by now? Is it a case where for one day everyone is made aware that people suffer with mental illness and tomorrow people forget? Does the media forget that for people like me and the millions across the world with a mental illness there are 364 other days where this is STILL part of our lives? And WHY is this still needing to be highlighted in the way it is? Why is there still this stigma? Do we have a World Broken Leg day? Because that’s a normal, that’s something you can see so therefore it’s legitimised. Well let me tell you something. Have a look at me if you ever can. My mental illness has physical repercussions. I’d post a picture of myself in just my underwear if I didn’t think it would be triggering to some people just to show that there are physical consequences to some of the mental illnesses I suffer from. Would it get the message across to some of the ignorant then? Of course it would. BUT IT SHOULDN’T TAKE THAT!
Piers Morgan tweeted this earlier:
“On #WorldMentalHealthDay, a reminder that statistically, this is the safest & healthiest time to ever be alive in recorded history.”
The ignorance in that one tweet sent me to boiling point. He’s probably right, from a physical perspective. From a mental health perspective he is absolutely wrong. Social pressure, world pressure, means that we are probably living in the WORST time for mental health. People don’t realise it, but it’s a fact. How do we address it? It’s up to people with the most influence to ensure that they are using that influence for good, to be more aware of the impact they have on society and on people. And then we need to look at ourselves and how we are toward each other. We need to look within our schools and how children are toward each other. We need to look at how we conduct ourselves and interact with each other online. We almost need to start a collective think tank and start again, we need to learn how to be kinder to one another and see that these brains of ours are not indestructible. They’re fragile, they need looking after. WE need looking after as people. It’s not just our bodies that need maintaining, it’s our minds too. Piers Morgan’s tweet COULD be all encompassing if we learned just to look after each other better.
World Mental Health Day itself needs to be handled better. It’s good that people in the public eye are used to highlight the issue, but what about the people that REALLY suffer each day. The Royal family are all over social media today, pop stars, TV & film stars, all talking about the good work that people do or their own experiences…but what about people who live with these chronic conditions day in, day out? Give us a voice, give us air time. Come and see the reality of how this really is. Only then will acceptance of the legitimacy of mental illness come to the fore.
Finally, I saw Jeremy Hunt speaking at a ‘Time To Change’ event. This man is the Health Minister responsible for the vast cuts in the NHS, not least cuts in Mental Health care. It’s insulting that he is even invited to speak at such events, let alone that he even turns up. The government continues to cut funds, yet more and more people suffer, more and more people need treatment and more and more people die. To say it’s not good enough is an understatement. It has to change. One more death is a death too many. Jeremy Hunt & the government have so much blood dripping from their hands that I’m surprised they are able to grip a door handle. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror each day knowing I was depriving people of the care so many of us need. It has to change…and we must keep pushing them for that change.
Seven years ago today I drove into Gloucester for an appointment with my psychotherapist. The appointment was at 10.40am. By 11am I was outside the psychotherapist’s building in the back of an ambulance. I was hooked up to a heart monitor, having injections into my stomach and listening to paramedics tell me that I was having a heart attack. For the next few days I was to battle for my life until I was stable enough to have a life saving procedure to have two stents placed into my heart. I guess today could therefore be classed as an anniversary, the anniversary of the day that I almost died. The day that my body almost gave up on me. The day that over-eating, drinking and smoking took their toll on my heart and it said “enough is enough. I give in.” The weird thing is I was at my psychotherapists, it’s an oxymoron. Twelve months before that point I’d tried to take my own life because my mind was broken, but I was in a better place at the point where my heart decided to work against me.
Fast forward to today. You would think that I would be looking back and reflecting on the fact I survived. I should be using it to help me change where I’m at now, to drive me onward in my battle with Anorexia, Borderline Personality Disorder, anxiety and to help me better manage my Asperger’s traits. I’m glad I survived and been able to enjoy the times I have up until two years ago when Anorexia came knocking. However, if I’m being wholly honest, lately I have been spending a lot of time locked into a mind-set of wondering whether I would be better off not being here at all. This might sound dreadfully defeatist, a little self-indulgent in the misery stakes and might provoke annoyance in some people. But when you are faced with this illness, and have been for so long, when you aren’t getting the support you so desperately need and you are living the same routine each and every day with no end in sight, you really can’t see a way out other than the eternal comfort of the never.
What have I been doing lately? Very little different. I’ve baked a lot. Most of it has been very driven by the eating disorder. Sometimes the compulsion is so strong that I just make something and then get angry and throw it away. Most of the time I make stuff and Mum takes it away for herself, my step Dad and her friends & neighbour. I get inspired by Bake Off a lot and try and recreate a lot of the things they are making. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all ED inspired, there is a creative element there and a joy. I just can’t indulge in any of it, there’s no way anorexia will allow it. If only.
I’ve been to all Wolves home games so far. I leave 5 minutes before the end of each game to avoid any kind of chance of getting crowd panic. It cost me the other day when Danny Batth scored a late equaliser, but that’s the price I pay to keep myself feeling safe. It’s a struggle at times, especially feeling week and having to amend my ED habits, but I tend to just not eat at all on match days. It’s easier to keep the ED voice quiet. At least I get to go!
But that’s the thing – dancing with the devil in my head in order to do anything I want to do takes away the full pleasure of doing things. I hate that. Why should I have to compromise everything in order to do anything? This is why I spend 99.9% of my time locked away in my flat watching Netflix and running back and forth to the bathroom. This is why I wonder whether I would just be better of having not survived seven years ago, or not surviving now. I’m going on a week’s holiday with mum & my step dad shortly. It’ll be nice to get some sun but, of course, the whole thing will be tempered by the ED and a lot of what I wish I could do I won’t be able to. When I get back I had been thinking of just giving into everything the ED wants and just allowing it to slowly take me for good. I echoed this to my CPN recently. I have a new referral to a psychologist as a result. Hopefully this will lead to some more meaningful treatment because, again, nothing has been happening. I’m still eating next to nothing, getting lighter, bombing laxatives, walking when I can. Still no ED support, no therapies elsewhere. I had to have a course of injections to right some imbalances in my bloods. Physically I’m a wreck really.
The life I wish I could have isn’t there. I can’t get it back myself. The professionals don’t seem able to help. The system is failing me. This anniversary – I wish I could celebrate it. I survived. I can’t celebrate that. What a shitty illness this is. Fuck you anorexia. You are worse than that heart attack. That was fixed by two stents and the skill of a team of doctors. You have far more power and you are looking more likely to kill me. Bastard.
Fingers crossed for that psychologists appointment this week.
There has always been a need for mental health issues to gain greater media coverage to ensure wider understanding and breaking of associated stigmas. Thankfully, over the past few months, there have been a number of high profile campaigns to ensure this has happened, and I’m glad to see that on the subject of eating disorders there have been a few stories run. I myself have been both the subject and included in a few of these stories, and have always agreed to do them for that purpose; to help educate and encourage anyone suffering who hasn’t already got help to do so.
Tomorrow (24th July), BBC Panorama will be broadcasting a programme called ‘Men, Boys, Eating Disorders’ featuring international rugby referee Nigel Owens, MBE. Nigel has been struggling with bulimia for the past 27 years and will tell his story and meet other sufferers throughout the programme. Some of his story has been published today on the BBC news website and can be read here.
I’m full of admiration for Nigel for sharing his story in such a public way, especially in view of his profile, and really hope that this will do exactly what is needed – both educate and inspire those who are suffering in silence to get help. Also, as a man, I hope that it will again show that eating disorders don’t discriminate. They aren’t confined to teenage girls, they can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, colour of skin or whatever. They are real, legitimate, debilitating and vile illnesses that destroy lives. I urge anyone that can to watch the programme and really try to understand what sufferers go through, as hard as I know it is to understand.
Of course, media attention and understanding of these matters are only one part of a wider issue. The focus needs to continue, and the media coverage needs to maintain in order for people to continue to be educated and inspired to get help. However, in order to get the help needed there needs to be the support services and right treatment available. As I said in my last blog post I have withdrawn from social media in terms of posting about my illness and I’ve stuck to it. I have continued to use it for posting about everyday things, but on the subject of my own health I have said nothing, even when asked. The truth is I continue to be very unwell. Anorexia is grinding me down, depression has crept in and I’m heading toward my lowest weight at any point since I was diagnosed. All eating disorder support that was previously there has now been withdrawn.
As I discussed in that last blog post the ultimatum was day treatment or a “therapeutic break.” As I said then I know in honesty day treatment would cause me far more damage than good and that I’m honest enough with myself to know exactly what I need. However, the commissioners won’t allow it, the NHS cuts being such that the money and options aren’t there, and so I’m without the help I need. Where this will end I don’t know (sorry, I’m repeating myself) but I’m numb to the worry of it. I’m a hamster in a wheel, days are all the same, anorexia has become the larger part of me and I haven’t got the treatment options open to me to help me to fight it.
I don’t believe this is the case for all, however. I think this is a case of a ‘postcode lottery’ and that because Gloucestershire has the day treatment option it’s something that has to be tried first. Truth is I have, it’s just that they insist I try again, ignoring my own thoughts on the subject. There has to be flexibility, they just won’t budge. There’s enough of my mind intact to know what’s damaging and not in terms of treatment. C’est la vie. In other areas of the country I know that treatment options are a lot better for people. Don’t be put off by what’s going on for me – GET THE HELP YOU NEED as soon as you can and be forceful. Meanwhile we must push government for more funding into the NHS for mental health care. Nobody should be held back from options based on where they live, nobody should have anything but the full range of options open to them and EVERYONE should have a voice in their treatment.
Anyone viewing my social media accounts over the weekend might be forgiven for thinking that things might have been improving radically. I say radically given my last blog entry and because both my Facebook & Twitter accounts show a few days that reflect a life that I lost two years ago. However, as I hope people have come to know, the truth behind the pictures can often be very different. These mixed messages that I unintentionally throw out can be dangerous, triggering, and can cause me a lot of harm. They are the reason why I have taken the decision to stop posting on Facebook and limit my Twitter activity. I’ll stop short of removing the accounts altogether as some people contact me through them exclusively, but it’s safer not to post. Allow me to explain my thoughts and clear up the mixed messages.
My weekend began on Friday with a long standing planned trip to Lincolnshire with my brother. I had paid for a short break for his 40th birthday at a fishing lake complete with a stay in a luxury lodge right next to the lake’s edge. This all felt safe to me, my brother isn’t the sort that would pressure me in regard to my eating disorder behaviours and the location was remote enough that I wasn’t going to get overawed by interaction with other people. The lodge and settings were idyllic and, despite the weather not being ideal, our stay was good. I won’t pretend my behaviours were in check, they were as bad as they ever are, and in some respects when pushed were a little worse. However, they didn’t interfere with the stay and we had fun, did plenty of fishing, relaxed and my brother seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself.
We left on Sunday morning and whilst travelling back some seriously leftfield events occurred. There was one thing that saddened me and left me confused. Someone I had been growing close to recently suddenly hit reverse after I believed we were on a level playing field and scrambled my brain. Asperger’s. Relationships of any kind. It’s a toxic mix. I need to stop it. Anyway. I was aware that my favourite festival, Barn On The Farm, had been taking place all weekend. Last year, after 4 consecutive years of attending, I had missed it whilst being in the unit in Norwich. Had I not been, of course, I wouldn’t have been in any place to have gone. Even so I found it distressing that I was missing a festival that I adored whilst so many of my friends and favourite bands & artists were performing. It’s such a unique festival and my experience of it is, in itself, always unique. I’ve invariably been involved with one or two of the acts performing and have been able to have access to all areas. I’ve therefore been able to hang out with and meet some of the big names that have played there. It’s amazing, it’s like one big family year on year.
One of my favourite bands was playing this year, as they have for a number of years now, Amber Run. I had a ticket to see them in September but certain plans mean that I will no longer be able to see them. With this in mind suddenly I had a deep yearning to go to the festival that afternoon. All the fear and anxiety was replaced by a desire to be immersed by their music. Maybe it was that memory of being filled by Paramore’s music a couple of weeks ago, by forgetting everything else and letting the music carry me. How could I get through the rest of the day with 2000 people there? There was sure to be plenty of people there I knew. Maybe that would be enough to get me through and then I could rely on the music. However, I didn’t have a ticket. There had been lots of people selling some before, maybe someone had an unsold one going still. I began to look. Just as I realised this was going to be fruitless a friend on Facebook posted a picture from the festival. He is a sound engineer and had been working for a band there the previous evening. I asked if he was still there and he told me he would be doing the sound for Amber Run that evening and offered to get me in. I will forever be in his debt.
So, later that afternoon I was there. Barn On The Farm 2017. Was it easy? Not one bit. As I walked down that track in the picture I was an absolute bag of nerves. There was one event that made it a LOT worse. I seldom talk about this publicly, in fact I’ve never mentioned it on this blog and I never will after this. One of the first people I saw was my daughter. This was extremely hard. She stopped talking to me almost 3 years ago and has nothing to do with anyone on my side of her family. She has made it known that she doesn’t want people close to her to know that I am anything to do with her and I respect her wishes. It hurts, and there’s not a day goes by when I don’t wish that things were different. Seeing her sparked a whole wave of emotion and I thought about leaving immediately, but she saw me and headed in a different direction quickly, as she did the few times I saw her during the rest of the day. With her was her best friend, the daughter of the woman I was dating at the start of my problems (remember her?) Talk about triggering events.
I stayed. I went and stood by one of the stages, shaking with fear, triggered by what I just described, the people, just about everything that was going on. I’d wanted to run. Then someone I knew, an artist who had performed there many times but was there just to enjoy joined the crowd. I said hello to her and, after several glances she recognised me and greeted me enthusiastically. I was really glad but, again, it made me sad. The fact that I was no longer instantly recognisable made me feel uneasy because I’m not Simon anymore, or, at least, I’m a hidden version. The conversation was so quickly about how I am and not about the festival and the music. I understand, people care, people want to know. Just after that quite a few old friends appeared, including one of my closest friends from a time two years ago before I got so ill. It was great to see him. Great but so very difficult. I know he had found it hard to see me change, to see me fall from where I was to how I am now. I’d heard very little from him since those times and it had made me sad, but I know that this has been the case for so many people. Even people I still have contact with things are not as they were. I am not me, Simon is not the dominant character anymore.
The rest of the day was a paradox. On one hand it was fantastic. When music was the core, when conversations were centred around a time gone by with people from that time I felt calm, ok, good. However, anything about the present was all too real. If I was around food, or being encouraged to eat, or felt enclosed I felt horrible, I felt triggered. I was reminded that whilst I could talk about the past, be reminded of it, that reality was very different. The now is dark, the light is behind me. I can only view it as someone views a photograph, a memory. Reality has to be viewed through the eyes and that’s something I’m forced to do no matter how hard I try not to. I hate it. The worst thing is this; those people I came into contact with from my past all want the Simon in the photograph back. They don’t want to look through their eyes and have what they see before them, they want the memory. I do too, however the reality is different. He’s gone and I have NO IDEA how to get him back. You see, I take the positives of the day – Amber Run were sensational, it was lovely to see old friends and the pictures you can see of me with smiles on my face with those people are real – but the reality is different. I grieve for the same things all those people are grieving for. The Simon they loved has gone. Nobody wants to know who I am now, not even I do.
So why do I want to stop posting on social media? It’s back to the mixed messages. Someone said that it was great to see me making steps forward. Simply put, I’m not. I went because I wanted to hear music. It was great to see old friends. I was reminded, however, that I am not the person I was, or at best that person is buried by the mess that I have become. I’m trapped by a monster who has locked me up in a cage and has the key firmly in his grip. I can’t wrestle that key from him. He’s laughing at me. Whenever someone says I am making steps forward I get sad, angry, distressed and numb all at the same time. I don’t blame people for thinking it – anyone would – but it’s time for me to take control of what I’m putting out there. The best way to do that is to put nothing out. I will continue to blog but the only way people will come to it is if they look. I won’t alert anyone to it anymore. Twitter is different. I can comment on my football stuff, I can comment on a tweet about music. It’s easy, I don’t have to be personal about things. Facebook, however, I’ll keep my account but not communicate publicly. I have to be less mixed.
Maybe one day the photograph will come back to life. Maybe one day the photograph will be all that’s left. One thing is for sure, they won’t be my photographs. I’ve just sold my camera gear. No point keeping hold of things I can’t use. I’ve bought a point and go. That feels a lot more apt. Point and go. No mixed messages.
For the past week I’ve felt like I’m permanently staring down the barrel of a gun or completely trapped. It’s a horrible feeling, a feeling created by the worst of circumstances at a time when I probably need help the most. Those who are in touch with me on social media might be forgiven for thinking that I’ve been making an effort to do a bit more of the things I’ve been trapped from doing. My last blog entry indeed suggests this, but actually things are going badly. Very badly.
I had an appointment with my psychiatrist just over a week ago. He is part of the recovery team, helping me more with day to day integration, coping with my anxiety issues and Asperger’s. During that appointment he posed certain questions that unnerved me, centred around the possibility that I could be discharged from the care of the eating disorders service. I was stunned at the mere suggestion. Lately the anorexia side of things have taken quite a kicking and, with necessary sensitivity, it’s obvious that behaviours are out of control and physical repercussions coming to the fore. The justification for the suggestion was due to the lack of progress or engagement in any meaningful treatment since discharge from my last inpatient admission in February. As I pointed out this had been due to my moving and the eating disorders service wanting to ensure my work with the recovery team being established so that cross agency involvement could be created to devise a way forward. I hoped that he was simply “shooting fish in a barrel” and that I could query this with my care co-ordinator at the ED service at my appointment last Friday, but I didn’t like the fact he even brought it up. Anyone who has experience with eating disorders know that this kind of thing can be a trigger, and that’s the last thing I need when things are as bad as they are at the moment.
My appointment at the eating disorders clinic didn’t go as my care co-ordinator was obviously planning. I don’t think she had any intent of discussing any of this with me, indeed that was what she intimated as soon as I queried what had been mentioned in my appointment with the psychiatrist. She confirmed everything he had said and then detailed my options. I was horrified. They are indeed looking to give me a ‘therapeutic break’ from treatment (temporary discharge, let’s not dress this up) unless I took the only option open to me. This option, in reality, isn’t one…not for where I’m at.
Gloucestershire Eating Disorders Service is one of only a few in the country that offers a day treatment programme. Just after my diagnosis of anorexia I was referred onto this programme but was discharged from it after just one week. The programme is meant to last eight weeks. They have very strict guidelines, one of which is that all meals are completed within a set amount of time. These rules are there to ensure that you are committed to the programme, your recovery, and to protect the recovery of the other patients. I understand the rules, I accept them but at the same time I understand that if you can’t stick to them you can’t stay. I also acknowledge that if you can’t adhere to them that you aren’t well enough for the programme, and that your illness is more severe than that programme can accommodate. If that’s the case then other treatment MUST be instigated, simply leaving someone to fend for themselves should NEVER be the way.
My care co-ordinator says this is the only option open to me at this time. If the programme wasn’t right for me at the start of my diagnosis there is NO way it is right for me now, not when my illness is so much more progressed, my behaviours are far worse, my weight so much lower and my food fears so much more profound. I know exactly what is expected of me there and should I accept a place I am certain that I would be discharged very early on. The net result of that would be damaging in the extreme and that’s something I am simply not prepared to face. Things are bad enough as they are, why would I do it? This, to anyone reading who has no experience or understanding of eating disorders, must seem ridiculously defeatist. I am being nothing more than brutally honest with myself and what I know of where I am. With all the will in the world and desire to gain control over this BASTARD of an illness it has me on the ropes. Even if, hypothetically, I went and did the programme I would still spend 20 hours a day at home. That’s a lot of time at the mercy of all that goes on in my head, not being supervised through meal times, not being stopped from carrying through on behaviours that might undo anything I might do in day treatment. It’s all that happened before.
Our conversation then progressed and she posed the question of in-patient treatment again. I had been thinking about this as an offshoot of my psychiatrist appointment. He had asked me if I thought I would benefit and although I’d been resistant to this point I have become so desperate to regain some life back and some control that I realised that this might actually be the best way forward. I began to get tearful for the first time in a long time and nodded in agreement. I wish she hadn’t asked the question. It would seem that the NHS Commissioners will not sanction inpatient treatment for me again, especially in view of day care treatment being an option. Given the reasons I have gone over above this leaves me in the wilderness. Day care treatment would be, I believe, catastrophic and inpatient treatment isn’t allowed. I don’t blame the NHS for this, nor my care team really – this sounds like a funding issue and isn’t the first time I’ve been in this position. You have to admire our government don’t you? Oh no, you don’t!!!
So here I am. The wilderness. The eating disorders service haven’t formally put me on a ‘therapeutic break’ yet, they want to have a meeting with me and the recovery team, alongside my GP, and then they will. It’s here that I have to tell them my decision in regard to day treatment, but, in truth, I see no real prospect of me engaging with that for all the reasons I’ve said. Meanwhile I am physically getting worse as the anorexia has a field day with my vulnerable state. Even at that appointment with my ED care co-ordinator my weight had dropped and has continued to do so, not because I’m proving any point, but because I am that ill. And the worst thing? I’m still not 100% sure these professionals completely listen to me. Yes, I’ve always had mental health issues. Yes, I’ve always had food issues but just today I had a letter from my psychiatrist following up on our meeting suggesting that maybe all of this might just link back to my being on the autistic spectrum. It’s at times like this I am really at my most vulnerable, when I can’t see any way out. My sole issue right now, or rather my primary issue, is that of my eating disorder. I need help with that and that alone. If I can’t get it I have no future, it’s as black & white as that. Yet here I am facing the prospect of losing the support of both the ED and recovery teams.
I’m trapped. I feel like I’m staring down the barrel of a gun. I’m looking for a future that doesn’t seem to exist and all the while this pig of an illness is mocking me, making me scared and won’t let go.