Disordered Eating

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Always clear your plate
Here , have some more
Always say thank you
Don’t you know the trouble I went to?

Eat up, eat up
Otherwise you won’t grow big and strong
There’s children in Africa starving
Or there was once a war, you know
Are you spoilt or ungrateful?

Never waste food
It’s so expensive
Never say no, thank you
What do you mean you don’t like it?

If you’re sad or lonely
Food is medicine for the soul
Or even when you’re ill
Then food will be your cure

Make as big a dish as possible
Well, won’t everyone want seconds?
Ladle it out by the bucket
Well, aren’t you hungry?

Serve up a huge ole slab
Blow everyone away
Is it talent or just impressions?
Never mind, there’s supposedly love in every bite

Love is food-shaped
It is smothering, choked upon
Aren’t we fortunate?
Here have some more

Food brings us together
The backdrop to all the fights
The solution to all the problems
Food solves everything

The Help Conundrum

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Swan's Head with Dripping Beak

Maybe it’s the easiest thing in the world to say ‘oh, if there’s anything you need…’ but what do we mean by that?  Do we mean anything other than that we’re expressing a vague sentiment of fellow-feeling, sympathy, pity, interest, concern …?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a bit like that other chestnut that we all spout in daily life: ‘how are you?’  (Or other less formal versions, if you prefer).  Is it a greeting or a question?  Do we really want an answer?  And what kind of answer do we want?  The truth?  Or just some socially acceptable platitude?

I like to think that I would help someone, I like to think that I would be prepared to do something other than just utter the words.  And I know that there have been times when I have specified, I’ve asked ‘can I help you with this?’ or ‘do you need help doing…?’  It’s easier, more practical for all concerned, me and them.

Truth be told though, I’ve been feeling more and more redundant in recent years and even pretty utterly useless at times.  I can’t believe it’s four years since we last had a vehicle and that, obviously, completely changed how I could help people.  And when.  And, nastily, it even made me increasingly reliant on other people.  I don’t like that.  I don’t like being a burden (to my mind, at least).

And there’s not an awful lot you can do about it when your body is conspiring against you.  It’s just taken me a longer time than it should to realise it.  Because … well, why would  I want to?  But forgetting, not realising just how much my body is failing me leads to sticky situations.  For example, a few months back, I went to help an elderly chap pushing a wheelchair because I am an experienced pusher and he was struggling and it wasn’t right that he was having to do it all by himself … then I realised that I don’t have the strength to push anything anymore.  Very embarrassing.

But if I can’t help other people, what is there left for me?  My whole raison d’être is to look after people, to care, to help.  It’s what I’ve done my whole life.  It’s the only way I can justify my existence.

Whatever I have, I share, I give.  It’s my nature, not a boastful statement.  Sometimes I give what I do not have.  I do not have energy nor health.  Not anymore.  And so I have nothing left to give.  There is nothing left.  I cannot help myself anymore.

And that is the most painful and humiliating admission that you can ever make about yourself.  I am utterly useless.

What is there left for me?

Off to the knacker’s yard?

Maybe.

So when people say ‘oh, if there’s anything you need…’, what am I to say?  How should I respond?  The same way that I steadfastly respond  to the ‘how are yous?’ – with a smile and a cheerful response?  Because does anyone really want to know the reality?  Because do I really want to share?  Because do I want to shamefully admit that I need a hand, that I cannot manage alone?  Because is there anyone actually listening?  There’s too much heartache and embarrassment in baring your soul to a wall that doesn’t want to know, after all.

I wish that I could be an island, self-sustaining, but I know that realistically that isn’t possible.  Or even healthy.  But I can’t help but feel that there’s a certain honour in trying.  But for how long?  And at what price?

This post was inspired by a post over at Dead Men Don’t Snore.  What do you make of her practical advice?

The S-Word

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~ Trigger Alert ~

I don’t like to court controversy in real life or on these pages and it’s most certainly not the reason that I’m writing about the subject today.  If you remain unaffected by this subject your whole life through then you have been incredibly fortunate and so has your family.  The statistics may tell you that you and your family will easily escape this cursed outcome but the statistics only tell of the ‘successes’, the mortalities.  There are thousands if not millions more ‘attempts’ each year.  Someone you know may well be one of those unreported statistics.

Even in this modern society where there are precious few taboos and the word ‘sin’ long passed out of fashion, the s-word remains both.  No one talks about it.  It is something shameful, confusing and ridiculously painful.  And we’re not even talking about its victims.

Are you prepared to talk about it?

We don’t do much in the way of preparing our children for mental health crises, perhaps we feel an almost superstitious fear of broaching the subject as if we were putting ideas in their innocent heads.  One of the reasons that so many parents aren’t prepared to talk clearly about the ‘birds and the bees’ to their children either.  But ignorance isn’t bliss.  Ignorance doesn’t save lives, protect innocent minds.  I know because I grew up in the most sheltered, naïve world that you could imagine, beyond that probably too.  I didn’t even watch television.  The s-word had never been uttered.  I start self-harming at nine.  Perhaps my attempts were naïve but they reflected a deep-seated pain that I knew no other way to express or to get rid of.  Ignorance didn’t protect me.  It won’t protect anyone else either.

How do you feel about such ‘attempts’?  It is easy to write it off as just some attention-seeking episode.  Perhaps it’s more convenient to our own perceptions of children, teenagers even the mentally ill as a whole.  Just doing it for the attention.  Perhaps it’s easier than having to ask questions or address a whole cataclysm of behaviours and feelings that we ourselves aren’t ready to deal with.  Perhaps it’s easier than realising that our perfect little world isn’t quite as perfect as we’d like to imagine, perhaps we’d rather ignore it than face the shame of our families, friends and communities.

But what if it’s just ‘attention-seeking’, a cry for help?  Does ignoring it not just do more damage?  A young voice that cries out desperately yet constantly goes unheard.  What are they learning and what messages are you reinforcing?  That no one cares, that no one takes them seriously?  Maybe it was a cry for help but what if it succeeds?  Would you not question even blame yourself for not having done more?  It’s easy, convenient to ourselves to tell them to pull their socks up, to get a grip but does it make it any better or easier for them?

The s-word raises more questions than there are answers.  It is a scourge and one that needs to be addressed.  Carrying posies and marking crosses on the door did little to quench the Plague.  We need knowledge.  And we need compassion.

Are you prepared to raise the issue when necessary?  Or when a loved one is in difficulties, will you shy away or tell them to get a grip?

I have a stubborn streak.  It seems to have kept me alive all these years.  Most days I don’t know why.  I never know how.  A lot of the time I am ashamed of myself for all those ‘failures’.  I should have tried harder!  Obviously there’s nothing wrong with me if I keep surviving attempt after attempt.

Does it make me weak and pathetic that I have failed?  Do we only measure success when it comes to the s-word by its mortality?  Is that success, achievement, a desirable outcome?

There are no easy conclusions, there is nothing straightforward.  Human emotions are complex and there are fewer more complex emotional situations than this pain.  It is pain that eats you away from the inside, a burning in your chest.  Physical, real, solid.  It is not a whimsy or a passing weak thought, a temptation.  Does that make you think differently about the s-word?

One thing I know about the s-word is that it happens, an ‘attempt’ takes place, when all hope is lost.  When you lose hope then you lose everything.  You have not been heard, you have no answers and the future if you see one at all is bleak and threatening.  I have not just lost hope.  I can’t remember the last time there was hope in my life.  Maybe that is why I keep going.  Because I know nothing else.  I might not be good enough, there might be no future or hope, there might be overwhelming stress and pressure but that is nothing new.  It is the loss that prompts the ‘attempt’.  Whilst I don’t believe, I can’t, that the future will be any better I am stuck in this rut of daily survival.  There is no shock loss that prompts me to drastic action.

The truth is you need to be able to feel to ‘attempt’.  We believe as a society that the s-word is the worst that it can get.  There is worse.  A lot worse.  The paralysing numbness that Depression can drag you down to, beyond the motivation to get up and put an end to it all.  The s-word is the tingle before your foot goes numb.   And if you happen to get better or have a good day, the s-word can be the tingle as life comes back to it.  The s-word can get you on the up as well as the down.  Did you know that?

I don’t have the motivation to act.  Maybe it’s because I’ve lost all sense of belief too.  In choosing to ‘attempt’, whilst acknowledging that things are at rock bottom, you also believe that you deserve better.  That this mess that your life is in is not the way it should be.  So you opt to take the only way out.

It’s the only way because there are no other answers at the time.  There is no one listening often.  There is no escape plan or people and organisations that you can turn to.  It can be spur of the moment, a knee-jerk reaction to a shock loss (it’s always a loss whatever that may be, not being listened to or not having your opinions heard or not being respected – those are big losses).  Sometimes it is planned, controlled and meditated on.  But there has been a loss and there is no hope.

Would you be alert to those changes, those warning signs in your loved one?

I do not praise the act but it is too easy to say that it is just a ‘selfish act’.  At a primal, emotional level then we have to act selfishly, for our  own interests and our own self preservation.  Sometimes we are cornered into choosing to self-destruct.  It is rarely done with thoughts to harm or betray our loved ones.  If it is then maybe then that is the genuine attention-seeking act of a hysteric.  It’s only when you get to that point yourself do you realise the tortuous state of mind, you will feel guilty and ashamed but what other option is there left?

You can try to reason with them but reason belongs to another world, to minds that are fit and healthy.  The logic has changed completely, a crosswire connection has been formed and things seem entirely different when they are in that place.  Reason is for an earlier time.  Love and compassion is what you need to give now.  And support, endless support.

Would you give that or would you be too busy reacting, dealing with your own emotions?  That’s selfish.

I can see how the succeeding is a good thing.  It appeals me too often.  The end of the hopelessness and all those burdens that I carry daily.  I can see why people end up trying.  Can you?  Sometimes I wish I could find the strength to do so because too many days I don’t know how to go on.  I have lost too much.  So much that I don’t know what I have left.

The s-words rips through lives and families and communities like a missile blast.  Jagged, cruel and indiscriminate.  The question ‘why’ echoes in every conversation that follows.  Although that seems obvious to me at least.  We don’t like to think that life can get that bad.  We like to believe that we were always there for them.  We like to believe that there were always other options.  But was there?  Were we listening to them, really, genuinely, deeply?  Maybe the ‘why’ is just a vocalisation of our own guilt, our own shame.  We like to believe that we could be better or stronger, we like to believe that we would do differently.  We also have to ask ourselves whether we should have done more or responded differently to that one we have lost.

How do you respond when you hear that some has gone that way?

If your friend or neighbour or colleague or loved one was in hospital after such an ‘attempt’, would you go to them?  Or would be more comfortable to pretend that it conveniently never happened?

If we never talk about it, pretend that it never happens, who are we protecting?  Ourselves and our own emotions or the people that matter?  It could be a child in your life.

There are no easy answers and this is just a viewpoint, a viewpoint of someone who has battled with Depression for over two decades.  I wish there was an easy way out regardless of my own personal belief systems and values but do you blame me for feeling that way?

Are you prepared to discuss the s-word in your life?

Stick Will Out

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I don’t like things that make me stand out, things that made me stand out as different.  (Isn’t it liberating that you can start blog posts with the dread ‘I’?)  I’d hate to wear white trainers, huge ocean liners of glowing white-ness (albeit briefly).  New shoes too make your feet feel enormous and obvious.  But there’s other things too, the ones you dreaded and loathed as a child and teenager: glasses, braces, spots.  All glowing Belisha beacons shrieking ‘look-at-me, look-at-me’ and not even in a positive way but in a morbidly distressing, humiliating ‘look-at-me-I’m-a-freak’ kind of way.  A beacon with a siren call invitation to others to mock, stare and tease.

I like to keep things to myself; I don’t like to stand out as different.  (This may be a slight paradox when you consider that my standard dress code involves DMs and a Western hat but I have often noted the Jekyll and Hyde inconsistencies of my personality, normally despairingly with a hint of frustration).  It’s not that I want to blend in, choosing some teenage high school stereotype persona to morph into; rather there is a degree of wanting to fit in.  To find a place in the world for myself, to be accepted for myself.  There is a difference between the two.

I fight a long time war with two illnesses, both invisible except to the trained eye, and I have perfected the mask I wear in public.  I don’t want to make a fuss; I don’t want the eyes on me.  So it’s just easier.  No-one sees me battle.

Then last summer my husband came up with a cunning plan.  A friend of ours uses one of those hiking sticks, trekking poles kinds of thing.  (I would like to point out that he’s eighty so this is a perfectly acceptable accessory).  Husband decided that one of these would be just the ticket for me.  I think he was fed up of towing me up hills.

So we went and investigated walking sticks, I, for my part, very reluctantly.  A stick is a badge of shame, a sign of failure.  I do not need a stick.  I’d rather wobble and be towed and be stuck at home by turns than have such an outright Belisha beacon of my ineptitude.

I could come up with a lot of other, more solid, reasons why I had no need of a stick.  Well, for starters, I have a husband.  No, that didn’t wash particularly well.  Apparently ‘for better or for worse’ doesn’t include towing.  Who knew?!  Well, sticks are for properly ill people.  Husband was convinced that as I had been struggling all year to walk anywhere that I was most likely in this category.  Thanks.  They cost an awful lot of money.  Husband set his chin in a stubborn line and told me that I needed it.  Thanks.  (I hate spending money on myself).  The final straw I clasped to, the last rock between there and losing my dignity forever, was that I would never be able to walk safely with a stick, I would trip over the third leg all the time.  (Well, I already have perfected tripping over two, a third was just adding to the confusion).  Husband didn’t buy it.  The excuse not the stick.  Stick was purchased.

The problem is that people see me with the stick.  They then think that something is the matter.  Have I trouble with my knees, hurt my leg?  It’s a little bit hard to explain that actually I’ve had ME for fourteen years.  (The majority of my circle was beautifully oblivious to this).  I sigh and explain that it was my husband’s brilliant idea because he was fed up of towing me places.  It makes people laugh.  I like making people laugh.

Reluctantly, I have to concede that the stick has actually been a good thing.  I can use it to poke things off high shelves, to gesture and to sheepdog clueless younger brothers to the safety of pavements when they attempt to walk out in front of a car.  It’s also quite good for poking and beating them with too.  A well-aimed jab of a walking stick to a foot makes people surprisingly docile.  I can actually make it up the stairs to my flat and it’s jolly useful for levering myself out of car seats with.  I don’t tell husband this of course.

I can lean on it and prop myself up on it.  It steadies me when I’m walking.  It helps me up stairs and hills.  It stabilises me on the way down.  I quite like my stick and take it everywhere with me.  I call it my third leg and feel lost without it.  I don’t tell husband this of course.

But now everybody knows that something’s up.  I’m still not comfortable with this.  My main circle of associates are on average a lot older than me so I’ve spent a lot of the last few months feeling rather guilty about the stick.  I’m not thirty yet and they’re all sixty plus.   If they don’t need a stick, why should I use one?  It seems selfish, lazy, attention seeking.  All characteristics that I loathe.

On the plus side, I have now been asked if I would prefer a disabled access carriage when I went with young friends on a miniature train ride.  I’m not sure entirely if that is a plus.  I was embarrassed.  Youngest friend was very disappointed that we didn’t get to go in the ‘special’ carriage.  But I can now use lifts in shops without being evilled by well-meaning strangers who previously seemed to believe that I was a specimen of lazy, modern youth.  This peace of mind however is exchanged by the discomfort of being seen with such an aid.  I can’t win.

And yes, I have on occasion tripped over my third leg.  I can think of two incidences, one of which was spectacular and involved a pirouette (no, I didn’t know I could do those either) and landing very heavily in the concrete communal hallway outside my flat, ouch.  But that’s not quite as often as I was expecting.

So on the whole, the stick has been useful whilst absolutely mortifying.  It has ‘outed’ me and my illness to the world, which may or may not be a good thing.  I’m still undecided.