Breathe

I had reiki this morning which really calmed my system, like everything inside softened away from the surface where I’ve been clinging on for the past few days and I settled and expanded deeper into myself. I text ahead and said I’d been in a huge emotional storm since Monday and was still very activated and that it helped for me to know she knew that before I arrive. The reiki master, Sophia, I’ll call her as I’m sure she’ll come up on here again, is very stabilising and grounding, and it is nice because she doesn’t know my history, only what has been relevant to share, and we are really careful around boundaries because I’m in therapy obviously. The first thing she said was that she imagined I was struggling, like her, as an empath with the amount of fear and anxiety in the world right now. I said yeah, how at work yesterday lots of people were so anxious and it felt more harmful than the threat of the virus. And I spoke a bit about what happened on Monday with K (she was also surprised by the distancing thing but knew that the focus really was on what it created in me) but said I wanted to be careful not to get into talking about my therapy with a third party.

After my session I felt much calmer and more contained and K and I had a phone session planned for as soon as I got back and I felt it was good that I was a little less agitated going in to that. It was a really huge struggle not to reach out to K yesterday because it was her birthday, so I text asking for a phone session at 8.30 and she replied straightaway. (Towards the end of the call she says she’s here for me so just to text and I said how hard we found it not to contact her yesterday so we text as soon as we could this morning, and she laughed and said she had noticed and that she appreciated it).

The call started with breathing and a body scan and I said I felt like I had died and also was about to die, like I was completely broken but also on the edge of an abyss, clinging on so I don’t die, but not in a good place to die in the first place if that makes sense – broken and in agony and then left on the abyss edge. I said ‘I just want to feel like our attachment system isn’t under threat – not a big ask then!!’ and she said it was good because it was clear and showed awareness of what was happening for me. And I managed to tell her that sitting so far from her when I was so upset on Monday and that she didn’t move closer or offer me a hug like last time was absolute agony and she really understood that.

It was kind of awkward when we were talking at first because I talked her through the last few days but didn’t want to open up a debate about Coronavirus. I said it had helped seeing my new friend because she shares the same anger as me at how the media has whipped everyone into a frenzy that was causing more harm than the virus itself. I said I knew that disruption is ahead but that until Monday I was managing to stay present and just see each day that is not disrupted as a gift, which we should do every day anyway. And I said it had helped me to turn the news off and to look at the actual statistics and to remember that the numbers of people infected, even in Italy, are pretty miniscule, and that the fears are mostly over what it will do to the economy. K said it helped hearing my perspective because she’d said she’d thought it likely that I would be totally freaking out about it. She also said she’s not actually worried about her own health but about the elderly and vulnerable people she comes into contact with, and she said she thinks of me as someone who would be very vulnerable to getting very ill from the virus because of my pre-existing conditions. I found that interesting as I had’t put myself in that category at all – I think it’s likely I will have a lot of pain if I get it because my nervous system is over-sensitive, but I’m not systemically unwell – but she had and that was partly why she did what she did on Monday – she had thought I might be relieved she was taking precautions. I do maintain that what she did on Monday was mad and clumsy, but I do think it was well-intentioned, and was in part a way of making sure she can keep working if/when things escalate here.

She said it’s clear we have slightly different perspectives on the Coronavirus, and that this doesn’t matter as our work is to support what it brings up in me. I think that actually we don’t – we agree that there is going to be a big period of disruption ahead, I’m definitely not disputing that, but I don’t think the virus itself is a huge threat compared with everything else going on in the world, and I think the media is being really irresponsible and making it seem a lot worse than it is (there have been 1.1 billion news stories on the Coronavirus (most of them really scraping the barrel for things to write about) since the outbreak started – that is utterly bonkers!). And I also don’t think the level of cases means that plans and behaviours should be changed at the moment – let’s make the most of things being normal while they are. Anyway, this post is not about the Coronavirus and whose perspective is right or wrong – as K said, the outbreak has actually caused a huge disruption for me because of the threat it poses to my therapy, and that is what we need to work together with.

I kind of skirted around stuff and was slightly combative and she asked if I was grown up Charlie and I said ‘yes!’ and then ‘no, there are lots of parts around (clearly a teen part being argumentative and a little supercilious!) and everyone was very noisy and there were definitely little people and then someone little managed to say that we are not scared of anything about the Coronavirus apart from not being able to get to therapy – we can handle ANY disruption apart from that, but that makes us want to die because it is TOO SCARY. And then the screaming and wailing and sobbing started again (though managed to refrain from clawing and digging my face this time!). We were nearly at time so she suggested we worked for 45 minutes instead and she said to let it out and that it was so helpful that I could articulate that fear. I said all of us would rather die than not be able to get to therapy and it really doesn’t feel like an exaggeration. Even though we are not in the thick of the work now, and I am so much more stable and only have one session a week and rarely need extra support between sessions, I really don’t do well at all without therapy and the thought of not being able to get there AT ALL does feel life-threatening.

It’s honestly so completely ridiculous to see it written like that, but that is how it is. I can see from what happened on Monday that when I’m triggered into that place I am completely unable to regulate and it really frightens me that I will be in that space and not able to go and see her. It actually has helped knowing that even if we can’t get there it won’t be an abyss with no contact, it won’t even be a therapy break with planned contact as she will be home and if there’s a crisis (e.g. Mum dies or gets ill) then extra support will be possible. She said she’s seen me in some states about things similar to this before so was expecting that this time, and I pointed out that the terror over climate breakdown and the ecological collapse is, at a basic level, just terror over not being able to get to her. (I do feel a lot of grief over what humanity has done to our home, and a lot of apprehension over what is ahead, but it feels manageable from an adult place, whereas loss of attachment just feels life-threatening). I still don’t feel I could survive without her, particularly if it happened suddenly. She totally understands that, and she knows we’ve never attached to anyone like this before. She knows how scary it is to be that attached to someone and have the fear of them not being there, and she says she’s here to provide as much support as I need over the coming weeks as she thinks this heightened anxiety will last a while as things unfold in the UK.

So anyway, her plan is to keep working throughout the outbreak, just with extra precautions, and the only time that would change is if the government says we are not allowed to leave our houses at all (or one of us has to self-isolate obviously). So this is a big relief as we won’t stop working if schools and universities close, or even if we go into lockdown like Italy, because that would just be to stop lots of people being together and risking infecting lots of people, and there are just two of us. And she says if for any reason I couldn’t get there we would work by phone and probably more often, and that we could try Skype so that we can do cutting and sticking together and things that we might do in the room together. And we will have a big hug as soon as this is over (which I still think is over-cautious for now, I’ve not stopped hugging other people, but my friend says at work today people have been throwing used tea towels into the recycling and wiping down staplers with sanitiser, so I guess there is a lot of fear around and a real need for control that is just not possible for us to have). She also says on Monday I can have something transitional from the room like the Eeyore and little yellow Miffy (who has stayed with her a few times and even went to Portugal with her 3 years ago!) is going to sit close to her (and stay with her too though she doesn’t know that yet, just in case of any sudden changes).

I said that this is the worst attachment storm I’ve had since June 2018 (the ‘I’m taking a year off and we are ending’ debacle) and then we told her we’ve not eaten since Monday and we talked about how it happens in order to try and preserve attachment when we feel unsafe, and she said I do need to eat and take care of myself even more at the moment because of what’s happening. So I have to text her later to tell her I’ve eaten and been out and looked at nature. And then we can work by phone again tomorrow if needed or I can go for an extra session. So I feel very agitated still but also heard and held. We asked K if she feels sick knowing we are attached to her and she said not at all, that it’s a good thing because it’s healing. ‘And we are joined together?’ ‘Yes’. ‘And I am not a limpet?’, ‘No you’re not a limpet.’ It really is such a relief to be able to tell her exactly how bad it feels to not be able to reach her or to worry that we won’t be able to, that it really does feel like a life-or-death situation, because for so long it just felt too terrifying to be that vulnerable with her (though she knew by the constant crises of course). There is so much less shame over that now, although still fear that she will go away because of it, but that’s usually alleviated easily now, and the fact this hasn’t happened for so long when it was basically a weekly occurrence for the first few years of therapy, is testimony to how hard we’ve worked.

I hope other people who are worried about the disruption to therapy because of the stupid virus can get some reassurance from their therapists soon too. And let’s hope this whole thing blows over soon!

Delicate

It’s incredible how quickly disordered eating behaviour comes back when my attachment system feels under threat. I’ve not eaten since I left for therapy at 3pm on Monday, nearly 48 hours (I’m drinking water). It always starts the same – my tummy is too tight and I’m too shattered inside to eat, and then at some point it morphs into seeing how long I can go without food, to the point where I don’t feel hungry, don’t want to eat, where I start to enjoy the feeling of power over my situation it invokes in me. I’m not worried as I’m sure K and I will speak by phone tomorrow or Friday (how frustrating to have to pay for an extra session because of her strange, made up precautionary measures) and that things will settle and I’ll return to eating. It’s probably silly though, as my immune system needs strengthening at the moment, not depleting, but I just can’t bring myself to eat.

I honestly feel horrendous. My whole body is on fire and my heart is racing. It feels like my life is under threat, that I’m going to die if she doesn’t soothe me, that I already have died, that I survived a near-death experience on Monday. I’ve made it into work and had a meeting and have had a lot of people asking what I’ve done to my head (cringe). It’s K’s birthday today otherwise I would have text and asked to speak today. I also know this is not about her, not really, but it also is – she’s the only person in my life who I would have this reaction over. It scares me a little that she can still trigger this in me, it’s pure torture, but she pointed out on Monday that this used to happen so often for me and I have come so far because it has been so much better lately. It makes me sad that not eating is my automatic way of trying to preserve attachment, denying my needs to try and be safe. I still prefer this response than comfort eating, because starving doesn’t make me feel gross and out of control.

I saw a friend last night, a new-ish friend who I only told a little about the big old mess of my family a few weeks ago, and I told her what had happened on Monday and why I got so triggered. She was lovely and validating (her mum is a therapist so she gets it, to some extent) and is as pissed off as me, perhaps more so, by the irresponsible media frenzy around Coronavirus, but she also referred to K not being able to meet all my needs and that perhaps I need to get some met elsewhere, that everyone has their limitations. And it was like NOOOO, this is not an issue, my therapy is fine. K has behaved like an idiot, frankly, and it is vaguely unprofessional and not good modelling, but generally our work is amazing. It doesn’t undermine that, and it doesn’t mean my relationship with her is under threat in any way. If my friend had seen how utterly crazy I was for the first 3 and a half years of therapy she would see that my therapy relationship is fine, that K is incredible to have been able to do this work with me, that I have come SO FAR, that this was a minor thing, as far as my therapy journey has gone, and really doesn’t change how strong and incredible K and I’s relationship is. We’ve not had a single issue like this for over 18 months and even now I don’t feel this is a rupture (though my anger over her reaction is trying to create one) or that K and I have lost each other, it is that I’m re-experiencing being abandoned and pushed away as a baby. My response is totally out of proportion to what has happened, even though she shouldn’t have done it, and it will settle – we’ll talk on the phone and probably talk it through more on Monday, why it hurts so f*cking much what she did, and it will be okay.

I can feel the anger building over her over-reaction to Coronavirus. It is making me want to email her a list of statistics and real threats and tell her I’m so disappointed that she of all people has fallen for the media hype, but I made it into work today and two colleagues are utterly freaking out and one won’t come within two metres of anyone (which makes me irritated but hasn’t left me screaming and clawing at my head in abject despair), and when you look at the news and see that every single story is linked to Coronavirus, it is easier to understand where she got to. And it was a small change, a HUGE change for a person with attachment trauma, but objectively it was a small change. She didn’t shame me at all for my reaction, for yelling and shouting and screaming and digging and clawing my head. She kept trying to reach me and she met me as soon as I managed to reach towards her, she didn’t let me get lost in that place or give up or tell me I was being ridiculous or get angry with me. She pointed out how far I’ve come that this rarely happens, how it used to happen so much, and she validated that whilst it is a small thing that to me it really feels huge, I really do have that reaction. She saw the young parts and she saw how distressed they were. Listening to the recording from Monday it is clear she did everything she could do to help me not lose my session or our connection – she was gentle and calm and incredibly validating and containing in session, and she was able to do that because she knows me so well and knows how to help me come back enough to connect with her. At the end of the session she told me how well she knows me, that she knows how to hold me and the baby and all the young parts even when she is far away.

Being angry at her feels like a distraction from the huge attachment terror I’m experiencing, like if I can get her to understand her behaviour was mad then I’ll be safe. My need to correct her and have her understand is huge, and it reminds me of being younger and trying to control my mum in an attempt to have some control over the craziness around me. I want to prove to K she was wrong, that she made a mistake and it harmed me, but even if she was it doesn’t change what it triggered in me. How many times has my body responded like this to a perceived threat, mishearing or misreading something, and even after it is clarified within a few minutes I remain lost in the flashback and activated for days? It scares me what it triggered in me – how will I ever manage an actual intimate relationship? I thought I was past all that craziness but it still lives in me.

K definitely should have kept things as normal on Monday and provided me with a space to talk about what will happen if there is disruption to our weekly sessions. I do hope she’s had that pointed out by other therapists. Maybe she will be feeling sheepish, she should be, and maybe she will own this and maybe she won’t. Whatever happens for her though it doesn’t mean there won’t be future disruption – I think that is coming to the UK quite soon and that I need to prepare for phone sessions after Monday. So I really don’t want to make this rupture into something it’s not, I don’t want the extent of my emotional reaction to the perceived abandonment and rejection to take me to a place where extreme levels of anger at her feel justified and I am driven to rant at her how wrong her perception of the threat is and how crazy her decision to work in a different room far apart was, so I am trying to keep my anger at her Coronavirus fears separate from what I am re-experiencing at the moment as that is helping me remember she hasn’t let me down or broken us and that we left feeling connected and have been in touch since.

For now I think I will keep starving myself in an attempt to feel safer, but I can tell this will settle, even though it is absolutely horrendous to be in this place, and it doesn’t require K to realise she’s been an idiot in order for this to happen because that is separate from what is happening now. In the past I have been triggered by so many things she has done and, apart from the bike puncture debacle nearly two years ago, none of them were anything inappropriate K had done. It’s been really helpful to hear how many people thought she completely over-reacted on Monday and that they would have reacted the same, it is validating and comforting and makes me so grateful to have this community of people to turn to for support.

Food

Food is causing issues again. It’s been creeping back in for a while. I put on weight over the winter and then I start restricting and then all hell breaks loose and I’m here with a stone to lose and wondering how someone so adept at starving themselves can end up needing to lose weight. It comes in cycles. It is all part of the same eating disorder. It goes with the territory of attachment trauma. I know all this. Yet I am left feeling ashamed and helpless and totally disgusted by myself. I found my relapse with anorexia last summer far scarier, but it feels much more shameful to be battling with the other side of this cycle. Usually the restricting parts balance out the over-eating parts and weight stays relatively stable, but this cycle plays out most days. Restricting parts have been less prominent lately which I can see is a good thing because they take over primarily when attachment anxiety is high. I find restricting easier to deal with though, easier to admit to, easier to seek help for.

I am not fat, I cycle loads and I know I am fit and strong, I can still fit into most of my clothes, but I am bigger than I would like to be. I’ve been a stone lighter for most of the past six years, and I’ve had times during those six years when food and eating has been a ‘non-issue’ and I’ve felt happy and content and not really thought about food much at all, other than making sure I am eating healthily. So that weight feels like the weight I am genuinely comfortable with. This weight now does not. In part I can see that in the past few months I’ve really taken on board just how much I am holding in adult life, every day, with my crazy full-time job, solo parenting, running a house and driving Nina to swimming training 3 or 4 days a week, on top of therapy and growth and healing. So I’ve tried to lower my expectations around food and not think about it so much. This strategy doesn’t seem to work. It’s almost like food needs to be quite a big part of normal life in order for it not to take over completely. Counter-intuitive but true. Maybe I’m starting to see I will always struggle with food, having had disordered eating nearly all my life so far, and so I need to find ways that work for me and don’t cause me to cycle through the different aspects of disorder so rapidly or cause the pendulum to swing in such a way as to leave me feeling totally out of control and overwhelmed.

I’ve needed to raise it in therapy for a while. I did today, with the caveat of “I don’t want to talk about it but it is an issue again”. We did talk about it, but I cannot tell K I need to lose weight because teen parts silence me with their terror that she will then notice the weight gain and think how disgusting and out of control we are. I’ve been waiting to lose the stone before talking to her about food. Clearly that strategy was never going to work! She validated and normalised it, asked for some examples of when it has been problematic lately. I said how it starts as me being determined to eat well each day and then something goes wrong, one thing eaten that ‘shouldn’t’ have been, and then everything goes wrong and too much food is consumed and we resolve to start again the next day. I said how I know people who comfort eat and yet just acknowledge that it was a reaction to a bad day and don’t completely shame themselves with it. My comfort eating happens in secret, even when it is not much extra than normal. Any deviance from ‘the rules’ is a shameful secret. I know food causes issues for so many people but that seems to cause more shame rather than comfort.

I get so lost in this stuff. Food causes me so many problems. I hate it. I hate how much energy it takes up. I end up putting on weight when I try to take the focus off food. I try and be less restrictive and just chill about it and then it’s like binge parts and comfort-eating parts go wild because ‘no one is watching’. And often it is like ‘fuck it, who cares??’ but the problem is I do care. I avoid seeing people I’ve not seen for a while because I want to have lost this extra stone before I see them. This strikes me as a little insane but it is how my system works. For some parts there is nothing more terrifying than being overweight/over-our-ideal-weight, not necessarily because we look ‘fat’ but because people will think we are out of control. Being out of control, not being able to control what I put into my body, is something I find immensely triggering. I see this is all about boundaries and attachment trauma. I get that, but I want to move past it. I want food not to dominate my life. Ironically when I stop worrying about food so much is when it takes more of a hold over me.

Anyway, so K and I have a two and a half week break between sessions now and she has given me homework over the break of writing down everything I eat so we can look at it together and start to work with the triggers – “CBT-style” as she put it. She said if I’d come to see her with an eating disorder this is what we would have done. It seems so fucked up that something which would have taken many people into therapy in its own right has had to take a backseat to all the other craziness that has needed to be dealt with in therapy. The thing is, I think writing down everything I eat will help me through the break, give me something to focus on, and it will definitely get my eating back on track for now, but I also know that for the next 18 days I will completely regulate my eating because I am accountable to her. This is obviously good for the weight loss which is objectively needed, and it will be good for my health as I will want K to see I am healthy and not out of control, but long-term I just don’t know how to get past this. My food goals are so far away from what is possible, so rigid and restrictive, that they are impossible to sustain. And I don’t want to lapse back into orthorexia either. Ugh. It’s a mess.

Stuck

So the food thing (aka starving myself – best to name it for what it is) is spiralling. It’s getting out of control and I am really scared. Nina has come down with a cold, and I am now terrified (not an overstatement, the thought of being ill literally floods my body with terror) that I am going to get it and 1) not be able to see K on Monday, and 2) not be in a good space to return to work on June 25th. Already the thought of going back to work is overwhelming me and I know that after the stress of the past nearly 4 weeks I need to start looking after myself in all the ways I know how. And yet I can’t eat.

I haven’t had a relapse of anorexia like this for probably 18 years. Suddenly it feels bigger than me. It is in control of me. I had forgotten what it was like to be in the grips of it, to know I need to eat and yet not be able to. I had forgotten that it actually takes over and that the tight, hollow tummy becomes familiar and comforting. I had forgotten that it leads to a complete loss of desire to eat. It is like a switch has been turned off inside me and I can’t find a way to turn it back on.

I can see all the reasons I need to eat and try and avoid another illness. I am singing with my choir on Friday evening and taking Nina to see Taylor Swift at Wembley on Saturday. I have therapy. I have stuff to do at home, parenting to do, things to organise. I get to ride my bike and go to the gym if I am not ill. I will be ready to return to work after my time off. And none of this is switching my brain back on to eating normally, or even semi-normally.

This evening I did have a load of vegetables and a veggie burger. And then a massive dose of effervescent vitamin C and some zinc tablets, plus my usual supplements. I drank some smoothie. I hoped this might trick my brain into remembering that eating and self-care are good. It hasn’t. I find the orthorexia stressful but this is something else. This feels like it knows no limits. It is taking me over. I feel lost inside it. Overwhelmingly stressed that it is happening but not able to stop it at the same time. It sounds ridiculous I know, but it is what it is.

So this evening I am stuck in a place of high anxiety, aware of the spiralling that is happening and scared because I feel unable to stop it. I had a bath with epsom salts and tried to relax but my jaw is clenched and my tummy is tight. Yesterday I wrote I know I’ll get back to eating properly as the shock of losing K before I’m ready wears off, but in the past 24 hours it feels like something has shifted and this thing has taken me over. And right now I feel stuck between two terrifying alternatives – eat or get sick. The thought of eating terrifies me. Putting on the weight I’ve lost in the past 4 weeks terrifies me. And getting sick terrifies me too, even though it would just be a cold. It would disrupt therapy and disrupt everything else and I cannot handle it. And the longer term picture of anorexia is clearly not something I want to return to. I hadn’t realised how dangerous the behaviours are, it’s been so long since I’ve been in this place. And when it last happened I was maybe 17, it wasn’t so scary, I didn’t have grown-up responsibilities that depend upon me not spiralling into an eating disorder. It used to be scary back then, but this time it feels so much more serious.

A month ago life felt so much better than this. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t like it has been the past 4 weeks. I have just been clinging on desperately for the past 4 weeks, with the rupture, the bug which led to having to go to hospital, and then K’s news, and suddenly here am I. Stuck in this place. I need to get out of it, but I don’t know how.

Disordered Eating

I’ve called this post disordered eating, though to be honest eating is not disordered at the moment, it is just pretty much non-existent. I’ve lost 6 kilos in less than 4 weeks. I’m actually a healthy weight now (having put on 3.5 kilos over the winter through too much binge eating and not enough cycling due to shit weather, something that fills me with huge amounts of shame and self-loathing), but mentally this feels unhealthy. I know it is unhealthy and yet I am scared to tell anyone, even – especially – K on Monday, because I do not want to be encouraged to eat (or for her to abandon me entirely because look what the spectre of ending with her does to me…Clearly I need more help than she can offer). Part of me is enjoying how much power I have over myself. I know, I know, it’s all about being able to control something when everything else is falling apart. I know I’ll get back to eating properly as the shock of losing K before I’m ready wears off. I know I won’t sustain this, but part of me wishes I could. The first ‘problem’ listed on my medical records, after chicken pox, is anorexia nervosa in 1997 and part of me is proud of this, and part of me (probably the same part) feels a failure because I couldn’t even get that properly. Other coping mechanisms took over, and starving myself just rears its head for a few days every few months and then recedes. These feel like teen parts, but as I realised this week after talking to a friend – starving myself is about attachment, it’s driven by very young feelings. I never realised before how closely the two were related – failure of attachment and self-starvation. I’m not sure it is this simple, but it does feel like somewhere in my head is this idea that if I stop eating, K won’t go away – perhaps it is about needs, if I deny my needs (and what do we need more than food really? Other than air and water) then my attachment figure won’t go away. I remember my Dad making me read a book about anorexia and bulimia when I was 14, when I had to take 3 months off school due to this and self-harm and depression and just being a general mess. The book said something about how anorexia, on a basic level, is about denying the self life, denying what is needed to live. Is it as simple as just wanting someone else to nurture me, and denying my needs when it is obvious they can’t? Of course there’s another whole load of tangled beliefs and messages in there too now, but basically (as is everything I guess!) it is about attachment and loss.

I realised a few months ago, on my old blog where I wrote about food a little bit after a very intense and quite disturbing conversation in therapy, how utterly fucked my system is in relation to eating. In some ways, many ways, it would be easier to have one eating disorder to deal with, but I don’t – I have different anorexic parts (sometimes it’s about quantity of food with a goal of just ‘as little as possible’ and sometimes it’s about eating but restricting and keeping in mind calories and weight loss), binging parts (who adult me is so ashamed of), orthorexic parts (which can manifest in different ways at different times depending on which ‘healthy’ goal is most prominent), alongside parts that are fairly balanced about eating and then child parts who, of course, just want to eat a lot of party rings and oreos and ice cream. It is just a cacophony of mixed messages about food and the different goals that sit alongside eating. Inside is mayhem. And it can be so hard to tell what is ‘healthy adult’ and what is unhealthy coping mechanisms driven by traumatised parts (e.g. thinking ‘fuck it!’ and eating a whole packet of biscuits after a long day at work could be seen as relatively balanced and healthy, as long as it’s not all the time, but it could also be a part who is just wanting to eat to feel full and stave off the feelings of emptiness and longing. Food is also grounding and so it could be a subconscious effort to do this when I am very dissociated (in which case some other method might be healthier), and it could be the precursor to a huge binge where we eat till we feel sick (and then starve and over-exercise to try and compensate). It’s a mess, to be honest (and I imagine – no I know – that ‘the eating box’ will be one I take with me to ‘my new therapist’ (who I do not want at all, by the way) later this year).

The noise around food sometimes is so unbearable I cannot think straight, but all these competing aims and eating disorders do mean that at least my weight stays pretty much the same, with the days of starving balanced out by the other days of over-eating, and the orthorexia keeping our nutrient intake pretty balanced. Till now. The past 3 1/2 weeks, since ‘the rupture’ with K and then the news that she is taking 2019 off, anorexic tendencies have completely taken over. As always, it starts with me being physically unable to eat. My tummy is tight and I feel so churned up and broken inside that I would not be able to eat if I tried. For days I hold my tummy so tight it hurts, all the time. And then I begin to enjoy both the hunger (it is better to feel an emptiness attributable to something than to feel the emptiness caused by loss of attachment) and the feelings of power and control over myself. Denying myself food becomes a habit. I’ve been surprised by how easy it is not to eat, it’s been years and years since I’ve spiralled into it like this, and it has come back in a pretty big way.

As an anorexic teenager I never binged or over-ate, but I would make myself sick whenever I had what I perceived to be ‘too much’ (i.e. half a healthy meal). I survived on black coffee and maybe a chocolate bar to get me through the day. I didn’t count calories; my goal was just to let as little into my body as possible. I would regularly go 72+ hours without food, feeling dizzy, being freezing cold and unable to sleep, and having to sit down in the shower in the mornings as I was too weak to stand up. Anything that passed my lips I regarded as me being a failure. At 14 I also started self-harming, cutting my arms and legs with a razor every day, multiple times. I found an old diary from that time recently which I shared some of with K, about how I was getting ‘much better’ at cutting as I was able to make them deeper and longer and bleed more now. Cutting brought instantaneous relief, but not eating was always the choice for a pain I couldn’t see a way out of, where longer-lasting relief was needed. I wrote one time, after someone I really liked ‘dumped me’ for someone else, how I was waiting for the feelings of starvation to take over my whole body and give me the relief I needed from my feelings, because only starvation could help me separate from my feelings. So this stuff is such an ingrained coping mechanism.

And then around age 21, when my chronic head pain was at it’s height. I began to find solace in food, in comfort eating. I was dissociated all the time (though I had no word for it then) and desperately ill and empty. I’d started to uncover ‘the mother wound’ and had cut my Mum out of my life for 6 months, initially, to try and deal with it without getting constantly triggered by interactions with her. Food filled up the gaping hole inside me. So it is my 21 year old part, Amelia, who drives the binge eating. As she wrote in our parts’ journal – I eat and eat but food cannot fill me up. The over-eating is a huge source of shame. It is something I admitted to K for the first time just 6 weeks ago. Anorexia, or at least being thin and ‘in control’ is desirable, over-eating is too much like my Mum who makes me feel ill with her over-eating. Binging is very rare, and one of the issues is that things often feel like a binge or ‘too much’ when really they are just a normal amount of food. Orthorexic parts dictate such strict rules, and when they are deviated from even a little it feels like everything has gone to shit.

And then there’s the whole ‘too much/not enough’ dichotomy which is basically at the heart of disorganised attachment and the emotional swings that tend to accompany it (emotionally numb/overwhelmed, engulfed/abandoned, dissociated/anxious, the pull towards connection and the push away from it, and so on). When we feel numb and empty (i.e. not enough) there is a pull towards over-eating, and when we feel ‘too much’ (maybe, like now, overwhelming feelings of abandonment and annihilation) then we stop eating. So swinging between the two makes sense, but I would so like to find some middle ground. As I would in all areas of my life really.

Food was a huge issue growing up. My Dad is over-restrictive (his Mum, my Grandma, is anorexic) and weighs himself every day, my Mum binges regularly and we grew up with ‘bad’ food being used as a treat and regularly hearing my Mum’s self-hatred with regards her body and her food habits. My Dad shamed her for being overweight. I began restricting when I was 8, writing down everything I ate and setting unattainable goals for my weight, and when my Dad found my notebook he told me if he thought I was ‘fat’ he would be giving me less to eat – he wasn’t, ergo I wasn’t fat. Ugh, where to start with all that was wrong with that conversation?! So my parents are also too much/not enough and neither of them taught me anything about how to be healthy around food. It makes me so sad that something so necessary for survival, and something so pleasurable for so many, causes me such anguish. I have to admit the anorexia is easier to manage as a Mum than when the orthorexia takes over, because when I’m not eating I’m not worrying about what my daughter (Nina, I’m going to call her here) is eating (she is eating fine, I’m not starving her and it is nutritionally balanced, I’m just not worrying too much about the whole gluten, sugar, nutrients thing – right now life is just about survival to be honest).

I recently had to have a conversation with Nina, who is 11, about suicide as a boy in her class is pretty messed up and says he wants to kill himself. My beautiful, amazing friend Jess took her life in December 2014 and at the time I told Nina that she fell off the cliffs, not wanting her to know that suicide was even a ‘thing’ when she was 7 years old. So I used Jess as a way to contextualise our discussion, and explained a bit about it and that for some people being alive is just too painful and they can’t see a way out. I said it was rare, which is why it was such a shock and so devastating for everyone, and that often people feel unable to reach out to anyone for help (but that she would always have me to turn to for any kind of problem). She was heart-broken to hear the truth, and is still absolutely horrified that anyone would do that to themselves. This amazes and relieves me but also saddens me – I was younger than her when I first began to think of death as the way out. By 13 I remember people talking about what would happen in a few weeks time and my thoughts always being ‘I won’t be here then’. Being suicidal, starving and hurting myself, and other self-destructive behaviours have been part of my life since I was younger than her. She told me recently how she wants some friends who enjoy eating as her two friends at the moment just pick at their food. She loves food, but is so balanced about it. And she swims for 5 1/2 hours a week and does other sports too so it is not that she loves food to fill her up and avoid. She just likes food because we are programmed to find eating a pleasurable experience (like how excited do my bunnies and guinea pigs get about eating hay – I want to be like that!) and yet somehow, because of failed early attachment, this has all gone wrong for me.

I asked K in our Friday email today if she has any books on anorexia and attachment, as I’d not realised the links before this past week (I didn’t tell her what is going on for me at the moment, I figured she has enough to worry about and email is not the place). She is going to see what she can find. Maybe this will be an opening into telling her about these difficulties on Monday. I think she thinks that telling me to be more balanced re the orthorexic tendencies would do the trick, and whilst I am being more balanced in terms of what I buy for Nina, this stuff runs so deep that I don’t think one or two sessions could be enough to sort it all out. This is what I mean about how we have so many boxes open in our work at the moment, it is just such shit timing for me to move to another therapist. We are right in the thick of everything, all the attachment work and all the trauma processing and all the rebuilding needed for my future. I feel a little more stable today, and it’s easy to think I will stay this way now, but I’ve learnt that another wave is usually just around the corner for me so I am starting to try and just settle into it for now. I still have huge levels of anxiety and uncertainty over what is happening, but I feel held by her again, and the young parts and their life or death feelings have receded a little, for now.

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