Monday, 29 March 2010

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Tying it Up - The Need to Starve.

There is a twisted irony in the fact that whilst I have worked so damn hard to eliminate 'need' (a word not in my vocabulary, remember?) I have developed a need strong enough to kill me.

In my first post I wrote about the concept of needing, and how it causes such pain and such disgust in me, and I realise, in many others.
I later realised that without thinking, I had not acknowledged that not all needs inspire such a strong reaction in me, and I got to thinking that not all needs are equal.
In the last post then, I wrote about Maslow... about the fact that his hierarchical structure identifies and prioritises five different needs which, when met, culminate in self actualisation.
(Others have added an additional layer to the triangle, a top section which identifies the need, once self actualised, to trascend oneself, but I would argue that the notion of self actualisation somehow incorporates a degree of transcendance. That, or it completely nullifies the need to transcend.
It's not my intention to debate the neccessity of adding tiers to Maslow's work but it provides a (somewhat welcome) avoidance.

I have this thing where I start out trying to write something and I encounter such a magnetic resistance to it that my brain actually starts to disconnect (dissocation, I realise).


Forcing the wires to connect...

At some point in the last two years, a tiny bomb went off inside me.

Looking back now, I think it had been in me for a long time and though Iknow I searched for it, the search was hampered by the fact that I couldn't always hear it ticking, and I didn't really know what it looked like, this thing I was blindly trying to locate.

In keeping with either the contained nature of the bomb itself, or the steely numbness of the container it was in, I didn't even really notice when it went off.

A controlled exposion perhaps.

It was only later that I realised something had changed. I still can't find a moment.

What had changed was my way of managing feelings. (Okay... okay... I learned that was what it was about in therapy).

I had, unwittingly I think, walked straight into the easily stretched jaws of an eating problem which may or may not be defined as Anorexia (and you can't hear me but I am wailing, "I'm too old to be Anorexic! I'm too old!")

My sister (who I intend to leave out of this post, honestly I do) was born right at the entrance of that gaping mouth. Now, God knows how many years later, I seem to have landed there.

Actually, as I type, I am aware that I have been tiptoeing up to that cavernous mouth for years on and off. I have run in and out like a child testing its bravery, testing whether mum and dad will still be there if they dare to go into the cave.

It was when I stopped smoking that I suddenly found myself inside.
Which is weird, isn't it?

So. This is my figuring. And I'm no expert.

I think that when I stopped smoking a big thing happened in me.

And this is where it somehow gets tied together but bear wth me because my brain is tryingto slide.

Years of depression wasted certain parts of my insides. Even killed a part of me (and for all the 'oh but I want to believe the world is ultimately a sunny place' people out there, that will be a line that they will want to jump on and slap dismissively as they shake their critical heads).

It is impossible to write about the depths of the depression, or to say just what it stole from me - again, a topic that my brain goes to great lengths to stop me articulating -

Part of the darkness was an inherent knowledge that I would die before I gave up smoking. I never, ever really believed that I had any willpower... I had repeatedly chanted to myself that I couldn't do it, that I was hopeless at self denial and that I was weak and needy.

Ashamed and disgusted by the inability to say "no" to myself, a spiral of need and denial, self harm and self hatred took over.

I stopped smoking in February 2008.

With that came the realisation that I could execise self discipline and that it was possible to have power over my self. To CONTROL.
I could control the shameful needs I had.
I could control everything if I could just teach myself not to need anything.
(Insert inner child theories in here. I can't).

So. If I can deny myself food I can teach myself not to need anything.

I will train myself to be grateful for the absolute minimum.

I will silence the need, whatever it is, by starving it.

This was a part of it.

I'm wondering whether I should slit this post in two.

It's very long.
But then, so is the history behind all this.

Oh for the gift of writing succinctly.

When I had spent a fair amount of time just tucked between the lip and the sharp teeth of this mouth, and I was reassured that the mouth wasn't moving/shutting etc, I moved further in.

What I didn't quite notice was that at some point, the mouth swallowed.

It's hard to describe the fear and desperation in here but it is perhaps true to say that those feelings exist in completely overwhelming proportions on the outside of this prison.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

What It Takes

As with all things in the mental health realm, the DSM IV lists a number of must-haves in order to be a Real Live Anorexic.

If you have been reading here with any regularity (or any memory), you may recall that my sister, who has spent roughly half her life being defeated in her attempts to starve herself to death, was possibly the case on which the DSM criteria is actually BASED.

Okay. Maybe not.
(But she could very well be)

For anyone interested, the DSM states that Anorexia Nervosa is defined by the following four factors:
  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height: Weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight (85%)
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though under weight.
  • Disturbance in the way one's body weight or shape are experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
  • Amenorrhea (at least three consecutive cycles) in postmenarchal girls and women. Amenorrhea is defined as periods occurring only following hormone (e.g., estrogen) administration.
Obviously, seventeen years of bearing witness to the horrors of this illness have taught me that in actual fact, the above prerequisites to the label of 'Anorexia Nervosa' are only the very tip of the iceberg.
I could name many more factors.
But that is, perhaps, for another post.

You could be forgiven for thinking that, given the fact I have lost my sister to the horrifying effects of this illness... given that I have raged at it, pleaded with it, cried to it and knelt moaning before its merciless, monstrous darkness... I would be the least likely person in the world to be drawn into its world.
You'd think I would be incapable of drawing others under the agony that wrapped itself around our family.

You'd think.
I thought that too.
Until something, at some point, changed.

Today I am 6 stone 5.

I'm not a proper anorexic... (which is what I wanted to write about when I began this post).

I'm very, very confused because I don't 'fit' in with the notion I had of Anorexia.
I thought that Anorexia had to come easily to those with it.
I thought that I was a 'fake' because I crave chocolate and all I really want to do is eat lovely food.
I think I'm crazy because I hate working out, but i have to, but I hate it, but I have to.... and my HUGE fear is that one day, I won't have the willpower to drive myself to run for miles, climb hundreds of floors, cycle like a maniac, cross train at high intensity, row hard and fast, use the resistance machines, do my floor exercises until I can't move.

Anorexia, if it is anything like this, isn't about suddenly hating food. It's about a spiral of absolute dread that you will lose control of it, even as it controls you.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Words Outside My Vocabulary - Need #2

Maslow is kind of the King of Needs and so it seems only right that he should get a mention.

In the interests of keeping this post fairly brief, I'm going to assume that anyone reading is already familiar with his concept of a hierarchy of needs possessed by each human being, and if not, then there are a million websites given to explaining this diagram.

As a teacher, we have this framework drilled into us fairly early on in our training.
(And yes, I know, it seems unbelievable that I am capable of being both the illogical mess you hear in this place, and the reliable, "together", professional, who somehow manages to gain the respect of pretty tough *problem* teenagers).

Anyway, I have always considered it to be a fairly accurate representation of our needs, but that's not my issue.

The real reason that I refer to Maslow here is that when I was writing my last post, I realised that I was generalising to a considerable extent when I wrote that I am repulsed by the notion of 'having needs'.

In fact, I don't mind admitting to some of the physiological needs on the bottom 'rung'.

Even the second arena doesn't pose too much of a threat to me.

It's the Love / Belonging part that presents problems.

I don't want to NEED any of the things in that part. In fact, "I don't want" is far too passive a way of putting it.

Ideally I would destroy anything in me that pertains to the NEED of those things.

I don't mind having them. I certainly don't mind giving them. But NEEDING them?

That I can't take.


... intimacy?

Another word outside my vocabulary.

There seem to be quite a few, given that English is supposed to be my specialism

Monday, 15 March 2010

Words Outside My Vocabulary - Need

1. A condition or situation in which something
is required or wanted: crops in need of water; a need for affection.
Something required or wanted; a requisite:

3. Necessity; obligation: There is no need for
you to go.
4. A condition of poverty or misfortune: The family is in dire
v. need·ed, need·ing, needs

Such a small word and yet I can barely bring myself to use it for the weight that it carries.

Since being in therapy, I have realised that I have an almost pathological fear of 'need'.
It's not something I can even bring myself to talk to The Woman about. (Note: dispassionate terminology for 'my therapist'... I have occasionally been tempted to refer to her as She Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken thus likening her in some way to Voldemort (anyone who has read Harry Potter will understand) but that feels a little harsh, even by my standards.

The word "need' is guaranteed to make me want to run a thousand miles. Not because of a desperate desire for weight loss (though there is that) and not because I am passionate about long distance running, but because the concept of need terrifies me beyond all reason.

I've started this post about eight times over the past few months and I've never made it past the third line.
Now I have, my head is a swamp and I know I can't possibly negotiate my way through in one go.
Bear with me. I have problems sticking with these things.

So... Casting my mind into the lifeless swamp of depression that nearly killed me about ten years ago, I have an image of me curled on my bed, hands over my ears chanting, "I won't need anybody or anything. Nothing can touch me".
A strange thing to say admittedly, but at the time, my eyes were unused to having to see in a darkness as black as this one and I had yet to master the art of decompression as I plummeted into depths I had never visited.
Somewhere in this distress, a determination never to need was consolidated.

I learned to hate need, and I learned that if I couldn't completely destroy it, then the most important thing I could do was to pretend that it wasn't there at all.

Need became shameful.
It became something I despised.
It became a cause for utter hopelessness.

A few months into therapy, I became quite desperately worried that therapy was breeding a need in me.
I was terrified of her. Terrified that I was losing control. Terrified that kindness was blunting my spikes. Spikes which were protecting me from needing anyone.

I recall one session a few months ago where The Woman suggested that I might miss therapy / her during a break.
I told her that I wouldn't ever need her, and the minute that I started to, I'd run a mile.

Today she mentioned her upcoming holiday.
And I wondered if it was time to leave or if it's all just in my head.

I don't want to need anyone or anything.
The idea simultaneously repulses, terrifies and enrages me.

There is so so so much more to this, but as I pointed out, I really will be swamped by the swamp if I wade too far out all in one go.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


Licorice Comfits

My favourite teacher
asked little me
what a carpenter did.
Standing at her desk
Her warmth gathered me,
thoughtful and careful.

"Makes carpets".
Her laughter fizzed
bubbles of love and pride
She opened her special tin
a rainbow of hidden treasure.

For years I thought
they were called Licorice Comforts.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Hiding Self Harm.

*****Content may be triggering******

I tried not to wince as I hauled my body onto the couch last Monday.

I had spent the day explaining to concerned colleagues that I had pulled a muscle at the gym.

In fact, I cut so badly that one of the wounds wouldn't stay sealed. Each time I showered, the steristrips peeled off and the cut was left gaping again.

When she asked where I had cut, I put my hand against it.

"The groin", she said, nodding knowingly.

(It might just be me, but therapists seem to have an extraordinarily irritating habit of nodding and 'yes'ing when you reveal something.
To my mind, this seems to be a smokescreen which hides the fact that the therapist is buying some figuring time, whilst simultaneously convincing the client that they are, in fact, omnipotent and had known the thing they had just revealed well before they said anything).

I digress.

Later in the session she announced that she was concerned I was cutting so close to a major artery.

Something in me froze.

My knowledge of anatomy not being as it could be, I had completely neglected to recall the fact that the area I cut is home to the femoral artery.

I'd only have about 3 minutes.
It's a horrible place to cut.

It only occurred to me after I left that her twisted therapists' mind probably decided that the fact that I cut there is because I have some sort of repressed sexual aggression towards my mother... or some such rubbish.

In fact, the reason I chose to cut near the groin is purely practical.
It will not be seen.
Even a (not too skimpy) bikini might hide the worst of the scarring.

Personally, I'd much rather use my feet (as I used to) or my arms.
But they are both so visible and I would probably rather die than have someone who knows me find out about self harm.
I couldn't ever go to hospital because I'd never cope with the horrible shame of someone seeing.

It has then, come as rather a shock to realise just how close I was when I cut the other night. And how close I must have been so many times before.

I looked up diagrams of the femoral artery in order to see where it is and it is hard to find something which specifically shows it in relation to the rest of the body. Suffice to say that I must have had some lucky escapes.

Ridiculously and somewhat inexplicably, I'm on a cutting spree at the moment.
It is desperate and painful and calming.

I am having to monitor the depth carefully and that is a real battle when a part of me wants to get right to the core of me.

A week later, the wound I refer to is, strikingly, a mouth.
No longer bleeding, but not properly sealed, it keeps emitting pus, despite my half hearted efforts to disinfect.
The pain from the cut is deep; which leaves me confused as to why I would find it necessary to cut again two days later, albeit far more times and far less deeply.

I suspect that even the most understanding of people might struggle to understand how on earth a person could inflict damage upon themselves in such a way.

The concept feels lip curlingly revolting to me... and I DO this!

I can well understand those who find it nauseating to imagine. I can understand the disgust and anger others may feel.

I myself have a part of me which identifies very strongly with those who may view the deliberate damage and mutilation of areas of the body as a terrible act of selfishness and hopeless self indulgence.

Ultimately, self harm is a silent, violent scream.

It is a way of putting something desperate on the outside.

It is a way of crying without heaving and sobbing and worrying about your eyes being red.

It's a way of safely taking the top layer off the toppling tower.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Difficulty and Disgust

Even a master of understatement would struggle to say that therapy had been anything less than "extremely difficult" this week.


Difficult to find words to write about it.
Difficult to find anything concrete to hang the words on.
Difficult to be in my body right now.
Difficult to feel anything other than utter disgust for myself.

On Friday night I sat in her room and tried my best to stay still as my insides curled and contorted and twisted at the touch of her words.

It's hard to remember what she said.
My despair was so great and she pounded on with her search for meaning... the whys. The effing whys.
My only why is often, 'why does it matter?'
Why does it matter why my parents transfer things onto me?
Why does it matter if Dad's doing this or that ?
Why does it matter if .........

At times, her questions and her wondering lead me to a place where I no longer exist. Where nothing matters and I doubt that anything I have ever felt is real.

On Friday, she told me I had been silently furious in the previous session.
I think she may have been right but I can't recall feeling anything at all.
She had 'threatened' to call my doctor.
I told her she wouldn't see me for dust if she ever did that.
And I mean it.

I was angry on Friday too.
She didn't understand how hard it is for a single person (who doesn't even know whether or not "the future" is a possibility) to buy a house and live with the pressure of being solely responsible for mortgage repayments.
To be fair, she did admit that she hadn't really thought about how hard it might be.

I felt she was disgusted by me.
I heard her mind screaming at me underneath her carefully restrained words.

Pull yourself together.
Stop being so lame.
Don't be such a wuss.
For fucks sake, get over it.
You are wasting my time.
Grow up.
I want to slap you.
You disgust me.
You're revolting.
You pathetic little victim.
Stop your whining.
I can't deal with your ridiculous feelings.
You are irrational and absurd.
Stop being so complicated.
Don' be so negative.
I could wring your neck.
You need a good smack."

That's what I heard.

I asked her if she was disgusted.

No. She SAID.
Quite categorically.
(But then she would wouldn't she)
Instead she reeled off some disgusting, pity laden bull about how I was wretched and suffering. She took advantage of my choked inability to argue to tell me that no matter how much I didn't want to know it, my parents had not "cloaked me" enough (go figure).
And I cried out of the sheer anger at her, the utter exhaustion and pointlessness of it all.

So what?

So what if this happened, or that didn't happen? So what?
It still leaves me where I am now.
I need to change that.
Not look at why or how or when.

My middle sister is in hospital again and my youngest sister doesn't want to be anywhere near me because she can't bear to see me losing weight.

I feel like I have somehow lost everyone.

My skin screams that it is almost unbearable.