Eating disorder assessment

Note: This post will discuss disordered eating thoughts, behaviour and issues.

On Thursday, I was assessed by Eating Disorder Services (EDS).  To say that I was terrified, would be an understatement.  I have so many conflicting views about the assessment, and the reality of my disordered eating…  I constantly question whether I have an eating disorder, or not.  I hold up the evidence that suggests what I’m doing isn’t a big deal… my BMI is in the healthy range; I eat three “meals” a day; and I don’t do many of the stereotypical behaviours attributed to those with an eating disorder.

Then, I stand back a little, and look at what I’m doing… I have lost a substantial amount of weight over the last 18 months, to the point where people I haven’t seen in over a year, no longer recognise me; I’ve had an increasing number of people telling me that I need to stop losing weight; my diet has become narrower, and narrower over time; and my exercise regime has started to become a little obsessive.  Then, there are the physical issues… I’m losing hair; my skin is becoming dry; my fingernails are constantly breaking; fatigue hits me more frequently; I get sore muscles for little, or no reason; and my digestion is obviously compromised.

But, probably the scariest thing, is my eating disordered thinking.  I never really comprehended what people were talking about when they referred to the all-consuming thinking of an ED… now, I understand it a little more.  In the past, when I had issues with food, I would get glimpses of the odd logic and reasoning that I could come up with… I’d start to eat something, and then suddenly become repulsed by it… I’d look at food, and it would morph into something unpalatable and impossible to eat… or, just the thought of food would make me have a panic attack.  Often there would be no context for these previous issues with food, and they seemed like random occurrences.  I could attribute some of them to stress, but not all of them…  Now, things are different, it’s like I’m living in that space all the time.  I think of food, and become scared.  I’m not even totally sure what the fear is about… yes, there’s an element of “food = calories = weight = bad” to it; but, that’s not the real story.  That’s the veneer that is acceptable to describe, but there is so much more to it all.

I’m well aware that there is a mix of the past influencing my thinking…  My father was a butcher during many of my formative years, which has resulted in me always struggling to eat meat of any kind.  My mother has had many issues with her weight over the years… as part of her own issues, she would often make derogatory comments about my weight…  My ex-husband considered himself a chef, which has probably triggered one the most destructive of my food issues… an inability to eat salad.  Yes, I realise how silly that sounds… I mean, salad is good for you, right?  But now, I find myself frozen in front of the salad aisle of the supermarket, totally unable to pick-up any of the healthy food in front of me…  Part of the reason for this, is because my ex-husband made such a performance about making amazing salads; so there’s a negative association.  But, a bigger part of my issue with food, is an inability to touch it in order to prepare a meal.  To give you an idea, the last time I helped to prepare a meal from scratch, was last Christmas… I don’t remember the time before that…  I’m not totally sure how this fear developed, but I think it may have to do with touching raw meat, and the feelings generated as a result… associations with my father, and the butchery… flashbacks… fear… terror…

It’s for these reasons, that when I told my mother that I was going to be assessed for an ED, she commented that she wished them luck as the things that I eat are so limited.  It’s this sort of reaction that helps me realise that my disordered eating isn’t about trying to get attention from my family.  When my oldest brother was in his early 20’s he developed Bulimia Nervosa… the comments he received from our parents were hardly supportive… my father called him a skinny wimp, and my mother ignored it.  My brother managed to find his way through his eating disorder without outside help… but he still struggles with food 20+ years later.

With all of this baggage, I went into the assessment on Thursday… it was pretty much a disaster.  It was meant to be a 90-120 minute assessment, but the nurse called it off after 45 minutes.  I was at my tongue-tied best… staring at the carpet and becoming more and more anxious, despite taking medication prior to the assessment.  The only good thing, was that because EDS are part of the Mental Health Crisis Team, she had my notes which outlined my abuse history and diagnoses.

There were some harsh moments leading up to the assessment… having an ECG was a reminder of the physical damage that I could be doing to my body… the fasting blood tests were an odd contrast to what was meant to be achieved… but, the worst thing, was the terrible drive to restrict food as the assessment approached.  There were fears that if I wasn’t “serious/light enough”, they would call me an attention seeker; or, that they would force me to eat, so I had to counter that by going in as light as possible; and then there were the conflicting views about what being accepted, or not, by EDS would mean… all of these different reactions played out in my disordered eating.

I wish those fears, and behaviours had eased with EDS accepting me into their services… but, they haven’t.  The assessment ended with me being given the diagnosis of EDNOS, and being asked to add some cereal and milk into my diet.  The assessing nurse kept telling me that the changes would be slow, and about helping me to gain health, not weight.  But, I’ve been looking at the cereal in my pantry like it’s the enemy…  I wish I could just pour some in a bowl and eat it, just like they showed in those misguided made-for-tv ED movies of the 80’s and 90’s.  I guess real life isn’t like the movies after all… stink!

Now playing: INXS – Beautiful girl


The fallout

In my last post, I sound as if I had “dealt” with the visit to my hometown… I was wrong.  What I’d done, is stuff it all in a rather large room in the back of my mind, and closed the door.  My main thought was that I’d gotten through the past two weekends, and that was all that mattered.  I had expected that once those weekends were over, then the anxiety and dissociation would magically disappear… because I wanted that so much, I started to live it.  The trip became a “good, healing experience”, and I couldn’t even remember the weekend of the conference… they became like another couple of headlines in the newspaper, nothing more.

On Thursday, the little fantasy that I had created for myself, came crashing down.  I saw Allison, and we talked about the trip.  She didn’t force anything, but it ripped open the door that I had firmly shut.  We talked about my family not recognising me as I got off the plane… my sister-in-law who talks about her abuse history as if it’s a badge that everyone has to see, and know about… the doubts created when places weren’t exactly as I remembered them…  The session was “intense” according to Allison’s parting words.  So intense, I had to sit in the car for over an hour, talking to a friend in order to ground myself and stop the shaking.

This was when the real fallout began… flashbacks; lost time; constant internal chatter about how bad I am; images of self-injury; and so on.  Intellectually, I decided that the main issue was the denial created when details of the pub weren’t exactly as I remembered; so decided to do some research.  The pub has a history page on their website.  When looking for old photos of the building, I found a photo of my father.  I also found out he’d been given awards for his input into the organisation.  Again, denial slammed into me… was I falsely accusing this man, who was respected in his community, of horrors that had never happened?  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t accusing him in court, or that I have no intention of doing so… all that mattered was whether it happened or not.  I’m used to the dance of denial… it’s one I’ve experienced throughout my life.  In some ways, it’s comforting to know that the denial and doubt touch every single aspect of my life… it’s not just the abuse that I doubt, but everything.  At times my life just seems to be a big question mark.

I realise that I’ve already glossed over the impact of seeing the photo of my father.  I remember seeing the photo as a child… one of my brothers is also in a photo nearby.  It’s disconcerting to see those two, who look so similar, so close.  To say that it’s disconcerting to see how much I look like my father, is an understatement.  I hate genetics.  I hate knowing how much I look like him.  That’s part of the reason I can’t look in the mirror… I see his face and the cross that he wore around his neck during my teens.  Yet another reason to hate how I look, and who I am.  When I see him in my reflection, I become him, and part of the things that he did – not just to me, but to the family, and community.  He is an alcoholic narcissist, and has left a trail of destruction behind him, fitting of such labels.

Sorry, I know this is becoming disjointed… I need to write it out.  I need to try to make sense of it.  But, I don’t know if that’s even possible anymore.

Thursday night, I decided to clean out my wardrobe.  During the clean out, I found jewellery that my father had given me, as well as the lingerie purchased for my wedding night…  I don’t know how these items had lasted so long.  But there they were… a cruel reminder of my doubts, pain and confusion.  If you’re wondering why I doubt the abuse from my father, yet still react to him… well, apparently I’ve always reacted to him.  My mother once told me that one of the factors which caused her to separate from my father, was talking to me in the kitchen when he arrived home… she said that as soon as I heard his car, I looked to confirm it was him, then my face changed, and I walked away to my room without finishing the conversation.

While my reaction to finding those items didn’t help ease any denial, it added another layer of stress and provided more fodder for flashbacks…

What does all of this mean?  Well, the short version is that I’m a mess… the long version is that I’m a total and utter mess.  I’m reacting to the slightest of triggers… unable to concentrate on anything for even moderate timeframes… want to go out and get totally drunk… the list goes on.  I’m trying to remember that the world keeps turning, and that means that this turmoil will pass… please, pass soon… please.

Visiting the past

This past weekend, I visited my hometown.  It’s the first time I’ve been back in over five years. Being back there was awful, healing, confusing, and so much more.  I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but need to write something down in order to start the reflective process, and ward off it being lost in the dissociation.

There were some beautiful moments, such as going down to the beach near sunset.  There was humour, with my mother, brother, and I talking about movies we’d seen… it soon became obvious that our respective approaches to movie going is very different!

But, there were also endless triggers…

On Sunday morning, my mother met my sister to go to church.  I had never connected it before, but this reminded me of when my father decided to “find God” when I was a teenager.  This was the final trigger that prompted me to visit places of importance from my past.  The main place I wanted to see was the bar associated with my father… the place where I have different memories that are so disjointed…

As I drove out to the bar, I passed a factory filled with bad memories… or rather, where the factory once stood.  There was a wave of relief to see that it was now totally different, filled with various industries and businesses.  I passed my old high, and middle schools… and again, so much had changed.  They were still recognisable, but it was obvious that 20+ years had passed since I walked across those fields.  Even though the suburb that was my home for so long has changed dramatically… new roads and malls; it still has the same feel.

Then the bar itself… The first thing that threw me, was that the entrance had changed.  I can now see where the extensions were added; but at the time, I was totally disoriented.  As the place was closed, I could walk around and peer through windows undisturbed. I started off by looking through the main entrance windows, and saw the short corridor that had the toilets going off each side…  That was enough to create a sense of panic, and an immediate free-fall into dissociation.

I walked around the building in a depersonalised state… looking at the different parts of the building and clinically ticking them all off on my internal check-list.  When I got around to the changing room entrance, things shifted… it was locked, and I was unable to see down the corridor.  I could tell each room based on the windows outside, but this wasn’t enough… I needed to see down that corridor.  But, it was impossible.

I looked into the main hall, and saw so many changes… some of them were about perspective (the hall looked so much smaller than I remembered); but other things such as the new carpet and different tables, were more tangible… But then, I saw the kitchen area, and it acted as a grounding moment.  I snapped back to some sort of awareness, and started taking pictures… I took pictures of all of the areas that I remembered, then wandered around the streets, trying to ground myself.

During my walk, I found this mural…

At the time, I called it “Don’t Speak”…  There seemed something fitting about the red being painted over the mouth.

After the bar, I visited my old elementary school, the kindergarten, and a couple of significant houses… Again, there were so many changes.  I found one of the houses, only to see that the wood shed was being pulled down.  Another now houses a charity; and while it still looked the same, the entrance was totally different… where there was once an opening in the fence for the driveway, framed mosaics are now hung on a continuous fence.

In so many ways, these changes were disorienting… But, there was still enough of the old elements present, to allow me to see the historical context.

I know that memory is not an exact thing… I know it can be influenced, and change over time… So, in many ways, going back to these places was meaningless.  But, it was also healing, in that many things were confirmed, and I could also see how time had changed the places which once housed so much pain for me.

As for the rest of the trip… well, it had its ups and downs… I had a panic attack in McDonald’s, and had to go for a walk to try to calm down… I did some dissociative shopping, and had to return some rather odd clothing choices…  I had a fun birthday evening with my brother and mother…

But, probably the most important thing happened on my last morning there…  My mother and I went to have a coffee, and started talking about my sister.  It seems she has moved past the idea that I had the best childhood known to mankind, and has instead started seeing things in a different way.  My mother relayed how much sorrow (guilt?) my sister feels for “abandoning” me when she moved out at the age of 16.  This seemingly simple admission stirred so many emotions… a feeling of validation, that I wasn’t imagining how bad it was growing up in that house…  compassion for my sister, who was burdening herself with responsibilities that aren’t hers to hold…  compassion for my mother, who was obviously now looking back on the damage done by the past…

There is nothing simple about a trip down memory lane… but, it can be healing.  It helped me to see that, although I live with the effects of those events every single day; the events were a long time ago.  That doesn’t make what happened right, nor does it allow me to forgive, or forget… but, it does mean that I can help ease those fears when I’m caught in the flashbacks…  If nothing else, that knowledge made the trip worthwhile.

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The confusion and complexity of Mother's Day

It’s Mother’s Day.  That means that in about three hours, I’ll be expected to call up my mother and voice wishes for her to have a lovely day.  I’ll listen to her complaints about her life, and my siblings; then end with sending her my love.  It’s a familiar pattern.  A predictable one.  Yet, it comes with huge amounts of confusion…

I was not abused by my mother.  Yes, she failed to see warning signs of abuse; but, my main skill was trying to stay invisible… so while my siblings showed their pain by acting out, I internalised it.  Despite knowing this on an intellectual level; there are feelings of resentment, betrayal, hatred, and anger towards her.  There are always those questions… why didn’t she stop it? … why didn’t she see? … was I that worthless? …

The thing is, I know that my mother loves me – in her own way.  She has shown that by coming to help me when I’ve needed support.  She has also voiced her feelings of guilt about not seeing what was happening… But, at times her version of events surrounding this guilt, and the past, has changed.  It’s this sort of unpredictability that continues to cause confusion.  Again, intellectually, I realise that her changing stories are a form of self-protection… but, emotionally, they cause havoc.  They ensure the continuing dynamic where, even though she has supposedly come to help me; the help being offered is more about her, than me.  It’s about easing her guilt, and ensuring that the family still looks happy from the outside…

Outward appearances were always so important…  I grew up in a conservative town, and it showed.  When my neighbour’s daughter became pregnant outside of wedlock, she was forced to give the baby up for adoption (she is still with the father of the child 30 years later).  All that mattered, were outward appearances.  You can’t have scandal, you can’t raise your voice… but, as another contradiction… “boys will be boys”.  So, when my brothers got into trouble, or car accidents, it was worrying, but acceptable… They were “boys” after all… They could be a source of communal worry, and angst.  It was a socially acceptable form of rebellion.

My rebellion was hidden.  It was dysfunctional.  Even when evidence of it was found in my room, it was blamed on others… because there’s no way that a “good girl” would do that sort of thing…  Thereby adding another layer of guilt, shame, and hiding.

It is the contradictions that I find so difficult to sort through… my mother is not a nasty person – yes, she has her faults… don’t we all?  Despite not being nasty, or evil; she is not able to be there for me in any consistent way.  I can’t guarantee that the answer to a question posed last month, will be the same this month.  I don’t know if she will be cold, or open with me.  My ability to understand her, and interact with her in any meaningful way, is not there.

I also acknowledge my role in this confusion… I dissociate, and forget things that have happened.  I read things into situations because of my defence mechanisms… I know that the problem is not all hers. Yet, there is still part of me hoping that my mother will save me.  The sad thing is, just as I gave up on any God saving me, I gave up on her as well…

So, I’ll take some medication… call her in a few hours… and pretend that everything is just fine…

It’s that simple, and that complex.

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Protected: Balance, or lack thereof

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My dragonslippers

Four years ago, my abusive marriage ended.  I thought that the passing of four years was long enough, and that I would be “over it” by now… I was wrong.  Over the past couple of months I’ve been swept up into flashbacks, as well as experiencing anxiety and dissociation for no apparent reason.

The other day, I was feeling good, and thought that the storm had passed… but now, it’s back with a vengeance.

The good thing about the four years since the marriage was over, is that I can more clearly see how we reacted to each other to create the disaster that was the marriage.  It’s easy to say that I walked into the marriage because of old patterns… one therapist told me that I married a man just like my father, after all.  But that’s a nice square box to place the experience in… the reality is so much more complicated.  My childhood was my training for my marriage… it taught me how to ignore my own needs in favour of others, to consider myself worthless, and not expect to be treated with respect.  His training involved systematically having his self-confidence destroyed; suppressing his anger, to the point where it exploded without warning; and thinking that domination equated to power.

He needed control, but didn’t want it… and I didn’t want control, but needed it.

That one line is possibly the most accurate summary of the marriage.  How it presented was sometimes funny; but more often than not, painful.  Now that I’m a little further away from the situation, I can see the links between such things as his jealousy and my actions.  The best example that I can think of to describe this dynamic, is my fear of going outside – he once commented that one of our male neighbours always seemed to be going outside when I was; which was a huge red flag to me.  It meant that something was wrong, and that something needed to change, as anything that bothered my husband, meant danger.  I couldn’t stop my neighbour from going outside, but I could.  So began another layer of my social anxiety.

There are lots of little examples like that…

Reading this, people will wonder why I stayed with him for so long.  It’s a perfectly reasonable question… I lived in fear of him for eight years; he abused me regularly, and was constantly in trouble with his employers.  But that chaos echoed both of our pasts, so it seemed normal.  I didn’t go to work with visible bruises, and he acted almost childlike in public; so I would often be seen as the bossy one.  No one looking into the marriage would say that anything was wrong.

Probably the most obvious example of why I stayed within the marriage for so long, is shown by his reaction after his final attack on me…  The attack happened on a Sunday afternoon, and after his panicked phone call to my mother, he settled down as if nothing had happened.  When I went to get medical treatment the next day, he accompanied me into the examining room, where he laughed about the injuries and how he had caused them.  He repeated this laughter when he dropped my medical certificate into my workplace to say I wouldn’t be in for at least a week.  It wasn’t until later that day, when my brother arrived that any sort of reality started to creep into his awareness.  He hid the chair broken during the attack, and tried to pretend like nothing had happened… but my brother took him aside and said that he needed to move out for a while.

When my brother went home, and my mother arrived; there was a further dawning of awareness for him… he was always desperate for my mothers approval, and that was obviously missing.  Suddenly he couldn’t cope.  This is when the twisting of the story began in earnest.  Two nights in a row he took off in his car… on one night he threatened suicide, and on the other night he threatened suicide and then told that police that he was too scared to return the house.  This showed how he could act when faced with a situation he didn’t like.

On Valentine’s Day, he left me to return to his family.  It was then that his twisting of the truth became more obvious… suddenly there was no attack, but instead, I was making it all up.  I broke the chair and caused the injuries to myself.  This version of events is what he was going to defend the Protection Order with… thankfully, I had the medical report detailing the attack, and all of his documentation which included a letter to a former supervisor apologising for assaulting him…  When his lawyer saw the documentation, the Protection Order defence was withdrawn.

When I look at this incident, I can see why I doubted so much of what happened within the marriage.  I was dissociative, so often doubted my version of events anyway; but he encouraged me to doubt things by twisting them back onto me, and playing a totally different role in public.  This situation reminds me of a quote from the book Dragonslippers: This is what an abusive relationship looks like:

‘You know, it’s interesting…work…politics…. It’s really so easy to control other people. You just have to cause dysfunction. Once someone feels insecure, you can do anything you want with them.’

This was said by the abuser within Rosalind Penfold’s relationship.  I entered the relationship with my ex-husband already insecure… all he had to do, was to keep me in that place and he could do whatever he wanted.  That’s why my attending therapy was seen as such a threat, and why he enjoyed my dysfunction so much.

I’m glad that I’m now physically free of him… I just wish that I was psychologically free as well.

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Confused religion

Please note that this entry might trigger due to the issues of child abuse and religion being discussed.

Over two years ago, I wrote the post Religion and Karma.  In it, I shared some of my confusion around religious concepts.  Since I wrote that piece, my confusion has, if anything, deepened.  Conflicted and distorted messages about religion, and my self worth, have driven much of my dysfunction over the last two months.  I have been bombarded with messages about being evil and not worthy of being here, or of this healing journey.

To give a bit of background as to where much of the distortions come from, my father is Roman Catholic and attended a Catholic school.  It was a strict (or traditional) school, with his left handedness being beaten out of him, and intimacy a taboo subject.  In contrast, my mother based her religious affiliations on which church had the best outdoor basketball (netball) team – Baptist won.  When they married, my mother converted to Catholicism and regularly attended church.  My siblings, and myself, were all christened, and my brothers confirmed.  The families pathway through Catholicism ended after my mother had me.  She was advised that if she had any more children, she would probably die in childbirth.  When the church heard of my mothers decision to use birth control, she was asked not to return.  As she was the driving force behind our going to church, this meant that none of the family returned.

This is what I now know of the families leaving the fold.  But, as I was growing up, my brothers told me that we were asked not to return to church because I screamed too much during the service.  Being a sensitive and trusting child, I took those stories, and internalised them.  I became convinced that I was the reason that the whole family was going to go to Hell for eternal damnation.

Later, I had several encounters with religion…  My sister attended an extremely devout and divisive youth group… I attended religious camps during the school holidays; where, along with John 3:16, we were taught Matthew 25:46 – my sensitivity meant that I took both as signs that I was a sinner…  I later joined Rally (similar to Girl Guides), which had a strong religious basis.  It was here that things became very confused, as I was old enough to be aware of the messages and expectations, but failed to live up to them.  I was told that I needed to pray for God to come into my heart, and I would know that this had occurred when I felt a warmth and peace.  Well, I was so disconnected by this stage, that there was no way I was going to feel any warmth in my heart, or anywhere else.  This was the final blow, and I turned my back on any further attempts to connect to a higher power.

Throughout all of this, I was being abused.  Some of the abusers used phrasing with religious connotations as part of the abuse.  I now realise that this had nothing to do with me, but I still internalised it at the time, and took it as further proof as to why God had turned his back on me.  I was evil and a sinner.  I was beyond salvation.

One of the system, W, has great problems with anything religious.  I had never really understood why this trigger was so big, when I had never been abused by a religious figure.  Then, last Thursday, Allison asked W what her role was within the system… her answer “to pray”.  To pray for forgiveness.  To pray for help.

When I was eight, I was abused by some teenagers in the school grounds.  The location of the event is significant, because on the rise, about 50 metres away, was a church.  About 3 metres away from the structure I was being abused in, there was a thoroughfare for pedestrians and cyclists.  It wasn’t busy, but there were usually some people walking by.  As I was being abused, W was created within my mind to pray to the church on the hill… to the God she had heard about… she prayed for help from the people walking by… she prayed for salvation from what was happening.  When no one answered those prayers, she saw it as proof that we were evil, and therefore not worthy of God’s help.

I was never really exposed to the positive side of any religion.  It was all doom and gloom… damnation… selfishness, and selfish acts.  My God was a very fearful, vengeful one, and he wasn’t pleased with me.

As I learned about God, I was getting hurt, as were millions of others in the world.  That didn’t seem fair, or just.  I never liked the overly simple explanation of free will.  I still don’t understand how such evil can be in this world.  Then, if you have evil, then surely there must be a counter balance to that; and what is that counter, if not a God?

As you can see, I’m still very confused.  I initially made this private because I don’t know if I can handle comments on this issue.  But, after a couple of people read what I wrote, I realised that maybe I need others reading this in order to challenge my thinking around all of this.  I still don’t know what I need to help me understand all of the distorted and confused messages in my head, but this post was one step in trying to sort it through.  I don’t know how much help Allison is going to be on this, as when she was questioned last week, there was a sense that she wasn’t firm in her beliefs, so therefore can’t be believed.

I do know that they seriously effect my self worth.  The messages about not being worthy of being here, are tied to the messages about religion.

I finish this post, not knowing why I wrote it, let alone published it on the blog.  Maybe to show you how bad I really am.

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