Beating ED, eating disorders, overcoming obstacles, Recovery, respect, Uncategorized, women in the workplace

Love Handles

In recovery, one of the hardest things that I have to deal with are comments about my weight. People often mean well, but these ‘observations’ sting, every time with a newfound pain. For me, a part of my eating disorder revolved around other’s opinions. Sure, I purged for myself – desperately clinging on to any form of control, trying to achieve the perfect body. But a massive part of my ED was about how others viewed me. Did they think I was skinny? Did they see the massive whale that I saw in the mirror? Often, if someone would ever compliment my body, I would grab my stomach or bingo wings and exclaim: “What, you think this is beautiful? You need your eyes checked.” Or, I would say nothing. Blush quietly and smile, while the voices in my head twisted their kind words into hateful thorns, pricking me until I bled out.

I have recently started a new job. It totally revolves around teamwork and camaraderie; we all help each other to get the job done quicker. However, last night, something shook me so badly that I am questioning whether to go back. Many of my colleagues are romanian, and they often speak to each other in their language. Last night, someone told me that while I was working, one of my male co-workers called me fat. “Look at that chubby one. So cute.”

Now, to many, that sounds almost like a compliment. ‘He meant it as a joke! Don’t be so sensitive’. But when you have an eating disorder, being called fat, however said, can be absolutely detrimental, both to mental and physical health. I was in the middle of my shift, and I felt like my heart had been shattered with a sledgehammer, the sharp pieces injecting themselves in my lungs, cutting my breath short. I had spent almost three years in fear of this kind of comment. It had finally grabbed me by the hair, pulling with all it’s might. As I carried on my shift, robotic smile sullenly plastered on my face, I realised. As we work, we often give each other small touches on the shoulder or arm to show that we are there for one another. But where does this stop? The male co-worker in question had been squeezing my ‘love handles’, the small area of fat that just spills over my jeans above my hips, every chance he could get. Waiting in line for our orders. Behind the bar, making drinks. As he walked past me. A couple of times, these touches even went below the belt. I put it down to a friendly touch, to let me know he was there. The same way that I touched the girls in the restaurant. But it wasn’t. This comment, paired with the inappropriate touches, could have meant a month of starving myself. I could have run to the toilet and stayed there, making myself puke until I was numb. Or, the suicidal thoughts could kick in. It only takes one comment to send one spiralling.

I talked to my co-workers, who both said that they had experienced the same thing. We all decided to go to the boss, who handled the situation very well. I received an apology, but he will never understand how this will affect me. My superviser couldn’t promise me that he will be fired. I might have to see this man every day until I leave, and leaving now is not an option. Simply, I need the money. Even thinking about seeing him again is putting a lump in my throat. Seeing his best friend, who may or may not know about the situation (they speak romanian, remember?), who may hate me because I got her friend, someone who has worked there for fifteen years, sacked? Honestly, I am shaking.               The manipulation and control of women in the workplace is still happening in this day and age. This fact makes me sick. What makes me even more sick is that if I didn’t have my ED, I would have let the inappropriate touches go. Dismissed them. It was the comment that spurred me into action, and for that I am lucky. However, I now have to go back into work, somewhere that I no longer feel comfortable. Because of one man. Because of a touch. Because of a comment.

These comments, especially in the workplace, have to stop. These touches do not represent camaraderie. They are not nice. We don’t ask for them. We don’t want them. But how can we stop them? I am lucky that I had my co-workers by my side. Many don’t.

It is nearly 2018. When is enough enough?

pain, Recovery

The Unexpected Pain of Anxiety, Anorexia and Bulimia

When in the throes of my eating disorder, I could never have imagined the aftermath; the effects of recovery. As I always say, recovery is hard, but I didn’t think that Bulimia or Anorexia was something that I would have to recover from. I now realise that my naivety has caused me more trouble than I care to think about.

Pain. It’s a funny word. It can connote emotional or physical pain, a distress or suffering. Emotional pain is a part of our everyday life, as is small physical pain. A paper cut, stubbing your toe or standing on a piece of leggo. All of these are essences of pain, however, they disappear. Some pains can plague you for hours, months, years.

When I was first introduced to the idea of bulimia, I had no idea of the pain that would follow. Pain is a difficult thing to describe. When looking at the emotional wreackage, it was a given. If I was doing this to myself, then I would have bad days. I was mentally imbalanced. I knew this. However, what I didn’t anticipate was the physical pain that I would feel.

You may laugh when reading the previous sentence. ‘She didn’t realise that her body would deteriorate? She was starving herself! What did she think would happen?’ Don’t worry. Whatever you may think, I’ve thought it all before. When you’re in that state, that emotional hatred, the irrationally desperate need to reach perfection, you forget about everything else. The emotional and physical repercussions of your choices don’t matter; getting to a size four is the only thing on your mind.

Physical pain manifests itself differently for everyone. Some girls who are recovering from anorexia can experience cramps, while others suffer from acid re-flux. Headaches, nausea, migraines, physical weakness, dizziness, indigestion, heartburn are all a part of the recoveree’s day. And I have to be honest, it sucks. It can make you want to crawl back into the little hole of naivety and never return. In some cases, like mine, the physical pain can be so great that you actually want to end your life to get away from the waves that wrack your entire body.
Some people experience major headaches or nausea independently, and with them I truly sympathise. However, when you know that you are experiencing this pain from your own actions, from your own choices, it can really mess you up.

I think we underestimate the power of pain, especially with people who have made the choice to recover from an eating disorder. Yes, that’s right. Recovery is a choice. When I was first discharged from my clinic, recovery was totally superficial. I posted the obligatory facebook picture, tagged the right people, liked all the comments, had a dinner, cards, smiles all around. The whole shebang. But I have to be honest, I wasn’t ready. Through most of it, my insides were screaming. I had no idea what I was doing. I definitely wasn’t ready to deal with recovery, with the horrific pain and the thoughts that can’t be controlled. I think I was too scared to admit it, especially to my family and friends. They were all so relieved that I was no longer a liability, someone to watch constantly and be wary of. I wasn’t an effort to be around.

Only now, after I had hit rock bottom, could I look at my life and see where I was going. I was honestly on the road to total destruction. The choices I was making, the way in which I was dealing with my pain, both physically and mentally, were all wrong. I was trying to go through the ‘medical’ side of medicine, talking to GP after GP, psychologists, doctors, the lot. And guess what? No-one helped. I was told that I had a ‘Vitamin D deficiency’ along with the rest of the population. Nothing explained what I was feeling. Every test came back clean.

I felt like a liar. I told my mum that I thought I had Munchhausen’s Syndrome. I was so scared that I was crazy, once again. What never occurred to me was that the pressure and strain that I had put on my body had finally made an appearance. When my pain couldn’t be explained, I broke down. I felt like my brain had been put in a blender and that my stomach was being used as a football every minute of every day. After every morsel of food ingested, my stomach and chest would burn so much that I thought someone had poured boiling water all over me. I would have to lie down wherever I was. I once ate an apple on the train. The result was the unberable burn, and when my head swam so much that I couldn’t see, I lay (well, fell) on the cold floor. It was and is the most embarassing moment of all my life. People thought I had fainted, but I had to explain that I had a bad bout of Acid Re-flux. However, these ‘bad bouts’ happened every time that I ate. I was in so much pain, often bedbound for days on end. My neck and back then started to give me pain, spreading to my chest and arms. It felt like I had elephants stomping on my body and monkeys pulling my hair. After feeling this way for about three months, I couldn’t take it. I started to imagine my death, the sweet release, the point where I wouldn’t be in constant pain. When I was hospitalised after I couldn’t control these thoughts, I realised that enough was enough. If I was willing to give up my whole life, everything ahead of me, because of my physical agony, then I couldn’t leave it to the doctors any more. Paracetamol had no effect, and I couldn’t take ibprofen due to my acid re-flux. I had to take matters into my own hands.

Three days later, I was scrolling through my facebook feed when I came across a stupid advert. I usually pass them in a minute, but this one caught my eye. It was a free meditation app called Headspace, targeted against chronic pain and anxiety. I downloaded it with all guns blazing. I already had seven of these stupid meditation apps, and none of them worked. The app showed me 10 days worth of podcasts, for ten minutes each. It didn’t describe it as ‘meditation’ or some weird chinese stuff; it was just a guy named Andy talking down the phone to me. It was like I was having a normal conversation with an old friend, and after relaxing me, he went on to help me release the iron grip on my mind. He explained that physical and mental feelings were like cars on a busy road. I was trying to stop the cars, however, all they were doing was mowing me down, When I stepped off of the road and onto the pavement, I could see that the cars would pass. Yes, it might hurt, but these feelings would pass, revealing the blue sky in front of me. The release of control was the ‘sweet release’ that I had craved. With a lot more pain and hard work, I was able to remove my mind from my body. Now, I know how this sounds, but I promise you, I was just as sceptical as you are. Scepticism is good, but if you really open your mind to a recovery method that can work, a method without medication and empty tests, then it will help masses. I know it has for me. When I am in pain, I close my eyes and remember that it is physical. That I will beat it.

When I look in the mirror, all I see is a whale. It’s hard to remember that it is an illusion, my body and mind playing tricks on me, trying to trip me up in order to send me to the toilet to become skinny again. Recovery is turning my mind against my body; it’s sole aim is to push me back into the exhausting control that I exercised on my mind, body and soul. But I will not let it. I am better than that. I know it’s ‘mia’, my Bulimia, the part of my brain which has brought so much destruction to my life. But I can turn her off. Even if it’s for one minute, ten or twenty. I’m able to turn off the ED dvd that has been playing for so long. And yes, in thirty seconds the thoughts may return. However, there is one main difference; I am now ready to fight back. I can shut mia up. And I know that there will come a day where I can turn her off for good. That day may be in ten years, it may be in a few months. But I know that day will come.

Until then, I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that she doesn’t pull me into the dark depths of bulimia. Not again. I am meditating in order to control the physical effects of my illness. I’m letting go, allowing myself to feel instead of holding a rigid clamp over my life. I’m allowing a higher power to take over, because I’m exhausted of the constant control. It’s hard work, possibly more tiring than when I was controlling my mind, however, I know that it will end. I know that I will be ok, and that I will get through this.

I can do this. If you think you can do it, you can. - John Burroughs


Beating ED, Recovery

200 + 5 = Anorexia + Bulimia

I looked down at the outfit that I had tried on. I was standing in the New Look changing rooms, too scared to leave my cubicle for fear of catching a glimpse of my body in the daunting full-length mirror. I was wearing jeans and a crop top, an ensemble that had been picked out by my best friend. My stomach seemed to be spilling over and out of the flimsy button that held all of the fat in, and the top that I was wearing showed my bingo wings for the world to see. My thighs wobbled even when I wasn’t moving. “You ready, Liv?” She asked, knocking on the door. She had been waiting for me for about ten minutes. “Um, I don’t think this one’s right for me.” I said, quickly stripping down, throwing on my baggy jumper and loose-fitting skirt and opening the cubicle door. She was wearing a gorgeous black bodysuit with a black skirt, something I couldn’t wear. “Buy it!” I said over-enthusiastically.

We were getting ready for our first real party, and my nerves were through the roof. I had organised for the whole family to leave us alone until 1AM, and had invited what I thought was half the world; really, it was only about forty people. I had been to get the alcohol the day before, not with an older friend, but with my dad. With beers and wine coolers aligned perfectly on the table in our living room and expensive artwork moved into the garage, I was ready. Well, I was definitely ready to pop my party cherry, but my newly minted boyfriend was coming to London for the occasion, and I needed to impress. After all, if I couldn’t get validation of my beauty, was I even beautiful at all?

I settled on a black peplum top with black leggings. As my friends and I anxiously waited, I readjusted my outfit for the third time. I felt huge. I had quickly emptied my stomach of the five meagre almonds that I had eaten that day, only minutes before the trickles of friends became a gush of unwanted guests, and the drink hit my empty stomach minutes after I had ingested my first shot. Before long, the party was in full swing. I was happy. Everyone was complimenting me on my body, and I could feel the stares from all sides. I was loving it, basking in the attention like I was Pharaoh bathing in the River Nile. The party was a success! The next day, I even found that my ‘goal’ jeans were too big on me, and I had a celebratory piece of chocolate, before spitting it out and making myself sick for the third time that morning. I kept telling myself that I was in control, that I could stop whenever I liked. I had been Bulimic for a month.

The next two months were hell on earth. I would purge five times a day, after only consuming around 200 calories per day. My throat hurt all the time, and I was constantly tired and dizzy. I couldn’t focus. I was putting on an act, a mask, pretending that my happy exterior was reflecting my interior. Although I was getting unhealthily skinny, the compliments kept coming. Wherever I went, whatever I did. Even my teachers would look twice when I came down the corridor, and would remark in disbelief: “Wow, Olivia! You look amazing! How did you do it?” I would shrug and smile, knowing that these small remarks were only fuelling the fire, adding coal to the already blazing heat. Now that I look back, even a wolf whistle in the street would cause me to purge. I just wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to achieve what I saw as beautiful.

I kept telling myself that I was fine, that I was in control. I now see that Bulimia and Anorexia were controlling me.

One Friday Night, I retreated to the toilet, only to burst into tears. I think that I was so exhausted, so emotionally drained, so desperate to let go of the ‘golden girl act’ that I’d adopted over the past months. So I let my mum comfort me, and after what felt like hours of probing, I painfully admitted that I was making myself sick. My parents, however, laughed. I later found that they were worried that it was something worse, and believed me when I said that I had stopped. I didn’t. I pushed and pushed until someone found me, the small, broken sparrow that I was. I had lost a stone for every two weeks. My school found out, and told my parents. Only then was I taken seriously.

I was referred to CAMHs in December 2015, and started treatment in January 2016.

I could look at my experience with my ED as a time that I want to forget, as a memory that I want to erase forever. However, I’ve realised that my experience has shaped who I am, and how I view situations and my relationship with God. I know that He would not give me a challenge that I could not overcome, or a path that I could not cross. God was always the second pair of footprints in the sand, however, when I was experiencing the worst point in my life, his footprints were no longer there. I was angry, shocked that he could leave me at the time when I needed him the most. However, after reflecting, I realised that he was carrying me to the finish line. I am, slowly but surely, getting to the finish line, and I know that when I reach it, my friends and family will be there to welcome me.

Hold out, because you can do this. Believe in your own courage, because your inner strength will surprise you. I know mine has!

“If you can dream it, you can do it” ~ Walt Disney



Beating ED, Recovery

The Land Flowing With Milk and Honey

In the summer of 2015 I decided that I would take the plunge. I was going to go on Israel tour.

Israel tour is a basic entitlement for any Jewish kid who had finished their GCSES, and I was no exception. Everyone I knew was going or had gone; the young(ish) couple that we had invited for lunch would reminisce over their ‘glory days’, remembering their time on the trip that changed their lives, and friends would gush over when they would have time to shop after our exams.

I, on the other hand, would sit in my room, anxiety running through my veins. I could hardly leave the house without breaking down.

I had had trouble with separation anxiety for some time; at most sleepovers my poor mother would get a call from the worried parents, stating that I was inconsolable, and needed picking up. So my wonderful mum would turn up to each house in her pyjamas to find me red-eyed and reeling.

After the years of constant anxiety, I decided that I needed to take matters in to my own hands; thus resulting in the holistic therapist. We had heard of her from her online testimonials, and despite my initial nervousness, I was ready. After five sessions, I was replenished, ready to face the music. Well, the evening camp songs that inevitably awaited me. A full two weeks later, my bags were packed. I knew three girls in my tour group; two were thick as thieves, and one ditched me before we had even arrived. Regardless, I kissed my parents goodbye (behind the car, to save myself from endless embarrassment), and hopped on the bus, grabbing the last empty seat. I sat next to a nice guy, and we talked about school and other such small talk necessity. When we arrived at the airport, I was already bored, but it was there that I met my best friend. She was, unfortunately, on the other tour, but she introduced me to her friends, and we hit it off. I contemplated grabbing their yellow-coloured t-shirts from the poor, unassuming girl who was sitting to my left, but decided against it; I felt that I should keep my inner psycho quiet until I knew what their parents did for a living. However, after three hours of bliss, I was inevitably given my assigned seat on the plane. The goodbyes began. “Hopefully see you there, Liv! You’ll be fine, safe flight!” I left them, taking the first new steps to a group of thirty-odd people that knew nothing of Olivia Dowell.

Fast forward one week, and I was having the time of my life. I had overcome my awkward shyness, and had actually talked to people. I felt confident, basking in my newly found status: The One Who Makes Friends Easily. I was fearless.

I remember one night, after befriending a lovely group of South Africans, we decided to sneak past the security guard and into the soothing waters of the Kineret. We all had our towels on with bikinis underneath, and as the girls ran into the water, I couldn’t help but notice their taught bodies. I looked down at mine. Definitely not taught. I looked like a beached whale amongst mermaids.

Over the days that followed, I trained myself to eat less and less. As everyone took a plate, I would take half, and leave most of it. When people offered me a snack, I would take one bite, then put the rest in my pocket, dumping it all in the nearest toilet. I couldn’t see any improvements, though I had to ask one of the guys to borrow a belt because my shorts were falling down.

When our three and a half weeks were almost over, I had 1) kissed a boy, 2) abseiled in Eilat and 3) gained an eating disorder. I was basically starving myself, though at the time I was just ‘getting skinny’ like planned. As I ran into my Mum’s arms, she gave me a bone-crushing hug. “There’s nothing of you!” she exclaimed, pinching at my tiny waist; and she was right. As my stomach started to expand due to my mum’s delicious home-cooking, the compliments came swarming in. “Wow, Liv, you look fab! … How did you loose all that weight?” I was getting attention from everyone. Life was perfect. Until the weight that I had so carefully shed threatened to reappear. When the food simply begged to be devoured, I decided that there was only one way to stay skinny. I needed to make myself sick.

The first few times that I tried, I barely got my fingers half way down my throat, but as time passed, I became the expert in my field. After reading that tomato skins stay whole in your system, I ate three before each purge, and drank at least one glass of orange juice. As the acid rose up from my stomach, causing my stomach lining to disintegrate and shredding my esophagus, so did my confidence. However, my love for my new body was an entirely conditional love; a love that was actually based on hate. It didn’t matter how many compliments I received, how much attention I got; I was never happy.

It was all a sham, all a game. A game that nearly cost me my future. A game that so many are still playing. I, however, am not. I am burning the game, setting it on fire, and dancing on it’s ashes. The game was programmed so that I would loose, Game Over. However, my happiness is slowly and surely rebuilding, growing daily. I have realised that there is no manual; no matter how many times you try to play right, the game always beats you. I am learning how to fall in love with my new body, a body that changes every day. A body that, admittedly, is paying me back for the years of abuse that it has put up with. One of the hardest points of recovery is learning how to cope with the small weight gain, which, when it comes, feels like the end of the world. The ED vinyl that was stuck on the record player for so long threatens to make an appearance, and you brace yourself for the worst, for the relapse that you prayed would never happen. You can, however, take the needle off of the record. Breathe. Know that you don’t have to go back there, back into that mindset. Take a minute, an hour, a second to stop the record player from playing. Although the ED mindset is bulletproof, you will, in the near future, have so many other records that you won’t even see it on the shelf. You can do this. We all can.

Step off the roller coaster, and take a ride on the Ferris Wheel instead; I can assure you, it’s much less bumpy. It will allow you to take a look at the blue sky ahead, and thank G-d for the life that he’s given to you.