Balancing Act

I’ve lost two and a half stone, and I don’t know how to feel. A blog about body positivity and recovery.

 

Content note: this post is about body image, dysmorphia and weight loss.

The current resurgence of the fat- or body- positive movement, or perhaps my raised awareness of what was always there, has left me feeling conflicted.

How do I talk about Body Dysmorphia – when a large part of my hatred towards my body is rooted in my weight – without it sounding negative towards “fat”? It’s not right to keep on about hating my size and shape while other people are working to make being larger just as desirable as the model in the notoriously shitty “beach body” ad.

Beach body

I love the fat-posi movement. They’ve made me realise and confront deeply held prejudices that I never knew were there. This podcast, where comedian Sofie Hagen talks to artist and activist Scottee, made me feel like old issues to do with size, sexuality and identity were finally being dealt with in a new way. I wish they’d been around when I was growing up.

Sofie Hagen and scottee
They look fun to hang out with.

But all that falls to pieces when I try to apply these ideas to myself. Like (I’m guessing) all Western women and some men, my conception of my size, and my feelings towards food, eating and fatness are deeply rooted in feeling and emotion. They’re not something I can rationalise away, no matter how much I cognitively want to.

My problem was that I had got fat, and it made me desperately unhappy, triggering feelings of dysmorphia that had been latent since my teens. I couldn’t look in the mirror, I couldn’t leave the house. Back in July I blogged about how I’d stopped seeing friends due to my appearance, and looking back this period of self-imposed exile lasted months.

From being a pretty stable size UK 10-12 all my life, I began to gain weight uncontrollably. I had no idea why, or what was happening and neither did the doctors (not much change there). However, its no coincidence to me that my sudden and rapid weight gain coincided with the worst ever mixed bipolar episode I’d experienced, and nor is it much surprise that as my symptoms started to recede, my weight dropped.

In the July post, I wrote about my body and my concerns about how I was feeling. I was desperate for someone to talk to about it, but it was strangely hard to get support. Eating disorder services wouldn’t deal with me, because I hadn’t got an eating disorder. Everywhere else I tried referred me back to ED services. I was torn between wondering if what I was feeling was actually just “normal” and how all women felt, or that there was something deeply wrong with me. In the end I got no help regarding how I felt about my changed body, but I did get help on how to stabilise my mood, and consequently my appetite plummeted like a stone. I’m now one of those annoying arseholes who can use the phrase “the weight just dropped off”.

I’m sure in a large part this is down to quitting alcohol, as I was probably getting through my daily calorie allowance in booze alone, and that’s without the crisps that inevitably accompanied it. Mmmmmm, memories of lovely crisps and booze…

Homer drooling

Something else that helped ease the symptoms of my BDD was accidental. Due to a change in domestic set up, I moved to a bedroom without a fixed full-length mirror. Only having to see my entire body when I chose to (which wasn’t often) helped a lot in terms of processing my feelings towards my body. Ultimately, though, my BDD eased as I returned towards my old weight. It’s not gone altogether, as I now direct my hatred to my ageing saggy face.

Up to now I’ve lost fifteen kilos, which Google tells me is two stone five pounds, and I hope to lose more (but then I don’t think there has ever been a moment of my life, at any weight, when I haven’t wanted to be thinner). To return to my opening comments about feeling conflicted, basically by listening to fat-posi people I’ve realised that it’s not really OK to go round shouting “hey look I’ve lost all this weight aren’t I great”, but now I’m not really sure how to talk about it. I know it’s perfectly OK for me to have a personal goal and to reach that, but I don’t know how to talk about this without fetishising thinness, and feeding into the insidious social pressure about our bodies that causes me and millions of other so much pain.

So it doesn’t feel like reaching a goal, or happiness, or victory. Psychologists would no doubt say that I fudged confronting my feelings about my fatter body by losing the weight rather than learning to accept it and be happy. Nasty little right wing neo-liberal shitbaskets might say I got off my fat arse and did something about it. In reality, I can’t claim that I’ve had the mental strength required to follow a diet or eating plan – my appetite has just reduced, and weight loss has been an unsurprising side effect.  In the end, thinner doesn’t feel better, just different.

Which is probably how it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chink of Light

Andy and Rita

My dear old mum (RIP) used to have a rule: if I phoned her in a crisis, I had to also remember to let her know once the crisis had passed. It’s a good rule and I’ve tried to bear it in mind ever since.

After a good few months of the worst mental and physical health I’ve ever experienced, I’m feeling a little better. This week I’ve managed to leave the house twice, admittedly once was for medical appointments, but today I actually managed to go out for a purely fun and social event! Stone the crows! I was whacked and in a lot of pain by the time I got home, but it was wonderful to be outside, to see the trees in their end-of-autumn colours, and just to breathe some lovely London pollution. Just to feel normal for a while.

I know there’s no one-size fits all with mental illness, but a few things have really helped me and I may as well share them with you.

Firstly, being able to afford the input of a private psychiatrist really helped me. Although I can’t afford to be treated by him in the long term, just a few sessions really helped me (the beneficial effect no doubt being increased by the frighteningly large sums of money dispensed) because he gave credence to my experience in a way that my NHS practitioner seem to have given up on. He confirmed I was experiencing a bipolar mixed episode and said that I must be facing unimaginable torment. Although his words didn’t take any of it away, it was such a relief to put a name to the beast and feel validated.

The downside was that the only medications available to me were antipsychotics, which have a pretty horrendous side effect profile, or repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) which costs £12,000 and is unlikely to be effective in the long term. But before we came to medication, the doctor thoroughly audited my life, and recommended this book which is one of the few I’ve come across to deal directly with mixed episodes.

Although the advice the doctor gave me was fairly basic stuff, especially to anyone who’s had years of therapy, it served to motivate me to kick my arse back into gear. Here’s the bottom line of the doc’s advice.

  • Stop drinking. I’ll admit this came as a body blow to someone who is a self-confessed seasoned drinker. I knew that I used alcohol problematically to deal with the crazy way I was feeling, and I was prepared to wave goodbye to that, but I also knew that there were times that I loved drinking and would really miss it. Some people can manage moderate drinking, but being a very all-or-nothing person, I know the best thing for me is to be completely abstinent. I stopped that day and haven’t drunk since, although I will never rule it out. I am resigned to the fact that alcohol will probably be a permanent struggle for me.
  • Give up caffeine. Whaaaaaaaat? Dear sweet lord, is nothing sacred? Apparently not. I quit coffee and my beloved Coke Zero and I can safely say it’s harder to give up than alcohol. Pass the decaf chai latte.
  • Practice sleep hygiene. I’m normally pretty good with this, but in my manic state was waking through the night or very early in the morning. At first I was so overstimulated I had to step away from tech from around 7pm.

With the help of the above – plus a two-week script for Xanax – I managed to bring down my mania within a couple of weeks. However, I was still left with the sticky anxiety and depression that dogs my footsteps.

In desperation, I tried CBD oil. A couple of people had recommended it to me, but I had dismissed it because I was already on so much medication I didn’t want to add anything else into the mix. However, my Xanax was running out and I wanted to come off benzodiazepines, so I got hold of a bottle from Holland and Barrett.  I am a super sceptical person, especially when it comes to unevidenced alternative remedies, but I can only describe the effect as incredible. After about three days, I started to feel far less anxious and actually something resembling ‘normal’. I was able to stop Xanax with no problems. I’d say the CBD oil helped bring my anxiety down from a seven or eight to a two or three. I’ve taken it every day since.

The other thing that has helped me no end is the selfless support and care of my best mate, who moved in a couple of months ago. He’s unfailingly caring and generous with his time and willingness to listen to my daily trials, to take me to my many medical appointments and to motivate me to go out. Not only that, he literally provides me with something to lean on. My back has been particularly bad lately and I’ve had to invest in some crutches, but thankfully I’ve not had to use them yet as I’ve had my friend’s arm to grasp. Having battled with this alone for years, his support means the world to me.

With the help of my excellent MP, I’ve managed to finally get referred away from the personality disorder service to the mood disorders team. My diagnosis remains contested, with yet another psychiatrist disputing the BPD diagnosis last week.

I also managed to get referred to a psychiatrist endocrinologist, who has recommended a trial of hormone therapy. Every doctor I’ve spoken to recently (and there have been MANY) have spoken about how the role of hormones in affective disorders is massively under-researched, and when you consider the role of hormones in PMS it makes sense that an imbalance would cause mood disruption. I strongly suspect this won’t be cracked in my lifetime, but I’m pleased to be giving it a go.

On the physical side, I’ve involved my long suffering and hardworking MP here too. He’s intervened to challenge my neurologist who refused to give me pain-relieving injections in my spine because I’d self-harmed. Still waiting for an update on this (hey, they’ve only had my complaint since June, why rush); it seems likely I’ll get some help eventually, be it the injections or an operation. I suspect it may be some months though. In the meantime, I’m limping around and relying on my wonderful housemate to dress me.

So that’s about it as far as current health developments go…I’m by no means out of the woods yet, but things are a hell of a lot better than they were.

Did I do OK mum?