So far this week I have managed to munch my way through the following:
- Two large bags of crisps (Mature Cheddar and Onion because when it comes to potato chips, the stinkier the better in my opinion).
- Several slices of my sister’s homemade spiced apple cake (managed to get through those in under a day)
- A minimum of one peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich a day (I’ve been using the rye bread in an attempt to convince myself that it’s “healthy”)
- A family size bag of peanut M&Ms
- Two of the raspberry jam doughnut that some kind soul brought to work as a treat for everyone
There’s more, but I figure you get the picture.
Little Shop of Horrors
Remember all that stuff I wrote about eating healthy food, managing your portion sizes and choosing nutrition over convenience? Turns out that is pretty hard on a good day, but when you’re feeling low it is damn near impossible.
First of all, it’s hard to muster up the energy to prepare a nutritious meal when you’re struggling to get yourself out of bed in the morning. When I was calorie restricting, I was having to make separate meals for myself because I have three growing children who have diametrically opposed views on what constitutes a ‘proper dinner’. Suffice it to say, that was the first thing that went out of the window!
Some people lose their appetite during periods of depression, but I go the other way. I become ravenous. It’s like my digestive system becomes a bottomless pit that is never quite satisfied. No matter what I throw at it, my stomach starts to sound a lot like Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors (Feed me Seymour, feed me all night long)!
Eating disorders Vs disordered eating
This may come as a surprise to you, but in moments like this I don’t exactly find myself craving crudites and kale smoothies. Shockingly enough, I crave fat and sugar. In that order. And what Audrey wants, Audrey gets!
Whilst I don’t think I have an actual eating disorder (believe me, I’ve asked), there’s no doubt that my eating becomes disordered when I am feeling low. And I have dedicated a great deal of my spare time trying to figure out why that is.
To a degree, I think this kind of behaviour is “normal” in a lot of people. Certain foods have the power to stimulate the positive receptors in our brain and make us feel happy for a number of reasons. We call them comfort foods, and most people I know have at least one or two that they turn to after a long, tiring week. And that’s fine if that’s all it is. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
The problem is, it is more than that for me. I use food as a means of coping with my emotions. Food is something that I can control when the rest of the world is out of control. It is is something that I can chose after a childhood of being denied. It is cheaper than drugs or booze or an out-of-control gambling habit. It’s convenient. And it has the power to make me feel really happy.
I’m a compulsive eater
If you’re reading this, you are no doubt under the impression that I like eating. And most of the time, I do. But not right now. Right now, food is something I both need and hate in equal measure. I can’t stop myself from stuffing my face, but I can’t stop feeling guilty about it either.
Eating has become a compulsion. I find myself subconsciously walking to the kitchen several times a day without giving any thought to why I am there. Before I know it, I am snacking on junk food and half the time I can’t remember even feeling hungry.
And maybe that’s the problem. I wasn’t actually hungry in the first place. Not for food anyway. You see, I’m desperately seeking something to make me feel better. Something to give me some hope when I am feeling hopeless. To give me energy when it feels like I’m swimming through treacle and my day-to-day life becomes overwhelmingly exhausting.
Pretty sure chips and chocolate won’t actually give me the things I am looking for. Unless chocolate ends up being the cure for the coronavirus pandemic. Which could actually be true, because I eat a lot of chocolate and I have managed to avoid corona in spite of working on the frontline for the last 9 months. Coincidence?
[And if any one of you dares to suggest that GPs are not actually seeing patients face-to-face and it’s only hospital workers on the frontline, then we’re gonna have a problem. Because that is simply. Not. true. People can be such obnoxious d***s sometimes.]
So, it’s clear that my relationship with food is a complex one and very much linked to my mental health. But there’s actually another deeper, slightly more sinister layer that I have only recently become aware of. And it has kind of blown me away.
You see, I don’t just use food as a means of cheering myself up, I use it as a way to self-harm.
In my last blog I eluded to the fact that I used to self-harm as a teenager. I told you that cutting was how I survived high school. And that was not an exaggeration. Adolescence was a particularly challenging time for me. And yes, I know that’s the equivalent of saying that the rise of the Nazis was a tricky time for my grandfather. Pretty sure all the Jews in Germany felt the same way, right?
But alongside all the usual teenage angst and drama, my mum and I were at loggerheads. Whilst I was going through one hormonal milestone, she was going through another. I’m sorry to say it, but menopause turned her in to a complete basket case! She was working a very stressful job in the city, she had absolutely zero help from my father, and she was coming home late at night and taking it all out on me.
She’d shout and scream and tell me how crap I was until she felt a little better, and I was forced to retreat to my room to lick my wounds. By the age of 14, I had learned to stand up to her and I gave as good as I got. She lashed out and I lashed back.
My father was either noticeably absent or he was pulling all the strings and winding us up until we snapped. To this day, I am sure he got some sick sense of satisfaction from provoking mum and I into losing our tempers with each other, and then sitting back and watching the aftermath.
But why tho?
So picture me in my bedroom after spending the last hour being told how much of a failure I was. The lights are off. Radiohead is playing in the background. I am sitting on my bed hyperventilating, tears and snot everywhere. It’s ugly.
And I am desperate to make it all stop. To silence the voice that keeps telling me how stupid and ugly and unlovable I am. The moment that razor blade slices through my skin, I find the release I am looking for. The pain is grounding. It is bright and overwhelming and for a moment I feel a sense of euphoria. It’s like a drug.
And the pain really starts to register. It goes from bright and sharp to a throbbing, gnawing ache that you can longer ignore. And pain is good. Pain is what I deserve.
The first time mum caught site of one of my scars, I registered an initial look of sheer panic and horror in her eyes. I think she realised in that moment that things were getting out of control and were a lot more serious than she thought. But then she shut down, and she got angry.
Why? Why was I being so stupid? What was wrong with me? Was this just another cry for attention? Was I doing this just to upset her? She told me to stop it. Stop it immediately. And that was it. We never really spoke of it again. From time to time, she would notice the scars but she made a point of ignoring them.
I stopped cutting in my twenties. I don’t think I have it in me anymore. For some reason, it feels pretty juvenile to me, even though I know it is anything but. I don’t know why or how I stopped. I just know that I did, and after a while the scars began to fade and it became nothing more than a memory. One that I have kept to myself until very recently.
When Food becomes the weapon
Funny, isn’t it? I wouldn’t dream of self-harming with a razor blade nowadays but I can’t help but wonder whether that razor has just been replaced by a doughnut. I don’t even like doughnuts. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate them either. I mean they are basically fried dough covered in sugar and filled with jam or custard. What’s not to like?
But under normal circumstances, if you told me that I would never be able to eat a doughnut again, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. In fact, I wouldn’t be all that bothered. But right now, I can’t seem to get enough of them. Even though I know they are packed full of calories and offer virtually no nutritional benefit.
Even though I know I will end up gaining weight as a result of eating so many of them, and all that hard work over the last few months will have been in vain. Not only that, but the more weight I gain the more I will loathe my reflection in the mirror. People will find me disgusting, or worse still, they will pity me.
Those initial feelings of pleasure that I get from binge eating soon give rise to feelings of guilt and shame and self-loathing. And isn’t that just the point? It’s just another source of pain. And pain is what I deserve.
It’s getting better though
Phew, that ended up being a lot heavier than I expected. It’s clear to me that I am more messed up than I care to admit to myself, let alone to anyone else. But believe it or not, I am actually starting to feel better.
Since I posted my last blog, the fog has started to lift. I’ve started smiling again. The world is less grey and more technicolour. There’s something very empowering about opening up and baring your soul for all to see. Turns out being honest with yourself and others about your struggles is a great way to exorcise all your demons!
I mean, let’s face it. It’s all out in the open now, for all the internet to read. It’s no longer a secret. It no longer has any power over me.
And guess what?
Right now I’m snacking on a piece of grapefruit.