Eating Disorders

Bon Appétit!

I looked at my meal this morning
It was simultaneously
Too much, and not enough
Just like me
When I woke up this morning
Asking myself: am I hungry?
Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know…
I’m full and yet, empty
My mind plays dirty tricks, you see
It says: what does the scale read?
Is the number good enough
For this morning’s feed?
But that’s irrelevant, I know
To eat by earth’s gravity
And not by signals I ignore
From my poor abused body
Yet hunger, how do I honour you?
For years, you’ve frightened me
To feel you is unfeminine
So says our society
To want, to need, is weakness
A shame one must conceal
To yearn, to crave, is wanton
For women, to reveal
My hunger is enormous and
It’s something I can feel
But I can’t go and seize the day
Without a morning meal…

So quiet the toxic voices
That say “no, you cannot”
They’re wrong, because you CAN
Don’t listen to that rot
You can, you should, you will
No fear, just be yourself
You’ll shine like the constellations
When you regain your health
Know that you’re worthy of love
Just the way you are
Embrace the hunger, chase your dreams
Sweet soul, you are a STAR.

 

Breakfast is one of those meals where most people tend to take less seriously, and for those recovering from an eating disorder, it can be particularly hard. The Ninja Turtle skipped breakfast for many years, and during recovery, spent six months making it a habit.

One of the biggest problems and fears for sufferers is “why eat when I’m not even feeling hungry anyway? I’m going to have to restrict later during the day when I actually feel hungry, so shouldn’t I just save my breakfast calories for later?”

No. Oftentimes we don’t have an appetite when we awake, that’s true. And most healthy people can afford to skip their morning meals without dire consequences. But when one is recovering from an eating disorder, every meal is an opportunity. Food is medicine, and mealtimes are training sessions – a chance to be less scared of food, a chance to re-learn what we like and do not like, a chance to nourish our broken bodies correctly, deliciously, happily without anxiety or guilt.

Another concern during recovery is “if I start eating when I’m not even hungry, when do I know when to stop eating?”

This is another opportunity to learn. The Ninja Turtle really struggled with hunger and satiety cues, and she still does now, but it only came with a lot of practice and patience and courage to dare to eat. You cannot know what it feels like to be full if you keep denying it when you feel hungry. Only when you know the two extremes will you slowly learn the varying degrees of in-between.

You’ve been restricting and running on “empty” for so long (it doesn’t matter what weight/BMI you are, as long as you are undereating to your individual physical needs, that is restriction) that your brain and body needs a few, if not many opportunities to recognise it’s-OK-there’s-enough-to-eat-so-eat-to-your-heart’s-content which is for the Ninja Turtle, “full to bursting”. But that’s OK. Eventually it all calms down. The brain and the body are starting to recognise there is no need to eat like one must prepare for a famine, because the mental and physical restrictions are removed.

So one day, maybe breakfast can be pushed off to become brunch (preferably with lots of champagne, eggs and avocado toast, waffles and ice cream) or a simple cup of black coffee. But not yet. Not when one still needs to replenish, rebuild and re-learn.

Eat your breakfast, fellow warriors. Some days you will want it, some days you will not. Some days you will enjoy it, some days you want to fling the darn thing at the wall on the other side of the room. Some days you’ll be awake two hours before it, looking forward to the orange juice, bacon and jam on toast, some days you will wish all the omelettes and oatmeal on earth could just vanish forever.

And one day you will wake up thinking about poetry, fashion, travel, politics, animals, languages, archaeology, volunteering, [insert what you like here] instead, and whatever you’re served up for breakfast becomes irrelevant, and then you realise… this is what it means to be free.

N.B This was a photo taken in January 2011, right back the the “beginning” so to speak, when GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle first started officially dating. This was a trip to Saigon in Vietnam, back in a place and time when the Turtle could eat a morning meal without qualms and just get on with the rest of her day (which was exploring Vietnam’s war history in the Cu Chi tunnels).

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Stories

The Gift of Pain

Warning: Long post ahead. Trigger warning for sufferers of eating disorders in recovery.

Eating Disorders, as the Ninja Turtle experiences it.

Obsession. It’s when certain thoughts dominate one’s waking hours and preoccupy the mind so completely that there is no space to think or to feel or to experience anything else outside of one’s obsessions. Sometimes, compulsions come into the equation. This is when one feels compelled to do certain behaviours, and these are often highly ritualistic, with specific rules and regulations, and beyond one’s control.

Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours are very common in eating disorders, and the Ninja Turtle has experienced the bane of almost all the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that come with the illness.

Weighing and calculating food to the gram? Check.

Only allowing herself to start eating her meals at very specific hours? Check.

“Balancing” out her food groups to rigidly defined ratios? Check.

Not permitting herself more than what’s prescribed in a meal plan, but ferociously guarding every last bite she is entitled to whether or not she’s still hungry, or really wants to eat it? Check.

Running a certain distance or time measured on her GPS watch? Check.

Not permitting herself to rest until she’s fulfilled her prescribed amount of daily walking, even if it means doing meaningless laps around the block or taking the least efficient route to go somewhere and feeling incredibly foolish? Check.

These are some of the ugly realities of eating disorders that people don’t necessarily want to know about. It’s tiring. It’s exhausting. It’s completely ridiculous, makes no sense to others and frequently, it makes no sense of the sufferers either, and yet we, or at least the Ninja Turtle, engaged in these behaviours for one very important reason –

They reduce her sense of anxiety.

The compulsive behaviours, with their rules and rituals, help reduce this inexplicable sense of panic and fear, an undefinable dread that bad things are about to happen if she breaks the rules. The obsessive thoughts, with their frequent looping repetitive refrain, serve as a distraction from emotions too strong and overwhelming that the Ninja Turtle had no courage to face.

So for days that turned into weeks, weeks that turned into months, and months that are now turning into years, the Ninja Turtle’s life has been dominated by this living hell which she found herself stuck in, simultaneously finding comfort and reassurance and yet also being hurt and damaged by engaging in these maladaptive coping mechanisms. It seemed like there was no way out, and that her existence would simply become defined thus.

But for the last two months, the Ninja Turtle’s entire world has been overtaken and thus defined by another demon – Pain.

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On Hospitals and Illnesses.

It all started during the move back from Lyon to GodzillaPin’s parents’ village. While out running one morning, the Ninja Turtle’s guts were not quite cooperating. She tried her best not to think about it, after all, in her recovery efforts she’s started making breakfast a habit again, and she figured it was simply the discomfort of exercising after a meal.

What the Turtle had not bargained for, was for that pain to escalate, and endure. The next few days saw the duo travelling back to Lyon for the Fête de la Musique where she had to go into the emergency as her eating disorder specialist suspected appendicitis. After some scans, she was discharged with a negative result and a prescription for the pain, and that was it.

The duo then continued to Nantes for a 30th birthday, where the Ninja Turtle was once again rushed to the emergency ward as not only has the pain endured, she’d developed a fever and the runs. Not only did she miss out on an awesome birthday bash, she went into septic shock twice as her temperature soared to 41°C, and was kept for a whole week in isolation as the diagnosis was pronounced: clostridium difficile. A highly contagious bacteria that causes endless grief especially in those who are immuno-compromised.

Make no mistake, fellow eating disorder sufferers. You may feel invincible, physically strong, or think you’re simply “not that sick” when the reality is, eating disorders damage your entire body, immune system included, leaving you vulnerable to all kinds of other illnesses. The Ninja Turtle found this out the hard way.

Over a year ago, the Ninja Turtle begged to pursue her eating disorder treatment outpatient, despite her dangerously low BMI. She and her medical team knew they were taking great risks – refeeding syndrome, sudden heart failure, etc etc etc. but at the same time, her doctors agreed with her argument that locking her up in a medical facility, in isolation, is certainly not the best way to recover from her psychological disorders.

Ironically, the very situation she thought she’d escaped, has finally caught up with her. This bacterial infection not only ruined her holiday in Nantes, it came back to haunt her a second time shortly after Bastille Day so she had to pass her 29th birthday alone once more in hospital.

Then, the duo had to cancel a hiking trip in the French Alps as the Ninja Turtle suffered the indignity of a colonoscopy to rule out Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease and Celiac. Another hospitalisation.

Just when she thought the nightmare had ended, the pain returned a few days after she was discharged, and another round of lab samples revealed that the bacteria was back for the third time. After 5 hospitalisations, the Ninja Turtle begged GodzillaPin, in tears, no more hospitals.

Hospitals truly aren’t ideal settings for recovery from any sort of illness. The Ninja Turtle was awaken at 5.30am for blood tests, to have her pulse and blood pressure taken (both disturbingly low at points that some of the nurses raised several false alarms). With insufficient rest, it is hard to recover, and nobody can claim to rest well with interrupted sleep and terrible beds.

Hospital food isn’t designed to help patients get better either. The normal food at best of times, is barely edible. Several times, the Ninja Turtle was put on a low-residue diet for her illness, which seemed to translate to crackers, yogurt, and very little else. This of course, meant the Ninja Turtle lost weight with each hospitalisation, leaving her even more immuno-compromised and vulnerable to re-infection, hence the vicious cycle.

Hospitals are circuses of viruses and bugs, quite simply because it’s where sick and dying people go. So what better place to leave one completely open to catching something else that could possibly kill her?

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Perspective.

Once again, the Ninja Turtle pleads her fellow sufferers of eating disorders to accept the reality of their illnesses – there is no such thing as not being “sick enough” to seek help.

You don’t need to be underweight, or have a low BMI. You don’t need to be a white, middle-class, heterosexual, adolescent, ballet-dancing [insert-your-preferred-stereotype] girl to admit that you’re struggling with an eating disorder.

And above all, do NOT be fooled into a sense of complacency that just because you’re getting by day-to-day, that maybe things are “really not that bad”. Eating disorders ruin your life in so many ways – for some it steals their relationships, for some it destroys their finances, for some it wrecks their education/careers, and for some, like the Ninja Turtle, it decimates one’s HEALTH.

The Ninja Turtle is less afraid now of dying from re-feeding syndrome than she is of dying from this bacterial infection, but she knows that if the latter were to claim her life, it would still be dying from the eating disorder, albeit indirectly so. And that would truly be a shame, because the Ninja Turtle really doesn’t want to die.

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The Silver Lining to Every Cloud.

The Ninja Turtle is currently pursuing a course of antibiotics at home for the infection. The fun thing about her medication metrodinazole, is that the Ninja Turtle suffers all the same effects of the bacteria infection – gut-wrenching pain, cramps, diarrhoea and constipation, fatigue and headaches. On top of that, she’s also got the worst nausea, loss of appetite, back pain, dark urine, bouts of confusion and dizziness. The only seeming benefit is the absence of a fever.

But the pain, oh the pain.

Faced with such pain, the fear of dying and a whole lot of possible regrets, the Ninja Turtle’s obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours have been forced to take a back seat in this entire episode.

With this degree of pain, running is out the question. Heck, even walking a few minutes can leave the Ninja Turtle squatting by the side of the road, hyperventilating.

With this level of pain, the Ninja Turtle congratulates herself for going through the basics of each day; showering is a victory. There isn’t enough energy left to obsessively weigh out quantities of food.

With this type of pain, the Ninja Turtle has no room for perfection, good enough will have to do because it’s hard to accomplish anything when your entire waking existence is dominated by pain.

With this amount of pain, the Ninja Turtle has to choose what she puts on her plate each meal because much as she loves her salads, too much raw vegetables or fats irritate her guts, and too much fruit worsens the diarrhoea, too much sugar feeds the bacteria, too much meat constipates her, and suddenly when she is forced to pay so much attention to detail in her food that is NOT related to the eating disorder, she’s FED UP.

Frankly, it’s tedious, it’s boring, it’s soul-sucking and it’s thanks to this bacteria infection that she sees how ridiculous those obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours are. Above all, she’s also realised that eating disorders are a form of self-harm, self-punishment, self-loathing and yep – inflicting pain upon oneself.

So while the Ninja Turtle cannot wait to recover from this awful bacterial infection, she is in some strange way, grateful for the experience and the valuable lessons it has taught her.

No more self-inflicted pain.

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Arts and Culture, Travel

The Reunion of GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle

After spending two long (but incredibly happy) months on the other side of the globe, the Ninja Turtle has finally returned to France, much to the joy of GodzillaPin. There is no way two months worth of catching up can be done in the span of a single week, but that’s not going to stop him from trying.

Top priority: making sure she still remembers how to use the French language.

Top priority: making sure she still remembers how to use the French language.

The Ninja Turtle’s flight came in on a Sunday morning, but instead of hurrying straight home, GodzillaPin thoughtfully booked a hotel room to give her a chance to catch up on sleep and to spend an extra day wandering around Paris. They stayed in a hotel that called itself a chateau, but that was just a fancy term for an old building in need of restoration. It had a pretty library though. They also went to see the exhibition on the Kama Sutra, but no photography was allowed. You will just have to take their word on it that they spent a very hilarious 2.5 hours.

Then, as a lovely surprise, GodzillaPin planned this weekend in Frankfurt! No rest for the wicked.

Of course, not forgetting the most important part of life in GodzillaPin’s opinion… food.

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2015 is clearly going to be an action-packed year for the Ninja Turtle!

It’s good to be back.

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