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.


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?



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.



Running, Travel

Lessons from a DNF Race

On 2 May 2015, the Ninja Turtle attempted her first ultramarathon trail. The following video tells the story.

After a week of grieving and moping, the Ninja Turtle exhausted her emotional response to the disappointing outcome, pulled herself together, and made that video.

Six months of preparation, discipline and sacrifice; hundreds of euros spent on the trip, and her race was truncated by bad weather. She has cried, she has sulked, she has mulled over it. She has cursed the gods, her fate, and the ill-aligned stars. She has rehashed the event in her mind over and over, trying to draw some lesson from it – something, anything, to pinpoint her errors, her faults, her weaknesses. Something to blame, and to avoid repeating the next time.

The thing is, there’s probably none. She has followed her training plan to the T (save for a week after her accident of falling onto concrete from a loft 2.5m high), fighting against incredible pain on several occasions. She’d run in the heat of the Australian summer, the humidity of Singapore and the frigid winter in Europe.

She’d cut back on alcohol, modified her diet to become fat-adapted, sorely missing out on beef hor fun, curry puffs, Hokkien mee, sushi rolls… (it’s a list too heartbreakingly long to continue so she’ll stop there).

She’d trained in the prescribed heart rate zones. She’d done the mileage she had to do, and for a while, she celebrated PRs for her 10K, 10 miles and marathon distances all in the same racing season. It seemed as if all the fatigue, sleeplessness and ravenous hunger were worth it, promising a celebratory finish to an amazing race season.

The DNF was thus an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. The Ninja Turtle’s boss, an ultramarathoner himself, told her there are many reasons for DNFs, and indeed, the weather is one that’s truly beyond the scope of runners’ control. She’d trained well, toed the line in peak condition (no injuries, having tapered brilliantly), and stuck to all racing conventions: nothing new on race day, stay hydrated, poop before running, smile for the cameras, enjoy the experience and make friends with fellow trail runners.

She did all that and still she DNFed.

After 7 hours in the relentless rain, having covered 49.4km and about 1000m+ elevation according to her GPS, her clothes and shoes were soaked through, and she’d lost her gloves. Despite all the noodle soup, sandwiches, coffee, cake, tea, chocolate and bananas she’d eaten, her temperature dropped. With the winds picking up in the darkness of the night, the rain still pouring and the temperatures dropping even further, she suffered her worst defeat ever when a gust of wind blew just as she turned around a corner, making her feel so ill, like she’d been violently punched in the guts, and her knees buckled.

Thankfully, GodzillaPin was there to witness it all. He’d come to St Julien du Sault to meet the Turtle for a moral boost, and was in fact, holding her hand and walk/jogging alongside her the very moment she’d caved, remarking only 2 seconds before that how icy cold her hand was.

The volunteers arrived, and shortly after, the medics whisked her into a heated ambulance where her pulse and breathing were measured. She hadn’t stopped shivering, and was begin to feel slightly drowsy and a little confused. Her bib was removed and she was declared out of the race, and brought back to Sens in the vehicle, with GodzillaPin following behind in his car.

The heartbreak came slowly, in waves. That night itself, the Ninja Turtle was simply numb with cold and the only thought she had in mind was: DNF. Sitting in the hot bath back at the hotel, having washed away the mud, she could only console herself with the thought that at least she was not passed out in the forest between St Julien du Sault and Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, in the rain, in the middle of the night.

Over the following two days, the physical ache of running almost 50km of muddy trails was frequently matched by the emotional devastation of failing to finish. The Ninja Turtle felt betrayed by both the inclement weather, and a constitution too weak to handle the rough elements. Mentally, she was certain she would have made the 85km, but physically, despite the 1000 miles she’d logged on the hills of Moselle, in the valleys of Meuse, along the coasts of Sydney and on the sandy beaches, in gorges and ravines of South Australia, along the highways of Frankfurt and Marseille, through the villages on the outskirts of Paris and on the country roads of Lorraine, the canal networks of Singapore and Metz, morning, noon and night, she was still unable to support the cold rain in wet clothes and shoes. She had found her limit.

So that’s it. Life isn’t fair; if it had been sunny like last year, no doubt she wouldn’t have cracked, but there is no point speculating. She couldn’t possibly have trained for these conditions, so she’s not sure she can regret anything. That’s the lesson out of this race – she’s given her 100% and she has failed through no real fault of her own. Sometimes, we cannot seek to blame anything or anyone, but rather, we must simply accept how things are, learn to let go, and move on.

Above all, her spirit has not been beaten by this experience, and she shall rise from the ashes to try and try again. One day, the stars will align in her favour and she shall be ready to claim the victory of daring to chase a dream.

In the meantime, all that’s left to do is to turn away from her grief, and properly thank every single person who has supported her on this remarkable journey with their faith, confidence, and words of encouragement when the Ninja Turtle needed them most. Rod Lowe, Baby Turtle, Sonic the Hedgehog, Krazy Cow, Yellow Jersey, and above all, GodzillaPin.

Running, Travel

Race #4: Trail des Roches du Dabo

The calendar says 16 June 2014 today. This means the Ninja Turtle has survived all 4 races this season, and is still alive. Happiness all around. Unfortunately, she hasn’t completely recovered her sanity and coherence quite yet, hence shall be unable to write meaningfully. This post will be some photos, and recollections of the bizarre thoughts that went through her mind while racing.

First off… choose a favourite cliché you identify with:
a) Save the best for last!
b) What you don’t know cannot hurt you
c) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
d) Death is but a part of life
e) It ain’t over till it’s over.

In that very order, those were the thoughts the Ninja Turtle had about yesterday’s race. At first she was very excited, then she went into slight denial when she was informed just what lay before her. On Saturday afternoon, however, fear had began to sink in as they left the cute cottages of Alsace and drove up the winding roads that took them through the mountainous forests villages. GodzillaPin got carsick and stopped by the road side to throw up. The Ninja Turtle’s brave facade quickly melted into resignation that this race may be one of two “first-time experience”s: crossing the finish line last, or worse, a DNF.

A map of the trail, plus some details on elevation and distance below.

A map of the trail, plus some details on elevation and distance below.

Just as a little side note, when the Ninja Turtle registered for the race, it was advertised as 25km, but later changed to 27km. At some point in one’s running life, a person is able to say, I’ve been running for donkey hours, what’s another xkm? The Ninja Turtle is NOT at that point yet. She chooses races according to a distance she believes treads the fine line between personal achievement and being permanently incapacitated.


When she found herself at the starting line surrounded by people who looked like they were either military-trained or included "10 miles run" in their lunch breaks, she started wishing those wolf-dogs would maul her so she didn't have to run.

When she found herself at the starting line surrounded by people who looked like they were either military-trained or included “10 miles run” in their lunch breaks, she started wishing those wolf-dogs would maul her so she didn’t have to run.

There is very little, and yet so much, to say about attempting an experience bigger than oneself. The Ninja Turtle has now fallen solidly into the habit of starting a race right at the very back of the pack. It didn’t matter anyway, as soon as the gun went off, the fastest runners shot off, while everyone else fell into their own comfortable paces, for all of about 3 minutes. The runners came to the first of numerous hills, and trail running wisdom calls for runners to walk uphill when it becomes more energy-efficient-relative-to-running to do so. The traffic jam took about a minute to clear, and the Ninja Turtle proceeded to slowly hike up with everyone else.

This became a regular feature for the rest of the race. There are several big lessons about trail racing that the Ninja Turtle learnt immediately:
1. Worth reiterating: ignore your splits, there is no way you’ll hit the same splits running on mountainous trail as compared to road-running.
2. The trail path is only wide enough for you or your ego. Choose one.
3. You can only go as fast as the person in front of you. Don’t be a jerk by trying to overtake, you could compromise the safety of yourself and others.
4. May be a good idea to get trail shoes, and to dress for the terrain. Never know what plants you may be allergic to. Also, expect to finish with a layer of dust or mud on your feet and legs, at the very least.
5. The forest is like a beautifully-distracting woman. As soon as you take your eyes off the goal (focusing on running safely) to admire the view, that’s when you’re most likely to trip up.

Take a number, and join the queue. Walking uphill saves energy, plus it gives you a good excuse to linger a bit and admire the view.

Take a number, and join the queue. Walking uphill saves energy, plus it gives you a good excuse to linger a bit and admire the view.

Although the Ninja Turtle started the race with a niggle in her right calf and knee (thanks to the race in Champagne), she’s all but forgotten about it 3km into the race. In fact, all her fears evaporated as the magic of the mountain air filled her being. She found a reliable target to pace her – a woman with killer calves and a regular pace that matched the Ninja Turtle’s very comfortably.

The miles flowed by, punctured only by the smattering of sunlight that pierced through the foliage.

Time froze and shattered into splinters that crunched underfoot like the gravel.

The Ninja Turtle wanted to burst into a Walt Disney song. (If you must know, it’s A Whole New World from Aladdin.)

Water and food stations were regular, and provided another valid “resting point” for runners to take a break, catch their breaths and look around. It’s very interesting to note that the fuel provided in this trail race included the more natural sources of energy – dried apricots and raisins, oranges and bananas, and water. In comparison, the Ninja Turtle has seen at the fuel stations in road races, chocolates and salted pretzels, muesli bars and energy gels, energy drinks and even Coca Cola. All things considered, it feels almost virtuous to run in a trail race.

So, the race started in a valley at the lake of Schaeferhof, and wound its way around and up towards the Rocher du Dabo. All up, the organisers counted a total ascent of 629m and a descent of 646m. Most racers were wearing GPS, and although none of them could agree on the actual total elevation gains and losses, there was one thing they agreed on: the organisers seemed to have somewhat understated the challenge.

That thing up there was our goal. The rock (rocher), standing at 647m above sea level, reduced many grown men to tears that Sunday.

That thing up there was our goal. The rock (rocher), standing at 647m above sea level, reduced many grown men to tears that Sunday.

Along the way, a few other amusing thoughts crept into the Ninja Turtle’s mind. One of them was trying to identify who her heroes and role models are. Of course, it being Fathers’ Day, she had Papa Turtle on her mind a fair bit. Her best friend Sonic the Hedgehog was also celebrating his birthday (see previous post), hence the photo in yesterday’s birthday dedication was taken for him when the Ninja Turtle finally reached that bloody rock (the photo session added 2 minutes to her final race time, but fool to those who couldn’t afford a moment to simply stare at the effort they’ve just made to reach such breathtaking heights).

The Ninja Turtle is also immensely grateful to GodzillaPin, who is completely indispensable for all his support. He drives her to races, carries her necessities in his backpack, ready for when she crosses the finish line, and more incredibly, finds ways to take photos of her during the race.

During La Champenoise, he managed a couple at the beginning and the end, and at La Feminine, there were a couple of moments where he ran alongside the Turtle to try and capture a shot. This time however, his efforts really took the cake. What’s a man with a knee problem to do, when he’s trying to photograph his partner during a trail race?

He takes a bike, and rides like crazy to strategic points along the route, and waits.

He takes a bike, and rides like crazy to strategic points along the route, and waits.

It takes a lot of foresight and good timing to manage coinciding with the Ninja Turtle. He even got into an argument with a traffic control officer who insisted the roads were closed for runners (it wasn't, there were cars) and wanted to ban him passing through. Like a proper Frenchman, he thumbed his nose at her.

It takes a lot of foresight and good timing to manage coinciding with the Ninja Turtle. He even got into an argument with a traffic control officer who insisted the roads were closed for runners (it wasn’t, there were cars) and wanted to ban him passing through. Like a proper Frenchman, he thumbed his nose at her and simply carried on.

The first 20km flew by like a dream, and the next five required a little focus, but was still immensely good fun. The Ninja Turtle had, by that stage, overtaken a few runners, while maintaining to keep up with that pro-racer-with-killer-calves. She fell into conversation with Ms Super Calves, whose initial reticence dissolved once she realised that the Ninja Turtle simply wanted a guide. Ms Super Calves has been racing on trails for a little over a year, and has a marathon in the Alps coming up soon (thus confirming the Ninja Turtle’s instinct that she’s indeed a pro). She was quite taken aback when the Ninja Turtle said the only trail race she’s ever done (La Feminine), was 2 weeks ago, and had an elevation of a molehill in retrospect.

The few instances the Ninja Turtle found herself overtaking Ms Super Calves, she simply stopped and let Super Calves catch up and run ahead of her. This saved her from doing the navigation work, gave her a good idea of where to plant her feet, and provided a sense of security in case an accident happens. Plus, Ms Super Calves had a much more constant pace, whereas the Ninja Turtle can get ahead of herself when she’s excited, and unreliably burst into sprints while screaming “wheeeee!” when she feels the urge to.

The last three kilometres, Ms Super Calves made all the difference. The Ninja Turtle, having eaten about a handful of raisins and half an orange for the last 25km, felt a wall approaching. Maintaining the same pace suddenly felt tiring, and she felt her breath beginning to labour while her heart rate skyrocketed. She quickly dug around in her fuel belt for the honey and guarana shots given to her by Mother Rabbit (GodzillaPin’s mother, who’s a very organised woman, also furnished her with a torch, just in case). Whether those two elixirs actually worked is hard to say – the Ninja Turtle had only one thought in mind: the finish line isn’t far!

Which was why she felt really, ridiculously confused and somewhat furious when her RunKeeper said 27km, and the finish line was nowhere in sight. What the? She suddenly remembered that trail races are notorious for being “a little vague” when it comes to defining distances. The last two races she’d run in turned out to be shorter than advertised, but this time… this time it was a whole 900m longer.

Ms Super Calves picked up her pace for the final stretch, and all the Ninja Turtle could do was grit her teeth and hang on. She was hell-bent on finishing right behind this incredible woman. As they approached the lake, the Ninja Turtle dug deep and wrung herself for the final, whereas Ms Super Calves didn’t seem concerned about sprinting the last few steps. Then, she quickly realised that the race was not over yet! They had to run the lap around the bloody lake before it was considered done. At this moment, Ms Super Calves changed gears, and kicked up dust like she was late for a flight. The Ninja Turtle hung on as tight as she could, overtaking two more runners in the final 300m.

GodzillaPin, waiting at the finish line. The moment of shared victory for the duo.

GodzillaPin, waiting at the finish line. The moment of shared victory for the duo.

There is not much else to say. The Ninja Turtle has covered almost 28km running through the mountainous pine forests and lived to tell the tale. Her official time was 3h 24m 01s, which is meaningless since it’s not a DNF, and nor was she the last across the finish line (she actually placed 4th in her category, but that’s meaningless too since there were only 6 in the SEF group, while a good majority appeared to be V1M).

Four races completed. Enough with the running for now, it’s time to rest, stretch, foam roll, eat, sleep and dream up the next adventure.

When you're too tired to run or walk or even crawl, sliding on your arse is always an option.

When you’re too tired to run or walk or even crawl, sliding on your arse is always an option.