Reclaiming responsibility.


A while ago I was worried that my GP was taking on burdens that belonged to me. It went round and round in my head and, in the end, I decided to put it down on paper so she’d have something to look back on and absorb. 

It occurred to me today that this might have played a part in her decisions on The Friday. That in trying to give her perspective, I also revealed my own. 

Anyway, you can decide for yourself. Here’s what I wrote:

“Firstly, you need to know that this is not a suicide letter. But I was worried about the sense of responsibility you seem to bear for your patients like me, and I felt there were things to be said. 

If I die, it will have nothing to do with you. It won’t be as a result of anything you’ve done or not done. It will have been my decision, because I will have decided that I have tried everything I can and will have given myself permission to give up. 

In fact, you need to turn this around, and see that without your help I wouldn’t have managed to carry on this long. You’ve been an anchor point for me. A calm voice against the noise in my head. Time after time, offering facts and reason to counteract my fears. Often repeating yourself, because the fears don’t change: they just ebb and flow. Patiently suggesting practical steps that could make things just a little bit better. And I have never once felt judged. Even though there is a lot to judge. 

Some people are not fixable. Some people are broken early in life and no amount of care can make them anything other than shadows of what might have been. Which means you’re fighting a losing battle. But the fight matters. And the way you fight matters. And the fact that someone is fighting for you matters, even if the fight is not going to end well. 

If I believed in absolution, I’d offer it. If I could lighten that sense of responsibility, I would. 

I am my own responsibility, you see. I take that from you and I will do with it what I see fit. I will manage the best I can until I’m all managed out. That is down to me, and no one else. 

I hope this helps.

And thank you so very much for being on my side.”

And she was at my side as they decided I wasn’t fit to make my own decisions. 

Even so, I still feel she’s on my side.


The end of the list.

IMG_8796On Friday, I ticked that last box.

16 had her last exam and my window of opportunity opened, beckoning furtively and enticingly with a sweet smell of freedom.

It had been there for so long, that window, but out of reach. Out of bounds because it had strict time rules. Even so, its presence was comforting and, somehow, kept me twirling on the head of that pin.

I was so calm when I woke up on Friday. Serene, even. And I revelled in it. It was a new and intriguing feeling, and it was definitely good. All the spikey guilt and shame had somehow been soothed into submission, and were sleeping soundly, curled into a ball somewhere deep deep inside. And the despair had gone oddly quiet.

I did all the things I would normally do on a Friday, including keeping a GP appointment first thing to pick up some blood results. The plan was to get in and out, grab a coffee and get to work by ten, tops.

It didn’t go to plan.

Here’s what I remember.

Not being able to say what I was going to do that weekend because I had nothing left on my list.

Looking really closely at the canvas on the consulting room wall and finding the lack of perspective irritating.

Being asked to wait in a little side room with a receptionist popping in and out while my GP made a phone call.

Getting bored of waiting and walking out to go and get a Costa, and getting a cheerfully panicky phone call asking me to come back.

Emailing work to say sorry about the delay, and making a joke of it.

Sitting in with my GP and thinking she should have been doing surgery, and finding it strange when she said it was all taken care of. She looked sad.

Walking down a corridor to a conference room to talk to some people with her arm around me. And how that arm tightened when I wanted to head left for the exit.

Answering questions from really far away about someone else with my name.

People using my name a lot while I wondered why.

Really wanting to put my head on the table.

My GP holding my hand when they said they’d decided I had to go into hospital.

And the draught as the window of my opportunity slammed shut.


Say hello, wave goodbye.

I feel I should explain. My sense of the absurd has gone; it sort of dribbled out the corner one day and never came back. I pick up things that might deserve comment – and then put them back down, really really gently because, when it comes to it, I have nothing to say. I give them a soft stroke, a sad pat, and tip-toe away.

I live time-fully, according to what’s in my phone diary or written on the post-its that follow me around on every surface. I write the day of the week on my hand. I let the conversation flow until someone says something that I can run with. I spend a lot of time watching myself from above. 

Anyway, I had two things left to do on my list: give 14 a good birthday, and see 16 through her exams. And then I was done. Nothing planned. No goals. No reason to make the effort to live. I’ve done the birthday – which was a riot – and the exams are ongoing. Not long now. 

On another plane, in a dimension that doesn’t make any sense to me, anorexia is eating me up. Its job is to manage the depression that makes me question why I’m still here.And yet it causes problems that I twitch away from and dismiss as insoluble and, therefore, don’t have any reality.

 I pick up my phone to say something on Twitter and I realise it’s always about the tiny, careful life I lead. Whether it’s a day when I can manage fluids, or not. What happens when you can’t swallow drugs and how unwitting cold-turkey feels. Or the way you want to shoot yourself when you try to crush a tablet and it pings around the room like a ricochet. Perhaps my head is exploding with the numbers on the scales. Maybe I can’t leave the house because the lure of lying down in the road or sitting on a high place may just be too much. Or maybe I just want to say I can’t stand up without the room spinning. That I feel deathly tired, and that I am likely to strangle anyone who complains that they got less than six hours of sleep last night. That, no, you can’t make me a cup of tea because I don’t know what you might put in it. And then there’s the elephant that sits on my chest making it hard to breathe. My heart fights so hard to escape the pressure, playing dead one minute with slow, thumpy beats, and running so fast the next to try to get away. 

I understand all the arguments about why it feels like this. But the reality is, for all the theories, it does feel like this. And understanding doesn’t make it go away. This is how I live. And this is how I’ll die. 

It’s not something you can say out loud. But I am almost at the point where I don’t give enough of a shit. Where I’m just going to tie up my lose ends and go. 

And summer is supposed to be my good time of year. Now that’s a bummer. 


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Moral knee-capping.

I’ve recently admitted out loud that not eating is my form of protest at everything. The things that can never be said; the things I can sometimes say to some people. I admit it. I use it to communicate what I don’t feel able to say. Being thin is so much more acceptable that other expressions of pain. 

I can’t say I want to die. What have I got to want to die about? Who would want to hear that? I’m privileged: I’m an educated, white, middle class, cis, heterosexual woman. I’m not disabled in any way. I have no disfigurements. I don’t have money worries. I have a home, and a way to earn my own living. Only averagely bad things have ever happened to me. And I have children. 

I had children because I thought that was what people did. What they wanted – to make a family, and a future. I thought it would make me happy. And it did, for a while. I need you to be absolutely clear on this: I love my children. More than anything. They own my heart. 

I chose to have my first child. And a year into stay-at-home parenting I’d pretty much stopped seeing and smelling my own fresh blood dripping on to the floor from slashed wrists as I cradled her in my arms. I could feel the pain. See and smell the blood. It was so real; but only in my head. Of course I didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid they’d take my baby away. Maybe everyone felt like that. 

A year on, and it seemed it was time to have another baby. I felt this could be the end of the world. The fear was paralysing. The thought of creating another human being to contaminate was so very very wrong. But nobody says that. That’s crazy talk. A family is a blessed thing. Not everyone is so fortunate. Children are happy things, we all know that. And then the body let me down and I got pregnant. Shortly after, the alienation I feel around Christmas coincided with a bout of genuine flu. I thought I was doing the right thing. I drank plenty of fluids and I kept it natural: I didn’t take anything to reduce my raging temperature. And the bleeding started early on New Year’s Day. The Teletubbies were on. My baby left me. I’d killed my baby. I stopped eating. I drifted. I looked after my daughter. Played. Read to her. Answered the endless questions. Joined in her love of Postman Pat. All while disembowelled by guilt. 

Then almost three years to the day of my first daughter’s birth, my second live daughter arrived. I absorbed myself in doing my best. Letting second daughter develop as her own person and at her own rate. She was so different. Slow to speak; only I and her sister could understand her. Bandy legged with hair that grew straight up and waved in the breeze like sea anenomes – she was another soul to protect and nurture. And self-destructively stubborn if not handled well. She looked like an alien, but she was my alien. And she was another invisible set of handcuffs for me. 

I parented hard, determined not to repeat the experiences I’d had. Obviously, as Philip Larkin would have it, I’ll have fucked them up in other ways. But I feel there’s a glimmer of absolution in not repeating the things in your children that broke you. 

I created a world around my girls. Careful, careful, careful to give them the space to develop as they wanted to. To give them a sense of self value. I worked for the good of the community. I made friends. And I kept my husband’s attempts to twist my reality in a small little box at the edge of my head. I worked so very very hard to give my girls a good daddy. To support him in giving them the best of himself to them. I willingly offered myself as the buffer. I only sensed the psychological games. I didn’t have the terminology or the self-belief to see what was going on. And I was broken in the first place, so my perceptions were unreliable. 

I kept going because my girls needed me. I dealt with stuff, took my turn at toddler group and folded towels. I didn’t feel great, and I had some unexpected bleeding. But the body was so unreliable, I ignored it. 

Eventually I made a GP appointment with some random doctor who pressed my stomach and asked if I could be pregnant. I said no. My whole being said no. The pregnancy test said yes. And the scan later that day said an 18 week old baby was living inside me. 

I think I went through the right motions. Made the right preparations. Said the right things. I can’t remember. Then my third daughter arrived. 

My husband acted as though I’d done this on purpose to trap him and ruin his life. I silently blamed the unreliable body that didn’t know what was going on. I felt punished. I didn’t eat and carried on being the centre of my children’s world. Time passed. He told me things had happened that I was sure hadn’t happened, but wasn’t sure enough of myself to refute. Everything turned out to be my fault. I gave up trying to understand what I’d done wrong. 

And then I noticed he was doing it to my girls. Planting doubt. Withholding affection according to his mood. Undermining. Controlling. They were bewildered and hurt and they started to blame themselves. 

So I put a stop to it. And that is possibly the bravest thing I’ve ever done. Said no. Enough. Not them. LEAVE THEM ALONE. 

We separated and I made a new home for us. I dealt with all the ways he tried to undermine me. I made them a daddy they could love, but a daddy who wasn’t the primary parent. 

I should never have had children. But they were there. They were people who needed protecting, nurturing, loving for exactly who they were. 

But I should never have had children. 

In having children I’ve trapped myself with moral responsibilities that continually remind me that the pain I’d cause by not being here would be greater than the pain I suffer by existing. I can’t have what I want. I can’t leave them. Not yet. I can’t leave them to him. 

And sometimes this is more than I can bear. 

The past few days have been one of those times. But I’ve learnt a few things. I made the right phone calls. I contained the pain and didn’t spend hours sitting on top of a car park full of pills waiting to sleep and fall. I let them sweep my house for pills. And I’m still here. A bit drunk, but we can all live with that. I’m on the good gin. 

Anyway, I’m back. 


The one about control.

The body doesn’t belong to me. It never has.

I’m responsible for it, I’m definitely connected to it, but I am not the one in charge and I never have been. I never think of it as mine.

It’s never been the right size or shape or looked the right way. All my life it’s done what other people say and responded to other people’s expectations. I’ve been taught to feel ashamed and disgusted about it – and acquiescent in these manipulations at the same time.

Now, after a couple of years in therapy, I pretty much understand where these feelings have come from. I get why I feel the body isn’t right and I can put distance between what others did and my responsibility for that.

But the thought patterns created over years don’t go away with understanding. I can formulate the hell out of this, but it doesn’t change the fact that what other people think has determined and still determines how the body has to be.

And when other people didn’t have an opinion, anorexia was more than happy to step up to make decisions about the body. The amount of nourishment it deserved, how much it could weigh, how much space it could take up in the world, what it could look like.

Good treatment for anorexia involves looking at the psychological reasons for the behaviours and feelings. And building this understanding allows you to take back some of the control, to start to make positive decisions for the body.

But, and it’s a huge but, good treatment for anorexia also involves taking care of the physical side of things. Making sure you’ve still got a functioning body to come back to when you’ve sorted out your head.

I am lucky enough to have access to excellent treatment for anorexia but it means I still don’t have absolute control over the body.

The label ‘anorexia’ means I can’t be trusted to keep the body alive and that other people have to take a watching brief. How much space is it taking up? How is it functioning? Is it getting enough nutrition and fluids? Is it being given the prescribed drugs and supplements? Is it being harmed or abused in any way?

I want to step back from all this, to take some control back for the body. Maybe even learn to use a possessive pronoun. But it seems that’s not going to happen right now. I’m not trusted. I’m not sure I’d trust me, but it’s still an uncomfortable thought.

So it’s still all about control. Control I don’t have.


The one full of gratitude.

Last month the food psych told me he was taking a leave of absence and I panicked: I’d broken him. We, the patients, had broken him. 

Later, with some hard-won perspective, I decided the only thing I could do was let him know what he achieves. 

So I wrote him a letter, and here it is:

———————————-

Since you told me you were taking a break from work I’ve thought a lot about what your help has meant to me, and what it might be like to walk in your shoes. 

And I wanted to say a few things. 

I appreciate more than I think you understand that you see me as a person and not just an illness. And that’s not something to just shrug off; a lot of professionals only see a collection of symptoms that need to be assessed and managed. We can always tell. 

You convey a sense of calm. That you can hear anything. Handle anything. Give the most awful of thoughts space to unfold, so they lose some of their power in the cold light of reason. 

You listen. Even if you’ve heard it before. You listen with courtesy and an attention that wins confidence. And you leave just enough silence to ease out the hardest of admissions. 

Your words matter. What you decide and say shakes and shapes lives. 

And sometimes all your efforts cannot defeat hard-wired thinking. That must be tough.

I always hope that you can leave all the emotion and responsibility in that soulless box of a room. That nothing haunts you. That you go home to love and laughter. 

And even if nothing ever changes for me I want you to know I am very, very grateful that I haven’t always been alone with this. 

So, thank you. 

———————————-

Today, I gave this letter to him at the end of our appointment, and got an appreciative email almost straightaway. 

He is a good person. And I am lucky to have his help.