Why can’t I stop

[eating disorder, calorie numbers, suicide]

I binged on Tuesday. I don’t know how badly as I didn’t count it up but would guess around 2000 calories, maybe more, on top of a normal day’s intake. It was nearly three weeks since I had last binged, which was when I had properly started intuitive eating, and the ‘clean streak’ of no binging had become magnified in importance in my mind. I feel bitterly disappointed in myself and despise myself for ruining everything… hang on, hang on, getting a bit carried away there…

As is my pattern, I had been saying to other people that things seemed to be going well in the days before it all went to shit. I had been trying to introduce one of my online friends to intuitive eating by talking about how it had stopped me binging and allowed me to become much calmer around food. Now I have pretty much ghosted that group though I do plan to return. It makes me feel so stupid that I could have convinced myself that I was doing better when obviously I was just kidding myself. I feel pathetic and like I am always going to be stuck in this pattern. However, I suppose it is possible that going from binging regularly to not binging at all was an unrealistic goal and that simply binging less is still progress. I could scream in frustration right now because I don’t know what is going on or what anything means. I don’t know what to do for the best.

I had been having a couple of ‘hungry days’ where I seemed to be getting hungry more often than I felt comfortable with or thought was reasonable. For example, having a substantial snack at 10am then hungry for lunch at 12pm then hungry again at 1:30pm. It fucked with my head with all the “am I really hungry?”, “this is too much food”, “my clothes are tight”, “my abdomen is much bigger”, “I’m not doing this right” and just an overwhelming torrent of critical and doubting thoughts. I had a lot of diet mentality thoughts that I was eating an unacceptably large amount of food and was gaining an unacceptably large amount of weight. I didn’t weigh myself but I measured my waist and it’s gone up from 30.5″ at my lowest weight to 32.5″ now which is above the cardiovascular risk cutoff. I had packed away my size 10 underwear as it was too tight and a pair of fitted trousers are now too tight as well. I just felt unacceptable and abnormal and hyperaware of this deformed, ugly body that I want to be rid of. I spent two years managing my anxiety about my body by saying “it’ll be better soon, you’re losing weight, it’ll be better soon” and dealing with the feelings of being suddenly huge by remembering that my weight that morning was pretty much the same as yesterday’s and the day before. Now I am adrift. I have never developed any other coping techniques.

The binge sneaked up on me. I had gone to the gym in the morning so was even hungrier than usual but had had breakfast, a morning snack and lunch. By mid-afternoon, I was suddenly very hungry so had a substantial snack that the dieting mentality thoughts said was far too high calorie. I finished it and sat at the table with my head in my hands and my thoughts spiralled out of control from “you can’t possibly still be hungry” to “you are going to regain all the weight” to “you should be dead” to “you’re pathetic, you might as well binge”. I meant it too. I really would rather die than go back to how I was treated as a fat person and have all that self-hatred too. Of course, I have plenty of self-hatred now so maybe I won’t notice a difference. I wrote in my diary, “I just want peace and quietness and to feel free”.

At first with the binge, it was very pleasurable. I ate sweet foods that I liked and I ate them slowly and mindfully. I don’t have much pleasure in my life so this was nice. There was comfort. It’s also exhilarating to just go with the out of control, falling feelings.

Then the feelings changed and I started getting this strong push to eat more and more to punish myself. I had images in my mind of me lying in my bed and another me standing over myself hitting me with a thick stick. I’ve had images like that before. The Intuitive Eating book talks about how emotional eating is a spectrum from sensory gratification to comfort to distraction to sedation to punishment. I think I went right along the spectrum. My most common reason for binging is for the sedation as it quietens and slows down my thoughts. It actually works very well for that, for me. There is also a massive relief in being so full that even the thought of food is impossible. It feels very safe like I am finally complete and don’t have to want anything anymore. The self-punishment aspect is less common with me though when I first developed binge eating disorder it was a frequent reason to binge.

I have not reacted well to the binge. I have been taught that practicing self-compassion and being kind to yourself rather than reacting with harsh, self-critical guilt is more likely to allow you to change your behaviour. But I can’t get over my feeling that this is just lying to myself and letting myself off the hook. It feels right to punish myself. It feels like I am doing the right thing. However, it’s not helped me bounce back, that’s for sure. I haven’t exercised, I’ve cancelled seeing friends and I’ve basically shut down. I have spent so much time thinking how much I despise myself and how I am going to kill myself. The latter brings me some comfort. It seems the better my mood is when I binge, the worse the fall is. When I first developed binge eating disorder, my mood was so bad that I barely noticed the guilt after a binge. It’s devastating now.

That has listed out all the negativity in my head. Now to take some swings at it.

Overwhelming rush of shame

[brief mention of suicidal thoughts]

I think almost everyone hates thinking about shame. And really hates talking about shame. It’s shaming to a lot of people to even admit that they feel shame. That didn’t even make sense to me until I suddenly recognised it in myself reading Brené Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t). I didn’t realise I felt so much shame until a few years ago when people began talking about it openly online. I certainly didn’t feel it as a distinguishable emotion. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about shame by a healthcare professional. Which is a shame because it the driving force behind a lot of my mental illness.

In that book, Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging”. Yesterday, I was reading and came across a reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I thought I would just quickly look it up and check that I still knew it. I am meeting my basic needs of water, food, shelter, rest and safety. I am partially meeting my need to feel like I belong and for connection. Sometimes better than others. I am not meeting my esteem needs at all. I don’t feel like I have achieved or accomplished anything with my life and since I am now in my early forties that is intensely shaming to me. I should have done better; everyone else has. I can feel this tension in the back of my mouth and throat, my chest feels tight and I just want to hide in the dark and never let anyone see or think of me ever again. That’s shame.

Wikipedia‘s image of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

That this is so intensely shaming to me is a problem because it is paralysing me. I am stuck and can’t make plans or move forward. I am too afraid and too angry with myself and too full of disappointment and disgust. It makes me hate myself that I had so many chances and I ruined them all. I hate meeting new people or catching up with people after a long time because I have nothing to show for myself. A big part of my problem is that I don’t have a job and I personally, and increasingly society too, put a large proportion of your worth as a person on your job. I have been on benefits for exactly ten years this month. I have never had a proper career and only crappy jobs many years ago. I had a good school education and did well and then got into a good university to do a vocational subject where I did very well for two years before I became incapable of managing my illness and had to drop out after starting final year three times. Those first couple of years at university are the last time I felt good about myself in terms of jobs or careers and that was twenty years ago.

I know I have low self-esteem but I think my assessment of myself is actually quite correct. I don’t have anything to be proud of so it is logical that I have low self-esteem. Brown says that “[s]hame and self-esteem are very different issues. We feel shame. We think self-esteem. Our self-esteem is based on how we see ourselves – our strengths and limitations – over time. It is how and what we think of ourselves. Shame is an emotion, It is how we feel when we have certain experiences. When we are in shame, we don’t see the big picture; we don’t accurately think about our strengths and limitations. We just feel alone, exposed and deeply flawed” and that makes perfect sense to me.

I don’t really have any drive to improve myself. I have had problems with motivation for many years. I don’t want to feel this shame but I also have this strong feeling that I deserve it and that it is right that I feel bad. The world is as it should be when I feel bad. Yesterday, when I had this rush of shame after thinking about how I’ve not achieved anything, the shame was followed by intense suicidal thoughts of how I had no option but to kill myself. There is no chance or hope at all that I will achieve anything so why continue like this. I will never do better, I’ll only get worse… etc, etc. It was very painful.

Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I need to remember how lucky I am that I can meet my basic needs. I was homeless for six months once (not on the streets but in a spare room and unable to find a place of my own) and so having a housing association flat with a secure tenacy is something I hold close and treasure. I’ve been in this house for a few years but I still love locking the front door and knowing that I am safe. I am lucky to receive benefits and get support group ESA, DLA (not been migrated over to PIP yet; there’s a terror to come) and housing benefit which allows me a good standard of living as long as I am careful. I don’t deserve any of this though. I didn’t earn it. It was just given to me. Those thoughts feel shaming too though I can also hear the counter argument that everyone deserves a basic standard of living just by virtue of being a human.

Brown says the way to heal shame is a combination of compassion, courage (she means every day “ordinary courage” not stand-in-front-of-bullets courage) and connection (with other people). I am trying to do a little of those here and then maybe I can release some of my shame.

A start at an introduction

I need someone to talk to but I can’t bear to talk to anyone because of overwhelming shame about how I have got myself in this situation. As good a reason as any to start a blog.

I have bipolar disorder, the multiple-drugs-multiple-hospital-admissions-count-the-things-you’ve-lost kind not the awareness-week-celebrity-headline-revelation kind. I sound bitter because I am bitter. At least today, anyway. A few months ago I was running in the frosty, winter dawns feeling super-connected to the Earth (I could feel it breathing under my feet) and in love with everything. Those thoughts and feelings were just misfirings and too much of the wrong neurotransmitters, surely? Pathological and not real. Are you so infallible that your thoughts and feelings are always sure to be counted as real and never generated by a brain gone wrong? Start dividing thoughts and feelings into what is real, valid, genuine, counted and what can’t and you’re fucked. It’s the same path that ends with “there are the superior humans and these are the inferior humans” or even just “these are the humans and these are not”.

Over the last few years, I have lost over 100lbs. I have had a normal BMI (though BMI is bullshit) for over a year. I have gained about ten pounds back from my lowest weight when I was last manic. I want to go back there despite the fact my GP and various family and friends thought I had lost too much weight and that I have reactivated my old eating disorder. I read the seminal Intuitive Eating this month after reading lots of people’s opinions on it over the fifteen years since I first discovered fat acceptance with Shapely Prose and the fat-o-sphere. The first time I crash dieted, I gave myself binge eating disorder which took a couple of years of no dieting to resolve. This time I have given myself binge eating disorder by strict calorie counting (I weighed and logged everything) for nearly two years. My plan was to continue strict calorie counting permanently so as to maintain my weight loss. My binges have escalated in size and frequency and are now every few days on average. But I still have this desire to lose weight. And to organise my life around calorie counting and eating by what I have (pretty much arbitrarily as there is a lot of conflicting information) decided are the correct rules. This gives me feelings of control and achievement. The rest of my life is on fire so this is pretty much the only area of my life where I feel those things. Except I keep binging and slowly gaining weight and every time I do, I get intense suicidal thoughts for a few days and these episodes are now merging into each other. I feel very hopeless that I can keep the weight off at all let alone keep the weight off and have some kind of peace with food and quality of life. The thought of going back to living life as a fat person and being treated with such hatred sounds impossible. Am I literally deciding between an eating disorder and dealing with fatphobia? Probably doesn’t matter what I decide, my body will make its own decisions.

There is a lot more that I want to get out of the maelstrom in my head but that’ll do for now.