All you need to do darling, is fit in that little dress…

I got an email from photobucket. Actually, I got several that I had ignore because I had more pressing issues. I should have continued pressing because opening the 12th email and clicking that link was a mistake.

Amongst page after page of self harm photos I found pictures of a girl I don’t fully remember. I don’t know why I say a girl, I was a woman. I seem more like a lost girl, though. I look like someone who wants to disappear. I was someone in the process of vanishing. Looking at those photos hurt. It’s painful to see how desperately Ill and unhappy I was. Even more agonising to realise how much the world approves of that version of me. A person who hated themselves so much they wouldn’t eat properly & spilling their blood felt reasonable. But hey, look how I thin I was.

I lost ridiculous amounts of weight in a very short time. I started with what I believed to be a very reasonable calorie restriction. A nice round number that I saw in magazines & tv shows. The weight came off quickly. People around me were pleased. I enjoyed the positive reinforcement. Everything else in my life was a disaster, I liked doing something that everyone was happy about. I also liked my discipline; how strict I could be. I began to relish the hunger pangs and how good I was at ignoring them. When the weight loss slowed I reduced the calories. I limited how many each meal could contain. I couldn’t eat before or after certain times. I filled up on Diet Coke. I had ‘fast’ days and just eat veg days. Rules piled up and weight fell off.

I did this more than once. The weight loss was never maintainable. Each time I started again I believed I would just follow a ‘healthy’ diet. Every attempt at lifestyle change descended into extreme behaviour. The only people who questioned this were the few who’d had their own food issues. I assured them I was ok. This weight loss was good for me. I wasn’t doing anything crazy, in fact I felt so much healthier. I’m sure the believed (or almost did) me because I didn’t think I was lying. I honestly thought the means justified the ends. Being fat was horrible. I was disgusting, I ate too much and it was terrible for me. Having some restraint was improving my body inside and out. I knew I was fudging the details a little, but I really didn’t think I was doing anything dangerous. I did eat. I very rarely threw up. The things left in my diet were all ‘good’ foods. The congratulations rolled in. Besides, I wasn’t even very thin.

I don’t even blame the people who did all the high fiving. They knew I had been unhappy with my bigger body. Those close to me knew how appalling my mental health was. It looked to the outside world like I was doing something good for myself. I seemed more confident, more at peace with my body. Of course we all live in diet culture. Thinner bodies are better. I understand why my weight loss was something to celebrate.

The professionals are another story. They should have known better. I was so very Ill. I was in regular contact with all manner of Drs. My self harm was out of control. I was getting stitched up multiple times a week. The blood loss was wreaking havoc. I had angina attacks, constantly passed out. No sooner was a blood transfusion in than I was working on getting it back out. I had already started to experience the problems that led to pancreatitis. They watched my weight rapidly drop. Climb back up. Then fall off again. Not a single medical professional ever thought to question that. They were the opposite of worried. I was praised. They loved seeing the change on the scale. I was explicitly told how good this shrinking was for me. I didn’t even lie about how I was doing it. I’d joke with nurses about ‘just not eating’. I explained my calorie restrictions and the extent of my diet to Drs. It was all excellent. Keep up the good work. Well, done you!

Even the mental health teams I was working with didn’t raise any alarms. We only ever talked about my weight loss in positive terms. They were glad it was helping my self esteem. There was never any in depth conversation about how I really felt, what I was doing or why. There should have been. They knew my history and my problems. There are so many links between self harm & disordered eating. Control being the most obvious. The triggers for the behaviours can be the same; shame, self hatred, feeling a failure, punishment. They can achieve similar results like a feeling of release or a sense of achievement. My self harm was compulsive and so was the weight loss. I was atoning and deleting the parts of me I despised. The only real difference between the two was how acceptable it was to want to be thin.

As I write this I recognise all the signs of an eating disorder. Yet I cannot accept that diagnosis fits. I can admit I had an unhealthy relationship with food. I know I used extreme methods to lose weight, but disordered eating is as far as I can allow myself to go. Intellectually I know why. I was never dangerously thin. In the midst of it I didn’t ever believe I was thin at all. Those old pictures were shocking because I have no recollection of being as slim as that person. I began my diets fat. Eventually I always returned to fat. That’s why no one ever considered an ED a possibility. It remains why I could never accept the label. For all my learning and activism there is an internalised fat phobia that I’m not sure I will ever shake.

I have compassion for my former self. I am angry at the people who should have helped me. I am happier in my fat body than I ever could have dreamed of in my dieting days. I don’t want to go back. Nor do I want to be smaller. I do however still hold this feeling that I have no right to talk about myself in certain ways. I feel fake. Despite knowing all that I know, I still can’t change the feeling that it wasn’t bad enough for an official title.

That realisation is painful. It hurts to know that nothing has really changed. There are people in the same situation right now. The medical community is still exceptionally fat phobic. If you are fat, disordered eating is encouraged. Prescribed, even. We’re still insisting people fall below a certain BMI before they can be referred for treatment. The fact that Drs are even using BMI is in itself horrendous. People are hurting themselves and the world loves it.

This is why body liberation is essential. It is so much deeper than loving one’s body. Weight stigma is systemic. Built right into the places we are supposed to turn to for help. Fat phobia is in us all. It is insidious and deadly. We all deserve better.

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Even if I quit…

It’s another gloomy Sunday afternoon. It’s drizzling outside & the day’s main occupation is emptying my over stuffed washing basket. It’s not a terrible day. Just routinely tedious.

It would merely be one more underwhelming day if it weren’t for the lightening crack in my pelvis. The shock that spreads to my back and sinks into my thighs. A monthly reminder. A living memory who’s intensity at times pushes the familiar into trigger territory. What rushes in full colour into my brain? Blood

Blood in my pants

Blood on the floor

Blood on my thighs

Blood in the bath

Blood on surgical gloves

Blood on a hospital chair

A supercut of blood. Staining an array of places I’ve called home, polluting clothing & towels. I can feel the rush of blood in my ears as various medical professionals tell me things I never want to hear. The heat, the rhythmic contractions, the fear rush me from yesteryears.

I know all the tricks. I breathe. I describe my surroundings in detail. I repeat ‘I’m ok’ over & over & over. I pet my cat; hear his purrs, feel his super soft fur. I plant my feet firmly & watch my toes wriggle on solid ground. I’m here. I’m safe. I’m in this room. And I am. For long enough to switch reels.

I’ve clicked over to a different familiar. My heart is pounding & adrenaline crackles. My body gets there a fraction before the idea fully forms. It’s too late to call halt. The only thing that ever stopped the bloody horror is more blood. Controlled, purposeful blood. I can almost smell the metallic rapids.

No matter how many days, weeks, months go by without splitting my skin the connections remain. My broken brain leaps from trauma to maladaptive solution with confidence. I must convince myself all over again that blood isn’t the answer.

Don’t find that box

Don’t open it

Don’t slip a fresh blade on the handle

Don’t find the perfect spot

Don’t drive the scalpel in

Don’t let blood trickle & flow.

I know this trick too. Sheer force of will. I will not. I can not. I do not.

I have not for so long. I’m ‘recovered’. No one told the deep dark core of me. That fucker still yearns for it. Not every day. Maybe even not all that often, but I know it’s there. I know how fast the urge can rise. And, oh, I know how hard it is to continue saying no.

I can’t say with any certainty that these thoughts will ever completely leave. I’m like an alcoholic who remembers the relief of the first hurried gulp. Knowing that carnage follows is enough to stop me raising the glass. I just don’t think it’ll ever kill impulse.

I’m good. My life goes on. Tomorrow could be wonderful. I’m tired, though. It would be nice not to have to fight so hard.

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Watching through my fingers…

I’ve been fairly quiet on the blog front. Clearly we’re all under some pressure, but I’ve also been dealing with some bonus pain. I’ve had episodes of awful symptoms which signal that my pancreas may be acting up again. It’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with pancreatitis and I am scared of a comeback.

The pain triggered some really desperate memories. It also gave me lots of time to ruminate on how PTSD never stops giving me unpleasant surprises. The nature, frequency & severity of my reaction to trauma stimuli is forever changing. In my (also unending) quest to de stigmatise mental illness I thought some recent triggers might be worth sharing.

Waking up in the middle of the night to pee is not a thing that I do except during pregnancy. I’m a hold ‘til morning girl. The frustrating sensation of leaving a comfy bed & stumbling to the toilet in the dark is one I associate with pregnancy. Sitting on the toilet half awake looking at my painted toes I had the trauma version of de javu. My body remembers this. The exact emotion. The precise thoughts. I’m ok, but I know I won’t be getting anymore sleep. I’ll be distracting my head from going back there. Lying still in the dark would be asking to feel things I don’t want to feel.

Sometimes to occupy my mind through those sleepless hours I watch crap tv. Ideally something I don’t have to concentrate on. Mildly entertaining 90’s sitcoms work a treat. That is until the wife in King of Queens is unexpectedly pregnant & then just as they’re getting happy about it, not pregnant anymore. Numb viewing to uncontrollable sobbing in 20mins or less.

A fun park adventure with the rascal is momentarily derailed when someone calls me his Mummy. I smile, correct them & return to my role of bad octopus pirate. I feel the impact, but I look steady. Until much later when the memory of all the babies who’ll never call me Mummy knocks me flat.

I wake up bloody because my period has started in the night. I’m not inconvenienced I’m terrified. Those cramps ripping through my pelvic region signal disaster. It takes a bit of time to centre myself in the now. Repeat, ‘I’m ok’ over and over as I drag myself through a shower. Tampon, comfy clothes, paracetamol. I’m almost calm by the time I return to tackle the bedding. I’m genuinely shocked when the sight of blood on sheets sets me trembling. I was devoting all my attention to not getting sucked into one trauma hole that I forgot about another. I have to sit on the floor but I’m still watching an old iteration of myself. Younger, sicker me is ripping bloody sheets from an entirely different bed. More than the sheets are stained. My body is raw & dripping. I feel as exhausted now, in my healed, safe body as I did then in that recklessly butchered one.

My stupid period tracker with its stupid unwanted alerts. High chance of pregnancy. Such a simple sentence triggers such complex crazy. The stress and hope of trying. The heartbreak of failing. The unwanted reminder of how few of these high chance days may be left. Fleeting recollections of disappointing perfunctory sex and an even more disappointing man. Wearily buying tests. Angrily buying tampons. Wanting the monthly reminder to be over and fearing that end. Wrap it all up in a hollow ache in my middle that never leaves, but echoes as I read those words and you have my condition.

My ridiculous cat managed to injure his paw and now I must try to keep dressings on until it is healed. If you know anything about cats, you’ll know what a challenge this is. I have experimented with various ideas none of which preserved his dressings for long. I started thinking he needs a sock & then remembered I had some baby socks. They must have belonged to one of my nieces or nephews. Baby bits and pieces will end up in your hand bag/pocket after a day of auntying. I seized upon the long lost sock as the solution. I didn’t feel sad or even link the tiny item to anything painful until I started trying to put it on my cat. Then from nowhere I was flooded with too many feelings. I love my boy, he’s wonderful. Still, I couldn’t avoid the fact that he’s the sole recipient of my mothering.

A character in the book I’m reading is trying, with difficulty, to explain why she feels guilty for various past events. I feel as though I have taken a deep breath & inhaled fictional strife. My own twisted guilt is equally hard to comprehend. For me, self reproach is as essential as oxygen. The chord of perplexing guilt could catapult me into a multitude of memories. This time I land flailing in the aftermath of standing up for myself. I can feel the certainty that so recently fizzed go flat. That overwhelming sense of this must somehow be my fault returns. I feel angry about all the shit I put up with, but I still can’t fully convince myself I’m not to blame. Now I’m full of guilt for events long passed. Today is ruined as I attempt to untangle things that never made sense to begin with.

Triggers lurk. Sometimes entirely unexpected things stir up pain. It can be fleeting or set off a chain reaction. I have adapted to a life with booby traps. I often appear untouched, but only because I work so incredibly hard at hiding the mess.

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Word therapy…

On one of my recent insomnia fuelled drives for distraction I stumbled upon an interview that persists in my thoughts. It was Anderson Cooper discussing grief & loss with Stephen Colbert. Both had significant losses early in life. Anderson talked of wishing he had been physically marked by the experience. This is of course a reality I am familiar with. Which led to some slightly self indulgent word therapy.

He talked about how he felt it might be easier to have a permanent sign of the damage so that others may be aware of his condition. An idea I suspect he’d soon realise the error of if he actually did bear a mark of loss. He continued that he thought people should know that he wasn’t necessarily the person he should be. Tragic events had diverted him from the person he started life as. This concept felt lifted from my very own brain. Of course much thinking ensued.

When Anderson talked of being marked he suggested a scar running down his face. His reasoning being that in the wake of his mother’s recent death people had offered condolences, but also shared their experiences of loss. He found this sharing to be comforting and it’s not a thing that generally happens. The scar would show his pain & people would feel able to have those conversations. Colbert agreed in part as he recognised the feeling of his loss being a continual part of his life, whilst the world at large rarely considers it. All sentiments I relate to. I do often struggle with just how often I think of my babies when they’re rarely acknowledged by anyone else. That led me to ask myself questions I had thought settled.

I understand their reasoning, my experience just doesn’t bear it out. The look of my self harm was never a factor I gave much thought. Outside of the need to hide it from others, the visual of impact was a non issue. I never cared. Ugly scars were just a by product of a necessary thing. The pain & blood & release & expiation were essential. If mutilation was a consequence of that so be it. I don’t think it occurred to me that I had another option. Yet, now, clothed in the aftermath it does seem fitting.

If I could exclude third party reaction it would make sense. I can see a twisted symmetry in my flesh being ravaged, but still living. At my core that’s how I feel. I contributed to my destruction and then I toiled to repair the ruin. Of course, you can’t escape the opinions of others. Those who care about you are hurt by the reminder of your pain. Those who don’t know you are as often cruel as kind. Carrying your story everywhere is a complicated matter. Anderson might end up preferring the anonymity of a metaphorical scar.

The second part is harder to reason. For a very long time I wanted nothing more than to be the person I was before. It took me years to accept that wasn’t possible & several more to realise that wasn’t my fault. I still missed that fun, capable, handle it all girl. Still wondered what she may have become, but I didn’t hate the me that life had created anymore. Little by little I learned to like myself. I started to believe that might be able to take all the broken pieces & make something beautiful.

The universe had other ideas. It really does enjoy smashing me up. Each time I lost a bit making a whole seemed less & less likely. Now that I know for sure how unlikely, those other mes feel important again. I keep thinking about who I could have been. Which variation of myself was I supposed to be?

I can’t help but imagine that original version of myself would have made a shinier, happier life. That 19yr old was a powerful force. She’d have been unstoppable at forty. Even if I’d sustained the original hit there all there a still multiple variants. All these possible lys that could have existed if you subtract chips along the way. Sure, that could probably be said for anyone; I just don’t know if everyone can so clearly identify the points of impact. It makes it easier to compare the before & after.

I had made peace with the person I am. I don’t reject her now. The what if’s have simply grown louder. There could have been so much more. In the end I don’t care about the scars. I’d even take Cooper’s imagined facial disfigurement if it gave me a chance at one of those parallel lives. The older I get, the more certain I become; I want the more.

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My sign is vital, my hands are cold…

CW: Self Harm

Lately I’ve been having regular checks for the heart rate thing. The nurse who took my blood & vitals last week was really familiar. I had that strange I’ve definitely met you feeling, but also knew I didn’t know her, know her. I couldn’t place her at all until a loud clatter startled her. Her sharp intake of breathe shot me back in time.

She was the nurse I stunned with my self destruction in this same hospital many years ago. She either didn’t recognise me or correctly judged it best not to indicate that she had. She was friendly & kind, but the sound of that inhale shook me. I was back there, covered in blood & guilt.

I can so clearly remember walking into that triage room. Concisely explaining why I was there & seeing the doubt in her eyes. I could tell she thought the large towel on my arm was overkill. I knew she was weighing up how to nicely dismiss me. I was too tired to do anything other than unwrap the makeshift dressing & expose the truth.

Foggy picture of cars outside hospital. Words ambulance only painted on ground

The inner layers were blood soaked & the final one stuck to the wound. When I yanked it off with same the lack of self care that had led me to that room, she gasped. An entirely involuntary expression of what; shock? disgust? fear? I couldn’t discern, but I knew it wasn’t good.

The speed that she whipped through the triage routine was more about her discomfort than mine. I had long lost my objectivity. I sought treatment as a means of calling a halt to that cut. I had given up seeking enough. I knew that enough was a lie. When I looked at my arm I really couldn’t tell anymore if it was any worse than anything else I had done to myself. It was just another failed attempt to carve out some peace.

Peace that I knew was never coming. I already felt stupid & ashamed & so horribly guilty. For all the usual reasons and now also because it was obvious I had ruined this women’s night. She hadn’t bargained for my level of determined self loathing; I’d upset her. I felt selfish for not being more clear. I shouldn’t have allowed anyone to be caught off guard.

I wanted to be better. Do better. I wished I could give this nurse & everyone else the explanation they needed. I yearned to be somewhere else. I didn’t even want to do this anymore. My blades had long since lost efficacy. I could never cut deep enough. Never shed enough blood. The quiet I needed was evermore elusive. I was desperate and so fucking tired. Yet, I still couldn’t stop.

As I waited for her to finish with my blood pressure I was stuck in the past. Mired in the dread. Reliving the experience of having my arm stapled shut whilst already planning the next assault. Knowing I couldn’t escape the nagging voice in my head that insisted I must cut. I must earn any rest. I had to atone for sins I wasn’t able to articulate. I had to release all the fetid emotion with my blood.

When I left I felt blessed. And cursed. Blessed that I was wrong. I did escape. I have hushed that internal need for penance. Cursed because I still haven’t silenced it. There will always be triggers pulling me back. Days when my scars itch to be opened. You can’t play with fire & not get burned. The magic is remembering I know how to make it stop. I just have to wake up every day and choose this new, better life. Easy, right?

Black and white photo oh plus size woman looking at scarred arm

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You’ve got stuck in a moment…

You know how they say you can’t smell your own perfume, so you have to careful now to wear too much? I feel a bit like that about my body. Specifically, my scars.

I’ve lived with the damage for so long that I cannot judge how severe it is. Mostly, I don’t think about my scars at all. They’re not a consideration in dressing anymore. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed of what they may signify. I usually find any rudeness engendered by my patchwork skin says more about the observer than the observed.

However, every once on a blue moon I have a moment. Often it’s my own doing. I catch sight of my reflection at an unusual angle or change under different lighting and I’m shocked. Horrified maybe. Not so much at my appearance as the fact that I did this to myself.

More rarely it’s as a result of another’s extreme reaction. A gasp or frightened look stirs much more than judgemental comments. When my battle scars scare others it stirs the old guilty feelings.

Sun shining through trees

In either case it is doubt that knocks my confidence. I find it impossible to determine if my body is hideous or merely slightly disfigured. Without a clear grasp of what I have done I feel adrift. It takes me back to my days in the self harm trenches; never knowing how serious a wound was. Unable to grasp onto any equilibrium.

Am I a dramatic fool over nothing or inflicting horror on innocent parties? And which would be worse? The uncertainty shakes me. I feel an imposter. For all my proclamations of body confidence there are times when my self inflicted seams run deep.

I’m stuck in a moment right now. I fight the urge to hide. Steal myself against thoughts of splitting those seams open. It’ll pass. In the meantime I’ll have the long sleeve weather to regain my surety.

Blurry lights through blinds

Look back in anger…

I’m angry. So angry that it’s hard to contain. The problem is there’s no specific target for my rage. It’s a generalised, tear everything down kind of fury. There’s no release. I can’t spew my anger over unsuspecting bystanders. Keeping it in doesn’t feel like a viable solution either. Where does one put all the free floating resentment that no one is actually to blame for?

Life isn’t fair. I came to terms with that fact a long time ago. I’ve accepted a lot of bullshit. Fought crazy & illness & disability & mistreatment & loss to build some sort of something. I’ve struggled, but I’ve rolled with the punches as best I could. There’s only ever been one thing that I’ve felt I couldn’t do without. One single imperative. When you’re willing to get by without so many things, it feels so desperately unfair to be denied the thing that would make it all ok.

I watch everyone around me do the thing I cannot. Some with such ease it leaves me breathless. For others it’s a harder journey, but they reach their destination. I love those people and I love their babies, but it’s so hard to be the only one stranded.

I’m angry that I have to do this again. I’ve been tricked into hoping. Now I have to deal with the fall out. I am mad at myself for being stupid enough to believe. I resent having to submit to medical interventions. I didn’t ever want to hear someone say they can’t find a heartbeat again or look at another bloody speculum. I’m furious that I’m still bleeding and that I have to cope with all that triggers. It’s agony to be constantly reminded that my body has failed again. It’s exhausting to face the nightmares and flashbacks of all other blood. I don’t want to relive each of the worst moments of my life whilst trying to get through this one. I’m sick of blood tests and transfusions and putting on a brave face. I hate that I don’t get to opt out. I’m not strong, I just don’t have option of walking away because it’s too hard.

I don’t understand why it has to be me. Why my babies keep dying when I want them so much. Why does the universe give life to those who can’t or won’t love their children? Every time I read a horror story of abuse it feels like a personal attack. I think of all those terrified pregnant teens, the adult women who can’t feed another mouth or just never wanted to parent and I wonder why it couldn’t be me instead. I’m not angry at the individuals; everyone should have the right to choose. I’m furious at whoever or whatever makes decisions. What could I possibly have done that disqualifies me?

I see people smoking as they hold their child and I have to restrain my scream. Each impatient, inappropriate or lazy exchange between a parent & child kills me. Even the standard complaints about bring tired and tantrums make me feel like punching someone. I know I’m not being fair, but it’s like bitching about your diet to the starving. Don’t they know what a miracle they’ve created? How can they forget how much that little person needs them to do the right thing. I know it isn’t easy. Kids are exhausting and all consuming, but they’re worth it. The joy outweighs the sacrifice.

I’ve had enough therapy to know that burying your feelings is never helpful. I know I can’t dig a deep enough hole for this much emotion, but I have no idea where else to put it. I can’t lose it with every person who is rude or mildly inconveniences me. I have no desire or intention of venting on the people I love. I used to work this shit out with a scalpel. That’s no longer an option. What do I do?

The dog days are done…

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Extra illness, extra stress & very little sleep have taken a toll. My mood has taken a nose dive. I’m battling a fairly substantial wave of anxiety & the urge to just hole up at home.

I am fighting, though. One of the things keeping me going is how far I’ve come. These lows will probably always hit, but it helps to know things are not as bad as they once were. On days like this reading my own dark words shine a tiny light through today’s depressive fog.

The blood jet is poetry, ly h Kerr

I’m hoping some sleep & resolving some of the stress inducers will alleviate this bout of blue. In the mean time I’ll be digging deep in my chest of resources to keep myself focused on the light.

Bronan Kerr

Rest assured this boy is always looking after me.