**Please note, this post discusses thoughts of suicide**
Staring at the way the shadows dance and change with each flicker of the fairy lights on the Christmas tree, I get lost in my deep train of thought about perception and distortion. The room moves with each delicate light sequence. All changes appearance in a matter of seconds through nothing more than colour and position. I sit watching to the sounds of the rain outside for what feels like an eternity, safe and warm wrapped in my giant yellow woolen blanket.
It’s been quite a torrential few weeks for me, filled with moments and emotions I hadn’t expected to experience. Moments that gave me hope and child-like happiness, to moments that saw me sat by the side of a motorway bridge on one particularly grey, rainy Tuesday. It’s been a continuing mantra of ‘just put one foot in front of the other’ in a bid to keep myself going. I’ve been here before and I know, it passes.
When my brain feels as overwhelmed as it has done in recent weeks, I usually retreat from the world as fast as I can and shut down, saving what energy I have for the ‘have to’ days as I lay in wait for the ‘want to’. On this occasion, I haven’t been able to do that. I’ve had assignments and work to do which have literally been turned in at the final available hour. I’ve had a trip to New York with a stranger, which brought about levels of anxiety I’ve not had in a long time (that’s not how it was planned, my friend could no longer come and left with me with her friend who I didn’t know) and even the pressures of Christmas coming up as a single parent left me feeling paralysed. So much had happened in all areas of my life that there came a point where I felt like the whole world was stacked against me and I’d finally reached a limit to what I could achieve. I shouldn’t have taken on my Masters. I shouldn’t have agreed to the trip. I shouldn’t have started to try tackling my ED in any way, I was better off just existing with it in silence. What had I done? I couldn’t go backwards and no longer believed I was capable of going forwards. I suddenly found myself plunged back into severe binging/purging cycles, I had no idea at all why I’d lost all control and I couldn’t just starve myself, I had to be destructive. It had to be painful and I felt as though I’d been possessed.
I talked myself back from the motorway bridge not 5 mins away from the school where my children were unknowingly going about their day. I had been quietly plummeting in the few weeks before and I’d hoped because I’d recognised it, I could correct it. I was wrong and that particular day, suicidal thoughts submerged my mind so fast that I don’t even remember the car journey there. I sat in the car and looked at my clock thats 1 hour and 13 mins fast and imagined my kids walking through our front door as they do everyday. Their Dad has not been apart of their lives at all for over 2 years now through his own choice and I’ve been trying to help them through their grief ever since. Who would they have that would love them as much as I do if I jump? Would they ever forgive me? Would they accept that they were better off without me too? Probably not. I sat and sobbed for a while. Eventually I drove home feeling defeated and walked straight up into my room, shut my curtains, turned on my lamp and climbed into bed. The kids bustled through the door not an hour later, loud, wet, hungry and happy, inquisitive about how my day went. My son raided the fridge as my daughter climbed on the bed and hugged me, ‘you look tired, are you alright?’ she asked with a concerned frown. ‘I am tired babe, I’m ok though’ I replied, squeezing her tight against me. She chatted about her day unaware that I was smelling her head and gripping her piping hot hands, reliving the day and where I’d been. Not 2 hours ago, I was swamped in the belief there was nothing, yet I couldn’t deny the feelings of love and warmth and purpose I felt in that moment. I can’t leave them, it’s just not an option. They deserve better than that.
Before now, from any depths of depression, I’ve found a way out. From points I’d have put in the ‘no return’ category, I have returned. Although nothing ever felt exactly the same again, I’ve still found the beauty in the little things, the rush of seeing the sun break through the trees of which I’d ignored through the months before, that amazing first sip of a decent cup of tea or the random outbreak of laughter in the car to run an errand with the kids. They are negligible moments for some, but when you’ve been living in darkness for quite some time, they are affirmations of life. The problematic part of my own mental illness and one I know is the same for most, is however that shadow is cast in my mind, I truly believe the way in which I am seeing the world in that moment are the true colours of the landscape around me. I will find ways to reinforce the hopelessness all on my own. I will count off the reasons in my mind the world is better off without me and I will wholeheartedly believe them. I’ll take myself to places like that bridge to give a choice. I’ll argue with my own mind that if this really is all so bad, then jump you selfish bitch… definitely time to radio for help.
My voice shakily told the lady with the most beautiful southern Irish accent on the phone ‘I just don’t want to live like this anymore, but I don’t know any other way’. She listened and talked me through where she believed this violent shift in thoughts had stemmed from. Apparently quite common in long term and untreated ED sufferers, when they suddenly start sharing their reality and admitting to their ED, the emotions they have used their ED to suppress for all that time come flooding to the surface. And how do I deal with those emotions? Not well it would seem. I’m unsure how much of the counsel I was given was accurate that day, but to me in that moment it provided unprecedented relief. This was for a reason and that’s all I needed to know. I agreed to set up an appointment with my GP when I returned from my trip and I did. On my return however, I decided I couldn’t go through with it and cancelled. The fear of saying these things and going through what I have in the past is just something I’m not ready to cope with. I didn’t need the reinforcement of my own belief that it truly is hopeless and there’s nowhere to go from here.
I held off writing and talking about my ED until I’d gained control of my thoughts again. I needed to accept that these words I write, the experiences I relive and truths I tell about myself are actually me. I can’t emotionally disconnect from it and so I’m going to have to push forward if I genuinely want it to change. I started blogging specifically to help others I knew that stand in the wings alone, who too go through their lives feeling isolated by their own thoughts and behaviours. I wanted to help. I also did it to shove a middle finger in the direction of my own illness and to change my own pointless narrative. In sharing my secret I could own it, accept it, find purpose in it and eventually, change it. That still needs to happen. I still want that to happen.
Head down and one foot in front of the other, I pushed. The friends I reached out to were phenomenal. The simplest of reasoning out my anxieties and offers of support made me feel surrounded. I’ve chosen my circle wisely and I see that now. They didn’t need to know what it was I was going through, they just knew I was struggling and that was enough. And me realising they were there even after I’d messaged the words ‘I’m in the shit’, was enough. The shadows shifted slightly and it turns out, talking isn’t so bad after all.
So, paper submitted on time, it was time to go to New York. It was undeniably hard, staying in a room and exploring a city with someone I didn’t know. We are very different people and I say that meaning she’s probably normal. She wanted to get ‘messy’ for the weekend and I am ‘messy’ after one drink. She will wonder why I don’t eat more than the one meal a day. She will become exasperated when I’m so overwhelmed with food choices that I just can’t have anything. In a bid to take control, I messaged her the night before we left and confessed I have an ED, to which she responded so casually that I panicked more so. At the airport she asked ‘what do we need to avoid?’ and I explained, frightening easily seeing as I knew I didn’t have to see her again after this and she probably couldn’t give a damn. She said ‘we’ll just take it as it comes’ and I was thinking ‘if I do that I won’t eat at all’.
I obsessed and worried in the run up, writing off that time away, in a beautiful city at Christmas as the worst thing ever before it had even begun. I had to endure it, rather than I got to experience it. I questioned myself for even having the balls to agree to it. So in my downcast mindset, stood with that stranger, nothing shocked me more than the tears filling in my eyes while staring up at the magic that was the Christmas lights show at Saks 5th Avenue. That first day alone I’d looked out over the city from the top of the Empire State by day and Rockefella Centre by night and it honestly took my breath away. I paced around the streets, giddy with excitement. I remembered what it felt like to be another part of me, the me that went to Greece to live when I was 19 and feeling like the worlds first explorer, the me that had her lunch breaks listening to the sea on the beach while living in Cornwall, the me that got out of my own head enough to appreciate the world around me. It’s all there, should my eyes be willing to see. I found it sad at times that surrounded with so many iconic food outlets where I’d dreamed of eating once upon a time, I had no want to at all. Out of the 4 meals I had in New York, 2 of them were at the same place that I could build my own bowl of ‘safe’ foods. But I left with hope that I hadn’t gone there with, that I would be back and I will eat the food and drink a giant hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows one day, with complete abandon. The staying with someone else also put a welcomed break on binging and purging which was a massive relief and since I’ve been home, I’ve mostly stayed on top of.
The pinnacle moment of appreciation ironically came for me on another bridge. Brooklyn Bridge. Walking back over from Brooklyn to Manhattan in the night-time, we stopped frequently to just look at the stunning skyline of lights ahead of us. The realisation that this was a moment waiting for me when I’d solidly convinced myself there was nothing left, gave me renewed hope. My best days could be yet to come. Those lights were ahead of me, not behind.
I know how genuinely difficult this time of year can be, not just for ED sufferers, but for anyone. Thinking about the pressures of sitting down at a family meal, the comments, the triggers and the sadness when you feel you are on the outside looking in once more can completely override any excitement. My advice would be, search for the other moments. Anything and everything else that will bring a smile to your face, that will remind you of those other parts of yourself. Play the games, watch that film you loved as a kid, wrap up and go for a walk and take in the eerie silence of the empty streets, whatever it is you need to do. If you genuinely can’t find them, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just stick one foot in front of the other and know, this too shall pass, but you must keep going.
This Christmas I’ll spend a lot of time wrapped in my blanket, staring at those lights, reminding myself that the shadows they cast are exactly that, shadows. All can change and all will change, but the lights I was so deeply moved by will always be ahead of me, not behind.