Today is World Mental Health today and this week is OCD Awareness Week so it seemed a good enough reason to push myself to admit where I’m at with my mental health right now. Not for sympathy or to say ‘I’m sicker than you’ but because telling the truth about the bullies in my head helps me to defeat them and because maybe it might help you to read it.
I’ve just started a new job and moved back to Bristol. In fact what actually happened is that I packed a small suitcase with essentials and took a train to Bristol the weekend before my job started with nowhere to live, unsure of whether I’d be able to handle going back to work again after 9 months being unfit for work, let alone cope with living independently again. The DWP assessment doctor said I was better but hadn’t recovered enough to go back to work, at least not many hours.
Fortunately my boyfriend let me stay with him when my Air bnb turned out to be a bit dodgy. I managed to find a house to move into a week later and my part-time job isn’t tiring me out too much. I cried when I was exhausted from going to house viewings and I cried when I moved into my stark and dirty new room. But my boyfriend was there to give me a hug both times.
I’m halfway into my second week and anorexia is screaming at me with all its might. Anorexia is closely linked to and often involves OCD behaviours. When I saw a counsellor this summer she said I definitely have OCD. I don’t have to flick light switches multiple times or live in fear of my family dying if I don’t do certain routines. And I feel very lucky that I don’t because I know that it must be a living hell for people trapped in routines by extreme fear. I have contamination OCD which plays into my anorexia. It relates to my M.E. and emetophobia (fear of vomiting). I am afraid that either germs or food are going to make me sick/seriously ill. Because of this I worry constantly about what I have touched and whether I washed my hands after touching the thing and did I put my hands next to my face and did I wash my hands before I touched the food and is the food safe to eat etc etc. I am trapped in hand washing and restricted eating and obsessive thoughts by fear.
The new house I have moved into is very dirty. I only moved in because there was no alternative and the people are nice. Every day after work I have spent what little energy I have left cleaning for at least an hour; because I am compelled to through fear. Because I will not stop thinking about it until I know it is clean. The compulsion to move constantly e.g. cleaning, walking, exercising etc is a big part of anorexia because the brain believes it is in famine and is trying to make you migrate to find more food. However for most it disguises itself as a desire to ‘burn calories’. It’s an anxious energy which if prolonged will probably cause an M.E. Crash.
A new workplace presents new hazards. I push doors open in places where I think fewer people will have touched. I press buttons with my knuckles not my fingertips. The toilets are the next floor up: should I get the lift and save energy or climb the stairs and burn it? I have hand sanitizer on my desk. The bus to work is a nightmare for me. I have to have my headphones in and be focussing on the world outside the window to distract myself from all the people coughing and sneezing. I wash or sanitize my hands as soon as I can when I get off the bus and avoid touching things on there if I can.
When it comes to food I worry that the new kitchen equipment I’m using is unclean so I have to wash everything first and I have to disinfect the surfaces. I worry that I haven’t used the new oven correctly and my food isn’t cooked properly. It makes me want to avoid animal products even though the only one I’m eating is fish. I worry that I haven’t cooled my leftovers properly. I let myself get extremely hungry because I forget that I’m expending more energy than I have been so need more. It felt like my stomach was eating itself earlier I was so hungry and I had to force myself to eat. I know I’m not eating enough but my diet is still restricted so I don’t know what I can be eating to fill the gaps. Ana tells me not to eat too much in case the food I ate earlier makes me sick and so if I don’t eat so much I’ll be less sick. Ana tells me that I’m not thin enough to be taken seriously as anorexic so I should eat less. She points out every girl that is thinner than me as proof that I’m not thin enough to call myself anorexic. She makes me check my stomach in the mirror multiple times a day to see if I can still see my ribs and judge how thin I am.
These behaviours both around cleanliness and food are all massive red flags that I am not ok. My mental health is not ok. I need to do something about this right now. As always I turn to Tabitha Farrar – Adult Eating Disorder Recovery Coach for help. I bought her book but stupidly left it at home. However, re-watching her YouTube videos has helped. She says that you have to make a commitment to eat unrestricted and force feed yourself even if you are crying and shaking because weight restoration and re-wiring your brain is the only way to get better. I still can’t eat unrestricted because of the work I’m doing to repair my gut but I am making a commitment to eat as much of my ‘allowed’ foods as I can and reintroduce foods. I have told my boyfriend so that I can be accountable. I’ve asked him to check I’m eating and for us cook together sometimes especially when I’m reintroducing a new food. No one else can rescue me from the prison that is my mind except me. But a little support, encouragement and ‘keeping an eye out’ goes a long way. I’m hoping that once I’ve settled into my new job and home the thoughts and behaviours will start to subside.
We all have mental health and if any little instinct inside you says ‘hey I’m not sure I’m feeling ok right now’ please know that it is ok to speak up, just a little inkling is enough to need help and support even if it’s just making sure you get out for a walk at lunchtime or chat to a friend – chances are they’ve experienced something similar and will be relieved to hear you share.