My thinking around eating has been disturbed this week. I have experienced an intense desire to stop eating and to lose weight. Partly this has been triggered by a drop in my mood and energy, but my weight gain hasn’t helped either.
I’m on an anti-psychotic because I experience severe paranoia, and this medication affects my metabolism. Consequently I have put on an amount of weight that isn’t usual in anorexia recovery, and is affecting my self esteem. I don’t want to keep putting on weight, and I dare not come off of the medication. I took myself off of it over the summer and the paranoia, anxiety and suicidal ideation were unbearable. I can’t exercise because of my heart condition, and I must eat the quantities of food as agreed with my nutritionist so that I maintain good health. I feel a bit trapped to be honest.
My mood has also dropped, which I believe is common for many of us during the winter months. My thinking has been quite dark, with an increase in rumination and suicidal ideation. But I can cope with this as long as I stay meaningfully occupied. Although this hasn’t been easy to do over the past week, I have fumbled my way through.
Life is complicated. I have a few quite serious health conditions, which affect my physical and mental wellbeing. But hey, that’s life. Each of us on the planet has our own set of complications that we need to face on a daily basis, and we all have ups and downs with these.
What do I need to do in order to cope with mine? Firstly, the above attitude is the right one for me to adopt. My difficulties are no more or less unusual than anyone else’s. I can’t afford to think that I’m worse off than others as that kind of thinking is the start of a slippery slope that’s dangerous for my mental health. Secondly, I need to keep eating the same amount of food, and to see eating as being the same as taking medication for my mental health. Thirdly, I need to stay meaningfully occupied. Fourthly, I need to make sure I also have adequate rest. My heart condition is now causing fatigue and I’m needing to rest for longer periods during the day.
Life is a balancing act, but there are definitely things that I can do to stop myself from slipping off of the tightrope.
If you have an eating disorder – recovery is possible, speak to a family member, someone you trust, a doctor, or search google for an eating disorder service in your country.
Relapse is an all consuming and powerful force. I feel like I’m a surfer on a giant wave, with no ability to either stop or slow down. At some point I will reach the beach and be thrown off of my board, but that’s such a long a way in the future.
I’m currently eating one ciabatta or panini per day. I’ve been prescribed fortisip, but I cannot face the additional 300 calories that a bottle would give me. I know that may sound stupid, but I can’t do it. I’ve stood at the open fridge staring at the bottles, but I can’t do it.
My weight loss has slowed down, which will be for two reasons, one) initial weight loss is mostly water, two) my metabolism will have already slowed down. I find this stage demoralising, I know the speed of weight loss will increase again and I’m holding out for that.
Severe restriction of food intake creates a voracious interest and obsession with food. This isn’t just for people with anorexia, it happens to non eating disordered people who are forced to starve. (see the Minnesota starvation experiment). I fantasise about eating meat and I can’t help but compulsively buy carbohydrate rich foods, despite knowing that I won’t eat them.
I’m horrified by how much weight I have put on in recovery. I want my bones back.
There are times that I feel painfully out of control, and others where I feel so deeply in control of my restrictive behaviour, it’s an intensely enriching buzz. But I have a long way to go before I lose enough weight so as to be underweight again. Sometimes I want to recover, and I still attend 12 step recovery groups, but the desire to get thin is paramount.
I’m not sure whether blogging about my relapse helps me or not, I’m undecided. But my blog is an honest account of my experiences, it’s one of the things that I do, and I enjoy doing. I certainly have enjoyed adding some recent photos into the text.
Firstly, I would like to say that I am going to stick with the title “Some Emotional States Of My Anorexia And Strengths Of Recovery”. Initially I had some reservations about the length of the title, but I find that its appropriate as an anchor to the work which I have produced.
I would like to thank my tutor Jayne Taylor for the level and quality of feedback and interaction that I have received from her throughout the course. I would also like to thank the Open College of the Arts for the standard of the coursework, and for their excellent support and kindness with regards to the difficulties that I have experienced with my health, and the impact which this has had on my ability to study. If you are considering studying any of the creative arts, at foundation or undergraduate level then I would highly recommend the Open College of the Arts. You will not be disappointed. Although the OCA is based in the UK, they also accept international student. All of the courses are open/distance learning. Please check out their website here for further information.
There a few points that I would like to comment upon
“It was very significant that you allowed the strong autobiographical themes to emerge through your work, and the leap forward can be seen through your assignment output across the course. You’ve worked incredibly hard and have put a lot of time and energy into your work, and this is all very evident here – well done indeed.”
The coursework leading up to assignment three was a turning point for me. It was during this section that I began to explore how I could use photography to explore and express my experience of life. The course material gave me the opportunity to try the exercises in the style of different photographers, and I was able to create a mini photobook called A Hermits Journey, and a sequence called Sick of Bulimia. I gave of myself in both of these pieces of work, and A Hermits Journey was featured in WordPress Discover and received over 1,000 hits.
There were many bullet points relating to Jaynes perspective of the of my assignment in which she draws out my methodology and how thorough I have been with my preparation and progress. But I would like to comment upon this
“The use of your own self-portraits in the work shows immense growth in your confidence, both personally and as an artist, and this is heartening to see.”
For me to use self-portraits is a scary experience. I have been working up to this over the past two years, gradually taking more steps from using my shadow, the use of face masks, and now revealing my face. My reticence to present and exhibit this piece of work, but I do aim to exhibit my work, I have a gallery in mind, and I am going to need Jaynes advice on how to approach them. I believe in the quality of the expression and technique, and this work deserves exhibition. I am worth it, despite my fears of showing my face.
“You had some reservations about how to make the embroidered snake have the same visual impact as the other works – hopefully the Google image search we did has helped you see how a stronger silhouette might be all that’s needed to make this work. The important thing is to keep looking until you find an image you feel enthusiastic about working with. The snake image seems to have special significance, being linked to medicine and alluding to the transition from sickness into health – so take your time and enjoy it! (Might a gold thread work here, as a kind of alchemical effect, maybe?)”
In Native American Shamanism, the rattlesnake, called Utsonati, symbolises medicine, which I interoperate as turning poison into medicine. It would have made an excellent finale to the series. However, all of the embroidered animals so far have been flying animals, and I think it’s important to provide visual consistency, and the snake would offset this. So, I am considering embroidering a stalk onto the final portrait, with the stalk symbolising new life, and recovery from an eating disorder is in many ways developing a new life.
“Good documentation of your process all the way through. Nothing to add, except to say that the process is as important as the end result, especially while studying, so this is an excellent practice to maintain.”
The process is the most important part for me, and I love how an idea can change, alter and develop given time and space. During this assignment I have rarely embroidered for more than two hours per day, and I have had a break after the first hour, often a few hours before returning to the embroidery. When I begin to sew in the morning, I spend time looking at the developing artwork before stitching, and looking at the guide photo. I thoroughly look and see what I am producing. Without the seeing the quality of what I am producing would be diminished. Working more than a couple of hours per day would be unwise for the same reasons, because the level of focus upon the embroidery becomes too narrow and fixed.
The research was also important to me, and I have tried this exercise using three different styles, two of which have been a permitted collaboration which makes use of Laura Letinsky’s series Ill Form and Void Full. Although I have decided not to use them for this assignment, I will show them here at some point in the future. My research was thorough for this assignment and included exploring other photographers who work with hand stitching on photography, shamanism and the use of masks.
My ideas and research can be viewed hereas well as here.
Throughout this assignment I have recorded how my ideas have been refined as well as reporting on my progress and the processes. When I view fellow students work, I love to see the process of how they make photography, from the initial idea to the end result, which is often reworked. I have also had the opportunity to receive feedback on my progress from fellow students at the OCA London Regional group.
I have to be honest and say that I am proud of how much effort I have put into this assignment, and amazed at what I am producing. I did not expect this when I began this assignment. My sole aim was to see if I could develop a new technique to carry forward into the undergraduate degree in photography, and I was willing for this assignment to be a failure. It has been entirely the opposite.
Fuck, life is hard at this moment in time. I’m experiencing intense paranoia, suicidal thoughts and severe relapse with anorexia.
Yesterday I struggled so much that I went back to bed, which is something that I never do. Today the paranoia and fear were so intense that I couldn’t stay in. I’m paranoid that my neighbours are going to attack me, so I packed my camera and went out. Thank god for photography, it’s saved me on many an occasion.
Suicidal thoughts are building up, which is linked to the paranoia. I was in a building today which had a viewing gallery on the tenth floor, which is open and has an easily climbable fence. I looked down, imagining jumping, which sent shock waves of fear along my legs. I didn’t do it, I can’t do it, but it’s a venue logged in my mind.
As for the anorexia, I had two weeks of eating a ciabatta with either peanut butter or marmite per day, and since then I’ve not eaten anything for eight days. I know that not eating anything at all makes it harder for the paranoia and suicidal thoughts to dissipate, which I don’t want, but I can’t eat. I’m obsessed with food but I can’t eat, can’t do it.
I feel completely fucked.
However, I am doing things to cope.
I’m still attending 12 step eating disorder recovery meetings
I’m being honest with people about the state of my mind
I’m attending therapy
Yesterday I went back to bed
Today I went out
I have been out with my camera
I’m making plans for future study
I’m visiting a friend next week
I’m planning things with the OCA London Regional Group
I’m continuing with my embroidered photography
I’ve kept my spiritual life up
I’m exploring ways to fund living costs so I can study BA hons photography
I developed some photos in Lightroom this evening, which are found below
I’m doing what I can right now, I’m doing my best, and this too shall pass.
This piece of embroidery has not been easy. Once I had pricked the photo I was overwhelmed with the amount of holes and the complexity. It’s necessary to make all of the holes before trying to work out where the hell to embroider and which threads to use. This photo has been demanding in terms of energy and focus.
The process is enjoyable though. I’m seeing the commitment as running parallel to the effort I have to put into recovery from my eating disorder.
My working title remains as “emotional States of my anorexia”, however the embroidery is about recovery, change and growth, and this needs to be reflected in the title.
Embroidering onto my self portraits has started to feel like an act of self love, whereas initially I felt neutral towards the process of pricking and sewing upon myself.
My tutor and I will be discussing my progress next week, and I look forward to her guidance, especially in relation to one of the remaining animals (I’m not happy with the snake) and with regards to mounting them. The electrical tape which I use to secure threads is bulky in the areas where I’ve taped several loose ends.
Things are going very well for me, and on the whole my eating is now intuitive. I am able to select foods that I want to eat. Sometimes I have the foods that I want to eat, and other times I eat something that I fancy. I may eat out or I may cook at home, depending upon my other plans.
Here’s a salt and chilli beef which I cooked at home.
Many places in London have Street vendors who sell a variety of foods. I’ve seen bubble waffles for a while, but I haven’t dared to have one until Saturday.
It was delicious. Hot Nutella on the waffle, with chopped snickers, strawberry, cream, and more Nutella drizzled over the top.
I had this at snack time, but because the calories were so high I considered it to be lunch and had a snack at lunch time. My nutritionist was impressed that I was able to do so.
My recovery has developed very quickly since August. Initially I was on a weight gain regime, then onto maintenance, and now I’m learning some flexibility.
My nutritionist agreed that I could try a new food this week. We didn’t specify what that should be, but that I could choose it on the day.
Yesterday I ate at East Street in Rathborne Place, just off of Oxford Street in London. East Street has a menu of many Asian foods. I chose a hot and spicy Thai chicken dish with Jasmine rice. Now that’s the kind of food I want to eat more off. It was delicious. The service was quick, friendly and accommodating (I changed tables because I felt a draft where I initially sat), the food was tasty, and the restaurant was stylish.
I needed some new clothes, and purchased a fab pink jumper and matching pink shirt, pink really suits me, but my real self-care was buying a bath bomb and soap from Lush.
This was a reward for me having the courage to follow my heart and move to London. The photo of the bath bomb isn’t good, but the bath was. I smell like a fizzy lemon. Truly lush.
It was cold and wet in London yesterday. Not my favourite conditions to be outside in, but there’s always a photographic opportunity if we seek it out.
Firstly – I know have a working title for my assignment… “The Emotional States Of Anorexia”. The emotions that I’m photographing all relate to different emotions that I have experienced that relate to my anorexia.
Defiance (fuck you! I won’t eat and you can’t make me)
Pride (Yes – another target weight hit)
Rage (I fucking hate my self)
Joy (I can wear those new skinny jeans now I’ve hit that weight)
Fear (I’m so fucking scared of eating, l will have to kill myself if I do)
Grief (I hurt so much I can’t cope anymore)
Now I know that you know that I hate my photo being taken. I hate seeing photos of myself. It’s taken me sometime to build up the willingness to photograph myself. Tomorrow and Thursday I have the pain of seeing my face when I develop them. Fuck sake. Why am I doing this. I could have used someone else as the model.
Thing is I can’t. I know that these emotions are extreme and trying to work with a model and talking them into these states is gonna be challenging and time-consuming. I know these emotions and the thoughts that go with them. They’ve been a second skin that I’ve lived in. Consequently it’s taken me an hour to make these photos.
I’ve not liked doing it at all, but, I’ve got the photos that I need. I’ve captured the emotions. Am I putting them up on here? Not bloody likely. Once I’ve embroidered over them then I will publish them, but they, of themselves, are not the final piece of work. They are just part of a still life audio, visual installation that will be juxtaposed with the Laura Letinsky photography.
If I put my displeasure about the photos of myself to the side, I feel excited. This is coming together. My creative vision is clear, I can see the outcome.
Will I exhibit the six pieces I am creating? Damn right if I can get the right curator and the right space. It’s weird how I can feel so confident of that when I can’t stand seeing my photo. Perhaps it’s because my portrait is just a part of a larger piece of work, that my face will be sewn over? Perhaps it’s just a dichotomy of the human experience.
If you have an eating disorder, the chances are that you’ve shut out your body’s desires for so long that you don’t know how to recognise cues for hunger or fullness.
I am having to practice mindfulness whilst I eat to try to relearn awareness of these cues. There is improvement, and I now sometimes feel hungry or full.
My nutritionist is helping me with this process, and I know have a new goal. I still have a meal plan, but rather than having a set menu of meals and snacks every day of the week, I can now choose what I want from that plan at each meal.
My fridge freezer and cupboards are now full, it feels so grown up. Some days it’s easy for me to choose, and at others I can only stick with what I would have previously had for that meal, on that day. Progress not perfection.
Chicken with walnuts, fried with peppers and soy sauce is still one of my favourites.
Right now I’m very pleased with the progress that I’m making. Food is certainly something that I’m enjoying. The obsessive thoughts that I had around food have decreased considerably, but they are certainly intense when my emotions are strong.
The most difficult time over the Christmas period was when shopping the day after I arrived in Cork. I had a shopping list for breakfasts, lunch and snacks, but I found being in a new shop, in a new town and being around so much food was challenging.
Profiterole, cheesecake and Ben and Jerry.
I heavily over-ate one night whilst I was in Cork, and I had a couple of nights where I had a few chocolates. So what! It’s no big deal, and I didn’t go into guilt and shame.
I had several foods I hadn’t eaten for a long time, which included Chinese and Asian street food, ham, tomato and salad sandwiches, a full English and Christmas Dinner.
Singapore special chow mein.
I cooked Christmas Dinner. I love cooking and I was very satisfied with my cooking. Roast lamb, roast beef, sprouts cooked with bacon and pear, honey glazed parsnips, glazed buttered carrots, fluffy roast potatoes and breaded mushroom for starter. I’m very impressed with the progress that I am making.
I cooked this Christmas Roast.
It also feels like my weight has stabilised. I don’t weigh myself, but I don’t think I’m putting on anymore either – which is a relief.
I’m going on holiday to India next year, so I need to be flexible with my eating, and I want to learn to eat according to hunger and fullness. I experience hunger so infrequently. I didn’t feel it at all when I wasn’t eating, so anytime when I feel slightly hungry or slightly full is a time of excitement for me. I’m focusing intently on my stomach and tummy before, during and after eating. I’ve now had two very subtle feelings of fullness. I can’t believe how excited I feel at feeling hungry or full. Life is bizarre.
I can’t believe how wonderful a ham sandwich tastes.
Things are going well. I still get some intense thoughts about eating or restricting, and shopping disturbed me so much that it triggered my neuro-muscular condition, but overall my recovery is going well.