(I'm putting a potential Trigger Warning on this post. It is not written to be a trigger to others, but I have written honestly about my experiences which could be triggering to vulnerable people)
It has been a strange a troubling half a year for me. After starting college last September, still on a high from travelling around Canada for 6 weeks, it wasn't long before the presence of stress and anxiety lay their heavy burden on my mind. A feeling I am all too familiar with in hindsight, but in the moment, almost completely blind to. Instead my mind seeks to regain arbitrary control through other means; calories.
It always begins with the pills. The nagging voice in my head which says,
"you've taken them before, what harm is there? It's just about weight management", which quickly spirals into,
"If you don't take the pills your weight will sky rocket, and everything you've ever wanted will merely remain as dreams."
Diet pills, many of which are simply caffeine pills, are not and never will be a quick fix for weight loss or weight control. Some contain dangerous compounds which can cause heart problems, and other nasty side effects. The trouble is, diet pills purchased online or through unlicensed shops are not regulated, so it is impossible to tell which are dangerous and which are fairly harmless. Therefore, I highly recommend never even touching them.
My mind in a desperate attempt to grasp control will misdirect and manipulate me into firstly taking the pills, and then swiftly into a full relapse of the eating disorder. My life suddenly revolves around food; what I eat, when I eat, what I can/cannot eat, how much exercise I have to do to burn of the calories from the food I have eaten, what I will eat tomorrow, and the next day and the following week, what i have already eaten yesterday, the day before and the week before.
The 'high' which comes from feeling 'in control' creates a pattern of positive reinforcement, thus, perpetuating the disordered thinking resulting in the continuation of disordered behaviour. In the midst of sickening stress and anxiety, that temporary feeling if euphoria is like a glimmering ray of comfort and safety. Due to being on the Autism spectrum, the majority of my time is spent anxious, scared and uncomfortable, therefore it is only natural to gravitate to a feeling of safety and control.
Unfortunately, as the illness progresses and both physical and mental health nose dive, those moments of euphoria become less common and less pronounced. Depression, exhaustion, starvation, anxiety, anger, frustration and stress grow with vengeance, occupying every space and corner in my life. I helplessly chase the temporary high and feeling of safety by controlling calories further, only to be inadvertently fuelling the suffering. This cycle accumulates to a point where it is no longer possible for me to function. This time, following a bit of a meltdown in the waiting room of the community mental health services, my nurse decided to pursue an admission to the local acute psychiatric ward. Although, not exactly what a person wants, it was what I needed to get myself back on my feet.
Nearly 4 weeks spent in a psychiatric ward is, let's just say, an 'experience'. It is not like many think, there are no straight jackets, padded rooms, or people tied down to their beds. Modern psychiatry is more advanced than the media gives credit for. I met some interesting and entertaining characters, to say the least. Starting with the lady across the hall who believed I was the daughter of Saint Matthew. I took it as a compliment, as though I had some ethereal presence to me. Another patient would walk around and occasionally pop out his glass eye, place it in his pocket, and carry on as if nothing happened. There was a tall man with a limp, who only came out of his room to ask for sandwiches. As a proud lover of eccentricity, and having been graced with an open mind, the psych ward presented me with many topics for thought.
Everything happened in extremes in the psychiatric ward, sadness and sorrow was felt and expressed in its entirety, anger and frustration was given full passion, happiness was felt to the point of delirium and compassion was dolled out by the bucket load. It could be both maddening and heartwarming all within a space of a few minutes. Myself, of course, included in this display of pure, unfiltered human emotion. Having a full tantrum, in complete hysterics over an apple is not exactly what I'd call 'stable behaviour'. A psychiatric ward, in many ways, is one of the few places where people are unapologetically human, and there's something so magical and sacred to this phenomenon. Whatever diagnosis, these are people with illnesses in need of support. It is the only place in which I have witnessed authentic vulnerability.
I left the psych ward nearly four weeks later, having successfully managed to follow a meal plan and with somewhat more stability in my emotions. I left with the belongings, which had accumulated in my hospital room during my stay, and a head full of questions. Questions of simple logistics, like 'where the hell am I going to put all of this stuff?', to questions about my future, life and the fate of the universe. People familiar with me will be able to explain the extent to which I like to plan my life right down to fine detail, and my constant need to have answers to these rather complex, sometimes bordering on philosophical questions. Am i ever going to be able to study and keep a job? Every time I have attempted to do either of these things it has triggered a relapse. How am I supposed to function and do well in life if even the smallest amount of stress makes me ill? Stress is near impossible to avoid in this world, add on the fact that I am a neurodivergent in a world built for neurotypicals, the result; stress is simply going to be a norm in my life. How can I make a difference in this world if I'm going to be in a never ending cycle of becoming unwell and ending up in hospital? As hard as I try and engage with therapy, Autism is always going to part of who I am. That doesn't necessarily bother me, what bothers me is that everything from buying a newspaper at the local shop to having a successful career, a healthy relationship, and staying well is going to be at least ten times harder. Don't get me wrong, I have the dedictaion, passion and pure willpower to achieve what I want to achieve. But knowing how hard its going to be causes a lump dread to creep into my mind.
Will I end up like the majority of people, on my death bed wishing I did more, seized more opportunities, helped more people, took more time for myself? Am I just naive in wanting to make the world a better place somewhow?
Are human beings inevitably selfish and willingly ignorant? If yes, is that how it has always and will always be? In a capitalist world can you ever really have equality? If people choose to be 'blissfully ignorant', how do you ever make a difference? Is it all really worth it? Does anyone else think about these things?
What is the purpose of life itself? I think it might be a sign that I truly do have a few loose connections if I can dare to even ask, let alone tackle that question. You could approach that question from a pure scientific point of view; the purpose of life is to survive long enough to reproduce, pass on genetic material ensuring the survival of the species. But psychologically, I don't think humans could accept this answer. It could, as Douglas Adams' novels suggest, be that the answer to life is something so mundane as '42'. Again, I don't think humans could accept this answer.
I have recently discovered that alcohol seems to awaken my inner philosopher. In amongst fits of giggles and passionate speeches on how much I love food, I seem to write down bizarrely profound (to me, anyway) thoughts in my notebook. One quote particularly stands out to me;
"I suppose that's it, isn't it? Life in it's very essence is messy and unpredictable. And maybe that's how it should be"
I have no idea what triggered this realisation, nor do I know why I decided to write it down. But it has made realise, I will probably never get answers to my infinite questions. Would life be what it is if we got told everything beforehand? If when you are born your parents are handed a birth certificate and a detailed timeline depicting the events which will occur in their child's life, I'm not sure there would be a point to being human.
Someone recently told me that they thought it was brave of me to not hide/cover up my self harm scars. My instant response, in a drunken haze (we were at a food and drink festival...I'm not an alcoholic, I swear), in hindsight was another breakthrough moment for me. My scars are part of me, they are ugly and don't fit societies approval most of the time, but they are a part of my story. I never planned on having scars, they are wrapped in life's mess and unpredictability. None of the other patients on psych ward would say they had planned to end up there, but I hope someday in the future that they can accept that it was part of their story, something which has contributed to who they are as people.
My need for control partly stems from a fear of not achieving everything I want to achieve and not being the best person I can be. I guess that is also where the constant questioning comes from as well, questions act as cross examinations to test whether I am where I feel I need to be in life. It also may be part of learning how to live a life with the constant nagging of chronic illness and disability. I can keep asking my questions, but I think I will try harder to embrace in the complete lack of answers and ambiguity which life throws at me in return.
I started this post (I will stop rambling soon, I promise) by saying,
"It has been a strange and troubling half a year for me."
I think I would like to rectify the that to,
"It has been a strangely unpredictable and increasingly messy half a year for me. And I have learnt some new lessons."
(I have only just realised how INFJ this post is....I'm referring to the Myers-Briggs personality type testing)