31 January 2016

One Christmas at a Time...

Christmas. If you had have asked me prior to my illness developing I would have said: “My favourite time of the year! Dark cosy nights; surrounded by family and friends; everybody laughing and full of happiness. I cannot wait!”  However, my elation for this season slowly drifted away over the past few years. Instead of being preoccupied with socialising and enjoying the festivities, I found myself becoming overwhelmed with dread, anxiety and fear. The thought of a buffet at a family friends house, the sight of a box of chocolates or the smell of Christmas dinner made my stomach churn. What do I do? How do I avoid it? What if somebody notices? I was constantly analysing every situation to see if there was a way that I could either manipulate it or avoid it. I started earlier in the year by dropping hints about not liking certain things anymore so that it wasn’t as obvious when I didn’t eat it over the festive period. When the social eating situations arrived I would arrange the food on my plate to make it look like I was eating plenty, but in reality I was not. Again, my eating disorder was ruling my entire life, and completely ruining what should be the happiest times of my life; but this year was going to be different.

Being discharged from hospital on 20th November 2015, I was determined to make the most of this Christmas. My whole perspective on life had changed, and I did not want to miss out on any special moments that I had with my incredible family. I started as I meant to go on by asking mum if I could have a chocolate advent calendar, and to be honest I don’t know who was more surprised by this request, Mum or me! My own voice was getting louder and it was no longer being overshadowed with another that was trying to depict what I should or shouldn’t do. I felt a sense of strength and empowerment that I was recognising my own needs and desires, and not only that, I was saying them aloud. I am not going to lie and say that there were no negative thoughts causing havoc in my mind, but I had made a decision for me, by me.

Christmas Eve is a hugely special day for me. Even though I see my Dad every day, Christmas Eve is kind of like our day together. We spend the entire time preparing all of the food for Christmas Day. Previously an anxiety provoking situation, this year I couldn’t wait to be able to rekindle the happiness that this day used to bring to me. We discussed how things were going to be prepared for the meal and we agreed that certain foods would be cooked in a way that I was comfortable with. Some people may think that this was my anorexia manipulating another situation again, but it wasn’t. I wanted to be able to try things again but without being overwhelmed with negative thoughts, and so we came to a compromise with a few of the ingredients. I also asked if I could prepare a pudding, because I don’t like trifle, so that I wasn’t missing out on this part of the meal. Again, I was using skills that I had learnt in hospital about communicating my issues to reduce my anxiety and it worked so well for me. The day was an absolute joy, but I still had one thing that I had left to challenge, a buffet at a family friends house.

Firstly, I want to thank the team at Evolve for preparing me for this social activity. During the previous week, at the day patient service we prepared and ate our own Christmas buffet with all of the staff. It was the perfect opportunity to be able to determine a plan of action for the Christmas Eve event, and also to discuss any issues I had, so that they could be resolved before I attended the social gathering. It definitely eased my nerves and complex thoughts, so much so that I was actually really looking forward to the occasion and being able to prove to everyone just how far I had come.

When we arrived, the buffet was being prepared and I could see and smell all of the food at the far end of the room. Yes, I started to question what I was about to do, but no, I did not run away. Mum recognised my moment of doubt and placed her hand on my back, which instantly comforted me, knowing that I had her support. I was talking to friends that I hadn’t seen all year and it was lovely. In fact the thoughts of the buffet slowly started to take a back seat, and instead I was laughing and listening attentively to the stories bouncing around the room. However, I do still find that I get frustrated in these situations, because I want to be ‘normal’ like everyone else; not being concerned that there is food all around the room, or the fact that we will be about to make our own decisions on what goes on our plate in just a few moments time, not adhering to food rules that have been established in our minds. But I remind myself that each year it will get easier, and the more I challenge things, the lesser impact this disorder will have on my life. With my plan of action that I formulated at Evolve in my mind, I approached the buffet alongside everybody else. I found that if I chose things that were slightly more difficult to make decisions on first, and then I could relax as I finished the route around the table. I also took this approach when I was eating the food, although I did really surprise myself with how comfortable I was with the situation! I pushed myself to challenge these rules that I have in my mind, and with no labels in sight this was made so much easier. I know that labels are something I really do need to work on, but I am not putting too much pressure on myself to tackle every challenge at once. I felt really positive about the progress I had made, particularly in terms of my behaviours surrounding the cutting and eating of food, because I certainly wouldn’t have been able to eat the plate of food on my lap, if I hadn’t have knocked all those habits on the head with the help of the staff at hospital. The whole night was a success, and I was so happy to be surrounded by familiar faces, enjoying games and laughter, it made all the past few months of pain and struggles so worthwhile. However, the big day was just around the corner.

Christmas Day was quite an emotional day for me. As I have previously mentioned, my perspective on life has altered after what I have been through this year, and so to be spending a day with the most important people to me was so special. It petrifies me to think of what the scenario would have been if I hadn’t have gone into hospital at that crucial time, and that was in the forefront of my mind for the entire day as I was faced with several challenges. As I put on my novelty Christmas jumper I was reminded that this time of year should not be associated with fear or anxiety, but fun and merriment. The family started to arrive and I was greeted with the most wonderful news; my auntie and her partner had gotten engaged! They looked so happy together, and I started to think about my own future; how much I want to be able to enjoy and feel comfortable in somebody else’s company, without the feelings of negativity about my body. This motivation spurred me on to tackle the wonderful Christmas dinner that Dad had slaved away preparing all day. I chose options that I would have ordinarily refrained from, and used my dietetic knowledge that I have gained throughout my time in treatment to make sure I was getting every element of nutrition I needed, without fretting about the need to weigh or measure. I did get mum and dad to check my plate for reassurance that I had got everything I needed, but also to eliminate the worry that I had got too much; I still need this encouragement, which I am not embarrassed about in the slightest, it is my recovery journey. Throughout the day we played games including pie face, which was hilarious. I think you can tell how far you are in your recovery when one moment you cannot even look at cream, and the next you are happy to risk the possibility of it being splattered across your face! Yes, it did happen to me and yes, I did have a little taste! I finally felt like I was myself again, the actual me, and those moments in recovery are absolutely invaluable. I enjoyed a few of the chocolates from the celebration box as we competed in a quiz, as well as eating when nobody else was at the end of the evening to make sure I was sticking to my weight restoration plan.

I have to add that I am so incredibly fortunate to have an amazing family that doesn’t question anything that I have to do, or bat an eyelid if I am sat eating a bowl of cereal to finish up my pint of milk. I think this has a lot to do with how open I have been about my struggles and necessities for my weight restoration and recovery. It makes my life so much easier, and probably theirs too, because they aren’t seeking answers from my parents or worried about what they say in front of me. I learnt so much from this Christmas that I am going to continue to use in my progressive recovery. I want to thank everybody that I saw over this festive period for being supportive, non-judgmental and accepting of my illness. Although it wasn’t without its struggles, the entire time was such a pleasure and a Christmas I will never forget.

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