Since I started blogging a couple of months ago, one of the things that I have noticed is that often, when people are struggling with one mental illness, they are also struggling with another. If they’re really unlucky, they may find themselves struggling with more than that, which prompts me to wonder how on earth they face the day. I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for anyone that does this. There seems to be some kind of intersectionality of mental illness; I sometimes wonder if we have a mental-health-specific immune system. I imagine that it works in the same way as our regular immune system, so that when we are affected by one condition, we instantly become more susceptible to others. I hope that I am wrong, but it’s just how it seems sometimes. Too often do anxiety disorders seem to come accompanied either by a side dish of depression or by a secondary, (sometimes tertiary) anxiety disorder. With mental illness, there is no such thing as fairness.
When I was first put on my OCD medication four and a half years ago, I remember reading through the Papersheet of Doom that they enclosed with the meds. Among the many unpleasant side effects that go along with taking this stuff every day include: insomnia, headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, fatigue, nervousness, anxiety, feeling tense, decreased sex drive, tremor, dizziness, excessive sweating… [and the list goes on]. Hilariously, there is a disclaimer that says that you should contact the doctor immediately if you should fall into a coma. Which is always good to know. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t skipping to take my first one of these pills.
Within a couple of weeks the side effects started to settle in. I felt nauseated a lot of the time, I found that I was trembling for no reason, I was nervous and on edge just sitting at my kitchen table. There was a constant knot in my belly and I felt like crying for no reason whatsoever. And then there was the fat. It did not take long before I started gaining weight. Despite the fact that it was listed in the aforementioned Papersheet of Doom, I didn’t think it would actually happen. But, as the weight crept on, the clothes felt tighter and I got more and more fucked off. I upped the exercise ante in an attempt to stay the swelling of the fat tide. It worked to keep my body on a fairly even keel, and minimised the fat fluctuations.
Last year, after a discussion with my doctor, she agreed to allow me to reduce my dosage from three little pills a day to two. I thought I was doing ok with the reduced meds, I seemed to be maintaining the OCD (however much you can ever really ‘maintain’ it), and in my mind I felt so relieved that I was well on the way to Getting Off Those Bastard Pills. I had always hated taking them. Hated being tied to them, hated the prospect of having my brain chemically altered in any way, hated the way they would sometimes lodge themselves in my throat, causing the white powder to puff up into my throat, a haze of compounded pollutant lacing my mouth and my nose. There is nothing quite like the pungent taste of brain altering chemical concoctions in your mouth, yuck. Of course I want to get off this shit.
Looking back now, I can see that the worsening of my OCD and gradual onset of depression was probably, in part, a result of this reduced medication. I did consider it at the time but I tried to convince myself that it was just a phase that I would have to go through as my body adjusted to the reduced dosage. I was sure that my body wouldn’t let me down, it would catch up eventually and all would be well. Except that it wasn’t. My body never seemed to quite do what it was supposed to. In the late autumn/early winter of 2013, I started to feel less and less like myself. My OCD kept going from amber to red; occasionally back down to green, but mainly hovering around amber and red. I started to feel sad a lot of the time. I was getting frustrated with myself and my apparent inability to sustain a change in my life. I felt like I was drifting backwards. As the OCD was gaining steady momentum, the latent feelings of self-loathing started their steady climb. Functioning like a normal human being seemed like a daily Herculean task of which I was just not capable. I sought escapism in Netflix, in catch up TV, in staying up listening to news channels, in leaving myself behind. And eating. I began to eat and eat and eat. It is only when I look back now that I can see how much.
Six months of over eating later and I had put myself at the biggest I have ever been in my life. These days when I look in the mirror, I genuinely do not recognise myself. I look like my old self in a fat suit. My face is round and flabby and my body is a disgrace. I hate looking at it. I wouldn’t even dream of looking at my naked body in the mirror, I am sure I would find it repulsive. My clothes don’t fit and I can feel my heaviness in everything that I do. These days, I do everything much more slowly, like an old lady. I waddle like a rotund and plump duck and I can feel my ever expanding belly spilling over like an inflatable mushroom. When I see myself in photos it makes me cry. I look so unhappy, so ashamed of my body, so disgusted with myself. My face is the face of someone who just hates herself. What’s worse is, I don’t have a shred of sympathy for myself, I look at myself and think, ‘look at you, you disgusting fat fuck! Who would look at you and see anything other than fat? Who would look at you and see anything other than a slob, a lazy, greedy piece of shit?!’ That is what I see. And that is how I feel, like I have betrayed myself in every possible way.
What’s weird is that, when I look at overweight people in the street, I don’t feel any of these things. I don’t assume any of the things that I assume about myself. I detest fat-shaming (if that is even a term!) in all of its forms. I hate that the diet industry keeps people (particularly women) chained into patterns of self-loathing/diet relapse/weight gain. I hate that, somehow, weight has become intrinsically linked to a person’s value and self-worth. I think that all women (and men!) should be free to wear a bikini regardless of whether they are a size 18 or a size 38. I think that everyone should be free to eat whatever the fuck they want without incurring the judgement and condemnation of strangers. Above all, I think that everyone, regardless of their waist size, should be judged not by the number on their bathroom scales, but – in the words of a great American – by the content of their character. But, for whatever reason, when it comes to myself, I do not afford myself the same courtesy.
These days, when I am walking down the street in big, baggy, ugly clothes, I feel ashamed. I hate being out in public, especially in daylight, because I just feel the judging gaze of passers-by. I know what they’re thinking when they see me – that I’m a mess. Because I am a mess. I am a fucking mess of shit. I sense people looking at me and I feel like I am in disguise, like I am wearing the body of someone I do not know. I want them to know that this is not me. I am not someone who looks like this. I am not someone who wears black all the time. I am not someone who scrapes their hair back into a mess without so much as glancing in the mirror before stepping outside. I am not this person. Except I am. At this moment, this is who I am.
In all honesty, I have never seen the Fat Issue as a mental health issue at all. I have just seen it is my own personal weakness, just something else I can’t control, something else that makes me hate myself a little bit more. So, when my CBT therapist suggested that we tackle my relationship with food, and that we tackle it as number one item on the list, I was reluctant to say the least. I was there to kick the crap out of OCD, not challenge my addiction to sugar. After all, compared to the ongoing hell of OCD, my fatness is just another drop in the ocean of shit. That’s how I see it anyway. However, when he explained how my relationship with food was affecting my mood (depression), and how this was, in turn, affecting my ability to deal with my own OCD, I began to see how there might be an advantage to tackling the Fat Issue. I was bowled over to hear the words ‘Bulimia’ and ‘Body Dysmorphia’ directed at me.
I challenged the labels on account of the fact that, whilst these are disorders I know very little about, I do know that they can be horrendous and debilitating, just like OCD. It would be insulting to anyone who has ever lived with either of these conditions to count myself among them. Yes, I have a very unhealthy relationship with food. But, Bulimia? No. I hate myself in many ways, I hate how my face looks and how my body feels but it doesn’t control everything that I do in the way that it would a person with Body Dysmorphia. No. I genuinely do not believe that I fall into these categories. However, I must admit that when my therapist went on to explain how and why he had reached his conclusion, I could kind of see where he was coming from. I had always figured that Bulimia was defined by the act of vomiting, but apparently it is in the act of binge-eating, and by the person’s overall relationship with food – and, in all honesty, my relationship with food is pretty toxic. My homework for that week was to search for books and reading material on binge-eating and Bulimia (Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr Christopher G. Fairburn).
One thing that I do recognise is that my relationship with food and my own body is absolutely affected by my relationship with OCD. When OCD is at its worst, all of the shutters seem to come down, I become more vulnerable, I despise myself that little bit more. When everything seems hopeless, absolutely nothing seems worth it. Getting out of bed doesn’t seem worth it. Making an effort to look relatively normal doesn’t seem worth it, no one wants to see this, I don’t want to see it. Close the curtains and leave me be to eat whatever the hell I want and do nothing at all. Fuck it, if I am fat and disgusting anyway, what’s one more binge going to do? Why on earth shouldn’t I carry on eating myself into a sickly sugar induced stupor? At least then there is a chance that I will fall into a sugary haze that will eventually become sleep. And hey, with sleep – it’s like that Danish dude said – with sleep, what dreams may come…
If just for a while.