Sunday, 22 January 2017

Peanut Butter Dreams

One thing I looked forward to so much this morning I practically dreamed about it: peanut butter on crumpets.

It’s what I’ve eaten for breakfast almost every day for the past seven and a half months, except for a couple of days in Paris in September – and the past three days, where I had room service at a five-star London hotel. (I did not complain that the smoked salmon and eggs were, as I can hear my grandmother saying, “ice cold,” but I was tempted to.)

I spent most of the past three days with a (British) guy who lives in Germany. I met him a couple of months ago, and have spent more of the intervening time than I care to admit whatsapping him. Things are not going according to the script in my head – when do they ever? – or really, in any way that could be termed a forward direction. He’ll be here at least another three days and I’m not at all sure I’ll see him again, which is not a great feeling.

I’m trying to remember that whatever happens, it was a mostly fun three days, and – more to the point of this blog – it was nice to just be able to eat and drink whatever without too much stress. (One of the nights, for example, we went for pie and mash, because it’s something he misses that he can’t get in Germany.) I also skipped the gym without fearing I would never go back again.

It also occurred to me this morning that for the first time in maybe as long as I can remember, I didn’t (and haven’t) automatically assumed that the problem is my weight – that things would be different if I were thinner. In a strange way, this is harder to deal with – to sit with – than just assuming weight or my body is the problem. I don’t know what the problem is, and so I can’t even try to fix it, even if I wanted to. (Leaving aside the issue that the problem may not even be me.) My brain runs through everything I said and did and wants to find fault with it – to find fault with myself. This, I know, is what’s at the bottom of my eating disorder – that food, as they say, is the symptom, not the disease. Eating more (or less, or exercising more) won’t change this feeling. I hope eventually I figure out what will.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Resolutions

It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve – when someone else mentioned her resolutions -- that I realized it hadn’t occurred to me to make any.

A chunk of my resolutions usually relate to diet or exercise or weight. I don’t want to mess with the first two, and so I can’t do anything about the last one.

Seven months it’s been without bingeing, overexercising, or restricting. Seven months in which I’ve eaten a lot more lasagna and – oddly, because I can eat anything – a lot less cake than I ever could have predicted. Until last Saturday, when a friend and I learned Britney Spears dance routines (my Christmas present to her – it was, as she said repeatedly, her “dream”), I tried exactly zero new workouts.

Some days have been easy; others have been ridiculously difficult. For the past few days I’ve been going through a hard patch, where – despite lasagna and peanut butter and spaghetti Bolognese in the same day -- I feel like I’m starving (something I’ve only felt very, very occasionally since the first month, when I felt it constantly). I’m trying to remind myself it isn’t always like this, though when I’m in the middle of it it’s hard to envision that it will shift. I’m not asking for suggestions about what to do about it – I know I can eat more, and sometimes I do.

And that, some days, makes things even harder. I know to dismiss the voice that suggests bingeing is the answer, but I have to entertain – or at least consider -- the voice that suggests more. I’ve started plenty of binges in the past having just a little bit more of something, and then being unable to stop.

There is an app I use on my phone to log days without a binge, and it makes a satisfying ping when you check in, which on hard days I do repeatedly. The ping is like the gong in yoga, or the chimes at the end of a massage I once had at an Indian spa. It brings me back to the present, back from spiraling out of control from the fear that things will always be this hard and that I cannot do this any more. And eventually – sometimes only with repeated check-ins within hours – it passes.

Seven months without a binge is longer than I ever thought it possible to go but not long enough to forget what it was like being unable to get through a day. And to be honest, I don’t want to forget. And so I will remember this: I would sit in meetings listening to people talk who had done what I simply could not, which is to put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, and just not do the thing they really, really wanted to do. Jealousy would well up. Also anger: Why could I not do this thing? Why did one day seem so unbelievably long? (Frankly, when you want to binge, the 10 seconds it can take a cashier to fumble with your change can seem like a year too long.)

I would vow to do it, maybe after just one more binge. And I couldn’t.


I don’t know why I can do it now or even really how. But I’m grateful.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Thanksgiving

For awhile there was a hashtag floating around on Twitter called “Confess your unpopular opinion.” Here’s mine: I really don’t like Thanksgiving.

I think I like it. Every year I think: Oh, it’s going to be fine. But it’s basically a national excuse to binge eat and (in New York, at least) overexercise, and frankly, it’s often a reminder of what I don’t have. My father’s father died on Thanksgiving morning when I was five – the table was already set for guests. And my grandmother died the day after Thanksgiving six years ago, after I’d overexercised (it was either two or three hours) then binged so badly I passed out and didn’t call her on Thanksgiving – and I usually called her every day. I never got to speak to her again.

I thought I might avoid Thanksgiving entirely this year, but instead I had it twice – on Thursday and Saturday. The eating disordered voice in my head found this stressful and difficult (especially with a trip to NYC looming), but on the flip side – and in the past six months, I have gotten a whole lot better at seeing the flip side – I have friends who care about me and sometimes go to pretty great lengths to show it.

On Thursday the plan was just to go to an English friend’s for dinner. I had eaten every meal except breakfast out for the previous week, and was looking forward to a relatively safe dinner (friend is from treatment.) But she surprised me by making the whole dinner, texting an American friend of ours pictures to check things were turning out right. It was incredibly sweet and thoughtful. (And yes, it turned out right, down to the cornbread, which is not something we ever had at our Thanksgiving growing up, but which I love.)

Saturday a Scottish friend and her half-American housemate threw a Thanksgiving dinner party. It was the first time I’ve done much drinking in nearly six months, and I have to say, it did make things harder on the food front. I struggled so hard to stick to one plate of food and one plate of pudding – so much so that I left earlier than I might otherwise, in part because the only way I could imagine staying would be consuming more. (Also: I was tired.) Yesterday I felt terrible: Hungover, tired, depressed (you forget when you haven’t drunk for awhile that alcohol is a depressant), and the cravings were through the roof. I spent the whole day basically waiting for it to be over, and it felt uncomfortably close to how I used to feel post-binge.

But on the plus side: I had a plate of food and didn’t even consider whether it was carbs or protein or fat – just food. I had a plate of pudding, just like everyone else. And I didn’t overexercise and didn’t restrict either before or after. I confess I thought about jumping on the scale to monitor the damage, but I can’t, because I have nothing to compare it to.


177 days -- and boy am I grateful for them. 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Anniversaries, Again

Six years ago today I left London for New York.

You know how sometimes you feel peace after you make a decision? That wasn’t one of those times. I had a feeling of impending doom that crept in repeatedly, though I pushed it away. I exercised, I starved, I binged, I worried about having the perfect handbag for my big new job. I focused hard on all the details so I wouldn’t think about the big picture, like the way I dictated my mother’s death notice over the phone to the New York Times: Focusing on each word alone as I read, so I couldn’t think about the sentences they formed and therefore wouldn’t cry.

I didn’t think I’d love the job but I didn’t think I’d hate it the way I did. And New York became one big, long downward spiral. I keep hearing a friend’s father’s advice when I was trying to make the decision about London versus New York all those years ago: Whatever decision you make, make it the right decision.

Was New York the wrong decision? Despite what I wrote above, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think so. It brought me back here, for better or for worse. There were some career-related things that may never have happened. And nearly two years ago I found a writers group in Brooklyn – and with it, a handful of friends -- that may well have been the best thing that happened to me the whole time I lived there (and is one of the few things – almost the only thing -- that really tugs at me when I think about not going back.)

I’m genuinely not quite sure what I’m going to do about London versus New York. I’m starting to feel a bit betwixt and between, not really belonging in either place – having been gone for so long from New York, and then having had such a small, small world here with all this recovery stuff. Last weekend was the first one where I thought about just leaving at the end of December (the amount of time I’m definitely here for) and going back. But that is old thinking. One bad weekend isn’t something to base a decision on. We shall see.

* * *

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done – or at least, haven’t tried to do – for nearly five months now: I skipped my afternoon snack.

It seemed like a fairly small thing to do. I got busy, didn’t eat it, and then it was 6.30 and I was having an earlyish (7 pm) dinner with friends. So far, so good, right?

(evil laugh)

Reader, I was like a crazy person. We had only agreed to meet at South Ken tube, not the restaurant, and I was just… controlling. (It didn’t help that I’d also eaten lunch in a restaurant – 2 meals out in the same day is still a bit of a challenge.) Quite focused on deciding the place to eat, panicking at queues, frustrated when we were just chatting and chatting and no waitress seemed to be appearing. And even when I finally asked if we could order – I could feel myself getting farther and farther from the conversation – I couldn’t settle. Nor could I when the food came. I felt frustrated, impatient (or maybe that was with myself?)

Lesson learned. I’m not doing that again.


Day 146.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Family Drama

Saturday night, I took my aunt and sister to Ottolenghi.

My aunt, whom longtime readers (all 1 or 2 of you!) may remember has the same problem I do (though has chosen to handle it differently, if she even acknowledges that she has it), suggested we order one of every single thing that looked appealing. This being a tapas restaurant with a fairly short menu, luckily this wasn’t quite as bad (or as much food) as it sounded. (When told this, her response was: “Should we order more?”)

My sister looked for something to dip the lavash into and sounded upset there wasn’t bread. We’d spent a lot of the day shopping for her; as the mother of three small children, she rarely has time. It’s probably also worth noting that she arrived in London exhausted from days of prepping things to make it easy for her husband while she was away, and spent the entire trip stressing out about what to buy them all as presents.

When it came to dessert, which Aunt M doesn’t allow herself, I ordered my favorite cake and my sister – at my aunt’s prodding -- ordered two she wanted to try. Aunt M took a couple of teeny, tiny bites; my sister complained that she couldn’t stop eating the two she ordered. (For the record, I finished mine – it was a pretty big slice -- but didn’t feel any desire to eat more.)

Sunday morning my sister and my aunt separately informed me that last night, back at the hotel, my aunt asked her for the Hobnobs my sister had bought.

“Should I give them to you?” my sister asked. Aunt M nodded. She ate some, along with some almonds my sister had brought for snacking, because what she really wanted was the dessert she hadn’t allowed herself. That morning Aunt M ordered oatmeal, but wouldn’t eat it because it because she thought it tasted too good and so therefore had something in it she shouldn’t be allowed to eat.

That afternoon we went to a pub for Sunday lunch. Aunt M couldn’t get her Yorkshire pudding off her plate fast enough, putting it on Friend Bearing Chocolate’s (anyone remember her?!) Portions were generous but not enormous (certainly not by American standards), but all Aunt M could talk about on the way home was how she was glad not to be going with my sister to a friend’s house because she couldn’t face any more food. She didn’t mean because she was too full; she meant because she didn’t think she could navigate it.

I’m writing this while the two of them are at my supercalifragimazing Pilates class, which is not in itself notable. What is notable is that the two of them spent more than an hour at Pret on a beautiful Saturday afternoon scrolling through class times and locations and working out when they could go, and being quite willing to severely inconvenience themselves (and me) or forgo other things just to do it. Like many of the other things they did, I used to do it too, and watching them is alternately sad, painful and frustrating (and I feel guilty that those are words I use to describe a family visit.) The anxiety is radiating off of both of them like the swirling mess around Pig-Pen in Charlie Brown.

And now another day has passed and I’m finishing this up exhausted, having gotten up at the crack of dawn to sign them into my gym for a pre-plane workout while I dashed off to Ottolenghi to pick up some airport food for them. (Plan foiled, as Ottolenghi had mostly breakfast pastry at that hour, and the aunt watches carbs. I knew she wouldn’t want to face figuring out what was a meal from the amazing-looking pieces of quiche and cakes I brought my sister, so I ended up buying her a calorie-controlled lunch box from the gym café, and she seemed grateful for it.)

Yesterday also included a meltdown from the aunt, the likes of which I have never ever seen – crying and yelling on Kensington High Street. And I am left stunned and reeling, not quite sure how much of it was my fault. I won’t bore you with the whole description of what happened, but some of it was food-related, and my behavior there wasn’t perfectly stellar, either. She later bought me a cashmere sweater (!), which I have no way of knowing if is some form of apology. All I know is that we were all on our forced-cheerful best behavior last night, and I suspect there will be a hangover of sorts that lingers for days now that they’re gone.

On the plus side, I’m on Day 129 – officially the longest I’ve ever gone without bingeing, restricting, or overexercising. I’m beginning to ask what it is I’m really afraid of or anxious about when I laser-focus on worrying about food. And yet I’m not sure when is the point that I’ll feel more confident about it; when my brain will stop thinking of it like a secret snow day when someone cancels a meal on me, and I can go home and eat exactly how I want. I guess all I can do is keep going until that day comes -- the day when I'm not counting days at all. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Anniversaries

Facebook kicked up a memory I knew was sometime around now, though I didn’t know the exact date.

It was a friend’s bachelorette party three years ago, though I’m the only one looking at the photo who also knows it’s the day I binged after 123 days of not bingeing, which is the longest I’ve ever managed since I started counting.

I didn’t descend immediately into days of bingeing nonstop. In fact, I don’t think in the past three years I ever got there, though the frequency and intensity of the binges was soul-destroying. But after that binge at the bachelorette party I binged again about three weeks later, I believe, and – as is my pattern – the binges became more frequent from there. Things spiraled downward until I made the decision to get some treatment earlier this year.

I saw my counselor yesterday, and she was trying to convince me that relapse is not the end of the world, and that even if I did, I don’t have to fall as far as I did last time. Which I know. And yet I worry anyway. Now that treatment is over, life is opening up and getting bigger, and events are coming thick and fast.

I know that if I get to Day 124 this time all there is is the possibility of getting to Day 125. This isn’t something I’m ever done with. But I’d like to get there anyway.


Day 117.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Recovery

Sunday morning I ran a 10k I was particularly anxious about. I don’t run more than 45 minutes these days and I rarely run straight through – usually I’m doing some sort of speed or hill work and there are plenty of walk breaks. I also don’t run nearly as often as I used to, and despite small improvements, my pace is only slightly faster than an anemic turtle. I’d just agreed to run the race – a friend’s company’s charity run – on Wednesday, and I only realized on Saturday night how small the field was (maybe 100 runners) meaning there was a good possibility I could come in last.

Which I know would not be the end of the world as I know it, but I wasn’t looking forward to a flashback to my school PE days (only without the horribly itchy maroon shorts that were uncomfortably tight on me.)

The run, which was two laps around Regents Park, turned out to be glorious. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was able to enjoy it, in part because I don’t run so often that it feels like punishment. I suspect it also helps that I’ve been eating carbs for weeks now (99 days on the day of the race.) I think they may slightly have messed up either the timing or the distance of the race, because somehow I finished in less than an hour, not last. (Although not all that far off it – I believe I was 109 out of 127.)

When I picked up my goodie bag, the guy handed me a size medium t-shirt without asking me my size. Bless.

I went and met a friend for Sunday lunch, which included an indifferent Yorkshire pudding I took a couple of bites of and left without giving it much thought. I realized I wasn’t far from Ottolenghi, and that maybe I could get my favorite cake – which I have not eaten all summer, for one reason or another – for a snack. I debated calling to make sure they had it, because some locations don’t (the one closest to me never does), and I knew I’d feel slightly rage-y if this one didn’t. But I was also scared of eating the cake, and told myself that if I walked over there and they didn’t have it it was a sign I wasn’t meant to eat it that day.

On the 15-minute walk over I decided I didn’t really feel like eating the cake, which – I know, I know! – I couldn’t decide if were the actual truth or just fear of what might happen if I did. I decided I was eating it if they had it.

They did. I bought it, but my hands didn’t shake the way they sometimes do when I buy things like it. It was 45 minutes before I got home, and en route it didn’t feel like I was carrying a bomb. Nor did I feel the need to eat it immediately, the way I often have in the past. I thought briefly about whether I should try to only eat half, but I let it go.

I got home and ate the cake maybe a little too fast, but without panic. I didn’t cut back on dinner or on my evening snack. I didn’t decide I needed to exercise more to compensate. I felt – and feel – curiously… fine.

Not every day is like that. But I’m hopeful if I keep going, more will be.


Day 101.