Can you laugh about it now?

Then she pulled at my stitches one by one and looked at my insides clicking her tongue, and said ‘this will all have to come undone’  And doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t that hit too close to home? Doesn’t that make you shiver: the way things could’ve gone?

And doesn’t it feel peculiar, when everyone wants a little more?  And so that I do remember, to never go that far, could you leave me with a scar”

– Missy Higgins, Scar

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So this last week I did something very mature, facing up to some things from my past and not burying my head in the sand about them. I was in an accident when I was at university, which basically involved me stepping out right in front of a bus in the middle of the Brisbane CBD…. I don’t actually remember from about 20mins before the accident to the whole two weeks I was in hospital. I had multiple fractures (skull, jaw, ribs, shoulderblade), torn hip labrum and some pretty gnarly road rash from hitting the bitumen. Everything healed, and life moved on….but now that I’m getting older I am finding that I’m having to face up to some of the consequences of that accident, likely confounded by my long-running relationship with Ana during that time which would have affected how well my bones and body healed.

My husband – who doubles as my physio (friends with benefits haha) – has been at me for some time now to get follow up scans done on my neck and left hip just to see how they are looking and whether we need to be concerned in the long run, since I am determined to be doing Ironmans or at least running until I skid full throttle into the grave at some point, hopefully a ripe old age. My neck still bothers me and the hip catches a lot, but neither of them stop me from doing anything right now.

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Cutest little bum you ever did see

So I went and visited the sports doctor who managed my foot injury a couple of years back, and he organised the scans; today I went back to discuss the results. We work with him a lot on a professional level as well – I consider him more of a friend than a doctor and I feel like I can talk openly to him about my past. My little mini (my 9 month old son) was with me, charming everyone left right and centre. We were making small talk about who he looks like and somehow got onto talking about genetic traits….and how one side of my family is full of eating disorders and mental health problems. Then we got on to talking about the actual accident, how it happened and the forces involved so that we could discuss the pathology together. I joked “so yeah, I stepped out in front of a bus. And no, before you ask, I wasn’t drunk or suicidal….but I probably hadn’t eaten for a week so I may as well have been!” then laughed it off, because that’s what I do.

And then he asked “can you joke about it now?”.

“What – the bus accident or the anorexia?!”.

“No, the eating disorder”.

I paused. “That’s a very serious question!”, I said again attempting to laugh it off.

He waited for a serious answer.

I thought about it.

“Well, I guess you have to laugh about it, right? Or else you cry about it. It’s one or the other. Why do you ask?”.

He replied that in his experience most people never get to a point where they feel ok talking about it. I still don’t feel comfortable with it, that’s for sure. But I do know that while that part of my life is now safely fairly hidden (since we moved from Brisbane 7 years ago I strategically don’t tell anyone…it’s nice that people here don’t know that part of my life and gives me a sense of freedom from their judgement about my body), it’s also important that there are a few people who I can turn to when I’m struggling. Dr C is one of those people. Two close girlfriends; my coach; and my husband are the others. And I guess when push comes to shove, I don’t really know that laughing about it is a healthy response.

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Preparing for my Ironman comeback one year post pregnancy, two years post foot surgery.

There’s nothing funny about anorexia.  It destroyed my mind, my body; took away my childhood and leaves me with a very deep pit of anger that bubbles only millimetres away from the surface (it does not take much scratching to delve there). And yet here I am, living an amazing life, at a “healthy” weight, and considered “recovered” (whatever that means).

But the scars remain and I can tell you that the voice of Ana never goes away…even after all this time I could flick a switch and go back there in a heartbeat. I don’t want to, because I have so much more to lose these days – my husband and son deserve so much more from me and I want to be fully present to experience all the happiness they give me on a daily basis. I don’t want to allow Ana to steal my ability to be present in those moments and replace that with anxiety about the next meal, the next opportunity to burn calories, or the number on the scale.

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BUT. And there has to be a But. I don’t know what other way to cope and to move forwards than to be able to face each day, give it my best, and be able to vent by joking about Ana to my “inner circle”; precious people who I know go way beyond judging me on my body weight or my scarred past. I still have to talk about the heavy shit (for one of a better description) with my psychologist on a fairly regular basis, which inevitably results in tears, slow progress and home truths…so I guess for me this is a way of processing all that went on and attempting to repackage it in a way that is more palatable. I have other friends from treatment who I’m still in touch with, and more still from around the world who I have connected with since recovering. Many of them never talk about their ED pasts except to fellow sufferers. Some go above and beyond to hide their history from everyone, denying anything. More still are what I would consider “partially recovered”, masquerading behind a healthier BMI but almost as neurotic as they ever were about their food and exercise consumption. A rare few are strong enough to cope with recovery by flipping it on its head and going fully public about it in the hope to help others who are struggling too. I don’t feel like I am bulletproof enough to do that; there still needs to be that barrier of anonymity there for me when going about my daily life not as a “Recovered Anorexic” but just as me, who used to have an ED but doesn’t any more. Especially with my job as a health professional. And still…when I see patient of mine, friends or even strangers walking down the street so obviously going through the hell of an ED, every cell of my body wants to run straight to them, hug them and take away all the pain. But I know I’m not the right person to do it, and I would not be strong enough to resist the pull myself.

 

So on goes life.

 

I’m not sure what the correct answer is but for now, “Yes, I Can Laugh About It”. I can also cry about it. Revert back to it for hours, days or weeks at a time. Flirt with the line in the sand between “recovered” and “disordered eating patterns”. And especially, I can be pissed off about it, mainly for the family issues that still exist and trigger me off so easily (case in point: during a 5 day stay with my parents recently I managed to lose an impressive 4kg…and I wasn’t even trying). I can be ashamed of it. I can be in denial about it. I can wish it never happened.

 

But above all, I have to be stronger than it, and to rise above it, and to ultimately think that it has made me who and what I am today. And for that, I have to be thankful and at peace.

 

Onwards and Upwards,

K xo

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Pregnancy and Eating Disorders: Part 2

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Growing a human being from scratch is a unique experience. It becomes even more unique for those of us who have been through an eating disorder. No matter what stage of illness or recovery you are in, there are individual nutritional, physiological, and psychological challenges that you will experience that all the well-meaning ‘practical’ pregnancy books and blogs in the world will not be able to help you with, or that other pregnant women could ever understand.

Currently I’m 6 months into my pregnancy and have been living these mini-battles and celebrations like a rollercoaster ride that still has 4 months to go (because yes, pregnancy is actually 10 months or 40 weeks, not 9 months!) . As the weeks go on and my body changes, the challenges get bigger but so too do the rewards – feeling your little person doing kung-foo fighting in your belly is one of the coolest feelings on the planet, and something I’ve come to focus on when everything else is becoming overwhelming.

I am hoping that like all things in life, it will get easier with time and experience – I want to have 3 children in the long-term scheme of things so I have to find a way to cope with everything during pregnancy in order to be OK with going back into the battle field! Easily the hardest part from an ED perspective has been the nausea, vomiting and constant hunger, which I’ve discussed in previous posts. But wait – there’s more – oh so many more things that may blindside you along the way on this journey of life creation….

Keep calm and stress less...hiking in Milford Sound, NZ

Keep calm and stress less…hiking in Milford Sound, NZ

Getting “weighed in” at the doctor’s office

Everyone is different with their recovery but I know a lot of you do not know your weight once you start down the recovery journey, and I am the same. I have had to find out maybe 5 times over the years I’ve been in recovery (they weigh you in before and after an Ironman to check for dehydration post-race, and also before surgery for the anaesthetist ie before my foot surgery). It doesn’t get less traumatic with time and distance from Ana. I just think it’s one of those things that despite your newfound health, identity and logical reasoning, it just tips you over the edge every time. The good news is that most other things get exponentially easier with time – like eating out and getting dressed in the mornings, but in my experience that number on the scale seems to be like a ticking time bomb.

Which brings us to the Obstetricians office where I get weighed and my blood pressure checked each and every time I see her. I even get competitive about the blood pressure reading – because I know how low mine is when I’m “race-fit” and I love that sense of numbers reflecting my health. See – it’s an issue! So I had to do the hard strategy that you learn soon enough into your recovery – to ask not to know the weight as you take that monumental step onto the scales. Which feels ridiculous when you are a grown woman, and a health professional at that, and look to be a healthy weight. You instantly feel the judgement of the weigher cloud the room (imagined or otherwise) and then usually end up blurting out something about having an eating disorder in the past and then by that point you just want to shrink into the palm of your own hand and disappear.

But here’s the thing. As horrible as that moment seems to you, I guarantee you the doctor or nurse weighing you is not judging you like you think they are. They, of all people, understand eating disorders and even if they don’t, this moment is just one of thousands during their very busy day and they won’t think twice about it after you leave the room. And they will never turn around and tell you the weight despite your request; they are more professional than that.

You, on the other hand, need protection. So it’s a matter of having that conversation to not know the weight, or finding out and then winding up in a spiral of destruction for the next few days/weeks/months……Five minutes of awkwardness vs a month of self-criticism? I’ll take the five minutes, thanks. And THAT conversation does get a little easier, even if the weight thing never does.

Knowing how Much Weight to Gain….and not freaking out about it.

Here’s the thing. This becomes a two-pronged issue as soon as you get pregnant: The things you can control, and the things you can’t. A lot of us have come from a lifetime of rigid eating and exercise patterns, even through to recovery, and control is a big issue for us – indeed often the initial cause for triggering an eating disorder.

So firstly, the part you can control during pregnancy is what you eat, how you exercise, and your stress levels. None of these things will affect the actual growth of your baby much – babies develop even in horrific environments at times and most come out around the same weight and health status – however these factors do greatly affect you, and how you feel during pregnancy. Your health and happiness, shall we say. So work with your dietician or read up on optimal pregnancy nutrition and where you can, try to eat well and adequately so that you as well as your baby can thrive and hopefully enjoy the experience.

The part that you cannot control is how your body grows. Where you carry your belly (high/low/front/spread etc), how big your boobs get, how much morning sickness you get, how much weight you gain, and where you gain it. If you are eating well, exercising sensibly and keeping stress under control, the rest is up to your body. You will likely gain between 9-15kg and it won’t necessarily be in a nice steady increment – sometimes the baby (and you) will grow a lot in a month, other times not so much. This has been a challenge for me, sometimes it feels like I’m watching an alien take over my body. But it has helped extraordinarily knowing that hey, I am doing everything that is within my control to be healthy, so the rest is up to Mother Nature. It’s important to note also that very little of that total amount is fat gain – most of it is baby, water weight, placenta, breast tissue and the like. I have found it helpful to look up the average breakdown of weight gain with respect to these things to keep the feelings of “fatness” in perspective!

And a final word….don’t buy into all the online bullshit popping up with “All Belly Pregnancies” and the like which seem to promote gaining absolutely the minimal weight and getting back to pre-pregnancy weight within 2.5 seconds of giving birth. It’s unrealistic and a ticking time bomb for eating disorder sufferers….it’s best to just not go there!

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Coping with comments from the world at large and worse….people touching you

So apparently once you fall pregnant, everyone in the world becomes an expert in pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. They want you to know how knowledgeable they are, which they express by shoving it down your throat with a good dose of judgement on the size of your bump (and sometimes boobs and butt…) and possibly a feel of your belly. Yup, not joking. I will preface this with the fact that I have always hated people touching my stomach, even my husband doesn’t go there when I’m lean and fit and sporting a washboard down there. So to say that I feel self-conscious about the ever-growing beach ball in my mid-section, and people launching their hands at it when you least expect it is an understatement! And as for the birthing and breastfeeding horror stories, well everyone seems to have gone through World War III giving birth to their brood, wearing their drama like a badge of honour. Makes you wonder how humans did it for all those centuries without the intervention of medical specialists and fancy hospitals, right? Right….

We are just animals after all, and we must remember that pregnancy and childbirth are one of the most normal, natural things that females can go through. The baby knows what it’s doing; the body knows what it’s doing…..you and your overactive, impressionable brain are just along for the ride. And you can make that ride calm and magical, embracing what nature does best, or you can listen to the horror stories and spend 10 months stressing about what will or probably won’t go wrong during childbirth. The way I see it is that we are blessed to have the fancy hospitals and specialists available on the small chance that something does go wrong. But I’ll be happy to go through the experience knowing that my body knows what it’s doing, even if it’s new to my mind….and that it’s a great day if I don’t have to see my Obstetrician during the birth because it means that all is well (midwives, on the other hand – the more the merrier!).

As for the comments on size…the only consensus I have on this is that 100% of the time, the people telling me “gee you’re huge!” or my personal favourite “wow you’re really looking pregnant now” are not….well….pictures of health. They are the ones who are a little on the tubby side and clearly insecure about their own weight. My friends who I train with or who are healthy weight tell me how awesome I’m looking. It all comes down to the common denominator once pointed out to me by a very smart psychologist: people talk about themselves. So when someone is bitching about so-and-so’s choices in life or commenting on your weight, just smile and think to yourself “wow you must have an insecurity about that within yourself”. Think about it. It can be a very informative experience! And maybe next time you catch yourself about to say something judgemental about another….stop and think – is this my issue or theirs?

Much more to come on the intricacies of growing a baby within one’s post-ED body, but for now this baby-mumma needs to get to work.

Happy training,
K xo

FUNCTION OVER FORM. ALWAYS.

You never quite realise how much you take your mental cues from the physical body – that is, until you try to recover from an eating disorder. Or get pregnant. That glimpse of flat abs, outline of a six-pack, the toned and lean legs, tanned and glowing skin from hours in the sunshine; these things you take for granted at the time, but are all a daily reminder that you are fit, healthy and an athlete. Recovered.

Being so recovered, I thought of myself as being “above” all of that. Above needing physical clues – indeed, I didn’t even realise how much I relied on them until they went away. You do all this work on the mind during recovery, establishing yourself as a whole person being so much more meaningful than a weight on the scales or a dress size. But what I didn’t realise is that in my successful quest for recovery, I had replaced many of the anorexic cues with athlete cues – arguably, much more healthy for me, but nonetheless a crutch of sorts for self-esteem and self-worth.

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This was a deliberate strategy to a large extent on the behalf of both my psychologist and my dietician: as being particularly resistant to treatment after 10+ years of anorexia, it was eventually discovered that I work best when we replace the focus of weight with the focus of athletic performance. Function over form. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, a key component to the success of this strategy was in allowing me to continue with my athletic and University endeavours during this treatment process. My incentive was as simple as this: If I don’t fuel my body correctly, I cannot perform athletically to my potential nor academically. And for me, my self-esteem and self-worth became more hinged over time on my identity as an athlete and a smart, successful woman. I fuelled my body and mind and discovered, in doing so, that my potential was far greater than I had ever dreamed of. I found my niche in Ironman and my passion in physiotherapy and succeeded in recovery life. Together we created visions of where I wanted to be – career-wise and athletically – and honed in on what I required of my body and mind in order to achieve these goals. Ana did not fit in with those dreams. Fuelling my body for hard training sessions, recovering well for my mind to work, and achieving some sort of balance in the way of sleep and relaxation were all imperative to the puzzle working.

I realise this strategy may not work and indeed may not be necessary for some ED sufferers. It worked for me primarily because physiologically I was, while underweight, stable enough to be allowed to keep exercising, albeit at a reduced load to my previous program. I was also at a key age: old enough to be independent and choosing to be in recovery; but also still studying at University and therefore able to easily manipulate where I wished my career pathway to go from here. You could call it “lucky”; I prefer to think it was my time – I had been in several treatment programs at younger ages and none had worked. So successful was the strategy that even now, when I’m having particularly challenging Ana thoughts that last more than a few days, I am able to trace it back to either work or training not going well for me. Focus has gone away from the things I’m most passionate about and my go-to backup is Ana. It happens subconsciously, only now I am so much better at recognising it and addressing it. Function over form. Recalibrate your life, sort it out….there we go.

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The reason all of this is on my mind is that with the last 8 weeks of hell (being pregnant with the worse morning sickness ever) – there has been little training, time in the sun, intake of nutritious food, all-important sleep; even work has gone largely out the window (it’s difficult to treat patients when spontaneously vomiting). You’re growing a baby – possibly the ultimate function! – but you are so sick that it’s hard to comprehend this, and it’s also such a new identity: baby-grower. Person-manufacturer. Mum. So, day by day the Ana thoughts creep back and to make matters worse, all those lovely physical cues you didn’t even know you loved so much start slipping away – the stomach and boobs rounded, the skin grey and pale, dark circles under the eyes, muscle tone going….

But alas the solution lies in the past. Let’s get the focus back to my newest function: growing an awesome human. And yes, let’s remember that the morning sickness does not last forever. It is not Ana returning, just a transient loss of all the things that make me, me. Now that I am starting to get back outdoors, get into work, swimming and running, baking, and eating wonderful food again, sure enough the happiness grows too day by day. It might take me a while to get used to this new addition to my identity (“baby-grower”), but in time, it will come. It took a long time to see myself as an athlete, I can’t expect to click my fingers and have this happen overnight.

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Chin up, stay strong, and remember that those thoughts aren’t you…..you, my friend, are far more beautiful than that.

K xoxoxo

Pregnancy and Eating Disorders

How do you rattle a Type-A control freak with a history of Anorexia and a love of exercise? Shower her with morning sickness and extreme fatigue, and watch her world unravel….

Challenging would be an understatement for the last couple of months of my life. My previously well-controlled little cocoon that I know as my life, with routine, structure, and an all-important sense of controlling what is happening to my body, has been dismantled for the best possible reason. But the fact that there is a little person growing inside me only manages to give me glimpses of fleeting happiness amidst the 24-7 nausea, vomiting, and extreme fatigue. I know that this will improve once the sickness eases, and I cannot wait to feel as though I’m floating on clouds with happiness about our little human growing day by day in my belly (and, well, just to be able to eat something – anything – without vomiting would be great too!).

Coffee won't be happening any time soon!

Coffee won’t be happening any time soon!

Throughout the challenge of the last couple of months it has taken all of my strength to maintain some semblance of a healthy lifestyle and body in which to house my little person. This surprised me. I am well into recovery and haven’t had a relapse for quite some time. And aside from anything else, my Psychologist has always been adamant that the best cure for an eating disorder is to get pregnant. I did question him about this one time, to which he elaborated that we of the selfless kind tend to be able to eat for someone else but rarely for ourselves. And also that suddenly we have no control over what our body is doing and so there tends to be some relief in the fact that there’s not a lot we can actually do about that for once. Then I questioned him further about after the baby comes out – when relapse rates hit a spike – and well turns out that’s another story, but we won’t go into that right now…. I do know that it took me a good 5 years after recovery to truly believe that I was ready to start a family. Of course, the fear of the weight and body changes scared me. But it was actually a much deeper fear that stopped me from wanting children: I was petrified that if I had a daughter or son, they would have Anorexia one day too. And that was something my heart just couldn’t cope with. It took a very long time of sorting through that with my psychologist before I felt more confident that I could do everything in my power to prevent that from happening: the genes I pass on I can’t change, but the environment of the child I most certainly can. And will.

I guess the hardest part for me currently is that I am acutely aware of trying to maintain the healthiest possible food intake and exercise program, and keep stress levels low, laugh a lot – all the things a little human needs to grow happily. But when every smell – from perfume to food to drinks – bothers you and every meal and snack is a massive psychological and physical event to get through, well it’s like being thrown back into the recovery ward. To make matters worse, despite my best efforts to eat enough I am losing weight, and this plays on my mind as well. I desperately want to be healthy, and yet there’s this voice that is happy about not getting “too fat, too soon”. I know I will put the weight back on and then some, and I know that losing weight in the first trimester is common when you have severe morning sickness, and I also know that the baby is happy as Larry inside despite how I’m feeling out here in the Real World. But it still bothers and confuses me and I really didn’t expect to have so many mixed emotions around this magical event.

My best management strategies have involved getting plenty of sleep, because everything seems so much more distressing when you are tired. And incidentally, so is Morning sickness (aka 24/7 sickness). I have also found it helpful to try to do some form of exercise every day. This has been a big one for me….my goal after my foot surgery was always to be able to comfortably run 5-8km when I finally got pregnant. Catch 22: my fitness is at that level, and so is my foot, but it’s managing the nausea and tiredness that’s been the hard part. Being flexible is not easy for me, but I’ve had to learn to pick my battles and get outside for a little run/walk when I feel the least nauseous. It’s good for the baby and it’s good for my head (much better than sitting on the couch moping about how I feel). I can’t swim or bike right now, because of the body positions making me more likely to be sick, so gym work and running it is. And I have to be OK with that. I can’t control everything. And that is extremely hard to say as an Ironman athlete and former Anorexic.

My heart goes out to anyone with a history of Bulimia, I can only begin to imagine how difficult the initial stages of pregnancy must be with the challenges of extreme hunger, accompanied by frequent vomiting. I have only ever been a restrictive anorexic and I am certainly finding it a monumental challenge. Not being able to keep up my normal training routine is hard enough – I love my early morning sunrises over the pool, my bike sessions with our squad or my husband, our local Roadrunners every Saturday. I miss the physical but also the mental aspects of that. And racing….I really miss racing too.

Tragedy....I haven't even been able to handle the smell of baking!

Tragedy….I haven’t even been able to handle the smell of baking!

I follow a few Ironman athletes on social media who have recently become new Mums. Two of them “accidentally” did an Ironman or two while pregnant, without realising. I regularly think of this while I’m battling through my 5km run at a very slow pace, fighting waves of nausea, and feel like I just completed an Ironman marathon – How did they not know??!!! I am baffled. But you have to laugh and realise that in the end, every body, and mind, is so different.

For now, I am focusing on daily survival as best I can. “Lucky” for me, I have had experience with battling food and weight and so I have an army of strategies to help me through this tough patch. I am looking forward to the magic as well as the challenges to come. I’ve had a lot of time to think about coping with a changing, growing belly; how to be healthy afterwards (ie not relapse); and all the amazing things that come with this process. But as I’ve just discovered, I’m sure nothing will be as it seems on the surface – so bring on the next challenge….it’s going to be an exciting 9 months and beyond.

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K xoxo