The Hidden Village of Aspergers

September 26, 2014

Attack of the Mutant 50 Foot Kebab

When your starving pitbull starts to eat your leg
You have to watch your children beg and beg

TW: eating disorders

In December this year, I’m going to see the Manic Street Preachers playing their third album, The Holy Bible, in its entirety. It’s one of my favourite albums of all time. However, there is one bit I’m dreading, and that’s when they play ‘4st 7lb’, a song about anorexia which contains lyrics such as ‘I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint’ and ‘Mother tries to choke me with roast beef, but sits savouring her sole Ryvita’. If you look up the song on Youtube, you’ll find dozens of ‘thinspo’ videos set to the song. What Richey Edwards, an anorexic himself, would have thought, I do not know; the song, if anything, is anti-anorexia. The lyrics are filled with horror and despair under the ‘isn’t anorexia great?’ exterior. The girl in the song hates food. She doesn’t see it as comforting, warm, nourishing, delicious, even healthy; it is her enemy. At the beginning of the song, there is a sample of Caraline Neville-Lister, a severely anorexic woman who eventually died of the disease, saying, “I eat too much to die, and not enough to stay alive. I’m sitting in the middle, waiting.” When I was younger, I envied the ‘discipline’ of anorexics; now I look back and cringe. I am trying to have a healthier relationship with food, but it’s not an easy process. I write this after having eaten a large amount of Ritz crackers and thrown them up.

Food. My relationship with it is complex. I eat it, I cook it, I talk about it, I swap cookery tips with friends and reblog pictures of cakes on Tumblr, I have a cupboard full of cookery books given to me by family members and copies of Sainsbury’s Magazine, I regularly visit my local greengrocer (Withington Fruit & Veg) and used to buy vegetables at my local monthly market. When it’s my birthday, or friends’ birthdays, I go out for meals with friends, to Pizza Express or a curry house; we share sides between us or try each other’s dishes. Back when I went to synagogue, a group of us – mainly converts – would go out for a meal afterwards. The food is even more delicious at the end of Yom Kippur, when you’ve been sat in a long and draining service and had nothing to eat or drink for hours. One thing that got me interested in Judaism was the love of food, and how interlinked it is with faith. On Pesach, my favourite festival, we have the seder meal (and it’s much more fun when you’re with your mates and you’re all a bit pissed, communal sederim are a bit formal sometimes); on Chanukah, we have doughnuts and latkes; on Shavuot, we have dairy; on Tu B’Shvat, we have loads of fruit, and so on.

Baking has become a trendy thing in the UK, and I actually find this rather pleasing because I’ve always loved baking. When I was a toddler, I learned to bake, as did my brother (whose cooking is out of this world). When Jack and I were teenagers, we were so into baking that sometimes we’d compete for kitchen space. Carrot cake was his speciality and brownies were mine. Delia Smith was the queen of TV chefs, and I learned everything about the basics of cooking from her. Both Jack and I cooked the odd meal. In my family, particularly on my mum’s side, cooking was and is not considered a gendered activity, and everyone does it, except a couple of cousins (although one of them is getting better). There is a running joke on my mum’s side of the family about my maternal gran’s secret stuffing recipe and how many times we’ve tried to replicate it. My cousin Andy has recently got into cake decorating (and not just him – his mum, my auntie Chris, my dad’s sister, made an amazing football-themed cake for my cousin Laura’s birthday earlier this year). My dad cooked, as did my ex-stepdad, and the current one does too (he makes some very nice pasta meals and grows his own vegetables and fruit in an allotment). Jack and I were both packed off to uni with more cooking equipment than you could shake a stick at; my housemates would often steal my garlic crusher, as I was the only person in the flat who had one. Some of my earliest memories are food-related, such as eating duck à l’orange out of a metal tray when I was very little, or coming home from tennis club to find my dad cooking pasta in the kitchen. My ex-stepdad was very big on roast dinners on Sundays. I always dreaded doing the washing-up on Sundays because there was so much stuff to clean, and fat was a bugger to get out of things. This might be one of the reasons why I went vegetarian in 2004, although mainly it was not liking meat. (No kebabs for me, then.)

On the negative side, however, there is the comfort eating, the guilt and the shame that comes with it. I’ve written about bulimia before, and how I’d comfort eat, binge and purge when stressed or unhappy. Recently, I was in Cambridge, visiting my parents. My mum spent most of the weekend in bed, and at one point I went to the Co-Op, bought a packet of crisps and a bag of chocolate raisins, ate them and threw them up. I’m hoping that if and when I see the local mental health services, I will tackle this.

How does this tie in with Aspergers? I think it’s because of my enhanced senses and being sensitive to noise and textures and lights – it stands to reason I’d be sensitive to tastes and smells. There are some foods which I just cannot eat because they make me gag. Aubergines, for instance, and bananas (though I’m OK with banana cake), and cabbages, and swede (I blame school dinners). I also have a raging hate-on for coriander leaves. It’s also the reason, I think, why I like spicy food and prefer to use herbs or spices rather than salt, not to mention the amount of garlic I get through. I am a vampire’s nightmare.

Finally, to end this post and tie in with the Space theme, when Space toured the UK with Republica in March, one hardcore fan, Andy Wilton, brought a cake that his mum had made to the Newcastle gig. It was shaped like a doner kebab. The band loved it and, if I recall correctly, got through it very quickly. (One of my many happy Space memories of last year, incidentally was eating dinner with them; they ordered a Chinese takeaway in the dressing room at St Helens last year, and I ate some leftovers as I hadn’t had much for tea.) I’ve used food as a way to show love or appreciation for someone. (As has Jack – he made a beautiful fairy castle cake for his mate Woody in high school, and he used to bring cakes into clubs. I’m not kidding. He’d put the tin in his rucksack.) When two of my friends got married, I made them cupcakes (and beforehand, I made a chocolate cake which we took to the Wendy House for her hen night), and another time I made them a tin of Rocky Road, with a jar of Bovril in the middle. When my auntie Nicky put me up at her house when I went to see Space in 1998, I made her gingerbread as a thankyou present. I made chocolate fridge cake for my best mate one Christmas, and I’ve made several birthday cakes for my mother over the years. One year, I made her a cheesecake which nearly went horribly wrong, but luckily I had a Plan B. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing and Mary Berry would not have approved, but no-one cared. My stepdad and his kids were there, as was Jack and possibly his girlfriend, and I sang the Cuppycake Gumdrops song. We ate dinner around a tiny table. It was magical. That is food for me in a nutshell; not just fuel, not just tastes and smells and textures, but also a bonding experience.

January 29, 2014

Anatomy of a panic attack (in the style of Katniss Everdeen)

Filed under: mental illness — kankurette @ 10:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

(Note – I’m a fan of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series and was recently reading Mockingjay, which gave me the idea for the style of this post. Also, I’m going to warn for mention of self-harm and eating disorders.)

This is what happened last night, and I’m still recovering.

I’m at work. 8pm: Everton are playing Liverpool at Anfield. I check the score on the BBC website: 0-0. Half an hour later, we are 3-0 down.

Something snaps.

I am crying and cannot stop. I am the only person in the office. On Facebook, my mates ask if I am OK. I tell them that I am alone, reassure them that I am not going to do anything stupid, even though right now I want to go to sleep and never wake up. Thoughts flash through my mind. I am surfing the web, looking at TV Tropes, and the pictures of cute anime girls set something off and I am thinking of my dad and high school and everything is getting too much and I just want to hide under my desk. The office is warm and I am too scared to go home. Scared of what I might do. I am trapped in the office. Should I just go to sleep here? But I am out of coffee and shampoo and I need to go home. I remember how I broke down screaming and crying at the Space gig in Birmingham, and how Tommy Scott hugged me and calmed me down and made sure I was OK. I wish he was here, or someone. Dad. Mum. Richard. Anyone. I don’t want to be alone. Not like this.

It takes me fifteen minutes before I am able to leave work. I am not kidding when I say I have to force myself to walk to the door. Turn off the lights, set the code, lock the door. Then out into the open. The air feels cool on my face. Every step is heavy. I briefly consider flinging myself into the canal.

Panic. My chest suddenly goes tight and I can’t breathe. I have some kind of air hunger – something is sitting on me. Crushing my chest. I take shallow breaths. Still crying. Cross the road, walk past the building site, up Whitworth Street, onto Oxford Road. Pull my hood up on the bus so no one can see me. See the crazy woman crying. I flick through songs on my iPod, but am unable to concentrate. My eyes are red, my hair is sticking to my face. At Sainsbury’s, I buy batteries, shampoo, other things including cookies which are going cheap. I need comfort food.

I get home, and check the score. 4-0. I am almost numb with misery. I pick up a kitchen knife. Better get this over with. Slash my arm four times, one for each goal, the last wound being deeper than the rest. Blood streams down my arm as I hunt for plasters and bog roll to stop the bleeding.

I cannot go on Twitter. They will be laughing. Laughing at me. The stupid bitch who supports the wrong team. Telling me to cry more. Kill myself. Look, the blues are quiet tonight. I must be quiet or I will say something stupid. Something regrettable. I cannot let them see me like this. I know my friend Gina will be worried, so I make sure to tell her on Facebook that I am OK. At least, I am alive. Whether I am OK is debatable.

Blood is dripping onto the floor. I throw away the bits of paper from the plasters, the antiseptic packet. I grab a j-cloth and wipe the blood off the desk, off the floor. The wound is still bleeding and I have to change the dressing. I get antiseptic. Wipe off the blood which is streaming down my arm. It stings, but I must endure. Then I peel the plasters off the largest wound. They are red and wet, soaked in blood, and the sight of it makes me cry even harder. The wound smiles up at me. I rip off pieces of bog roll and hold them against the wound. I want my mum, but she is in Cambridge.

I mindlessly shove chocolate cookies into my mouth and vomit them up. Eventually, a kind of numbness sets in. I feel nothing. I am hollow and empty. Emotion has drained out of me with the blood. I start to feel exhausted and weak. I just want to go to bed and forget today happened.

The next day, I wake up with a headache that doesn’t go away with codeine. I eat the rest of the cookies and vomit them up, and try to sleep but the man who does my garden is here. I ring my mum. I eat lunch. I call in sick to work, pick up my meds and go back to bed.

I am still in a bit of a daze. Still unable to believe that I did something so stupid over something so petty. But then it’s the littlest things that set you off. Sometimes things build and build. And then you snap. Even now, looking at football things makes me feel sick and shaky. I don’t want to add it to the list of things that set me off.

Now I am waiting for the Nytol to kick in. Not enough to kill, but enough to help me sleep.

October 2, 2013

It only takes one chocolate bar

First off, I should probably put a warning on this post. If you’ve ever had problems with an eating disorder, you might find this post triggering. Proceed with caution.

For reasons I’m not going into, out of respect for my family, addiction’s been on my mind recently. The other thing that prompted this post is the fact that I’ve recently been having difficulty breathing, and my chest hurts. After going on Google, I figured out I’d pulled my chest muscles from purging, and that was what was causing the pain.

I have an obsessive personality. I obsess over people, books, manga, bands.  My obsession with Space is one I need to keep a careful check on, as it’s caused me a lot of anxiety lately. I sometimes wonder if having an obsessive personality might overlap with an addictive personality; there’s the same kind of all-or-nothing quality in both cases. I have to go to as many Space gigs as I can and buy as much stuff by them as I can and back when I was a kid, I’d buy every magazine they were in that I could get my hands on, and I was in the fan club, and there were other, more embarrassing aspects of it that I won’t go into here. In the same way, when I’ve gone through phases of being obsessed with my body, I’ve counted calories and gone to the gym and pushed myself till I hurt. Even yesterday, I felt like a failure because I was only in there for 20 minutes and I had to get off the bike because my arms and legs were literally shaking. The last time I went, I was in pain for days.

I had a phase around 2004 where I was barely eating. I’d have an apple for lunch and things like two sausages on a plate of spinach for dinner, and I’d give up sweet things. That all stopped, luckily for my mum – who was worried about me – when I went back to uni. I was thin for a year, then I got put on Citalopram and my weight shot up. Looking at old pictures of myself made me want to cry. I missed being thin. I had to tell myself that being fat and relatively stable was better than being thin and cutting all the time and wanting to die, but when Mum was having a go at me over my weight, and when I looked in the mirror at the mikveh when I converted to Judaism and was ashamed of my gut, I wondered if coming off the pills might be an idea.

Food and I have a complicated relationship. I am a comfort eater. When I am stressed or unhappy, I comfort eat. When I’m going through a particular bad patch, I binge and purge. I have been doing this on and off for about half my life – I remember throwing up in the sink in my room. I can’t even remember what started it. I did it at school, I definitely remember that.

It only takes one chocolate bar, one biscuit, one packet of crisps on a bad day. You think, “I’ll just eat this thing.” Then you think, “Another one won’t hurt.” Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole pack. You feel disgusted at yourself. You run to the toilet, fill a glass with water to help, shove your fingers down your throat, and vomit and vomit until your stomach starts to hurt and only bile is coming up. Alternatively, you’re out with mates, and they’re having pudding, so you do as well, and then you immediately start to feel guilty and it’s toilet time again, and you wonder if your friends know what you’re doing.

I know vomiting doesn’t help. Believe me, I know. I’ve started to suffer the side effects. Besides chest pains, after purging I get an irritating cough – apparently ‘bulimics’ cough’ is a thing – a sore throat, and damaged teeth. That’s not to mention the watering eyes and bad breath, and having to clean my toilet, wipe down walls, wash my hands, check that there is no telltale puke in my hair or on my hands or face or clothes. Bulimia is not pretty or glamorous. It is, frankly, pretty disgusting.

I tried Slimming World. It barely worked. I may go back on if and when I have enough money and willpower, but it is going to take a hell of a lot. When you’re stuck in bad eating habits, it is hard to get out. Add to that a chronic condition that makes exercise potentially debilitating, and you’re fucked. I sometimes wonder if addictive personalities run in the family. I’m not the first person in my family to have had an eating disorder, or at least symptoms of one. There have been alcoholics in my family. I don’t think I’m in any danger of becoming an alcoholic; I don’t drink these days due to my meds, which makes Space gigs awkward (at the last one, I came very close to having a full-blown anxiety attack in front of Franny Griffiths), and I’m not a big fan of alcohol anyway. I’ve done drugs, and although I did enjoy MDMA, I never got addicted to it (the novelty would have worn off, for one thing). My addiction, let’s be honest, is food. I am overweight, in a society that hates fat people, and I am stuck in a horrible behaviour pattern and I want to get out of it, believe me. Sometimes you think, “I’m going to change, I’m going to give this up and I’m going to eat this instead and do yay amount of exercise,” and for a few days it lasts and then you have a bad day at work or you’re PMS-ing and it’s back to square one. Again, and again, and again.

As I type this, my lunch is in the oven – it’s a salmon steak, a couple of potato waffles, and I’ve got some homemade salsa in the fridge made of avocados and red onion and tomatoes. I know I will keep it down. I tend not to vomit that kind of thing. Even I have my limits.

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