Middle of April. 5am. Monday morning. It's quiet on the ward. Everyone else is peacefully asleep or at least that's what it feels like. It's too early to get up but it's too late to get back to sleep. I've read yesterday's paper, done all the puzzles and watched all the highlights from the weekend sports. The nurses are busy and I have to stay in my room. Aw crap! It's just me and my thoughts. All alone. Breakfast is 3 and a half hours away and it's 2 hours before I can have a shower. What do you do on a psychiatric ward at 5am on a Monday morning? Make a list obviously.
What have you given up or neglected in the last 7 months to your eating disorder? What has it stolen from you? That was the title to my list! Turned out to be a longer list than I had anticipated. Guts of 40 things actually. And those are just the things I was conscious of. Some things were small, others had greater significance. Bonus points go to you if you read every single one of those 40 odd things. Almost as many bonus points as go to me for writing them :)
1. Falling asleep at night without binging and vomiting
2. Walks on the beach
3. Thinking about the children of Zwide township, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
5. Playing Hockey
6. Challenging hypocrisy
7. Writing blogs
8. Listening to music
10. Self Improvement
11. Playing Pool
12. Maintaining a good work ethic
15. Working hard at therapy.
18. Climbing mountains
19. Public speaking
20. Visiting family members often
21. Socializing with friends
22. Teaching kids
25. Planning for the future
26. Helping others
27. Saving money
28. Self Respect
29. Being honest about where I'm going when I leave the house.
30. Looking forward to things in the future.
31. Having the energy to exercise when I want to.
32. Brushing my teeth
33. Being able to keep more than one meal a day down
34. Caring about the way I looked
35. Responding to people who contact me
36. Seeking fulfillment and purpose
37. Showing love to the girl I love.
38. Doing "my bit" around the house.
39. Wanting to be alive.
I wrote every one of these on a separate piece of paper. I stuck each individual piece of paper onto the door of my room on that hospital ward. I stood back and scanned my eyes over each piece of paper. Over and over and over again. In that moment a shift took place. A shift that saved my life. I began to hate again.
People sometimes have a wrong view of depression. They think it just means being sad- all the time. Feeling down. Yeah it starts like that. But you see it's difficult to sustain an intensity of emotion over a long period of time. Being sad sucks. We don't tend to like that. Over time sadness can slip into numbness. Instead of feeling sad or happy, angry or at peace we actually just feel numb. Feel nothing at all. Seems safer. If I don't care, then I can't be in pain right? Indifference is surely better.
Let me give you an example. I remember the first time I ever wanted to be dead. I remember sweating, banging my bed, crying, shouting and doing anything I could to try and force this thought from my head. I hated having that thought. Yet over time, I became numb to it. "Oh there's that suicidal thought again, I've gotten used to it now." I've become indifferent. You see indifference is less painful than hate. It's more comfortable to sit with. But it will destroy your resolve. It did that to me.
There is one simple difference between hate and indifference. Indifference requires nothing on my part. Hatred requires me to care. It requires me to feel something. Stirs something in me. When I looked at the door at 6am on that Monday morning. When I read the 40 things I had let bulimia steal from me, I felt hatred. Not indifference. Not an attitude of "oh this is just who I've become now" but intense hatred. And the best by - product of hating something is the desire to change it. That's what I felt.
You see over time I had grown to accept what my bulimia was doing to me. I had grown to accept that I would constantly fall asleep. Grown to accept the chest pain from excessive vomiting. Grown to accept the excessive money spent on food. Grown to accept that life was heading nowhere. Grown to accept that I'd become selfish, unreliable and a frequent liar. Grown to accept that I was powerless to change. I didn't love anything and I didn't hate anything. Completely numb.
Mental illness is draining. It sucks and it sucks and it sucks like a giant straw until there's little or nothing left. No energy left to love or hate or feel anything at all. You see for me to start to move forward I needed to hate. Needed to look at who I had become and hate that. Needed to smash that numbness. It was only when I felt hate that I desired change and began to take those slow steps forward, then back, forward a few more, back one etc etc. But moving. Not staying still. Not being numb and indifferent.
Don't be afraid to feel. Over time I numbed myself to feelings. I certainly didn't love myself and I wasn't too comfortable with the idea of hating myself or who I'd become. In order to bring about positive change you must first feel something. You must first care.
I'm glad I couldn't sleep on that Monday morning. Glad I watched all the sports highlights, did all the puzzles and read the newspaper. In doing something as simple as writing a list I opened myself up to something. I opened myself up to hatred. And in opening myself up to hatred I opened myself up to change. Don't be afraid to hate. It means you care. Be afraid to be indifferent, it means you don't!