Control

**TW: contains references to weight, dieting, eating issues**

There are many things that come and go with the ebb and flow of bipolar. Energy levels, creativity, ability to work, self-esteem, amount of sleep, and so on. But across the mood changes there is a pervasive lack of control, which I have sometimes described as feeling like a piece of flotsam. I can try to manage early symptoms and tackle them before they grow, but despite trying very hard I can’t really control what my mood will do, whether I will have psychotic features this time, whether my anxiety will lie dormant or spike from the moment of waking.

Viewed through a long telescope stretching back to my childhood, there is a clear pattern of the gaining or loss of control being intertwined with food, overeating and feeling out of control or trying to regain control through restricting my food consumption. This game of dietary ping-pong is written on my body for all to see – in fact others probably see the changes better than I do. At 19 I was an evangelical vegan and yoga bunny. I was very, very uptight about what I ate and felt a sense of moral superiority about my food choices. My weight and BMI dropped to an unhealthy point, my periods stopped and people started asking if I was anorexic. This enraged me as I felt that my restriction was all about ethicals. I had zero insight into the fact that I was very depressed and lonely and that I was attempting to exercise control in any way I could.

Over recent years of being unwell I have been almost unaware of my body, dragging it around with only the odd moment of horror as I catch myself in a mirror. I have not let Tom see me naked for a very long time. I have just been doing whatever I needed to survive each day, overeating and binging, binging and overeating. I would promise myself I wouldn’t make sugar the focal point of my day, that I wouldn’t build it around going out to the Co-op to buy a Coke at lunchtime, that I wouldn’t go there again later for my “afternoon treat”, that one treat would not become three and that I would not hide in the stairwell, pushing the chocolate into my mouth without even tasting it. I promised myself I would not have to hide wrappers I‘d torn off with my teeth in a frenzy of desire for what is inside. Unlike may who binge, I experience no desire to purge because for me the payoff is the comforting feeling of the food heavy in my stomach. And so slowly, slowly I haven gained a stone, two stones, then three, the overeating combining with the quetiapine and the sedation to create a “perfect storm” for weight gain.

And now as I am unexpectedly, and probably tenuously, well I am suddenly able to address it. I have thrown myself into the use of my FitBit, which has lain forlorn and dust covered on the chest of drawers for many months. I am using it as encouragement to take more exercise and have used it to develop an eating plan, which requires a fairly slender intake of calories a day. I am doing more and more exercise, and have begun to get very agitated and irritated if I am prevented from working out. I have form for this; when I used the WeightWatchers system about 10 years ago I consistently exercised more and took in fewer points that recommended.

Presenting the Mental Health First Aid slide on eating disorders makes me squirm. Services aren’t interested in my subclinical eating issues but terms like “compensatory behaviour” make me wince. I see the potential for me to take things too far. Just as I once concealed suicidal feelings from Tom, I am already fudging how little I eat, how much exercise I take, scared he will want to take it all away.

Because for the first time in ages I feel in control. I have found a coping mechanism in the face of all the uncertainty in my life. Part of me feels like a rubbish feminist for wanting to more closely resemble an “acceptable” body shape and I tried to like the shape I was, I really did, but I could not do fat acceptance. I just can’t help the delight at the reappearance of my waist, the looser trousers, the somewhat (OK, not very) more muscular abdomen. And in a way I feel that I have to lose weight right now, in this moment while I am well, because who knows what tomorrow may bring? I want to exercise control while I still have it.

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About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards 2013. Winner of the World in Mentalists Mood Disorder blog 2012. Regular guest blogger for the International Bipolar Foundation http://www.internationalbipolarfoundation.org/ Expert by Experience working with Mind training department. Working on The Incoming Tide, a bipolar memoir. Find me on Twitter @BipolarBlogger or at my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/BipolarBlogger
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7 Responses to Control

  1. brizzlelass says:

    Wow! I read this and think I am not alone! I was put on Quetiapine about a month ago and have noticed my bingeing has got particularly bad since I started it. Like you I’ve always used my diet and exercise as part of my control thing. My Fitbit is currently sat by my bed making me feel guilty every morning when I don’t put it on!

  2. There is so much truth to this cycle. The exercise thing feels so empowering, although I don’t knowingly undereat because I don’t have body image problems in that particular direction, but the agitation I experience if I can’t exercise when I’m on a fitness spree… For me it’s about strength and being strong enough to stand up to life without being afraid.
    My friend is in the food and exercise boat to a much greater extent than I, to the point that she’s going to the gym 2x a day and barely eating. I have seen her get like this before (as far as she’s concerned, she’s fine, of course). Every time she does it, I just hope she’ll come back from it again.

  3. Linda Gask says:

    that sense of being in control- of food and everything else certainly chimes with me. I’m just getting ‘in’ again.

  4. Nick says:

    The corporate food industry also has a lot of questions to answer. They wrap up something like a small piece of reconstituted salmon in a large package of chemicals they call sauce and pastry, get us hooked on the sugar and sugar substitutes, monosodium glutamate, the salt and all the other carcinogenic shite they ram in to make it palatable and then get us finish off the meal with more shite filled brown couloured sugar and chemicals they call chocolate. And we are so fickle under their power that they have got us calling this stuff that is slowly filling our arteries and contaminating our inner organs – ‘A treat’. Sounds like something that should good and life enhancing doesn’t it? Not something that in reality is slowly killing us.

  5. The “All or Nothing” is definitely a thread that runs through for me as well – not only with food and exercise though. So called “balance” I find elusive to the point of unachievable. This feeds into the vicious downward spiral of feelings of failure and worthlessness.

    When you aske my dad how he is, his standard response is: “Everything is under control!”
    It makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

  6. chopsuey says:

    I’ve often thought about writing something to you as I really value your blog as an insight into my daughters bipolar disorder. I think your writing is brilliant – thank you! This time though I’m actually overcoming my fear of writing something and responding – because I’m really concerned for you – my daughter is on the same drugs as you and in the grip of an eating disorder that’s heartbreaking to see and very challenging to me help her and to get appropriate help for. Please seek help before it gets its tight grip of control of you. I found b-eat http://www.b-eat.co.uk helpful – they suggested books that I’m reading and trying the suggestions while waiting for the appointment for her to be seen by the psychiatrist. Now her BMI is under 13 she’s considered an emergency so she has an appointment next week. Meantime I’m told to call 999 if I’m concerned. Please don’t let it get this bad for you.

    • I really appreciate you concern and I know I need to be honest with Tom. I think in my case it’s an issue of mood state. Although I haven’t realised it I must be going hypo as this is a key expression of mood change for me. I just noted today that walking 13,500 steps then working out then going to work out all over again is not normal and a huge indictor of an upswing. Have just forced myself to tell Tom about it and trying implement my “anti-hypomania” plan… x

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