Eating Disorder Awareness Week: The Truth Of It All

I considered writing a post about eating disorders to mark ED awareness week, despite this being a kitchen garden blog, simply because it has been exactly one year since I went to hospital myself.

I considered writing about how hard any eating disorder is, how different, how similar, how corrupting, how painful. I was going to list the physical problems, like the pain of sitting down on the toilet with not bottom for protection, and the mental problems, like the fear of guilt that makes you feel like you are going to explode. I had a long, long, long list written out, but then I realised: you don’t need me to tell you how bad any illness is. I’m not here to frighten anyone, I’m here to offer some light.

What you need to know is that

When you don’t have an eating disorder…

  • you feel happy.
  • you can breath again.
  • you feel warm.
  • you can eat proper meals.
  • you can sit down and watch a movie or read a book.
  • you can smile.
  • you can straighten up again.
  • you can hold a conversation with another human being.
  • you can exercise because you can, not because you have to or ‘want’ to, but because your body is well enough so you can, for fun!
  • is enjoying the little things in life you were ignoring.
  • is buying clothes from the adult section.
  • is being a truthful person no longer lying.
  • is being a good friend, daughter/son, sibling, partner.
  • is being able to join in with Christmas or Easter or birthdays.
  • is feeling alive.
  • is being able to say ‘sod you ED, I beat you!’

 

Many professionals have likened an eating disorder to someone with a broken arm or leg, that you have to give it time to heal. I’ve never quite seen that connection. TO me, the best way to describe an eating disorder is to compare it to an addiction – drugs, alcohol, even smoking. It is accepted that it is really hard to break these addictions, but there is an awful lot of secrecy and words not said. Broken body parts are acceptable to talk about, to be on display. Eating disorders are there to be hidden, to be shameful, embarrassing, a secret. No one goes round advocating that they have one, everyone else goes around staring and whispering, being frightened of this unknown, well, thing. But back to likening ED to addictions: Most of the time it involves intervention, extreme therapy and abstaining from the substance forever. Well, an eating disorder is like these addictions, but the thing we are addicted to is not an external object, but inside us. We become addicted to the feelings we get when we restrict/overeat/purge/exercise and it becomes our safety net. As the world becomes more terrifying, that bond gets stronger. It is so hard to change someone’s mind. For some reason, the pain you get from an eating disorder seems better than the pain you feel when you go against it, then you are stuck in a cycle and it is so hard to break.

Life is hard. I’m sitting here, a year on, and my meal plan has been slightly increased again – not because I’ve lost weight, but because I’m still a couple of kg under what would be the healthiest weight for me to maintain to be safe from anything that might cause me to lose weight in the future. Even now, I have to keep a strict eye on myself at all times.

I still have bad days. Some VERY bad days where everything hurts so much. I sometimes would not get up if it was not to feed my cat and the idea that I could garden or practice yoga, the three things in the world that make me feel at ease and give my life meaning at this point in time.

I am recovered, but I still have an eating disorder – my way of looking at the world is different to everybody else’s. I can’t afford to skip a meal otherwise it means I’m ‘ill’ again. I can’t eat at random times, I have a strict timetable to keep to. I can’t join in with random exercises otherwise hyper-gymnasia takes hold. My whole day is about staying in control and not losing my hold of the steering wheel – because once we are off course, it is hard to get back. Life feels very hard sometimes. If anyone wants to know how an addictive eating disorder feels, listen to Sara Bareilles ‘Gravity’ on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_U6iSAn_fY

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But then I have those beautiful moments. Those moments when I see my broad beans poking up their heads from the soil. When the first blossoms flower on the trees. When I feel the sun on my face. When I’ve cooked a dish I’m proud of. When my dog bounds up to me in the snow. When my sister or brother crack a joke that makes me laugh until my sides hurt.

Eating disorders are like all addictions – they take a very strong hold of you, but they don’t really own you. Despite how you feel, you can always come back. There is always something to come back to.

Everyone: if you know someone who is struggling from an eating disorder, give them a hug and tell them that they are not alone despite what they think, and that you love them. Sometimes that’s all anyone needs to hear to chase a daemon away. Stay safe, stay strong, stay happy.

I’m writing another book, this one is for everyone, to teach us all how to find sunshine in our lives.

If you need some help from an eating disorder, here is my self-published book, available on Amazon: My new book: A Growing Mind: the small book of gardening for eating disorders

Moving Compost

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We’ve actually got around to ‘turning’ a compost heap over.

That is quite and achievement here. We often fill compost heaps so high that we can’t possibly turn them over without creating a collapse similar if Everest gave way.

But we did it, in two hours in the rain. We kind of had to do it because, well, I needed more space for the onions and garlic. I’ve planted somewhere around 250 onions… we were given quite a few but it was good seeing as the cats have already dug some up…

But yes – back to composting – why do we ‘turn’ compost over? Why do we compost in the first place? Why not chuck it in one of those bins?

For shame.

Right, compost: organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as fertiliser and soil amendment. Compost is the KEY ingredient to organic farming. Despite the slug pellets, that is what we aim to do.

Have you ever read The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stemple? Do, its great.

You make your compost out of basically anything in the garden – that can be cut grass, leaves, old plants, some people choose not to include their weeds but I do because I like dumping them somewhere and feeling like I am recycling. You can also put your food waste in it. This might attract rodents, of course, but what about your tea bags, banana peels, veg scrapings? Those are all really good to rot down and so not worth giving to the bin man. You can put cardboard and paper on too – covering the heap with cardboard is a good way of helping it to rot down.

But why should I compost?

  1. Saves money – do you know how expensive compost is?
  2. Saves resources and reduces negative impacts on the environment by avoiding chemical fertilisers.
  3. Improves soil – it feeds it with a diversity of nutrients, improves soil drainage and increases soil stability.

Compost takes time. It can look messy. But it is so worth it for a gardner. It is an investment.

So, if you don’t know already, ‘turning over’ the compost bed is aerating it. It gives it a flush of oxygen that encourages the bacteria breaking it down not to remain sluggish. It therefore speeds up the process, sometimes by weeks.

To aerate your compost, fork or shovel the compost into a newly set up enclosure next door to it. It is that simple. If your pile isn’t as big as a mountain.

Horticultural Charities

It seems appropriate as it was Mental Health Awareness day last Tuesday to announce that I have become part of a steering group for setting up a mental health charity that uses gardening for therapy. It is called Space 2 Grow and is set in central Farnham (UK). The charity is in its very early days but we will hopefully be up and running by next spring. For now, I’m preparing the garden with the team and planting lots of bulbs next week (we meet one day a week, the day I’m not at university). We are hoping to get a vegetable patch going which will be amazing.

 

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A photo of some of the team from last week, Space 2 Grow

 

The mental health charity Oakleaf based in Guildford (UK) and I have been communicating lately and I’m happy to say that I am sending them a donation after Mental Health Awareness Day. They are lovely people and focus of gardening as therapy and a way of employability for those who find it difficult to get a job. They are online if anyone wants to take a look.

On the same note, my book ‘A Growing Mind’ is available on kindle now. I’ve been told that it has been really helpful for others who never had a mental health problem and by those who never had an eating disorder too.

 

 

River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake adapted

I will admit it – I used to hate carrot cake. The idea of a vegetable in a cake, an orange vegetable at that, was just crazy. But, now I can  literally eat my own words. I’ve had at least three different types of really good carrot cake recently, but the best so far has been a recipe my mum made from the River Cottage Veg Patch handbook.

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Now, she adjusted the recipe a bit. She added more dried fruit, salted butter instead of oil and any extra salt, instead of apple sauce she grated a whole apple and a pear (in a food processor) because our trees have been so generous this year, she ground the walnuts up (because that’s our trick ingredient to a good homemade cake) and she made the mistake of adding the syrup that is meant to go over the top at the end into the actual cake, but it was so much better. It wasn’t sickly sweet or sticky then, it made the cake instead moister and more delicious.

It is a darling of a recipe and very good for you too!

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River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake 

(Mum’s Version)

(Serves 10)

– 150g sultanas, raisins, currants -220g self-raising flour -1 tsp baking powder -1 tsp ground cinnamon -1 tsp ground ginger -Pinch of ground cloves -220g light brown sugar, plus an extra 3 tbsp for the syrup -116g salted butter -Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange -2 eggs, lightly beaten -225g apple and pear, coarsely grated -270g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated -80g walnuts, ground -1 tbsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a 20–22cm square cake tin, about 8cm deep, with baking paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the 220g sugar, butter and orange zest until well combined, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is creamy. Fold in the apple and pear, followed by the flour mixture until just combined. Next fold in the grated carrots and ground walnuts.
  4. While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the orange juice into a small saucepan with the 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Warm over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Fold into the cake with the sultanas.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the cake appears to be overbrowning before it is done, cover the top loosely with foil.
  6. Stand the cake tin on a wire rack and leave to cool. Serve hot or cold. Store in an air-tight tin.

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My new book: A Growing Mind: the small book of gardening for eating disorders

Ok… so this is the explanation to why I was absent for a while this year.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Mind-gardening-eating-disorders/dp/1976388740/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1506408661&sr=8-3&keywords=isobel+murphy

I was in hospital for weight recovery for anorexia that I had been hosting for the last few years. I had hit what I call, rock bottom, and was more than desperate to end this nightmare. I saw my doctor and old psychiatrist from 2013 and was sent to hospital.

I went to three different hospitals during that time and learnt different things from each of them. Some experiences were awful and scarring, others made me the person I am right at this moment, a bit of a better person, hopefully.

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Eating disorders are odd problems. When I was younger, I was taught that an eating disorder was someone who wanted to be thin so much that they starved themselves. I remember thinking ‘that’s vain’. I never ever considered that I would have one. I didn’t know that it could become an obsession, almost a religion, that it involved punishing yourself, feeling so guilty you want to rip your insides out, a way of distracting yourself from the rest of the world you don’t understand, a way of blocking out other pain because living in your head and body trumps all other external suffering.

It is very hard for people who have not had an eating disorder, or had to live with someone close with one, to actually be able to understand how difficult life can be with this illness.

I realised while I was in hospital that funnily enough, gardening had prepared me for the struggles I had ahead. It might sound odd, but it is true. I have explained it in more detail in the very short book.

My hope is that whoever is struggling with and eating disorder will read this book and will get something out of it. It might cure you, it might not, it might be somewhere in the middle. But when we have these illnesses, isn’t it great to try anything to see if it helps, just a little? I think any ease in the internal and physical pain is a relief once you actually have it.

Let me tell you, I was terrified of recovery. I still have ups and downs, but the difference is that the downs don’t destroy me anymore, I can still eat and not over-exercises and keep sane. It is always better once you are there. The climb of the mountain is rough, but the view is exquisite.

This book tackles other issues that come with the package with eating disorders but might be good for anyone else struggling with depression, control issues, anxiety, being sociable, insomnia or sleep issues, and people who just need to feel calm.

If you know anyone who this book might help, please offer it to them. I really want it to help someone like it helped me.

Here is the link again to the book on Amazon (I self-published it so made it as cheap as I could) :

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Mind-gardening-eating-disorders/dp/1976388740/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1506321159&sr=8-6&keywords=isobel+murphy

Keep yourselves well. Lots of love.

Books: Fiction for outdoor lovers

It might be difficult to tell from my writing on this blog (I make far too many grammatical errors and cannot excuse myself for my bad proof reading enough) but I am and always have been a book-worm. I pretty much devour books. I read a lot of varieties but I do love old-fashioned fiction written in the style of the Brontes, Hardy, George Elliot, Jane Austen, Thackery – and I must add, I have ready every novel by Daphne Du Maurier, ‘The Hunger Games’ series a few years back and grew up adoring Enid Blyton, ‘The Butterfly Lion’ and when I was twelve, my favourite book was ‘The Book Thief’. Book-worm.

It is even more exciting when the character suddenly finds his/herself in the most gorgeous scenery or working on the land. I relate to it immediately. I have compiled a list of fictional books for the outdoors, old-fashioned, farm labour lovers on the internet, as well as recommending some outstanding reads worth trying…

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THE SECRET GARDEN – Frances Hodgson-Burnett

“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.”

‘After losing her parents, young Mary Lennox is sent from India to live in her uncle’s gloomy mansion on the wild English moors. She is lonely and has no one to play with, but one day she learns of a secret garden somewhere in the grounds that no one is allowed to enter. Then Mary uncovers an old key in a flowerbed – and a gust of magic leads her to the hidden door. Slowly she turns the key and enters a world she could never have imagined.’ Penguin Books

This is a lovely book sold as a children’s book but it will be a delight to all adults too. It deals with grown-up situations – poorly children, orphaned children, loneliness, charity, father and son love, the wonders of the outdoors, gardening and wildlife and finding life again – but is written in a tone that makes it gentle enough for a child to read it. This is a wonderful technique as it makes a book about serious subjects actually happy. I felt so joyous whilst reading this book. I wanted to go to Yorkshire, run on the moors and play in the secret garden behind a stone wall, weeding in the peace and quiet, be Dickon, the kind-hearted animal and plant whisperer. It is a beautiful read and will make you happy and want to live.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.”

ANNA KARENINA – Leo Tolstoy

‘… taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and regular action which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging one’s arms in walking, as though it were in play, he laid down the high, even row of grass. It was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe of itself swishing through the juicy grass.’

‘‘I must have physical exercise, or my temper’ll certainly be ruined,’ he thought, and he determined he would go mowing, however awkward he might feel about it with his brother or the peasants.’

 ‘He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of the scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent- shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.’

‘Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky. In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.’ www.goodreads.com

It is a BIG read. Not quite as long as ‘War and Peace’ but still a chunky book. The film of ‘Anna Karenina’ focuses mostly on the relationship of Anna and Vronksy, overlooking Levin who actually takes up most of the book. He is a really interesting character. Some people say that the chapters where he is scything and working alongside his fellow farmers is the most boring part of the book. To me, it was the best. I felt a glowing excitement while I was reading it and that was the day I decided I wanted to one day get a scythe. That dream came true a couple of weeks ago. I am sure that anyone who loves farming, being outdoors, physical labour, old-fashioned tools etc. will adore this part of the book. If you don’t, then still read it as the rest of the book is exciting, dramatic, filled with deceit, death, love and hatred, family affairs, success and failure. A typical good old-fashioned read.

 ‘The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.’

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – Thomas Hardy

“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world is almost a palpable movement. To enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilized mankind, who are diregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars.”

‘Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.’ goodreads.com

One cannot write a list of country-worshiping fictional novels and not include Thomas Hardy in it. ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ is probably my favourite but I love ‘Tess of D’Urbevilles’ (read the description of the green hills surrounding Tess and her fellow milkmaids – I wanted to be an old-fashioned milk maid living in Dorset straightaway and that was before I had even been or heard of Dorset) and I have read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, slightly less country but an exciting read and still set in Hardy’s Wessex. Dramatic, romantic, honest, tragic and sad (Hardy’s style I am afraid), I urge everyone to pick up a famous copy. Trust me, I know people who have studied his poetry at school and thought they hated Hardy’s melancholy writing, have then read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and realised that he is a brilliant story teller.

‘It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may supposed the Dryads to be waking for the season—The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations […] there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-altogether.’

‘This reminded him that if there was one class of manifestation on this matter that he thoroughly understood, it was the instincts of sheep.’