Sufferer PTSD from anorexia treatment - unlearning patterns of fear

forfreedom

New Here
Hello! I'm new here, and just wish introduce myself and my background. I've included a quite long explanation below the shorter one, both because I feel a need to vent, and because I imagine that there are others out there with similar experiences, and I know that I personally have many times needed to just know that I wasn't the only one experiencing it, so hopefully someone can gain something from my story.

(I'm sorry for any weird expressions or word choices - English isn't my first language.)

Short version
I was close to losing my life to self-starvation when I was in my very early teens, about five years ago. I was treated quite badly in both outpatient- and inpatient treatment. I spent a long time controlled by treatment staff who made many major mistakes and who treated me in ways that made me feel like the only way to ensure my survival was silencing myself and having constant control of what was going on. Some time after almost 6 months of being in the emergency psychiatric ward for youth, I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the treatment. I am much better now, and I have recovered from my eating disorder, but I am struggling with learning how to connect with others and how to let them in, as I have learned to keep to myself in order to not hurt others as I did when I was ill, and as I have a deeply ingrained fear that unless I stay reserved and silent, my freedom will be taken away and I will be treated in ways that threaten my survival by the people who are supposed to help me. After the skewed perception that comes with self-starvation, and the twisting of perception that comes with PTSD, I am constantly afraid that my perceptions and interpretations of the behaviors around me are fundamentally wrong. There are people who put in a lot of effort to get to know me, and I wish that I could respond with the same effort, but I don't know how to. I am stuck in the patterns and movements of a constantly scared child always on guard.

Full explanation/vent
When I was 12, I was close to losing my life due to self-starvation. The body dysmorphia and urge to starve had been sudden, and the starvation was accelerated by a terribly executed treatment approach and deeply damaging treatment by eating disorder treatment professionals. I was put into the emergency psychiatric ward for youth after a few months of the destructive outpatient treatment. It was a small ward in which I during my 6-month stay was always the youngest by at least a couple of years. I came there wanting to survive and get better, but was treated in ways that made me much sicker than before. Somehow, because of my young age, my thoughts and feelings were completely disregarded, and when I tried to point out that specific things were making me sicker, no one listened. The people who were supposed to help me survive, became the people I feared the most. They had complete control over everything I did but acted with great uncertainty (and repeatedly made major mistakes) and lack of respect. I came there because of an illness that stemmed from a feeling of needing to minimize and silence myself, and all throughout treatment, that was what I was asked to do. I feared for my life because of the self-starvation I didn’t know how to stop, and I was treated like an object without any sort of feelings or thoughts by the people who were supposed to help me. I was, because of decisions made by the treatment staff, kept in long-term low-intensity starvation in parallel with constant fear and stress, and the neurological consequences of that starvation increased the risk for incomplete trauma processing, as did the repeated minor physical traumas to my head that I experienced during some of my most intense moments of fear and panic, in which I was abandoned by the very people who were supposed to be the only ones who could help me. Some time after my eventual discharge from hospital (thanks to the hard work of one therapist who realized how much the place was damaging me), I was diagnosed with PTSD. Today, I am recovered from the most intense and severe symptoms of PTSD, but it still affects me every day, maybe more deeply than I realized before.

I am recovered from my eating disorder, and I am generally quite happy (freedom when you have been unfree can be amazing), but I still struggle significantly with connecting with people and knowing how to navigate the world outside of hospital. I am still trying to come to terms with how I could do such cruelty to myself and trying to understand what was done to me, but the worst flashbacks, feelings of unreality and other more acute symptoms of PTSD are now luckily rare occurences.

When ill, I lost all my friends - mostly due to the isolation that comes with both self-starvation and treatment - and destroyed or damaged many of my relationships to relatives. My pain hurt many people and made their lives difficult (I cannot even imagine what a pressure and strain it put on my little brother, or on my then-11-year-old best friend, who not only saw her best friend slowly starve, but who also got to carry the heavy burden of being asked about what was going on with me by the other children in all social situations we shared, while she probably didn't even understand it herself). I do not think that I will ever fall back into anything like my eating disorder again, but the fear and the guilt of hurting other people through my own pain has ingrained in me an unwillingness to let people care about me. I felt like the darkness I carried within me as a 12-year-old, the pain and the dark thoughts I had, were too damaging and serious to be shared. I realized of course that if people were to get close to me, they'd eventually need to know what I had done to myself, so I thought it was better to just not get close at all instead. I adapted a mindset of needing to protect my friends and family from what I had seen and felt.

When in treatment and when eventually recovering from my eating disorder on my own, I had to become even more independent and self-reliant than I had been before. Telling people about my struggles became associated with the severe misunderstanding, restrictions to freedom and of being locked in and treated like an object without feelings or thoughts. It became associated with being abandoned on the hospital floor when in extreme panic and fear, when the given "help" was doing more damage than good and when that help was something I thought would lead to my death. Silence became my tactic for survival, and I still fear (on a purely emotional level) that letting people in will lead to confinement and loss of control. As a result, I often become very reserved and self-isolating, even though I don't think that people who care for me deserve my resulting coldness.

The skewed perception that comes with starving oneself, and the unreliability of perception and the experience of time and reality that is a result of PTSD, have made me fear that most of my perceptions and interpretations are fundamentally twisted. It makes me uncomfortable in social situations as I am afraid that what I perceive in other people's behavior and in my own responses are completely wrong. It makes me appear nervous and I become awkward, because I am taking a lot of caution. This caution is also something I learned as a result of the constant observation that comes with being in inpatient treatment and the harmful decisions of adults who didn't know how to react to my illness. I feel like I must constantly know what is going on in order to be ready for whatever loss of control another patient would have, or when someone would hurt themselves. I am still moving along the patterns of a person who is under observation and always ready to protect themselves.

I am initially drawn to people who value my silence more than they value my words. They're the people I become attracted to, but once I recognize their lack of interest in interacting with my actual thoughts, I become scared me and I escape the situation as quickly as possible. When people show actual caring and interest, I don't know how to respond or act. I don't know how to behave when what's asked of me isn't silence, when I'm allowed to take up space without having to fight for it. I do have some very close and dear friends who I feel absolutely comfortable with, who I can share my thoughts with fully and genuinely, but they both live far away, and I don't know how to interact when the person is geographically and physically close to me.

I don't know how I could let anyone get close to me when I feel like this. I am afraid of hurting them with my possible coldness. I don't know how to explain to them what I have been through - I don't know how to explain the fear that I have felt, the harm that I used to do to myself, or how the past sometimes seems more real than the present, how I fear what happened while I also miss it, how the smallest things can throw me back in time, how I feel like I am still locked in and how the smallest things scare me because to me, they're associated with the pain of confinement and deep misunderstanding. I don't know how to explain how one day, I am euphoric simply because I am alive and free, and the next, I'm on the floor, thrown back to the darkest moments of my life. I don't know how to explain that one minute I am putting my soul into projects for the future, and the next I am returning to the 12-year-old child who felt like she needed to be quiet in order to survive.

There is someone I do really want to let in, and he puts in an admirable effort to get to know me despite my distance and awkwardness, but I have no idea how to respond to that, because I don't know how to stop guarding and controlling myself and my body so completely. I'm not quite as easily startled as I used to when my PTSD was more intense, but I am always on guard, always ready to protect myself, and it makes my movements unnatural and I have no idea how to respond to his careful touch. Longer conversations are fine, as I can keep my mind busy with interesting topics, but I don't know how to act during situations in which my mind can drift. One-on-one interaction is usually enjoyable and okay, and I worry that the shift in my behavior between one-on-one to group situations in which I am unreachable and cold, could be viewed as rude or strange. I become overwhelmed and act in awkward ways, say things I later regret. I have taught myself to not show what I feel, no matter how safe I feel, and it's making it difficult to connect.

I have an intense want to move forward, to experience and discover the world without my eating disorder, but some patterns of behavior and thought seem to be so deeply established that I cannot escape them.

I am freer now than I ever thought I would be. I didn't think I would survive for this long or that I would ever be as free I am now. The happiness and want to live that came from regaining my independence from eating disordered behavior makes me hope that I can also relearn these patterns of my old fears and motivates me to learn to experience these other, freer ways of living and interacting with the world. I don't know how (I am more than thankful for any advice), and maybe it will take me a lifetime, or maybe I never will, but I am more than willing to try.

I wish you all the best <3
 

Justmehere

Moderator
Welcome to the forums!

I don't know how I could let anyone get close to me when I feel like this. I am afraid of hurting them with my possible coldness. I don't know how to explain to them what I have been through - I don't know how to explain the fear that I have felt, the harm that I used to do to myself, or how the past sometimes seems more real than the present, how I fear what happened while I also miss it, how the smallest things can throw me back in time, how I feel like I am still locked in and how the smallest things scare me because to me, they're associated with the pain of confinement and deep misunderstanding. I don't know how to explain how one day, I am euphoric simply because I am alive and free, and the next, I'm on the floor, thrown back to the darkest moments of my life. I don't know how to explain that one minute I am putting my soul into projects for the future, and the next I am returning to the 12-year-old child who felt like she needed to be quiet in order to survive.

There is someone I do really want to let in, and he puts in an admirable effort to get to know me despite my distance and awkwardness, but I have no idea how to respond to that, because I don't know how to stop guarding and controlling myself and my body so completely. I'm not quite as easily startled as I used to when my PTSD was more intense, but I am always on guard, always ready to protect myself, and it makes my movements unnatural and I have no idea how to respond to his careful touch. Longer conversations are fine, as I can keep my mind busy with interesting topics, but I don't know how to act during situations in which my mind can drift. One-on-one interaction is usually enjoyable and okay, and I worry that the shift in my behavior between one-on-one to group situations in which I am unreachable and cold, could be viewed as rude or strange. I become overwhelmed and act in awkward ways, say things I later regret. I have taught myself to not show what I feel, no matter how safe I feel, and it's making it difficult to connect.

Watch out for all or nothing thinking patterns. When you describe your struggle to connect, you describe not knowing how to explain many things to them.

Being closer to someone doesn't mean they need to know ALL the things. Patterns usually shift over time with small steps. Focus on 1 small step at a time.

Congrats on winning the war against the eating disorder. That is huge! Well done.
 
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